Monday, July 30, 2012
Bristlecone Pine Press (June 6, 2012)
As the daily grind takes its toll on David’s four-year relationship with California golden boy Chris Bellamere, the handsome Jairo begins a relentless seduction. A moment of weakness threatens to unravel David’s life and leaves Chris struggling to forgive a betrayal of trust.
"Trauma to the throat. Pretty excessive. Lots of hesitation marks. Whoever did this didn't have a clue. A real hack job. Hard to believe someone would sit still for this." In response to David's look she added, "Don't worry, I'll run a full tox screen."
"Cause of death?" David asked, eyeing the ragged throat wounds. It was indeed a mess.
"Could be a knife. I'll be able to tell you more once I get a look at those X-rays. Skull appears intact and is that of a normally developed Caucasian woman. Height is one hundred and sixty-four centimeters or five feet four-and-a-half inches, gross weight... seventy-one kilograms. That's one hundred fifty-six pounds for you nonscience types."
While the morgue assistant began to capture a visual record of the autopsy, Lopez used a sterile swab on the face and throat. Next, she used a syringe to draw fluid from each of the eyes. She stared at the cloudy liquid in the syringe.
Jairo watched Lopez table the two syringes and leaned forward. "What is that you're collecting?"
"Vitreous humor. It has a lot of uses forensically. We can make a diagnosis of alcoholism as well as drug use. Changes in potassium levels, lactic acid, nonprotein nitrogen, and chloride can help us pin down the time of death, unless too much time has passed, then the formulas break down. Sorry, wish I could give you more. But we'll analyze it and hope for the best."
"It'll give us time of death?" Jairo perked up. "I've always understood that's pretty hard to pin down."
"You heard right." Lopez met David's gaze. "Some people expect miracles. This probably won't help much. My best guess is we're looking at seven to ten days minimum. Things have been on the cool side these days. That would slow decomp down."
"Any way to tell if this is the scene of the crime or a dump site?" David interjected.
"Nothing stands out right now," Lopez said. "Not a lot of external insect activity, so she may have been buried the whole time. I'll know more once I open her up."
But before she did that, she used cotton swabs to take samples of the victim's ears, nose, and mouth. Each one she bagged and labeled."Now this is interesting."
David leaned over to get a closer look at what she was pointing at. It was the swab from the victim's nose. Tiny white specks, like undersized rice grains, covered one side of the cotton.
"What is it?"
"My guess? Fly larvae. Unhatched. Which means that the body was exposed to the elements long enough to attract flies but not long enough for them to hatch. We can get one of our bug guys to hatch these babies out and see what kind of fly we're dealing with."
Using rib cutters and a bone saw, she opened the corpse up to their prying eyes. The photographer avidly captured everything while Lopez gave a running commentary aimed at the mike suspended above the table.
David folded his arms over his chest. He never quite knew what to do with his hands during an autopsy. He wasn't allowed to do any more than observe, even though he often thought he could move something faster than Lopez could. He noticed Jairo was taking the notes he'd requested. He also noticed the young man's hands shaking. David felt an irrational urge to take one of those hands and stop the shaking, which was crazy.
Jairo was a cop, for God's sake. A cop who wanted to be a homicide detective. Dead and mutilated bodies were going to be his bread and butter until he came to his senses and went back to being a vice cop catching underage drinkers, which couldn't be soon enough for David.
Lopez swapped the protective goggles for filtering ones, and scanned the body with a UV light, which glowed wherever some body fluid revealed itself. She flipped the light off and pulled down a more powerful white light.
"Still no sign of visible trauma anywhere besides the throat. Let's take a look at the innards."
One at a time, she removed all the internal organs and weighed and took samples of each one. After that, she cut the throat open, revealing the larynx and thyroid cartilage. "Fascia is intact. Resectioning of the thyroid cartilage, incising through the cricoid cartilage before opening the larynx dorsally, inspection of the laryngeal joints reveals the hyoid is intact." She skinned off her nitrile gloves and swapped them for a clean pair. "No overt signs of ligature strangulation. I'll check the lungs for any sign of asphyxia."
When she sliced open the skull and pulled the brain out, David heard Jairo's sharp intake of breath. David glanced sideways at him, hoping Jairo wasn't going to get sick again. Jairo looked green but held his own. The lunch they had had less than two hours ago was in contention with his stomach. David's gaze moved impassively from the wan-looking man to the decaying corpse, and he felt nothing.
Finally, Lopez removed the paper bags from each hand and slid a thin scalpel under each fingernail, trapping whatever came out on small, sterile sheets of paper. Each one was sealed and labeled, and joined the other samples in the growing pile. She lifted the exposed arm into the light and studied the wounds closely.
"Coyote?" David asked.
"What? Oh, yes, definitely canine. What were you thinking?"
"You don't want to know what I was thinking."
"You're a dark one, Detective Laine. I like that in a man."
David tapped the table between them. "Do me a favor, doc, run that tox screen as soon as you can. I really need to know a cause of death. I don't want some suspect telling us later that she was already dead when he found her and he buried her out of respect."
"The baby's father, maybe?"
"He's definitely a person of interest."
"Well, let's see what we can find out." Lopez exposed the fetus, its placenta still intact. It looked considerably less decayed than its mother. She pointed at a tiny, shriveled penis. "Him. About seven months to term."
"Could he have lived if she had been taken to a hospital?"
"Probably. They've got wonderful neonatal care these days."
"If only someone had cared."
"Unless he's the reason she died," she said.
"Wrong girl gets knocked up by the wrong guy," David said. "No happily ever after there."
Jairo seemed upset by the conversation. David looked at him gently. "You need a bathroom break there?"
"No," he said in a strangled voice. "I'm okay. But how can you be so cold? That's a baby!"
"Ah, you got kids," Lopez said. "Can always tell the ones who got kids."
Jairo's nod was almost imperceptible. "Two," he whispered. "Sons. Abruptly he turned away.
"I can finish up here, Jairo. You don't need--"
"No, I am no woman to hide behind tears." Suddenly he flushed. "I am sorry, Dr. Lopez, I meant no disrespect."
"None taken. Well, if you think you can handle this, let's get on with it."
* * *
Saturday, 3:50 p.m., Figueroa Street, Los Angeles
After stopping at not one, but two West Hollywood stores, and a side trip downtown to grab a latte for Chris at a new Espresso café he'd heard a lot about, they took surface streets as they headed back to Chris's Silver Lake home. From Figueroa Street, they swung north toward Sunset, passing the distinctive Bonaventure Hotel and the downtown Marriott.
Des chattered animatedly all the way, waving his hands as he described what he had seen in each store. Des was never more in his element than when he was trashing the competition.
"Did you see that green thing in that storefront? I mean, is Joan Collin's campy slut look back? And where on earth did they find those hideous shoes? Even the Olsen twins would be repulsed by those. I don't care if they were Jimmy Choo's."
"You don't even sell women's clothes, hon. What do you care what they wear?"
"Honey, I don't, but I still have to walk the planet with them. Wearing something that butt ugly can ruin even my appetite."
Chris barely heard him. His thoughts were still on this morning and David. David was a solid, levelheaded rock; he could also be a solid bonehead--usually when he thought Chris was being idiotic with his money, which was why they stayed away from financial discussions. Every month, David put money in their joint account, and that went to pay house bills. When Chris wanted to spend his money on something, David thought it was wasted money, what he called Chris's eight-hundred-dollar jeans binges. This time it was a Barker Black loafer. David was being unreasonable--Chris could have gone for the eleven hundred dollar Lobb's.
But David never saw it that way. And David never argued. He was logical and sensible; two things Chris wasn't. "So why shouldn't I buy a nice pair of shoes?" Chris snapped. "I have a new job. I may have to travel, at the least meet with CEOs. Even David wouldn't want me to look shabby."
Ahead of them, the Santa Ana and the Hollywood freeways formed sinuous loops of concrete overpasses. Lines of vehicles moved in streams, like salmon moving upstream. Chris saw the flashing lights of a white, unmarked CHP car that had pulled over some hapless driver on the freeway ramp. The uniformed officer stood behind the driver's door, reading something handed to him, while traffic flowed past. His black mirrored shades reminded Chris of David and the flat, unfeeling gaze Chris hated on his lover. He looked away.
Before they had passed the access to the ramp, the khaki-suited cop strolled back to his vehicle with the red lights pulsing inside. Instinctively, Chris looked at the speedometer, but he wasn't speeding, probably why everyone else was passing him.
Des seemed to notice where his gaze was, because he said, "You know, ever since you and David hooked up, you've become a real Nelly drive safe. I like the old, reckless Chris."
"No, you don't. How many times did I have to listen to you complain that I needed a keeper, that I was always getting into trouble?"
"Okay, I may have said that on occasion--"
"Try once a week." Chris laughed. "I gotta admit I'm glad we're buddies. You're the only one I could vent to like this."
"You love the big lug. You know it."
"Yeah, yeah. You don't have to live with Mr. Perfect." Chris raised his coffee to his mouth; it was too hot, and he set it in the drink holder.
"All he ever tells me is to get over it. That works for him, but not me. Do you think he understands that?"
"Well, you know David, as buttoned-down as he is, he's just more levelheaded than you."
"Are you saying I'm not levelheaded?"
"Face it, hon, you can go from zero to bitch in twenty seconds, but your brakes don't work so fast."
Shaking his golden head, Chris reached for the coffee again and sloshed the hot liquid onto his lap. He cursed and dropped the cup.
Resting his chin on the steering wheel, he groped under the seat for it before it could dump its contents on his carpet and stain it.
They headed into the shadow of one of the dozens of overpasses that turned the downtown interchange into an Escher maze. The roar overhead from the two freeways, and the nearby Pasadena freeway, penetrated the sealed vehicle and thrummed through Chris's feet. He touched the cup, but felt it slip away. Looking down, he saw it was leaking.
Horns blared and rubber screeched. Beside him, Des yelled. Chris snapped his head up in time to see a flat-bed truck carrying a load of plate glass, veer into his lane. He jerked the steering wheel hard right, slamming on the brakes at the same time. The Escape shuddered and fishtailed. With the flat-bed truck on his left and the concrete abutment now dead ahead, there was no place for the Escape to go. A sickening crunch was followed by the scream of tearing metal and shattering glass.
The last thing Chris remembered was the air bags deploying in an explosion of powder. He was slammed back into the seat. Beside him, Des cried out.
The Escape listed alarmingly to one side. Chris could barely move. Or speak. When he tried to call out to Des, he barely managed a weak, "Des, you okay? Please, Des...."
In the distance, all he could hear was the tick-tick of cooling engine parts and the tortured creak of metal.
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Monday, July 23, 2012
As it turns out, Joel will be in town more than just a day or two. He'd like to see more of Félicien, and after that one-night stand, Félicien wouldn’t mind seeing a lot more of Joel, either. Before long, people have seen them with each other often enough to put two and two together, and Félicien begins to question who he is and what he wants from life.
Les Ardoises (novella)
Silver Publishing (July 21, 2012)
ISBN: 9781614956297 (e-book)
Félicien got off work at six, when the evening shift began. He changed back into his jeans and sneakers, put his white shirt in his shoulder bag, hung his slacks in the locker, and set about polishing his shoes.
"You should bring your pants home, too," Madame said. "You've worn them three days in a row."
"I'm off the day after tomorrow. I'll wash them then," Félicien told her, unconcerned she had come to watch him change again. "They're spotless. See for yourself."
"Can you work double shift tomorrow? Sylvain called in sick. Arnaud's taking his place tonight."
"How would I get home? If I work past eleven-thirty, I'll miss the last train to Nice."
"That's all right. We can manage with one less that late on a Wednesday night." Then, sweetening the kitty, she added, "I'll pay you as if you'd worked till closing."
Madame wasn't usually that generous. She was either desperate for the help or showing favoritism. Félicien pressed his advantage. "Overtime?"
"I'll give you an extra day off."
"Three in a row?"
He had almost pressed too far. "Come in for breakfast next Sunday and they're yours," she said, "but you had better wash those pants tonight if you're doing two shifts."
Félicien held up his shoes for inspection. "Good enough?"
He put the slacks in the bag and left. Once outside, he crossed the street and exchanged bisous with Corinne, who was waiting near the moored boats. They had a date to go to a disco that evening, their last before she left on a two-week visit to her family in Lyon. "Laundry night again," he told her.
"We can stop by the laundromat near the station."
"I'll need to go to my room first and pick up the rest of the load. You're all packed?"
"I'll do that after the disco."
"Aren't you staying with me tonight?"
"My train leaves before seven."
"I live closer to the station."
"Then I'll pack while you're doing your wash and bring my bags to your place."
The American Félicien had waited on was standing in front of the Hotel Welcome when they passed. He hurried toward them and called out, "Wait a minute!"
"C'est qui, ce mec?" Corinne asked.
"Just some guy who had a beer at Les Ardoises about an hour ago."
"What does he want?"
"I'm sure he'll tell me."
"Why's he taking out his wallet?"
"I left that tip for you," the man said, catching up to them. "The other waiter picked it up."
"It was Jules' table. He wiped it off. He's welcome to the euros."
"His name's Jules? What's yours?"
"I'm Joel. Which tables are yours? I'll sit there next time so you can help me decipher the menu."
"They don't always give me the same ones. If one of mine is free, I'll look right at it so you'll know."
Joel looked at him suspiciously. "What happened to your accent?"
"I don't have an accent?"
"Yeah, you have one. It's just not as thick."
"That's because I'm not working."
"You mean you're expected to put on a show for the tourists?" Félicien could almost hear what was going through the man's head: Those pretentious French! "What about tomorrow?" the American asked. "Are you working then?"
"I'm there starting at eleven."
"Then I'll eat lunch there. What should I have?"
"The pizzas are terrific. Brick oven, wood fire. Now, if you'll excuse us, we have a train to catch."
"Sorry. Bon voyage."
While they were walking to the station, Corinne asked, "What was that all about?" She had taken Spanish as her foreign language.
Félicien explained what the man wanted. "And that's all?" she insisted.
"What makes you think there was more?"
"You told him I was going away. I heard him say bon voyage."
"That's just his execrable French. I told him we had to hurry or we'd miss our train."
"He was very good looking. Très distingué."
"You think so?" he asked without interest.
"You must have noticed. I thought you said you were bi."
He should have known where all this was leading. "It depends on my mood."
"Whether you want a man or a woman?"
"If I want a man. I always like women."
"Well, he's one I wouldn't pass up if I were you."
"Pass him up?" he asked, emphasizing his astonishment. "Was he hitting on me?"
"It looked like it to me. He asked your name."
Félicien probably would have noticed the American was handsome if he had been in the mood. Joel looked to be in his early thirties, very fit and masculine, with short, light brown hair and a friendly smile. "Is that why you thought I told him you were leaving—because you thought he was hitting on me?" he asked.
"I told you the reason. He said bon voyage. And he was hitting on you." She paused a moment and added, "I bet he's rich, too."
"Are you trying to turn me into a gigolo? Not all Americans are rich."
"Everyone who stays at the Hotel Welcome is rich."
Félicien seriously doubted the American had sex on his mind. If he did, Joel just might find him a willing partner. Because Corinne would be away for two weeks, not for the money.
* * * *
When they arrived in Nice, Corinne told Félicien she'd bring her suitcase to his place around nine o'clock and caught a bus to her apartment. Félicien walked home to get his things and take them to the coin wash.
He wondered if Corinne's talk about the American was meant to test him. Since he had told her he was bisexual, she had gone out of her way to point out handsome men they passed in the street. As if sex popped into his mind every time he saw a man! He could count his homosexual experiences on the fingers of one hand: a friend he sometimes masturbated with in his early teens and a couple of perfunctory anonymous encounters while traveling. He wasn't sure that qualified as being bisexual, although the jack-off buddy relationship had lasted close to five years. His other experiences had neither turned him off nor particularly excited him. It was something he might do again between girlfriends. On the other hand, he would not consider becoming involved with a man he knew. Jules at Les Ardoises was gay, and Félicien suspected another waiter might be as well. They didn't discuss their private lives at work.
He couldn't understand why some people made a fuss about homosexuality. Nobody really cared one way or the other anymore except a loud-mouthed minority of uptight bigots, so why talk about it? He understood it was a matter of principle for Corinne, who was outspoken about her liberal views. Intolerance in any form raised her hackles and she openly supported all equal-rights causes, especially same-sex marriage. Early in their relationship, he had thought admitting he'd had sex with men would make him appear worldly and open minded. Now he regretted having told her, but if he said now he wasn't really bi and had only experimented a little or that he'd changed his mind, she would get angry. Besides, he might experiment again for all he knew. He just wished she'd drop the subject. Not that it was anything to be embarrassed about, but why make it a matter of pride to have a bisexual boyfriend?
Fortunately, she didn't harp on it often. She would bring up gay rights if she came across an article in the newspaper or she'd seen some reactionary politician or cleric foam at the mouth on a talk show, but she would have anyway, and when she said, "Isn't he handsome?" it wasn't necessarily for his benefit.
"As handsome as me?" he sometimes asked.
"Nobody's as handsome as you."
Félicien thought it impolite to comment on other women when he was with her, so he never did. Maybe it was why she didn't question his supposed bisexuality. Maybe she thought he was gay. Or maybe she hadn't gone on and on about the American in order to test him.
No, she couldn't possibly think him one hundred percent gay. In the eight months they had been together, he had given her all the proof she needed that he never had trouble getting it up with a woman. She had no reason to complain about his performance, nor he of hers. She was his most enthusiastic partner and certainly the prettiest and most vivacious, a petite brunette with a dimple on her cheek and an infectious smile, a smart dresser, easy to talk to and interested in everything. If he had to choose between her and the American, he wouldn't hesitate a second. Corinne would win hands down.
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Monday, July 16, 2012
In Olives for the Stranger (the fourth volume in the Aidan & Liam series by Neil Plakcy), as demonstrators and police spar in the streets of Tunis, bodyguards Aidan and Liam must protect Leila, a young girl whose mother has been taken into police custody. As the threats against her and her activist parents grow, hunky ex-SEAL Liam is stuck in the Tunisian countryside while teacher and novice bodyguard Aidan travels to France on his own with Leila. Liam must deal with his emotions once separated from his partner, while Aidan struggles to protect Leila and her father from a deadly villain as Liam has taught him. Both men must examine the depths of their love for each other and satisfy themselves that more than just sexual desire keeps them together.
Olives for the Stranger
Loose ID LLC (June 12 2012)
Chapter 1: Little Monsters
There were two of them, and they came at Liam McCullough fast and low, both of them screaming as they did.
The one on the right went for his leg, while the other tried to climb up his chair and get to his head.
“Children! Please!” their mother called. “Leave the nice bodyguard alone.” Her English was heavily accented, and she switched into her native Brazilian Portuguese, following with a string of speech that did nothing to pull the boy or the girl off him.
He smiled grimly and grabbed them both under his arms and stood up. The little girl kicked at the back of a gilt chair, which fell to the plush carpet with a thud. “Why don’t I take the kids outside so they can run around?”
The middle-aged saleswoman who had been showing Zoraida Figueroa hand-embroidered shawls looked relieved. She had been twisting the pearls around her neck with long, elegant fingers as the children rampaged through the narrow store.
Liam and Aidan, his partner in love and business, had been watching Zoraida and her two children for three days by then, while her husband concluded a deal to sell Brazilian rubber to the Tunisian government. Zoraida, twenty-eight, had bonded immediately with Aidan, the two of them chattering away and shopping like best girlfriends.
That left Liam to watch the kids. Joao was four and Morena three. They were like wild animals, spoiled beyond reason. Their mother could not discipline them, and their father was caught up in business so often that he didn’t either.
Liam carried them, kicking and squirming, across the hot, sun-drenched street, dodging the onrush of taxis, buses, and luxury SUVs that ignored the traffic signals with impunity. The girl pressed her hand against his chest, and when she grasped the gold ring in his right nipple, he quickly shifted her away.
The air was redolent with sweat and automobile exhaust, and stepping into the cool greenery of the Parc Habib Thameur was like entering another world. The date palms and cork oaks created a leafy bower above, and tiny green geckos and furry, inquisitive gerbils darted through the lush undergrowth. Though it was in the low sixties in the sun, under the trees it was at least ten degrees cooler, and Liam could feel the heat generated by the two squirming bodies in his arms.
Liam set the two kids down on the gravel path and stood up to stretch his back. They immediately ran toward a group of children playing on swings, screaming like banshees.
Liam liked being a bodyguard, but he hated this job. Zoraida’s husband, Gilberto, was insanely jealous—with good reason, Liam thought. Zoraida was a dark-haired beauty who oozed sexuality, and she dressed to accentuate her massive breasts and her long, tanned legs. The dress she wore today was cut so low that you could almost see her nipples, and it was so short that when she sat down, Liam had realized she wasn’t wearing panties.
Liam was astonished when Gilberto first called to hire them and asked if he and Aidan were gay. Years of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military had made Liam wary of such questions, but he had stopped lying when he resigned his commission. It turned out that there had been an unfortunate incident with a bodyguard in Canada, and Gilberto would only hire men who couldn’t be a threat to his marriage.
The whole deal made Liam uncomfortable. Kids were too unpredictable; they didn’t understand about threat factors or appropriate behavior. Hell, since they only spoke Portuguese, he couldn’t even talk to them. He couldn’t wait for this assignment to finish.
A half hour passed, the two Brazilians tormenting every child they met, before Zoraida and Aidan left the boutique, burdened with shopping bags. Liam called the children, but they ignored him.
They were experts at avoiding capture. When Liam strode toward them, they split up, going in separate directions. He feinted toward Morena, then caught Joao off guard. He grabbed the boy, who kicked him in the shins.
“Ow! That hurt. Stop that.”
He was sorely tempted to immobilize the little brat, but that wouldn’t go over well with the client. “You want to give him to me, or you want me to go for the girl?” Aidan said, coming up to him.
“Take him. But watch out. He kicks and he bites.”
Amazingly, the little boy nestled into Aidan’s arms as Aidan cooed to him in some broken combination of English and Portuguese. He looked like the sweetest little angel—until Liam caught him smirking as Aidan turned away.
Morena was darting among the palm trees, using her small size as an advantage to crawl through the underbrush. Liam grew increasingly frustrated as aloes stung his arms and palm trunks bruised his shins.
“Come on, Liam,” Aidan called from the limo. “Get a move on.”
“I’m going to kill someone here,” Liam muttered. “Maybe Aidan. Maybe one spoiled little girl.” He swooped on Morena, and she squirmed away from him. He narrowly missed falling on his face.
Her long hair proved her undoing. As she scooted past Liam, he grabbed a handful and used it to pull her toward him. Not the best tactic in child care, but it was effective. He got her under one arm, careful of her flailing arms and legs, and walked back to the limo.
By the time they returned to the Hotel Africa, Liam was fed up. The children had screamed and cried the whole way in the limo, their mother and Aidan ignoring them for chitchat and giggles. Liam had a pounding headache, and he was delighted that the Figueroa family was leaving Tunis that afternoon.
Zoraida set the children up in the living room of the suite with snacks and juice boxes, and Liam stood against the wall, watching them. The food kept the children occupied as Aidan helped Zoraida finish packing, and by the time the bellman had taken all the suitcases downstairs, Gilberto Figueroa had returned.
They all piled into a small airport bus. The kids ran back and forth while their father spoke on his cell phone and their mother gossiped with Aidan. At the airport, Zoraida kissed Aidan and Liam on both cheeks and thanked them effusively.
Gilberto stopped speaking on the phone long enough to pull a wad of bills out of his pocket, held together by a gold money clip. He handed a stack to Liam. “Hazard pay,” he said in English only slightly less accented than his wife’s. “Thank you.”
Aidan and Liam watched as Gilberto led his family and a skycap loaded with bags into the terminal. “Thank God,” Liam said as the doors closed behind them. “Never again.”
“What?” Aidan said. “That was a pretty easy gig. Just wandering around from store to store with Zoraida.”
“For you, maybe. For me it was hell. What a pair of little monsters,” Liam said as they walked down the sidewalk to the taxi rank.
“They’re good kids. You just have to know how to handle them.”
“Morena bit me,” Liam said. “If I get tetanus, I’m suing.”
Aidan laughed. “Don’t be a wimp.”
As they prepared to get into a cab, Liam leaned down to Aidan’s ear. “When we get home, I’ll have to show you who’s a wimp.”
Aidan laughed, but Liam could see his partner shiver just a bit. Good, he thought.
There was some kind of demonstration ahead, and the cab slowed. Liam could see a cluster of young men with placards clogging the narrow street and hear the low rumble of their chants. “What’s going on?” he asked the driver in Arabic, leaning forward.
“They are calling it the Jasmine Revolution,” the driver said. “Now it comes to Tunis.”
Liam had read news reports of uprisings in small towns all over the country since mid-December. A vegetable seller in the small town of Sidi Bouzid, south of Tunis, had been arrested for peddling without a license, and his cart and goods had been confiscated. After enduring insults and a fine at the hands of a policewoman, the young man, Mohammed Bouazizi, had gone home and set himself on fire.
His story had galvanized hundreds of desperate, downtrodden young men and women in Tunisia. Many of them were university educated but couldn’t find work, and they felt that the unwritten compact their parents’ generation had made with President Ben Ali—trading political freedom in exchange for economic opportunity—had come undone. They had begun protests against the government in Sidi Bouzid, and the fever had caught.
“The president says he will fire the Interior Minister and free people arrested during the demonstrations.” The cab driver shook his head. “No good will come of this, I tell you.”
By riding on the sidewalk for a few hundred feet—dangerously close to a storefront selling hammered brass tea urns and an elderly man in a shabby housecoat—the cabbie made his way to a side street and bypassed the demonstration. As they drove, Liam checked the Facebook and Twitter feeds on his cell phone. They were full of reports of protests in and around Tunis.
Liam had no idea what was going to happen. Would the president crack down? Would there be widespread riots in Tunis? He called his police contact, Faisal Qasim, but the call went right to voice mail. Not surprising if Faisal was out handling demonstrations.
By the time he and Aidan got back to the small house they shared behind the Bar Mamounia, just off the Boulevard Habib Bourguiba, it was close to five o’clock. Their little mixed-breed dog, Hayam, jumped and yipped joyfully as they walked inside, then darted past them to pee on the date palm out front.
“Remember, we’re meeting Louis and Hassan for dinner at seven,” Aidan said, as he closed the front door.
Louis Fleck’s official title at the US Embassy in Tunis was cultural attaché, though Liam had known for years that Louis worked for the CIA. Until recently, though, he hadn’t known that Fleck was gay or that he had a Tunisian partner. A few months before, Aidan had met Louis and twigged immediately. Bold as brass, Aidan had asked if Louis was seeing anyone, and just like that, they’d become a pair of gay couples who got together once or twice a month for dinner and conversation.
Once they were inside, Liam grabbed Aidan’s waistband and pulled him close. He leaned down and kissed Aidan hard on the lips. He cupped his broad hand around Aidan’s smooth, pert ass. Whatever was going on in the city could wait.
Aidan kissed him back, opening his mouth to accept Liam’s tongue. With his other hand, Liam reached up under Aidan’s shirt and found his right nipple. He pinched it, and Aidan shivered. He leaned his head back, and Liam nipped at his throat like a horny vampire.
“We’ll see who’s a wimp now,” Liam said. In a swift motion, he pulled Aidan’s polo shirt over his head and tossed it to the couch. Then he unbuckled Aidan’s belt and unhooked his pants. They dropped to the floor.
Aidan was already hard, his dick straining against his cotton boxers. They were decorated with tropical fish in neon colors. Liam thought they were silly—he preferred simple white cotton jockstraps himself. But they were all part of the charm that was Aidan.
Aidan kicked off his deck shoes and stepped out of his pants. He lifted his right leg up to wrap around Liam’s as Liam licked his throat and rubbed his five o’clock shadow across the tender skin. Aidan groaned with pleasure.
Liam jerked Aidan’s boxers down, catching his dick in them, and Aidan said, “Ouch! Watch it.”
“Watch this.” Liam sat down on the sofa, still fully clothed, and pulled Aidan down on top of him sideways, so that Aidan’s ass was in Liam’s lap. He raised his right hand and slapped Aidan’s butt.
“Who’s a wimp?” Liam said.
“You are,” Aidan said, his voice muffled by the sofa cushions.
“Wrong answer.” Liam spanked him again. He could feel Aidan’s stiff dick pressing against his thigh. He began playing Aidan’s butt like a pair of bongo drums, slapping one, then the other, then both in sync.
“Sometimes you need to be reminded who’s the boss around here,” Liam said.
“You are,” Aidan said, turning his head.
Liam sucked on his index finger, then slid it into Aidan’s butt crack and stroked it. His partner squirmed beneath him.
“Oh God,” Aidan said.
“That’s right. I am a god to you, aren’t I? You worship me, don’t you?”
“I worship your dick,” Aidan said. There were tears at the corners of his eyes, but he was smirking.
Liam removed his finger from Aidan’s ass. “Put it back, Liam, please.”
“Nah. I’m done here.” He squirmed out from under Aidan and stood up. “I’m going to take a nap. Wake me in time for dinner.”
“Liam!” Aidan turned over, wincing as his tender ass hit the textured sofa cushions. “You aren’t going to leave me like this, are you?” He cupped his dick in his right hand.
Liam laughed. “Who’s the wimp now?”
“I am. I’m a big pussy wimp. You’re the macho man. You’re the boss in this relationship.”
Liam looked down at him. Aidan was so cute, so charming, so sexy. Who was he kidding? He was dick-whipped. He dropped to his knees and took Aidan’s dick in his mouth. It felt so good, so right. He swallowed the whole thing, felt the dick head tickling the back of his throat, and began sucking.
He hadn’t been a virgin when he’d met Aidan, a year and a half before. He’d had sex with men—furtive encounters in hotel rooms and bars. But he’d never been in love, and he’d never had sex with a man he loved before. Sucking Aidan, fucking his sweet ass, getting sucked and fucked himself—it all felt so much better because of Aidan.
He sucked his partner’s dick furiously, bobbing his head up and down, suctioning, licking. His own dick, trapped in his jockstrap and his pants, was so stiff it hurt. He reached one hand down and stroked himself, rubbed the palm of his hand over the bulge in his pants. He felt like a crazy teenager, hepped up on lust.
Aidan was bouncing his ass up and down on the sofa, wincing when his reddened cheeks touched down but not letting up the pace. Liam felt his blood race and the amazing, beautiful pain of orgasm as he spurted off in his pants, the cum soaking his jockstrap. As he did, Aidan bucked one last time and came in Liam’s mouth. He swallowed it all, then licked his lips and sat back against the chair across from the sofa.
Aidan turned to look at him. “There’s a wet spot in your pants. Did you come?”
“You didn’t save it for me? You bastard.”
“You want your ass spanked again?” Liam said, a smile dancing on his lips.
“Maybe later.” Aidan turned on his side, and Liam could see the redness on Aidan’s cheeks, rising beneath the fine layer of dark hair on his ass. Liam loved the way Aidan’s hairy body slid beneath his smooth one.
The gloppy cum was cold against his dick, still trapped in the jockstrap. But Liam could feel his dick rising again, despite the workout. “I need a shower before dinner,” he said, standing up. “Care to join me?”
“I’ll never turn down an offer like that.” Aidan turned on his back again to get up and winced from the pressure of the sofa against his tender ass.
Liam leaned down and pulled him up, then nestled against his partner’s naked body. “After we shower, I’ll rub some ointment on your butt.”
Aidan’s cell phone rang as Liam was pulling off his polo shirt. “Leave it,” he growled to Aidan, who was already reaching for the phone.
“You know I can’t do that.”
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Monday, July 9, 2012
In Tumble Turn, a contemporary m/m romance by Charlie Cochrane, winning isn't everything...except when everything rides on being first.
Ben Edwards is the rising star of British Paralympic swimming, with a medal at London 2012 firmly in his sights. Love isn't going to be allowed to get in the way -- until he meets Nick, who proves to be a big distraction from training. With his times sliding, and a family illness, to worry him, it looks like Ben's Olympic dreams are in tatters. Until Nick comes up with the most outrageous incentive for winning.
MLR Press (April 2012)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-645-2 (ebook)
“Where’s my bloody tickets?”
I hadn’t heard that voice in best part of a year, but I knew it straight away, even though it had gone down a couple of notes. Matty had seemed to keep growing, even into his twenties. Now he looked like a rugby lock forward and a gorgeous one, to boot. I couldn’t find my voice.
“You promised me tickets, so I could watch you. Don’t pretend you’ve forgotten.”
I hadn’t. I didn’t. “I remembered alright, I thought you’d forgotten, you miserable sod.” I got him in a bear hug—well, you have to take your chances when you can—after which I whacked him a bit. “I know you were supposed to be travelling all last summer, but where were you at Christmas? I went round your house but your mum wouldn’t say.”
“I’m surprised she didn’t take the chance to slag me off.” Matty wriggled out of the clinch. “I committed the cardinal sin of choosing to spend the holidays with Dad, so I was persona non grata for a while. I hardly recognised you just now. You’ve put on a lot of muscle.”
I resisted saying he didn’t recognise me because he’d not kept in touch so he hadn’t seen me fill out and blossom. “You here for the Games?” Stupid bloody question, of course, seeing as we were both standing outside the Aquatics Centre.
“Silly bugger, of course I am. Had to get my tickets through the proper channels since you’d let me down.” His grin told me he was just winding me up. “I hope the British manage to get some medals tonight.”
“So do I.” I’d got a ticket for the swimming—able-bodied—from a friend of a friend and I couldn’t wait to get up the stairs and into my space. I think I had more butterflies in my stomach than when I’m competing. Of course I knew a couple of the lads who’d be out there and I’d be cheering them on, but it’s sometimes frustrating because you almost want to be in the pool swimming the race for them. Not that I’d be a lot of use in a mainstream race, but you take my point. “You here on your own?” It sounded like I was chatting him up and maybe I was. I knew I had two chances of winning him over to my lane—fat and slim—but a boy’s got to do what a boy’s got to do.
“No, I’ve got Nick with me. I got a couple of tickets because I was going to bring Jenny, but she’s had to work so her brother came along.” His words came out all of a rush, with particular emphasis on Jenny and brother which was the point where I knew he knew. I guess the gossip machines had been going full blast at home and he wasn’t likely to have missed the juicy bit of tit-tat, with all its embellishments. “Ben’s gay. Did he ever try it on with you?”
“Jenny’s your girlfriend?” I made it easy for him.
“Yeah. We’re coming up to our ninemonthiversary.”
I managed not to laugh. That must have been Jenny’s term, not his; not unless he’d changed an awful lot since he went off to Uni. “Nice. Is she at Plymouth as well?”
“Yeah, doing biology research. She’s pretty smart.” He jerked his thumb behind him. “Nick’s even brighter. He’s at Warwick. Languages.” That potted history seemed to be all I was going to get. “You’ll like him. I’m glad I ran across you.”
My heart sank. I’d had this sort of thing happen before and the glint in Matty’s eye showed it was coming right round the corner at me again. I’m not a bad looking bloke, even with the slight twist to my arm and the listing to one side that tends to happen after my second pint. And I’m not just going on what Mum says. I’ve never had any problems getting dates; they all say I scrub up and strip off pretty well. Even when I’m not shaved down for a race.
As a result, some of my friends think I’ll be God’s gift to their token gay—and usually hideously ugly—mate (assuming I’m not the token gay myself). They drag along Tom or Chris or whatever he’s called and steer him in my direction on the assumption that I’m gay and single and, given that I’ve got CP, probably not that fussy. Right on two counts, wrong on one, and wrong on the only one which really matters. I don’t want anyone else’s leavings, or the last chocolate left in the box, romance’s equivalent of that horrible hard centre that cracks your teeth. I could just imagine what this Nick was going to be like so I got into gear for doing a runner.
“I’m sure I will, but I’m in a bit of a hurry at the moment. What about meeting up later on, over a pint?” I started to back away. “Ring my mobile when the last event’s done.”
“Same number?” Matty had to raise his voice as I continued my not-very-gallant retreat.
“Yeah. See you later.” I waved, turned and made my way through the crowd, almost colliding with a corker of a bloke carrying two coffees. Shame Nick wasn’t going to look like him. I’d just have to text Matty back tomorrow and say I’d missed his call because of the crowd noise. I felt guilty, but only for all of three minutes. Matty White had effectively cut himself out of my life and I wasn’t going to roll over and let him back in.
Fate's a cruel mistress. Or master. Or something. I got to my seat-eventually, after battling through crowds and then signing autographs for some real swimming fanatics-and I was settling in when something slapped the back of my head.
"Ben!" It was Matty, of course, looking pleased as punch and plonking his backside in the seat behind mine and two to the left. "That's a stroke of luck. I'd forgotten I hadn't got your number on my new phone."
That made me even more angry. Matty pulling the "long lost friend" thing on me when he hadn't bothered to keep my number. I scowled at him, and at the weasely looking bloke sitting to the left of him, who was evidently the ghastly Nick and every bit as horrible as I'd imagined him. There was another bump to my head and I spun round one hundred and eighty degrees, about to give some clumsy sod a mouthful. There was gorgeous-guy-with-the-coffees smiling at me and being terribly apologetic.
"Sorry, did I thump you?" He smiled, revealing the sort of set of lovely teeth that would have been all the better to eat me with, if I'd been lucky. "My fault. I've always been clumsy. I think it's dyspraxia but Jenny just says I'm a prat. With dys-prat-sia." He grinned.
This horrible hot flush-remember my habit of blushing?- started to clamber up the back of my neck, which is hardly my best look given that there's more than a trace of ginger in my hair.
I managed to stammer something like, "No worries," although I could have been spouting gibberish, for all that I was aware. All I could think of was that I'd nearly gone and cocked everything up with my, "Ring me but I won't answer the phone" ruse. At least fate had saved me, and redeemed itself at the same time.
Unless I was buggering things up again by making an assumption too many, this must have been Jenny's brother, and he wasn't the spotty nerd I'd expected.
"I'm Nick." This gorgeous vision of tall, dark handsomeness stuck out his hand. "You must be Ben."
"Yeah, that's right." I managed to shake his hand without shaking too much myself. Sometimes I get a bit clumsy if I'm overexcited.
"We saw you on the telly-Paralympic World Cup, earlier this year. You won."
"You don't half state the bleeding obvious," Matty chipped in, grinning. "I suspect Ben remembers that for himself."
"Just a little." I was hoping the red flush was starting to subside.
"Matty was so proud of you. Kept pointing at the screen and saying that was his best mate from school days. He started to cry when you won." Nick rolled his eyes. "Great Jessy."
I was starting to well up, too. Maybe Matty had redeemed himself a bit. "We said we'd be here, being a part of it. Even back when we were horrible, spotty schoolboys, we knew we'd have to
make London 2012 happen."
"And you did." Matty ruffled my hair, just like we were fourteen again. "I've got tickets to see you, next month, so you damn well better make the final. And get a medal. No pressure."
"Not much. Only from you, Mum and Dad and the whole bloody street."
"Me as well." Nick had got himself settled into his seat, and given that I was in the row below I got a distinct eyeful of his crotch every time I turned to speak to him. I wasn't sure it was helping my coherence.
"Will you be there to cheer me on as well?" I tried a) not to sound too hopeful and b) not to keep staring at his trousers.
"Try and stop me. If you win I'll be basking in the reflected glory for months. We're sport mad in our house and even the friend of a future brother-in-law would count as one of the family if he had an Paralympic medal."
Future brother-in-law? No wonder Matty had been full of the lovey-dovey talk. "Wear your lucky y-fronts, then. I'll need all the help I can get."
"Gah. False modesty." Matty whacked my shoulder with his programme. I was about to launch into a great spiel about how I was up against a really tough field when Nick got there before me.
"No, Ben's just being realistic. There are some really fast Aussies in his event, and this guy from the US is starting to make a splash. No pun intended."
"Which guy from the US?" Matty pulled the face I remember from school, the one which usually appeared when we did algebra.
"The one who placed fourth in that race we watched. When Ben won." Nick gave me a wink. "Was he this thick at school?"
"Worse." I listened in as Nick gave Matty a comprehensive rundown on the top runners and riders in Paralympic swimming. Gorgeous, knowledgeable, funny; he seemed too good to be true. There had to be a catch and I had an awful feeling the catch was insurmountable. He was going to turn out to be straight and only here for the swimming. All my conspiracy theories about Matty finding out I was gay and engineering a meeting would turn out to be hot air and leave me with just daydreams.
"Rebecca Adlington going to do the double again?" Nick's voice woke me out of my reverie. I'd gone off on a mental tangent-mainly involving him, me, a swimming pool and a double bed.
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Monday, July 2, 2012
Variety, the Spice of Life
eXtasy Books (September 1, 2010)
Was in New York City in the summer of 1970 when I had turned twenty-six, and newly arrived in Manhattan from Queens—not that far, actually another borough, but a world of difference in outlook of life. A few years ago, Oswald assassinated Kennedy while Johnson had enmeshed us in the Vietnam War as Nixon was threatening to drag us even deeper in the mire.
In the springtime, my mother had passed away, after suffering from her bad heart for many years, and I received some annuity from her insurance—not much, but two thousand dollars was a great deal in the 1970s. I had a go-nowhere job in a small paper supply company on Maiden Row, a few blocks from Wall Street, not the best or promo-table of jobs, but things seemed to be going as best as they could, if the female secretaries didn’t give me enough reasons to be mad at them. And with mom’s death, there no longer was any real purpose to remain in Queens, which was like a different country compared to what I had my sights set for, Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which was low-priced and where I had walked through its streets quite a number of times.
By 1970, the hippie-free-love era had chaotically erupted and crashed all over society. The hair on men had gotten longer and women’s dresses were becoming much shorter and freer, while the music had become psychedelic—whatever that meant.
Basically, though, no more do-wop or June-moon lyrics. Nevertheless, I still wore suits and ties to work, but on the Lower East Side neighborhood where I now lived, I was beginning to feel odd with my straight apparel. Every day, I’d take the subway downtown to work and feel comfortable there, yet in the evening take the same train home and feel out of place in those very same clothes. I wasn’t only looking odd, I was now feeling odd, too. Times were certainly changing, and pretty quickly at that.
I had found a sizable room on the top floor of a tenement on 9th Street between 1st and Avenue A, and I very much liked its hugeness—seems that the old tenant had removed the walls of his four room apartment and created one vast auditorium, which no one seemed to want to live in, except, that is, me! I loved the place, its hugeness, its vastness, that you actually could faintly hear echoes from the other side of the room as you walked through.
After I had paid her the two months’ rent in advance, Mrs. Yawolsky, the elderly Polish-Ukrainian owner, asked in her Slavic accent, “What you want big room for? You got girlfriend?”
I turned red. We were in her apartment, which served as her office on 9th Street and Avenue A—she ran a few buildings in the area in the neighborhood along with her sons who were gruff looking boys.
“No, ma’am,” I answered. Thinking of those thoughts had been a problem all my life. I lived by the rules society imposed on me—go to grade school, then high school. Afterward, find a nice job, get a girlfriend and eventually plan to marry her so as to have children and little grandchildren. What boring rot! I had other dreams and quests ever since I had known Mr. Dickey, a local Queens man who seemed to come around every now and then, taking me to amusement parks, the Bronx Zoo, Coney Island, Central Park and other places around the city. I was eighteen and Mr. Dickey took me everywhere until we stopped off and went to see a Times Square movie, a kind of exposé report on sexually aroused women—now a bit tame, but at the, time a tantalizing look at women undressing.
That’s when I had cum in my pants while sitting next to Mr. Dickey as he groped at me.
Cowardly to say the least, but I left the theater, whispering that I had to go and use the bathroom, but fleeing home where I masturbated even more that night and very often in the coming days and weeks as I thought of Mr. Dickey’s hands on me.
Well, I never talked to Mr. Dickey again, though I had seen him with other men and as the weeks and months went by, I’d let other men touch and grope me. Times Square seemed to be the place for that though. I learned that touching men could happen anywhere and I always made myself available to be touched or to touch. On Friday evenings, I’d be at a Times Square movie theater and feel some stiff man hover beside me, but that’s about all I did, going home to mother in Queens, feeling sad, angry and frustrated. It no longer made a difference how many men I sat next to because at the end of the night, I’d be taking the subway home to mother and my useless empty bed.
“No girlfriend…” I repeated, blinking my eyes and looking at Mrs. Yawolsky. “Have my job to look after,” I snuggly said, but I felt stupid as my face reddened even more.
“You must have you rent every month,” she stated in her thick Slavic accent. “Put in mailbox. No leave with sons,” she firmly added and then shut her door.
Typical mother and son disputes, I thought, well, that never occurred with my mother, the dear…
However, I was happy now and went about collecting goods I needed for the place. I bought some pots and pans with a used toaster from the thrift store on 11th Street and 1st Avenue, where many women were getting their used wardrobes and other feminine things from. I blushed and looked away. I also got a very nice table lamp that would sooth the cavernous huge room from the ceiling light bulbs which certainly brightened the huge room, yet, I felt awkward in the so suddenly lit-up open space, as though I was on display there.
On Avenue A, at Tifford’s Furniture Store on 7th Street, I found a bed for fifteen dollars—Take As Is, said their sign—and made three trips to my house, back and forth from the furniture store and one time even seeing Mrs. Yawolsky’s gruff looking sons snorting and laughing at me as I lugged up the mattress.
That Sunday afternoon, I had already started to feel edgy and nervous. I had missed the anonymous men and the groping I did with them for a few dollars or they did with me. Yet, instead of going uptown to 42nd Street, I began looking around here, downtown along 2nd or 3rd Avenues. It was a relief to be there, the people, the crowds and the movie theaters. Yes, it was as if I had returned to a safe refuge, which 3rd Avenue had become. For many weeks, I had been going there, the movie houses on various streets interspersed among the avenues, which were eagerly awaiting more moviegoers, as were the movies on 42nd Street. On 14th Street there was the Academy of Music, the Variety Photoplays, the Metropolitan and on 2nd Avenue there was the St. Marks Cinema and others, all so erect and standing tall as if awaiting release of some feature film or at least me watching one.
Then I saw him, a dream I kept in my thoughts, amongst the crowd on St. Marks Place and stepping down into the subway on 4th Avenue. A man I had been lusting after many days now. However, alas, he had disappeared down into the subway.
Ever since I saw him for the first time in the movie theaters, he seemed to be with someone else, another teasing man, or a protective older man. One time he even was with a black transvestite in a short skirt and that made me blush as I watched the two of them, the traney with very big breasts, as they giggled and skirted away. When would my day come to put my arms around him and protect him?
Still after a few hours of groping and gazing into hungry faces and onto the bodies on the screen, I left the shabby tissue-strewn Metropolitan and went home to my abode on 9th Street, where I again masturbated. Whomp… whomp…whomp… Ah, the angry peace…