Monday, November 26, 2012

Spine Intact, Some Creases excerpt by Victor J Banis

To celebrate the release of the Kindle edition, the following is a brief excerpt from Spine Intact, Some Creases, the memoir of Victor J. Banis - part personal history, part gay history, some writing tips, some comments on philosophy and religion, and a few recipes for good measure by a legendary name and pioneer of gay fiction.

Spine Intact, Some Creases
Publisher: Wildside Press; 2 edition (November 1, 2012)


James Franciscus used to intone on television that “there are eight million stories in the Naked City.” With all due apologies to the Big Apple, if you want stories the small town is the place to find them. Sodom and Gomorrah were small towns, after all. How do I know that, you ask? Simple. It is not nose count that defines the small town but rather the one inescapable fact of life: everyone knows everyone else’s business. If you go back and read the Biblical story you will see that it was true in Sodom and it is no less true in Eaton, Ohio, nor ever was.

The history of Eaton comes complete with every sort of drama you could imagine and some you probably never thought of. Murders, scandals, incest, adultery, great love affairs and heart wrenching tragedy.

And Miss Ames. Miss Ames taught Social Studies—some history, some geography. Not very well, I’m afraid. She was a spinster, for reasons which I will get to in time, already old when I knew her and a bit frail. Her round face might have been cherubic but for the unfortunate fact of her whiskers. We laughed at those, particularly when, as sometimes happened, she would be unaware of the lint that had been caught in them. Children are cruel and I am afraid we lived up (or down) to that truism. It is a major step in growing up when you come to find that you are ashamed of the thoughtless hurt you inflicted on others when you were young. Some people never get to that regret. Some never even get to the awareness of it. Saddest of all, some never stop inflicting it.

Still, though we were sometimes cruel we were fond of the old dear in our childish fashion and tolerant of her foibles. Hers was a sad story in a romantic, Victorian way. Long years before Miss Ames’ younger brother had vanished. Just disappeared, leaving behind a wife and daughter. And a sister, obviously.

Some thought him dead. Others theorized that he had been a victim of amnesia or had been shanghaied in some foreign port. Or perhaps there had been some secret, shameful act that had made it impossible for him to face those who loved him. We knew only that he was gone.

I hardly knew the wife and daughter and how they responded to this strange disappearance I cannot say. But all of us were aware of Miss Ames’ grief and her determination to solve the mystery.

It was for this reason that Miss Ames had never married, for her entire life had been devoted for several decades to searching for her brother. Her every penny, her every free hour, was spent
in her search. She traveled often, following up any clue or hint, however tenuous, however distant. She read police reports, spent hours poring over old newspapers from throughout the country, even from foreign lands. An unidentified body, a wandering vagrant who could not remember his name, put her on a bus or a train, to New York, to Florida, to California. There were detectives, paid for with her scant earnings as a teacher. Phone calls, telegraphs, letters.

The years passed. The young, once pretty sister became an adult, the marriageable young woman became a spinster, the spinster an old, frail lady brushing lint from her whiskered chin and pretending not to hear her students snicker.

We watched her come and go. It was a romantic story, one of family devotion and untiring faith, doomed, it seemed, to have no end.

But end it did, though it was not Miss Ames’ tireless efforts that brought it to conclusion. Rather it was the sudden, astonishing return of her errant brother and the even more astonishing explanation for his long absence. There was, it seemed, no tragedy, no mystery, no thrilling saga to impart. He had simply gone off, following his own restless spirit, and never thought to get in touch nor to return until his wife was gone, his daughter grown, his sister near the end of a long, fruitless life.

She welcomed the prodigal home, of course. How could she not, while the whole town watched, and for a brief time they could be seen together, brother and sister, daughter sometimes as well, chatting in low voices as they sat on her porch or strolled the town’s streets in the twilight.

What did they speak of, one wondered? Did she berate him for his neglect? Did she speak in aggrieved tones of the trips, the search, the money and, oh, the years, the lost, long years, gone like the sunset fading into the darkening sky?

Did he regale her with tales of his adventures in distant lands, of long treks along dusty roads, of flights in balloons and flights of fancy, of villains and heroes and saints and great, great loves? Did they laugh together, cry together, argue, coax, plead, explain, pray?

She died not long after his return, perhaps bereft of her reason for living, and he drifted away once again, this time to be unmourned, unsought, undreamed of on long summer evenings.

Not a grand story, you understand, not the stuff of operas nor even of novels. In a big city, in New York or San Francisco or New Orleans, the years might have passed, the comings and going, all unnoticed, hers a lonely woman’s private pain.

It was a small town thing.

For another excerpt from Spine Intact, Some Creases see the blog entry for March 20, 2008.
To purchase the Kindle edition from Amazon, click

Monday, November 19, 2012

When We Become Weavers: Queer Female Poets on the Midwestern Experience poem excerpt edited by Kate Lynn Hibbard & Among the Leaves: Queer Male Poets on the Midwestern Experience poem excerpt edited by Raymond Luczak

So: what does it mean to be queer and Midwestern? 
Some 35 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) poets across both When We Become Weavers and Among the Leaves: Queer Male Poets on the Midwestern Experience poem anthologies answer that question in many different and surprising ways.

When We Become Weavers brings together a multitude of voices exploring the many dimensions of the Midwest queer female experience: a land of moderation and extremes, lakes and thunderstorms, tall grass prairie and dance clubs, racism and transphobia, assault and female erotic power. In this volume, 17 poets, familiar and new, share stories you won't soon forget.

When We Become Weavers: Queer Female Poets on the Midwestern Experience poem excerpt edited by Kate Lynn Hibbard

Squares & Rebels (October 1, 2012)

Black Ice
by Sheila Packa

I go back to the girl
her blades on black ice

crossing visible cracks
fracture fused by zero

on the December lake
over fish in descending currents

silver and precise
to turn and reverse

with her fingers burned by cold
and face red-cheeked

intoxicated with chance
carving the surface of her life

with hardly a glance
in wide circles and backward

keeping weight off the landing
racing from shore

to lift when she leaped
release the pain in her feet

almost blue. Exertion or

Drowning was very near the place
we could break through.

In Among the Leaves, 18 queer male poets share stories what it means to live in the Midwest. We learn what it’s like for them to play football and come up short. We feel their lingering effects of bullying. We experience the undeniable power of seasons affecting their moods as they ache for a meaningful connection. We learn what it means to celebrate in spite of the odds against them. But more than anything, we discover anew through their poems the redemptive power of love and renewal among the leaves growing and falling

Among the Leaves: Queer Male Poets on the Midwestern Experience poem excerpt edited by Raymond Luczak
Squares & Rebels (October 1, 2012)

The Piano Teacher
by Malcolm Stuhlmiller

Play something for me,
he says,
snuffing out a cigarette
in the great amber ashtray
already overflowing,
stinking the whole world
with stale butts.

Play something you love,
he says.
His smoke-stained fingers
stoke another filterless Camel
and beautiful blue acrobats
turn and tumble
in a circus of sunlight
between us,
stealing air,
making music our oxygen.

Let the music speak for you,
he says longingly,
remembering the car crash
that for two years
hospitalized his career
and still detonates his brain
with continuous cannons.
His potent hands,
delicately fondling the keys,
cannot muscle away the toccata
embracing his head,
always allegro fortissimo,
always relentless.

First practice living—
then practice piano.
Over and over he says this
like a father
forgiving his son’s mistakes,
as the smoky breath
marks a musical phrase,
while black and white keys
patiently wait
for his flesh and bones
finally to grow into mine.
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Monday, November 12, 2012

A Very Public Eye (Book 2 in The Public Eye Mystery Series) excerpt by Lori L Lake

A Very Public Eye by Lori L Lake, the second book in the Goldie Award-winning The Public Eye mystery series, promises to be just as good as the first. Police Officer Leona “Leo” Reese and her sidekick Thom are back to tackle a murder case at a supposedly secure juvenile detox center. As she uncovers long-buried secrets, someone else is murdered, and Leo realizes that she, too, is in danger. In the midst of her own emotional turmoil, is Leo strong enough to catch a clever and ruthless murderer?

A Very Public Eye
Regal Crest Enterprises: Quest Imprint (11/9/12)
ISBN: 978-1-61929-076-1
e-ISBN: 978-1-61929-077-8


Chapter 1

EDDIE BOLTON MOVED like a walking string of lit firecrackers. As he passed through the center’s cafeteria, teenagers much bigger than him stepped aside. Those who were seated leaned in and looked away.

Yeah, Eddie thought, get outta my face. I could hurt you.

One of the more popular staff members rose to intercept him and raised a hand at the doorway.


“Get out of my way.” He pushed past and stomped out into the hallway.

“But wait, you can’t…”

The man’s voice drifted away as Eddie strode toward his room, the pulse in his head beating a staccato as fast as a stampede of wild ponies.

The part of the chemical dependency unit to which Eddie had access was shaped like a U, and he had to travel from one end all the way around to the other end to reach his assigned room. At the midpoint, he passed near the security station where an unarmed guard kept the general public from wandering in, while also assuring that Eddie and his peers were not allowed out. The guard was no taller than Eddie and much skinnier. With his worry-lined face and buckteeth, Eddie thought he resembled a rodent. He hated the guard on sight and wouldn’t meet his eyes as he passed.

Each resident at the Benton Dowling Center was supposed to be considered a temporary “patient,” but in Eddie’s mind, inmate was the more appropriate term. No freedom. Locked up and the key taken away. He didn’t ask to be here, and he wouldn’t play their game. He couldn’t get out until he was deemed emotionally ready—or until he reached the age of eighteen. After a quick mental count he mumbled, “Forty-six days. Just have to make it forty-six days.”

He knew he wasn’t supposed to leave his group at the table. They hadn’t even been released to get their food yet. He would surely get in trouble for his angry departure, but there was no way he’d squeeze in, elbow to elbow, with that bunch of pathetic weasels. He considered himself a man while they were all stupid boys. He didn’t want to deal with their shit.

After breakfast each morning, residents were allowed quiet time in their rooms until eight a.m. when school started. At eleven, they had athletic time in the gym. Today he would refuse to do either. All he wanted now was to curl up on his bed and convince himself not to beat the hell out of the pansy guard, escape, and run for the woods. He knew that wasn’t a good plan. He looked down at his soft slippers and the baggy jeans and t-shirt he wore. No, he’d be found shivering within an hour.

When he reached his room, he grabbed both sides of the door frame and pulled, launching himself across the room and onto his assigned bed. He lay there panting, sweating, tense. He wanted a drink, some pot, anything—even just a cigarette. Some of the boys used behavior credits to buy candy for when they were jonesin’ real bad. He’d only been at the place eleven days and hadn’t yet earned any privileges. He was pretty sure that throwing a punch last week at Mike, the counselor, hadn’t helped his cause. But, oh, it felt so good! The impact of fist on bone, the startled look in the counselor’s eyes, the fear and anger as the bigger man went down. At once, Eddie had felt calm—focused—as though the only objects existing in the world were the knuckles of his fist and Mike’s scruffy, unshaven cheek. It was worth the night spent in isolation in a padded room with no toilet. He dreamed of slugging Mike all night long, though when he awoke the next day, stiff from lying on the thin padding, he agreed not to act out again. That was the phrase they used: act out. Like he was on stage somewhere. He wanted to tell them, “This is no act. You wanna see some real action? Gimme some crack or a few shots of Jack Daniels, and I’ll show you an act!”

He was surprised no one came after him now, but breakfast would be over soon enough. He didn’t want the lukewarm scrambled eggs or cold toast. Cheerios were for little kids, and the sausage looked like something from out of a dog’s rear end. He contemplated going on a hunger strike and smiled grimly. He thought he could last forty-six days. Easy.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and looked around the room: two twin beds, two chairs pushed up to small tables meant to serve as desks, and some open shelving near the doorway where he and his roommate kept jeans, plain white t-shirts, socks, and underwear. All of their personal clothing, shoes, and possessions had been taken away. He wasn’t even allowed an iPod or even a watch in this unit. There was no door in the frame leading to the hallway. Anyone could look in. Worst of all, the bathroom door was cut out two-thirds up so that staff could peek over. He hated that there was no privacy, that he couldn’t even take a crap without the worry that someone would watch.

He stood and paced, but the room allowed him to take only six cribbed steps. He’d never liked enclosed places. Tightening his fists, he squeezed, tensing his forearms, and let out a growl. His breath quickened, and the panicky feeling welled up inside. The pale blue walls sported no pictures, no windows. It would take a year of Sundays and fifty jackknives to scratch his way through the cement block to the outside.

He stepped into the bathroom and whispered, “Gross!” under his breath. The room was, at most, seven by ten feet. To the right, the sink was built in an alcove. A sheet of high-gloss metal, screwed into the wall above the sink, served as a mirror. Two toothbrushes lay on the counter next to a plastic soap dish and one tiny tube of generic toothpaste. The area to the left sported a showerhead in one corner, and six feet away, in the other corner, a toilet stool. No curtain. He had to shower in the tiny space, and if the metal toilet got splashed, too bad.

“Fucking gross. No fucking privacy…people just watching you shit and shower.”

Eddie leaned over the counter surrounding the sink, his palms pressing hard. He could make out his reflection in the metal, but everything was fuzzy around the edges. In the past, he’d never understood when his Aunt Phyllis told him he was too intense, but obviously his level of intensity was too much for this hellhole. He knew nobody he could trust. His roommate, a fat kid two years younger named William, was closed off in his own mute world. Even after Eddie provoked him mercilessly, William pretended Eddie didn’t exist.

The area under the sink was open. Beneath the water pipes was a rack made of plastic. It held a stack of scruffy towels, washcloths, and a spare roll of toilet paper which had gotten speckled with water but was now dry and rippled. He kicked at the rack, and the shelf bounced up off the supports, then fell back in place. The roll of TP hit the floor, and so did something else.

Frowning, Eddie reached down for a flat metal container lying on its side. Liquid swished to and fro, gradually settling. He picked it up. The screw-on lid opened to reveal pungent-smelling liquid.

“Well, shit. What’s this?”

He sneaked a look over the closed half-door. His roommate had not returned, and he heard no sounds in the hall.

“Oh, wow,” Eddie whispered as he sniffed at the metal flask. “William, you little creep. How the hell did you keep this from me?”

He closed his eyes and took a tiny sip, just one touch on his tongue. He hadn’t ever tasted anything quite like it. Jim Beam, Jack Richland, Johnny Walker Red, and Captain Morgan were familiar. He liked liquors with a man’s name attached, but he’d been drunk plenty of times on Absolut, Cutty Sark, Bacardi, Wild Turkey, and every variation of cheap wine and beer. This tasted like bourbon—but not exactly like any bourbon he’d ever had before. He wasn’t sure if it was of high quality—or perhaps just crap. He didn’t care. He raised the flask to the makeshift mirror. “Bottom’s up.”

Relishing a mouthful, he swallowed in metered amounts, feeling the liquor burn its way down his throat. His eyes watered, and he wheezed for a moment, then let out a satisfied burp. With a deep sigh, he swirled the remaining liquid. A feeling of intense happiness threaded its way through him from the tips of his toes all the way up to his ears. He quaffed down another shot. This one tasted exceptionally bitter, and for a moment, his throat threatened to close up.

Eleven days and I’m already out of practice? He let out a snort, then turned and leaned back against the counter, holding the container in both hands. The next swig he intended to savor. He licked his lips and thought of his last binge, of how sweet the rum tasted and how cute the girl with him had been. He refused to think of the crash that put her in the hospital. Eddie’s aunt’s car was an older model with one air bag, on the driver’s side only, so he’d been all right. His cousin Stevie in the back seat had only gotten banged up, but Kimberly went through the windshield. Aunt Phyllis hadn’t known about the girl’s medical condition when he’d seen her the day before. Oh, well, he thought. There’ll be plenty of other girls.

At most now, there were two swigs left, and he had to choke down the first. The dregs tasted grainy and he decided against taking the last sip. He thought that this booze was indeed the cheapest kind. Every sip had gotten progressively more bitter. He wiped his lips on the back of his hand and stuffed the empty flask under the plastic rack. Before he could stand up, his stomach felt tight and too full.

Eddie laughed, glad he hadn’t eaten breakfast and knowing that if he had, the liquor wouldn’t have as much effect. He grinned to think how much he was going to enjoy the high.

He leaned back against the edge of the counter, arms crossed and eyes closed. As he rocked himself from side to side, he could feel the power growing in his torso and upper arms. He didn’t know how long he stood there, but when he opened the door and stepped into the room, William was just entering from the hallway.

“Hey, Big Boy,” Eddie said in a jovial voice.

William gaped at him, startled, then turned away and headed for his bed on the right.

“Your secret’s out, Willie. It’s out, out, out.”

The chubby face appeared alarmed. William opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it and looked down.

“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”

William rose and strode toward the hallway. Eddie watched him leave, then stood swaying in the middle of the room, eyes closed. He hummed a Puddle of Mudd song and bobbed his head in concert with drumbeats only he could hear. Tipping his head back, he turned in a slow circle. His reverie was interrupted by William’s return.

“Hey, the deaf-mute’s back.” Eddie giggled, and William ignored him.

The other kid lowered himself to his bed, scooted away until his back was against the wall, and crossed his arms over his chest.

“I just want to thank you, Willie boy. Your generosity is appreciated.”

The tight feeling in Eddie’s stomach blossomed up his throat through the roof of his mouth, and into his head. Bam! He heard pounding, and then the sound gradually muffled as though someone had poked something into his ears. “Cut it out!” he shouted.

William gazed up at him, eyes wide. Eddie staggered over to his own bed and fell on his side. “Shut up,” Eddie said. “Just shut up. Shut shut shut…”

The pounding in his head increased, and with effort, he panted. His right hand came up and he pointed at William. “I’m a dog, Willie…like a dog…” He closed his eyes and let his tongue loll out as he strained to pull in a breath. “Doggie, doggie, dog, dog…”

A spasm rippled through Eddie’s body. He tried to fight it. “No…” Clenching his jaw, he struggled to control his arms, but they tightened up of their own accord. His legs spasmed. He jerked and thrashed. Fell off the bed. He felt himself falling and falling into darkness and pain.

“Take the fire away. No! Don’t hurt me...” His mid-section burned like it was on fire. He screamed.

Then it hurt too much to speak, to open his mouth, or to breathe. The hot hammer in his chest pounded, relentless, unyielding. A giant man—bigger than the scariest monster he had ever dreamed—let out a roar.

And Eddie Bolton stopped breathing forever.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

The Buchanan Letters excerpt by Neil Plakcy

In The Buchanan Letters by Neil Plakcy, Jeff Berman, a Pennsylvania history professor, discovers correspondence between President James Buchanan and his male aide, which depicts their sexual and emotional relationship. With the help of handsome Pascal Montrouge, a disgraced New York Times reporter hungry to return to the big time, Jeff is swept away by publicity for what he has seen as an academic book, and his dreams of tenure and true love seem to be coming true. But when his life falls apart and his academic career is threatened, Jeff questions whether Pascal has only been using him—and how he can build a new life from the debris of his old one.

The Buchanan Letters
MLR Press (October 19, 2012)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-7879 (print)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-7996 (ebook)


“Is this Dr. Berman?” my caller asked.

The only people who use my academic title are those who want something from me, like entrance into a closed class, or a change of grade. It’s not like I can save someone’s life or deliver a baby. “Yes,” I said hesitantly.

“My name is Pascal Montrouge, and I’m the assistant editor of the Upper Bucks supplement for the Courier-Times.”

His voice was deep, with a hint of a French accent. “I’ve been going through old press releases looking for local authors for a feature I’m working on. I was hoping to interview you about your book.”

I was flattered and relieved. Some publicity, at last, even if it was only in the local paper. “Sure. What do you want to know?”

“Can we meet, maybe have a cup of coffee, and talk about your book? I’ll need to get a photograph of you, to go with the story.”

We agreed to meet at a little country inn slash coffee shop in Washington’s Crossing, a few miles downriver from Leighville, that evening at eight. As soon as I hung up, I called Naomi. “I’m going to have my picture in the paper!” I crowed.

“Oh, no, don’t tell me the police found out about that place you go, in the woods behind the library.”

“I only went there once. And I swear to you, I didn’t do anything.”

“Ah, but did you have something done to you?”

“Do you want to find out why I’m going to be in the paper?”

“Yes, yes, tell me, or I shall surely die.”

“You’re in a snippy mood today, Naomi.”

“School is going to start again. A whole new crop of students who have no grasp of the subjunctive and whose idea of critical thought consists of the word because. So I’m understandably cranky. Tell me, my dear friend, why are you going to be in the newspaper?”

“I’m going to be interviewed about my book.”

“Congratulations! That’ll be nice. You can clip it out and send it to your father and your stepmother.”

“Well, that depends on how gay the article gets.”

“Jeffrey, you’re thirty-seven and unmarried. Don’t you think your father already knows you prefer boys to girls?”

“Sometimes I think he does, and then other times he or Evelyn will mention something about my getting married and I realize they don’t have a clue.”

“Trust me, they have a few clues. If you’re not comfortable with people knowing you’re gay, you shouldn’t have written a book about a gay president.”

“I’m comfortable with people knowing. Just not my father.”

“Fathers are people too.”

“What should I wear? This reporter wants to take a picture of me.”

Naomi has a wonderful sense of fashion, most of which she represses, and she loves to dress me. I’m like the doll she never played with as a little girl, when she was always stealing her brother’s GI Joes and staging mock battles with them in the backyard. “I’ll come over,” she said. “Give me ten minutes. And while you’re waiting, trim your eyebrows.”

“Take twenty. I’ll take a shower so I can be nice and clean for you.”

“I love it when you talk sexy to me,” she said, and hung up.

She arrived right on schedule and we settled on a pair of crisp khakis and a blue and white striped oxford cloth button-down shirt I had bought at the Brooks Brothers outlet at Franklin Mills. Though it was the middle of winter, my skin was still Mediterranean-dark, my arms and neck coated with a thin layer of dark hair, and the shirt made me look healthy and vibrant. I combed my thinning hair into place and then shellacked it down with hair spray.

Our only argument arose because I wanted to wear my new Swatch, while Naomi insisted the occasion called for my gold dress watch.

“You want to look distinguished, like a professor,” she said. “Professors don’t wear goofy sport watches.”

“Most professors we know don’t wear any watches at all. If you really want me to look academic I should dig out my loden cloth jacket with the leather elbow patches.”

“That jacket is so 1950s prep school,” she said. “If I were your wife I would give it to the Salvation Army instantly.”

“If you were my wife I would join the Salvation Army.”

We ended up on the living room floor playing Monopoly; I got hold of both Park Place and Boardwalk and bankrupted her. All in all it was a very satisfactory time.

We ate a quick pasta dinner and by 7:30 I was on the road to Washington’s Crossing. “Call me as soon as you get home and tell me how it went,” Naomi said, waving out the driver’s window of her Jeep.

I was so happy I was almost whistling as I drove south along the river. The trees were bare and snow was heaped along the edge of the road, but it could have been high summer to me. I loved driving along the river; I grew up in the middle of endless suburbs and I still could not believe that I lived so close to the country that there were cows within walking distance of my house.

I drove through the quaint downtown area of New Hope, past over-ripe hippies in sheepskin coats strolling in the early evening light. I had to stop for a crowd streaming across the street and through the parking lot of the Bucks County Playhouse, heading for a production of the musical La Cage aux Folles. When I was back in the country, I turned on the radio and relaxed in the fall of evening, passing wooden bridges over the canal that led to quaint country farmhouses.

I pulled up at the Crossing Inn a few minutes ahead of schedule and walked out to the patio behind the old stone building. The owners had constructed a beautiful little garden back there, with an arched bridge across a trickling creek where tiger lilies and black-eyed Susans grew in the summer. In the winter it was picture-perfect, with a faint dusting of snow on the branches of the pine trees.

Inside the wood-paneled lobby, empty except for a clerk behind the bar/registration desk, I chose an Adirondack chair with big cushions, stripped off my coat, gloves and scarf, and settled in next to the crackling wood fire.

As I leaned in and rubbed my hands, a deep, sexy voice behind me that matched the one I’d heard on the phone said, “I’m hoping you’re Dr. Berman.”

I turned around to see a dark-haired man, six-foot-three at least, with square shoulders and a lopsided grin, sticking his hand out to me. My heart soared and sank at the same time: he was the kind of man I fall for, the kind who is so bad for me. Someone I think will be big enough and strong enough to take care of me, but who turns out to be all Jell-O on the inside, needy and whining and no good in a street fight.

“Call me Jeff,” I said, standing and shaking his hand. “I’m always afraid when I hear people call me Dr. Berman that they’re going to expect me to resuscitate someone before the evening is out.”

He wore a long leather duster over jeans and a light blue shirt. He gave me a sly grin and held my hand for a fraction of a second too long. “Sometimes those evenings can be the best kind.”

I loved the way his “th” sounded like a “z.” Our eyes met and locked and I knew that I was in trouble. He was handsome, gay and charming, and I was depressed and horny. Like combining vodka and methamphetamine, the mix could be deadly.

He ordered a couple of beers for us, then said. “Let’s get the pictures out of the way first.” He posed me next to the stone fireplace, to give me a historical context, he said. Never mind that the inn was built in 1768 and Buchanan had lived nearly a hundred years later. “Buchanan never even came to this part of Pennsylvania, did he?” Pascal said, angling his camera and snapping shots.

“I think he must have,” I said. “He was our Senator for many years.”

“You’re probably right.”

I couldn’t help noticing how Pascal’s faded blue jeans embraced his legs and butt like a second skin, the way his raw silk shirt moved so easily as he tilted the camera, zoomed and focused. I felt like a fashion model, but instead of making love to the camera I was flirting with Pascal Montrouge.

The bartender brought over our beers, and we sat down by the fire again. Pascal’s long legs stretched out in front of him, putting his generous package into sharp relief. “How did you end up at Eastern?”

“I got my undergraduate degree in history from Penn and a Ph.D. in history from the State University of New York at Albany. After graduation I landed my first job, a one-year gig at a small private college in Illinois.” I sipped my beer. “From there I got another one-year job in Maryland, and then another in Pittsburgh. I published a couple of papers in history journals, and then lucked into a tenure-track job at Eastern.”

“What got you interested in Buchanan?”

I forced my gaze up from his crotch to his dark eyes, sparkling with humor in the firelight, and told him about finding the letters in the old oak box. “By the end of that first day my friend Naomi and I had figured out that what I’d found were love letters were between two men. It took more research to figure out that the men involved were James Buchanan and his aide.”

Pascal sputtered his beer and slammed the glass stein back down on the wooden table between us, beer frothing up over the edge in a little geyser. “Wait a minute,” he said. “You’re saying Buchanan was gay?”

“That’s the whole point of the book. You didn’t look at it, did you?”

He grinned shamefacedly. “I read the press release. All you said there was that Petitjohn was Buchanan’s aide. I thought you would tell me the rest.”

“Ah, Mr. Montrouge,” I said, wagging my finger at him. “You’re lucky not to be one of my students. I frown on that kind of sloppy research.”

“Please, call me Pascal,” he said, and our eyes locked again, and I knew that at some point I was going to end up in bed with him. I just wasn’t sure when. “Why didn’t you focus that press release on the proof you have that Buchanan was gay? That’s the real angle.”

“My editor was afraid that people would find it too controversial and that libraries and academic collections wouldn’t buy it. I complained that they were missing the market of people who would buy it because of what it’s about. But my editor told me they’d find it.”

“And have they?”

I shook my head. “Not so far as I can tell. My editor quit six months ago, and I can’t get anyone to tell me how many copies they printed, or how many have been shipped.”

“That’s publishing. Everything’s a big secret.” He ordered us a second round of beers and said, “That should be enough about the book. Now tell me something about yourself—what made you decide to be a history professor?” There was that accent again, the way he stressed the last syllable of the word rather than the first. It gave me a sensuous thrill.

“When I was in tenth grade, I fell in love. Not with a girl, or a boy, but with history. My social studies teacher assigned us to interview a family member and write an oral history. I thought it was a stupid assignment and that our family was so boring. There wouldn’t be anything for me to write.”

“Families are always interesting,” Pascal said.

“Yeah, I figured that out. My father suggested I interview my mother’s mother. My mother didn’t want me to, and of course, that made me more determined. One day after school I took the train in from Long Island to Queens, where my grandmother lived. My father gave me some money to buy her flowers, and I got her a bouquet of red tulips. She told me that her family had tulips outside her house when she was a little girl.”

I took a sip of my beer, then sat back. “All I knew of my grandmother at that point was that she had been born in the Netherlands, and come to the United States after the Second World War. She led me into her living room and I sat on an old velvet couch and turned on my tape recorder. She must have talked for the next hour without a break. I discovered that her family had moved from Amsterdam to Curaçao when she was five years old, that she had grown up there and married my grandfather when she was eighteen.”

“That’s certainly exotic,” he said. “A lot more interesting than most people on Long Island.”

“It gets better. Two years after they got married, they left for Japan. Her husband was older than she was, and he imported Japanese porcelain and textiles to Curaçao. It was cheaper for her to go to Japan with him, rather than have to keep her in a house in Curaçao for a year.”

“When was all this happening?” Pascal asked.

“They left Curaçao in 1940, and spent a year in Japan. They got on a ship in September of 1941. They docked in Batavia—that was what they called the capital of Indonesia then—in December of 1941.”

“Mon dieu. During the war.”

“Yeah. The captain decided it was too dangerous to leave Batavia while the Japanese and the United States were fighting in the Pacific. So my grandfather opened a store in Batavia, and started selling the merchandise he had bought in Japan. My grandmother was pregnant with my mother, and even after the Japanese came everything was fine for a while. My mother was born in Indonesia, and she had never even told me.”

“Parents have secrets.” Pascal ate a handful of peanuts from a dish on the table between us. “That must have been scary. How did they get out of there?”

“Eventually the Japanese confiscated the shop and the house, and took away my grandfather. After that my grandmother and my mother had to move into the Tjiden camp.”

“That must have been terrible,” Pascal said. “I’ve written a couple of articles about places like that. The treatment there was inhumane.”

“It made my grandmother very sad to talk about it, but she said we had to. It was like Holocaust survivors, you know? They feel like they have to leave behind a testimony.”

“Poor you, just a teenager and having to hear all that.”

I nodded. “It was tough, but that’s when I became seduced by history, particularly by the stories of all those bit players in the grand sweep of world events. I started reading about all these tragedies—the San Francisco earthquake; the Triangle Shirtwaist fire; the Armenian genocide. Every time I had a history paper to write I picked a topic where there were so many anonymous victims.”

“You must have been a real goth.”

“No, just a nerd. But enough about me. Tell me something about yourself.”

(To learn what Pascal has to say, read The Buchanan Letters!)

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