Monday, June 24, 2013

The Facialist excerpt by Mykola Dementiuk



In Mykola Dementiuk's The Facialist, it’s New York City in the 1950’s. Timmy discovers his own sexuality. But he’s aroused by men and women, which confuses him. Then Timmy meets Dickie, who likes to take young men under his wing and teach them the arts of fellatio, and Dickie's current young protégé, Shelly.

But Dickie is abusive, much like the men who have used Timmy for their own sexual release since he was a child. His attraction turns to Shelly, but who wants nothing to do with him.

Timmy is also seduced by an older Polish woman, an acquaintance of his mother’s. Confused by his own desires, Timmy returns to his favorite activity -- cruising the pathways of Tompkins Square Park.

Will Timmy accept his sexuality without fear or shame? Or does he risk losing himself to his own hungry desires?

The Facialist 
  • JMS Press/CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 16, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1478197501
  • ISBN-13: 978-1478197508

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

I was going to the restroom, even though I didn’t have to pee.

On Coney Island the bathrooms were under the boardwalk, so a user would have to walk over the beach,descend the stairs, and step down into the solitude, away from the peopled, sandy beach. I remember I was wearing a black cowboy hat—won from some carnie booth—with nothing else on but a tight black bathing suit.

My parents had laid their blanket on the beach in the Ukrainian Village, a spot so called because it teemed with Ukrainians, just as other areas along the beach were known as German Village, or Swedish, or Polish, or Greek, or Turkish. It was the early 1950s, and people flocked to the beaches. There was no need to mention where I was going. Toilet Village—the term was unsaid and hushed; a misnomer that no one said too loudly. So I took my hat and walked to where I had to go. I was a boy, so why couldn’t I do it in the ocean like all the other people—kids, men and women—were obviously doing? No, I walked straight ahead to the restrooms of Toilet Village. After all,I was a gentleman. I was almost ten years old and certainly old enough to know where I was going.

I entered the crisply clean restroom with other men who came down from the boardwalk, took their leaks with a jiggle, and returned upstairs to continue their sunny afternoon strolls. I was barefoot, clad only in a bathing suit and cowboy hat. A few of the men, standing and peeing, looked at me curiously as I made my way past the urinals, past a few stalls, and entered the last, door-less cubicle of the restroom. How did I know where I was going? Had I been there before? There was nothing to do but take a seat. I lowered my bathing suit all the way to my feet and roosted fully naked, still wearing my black cowboy hat. My little prick was fully erect and rising up from between my legs, aching for a release, but from what, I didn’t know or understand.

I sat there maybe two, three, four minutes, listening to the sounds of men coming and going, constantly flushing urinals and going back outside. Then I heard footsteps coming closer to my cubicle. Tension gripped my belly. I looked up at the surprised face of elderly man looking at me. Was he was so elderly or maybe I was so young? He turned back to look at the urinals he passed, still flushing, then he stepped into my stall. I was uneasy, but wondering about the nervous tingling sensation in my belly.

The man smiled faintly at me, I smiled back at him and lowered my eyes as if I was a shy, good boy, which I was at the time. Suddenly, he touched my shoulder. I looked up at him. He raised a hand up to his lips with his forefinger, showing I shouldn’t make a sound. I nodded my head, agreeing to his silent instructions. The rubbing of my shoulders grew stronger and more forceful as he bent down and reached between my legs. I assumed he wanted to rinse them in the toilet water, so I spread wider, my stiff little penis poking up. His mouth opened, his eyes widened, and I felt his hand gently grip the hairless erection and start to squeeze, moving his fingers to the scrotum, and jerking his hand up and down. Somehow my legs had dropped out of my bathing suit and went around the man’s legs; the cowboy hat had eased itself off my head and hung from my neck by a slim colored cord. The man straightened up and bit his lips, standing before me as if undecided what to do.

We looked at each other; our mouths open, then the man lowered his zipper and reached in for his penis. I watched mesmerized as the muscle rose up and out of the material of his pants. Big and red and explosive it hung before me and he quietly said, “You want a big surprise?” and winked at me. I nodded. “Remember, keep your eyes closed or the secret may not work, okay?”

I nervously looked at the man. What could it be, I thought, this big surprise? I nodded and shut my eyes. Something brushed against the side of my lips and pulsed against my nose. I wanted to look but remembered what he said that it may not work…I heard constant, repetitive, beating, fumbling before me.

“Keep them closed,” he muttered. “Yes, like that, closed. Remember, a surprise…”

Whatever was brushing against my face and lips suddenly ejected a moist watery wetness, like the cooling sprinkle of a soda pop shimmering across my face.

“Oh, God! Keep them closed, kid, don’t look,” the voice reminded me. “Oh, honey, yes!”

I don’t know what it was: the soothing voice telling me to keep my eyes shut or the constant flush of the urinals, but I suddenly felt and smelled the awesome, wonderful scent of freshness and soothing peace, very much like morning dew, rising up to my face I was overcome by it.

Then the thing left the vicinity of my mouth and brushed the sides of my face. His hesitant voice said, “Closed, keep then closed, kid,” and I heard footsteps hurrying out my stall, pitterpatter past the urinals, and vanish through the opening-closing front door. I sat there with my eyes shut, waiting for him to return with my big surprise. I felt something oozing down my face.

Suddenly, I heard the door opening and footsteps slowly moving nearer. I heard a flush, then steps slowly moved across the restroom to where I was sitting, my eyes shut and my stiff penis poking out before me.

“Can I open them now?” I meekly asked.

“Jesus, what the hell?” a different voice responded.

I snapped my eyes open. Another man stood before my stall. A hint of embarrassment swept over me as I recognized the man. I had seen him many times in the area of the Ukrainian Village, walking on the beach, talking to acquaintances, and even a few times nodding to and greeting my parents. Like me, he was clad in a tight bathing suit. It shone brightly and provocatively on his well-developed, muscular, sun-tanned body. I saw that his penis was very hard. I blushed and lowered my face.

“You’re one of ours, aren’t you?” he said, in Ukrainian.

I nodded and pulled my bathing suit over my hard erection, then reached for the cowboy hat. “Uh huh,” I grunted.

Again, I felt hands on my shoulders.

“Shouldn’t you be with your parents?” he said softly. “Where are they?”

“In the Village,” I answered, feeling I was speaking too much.

He looked at me as if he wasn’t sure of what to do with me, but then he bit his lips and clutched my shoulder. “I’ll walk you back,” he said softly. “You shouldn’t be here, at least, not by yourself.” And he looked curiously at me. “What’s that on your face?” he asked, staring much closer. “Oh, God, was someone with you just now?” He looked to the front door. “What a bastard,” he mumbled as if to himself and shook his head. “And with a little kid, too.” He blinked his eyes. “Wipe that smelly gooey stuff off. It’s disgusting, all over your face and mouth.”

I brushed my face against my shoulders, and went to the sinks near the front of the restroom. I sprinkled water on myself and then we shuffled back across the sandy beach to Ukrainian Village. Strangely, I felt at peace with the Ukrainian man walking beside me and holding my hand, the other man already forgotten and receding from my memory when I saw my parents looking worried at our approach. My father leaped up and scurried to us. Though they knew each other, my parents were aloof with the man.


“He’s a faggot,” my father muttered as the man swished along and went back to reading his paper.

I don’t know what they said to each other, but we left the beach early that afternoon. Still, I couldn’t help but regret I never received a surprise for keeping my eyes closed as the man said for me to do. What could it have been? As we walked back to the subway train, I kept turning about and looking back for what I had not received.

Chapter 2

In the next few years there often occurred incidents and accidents where a paw turned into a grope, a feel into a stroke, a touch into a clasp. What had been mine suddenly became theirs so easily because I pretty much shrugged and gave of myself, standing aloofly as their hurried feeling and groping went about my body. A kiss, a lick, a jiggle, and they’d be gone.

At a wedding that my parents took me too, I quickly grew fed up with people saying how handsome I looked in my brand new blue suit. I sulked and wandered off, and found some secretive, enclosed shut-off banquet room. I had seen Uncle Vladik drinking and toasting with the other celebrants, but now I came upon him holding a bottle in one hand and beating his penis with the other. I heard him grunting and mumbling to himself, “You slut whore, suck my dick!” He opened his eyes and saw me standing in the doorway. My first thought was to flee, to get away from him, but his face gleamed as he smiled and leered at me, “Hey, c’mere, kid, how you like this?” He jiggled his penis in his hand. “Come and get it.” I didn’t say anything, watching as if mesmerized. He swallowed a drink from the bottle and said, “C’mere, kid, don’t be afraid, you know me, I’m your Uncle Vladik.” I nodded. “Shut the door, shut the door. C’mon, I have something for you.”

“What?” I asked, shutting the door and stepping closer.

“This,” he said, pulling the skin back on his cockhead and displaying the meaty, juicy muscle. I stared open-mouthed at it. “You like? Take it in your hand. That’s it, you like? Oooh, yesss…That’s what it’s meant for, and don’t let anyone tell you different…Jerk me off, baby.”

Needless to say, I did as I was told, holding the stiff penis before me as it pulsed and prodded just inches from my face and mouth.

After a few strokes on the meaty organ he said, “You fucking whore!” and his eyes shutting, “Cocksucker!” He grabbed my shoulders and pulled me to him, all the while pounding my face and chest against his torso. “Bitch!” I felt his hand gripping my head as his spewing cock spat out on my chin. Then I smelled it, that enticing, charming dew-like fragrance of the man in Coney Island. I melted, swooning from the lovely fragrance, ready to drop, when he pushed me off. “What wrong with you, kid? Get a hold of yourself,” he said, and quickly reinserted his penis back in his pants. “You shouldn’t be doing this.” He shook his head. “You don’t know me, junior, and I don’t know you. Got that?” He sternly looked at me. I had no idea what I could’ve done. I slowly nodded. “You got some gook on your chest,” he said and pointed a finger at me. I looked down. Wet droplets were sprinkled on my new blue suit. “Just tell anyone who wants to know, you spilled soda, that’s all. Got that? Soda, nothing else.”

I nodded but asked, “Root beer? I like root beer.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever…” He looked at me and nervously bit his lip. “Now I don’t know you and you don’t know me, we weren’t together,” he repeated. “Got that, kid?” He patted my shoulder and left me behind in that room. I stood some moments listening to the party going on downstairs. I was confused and uncertain, and left the room and went back to my parents.

“What’s that,” asked my mother, “what did you spill on yourself?”

I instantly said, “Root beer, I spilled some root beer.”

“Good thing it was that,” she said, laughing and rejoining her conversation with her acquaintances. The rest of that evening, I kept looking for Uncle Vladik, but didn’t see him anywhere.

http://dementiuk.weebly.com
http://www.MykolaDementiuk.com

Lambda Literary Awards Winner 2013/Gay Erotica, 2009/Bisexual Fiction

To purchase ebook from JMS Books, click http://www.jms-books.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=29&products_id=584
To purchase paperback from Amazon, click http://www.amazon.com/The-Facialist-Mykola-Dementiuk/dp/1478197501/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1345316950&sr=8-7

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Three Dads excerpt by ZaneSilva


A story for Father's Day.  Told from a kid's POV, but by a grown man.  For a young adult audience, but with older readers in mind.

In My Three Dads by Zane Silva, Carl MacSchafer, about to graduate from college, tells the story of his childhood, a sort of informal testimonial to thank the men who raised him. In the beginning, he was leery about having a gay couple for his foster parents, but living with Leonard Schafer and James MacPhalen, he found affection and stability for the first time in his young life. Now that his biological father has reappeared and wants him back, everything may change again… and not for the better.

My Three Dads
Silver Stream Publishing (June 15, 2013)
ISBN: 9781614959526

Excerpt:

[For the last half-dozen years since his grandmother was placed in a nursing home, Carl Crawley has been moved from one foster home to another, earning himself the label of “problem child” along the way.]

I was going on twelve when I learned they had found the umpteenth home for me. They assembled a panel, two women and a man, to inform me, so they said, of my options. Options? It sounded ominous. Since when did I have any say in the matter? "Options" made it sound as though they were considering other possibilities than the facility for boys or a family. I expected to be given an ultimatum: behave or get sent to reform school.

"It seems your last placement didn't work out," one of them began. "What do you think the problem was?"

I shrugged. As if I didn't know she meant I was the problem! "It was no different from the others," I said.

"So where do we go from here?"

I was suspicious. They were asking for my input as if I were an adult. "You tell me," I said.

"There's Mr. Schafer and Mr. MacPhalen."

"You mean I get to choose? How can I? They're both just names to me."

"Both, not one or the other."

So I was right. I imagined them as the directors of some kind of living arrangement for problem kids, one step short of reform school. My spirits, already close to rock bottom, fell. "So that's where I'm going," I said.

"If you agree."

Were they asking me to sign my life away or something? There had to be a catch. "Why wouldn't I? Is there something wrong with the place?"

All three looked embarrassed. The second woman spoke up. "They're a gay couple."

"Do you know what that means?" the man asked.

First they pretend I'm a grown-up, that I can control my own destiny, then they ask me if I know something every kid my age knew.

"Well, do you?" he repeated.

"Yeah, I know a thing or two. I'm not a baby. I have hair growing on my dick." I did, but not much. I probably could have counted them on my fingers and toes.

The women looked flustered. "You don't have to tell us that," the man said angrily.

I pretended not to understand how he meant it. "I know I don't. The doctor's seen it, so it's in my file."

The second woman repeated his question. "Does it make a difference to you?"

"Does what make a difference to me?"

"That they're a gay couple."

"Not if they leave me alone."

"All prospective foster families are thoroughly investigated," the second woman quickly assured me. "If we thought there was any chance—"

"Then why should I care?" I interrupted. "I won't be there all that long, anyway."

"If that's your attitude, you won't be long anywhere," she snapped.

"Whatever."

"The other kids may tease you about it," the first woman explained, trying to sound kind.

"What other kids?"

"Your friends at school."

Since when had I had friends at school? "It's summer," I pointed out, "and like I said, it's only temporary, right?" They looked at each other, exasperated. "That's how it's always been," I added.

"We're hoping it's a good fit this time."

Gays, zombies, whatever. "I can take care of myself," I mumbled grudgingly.

"Then you're willing to give it a try?"

Lotsa luck, I thought. I didn't expect I'd be there long—a few months at most—and that was fine with me.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Short Circuits: A Life in Blogs Book 1 Excerpt by Dorien Grey



Lambda-nominated author Dorien Grey (The Dick Hardesty Mysteries, The Elliott Smith Mysteries) knows more than just how to write a great murder novel. He's also had amazing life experiences in the military and around the world. Here, for the first time, are the collected blog and journal writings of this prolific author. As Grey notes, "Sometimes things are more clearly seen through the eyes of others." The hope is that the reader will see similarities to his/her own life, and recognize the commonality of the human condition. 

Short Circuits: A Life in Blogs Volume 1
Untread Reads

Excerpt:

MISS PIGGY'S NOSE

For the past 10 days or so, I have been spending part of every day at my now-dead friend Norm's condo, trying to do all the things that are necessary following the death of the owner/occupant. Norm had lived there 40 years, and has 40 years of "things"some quite valuable, others just the "things" one accumulates over the course of the years.

I touched on this in another recent blog, and remarked that I had already packed and given away all his clothes. Aside from the time it took to pack the 13 garbage bags and 2 or 3 cardboard boxes, it was a fairly straightforward task.

But what do I do with Miss Piggy's nose? It's a perfectly good nose, made of pink rubber, and has a thin elastic strap that fits over the back of the head to hold the nose in place. It was in a drawer in his den, along with several decks of playing cards, a lint roller, the remote control for a long-gone television set, a couple rolls of film, six crystal balls of varying sizes apparently once part of a chandelier, a badly dog-chewed tennis ball, and a number of other things, most of which I was unable to identify. Not one of these items simply appeared in the drawer out of nowhere. Norm put them there for whatever reason, and they all once belonged somewhere, served some purpose, meant something or nothing to Norm.

In the bookcase I found a Day Planner for 2002, apparently never opened, and a like new two-volume Funk &Wagnall's Dictionary. There was also a very nice brick, apparently used as a door stop. There are several shelves of gardening and horticulture books, some of them obviously quite expensive when purchased. The fact that Norm enjoyed plants and at one point went to school for some sort of degree in horticulture is not coincidentally reflected, for those who have read my Dick Hardesty Mystery series, in Dick's partner, Jonathan, having an associate's degree in horticulture.

Probably as a reflection of his interest in plants, various closets held four huge and expensive ceramic planters, along with at least a dozen others of varying sizes. There are walkers and seats for the shower and bathtub which have never been used. One tub chair still has the price tag ($145) attached.

And yet what am I to do with them? A yard sale in a 35th floor condominium is a bit impractical, and even if it were practical, the time to price each item would be unimaginable. So I plan to call in an art appraiser to give me an idea of the worth of some of the more valuable pieces, and hope the appraiser might direct me to a source of potential buyers. When that has been handled, I'll look for estate buyersthose people who buy the entire contents of a home or apartmentto handle the rest. They pay only a tiny fraction of the value of what the items would bring if sold separatelyliterally pennies on the dollarbut again it spares the time and expense of trying to sell everything off piece by piece.

Wanting to get as much as possible for his things is not a matter of greed on my part. I'm merely the executor, and all the money, of course, goes into the estate, as will the money from the sale of the condo itself, and there are at least six worthy charities named in the will. I know they will appreciate and make good use of every dollar they can get.

But I never forget that ever single thing I am charged with disposing of was Norm's, not mine, and I can't help but feel as though I were somehowwhat words to use?"taking advantage of him" certainly doesn't fit, but there is an element of that feelingtreating it all as if it didn't really matter; as if it all were just a bunch of things. It's as if each item had existed in some sort of vacuum and had nothing to do with the real person who bought and enjoyed them. And it is true, of course: a book is just a book, a planter is just a planter.

But oh, Miss Piggy's nose.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Plain of Bitter Honey excerpt by Alan Chin


Alan Chin on The Plain of Bitter Honey: Bold Strokes Books released my latest novel, The Plain of Bitter Honey, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. This story represents a dramatic turn in my writing. It is a futuristic story of two brothers, one straight and one gay, who battle a corrupt government and each other. This is not a gay romance, although several characters are gay. This is a tale of survival, of devotion, of finding deliverance and atonement.

Twins Aaron and Hayden Swann are fighting a corrupt government taken over by ultra right-wing Fundamentalist Christians in 2055 America. Each brother fights in his own way, Aaron with bullets, Hayden with words. Then one night their world is turned upside down when they are caught in a government sting and they must both flee north into the badlands between San Francisco and Canada, where the only safe haven is a place called The Plain of Bitter Honey, a refuge where heads of the Resistance operate. But the brothers don’t know that government agents are tracking them to the hiding place of the Resistance. Can they find the inner strength to survive?

The Plain of Bitter Honey
Bold Stroke Books (June, 2013)
ISBN 13: 9781602829220E

Excerpt:

At last, Aaron opened his eyes to find himself staring into eyes that were disturbing in their clarity. Those eyes bored into his; they seemed to dissolve all questions and all answers within their depth. They were the eyes of a man watching the trajectory of a stag leaping off a cliff, with more amusement than horror, but at the same time expressing sympathy for the stag.

 “I’m sorry that I’ve put you in danger,” Aaron said. “I’ll never do it again. Packs?”

“Because you’ll give up these underground activities?”

“Because I’ll keep this shit far away from you.”

“Okay, packs.” Hayden hooked his little finger through Aaron’s and gave it a tug. He leaned forward and kissed Aaron on the lips—a loving, sensual kiss. Aaron didn’t resist. Considering our circumstances, Aaron thought, this might prove to be our last chance to show affection.

Hayden pulled back. “No matter what, I love you.”

“I know.”

 “Yes, but I wanted to say it out loud, just once.”

Hayden squeezed Aaron’s hands with icy fingers. “What about this Julian fellow. Does he make you happy?” Aaron asked, already knowing the answer.

“Brother, have you forgotten the last chorus of Oedipus: Call no man happy until he is dead.”

Aaron nodded. “You writers are so full of shit.”

They kissed again before Aaron led his brother back into the living room. All eyes turned toward them.

“Listen up, people,” Aaron said. “It’s time for a hasty retreat. We’ll go over the roof in pairs, three minutes apart. Hopefully they’re not watching the alley. Stubbs, you take Maggie. Hayden, you and Julian can leave the way you came, but you’d better hurry.

We’ll meet up at the safe house in the Castro in three days time.”

Stubbs and Maggie checked their handguns; both clicked their safety off.

The Armenian hissed, “Van coming. Looks like Marwick’s.”

Aaron rushed to the window. A black van was too far down the hill to identify. He’s guessing, Aaron thought. He snatched the binoculars and waited. Seconds ticked by like months until the van moved close enough for him to check the license plate. His heart fell. He turned back to the room to see Stubbs and Maggie still standing at the doorway.

“Go dammit; go now.”

Stubbs took Maggie by the arm. They disappeared into the hallway.

“Hayden, Julian, change of plans,” Aaron said. “You both go over the roof.”

Aaron dashed to Hayden, pulled a Glock from his belt and held it out. “Things might get dicey. Take this.”

Hayden shook his head.

They glared at each other, and Aaron saw the emotions churning behind his brother’s eyes.

“Shit,” Aaron hissed, returning to the window. He dropped the Glock beside the mirror and his wallet. As he picked up the binoculars he wiped the sweat from his forehead before training the binoculars down the hill.

The van chugged up the street. When it reached the end of the block, the two Homeland HumVee-Xs dashed out of hiding, again, to block the road. The van stopped as four uniformed men jumped out of their vehicles. Two officers converged on the driver’s door, one barking orders and the other standing off with his gun drawn. The other two sauntered around the van, their M4s held at the ready. One officer walked to the driver’s door and shined a flashlight on the driver, no doubt asking to see I.D. cards. The driver’s window slid down; red flashes burst and shots rang out. The van sped backward, spraying more shots. From the rooftops on both sides of the street, spotlights sprang to life, casting theatrical beams on the van. Machinegun fire cut the air, pelting the van with red tracers from above.

There was no way to help them. Aaron waved at his team still standing in his living room. “Everybody! Go now, over the roof! GO!”

They all rushed out the doorway, except Hayden.

“Aren’t you coming?” Hayden asked.

“I’m right behind you.”

“Brother, I’m simple, not stupid.”

“Look, dammit, they’ll be here any second. Now go. Hurry!”

A crashing sound yanked Aaron’s head back to the window. The van spun out of control, smashed into a parked car, and flipped on its side. Bullets peppered the van for another half-minute. The noise sounded like a twelve-foot string of firecrackers. Then it stopped, leaving a stunned hush. No sign of life registered within the van. Two officers lay on the street, motionless. Smoke rose through the beams of spotlights, a shifting pall between the borders of light.

Suddenly, another noise cut the silence—the throaty growl of an engine starting below Aaron’s window. Aaron glanced down to see a man straddling his brother’s motorcycle. The lean figure and dreadlocks were unmistakable. Hayden gunned the engine to get everyone’s attention. The spotlights turned on him. He revved it once more and flew up the street in the opposite direction.

“What the…?” Aaron whispered to an empty room. On a hunch, he glanced at the coffee table, and his heart imploded. His brown wallet, which held his I.D. card, was missing. In its place was Hayden’s calf-skin wallet.

The screech of tires whipped Aaron’s head back to the street. Two HumVee-Xs now blocked Hayden’s exit. Uniformed men leaped from the vehicles with rifles drawn.

Hayden slid into a tight turn and gunned the engine, rocketing him the opposite direction. He bent low over the handlebars. But now he was barricaded in from both sides of the block. Hayden came to a dead stop in the middle of the block. The searchlights zeroed in on him, yellow and brilliant, catching him like Bambi in the headlights. Someone shouted in a throaty voice. Two officers on each side of the block dropped to one knee and raised their M4s to a firing position.

It appeared to be a stalemate.

Aaron knew his brother was drawing all the attention on himself to give Aaron a clean getaway, but before he could move the front door burst inward. Officers rushed in with weapons held at the ready.

“Freeze, motherfucker!”

The apartment lights were still off, but the glow of the spotlights outside, like artificial moonlight, filled the room. Aaron could see them clearly, five rifle laser-beams aimed at his chest. He slowly raised his hands.

Two of them held their weapons on him while the others searched the apartment.

Aaron didn’t hear the car as it pulled to the curb below his window, but he did hear the double thud of an expensive car door opening and closing, and the quick footsteps coming up the stairs. A man—designer-dressed in a black, double-breasted suit, hand-stitched cowboy boots, and a cartoonishly large, silver cross at his throat—strolled through the doorway and moved toward Aaron. Emblazoned on this lapel was the insignia of the Christian States of America, the red circle encompassing white stars and a blue cross, which never failed to turn Aaron’s stomach. The man’s Ray-Ban sunglasses riveted on Aaron, moving up and down as if he were measuring him for a coffin.

“Aaron Swann?” he demanded.

Aaron recognized his sleek and undertaker-pale features: Deputy-Chief Whitehall, head of Homeland Operations for the Western Division, and junior member of the Holy Council. Maggie had assembled a dossier on Whitehall with his photograph on the inside cover and details of his meteoric rise to power. So, Aaron thought, the big dogs are here. That’s a very bad sign. Rumor had it that Whitehall always came in on huge successes. His forty-year-old face was scrubbed, shining and as animated as a Broadway actor. He pushed his shades up to rest in his platinum-colored hair. His eyes glowed with excitement, and his voice resonated a confident chill.

“No,” Aaron managed to say, having no idea of how he would pull off the bluff.

“Very slowly, show me your I.D. card.”

That’s when it hit him. He swallowed. “In my wallet, there on the coffee table.”
Whitehall picked up the wallet, removed Hayden’s I.D. card, and scrutinized the picture and the information it held. A flashlight illuminated Aaron’s face; he couldn’t see anything.

“You’re Hayden Swann?”

Aaron swallowed again. He had religiously lived by the motto of ‘look out for #1,’ but his brother was the sole exception to that rule. They were two halves of the same person, linked by an indefinable force. The decision seemed to flicker before Aaron like a candle-flame held close to his eyes, and in spite of the fact that he knew he was putting a noose around his brother’s neck, he whispered, “Yessir.”

A silence followed, as if he had caught Whitehall off balance, which was surprising that anything could do that. Whitehall had a reputation of being the rock on which his church was built.

“Am I led to believe that that would be your brother, Aaron, on the motorcycle?”

Alerted by his use of the passive voice, Aaron hesitated. He felt a cold drop of sweat slide from under his armpit and meandered down his flank. He closed his eyes.

“Not to worry,” Whitehall said, “Jesus protects us all.”

Aaron opened his eyes, blinked twice. Had he heard right? The silver cross ticked at Whitehall’s throat as he swallowed.

“Yes,” Aaron said.

“Where are the others?”

“What others?”

“Stubbs, Maggie, The Armenian? And your boyfriend, Julian Stoller?”

Aaron supposed he should have been surprised that Whitehall knew them all by name, even the fact that he knew Hayden’s boyfriend’s name when Aaron had only learned minutes ago, but he wasn’t. Whitehall and his team had obviously had them in their sights for some time.

Whitehall used his flashlight to illuminate the Glock sitting beside the cocaine. He seemed on the verge of saying something else, but changed his mind. He flipped open his communicator and barked a coded order Aaron didn’t understand.

At that moment a shot rang out in the street. Aaron half-turned to see his brother jerk forward. The officers were firing quite carefully. The second shot thrust Hayden backward. But he still moved, still straddled the bike. He gunned the engine and the bike leaped forward as officers fired more rounds. Hayden sagged over the handlebars. The motorcycle went down, sliding before an array of sparks.

When Hayden tumbled to a halt, the spotlights bore down on him again. His body lay motionless in the cheap yellow light. Aaron’s insides felt like a windowpane that had shattered, and through the shards of what had once been his life—his orthodoxy—he mumbled a bewildering cry.

For Hayden’s sake, Aaron prayed to God that his brother was dead.