Cage stepped out of the boarding house he'd taken a room in, one of the less disreputable ones in this section of Honolulu, and carefully blended into the stream of bodies flowing down the worn wooden pedestrianway. A frisson of excitement--or trepidation, perhaps--heated his belly. Six long years since he'd last visited Honolulu port, but the smells and sounds brought back the events of his last visit as if it were yesterday. The memory of the most intense pair of peridot-green eyes he'd ever seen sent a pang of loneliness through him. Harland's eyes.
He could do nothing about the British airship captain and the fact their loyalties were at odds, even if their bodies were in exact agreement. Pining for him did no good, though he'd tried for a while, but it was time to put aside his obsession with the other man and move on with his life. To help that cause along, he'd made sure he had time to look for some temporary companionship during this lay-up. He needed someone to take the edge off the loneliness that seemed to envelop him like a cloak these days, even if only for a few hours.
Eyes squinting against the bright afternoon sun, even under the unfashionably wide brim of his palm fiber hat, Cage pressed himself against the railing of the narrow pedestrianway to dodge a weaving pair of men making their way down the street past him. Despite the thick miasma of wood and coal smoke, not to mention the faint, sweet tang of opium, he could tell the two had not even taken the time to bathe before seeking out the seedier areas of the airship port and each other.
If their frequent pauses to grope and exchange clumsy, wet kisses were anything to go by, the two men didn't seem to be at all bothered by either their own odor or the amusement of a few of the more interested onlookers. They disappeared into the doorway of the by-the-hour boarding house several doors back. The scarred wooden door swung out and quickly back shut again after admitting the two men.
A breeze would have been welcome to clear away the remaining musk of their sweaty uniforms. Wool wasn't the best choice in the tropics at the most temperate of times, and today was far from temperate. The few natives foolish enough to be out in the thick heat of day were dressed in loose linen for comfort in the summer heat. Unfortunately, Cage was not free to go as simply dressed as the natives. Even out of uniform, there were regulations that must be obeyed.
Cage eased back into the press of traffic. A strong shove pinned him back against the pitted brass railing; the impact almost but not quite disguised the feel of fingers easing into the pocket of his civilian overcoat. A quick grab gained him possession of the thin wrist of a Hawaiian urchin attempting to pick his pocket. Unrepentant, if not overly skilled, the small boy twisted out of his grip and disappeared into the crowd, bare feet silent on the boards of the pedestrian way. He would likely seek out a more lucrative--and less aware--victim, since Cage's pockets were already empty before the pickpocket struck. Only a fool kept his papers or money anywhere accessible in this port.
Careful to slouch a bit and avoid any military mannerisms he could, Cage wiped his sweaty forehead with a plain handkerchief before he tucked it back into his sleeve. He made sure to scuff the heels of his boots on his way to the establishment he frequented here in Honolulu as well. There were no signs or advertisement for the Persimmon Palace, not even an address. Just a door you had to know the location of and a man on guard against those without membership or sponsorship.
The doorman was the same huge native man he'd seen on duty for over a decade. He still didn't know the doorman's name or whether he was even able to talk. His dress remained the same as well. He wore a pale linen tunic, loose trousers and palm fiber sandals. They were clean but never varied in style or color. The doorman could have been a stone statue if he'd only had more expression on his face.
"Mr. Kamaka is expecting me." Cage removed his hat and waited while the doorman assessed him as if he'd never seen him before. Dark, suspicious eyes slowly ran from the top of his tousled curly brown hair to the toes of his worn boots.
Cage had been careful to wear no part of his American Airship Navy uniform, nothing that would cause word to go back to his commanders and nothing that would cause problems with any representatives of navies of various other countries. Few things were as frowned on as those who caused too much official attention from foreign powers in the neutral Kingdom of Hawaii, and Mr. Kamaka, the owner, was known to quickly do whatever was necessary to remove that attention from the Persimmon, no matter the reason it had happened in the first place.
Finally the doorman gave a curt nod and stepped aside to open the door to the Persimmon just wide enough for Cage to slip through before shutting it firmly behind him.
It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness of the Persimmon's entry after the bright sunlight outside. The very air seemed cleaner and less oppressive than that outside. The strong scent of beeswax overlaid a much more subtle note of scotch, cigars and the musk of sex. The combination filled Cage's nostrils and sparked a slow burn of lust. His cock twitched in anticipation behind the buttons of his trousers. It had been long--far too long--since he'd fucked another man. Too much pain and sorrow dampened by focusing just on ship, duty and career left no time for sexual hungers to be satisfied.
The small entryway was a remarkable contrast to the seedy area of the port the Persimmon was located in. All four walls were paneled in polished bamboo, set with multiple rows of small, ornate brass rectangles gleaming in the gaslights that shone through alabaster shades. Even the brass tubing and fittings that fed the gaslights were polished to a warm glow.
Cage stepped to the low counter to the left of the entry and set his hat down in front of the attendant. In contrast to the doorman, this native was slender and wearing little more than a thin pair of trousers and a garland of leaves. The attendant said nothing and just waited, one hand under the countertop, until Cage slowly reached into his breast pocket, pulled out his token and handed it to the attendant. The small polished copper disk was embossed with the silhouette of an intact persimmon on one side and a cut persimmon's star shaped interior on the other.
His sponsor had told him that failure to produce the token could be punished by his death and the quiet disappearance of his body. No warning, no quarter. If you lost your token or had it stolen from you, you had to plead with your sponsor to procure another for you, if they were able to.
The attendant accepted the token, examined it carefully in the gaslight's reddish illumination, and finally nodded and smiled at Cage. "Thank you, sir. Welcome back to the Persimmon Palace and I hope you have the visit you desire."
The attendant stepped out from behind the counter to deftly assist Cage with the removal of his overcoat. A press of one of the ornate brass switches and a section of wall paneling popped open to reveal a single valet and hat rack. The attendant hung the inexpensive overcoat on the valet with more care than it actually warranted, then hung Cage's hat on the hook and placed Cage's token in a small fitting set inside the hidden door.
Cage never had determined how the attendant knew just which cupboard contained his outerwear, but he'd never seen a mistake occur.
Formalities dispensed with, the attendant reached under the counter and seemed to press a hidden switch. After a moment or two, a disguised door opened in the wall opposite the counter. Low voices and baritone laughter wafted out on a breeze of masculine lust. The usually pervasive smell of opium was almost remarkable for its absence. It was not permitted in the Persimmon.
For a brief moment, a memory of Harland in his bronze silk waistcoat, fine white linen shirt and snug-fitting buff trousers made a pang of sorrow and a flash of anger surge through Cage. It would torture him to see Harland with another man, even though he knew he could not have the British captain, no matter the all-consuming lust between them.
It was just as well that the odds of Harland being at the Persimmon today were so close to zero they almost didn't bear thinking about. The British Airship Navy was known to be deeply engaged in battles for parts of their Indian colonies, so he'd have no reason to be laying to here in Honolulu. Every man was needed on the front lines by the British navy.
Maybe Cage could find another ginger-haired man to exchange pleasures with tonight.
Squaring his shoulders and making no attempt to disguise his half-hard cock, Cage walked into the inner-sanctum of the Persimmon and the pleasures he'd been anticipating for months.