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The Fag Is Not For Burning [MultiFormat]
eBook by William Maltese

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: Skewered by a Spear and Barbecued! Seattle gay art gallery owner Horton Lendland is definitely dead, and it wasn't just a wienie roast! The suspects are legion: A hustler--two business partners--the best friend--the once-successful painter--the Catholic priest--sundry street urchins--the gay bar owner--the S&M crowd--the American Indian--the teacher accused of pederasty. Trouble is, the Seattle P.D.'s too busy chasing serial killers to spare anyone but the young, inexperienced Detective Cord Maxwell. As Maxwell tries to penetrate the reefs of the local gay community, the tension mounts: Who killed Horton Lendland?

eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, Published: USA, 2007
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2007

6 Reader Ratings:
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"WAS I SURPRISED?" Morgan G. Kent asked, rephrasing Detective Cord Maxwell's question and pouring himself the drink the policeman declined. The Chevas Regal formed an immediate stripe of pale amber that glistened through the refracting lead crystal of the tumbler. Morgan drank the booze English-warm while Lake Union dock lights and attending flotilla offered him and his Seattle penthouse a dazzling backdrop through two-story-high picture windows. "As early as two years ago, an acquaintance of mine commented that Horton Lendland would undoubtedly die violently. I was possibly surprised by the suggestion, but probably not."

"This acquaintance?" Cord asked, looking up from his notebook and its seemingly illegible scrawl. He wrote only to look official in the presence of someone he found unacceptably disconcerting. It was more than Morgan being gay. If Morgan were gay. Cord was unable to find anyone to verify that on a first-hand basis, although the handsome and successful writer was always mentioned in any who's-who-within-the-gay-community conversations.

"I'm reluctant to give you a name," Morgan said with a wide smile that dimpled his cheeks; those attractive concaves perfectly offset the small cleft couched in his chin, "because his comment was one anyone might have deduced from the evidence. By now, even you must have enough of an overview of Horton Lendland's life-style to be less than shocked by his manner of dying."

Whether Cord was shocked or not, he was interested in anyone who could read aloud the writing on the wall as early as two years before. "I would like to know who said it," he persisted, remaining embarrassedly distracted by this man whom, at close to forty years of age, looked no more than twenty-five. Morgan either had a body miraculously resistant to the wear and tear of middle age, or he had one he was able to camouflage perfectly within the expensively cut pewter-grey Brioni.

"Gary Green," Morgan said finally, Cord having almost forgotten the triggering question, "but you'll be wasting your time. Gary and Horton only met a few times in passing. They certainly didn't run in the same social circles, as enemies, friends, lovers, or tricks. Gary wasn't Horton's type and vice versa."

"That's Gary Green, the schoolteacher?" Cord asked. He'd always been acutely aware of any gay-oriented news breaking within the Seattle area. Gary Green, schoolteacher, had received more than his fair share of press.

"One and the same," Morgan confirmed. "Gary Green, molester of young boys, the greedy gobbler of adolescent dick." Morgan's boyish good looks (God, how did the man manage to look boyish at forty!?), seemed out of place with his x-rated comments. But Cord had it from those who professed to know that it had been just Morgan's devil-angelic paradox, complete with wit and intellect, which had been his entrée into mansions and back rooms, his key to acceptance by kinks, socialites, and literary scions alike. On his terms, not theirs. "Although I would be careful about accusing Gary of his misdeeds in any public forum," Morgan added, "in the face of his total acquittal, I mean."

"You're the one who's calling him a pederast," Cord reminded defensively.

"Am I?" Morgan asked, all practiced innocence that came across surprisingly unaffected. "Surely not! Gary is a dear friend, as I'm sure he'll be the very first to tell you."

Cord's uncomfortable feeling of being mind-fucked by a pro seemed to be confirmed by Morgan's radiated sense of amusement at finding himself in the presence of the young policeman whose muscles and guts, at twenty-six, obviously needed far more attention than Detective Cord Maxwell had recently been able to give them. "Do you really find this as amusing as you're coming across?" Cord accused. "I find it unusual from someone purporting to have been Horton Lendland's friend--if not his best friend."

"Am I purporting to have been Horton's best friend?" Morgan asked, his accompanying laugh refusing any chastisement. "Funny, but I don't recall purporting any such thing."

"He left you over one-hundred-thousand dollars worth of paintings," Cord said, consciously willing himself to stay calm and cool. He suspected Morgan was baiting him, and he refused to play faggot games. Goddamn it, he was a police officer on an official investigation of a man brutally murdered and burned to a fucking crisp, and there was nothing even vaguely amusing about it.

"Haven't you heard? My so-called inheritance went up in the same smoke Horton did," Morgan reminded, pouring himself another drink. On the lake behind him, a yacht jockeyed for mooring, masts bedecked with glimmering lights like ornaments on a Christmas tree.

"Which doesn't negate the fact of his leaving them to you," Cord rebutted.

"It does remove any motive for murder, though, doesn't it?" Morgan reasoned. "Not that I knew he was planning on leaving me such a bonanza. When he made me executor of his will, I assumed the fees he knew I'd milk from my executorship would be adequate compensation. Disappointed?"

The question took Cord by surprise. "Disappointed?" he echoed.

"About my motive for murder having been flushed down the toilet?" Morgan elucidated. He cocked his head, his silky black hair moving in an hypnotically fluid motion. He had a scar almost lost within the arch of his left eyebrow. "Although that's possibly not an apropos analogy," he said, "considering we're talking fire here. Gone up in a puff of smoke might be better. Yes?"

"There's the insurance," Cord said, wishing he hadn't refused a drink, because he could sure as hell use one. "I'm sure you'll make out like Flynt once the estate is settled."

"Horton wasn't much for insurance," Morgan said. "Once you see the final figures, you'll agree my share wouldn't have warranted sticking a spear up my friend's ass and barbecuing him in a fire made from his gallery and its (my) paintings. Besides, I'm not exactly so poor that I have to go around murdering people, friends, associates, or enemies, to supplement my income."

All of which Cord had verified, wondering now how he'd been maneuvered into the role of recalcitrant schoolboy getting run over the coals by a know-it-all teacher.

"What about Jim Holdsett?" Cord asked, deciding to take the conversation elsewhere.

"Jim Holdsett of Lendland/Holdsett Gallery?" Morgan asked, as if he knew several Jim Holdsetts and needed specifics to sort one from the other. "What about him?"

"Could he have murdered Horton?"

"Why not?" Morgan said with a shrug. "He gets the gallery."

"Now burned to the ground."

"And the insurance does only cover a fraction," Morgan agreed.

"He might not have known that."

"Oh, yes, he would have known," Morgan contradicted. "Jim might be just twenty-one, but he's not stupid. How many other young men do you know who became partners in a lucrative gallery at age sixteen? Now, he might have done his share of initial bargaining beneath the sheets, for a foothold, but he didn't hang in there for all of these years without some smarts. I don't think Jim would have murdered Horton and burned down the gallery when he was far better off with Horton as a respected figurehead; not to mention all the advantages of having a few paintings to sell."

"Lendland and Holdsett were lovers?"

"That is what I insinuated, isn't it?" Morgan said, as if that admission surprised him. He moved across the room from wet bar to black leather easy chair and sat down, resting his right calf on his left knee and balancing his glass on the former. He wore Gucci loafers. Cord decided the lighting, or absence thereof, was what kept Morgan looking so young. Once the man got out in the sunlight....

"And I do suspect the two did play around," Morgan said, interrupting Cord's reverie. "After all, one never gets something for nothing (at least that's been my experience), and Jim has certainly chocked up his fair share of somethings, hasn't he?"

"But you don't know for a fact that the two were lovers?" Cord pressed. It was a facet of the investigation he would like clarified. Jim Holdsett denied any sexual involvement with Horton Lendland. However, Morgan wasn't the first to insinuate otherwise.

"Lovers?" Morgan asked, his expression denoting disappointment at Cord's use of, or misuse of, the hackneyed term. "What a catch-all lovers has become," he bemoaned. "Are you referring to a man-man-equals-husband-wife relationship? To a man-man-equals-husband-mistress relationship? To a man-man-equals-husband-prostitute relationship? To any of the hundred-and-one other gradients?"

"Did Horton Lendland and Jim Holdsett fuck each other?" Cord asked in mounting frustration. He wanted a simple yes or no from this bastard instead of this verbal diarrhea he should have expected from a writer. At least Morgan's income presently derived from his writing. He'd supposedly gotten it from far more interesting sources in the past, but Cord was still checking to verify those rumors.

"I was never there when Jim dropped his pants and bared his cock and ass for Horton, if that's what you mean," Morgan admitted. "Horton was never into group scenes, except in back rooms so dark he couldn't see who belonged to whatever the cock he was sucking. And when he was sober, he wasn't always one-hundred percent truthful about such things. I remember him telling me once that he'd seen (platonically, mind you), Grey Matthews (a local weight-lifter, AKA Mr. Northwest Muscle--since mainlined to the big gymnasium in the sky), without clothes on. Horton insisted Grey was hung like an ant. Later, of course, I caught a glimpse of Grey naked on one of those gay greeting cards, and hung like a horse would have been more like it. As for Jim, he certainly wouldn't have done any confiding in me about Horton and his clandestine sexual life. He was too busy trying to convince me, him, his psychiatrist, and everyone else that he was the only straight in the whole Seattle art community. Then again...."

"Then again, what?" Cord asked, knowing Morgan's pause was for effect. Cord didn't like feeling, as he did, that he was being merrily led down some garden path.

"There might, once upon a time, have been an incriminating photo."

"Might?" Cord responded. By Christ, there either was a photo or there wasn't. What was all of this might bullshit?

"I was very drunk at the time," Morgan resumed. "Horton must have been very drunk, too--" According to Cord's sources, Horton had been drunk most of the time "--because he was really quite shy and not at all flamboyant in his sexual activities as he was in other areas. But I do vaguely recall a photo of Jim looking very un-straightsman-like with his trousers bunched around his ankles and Horton's hungry mouth burrowing deeply over Jim's crotch."

"You wouldn't know where this photo is now?" Cord asked. There had been photos galore, a whole sack of them, which Darold Keshmont, Horton's house mate, had dubbed Horton's Bag of Dirty Tricks. However, there had been no photo of Darold or Jim among the lot, just a rogues' gallery of other men, in one form of undress or another, including the gay greeting card of well-hung Grey (Mr. Northwest Muscle) Matthews.

"Horton had a whole collection of photographs that he kept in a bag somewhere," Morgan confirmed. "Ask Darold to dig them out for you. Darold knew far more about Horton's sex life than Horton suspected. He certainly knows more about it than I do, or ever did."

Darold Keshmont was another subject Cord wanted to cover extensively with Morgan, but first--"You only saw the photo of Jim and Horton that once?"

"It wasn't a viewing experience that warranted a concentrated effort in ever repeating," Morgan said with a grimace. "Jim has never been my type and, at the time, he was covered with enough baby fat to make him positively cherubic. More Gary Green's type than mine."

Cord would not ask Morgan what type he did prefer, because the answer was geared more to Cord's personal, rather than to his professional, curiosity. "So, what was Lendland's relationship with Keshmont?" he asked instead.

"Why don't you ask Darold?" Morgan suggested.

"Why don't you let me decide what questions to ask, to whom, and when to ask them?" Cord suggested in miffed alternative.

"You seem awfully young to be a homicide detective, Detective Maxwell," Morgan threw at him from left field, as if having intuitively waited for that moment. Cord's youth was a personal sore point, as tender for the young policeman as was the rumor that he'd risen so far so fast in the force because his father's father and his father (both retired police officers), were friends and poker buddies of the present police commissioner.

"I'm not the youngest to have made detective grade," Cord volunteered, trying not to sound defensive. There had been a guy two months his junior who had made detective on the Seattle force. So what if it had happened in 1915? "And if you have any questions about my qualifications, let me assure you that overcoming looking young has in no way hindered my excellent results in the field."

"I do believe that's the first time I've heard someone boast of overcoming looking young," Morgan said, mock awe oozing over. He took another swallow of his drink. An emerald-and-diamond ring on his right pinkie finger caught what little light there was and sent it back in a sunburst of glitter. The ring was another item about which Cord would have liked asking, except he wasn't certain how the gift, reportedly from a woman many years Morgan's senior and now dead, could relate to the present case.

"Maybe your surprise comes from too long running with a youth-worshipping crowd," Cord criticized. "Youth and good looks aren't everything. In fact, they're a damned superficial way to judge any one."

"They don't judge a man by his age in the police force, then?" Morgan asked. The knife was in and given a twist.

"Let me remind you, once again, that I'm asking the questions," Cord said, refusing to surrender control. "If you'd rather we conduct this at the station, I'd be more than happy to oblige, as well as arrange for you to be interviewed by someone associated with this case who's more to your liking."

"Not likely," Morgan countered, and Cord read all sorts of innuendo. The policeman blushed. Not something he enjoyed doing, because it tainted his peaches-and-cream complexion and said too much that was better left unsaid about the state of his emotions. "There are others assigned to the case, are there?" Morgan asked. If he'd seen the evidence of Cord's blushed discomfort in the dim lighting, he'd had the good grace not to capitalize upon it.

"This is a murder and arson," Cord reminded, thankful for something to say. He'd just realized he'd probably been turning pink for nothing. Morgan's not likely comment likely had no sexual connotation. This left Cord relieved but curious and uneasy by whatever had triggered his misinterpretation.

"Mmmmmm," Morgan hummed, sounding very much a man who'd just been offered the Brooklyn Bridge for $1.50 and was only pretending to consider the sincerity of the offer until the cops arrived. "I'd just assumed that everyone else but you was presently assigned to the Dint Slough murders." The Dint Slough murders had occurred over the last five years. It had taken so long for the public to become incensed by them because the killer concentrated on whores, whom he brutally fucked, fore and aft, with myriad inanimate objects, then killed (suffocation being his primary modus operandi), and then unceremoniously dumped somewhere within the forty-square mile boundaries of the wetland known locally as Dint Slough. What had caused the present glaring focus of attention on them had been the recent discovery of Karen Reinstick's discarded corpse by a cub scout out with his father collecting insects for a merit badge. As it turned out, Karen wasn't a prostitute, and that was what raised the outcry that eventually rattled the very doors of city hall. That Karen had been killed not by the Dint Slough killer but by her found-another-love husband (as later came out), still emphasized to John Q. Seattleite that someone had been dropping bodies at Dint Slough for over five years without getting caught or punished for it. Maybe it was only prostitutes now, but it could soon enough spill over to include someone like Karen Reinstick. So, a special task force was formed, its progress (consistently next to nothing), daily condemned by the news media and an increasingly irate public. The death of twenty-two whores suddenly held precedence over most everything, especially over the death of one (albeit socially prominent) faggot. Queers invariably killed their own, didn't they? While a killer of prostitutes more closely skirted the heterosexual norm. First things first.

"The Seattle Police Department is geared for the successful investigation of more than one murder at a time," Cord assured, knowing he was assigned to the Lendland case because he was the only detective the chief figured he could spare. Cord would have preferred being back on the Dint Slough task force. Gay murders in general--gays in particular--were not his cup of tea. Male whores were forever on the make, and it was small wonder more weren't iced each year by the straights they accosted. The other day, in the men's rest room at Alki, Cord had been propositioned by a kid young enough to be Cord's son (and that was pretty damned young). Cord had been so taken aback that he hadn't thought to arrest him. What he should have done was turn the little shit over his knee and give him a good spanking. But he'd been too taken back for that. Besides, the kid would have probably liked it.

"I hold out little hope of you getting to the bottom of this, you know?" Morgan said. "Especially in the face of the gay hustler murdered two months ago, and the gay lawyer murdered just last month. Your department isn't exactly batting a hundred on gay murders, is it?" Detectives Sudlow and Hillock had been working on those, but they'd since been assigned to the Dint Slough task force. The cases, though, were still officially open, if getting colder by the day, probably to be stone cold by the time Sudlow and Hillock got back to them--if they ever got back to them. Even Cord believed all that was expected on this one was that he go through the motions. To appease the more militant and political gay groups, Cord had been assigned, as liaison with the gay community, a young lawyer named George Genlic who was gay and, what's more, looked and acted it.

"I hope you're not insinuating the police haven't done, and are not doing, everything that might be expected of them as regards this case," Cord challenged. It was all right for Cord, secretly or otherwise, to criticize his own, because he was on the inside and a certified member of the offending fraternity. It was not okay for Morgan to criticize.

"And if I were?" Morgan countered, not backing down as Cord had expected and wanted him to. "Would you attempt to persuade me otherwise by using your phallic billy club? Where does a plainclothesman, by the way, hide it?"

"If you were so insinuating, I'd assure you that we're doing the best job we possibly can under the circumstances," Cord said, refusing to comment upon where he did or didn't keep his billy club. He only hoped Morgan's remark hadn't been a double entendre referring to the unsightly bulge Cord's mysteriously swollen cock was making in his pants. "Hampered," he continued, "by wise-ass faggots, like you, who think it's a joke when one of your own gets skewered up his ass by a spear and roasted over a bonfire."

"Touché," Morgan conceded, sounding not in the least repentant. "So, let's get on with this, shall we?" He checked his watch, a Piaget Polo that Cord couldn't have afforded after a lifetime of foregoing lunches at McDonald's.

* * * *

"OH, JESUS, MAN!" Samuel ("Rocky"--because-of-his-big-balls) Bennuti said and groaned, having turned toward the tap on his left shoulder and seen who was there. "I'm bothering no one, waiting for a bus."

"Yeah?" Cord asked mockingly. "And I'm the tooth fairy. Come on. I want a few minutes of your time."

"I'm going to miss my ride," Rocky whined. "My mother is going to be pissed."

"Your mother would be more pissed if you surprised her to death by showing up on her doorstep at all. Now, get that ass you're peddling in gear before I pull you in for soliciting."

"Fuck!" Rocky bemoaned, falling into step beside the policeman, all the while enviously eyeing the drivers of the steady stream of cars passing him by. "Where are we going?" he asked after they'd reached Cord's unmarked car, the cop motioning him inside. "Change your mind about a blow-job?"

"You watch your faggot mouth!" Cord warned, sliding behind the wheel. "Or you're going to find it too fist-punched sore for sucking."

"There's always my firm young ass," Rocky reminded rebelliously.

"And who's paying to fuck a hole that could take on Amtrak and feel no friction?" Cord retorted with a grunt. He eased them away from the curb and into the hustler-cruising traffic.

"I ain't done nothing!" Rocky assured; Cord didn't bother to explain the what of a double negative.

"Don't be so fucking paranoid," Cord said. "I just want you to come somewhere with me."

"Come where with you?" Rocky asked, emphasizing the sexual connotations by cupping his crotch with his right hand and giving an obscene squeeze.

"You fucking little pervert!" Cord accused, shaking his head in real and feigned disgust. "Just sit there and shut up."

Cord knew Rocky from when Cord worked vice three years before. At the time, Rocky was new enough to selling himself on the streets to make the mistake of propositioning Cord, a vice decoy at the time. Cord had hauled Rocky's ass on in, booked him, and called Rocky's mother to get her ass downtown to pick her kid up. Rocky had been back on First Avenue two days later, wise enough to give Cord a wide berth. He'd been a young (thirteen), fresh-faced kid from Ballard, at the time. Now, he was sixteen and looking twenty. Whatever it was that kept Morgan Kent young, Rocky hadn't been made privy to the secret. Not that the kid wasn't still attractive, in a hardened, much-used sort of way. His military haircut, black eyes, pouty mouth, super-thin body, big cock, and bigger-than-most balls, still appealed to a few; although he was on a fast track heading nowhere and was beginning to look it.

Cord drove to the University District, wondering if Rocky looked at the college kids with any jealous resentment. What Rocky looked was ticked off that Cord had yanked him off First Avenue during the busiest and most lucrative part of any hustler's evening.

Cord located a parking spot across the street from the University Cinemas. "What now?" Rocky wanted to know.

"We sit and wait for the ten-to-twelve feature to let out," Cord said, checking his watch, a Timex not anywhere nearly as expensive as Morgan's sleek Piaget. He thought a lot about Morgan, telling himself he did so only because the guy was not easy to figure. Thought gay by gays, and by most straights, Morgan didn't seem to have bedded anyone who was willing to kiss and tell. Anyone who thought he or she knew someone with whom Morgan had supposedly tricked was always wrong. The majority, men and women, just wanted to go to bed with him. Why not? Morgan was handsome as hell, and he came complete with enough celebrity for any fame-fucker. Who else had gone from writing fuck books to writing Harlequin SuperRomances to writing a best-selling nonfiction account of a downed U.S. bomber crew behind German lines in World War II, the latter book having been developed into a rating-breaker twelve-hour miniseries starring sexy newcomer, Daley Moore? What's more, Morgan had appeared on Jay Leno not once but twice.

"We waiting for anyone in particular?" Rocky asked, sounding and looking bored. The audience from the last show was finally exiting the theater.

"At the moment, we're just waiting," Cord parried vaguely.

Cord hadn't discarded the possibility that Morgan was a heterosexual in homosexual disguise. Just because the guy was exceptionally handsome didn't make him queer. Hell, Cord had been mistaken often enough for a gay, especially when working vice, to know that for a fact. Nor did associating with queers, as Morgan did, mean queerness rubbed off. If the latter were the case, all of the literary and theatrical set in Seattle would be confirmed nellies by now.

So, did Morgan fuck women? Whether women, or men, or dogs, Cord had drawn a complete blank. There had been a heterosexual fruit-fly Morgan ran around with in his early days of pounding out two fuck-books (one gay, one straight) a month for a San Diego smut publisher, but Sandra Wheems hadn't been seen for ages. There was the eighty-three-year-old woman who had been Morgan's sugar-momma and had literally shown him the world on a series of mind-expanding and expensive cruises, but had he actually fucked Mary Bjorn or ever offered her anything but companionship? Cord couldn't ask Mary; she was dead. Of natural causes, after an operation for gallstones; the operation had succeeded, the patient had died of heart failure. Leaving Morgan rich as Midas and wearing the big-dollar-value-emerald-and-diamond pinkie ring that had become his trademark, as well as the Brioni, as well as the Piaget.

"The theater is shutting down," Rocky said, bringing Cord out of his reverie. The marquee had just gone dark.

Cord opened the car door and got out, motioning Rocky to do the same.

"The last show is over and done," Rocky reminded; Cord certainly didn't need to be told the obvious.

"Well, you and I are VIP's," Cord argued, jaywalking to the theater and knocking on its locked door.

"We're closed!" came a none-too-courteous response from within.

"Well, unclose, please," Cord said. "It's Detective Maxwell from Seattle Police, and I want to talk with Miss Taylor."

"Hold a sec." The voice was more respectful, this time, but not accompanied by any sounds of an unlocking door.

Rocky examined the promo poster for Spinal Tap, a movie about a rock-and-roll band that was one of the oldies-but-goodies playing inside.

"Detective Maxwell?" a muffled query came through the closed door.

"Miss Taylor?" Cord replied. There was a click, and the door opened a crack, then farther. "Sorry about this," Cord apologized with a wide grin, "but I'm hoping I can impose upon your good graces once again."

Sharon Taylor was in her early twenties, a graduate student in psychology at the University of Washington. She managed the University Cinemas for pocket money to supplement the scholarship that made her life easier but not carefree. She had naturally blonde hair, a pretty-rather-than-beautiful face, sufficient-but-not-Dolly-Parton tits, and legs that started at the floor and seemed to go on forever. She'd been one of two theater employees who had positively identified Morgan Kent, from his photograph, as having been in the audience on the night of Horton Lendland's murder. "Come in, please," she invited, sounding pleased to see Cord, despite the lateness and inconvenience of the hour. Her sparkling smile of welcome was only slightly dimmed when Cord called Rocky over to lead the way in.

"I'd like to see that movie once again," Cord said. "I tried to get here for the last scheduled showing, but.... "He let Sharon add her own ending, hoping she could come up with something better than he could manage. Actually, he was there purely on an impulse, after having spotted Rocky on the street corner. "If it's too much brother, though.... "Again, he paused.

"Well," Sharon said, checking her watch; it was neither Piaget nor Timex, "Sid has a test tomorrow, but I can stick around and run the projector. Why don't you go on in, and I'll manage the film?" She still managed a nice smile: pink lips pulled back over seed-pearl teeth. She smelled of lily of the valley.

Cord mumbled his thanks and steered Rocky into the auditorium.

"That babe is hot-hot-hot for your body," Rocky chanted, selecting an aisle seat and plopping down in it. Cord climbed over him, leaving an empty seat in between. "She has excellent taste in men," Rocky added.

"Don't start!" Cord warned.

"Stud, I know what I'm saying," Rocky persisted. "I deal in passion, remember?"

"You deal in hurried cock-sucks and ass-fucks, blow-jobs and hand-jobs," Cord clarified.

"You couldn't see her little pink tongue hanging out all of the way to her little pink clit?" Rocky asked in a don't-feed-me-that-line-of-bullshit voice.

"Keep it down, you little prick!" Cord hissed. He could hear Sharon in the projection booth and didn't know how much she heard in return.

"Hey, guy, my prick isn't little," Rocky protested. "Want to see?"

"What I want is for you to shut up," Cord warned. He didn't have the time, the patience, or the inclination to listen to Rocky's inept run-on come-ons.

"Don't knock what you haven't tried," Rocky said, looking far less rebuffed than Cord thought he should be. Though, he apparently sensed the negative vibes, because he settled down in his seat and changed the subject. "So, why are we at a private screening of an old rock-and-roll movie?" He propped his feet on the back of the chair in front of him.

"We're not seeing the rock-and-roll movie," Cord surprised. "We're seeing the one being shown in Cinema II."

"Which is?"

"Another Country."

"What other country?"

"Just watch the movie and find out, damn it!"

"Ready?" Sharon called.

"Yes, thanks!" Cord called back.

The house lights dimmed. "Think I could have some popcorn?" Rocky asked. "Or how about you share your hot-candy balls?"

"Shhhhh!" Cord hissed, not pleased by Rocky's responding chuckle.

Cord expected Sharon to come on down and join them. She later admitted that she'd been tempted but had used the time for extra study. Cord gave her a lift home to her boarding house waffled between sorority and fraternity houses on frat row. Rocky had the wherewithal to keep his comments to himself until Sharon was out of the car and, more importantly, out of earshot.

"So, what'd you bring me along for?" Rocky asked finally. "As the chaperone who would keep you from having to fuck the bitch?"

"You are genuinely one sick puppy, you know that?" Cord informed, made uneasy by the perceptiveness of the sixteen-year-old queer, because Sharon likely would have invited Cord in if--"Tell me what you thought of the movie," Cord ordered.

"I couldn't understand half of it," Rocky complained. "What in the hell language were they speaking, anyway?"

"English," Cord informed. Some of the upper-class English diction had been hard to follow, but he'd managed better this time. He still wondered what appeal the film offered Morgan Kent that the man had seen it five times. Beautifully photographed in Rembrandt-dark sequences, it was a slick presentation of the gay aspects of English public school in the 1930s and had won several awards after its initial release in the theaters. If its basic purpose was an attempt at explaining the eventual betrayal of country by spies like Kim Philby, a product of the English public school system, Another Country, on the surface, remained a tender love story between two young men. And Cord had met only one person who had thought Morgan Kent a romantic, and that was Edna Potts. Edna was eighty-six, and she'd been Mary Bjorn's best friend and confident until business tycoon Robert Lasalo had introduced Mary to Morgan Kent at a party, magic striking. Edna, though, insisted Morgan was the best thing that could have happened to Mary. "They were both such romantics, you know?" she said. "Morgan made Mary's last days very happy and exciting, indeed."

Morgan Kent a romantic? Cynic was the most popular description, followed closely, if not in dead-heat, by jaded. Even Rose Westphal (AKA Rose White, Rosalind Cary, Rosemary Wine), someone who knew Morgan (AKA Morgana Kent) quite well from their Harlequin days, didn't say he was a romantic. Romantic, yes, but a romantic? "A cynic, like I am," was what she actually said. "But with so much charm that you could miss the cynicism if you weren't damned careful."

"What did you think of the movie?" Rocky asked Cord and rolled down the car widow to let in surprisingly damp-free air for Seattle. "Enough, I guess, to have come back to see it a second time, huh?"

"I know my opinion," Cord said. "At the present, I want to hear yours." After all, Rocky was gay, and Cord wanted a gay perspective. Although it seemed ludicrous to think Morgan and Rocky's thought processes could ever operate along one and the same line.

"Well, I wouldn't be all that hot to see it for a second go-round," Rocky judged, although the butt-warming scene was kind of a turn-on."

"The disciplinary caning?"

"The what?"

"The butt-warming," Cord reverted, finding it easier to sink to Rocky's level than try bringing the hustler up to his.

"Yeah," Rocky confirmed. "At least I could get off on that."

"Because your parents beat you, you mean?" Cord ventured. How many kids were on the streets because abuse in the home had driven them there?

"Hell, if my parents had whacked my ass once or twice more often, it might have been better for all of us," Rocky defended, shattering Cord's theory all to hell. "I was talking about how many johns are into B&D, these days."

"You mean, there are customers of yours who spank your ass, or vice versa?" Cord asked. There was no reason he should be shocked. He'd worked vice. He'd seen and heard worse.

"Some get turned on by that, yeah," Rocky admitted, obviously knowing more about B&D activities in Seattle than about disciplinary caning in the English public school system. "And they're not just into spanking either. There's this really butch number out of Canada who always wants me to tie him up and fist-fuck him."

"So, I suppose, you tie him up and give him what he wants?" Cord asked, unable to control a shiver from head to toes and back again. "And do these johns ever want to tie you up?" he asked, without a pause.

"Some of them," Rocky admitted. "One guy uses electrical tape...."

"Do you know that three gays have been murdered in this town during the last four months?" Cord interrupted. His glance toward Rocky, if looks could kill, would have done the job. "All three tied before being murdered."

"I don't make it with freaks," Rocky objected. "I can spot the sick ones right off."

"Like you spotted me for vice the time you asked if I wanted to suck off your big cock or vice versa for ten bucks?" Cord argued facetiously.

"Hey, I've come a long way, since then, baby!" Rocky assured. "There have been lots of cocks, mouths, and assholes under the bridge since I tried to slap the make on you and yours that first time."

"Don't you think those three dead gays once thought that they could spot the sickies, too?" Cord asked. This kid really wasn't all there. Rocky's common sense had been sucked out of his exploding cock by one too many queer who'd paid ten dollars for the meal.

"Hey, you're worried about me, aren't you?" Rocky said. "Ain't that sweet. Real sweet. But I can take care of myself, see. There ain't no goon going to fool me into letting him kill me. Right? Right!"

Horton Lendland had not been a fool, yet someone had gotten to him. And if that someone could get to Lendland, Rocky--brave talk or not--wouldn't stand a chance. "I'm taking you to the station, Rocky," Cord said. "I'm telling them you asked to suck my cock. Then, I'm calling your mother and telling her if she lets you back out at night, ever again, she'll have bloody hell to pay."

Rocky's laugh wasn't what Cord expected. It said more than words how long Cord's warnings to Rocky, or to the kid's mother, would keep Rocky from hustling. Selling his body was Rocky's karma, his fate, his place in a some-people-are-shat-upon-and-some-people-do-the-shitting world. "Drop me where you picked me up, will you, Maxwell?" Rocky asked, still smiling and shaking his head.

"You aren't likely to turn a trick this late at night," Cord protested feebly. "Why don't you let me drive you home?"

"Not unless you're planning to come on in with me," Rocky said. "And you aren't about to do that, are you, stud? So, do the next best thing, and stop worrying about me."

Despite the hour, the street wasn't deserted. There were warm bodies on display, lined up against buildings like targets in a shooting gallery, a constant stream of slow-moving traffic circling around them like hunters on the hunt.

"Here!" Rocky announced, and Cord robot-like turned the car to the curb and stopped. Rocky hopped out and shut the door behind him, slapping the roof in friendly farewell.

A young kid emerged from the attending shadows. Nine years old? Ten? Closer to nine. No more than a baby, glancing toward the car, saying something to Rocky. Rocky laughed, his voice clear and painfully youthful as he called back to Cord, "Hey, Maxwell, little Timmy, here, wants to know if you'd like to fuck his tight virgin asshole."

Cord eased the car away from the curb. In his rearview mirror, he caught a parting glimpse of the very young kid who would, in three short years, or in less, look older than Rocky, maybe even older than Cord. Life on the streets drained more than the cum from young hustlers. It drained much, much, much more than just the cum.

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