"Would you like a drink?" asked Abel.
"No thanks,” Zeno replied.
“A little bit.”
"I ran up the hill."
"From Castro Street?”
"That's a good reason to be out of breath.”
Zeno sat down on the love seat opposite Abel. He sighed, crossed his legs and gazed at red embers in the fireplace crackling like bacon popping in a frying pan and yellow sparks shot up the chimney, and the bright colors of yellow and red sparkling into orange colours fascinated him so. He thought of acrylic paint melting on canvas in brilliant sunlight and he liked the smell of it and smiled.
“Was it up Twin Peaks or directly up Pemberton?" Abel asked.
Abel glanced down at his crotch slightly erect like a bent stalk and he shivered in delight like a silly school-girl. “You know," he cooed, "I miss you terribly when you’re not here."
"Even when I'm painting in the Green Cottage?"
"But of course.”
"I started a new portrait."
“Do I know him?”
“Where did you meet?”
“Under that bridge?”
“No, we met at the top of the hill on 19th Street.”
“Was he good-looking and blond?”
“No...I mean, yes...he had dirty blond hair.”
"Was it a nude portrait?"
"Isn’t Mrs. Erikson sleeping?" A startled Zeno looked around the room.
"Zelta!" Abel said feeling his crotch that softened after the thought of Zelta. "I don't give a goddamn if my excitement rouses her. If that woman fell down a flight of stairs and broke her silly neck, I would not shed a tear."
Silence. Not even the two cats, Earnshaw and Linton, stirred from their corners somewhere hidden in the house.
"I'm sorry that Mrs. Erikson has hurt you. I hope some day you'll be able to tell me why you dislike her. I promise I'll listen."
This pleased Abel wholeheartedly. He grinned, chin up, content his boy had a compassionate heart and wasn't always so selfish. That raging beast that had overwhelmed him with unseemly thoughts of his mother faded like a mist. "What is done is done," he said calmly. "I'm simply happy that you care. But let's not talk of Zelta when I prefer to hold you in my arms and kiss you."
Zeno looked down at his manicured fingernails with trepidation; they were neat and trimmed just the way Abel preferred. It was the tip of them he suddenly recalled caressing a blushing blond's smooth white flesh and kissing him fully on the lips. The blond's mouth tasted sweet like a slice of crisp apple, his sweat warm and soothing like spring water. They melted into the other like two colors on stretched canvas so soft and beautiful and not dull and they couldn't cease their embrace. He shook his head and took a deep breath. Reluctantly, he stood up at once, looked at Abel waiting there like a supreme authority and his hand on his crotch and that silly grin on his face. Slowly he went over to him but on tiptoes like an obedient puppy. He bent over and gave him a smooch as cold as an ice cube.
Abel glared at him displeased by such a worthless kiss. He pulled him down between his legs and drew his mouth hard to his. "I do love you, Zeno Dexter Elliot," he said, "and tonight you can rest assured I won't lecture you on the importance of fidelity. You're home. However, I must demand that you take extreme caution when you're out and about. According to the media an incurable virus as ugly as Santa Ana winds is spreading in the worse imaginable way among sexually active men."
"Who said I had sex?" Zeno climbed up. "I swear I was in the Green Cottage working all day."
"It's not wise to swear, my boy, especially when you choose to utter an untruth. Do you think for one minute I believe this ridiculous story of your meeting a homeless man in Dolores Park and your painting him not nude?"
"I was there in the studio. That much is not an untruth."
"I'm unconcerned if you spent the day in the studio, Dolores Park or under a windmill in Golden Gate Park by a bush with your hands on your hips. I’m simply warning you to be careful when you’re among foolish men who could very well be carriers of Red virus.”
to the tall windows in front of a narrow balcony that looked east over the Castro and towards downtown skyscrapers and in the far distance the lights of Berkeley and Oakland hills shimmered in a pastel pink sunset.
He swung around abruptly and glared at Abel with blazing eyes. In three years he still had his manly good looks, but his brunette hair had turned salt-and-pepper. Thinner and thinner atop his pasty weathered head.
"I want my darling boy beside me where he belongs," Abel motioned him to a spot on the sofa. "I have a surprise."
He only wanted to run away from him, his savior who had rescued, sheltered and supported him for the last three years. Better it would've been if he had confessed all of his sins; then this heavy burden lifted from his shoulders. But he held his tongue, said nothing at all and rejoined his lover on the sofa without a fight.
"Do you still love me? Your man? Your teacher? Your lover as I am?"
"Of course, just what you said - all those things about love."
"Then look me in the eye, Zeno, and tell me that distinctly."
He opened his mouth but no words came at first and not until he thought about the studio he called Green Cottage, the house up Pemberton steps Abel called Briarcliff, and "I love you, sir" finally spilled out.
Abel squeezed him in his arms. "Thank the Lord, baby,” he exclaimed. “You said you love me. That is most important to my heart."
"I'm glad you brought me here..."
"Always remember it was I who made this entire journey to San Francisco possible."
Zeno leaned his head against his chest. He felt safe, secure so close to daddy. Nothing more. He took a deep breath and wrapped his arms around Abel's slender waist, in a silent moment, he was almost happy.
"I am the best thing that's ever happened to you," Abel reiterated now stroking the boy's kinky black hair. "We will never hurt each other or stop sleeping together because we are a permanent couple. I told my therapist today that I felt I was ready to make love to you. Guess what? (An abrupt laugh) Just before you came home tonight I was aroused. It's true! I am ready to make love to you. That's my surprise! Reach down right now, my boy! Reach down and feel the precious penis that is truly yours. Tonight..."
But he stopped hearing Zeno snoring softly like a kitten against his chest...
Once upon a time he could drink until he was literally blue in the face. There were no hangovers then, no incipient problem. Now he went to therapy and made special appearances at AA meetings upon his therapist's suggestion. He hated the meetings, having to sit there in that melancholy room, half listening to their stories, thinking he wasn't as far gone as those people. Drinking out of control and waking up in a gutter was not something he had in common with any of them.
After an abrupt moment of clarity, he heard her coming opposite the wall and a mere foot away. He pushed a carafe of gin back into place on top of the sideboard and tiptoed towards the sofa in front of the fireplace. The shuffling halted. The French door creaked open. In the threshold she waited. Snow-white hair erect like an electric bush and a beige gown clinging unnaturally made her look naked.
A second later the room fell pitch black.
"Farchrisake!" he hollered. "Turn that light back on. Turn it on, Now!"
The old woman stumbled in the darkness, her heart pounding. "Jonah!" She gasped, her startled blue eyes meeting his after switching on the light. "I didn't realize anybody was here."
"I'm not Jonah!”
She squinted until she could see him clearly.
"Yes, it is I. Abel, you so ardently hate!"
She caught her breath, swallowed and pressed a hand to her heart. "I don't hate you so much.”
"Oh, get out of here. Go to hell!"
"Why must you curse me all the time?"
"Because you're a simpleton."
"I'm not a fool.”
“Then a worthless, pathetic hag.”
“I'm your mother."
“But you are old, mother. Old old old.”
"You have no right to speak to me in that manner."
"I have every right to speak to you in any goddamn manner I please."
"How dare you."
"I'm the one taking care of you. The only one picking up your dirty laundry. Never Jonah who doesn't pay the bills."
"I happen to get a personal allowance every month, young fellow! Jonah deposits it in the bank to pay-."
"Jonah made those deposits of your measly pennies into his own personal account right down to your last nickel. He would have let this house foreclose right under your nose if-"
"Jonah wouldn't have. Why must you make up filthy lies?"
"I can't get it, mother," he threw his hands helplessly up in the air. "After all the miserable years you've spent with Jonah who purposely defrauded you; yet, you insist defending him when it was Jonah who nearly ruined this house and deliberately turned you into a pathetic rag doll."
"I'll get Jonah, he'll speak the truth! Unlike you and these lies."
"Then you'll have to go all the way to 6th Street to find that idiot. That's right he's been evicted, mother, to never set foot on Briarcliff Manor again."
The thought of Jonah being evicted from Briarcliff had never actually occurred to her. It seemed so remote like fake news. But finally some truth of Jonah’s exile sank temporally, and she knew it was true. "Jonah can't be gone!" she snapped, her frail voice rising. "He simply can't be. Why would you evict your own brother? Your own flesh and blood?"
"Oh mother, if I'd been any smarter I’d kicked you out along with him."
"I don't hate you so much."
"I said get out, mother. Get the hell out. Or shall I remove you personally? Dearest mother, you wouldn't prefer that..."
"All right!" She raised her chin high. "I am leaving...now!" She made her way out of the living room and down the hall, feeling her hands along the wall like a blind woman. Into her bedroom she fled, mustering enough strength to slam the door.
"Wretched bitch!" Abel muttered, going back to the sideboard. He jerked the cap off the carafe and started to fill the shaker with gin when the problem that had left him unable to perform returned. It tormented him so. He wanted to scream and bit his bottom lip until he tasted blood.
He wiped blood from his lip with a tissue. It stung a little. Yet, he was as excited as a whore on a full moon night. He swung around looking wildly in the mirror across the room admiring the bulge. A great big one. Nothing stubby about it...stirring in his boxers like an animal. That same movement. It jerked and swelled through the slit of his shorts and stiffened sideways. He touched it at the narrow curve. He squeezed the tip and burst with naughty laughter. Tears welling in his eyes, he hugged himself in his own arms like a lover.
The front door banged open downstairs. Footsteps pounded, rushing up. He wiped his eyes and hurried over to the sofa, a club soda in hand. Though deep inside he wanted drunkenness to overwhelm his insatiable boy.
"Darling, I’m home," came the boy's breathless voice from in the doorway.
His boy had come home. He wouldn't complain or question him about his day away from him or Briarcliff. Besides, he had argued long enough with Zelta, his scraggly mother, about those goddamn cats and everything else. That had exhausted him. "Well, don't just stand there,” he insisted. "Come in my boy."
It was the bewitching hour. Cold, windless and uncomfortable for those accustomed to tropical climate even sporadically during the third season in coastal South Carolina. No matter the season, be it spring or summer or fall, men were as concupiscent in the third season on the first coldest night of November as if it were the balmiest night of August when panties were easier to lose.
On the Battery by a seawall fronting the harbor a half dozen boys braved an icy condition and shivered in unsuitable summer coats like withered flowers. Each awaiting the right companion to escape the cold and have something to eat. Other times a hit of dope, quick sex in a backseat and nothing more than that.
Abel Erikson stumbled on the top broken step up East Bay Street that led down the Battery and Murray Boulevard. Street lights were sufficient to see the boys in the distance posed against the seawall like juvenile delinquents in a police line up. Only one stood out. He squinted to see him clearly. The black one. The others all white. The black boy he decided he would have before the men in shiny cars steady pumping their brakes and blinking red-lights would take him for what they all suspected.
“Do you have a light?” he said with a cigarette cocked at the corner of his mouth, and the boy was smoking, too, and carrying a overstuffed backpack.
The boy’s ebony eyes probed and searched him, seeking a safer place. “Sure,” he struck a match and, lighting the cigarette, saw his eyes were hazel like murky fish water and a harshness behind it in the flame compelled him to shake out the fire immediately and back up.
He drew smoke into the back of his throat, swirled it around and let it stay for a while and then exhaled studying the boy’s lean figure. He liked it and licked his lips moving his tongue slowly over the thin top from left to right. He relaxed against the rail and stone and, grinning, crossed his legs at the ankles and his heels up against the base. “Cold, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” the boy nodded dropping his cigarette butt and mashing it out with the tip of his foot.
“What are you looking for?”
“I’m looking for you,” the boy whispered without looking up.
“My car is parked just up the street on East Bay,” he grabbed the boy’s hand and squeezed it firmly. His hand cold and soft like a girl's. “Would you like to warm up?”
Inside Abel's charcoal black Mercedes the boy offered a warm can of malt liquor beer he pulled from his backpack, and they shared it along with one cigarette.
As a full moon rose higher in the black sky changing into a dazzling white, Abel finally leaned over and kissed the boy on the mouth, and the loneliness of the empty night was gone. He felt himself sinking, slipping into soft platinum white leather seat, losing control and wanting it.
This kiss, the helpless way it made him feel, captivated him so, leaving him no hint of the dark machinations yet to come, no hint of the relentless downhill spiral that would eventually lead to murder...