Zeno stretched out his long legs underneath the coffee table and lifted his arms high in the air above his head as long and hard as he could reach until he felt his spine crack and, all over, he tingled with relief. He smiled at a distant memory. The memory of a man he had recently known. Every thought of him delighting his senses.
It was raining with the view of the city hazy and gray. Gradually, his concentration returned. He got back to working on a portfolio of his artwork. The wind had picked up and the rain fell harder by the time Zelta came through the French doors and into the living room gasping with every shuffling step.
In one hand she carried a bag of M&M candies, the other a glass filled with a milkshake. Ceto, the short-hair black cat Zelta always called Blackey, followed in tow with a gay erect tail.
Zeno was about to say good morning but hesitated after seeing pale lipstick shaping her small mouth and soft earth shadow and rouge painting her chalky complexion giving her cheeks an unnatural glow. Her snow-white hair was untangled and brushed neatly into place. She wore a clean blue velvet gown with a flower embroidery knitted above the breast, a striking improvement over the drab flesh-colored robe she had worn previously. He couldn't believe it was the same woman who had managed to look so miserable only a few days ago.
This change, he thought to himself and almost laughed out loud, would horrify Abel upon his return from Charleston.
"How are you today, Mrs. Erikson?" he finally said after she settled into her favorite armchair with a high back and a small fluffy pillow. The chair was closest to a floor lamp and off to the side of the white fireplace mantel with a ticking antique clock and Abel's portrait focused above the fireplace.
"Just fine, young fellow,” she said haughtily. “Thank you," she added and Zeno looked away from her and she placed the glass down on the side table and centered the bag of M&Ms in her lap. "Where is Rosa?" she said looking anxiously around the room.
"Rosa won't be in until the afternoon,” he glimpsed at her and continued his work. “She has a doctor’s appointment. That’s why she's late."
"I hope she'll be all right.”
"She’ll be fine⎯I’m sure."
She reached for the glass with a plastic straw anchored at the top and lifted it to her mouth and, staring straight ahead into a downpour of rain dripping down the terrace glass, she parted her lips and sucked. The sound of sucking and then wheezing startled Ceto, the black cat, underneath the chair and it scouted out between her feet. She got only a glimpse of the cat vanished through the open French doors. She put the glass back down on the table and fidgeted with the seal of the M&Ms until she tore it open violently in her lap. Like a child, she picked out the red and yellow candies and popped first the reds, then the yellows into her mouth and chewed ravenously.
The French doors from the hall into the living room were wide open. This worried her more than the cat always chasing after Thamaus, the other cat, she called Blondie. She sucked in her teeth and thought of Ahab, the second son, expecting he would come rushing through the door into the room at any moment raging about wasted heat being let out into the hall and the bill sky high. Ahab was always complaining about money he never seems to have and needed to buy items she suspected were no good. She leaned forward with her elbows pressing into her thighs and peered at Zeno. She wished he would stop with that picture book right now, get up off of that floor and shut the door before Ahab burst in or that other one (Abel, her first son) returned like hurricane Hazel. Without either of them around the house was calmer. She liked it that way.
She popped more candies into her mouth and thought about the milkshake and how good it had been⎯and how much better it had tasted than the first ones Ahab had made. He had told her Dr. Abagtha prescribed shakes especially for her diet, which was all he ever gave for breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with M&Ms on the side. All this saved on grocery bills and provided more funds for Ahab’s pleasure. "The milkshake was another good one,” she blurted out loud. “Was it you, Rosa or that nurse who made it for me?”
"It was I. Nurse Wilma Hope is out of town. I hope you like strawberry?"
"I love strawberry. It's a good flavor. The milkshake is best I've ever had. I thank you very much."
In the palm of her right hand that was whiter than a sheet, she stared at chocolate candies thinking she had never lived with a Negro before. She consumed the candies until dark chocolate melted down her throat. She swallowed remembering a time when a Negro fellow of any complexion not of white people purity wasn’t allowed to sit alone in the same room with a white woman or even look at her, else he could be lynched or tied down to a stone to drown at the bottom of a creek because his color was wrong...evil. But this one, this young fellow, wasn't evil, wasn’t terribly bad looking. In fact, he didn’t look particularly ethnic of any sort, African or Middle Eastern, and he was handsome and hadn't stolen anything from them. He didn't curse in front of her and didn't have body odor.
Abel certainly appreciated him sniffing behind him like a hound dog. She certainly liked the way he made her shakes. They were the very best. Couldn’t his name very well be Blackey like her cat’s name? He was dark-skin with pretty black skin like Mario’s deep brown skin, her Cuban house gardener from a long time ago in Charleston. Sometimes, she called Mario by his nickname, Blackey. This young fellow’s nickname could be Blackey, too, like Mario. Why she, herself, even had a nickname as a girl given to her by her father. Her father called her Knut short for Peanut because she was his little peanut all of his life.
"I forget your name young fellow,” she said. “What is it again?"
"My name is Zeno. Zeno Elliott"
"Zeno Elliott...” She pondered his first name silently for a long moment.
"Is it with a `Z' like in my own?" She liked his name.
"Yes, it is."
"Well isn't that something. A `Z' like in my name. My name is Zelta, you know with a `Z' as well. Only you’re a handsome young fellow. I'm an old lady no longer so beautiful."
"But I think you are beautiful, Mrs. Erikson. You're an absolute doll."
"I was very beautiful a long time ago,” she grinned remembering horseback riding right by the ocean in Fort Bragg and she smiled and noticed Zeno had stopped fumbling with the picture book and was looking at her with shiny eyes. She blushed like a young courting girl or swore she could have blushed, which was improbable at her age. “Have you not seen the pictures when I was a young woman?”
“Abel has shown them to me. Yes, you were more beautiful than Marilyn Monroe with striking blonde hair down to your shoulders.” And perky breasts he didn’t tell her and smiled remembering the size of Zelta’s breast in a tight fitted sweater in one black and white photograph, and she was radiant like a movie star.
“That was a very long time ago,” she laughed and so did he. Though he didn’t know why he was laughing she was laughing and happy and that made him laugh more because she was so happy and no longer sad.
The telephone rang out in the hall. Zeno placed his portfolio on the table and, still amused by Zelta’s gaiety, got up to go answer the phone.
"So what's new besides your sleeping in until noon every day?" Abel teased him over the line.
"I haven't slept in until noon. Not a single day since you departed for Charleston."
"Have you been painting?"
"Then what have you been doing?"
"I photographed my latest artwork for a new portfolio I'm making. You'll like it. Besides, there's not much else to do here in the rain."
"How long has it been raining?"
"Nonstop all week."
"I hope you didn't forget to pack your rain gear?"
"Actually, I did forget since I thought it never rained in California."
"Well, it does rain in California, my boy. But don't fret; I left enough petty cash in the top drawer of my desk for both you and mother or you can always use one of your cards. Purchase what you or mother might need. How is the mother by the way?"
"Mrs. Erikson is jollier than ever. In fact, you'll be amazed whenever you see her."
"Amazed?” Abel sounded with a tinge of alarm. “What wickedness has she concocted now?"
"Nothing wicked. I'd say it's a change for the better. Would you like to speak to her?"
"That would be most disconcerting, my boy. Don’t be ridiculous.”
"Then how are lofty old Charleston and the gallery?"
"Charleston is all right. As for the gallery I am most impressed with Marcel’s accomplishment. Gallery attendance is up and sales have exceeded my expectation. She's an excellent curator and friend. I trust this woman with my life."
"How is Matthew?”
Any mention of Matthew Rae exasperated Abel and he was breathing hard into the phone when he said, "I've been meaning to tell you all about Matthew Rae."
Zeno’s heart skipped. "He is still working there in the warehouse?"
"Matthew was let go."
"Yes, as in terminated."
"You fired Matthew? But why Abel?"
"Matthew was not only insubordinate but he is white-trash scum. Furthermore, he's a thief. I'm grateful that Dale Savage is so efficient in keeping the books, else Matthew would have gotten away clean-free with thievery."
"Matthew, a thief? I can't believe that. Matthew is not a thief. There must be some kind of mistake. Something Dale did to-"
"Matthew Rae stole from the gallery. It's as simple as that. I have filed criminal charges with the Charleston PD and a warrant has been issued for his arrest-"
"Matthew could go to jail?"
"Matthew will go to prison if I don't destroy him beforehand for what he’s done.”
“What has he actually done, Abel?”
“More than you’ll ever know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Listen, I didn't call home to quarrel or discuss Matthew Rae. I don't really care where he is...except he's out of my life, out of your life, out of both of our lives. I simply called to check in and make sure everything is satisfactory for both you and mother."
"Everything is O.K.,” Zeno said slowly.
"Try not to sound so ecstatic about it, will you?"
"Matthew was like family, Abel. My only connection to my past and the island-"
"Matthew Rae was a lot of other things and part of a past on a backward country island you never gave as much of a goddamn about then, you still don’t now, you never will care and you know it." Abel paused listening to the sound of his breathing on the phone and he got a warm feeling thinking so much about him. "Zeno...” he continued.
“Let’s not argue anymore.”
“I’ve missed you every single day since I've been away...I'd be the happiest man in the universe when I’ve found the right person to run JeE; then we can spend more time together. Just you and I. We can go back to Rome if desire, New York or Venice is so nice right now in November without all the tourists. I love you so much, Zeno, that sometimes it scares me that I could love anyone as much as I love you-"
"Sir, can't we talk about all of this later in person when you’ve come home? There's so much we need to talk about. So much I have to tell you."
"Then we'll talk on Monday. I'll be home late Sunday night. You'll probably be asleep."
"Then Monday. We'll see each other then."
"Yes, Monday. I love you, Zeno Elliott," he whispered from the bottom of his heart, "don't ever forget that."
"Thank you," Zeno whispered back and quickly told Abel good-bye and hung up the phone.
For a long while, he stood in the hall, shaken with memories of Matthew Rae. He knew he could not continue protecting Matthew from Abel's rage without jeopardizing himself and/or losing everything. Perhaps it wouldn't be so terrible if Matthew were caught, arrested, carted off to prison, never to interfere in his life again. There could be only peace with Matthew imprisoned 3,000 miles away.
He started back into the living room where Zelta waited with a silly grin on her face. "That was Abel on the phone," he told her from in the doorway. "He asked about you."
Zelta felt a sudden draft in the room from his shadow and she reached for her shawl on the arm of the chair. She pulled it over her shoulders and stared out the window at the rain beating on the terrace.
Zeno heard footsteps. He turned around and was relieved to see Rosa coming in. Rosa had more patience with Zelta unlike Nurse Hope and especially Abel.
"Is the senora up and about?" Rosa said in a thick Spanish accent.
Zeno looked again at Zelta. So gaunt and tiny in the armchair and it was raining harder. He pulled the doors shut. "She's there in the living room,” he said to Rosa. “We were talking and having a good time until I came out to get the phone. Abel called from Charleston. After I hung up, I told her he asked about her. She turned away as if she didn’t even know me anymore..."
Rosa did a sign of the cross and muttered something in Spanish. "Senora so afraid of the senor, si?"
"I don't understand the reason."
"Maybe it is best you do not know the reason."
"Then you know why there's so much friction between Abel and Mrs. Erikson? Of course, you must know. How long has it been since you were housekeeping here?"
"I’ve been domestic in this house ever since I left my people in Nicaragua four years ago," she said, holding up four fingers as if to double-check her own shaky account of when she first came to America. "I don't know why they argue all the time and hate each other so. I was in the house the day the senor evicted that brother. It was a terrible day like a nightmare. The police came. I so afraid because I do not have all of my papers. I hid in the basement until the house was silent."
"Then you knew Ahab Erikson?"
"I not know him long enough," she said crossing her breasts again. "I not say much to him when I come do the cleaning. He was not nice to me. Always looking at me with the funny eye." She smiled as she spilled out of her blue plastic raincoat.
Zeno blushed and was unable to remember her uniform being that snug before on her plump figure.
She swished over to the closet and removed her rain-cap and hung it up along with her coat. "I go see about the senora now," she looked at him with black penetrating eyes. "You gonna paint me a pretty picture today, senor?"
"I'm not painting anything today," he glimpsed up at the skylight and the rain was coming down like buckets of water hitting the glass.
"Then what you to do today?"
"I'm going upstairs and watch television. I am in need of a distraction.”
"You so young, so handsome, senor. Surely, you find better way to distract yourself than television. Television, like they say in this country, is bubble gum for the eye, si?"
"But I like chewing bubble gum once in a while, Rosa. It keeps me from getting carried away."
"You get carried away easy, si?"
"Let’s just say that when the moon is full, Rosa, there are a very few things I would not try for the hell of it."
“I saw the moon last night above Coit Tower,” Rosa said feeling a fervent sensation in her heart, and she blushed. “It is very full moon.”
"Yup," Zeno nodded and turned and left.
Rosa leaned her shoulder against the door watching him until he disappeared up the spiral stairs and into the master bedroom on the top floor. All the while she waited to wonder why Zeno insisted on wasting his time with the zancarrón anyway? Abel was a rich senor but a no good-for-nothing diablo!
Eagerly she waited in secret to bestow her passion upon the trueno who would soon know that she was truly worthy of his affection. And in return, unlike senor Abel, who had broken all of his promises, Zeno would ask her to be his senora and make her legal...
About two miles southeast of Pemberton steps Travis Weatherford, a blond with stormy Nordic good looks and green eyes, snorted the last line of cocaine from a mirror in his Bernal Heights flat. The feeling was dazzling, soothing. Things looked clearer now, and he was pleased listening to piano solo and gazing into a fire burning softly in the fireplace with the smell of wet burning wood enhancing his euphoria.
In a little while he would add another log or two, but momentarily he didn’t care to do anything except settle back with happy thoughts of a painter he’d met in Macombe Alley. The telephone rang, disrupting his thoughts. He leaned lazily over and picked up the receiver hoping it was already the painter calling to come over and lift Travis' ready and willing legs into the air. Instead, it was Belin, someone with Clarence's surname. "You're Tyrone?" he said with a slight Texan drawl.
"Yassar, I is Clarence's brutha.”
"Why hello, Tyrone," he tried sounding cheerful and swallowed. "Where is Clarence?"
"Dat's ‘y I is callin', sar."
"What's wrong?" Goosebumps spreading over his skin, little blond hairs erecting on back of his neck. He sank deeper into the chair. "Where is Clarence?" he repeated.
"E was ‘ere, sar."
"Then he's finally come back to his senses and on his way back to San Francisco?"
"N-no sar. C-Clarence,” Tyrone stuttered. “E-e be g-gone away, sar."
"I don't understand." A pain in his chest. This feeling, this foreboding doom agonizing him so.
"Clarence, me b-brutha, s-sar..."
"E’ is d-dead, sar."
"What do you mean he's dead? He can't be dead. I’ve just seen him a month ago. What kind of prank call is this? Are you insane, man?"
"E’s dead, sar. We's done buried ’e dis past Friday. Momma says ya oughta be tolds, sar - 'cause ‘e tells her ‘bouts ya’ll be livin' togather out dere in California."
"And you're just now telling me about this after burying him a week ago?"
"Sar, we's real upset down ‘ere, too. It happens so quick. Nobodies knows how sick ‘e is when he comes home. Den ‘e gots so weak an’ slim an’ dem sores. Open sores, ‘e come all over ‘e face, ‘e body. E gots to de place where ‘e can't eat no mor’! Dose sores in ‘e mouf dat ‘e can’t eat. Lord ‘e face was covers ups wit' ‘em. W-we almost too scared ta touch ‘im. Doc up in Alicetown scared, too. ‘E gits so bad dat we-"
"Oh my God," Travis cried, tears rolling down his cheeks. "He went back there to die when I thought...Dammit! What a fool I've been." He stared into space furiously, pulling his hair and gritting his teeth and cursing God under his breath. He didn't hear Tyrone's desperate stutters anymore. "I gotta go, Tyrone. I can't talk now. But thanks much, buddy. Thank you for letting me know about Clarence."
He hung up the phone, shaken and frozen to the spot. Then it struck, the painful aching, the burning misery. Long guttural wails echoed from his mouth as he screamed out his sorrow. The pain wouldn't ease. It kept coming, kept digging and twisting in his gut like a parasite. His lover had fallen to it. The same red virus the media reported was being transmitted through blood and semen, and gay men primarily at risk. That couldn't be true when sex was good, plentiful. Sex and sex ⎯everywhere! ⎯as far as the eye could see. In bars, bathhouses, bushes, public toilets, and parks. Free blowjobs for all. A deadly virus couldn't be lurking from people to people and slithering like an alien through the human veins.
Never had he considered it in his search for Mister Right. What was there to consider in the age of promiscuity? He was apart of them and the sexual revolution sweeping shamelessly through the streets of young pretty boys out of closets from hick towns like Hatchechubbee, Possom Trot, Sugar Tit, and Rabbitown. They flocked in droves to San Francisco to be seen that bloody night at Compton's Cafeteria in the Tenderloin when queens and queers tired of being pushed around by brutal SFPD screamed at the top of their lungs and fought back with purses, heels, and pumps and even threw salt and pepper shakers and sugar containers at the police some three years before Stonewall happened on Christopher Street. A little cocaine, a bottle of White Label Scotch and he, too, was out to fight...and/or to conquer every man in town. Ha Ha! No, he didn't want syphilis. That he knew well about having contracted syphilis from men met in all night bathhouses.
He remembered those painful visits to Haight-Ashbury clinic squeezing his eyes tight and feeling a stinging pinch as a long needle penetrated him with penicillin and then ⎯Presto! Another queen cured. Now they're saying there's no vaccine for this deadly Red virus when STD was curable?
It was all a rumor; yet fundamentalists like his Uncle Clyde back in Waco, Texas, would have a field day. Whatever happened to love and compassion in their hearts? He could lose his mind listening to rumors. Surely it was only that.
Rumors. Nitwit! Tyrone had been wrong. He had to be. In early February when it had rained so much and flooded up and down the coast and caused mudslides, Clarence had been diagnosed with an infection in his kidney. He remembered the blood in Clarence’s urine, the persistent pain in Clarence's loin, the swelling and constant weight loss that kept him as slender as a jaguar.
Yet, something else Clarence wasn't telling him. He remembered it now. That solemn look in his brown eyes at the last dinner they shared before Clarence left the next day on a train from Emeryville to Georgia.
What if he had died from it?
...died from a little alien in the blood?
He caught a terrific chill thinking about it and smashed the mirror he had used to line cocaine, and then the lamp, leaving him weeping in the shadows of a dying fire.
"Would you like a drink?"
“A little bit.”
"I ran up the hill."
"From Castro Street?”
"Yes," Zeno nodded.
"That's a good reason to be out of breath.”
Zeno sat down in one of the armchairs closest to the fireplace across from Abel on the sofa. He sighed, crossed his legs and gazed at red embers burning softly in the fireplace and the clock ticking on top of the mantle.
“Was it up to Twin Peaks or directly up Pemberton steps?" Abel inquired further.
“Pemberton Steps,” Zeno said glancing at Abel’s portrait in a white light above the fireplace.
Abel glanced down at his crotch that was slightly erect like a bent stalk. “You know," he grinned, looking at Zeno again. "I miss you terribly when you’re not here."
"Even when I'm painting in the Green Cottage?"
"But of course even then.”
"I started a new portrait," Zeno said.
“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?” Abel said.
“No...I mean, yes," Zeno stuttered, "he had dirty blond hair.”
"Was it a nude portrait?"
“No,” Zeno moistened his lips and his eyes filled with water. “Just his face.” He blinked and wiped his eyes. “Nothing more.”
“Was he paid for this sitting?”
“He wanted a burrito.”
“Nothing more than that.”
"Steak or chicken?"
"It was a fat steak burrito with extra meat from a taqueria on Valencia Street. That same one you took me to one afternoon when you first brought me here and it was raining and the burritos were so good. So I took him there and we drank dark Modelo beer and listened to Mexican pop music waiting for his order to take out since that’s what he wanted. Nothing more."
“Nothing more than that.”
Abel put his drink down. "Bravo!" he cried clapping his hands so loud the noise popped Zeno's ears.
"Isn’t Mrs. Erikson sleeping?" A startled Zeno looked around the room.
"Zelta!" Abel’s right hand clenched into a fist. "I don't give a goddamn if my excitement rouses that woman. If she fell down a flight of stairs tonight and broke her silly neck I would not shed a tear."
"I'm sorry that Mrs. Erikson has hurt you," Zeno said softly. "I hope someday you'll be able to trust me entirely and will tell me why you dislike her so. I promise I'll listen."
This pleased Abel wholeheartedly. He grinned, chin up, contented 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. "What is done is done," he said calmly. "I'm simply happy that you care. But let's not talk of Zelta when I much 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 vividly recalled caressing silky white flesh as he kissed him all over and again and again he kissed him fully on the mouth. They melted into the other like two colors mingling into one color on a stretched canvas and it was beautiful as the sun started to set behind Sutro Tower and the sound of their breathing the only noise against the shadows on the wall. The sweet smell of him he would remember a lifetime.
He looked over at Abel waiting there like a supreme authority and a silly smirk on his face. Reluctantly, he stood up at once; then went over to him on his 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 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 worst 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 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 with your hands on your hips. I’m simply suggesting you’re careful when you’re out and about and among foolish men who could very well be carriers of the Red virus.”
Zeno hated it when he sounded this way. So goddamn fatherly, so goddamn right about everything. Always blabbing something with his "big know it all mouth". Why didn't he just tell him he had been unfaithful without hinting so, and he might've admitted it was true. How could he not be unfaithful to him lying there like a lifeless blow-up doll and unable to reciprocate naturally? Foolish men were indeed better in bed than a humdrum lover. He sucked-in his teeth and strutted over to the tall windows in front of the terrace that looked over the Castro and east toward downtown skyscrapers and, in the far distance east of the Bay Bridge, the lights of Berkeley and Oakland hills shimmered in the night.
He swung around abruptly glaring 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 even a whimper.
"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 until he thought about the studio he called Green Cottage, the house up Pemberton steps where they lived 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 than that. He took a deep breath and wrapped his arms around Abel's slender waist and was almost happy.
"I am the best thing that's ever happened to you," Abel said 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 what is truly yours. Tonight..."
But he stopped after hearing Zeno snoring like a kitten purring softly against his chest...
November 3, three years later.
San Francisco, CA.
As fog drifted below Twin Peaks and downhill into the valley over Victorian rooftops and the very tip of Castro theatre marquee, Abel Erikson folded his arms across his chest not enjoying the breathtaking view. His thoughts were only of the boy who was late and he imagined was in the Castro in a bar discussing his artwork with an imperfect stranger. The thought of the boy, his boy, entertaining any man in a bar was disconcerting.
He swung around staring at a white C-shape bar and storage shelves were underneath and a gold-framed mirror hung on the wall projecting his reflection from behind the bar. On top of the bar were two decanters, one full of gin, another brandy. He swallowed a dry lump in his throat, wiped his thick brow and glanced anxiously around the room. No one around. He could really do it...could pretend to fool even himself.
He crossed the Tibetan rug over to the bar, his mouth watering to taste. He slammed the ice bucket lid down on the counter, picked up the shaker and twisted it open. Eagerly he readied gin and vermouth. But then the problem that had made him feel less than a man only a few weeks ago returned. He squeezed the neck of the bottle hard until he wanted to scream.
Once upon a time, he could drink until he was literally blue in the face. There were no hangovers then, no 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.
And then a mere inch away he heard her coming through the French doors. He pushed the decanter back into place and darted over to the sofa. An antique clock ticked on top of the white mantle, a continuous sound almost deafening, and he shivered as the clock kept ticking. His portrait painted by the boy hung above the mantle with a light fixed in the middle of the bottom frame that shined upwards and the portrait came alive with piercing eyes staring back. Tick...tick...the door creaked open. And therein the threshold she stood with snow-white hair erect like an electric bush. A beige gown clinging unnaturally to her shapeless figure made her look naked.
A second later the room fell into pitch black.
"Farchrisake!" he hollered. "Turn that light back on. Turn it on, Now!"
"Ahab!" the old woman gasped reaching for the light switch. "I didn't realize anybody was here."
"I am not Ahab!”
She squinted until she could see him clearly. When she did hairs rose on the back of her neck. She shook and pressed a hand to her heart.
"Yes, it is I, mother,” Abel said. “Abel, the son, you so ardently hate!"
She caught her breath, swallowed. "I don't hate you so much,” she said.
"Oh, get out of here," Abel said. "Go to hell!"
"Why must you curse me all the time?"
"Because you're a simpleton."
"I'm not a simpleton.”
“Then a worthless, pathetic hag.”
“I'm your mother."
“Yes, a mother as old as Attila the Hun."
"How dare you."
"After all, I'm the one taking care of you. The only one picking up your dirty laundry. Never Ahab who doesn't pay the bills."
"I happen to get a check every month, young fellow! Ahab deposits it in the bank to-."
"Ahab 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 from right under your nose if-"
"Ahab wouldn't have. Why must you make up filthy lies?"
"I can't get it, mother," he threw his hands up in the air helplessly. "After all the miserable years you've spent with Ahab who purposely used and defrauded you; yet, you insist defending him against me when it was Ahab who deliberately turned you into the pathetic rag doll moping around the house like a mindless zombie."
"I'll get Ahab, he'll speak the truth! Unlike you and these filthy lies."
"Then you'll have to go all the way to 6th Street to find that idiot. That's right, mother. He's been evicted to never set foot again in this house."
The thought of Ahab being evicted had never actually occurred to her. It seemed so remote. But finally some truth of Ahab’s eviction sank temporally, she remembered and shivered. "Ahab 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? It was because of her, wasn’t it? That woman?"
"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 a silly old bat. Get out of here. 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. She fled into her bedroom mustering enough strength to slam the door.
"Wretched bitch!" Abel stumped back to behind the bar. He jerked the cap off the decanter and started to fill the shaker with gin and bit his bottom lip until he tasted blood. It stung a small bit. He grabbed a cloth from the top shelf underneath the bar and dabbed the cloth at his lip until the bleeding stopped. A crooked smile wrinkled his face which looked lopsided gazing at his crotch in the mirror. Nothing about the bulge in his crotch was stubby. Not at all. Effortlessly, he gripped the long shaft poking sideways through his pocket. It had been so long since the last time he initiated such self-hurt and gratification that he could no longer remember how long it had been. Dear God! The cock was itching to explode. He burst into naughty laughter, tears welling in his eyes as he hugged himself in his arms like a lover.
The front door banged open downstairs. Footsteps pounded, rushing up. He threw the cloth on the shelf underneath the bar, grabbed a glass and squirted club soda into it and then hurried over to the sofa.
"Darling, I’m home," came the boy's breathless voice from in the doorway.
His boy had come safely home. He wouldn't complain or question him about his day away from him. Besides, he had argued long enough with Zelta, his scraggly mother, about those goddamn cats. That had exhausted him. "Well, don't just stand there,” he said wiping his eyes. "Come on in my boy."
November 3, three years earlier.
On the Battery fronting the harbor a half dozen boys shivered in unsuitable summer coats in hopes of meeting Mr. Right and, perhaps, secure enough money for food and shelter and out of the cold after quick sex.
Abel Erikson, good-looking and dark-haired with a thin mustache, stumbled up the top step that was broken up into High Battery's sidewalk. High Battery overlooked the harbor and descended onto the Battery, the lower sidewalk, at the tip of the peninsula where Murray Boulevard divided into two traffic lanes, one south, the other north, by a median of Palmetto trees and brown Bermuda grass and Fort Sumter with its blurry lights rose from the high sea like a hill in the distance. Up ahead underneath street lamps glowing in the darkness Abel squinted to see the boys lined up against the seawall like a bunch of juvenile delinquents. It was the black boy carrying an overstuffed backpack he noticed more than the others and the boy stood out in his mind as a trophy. Right then he decided he would have the black one before the other men parked in shiny cars along the street got out and propositioned the trophy boy he suspected was well-hung.
Abel smiled when he saw the boy was smoking a cigarette and pulled a loose cigarette from the left inside pocket of his overcoat. “Do you have a light?” he said with the cigarette cocked at the corner of his mouth.
“Sure,” the boy answered striking a match to light Abel’s cigarette and, in the flame, saw that Abel's eyes were hazel like the color of algae murky pond water that compelled the boy to shake out the fire and back up.
Abel inhaled deeply gazing at the boy’s physique. He wasn't necessarily skinny but full-bodied like a strong field hand. In his baggy clothes, he carried himself well and didn't look fat at all. As smoke billowed from Abel's mouth, Abel leaned back with his elbows touching the seawall and grinned moving his tongue playfully over the upper lip from right to left. "Cold out, don't you think?" he said.
“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 said.
“My car is parked up the street on East Bay,” he said grabbing the boy’s hand firmly and found it cold but soft like a girl's. “Would you like to warm up?”
“Why not," the boy said.
Inside Abel's black Mercedes the boy offered a warm can of malt liquor beer he pulled from his backpack, and they shared it along with another cigarette.
As a full moon rose higher in the black sky changing into a dazzling white, Abel leaned over and kissed the boy on the mouth and the loneliness of the empty night was gone. He felt himself sinking, slipping into the 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...