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 Height's Mirabel Street flat. The feeling was dazzling, soothing. Things looked clearer now, and he was pleased listening to piano solo and gazing into a fire burning 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 a happy memory of a painter he’d met in Macombe Alley that made him grin from ear to ear. The telephone rang, disrupting his thoughts of delight. He leaned lazily over, picked up the receiver hoping it was already the painter calling to come over for a repeat performance he would not deny him. Instead, it was Belin, a man with a black Southern accent and his lover's surname. "Tyrone?" he said with a slight Texan drawl.
"Yassar, Clarence's brutha.”
"Why hello, Tyrone," he tried sounding cheerful and swallowed a dry lump in his throat. "Where is Clarence?"
"Dat's ‘y I is callin', sar."
"What's wrong?" Goosebumps spread over his skin, little blond hairs erected on back of his neck. He sank deeper into the chair feeling a chill down his spine. "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. E-e b-be g-gone away, s-sar."
"I don't understand." A pain in his chest. This feeling of foreboding doom agonizing him so. He pulled his fingers through his hair.
"M-me b-brutha, s-sar..."
"E’ is d-dead."
"What do you mean dead? What kind of prank is this?”
"E’s dead, sar. We's done buried ‘e dis past Friday. Momma says ya oughta be tolds-"
"So 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. Lordie ‘e face is 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..." He gritted his teeth. "Dammit! What a fool I've been." He stared into space furiously, pulling his hair 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 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. Free blowjobs for all. A deadly virus couldn't be lurking from people to people and slithering like an alien through human veins.
Never had he considered it in his search for Mister Right. What was there to consider in the age of promiscuity? Other than usual STD’s that were, yes, dangerous but common and easy to treat, he was apart of that free love generation and the thousands of young randy boys and girls coming out of closets to San Francisco from hick towns like Hatchechubbee, Possum Trot, Sugar Tit, Rabbitown, and Coon Corners.
Add that to a little cocaine, a bottle of White Label Scotch and he was out to conquer every man in town. He was tall, good-looking, blond and hairy and could have anyone he wanted.
No, he didn't want syphilis. That he knew well about having contracted syphilis on two occasions from anonymous men met in Mission News booths. Afterward those painful visits to Haight-Ashbury clinic his eyes squeezed tight feeling a stinging pinch as a needle penetrated his bottom 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 like bizarre National Enquirer headlines he read in the checkout line at CALA and Safeway that there was official PROOF ELVIS PRESLEY FAKED HIS OWN DEATH. Doctor says, "I can’t argue with science! Elvis was not in that casket!"⎯despite the fact that some 25,000 people waited outside Graceland on the day of the funeral to get a glimpse of the King in his open coffin.
My God! My goodness. Why was he thinking like a nitwit? An absolute nitwit for believing Tyrone when he remembered it now as clear as day. It was back in early February when Clarence was diagnosed with an infection in his kidney. There was blood in Clarence’s urine, a persistent pain in Clarence's loin, swelling and constant weight loss that kept Clarence as slender as a jaguar. Being skinnier satisfied Clarence's vanity even though he really felt like shit most days.
Yet, something else Clarence wasn't telling him. He remembered that too and a solemn look in his dark brown eyes during their last supper the night before Clarence left the next day on a train from Emeryville through New Orleans and Atlanta to South Carolina.
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.