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.