City of Valleys – 5

June

Kevin

Kevin sat on the subway opposite the route map over the door to count off each stop. The closer he got to town, the more his heart raced. It was hard for him to stay seated. When the train flashed above ground, he watched the blur of buildings.

It was odd not to have Mitch or Therese there to talk to, or to alert him about what stop to get off. It was a challenge to sit in silence, and he resisted the urge to strike up a conversation with strangers. Each time he had been tempted, the stony blankness of people’s faces stopped him. 

The closer he got to downtown, the closer he inspected men for signs that they might be gay. What should he look for? Mitch claimed you could always tell a fag by the amount of stink water he wore to cover up the stench of the asshole that had just been on his face.

Kevin eyed several men he hoped were gay, but if they were and they acknowledged him, he didn’t know where that might lead. The train filled at Pape, and a man squeezed into the seat between him and a large black woman.

“‘Scuse me.”

Kevin was too nervous to glance at the man. He peeked down at the man’s thighs, shoes, hairy forearms, but he couldn’t get himself to look at the face. 

The man got off a few stops later, and as he got up he adjusted his crotch. Kevin glanced up. The train jarred to a stop, and momentum pushed the man’s fly closer to Kevin’s face. The man exited. Kevin took a deep breath and realized how tense he had become.

So tense he almost missed the stop at Yonge and Bloor. He followed the flow of passengers to the street. 

As he crossed at the corner, he hoped his eyes didn’t bug out to push off his sun glasses. He was in a sea of people all intent on getting past or around each other to something important. He was sure that if he stopped at a store window, the crowd would shove him along before he could focus on anything. 

His stomach reminded him it was time to focus on food. He stopped at Pizza Palace and went in for a slice.

At a stool in the window, he had a chance to sit and watch. 

“Mind if I sit here”’ A guy about his age nodded to the stool next to his.

“Sure.”

“Lots of people in town for Pride Day.” 

“Pride Day?”

“You from another planet or what?”

“Call me Kevin from Jupiter.”

“Ian from over the Rainbow.” Ian shook Kevin’s hand. “I can’t imagine any self-respecting faggot not knowing what Pride Day is. Oops!” Ian covered his mouth. “That is if you are? I mean I took it for granted that you were and if you aren’t I’m sorry for mistaking you for one.”

“I’m one.” Kevin laughed. “What’s this Pride thing.”

“Tomorrow is Gay and Lesbian Pride Day. There’s a parade of hundreds of thousands of crazed queers out and proud.” Ian finished his slice. “I gotta run. Drop in at Rainbow Books up the street. We have everything you’ll need for gay life. You picked the perfect weekend to come out.” Ian disappeared into the stream of people.

I’ll take his word for it. Kevin finished his pizza.

Yves

Outside the hardware store, Yves lashed the sturdy cardboard tubes to the back of Trigger. As long as they avoided doors with less than six feet of clearance they’d have no trouble. The tubes, to make palm tree trunks, were a bit too straight but with a wrap of burlap they’d pass.

At Fabrique Place they bought burlap and found some rainbow terry towel in the remainders bin. A couple of balloons covered in the terry towel became Jake’s all important “nice big coconuts.” Next they needed something to make leaves.

“Yves, as a writer you should know, are they called leaves or fronds? Because it helps if you know who your fronds are.” Jake laughed as they moved forward. “You’ve got to have fronds …”

“It helps to have fronds in high places.”

“Yves, a frond in need is a frond indeed.”

“You’ve got a frond.”

“Some my best fronds are …” 

“Fronds! Romans! Countrymen!” Tears poured down Yves face.

“Stop! Stop! I can’t take any more.” Jake pounded his chest with his hand.

Yves let silence settle as they both caught their breath.

“What a way to go! Laughed to death,” Jake gasped. 

“Sounds like you two are enjoying the sun.” Someone came up behind them. “Or is it that ample gentleman in the black net bikini sunning himself in the park that’s tickled you? Jake how you doing?”

“Mark Winslow! Fuck! Did you get a life transplant!” 

“No, Jake, a magic cocktail.”

“Must be magic. Last time I saw you, you were …”

“Don’t say it, Yves. We thought that last time was the last.”

“Fuck man, I hardly recognize you. You look …. healthy.” Jake tugged at the knees of his sweat pants. “You were the guy with all those friends, right?”

“Oh yeah, my recovery buds.”

“Lucky. You are so lucky, man, to have so many.”

“That I know.”

“I hardly recognized you Mark.”

“Everyone says I rebounded amazingly. I’ve put on nearly twenty pounds and am back at the gym, and thanks to God and my meds, I’m feeling fine.” Mark shook his backpack. A bottle of pills inside rattled.

“What meds are you on?” 

“If this is going to be another pharmacist convention I’ll leave you to it and …”

“I don’t have time to get into anything here, but tell you what, I’ll drop in soon and get caught up? I’m surprised you aren’t on this regimen.”

“Non-insurance doesn’t cover magic cocktails.” Jake frowned.

“We’ll talk Monday. I’ll check with my doctor.” With a quick air kiss, Mark continued on his way.

“Time for lunch? The patio at Mama D’s is open. No ceiling fixtures to worry about.”

Jake’s mood change was predictable. He picked at his food while he railed about the system and how only the rich would survive.

Yves took what he had learned to be the best approach in these circumstance. He agreed with the negative, echoed the positive, and was hopeful, though he himself didn’t understand how or why some people lasted years and others died within weeks.

How some people responded to medications while others got worse, no matter what they tried, was one of the angels that he wrestled, and each time he had to accept that life was a mystery only God could solve. 

David

After lunch David stopped by Rainbow Books with his résumé. He liked the aura of Rainbow Books. Two large floors of homo-energy that lived up to its claim as the Biggest Queer Store in the World. Whenever he did drop in, it was hard not to reorganize the shelves so people could find the books they wanted.

Ian Fisher, the owner, had explained that the confusion was a way to force people to talk to the clerks, to lure them out of their book closets.

David went up to the second floor and found Ian in his cluttered office.

“How’s the pre-Pride sale going?”

“Not bad. Are you checking out our prices for Bookies to undercut.”

“Please Ian, the gayest thing we carry is the Australian Rescue Team calendar. I wanted to drop this off.” 

“Business there that bad?” Ian dropped to gossip whisper.

“Worse. Index Ink has bought us out.”

“Fucking Yanks. When?”

“Today. No warning. A golden handshake and the offer to maybe become sale associates in the future. You have a sign outside ‘Staff Wanted’.” He put his résumé on the desk.

“Part time, summer stuff while we all take well-earned vacations. I was thinking of some college type and the pay is minimum.”

“Suits me fine. I want to start sewing my fingers to the bone but need to keep some money coming in at the same time.”

“When can you start?”

“You mean I got the job?”

“Contrary to current rumours, you don’t have to blow anyone to work here.”

“Tuesday?”

“Tuesday it is.” Ian shook David’s hand.

David went downstairs and it was now harder to restrain himself from organizing the piles of books. As he came to the entrance, he was stopped in his tracks by a male vision in front of the events bulletin board.

With a deep breath, he allowed himself to savour the man in front of him. The guy stood about five-foot-eight, in ragged cutoffs, with a light dust of hair on his sturdy legs and a firm upper body. David gazed on this image of perfection. The face wasn’t pretty, but solid, masculine and topped off with short cropped brownish hair, it sent a signal to David’s balls that he hadn’t heard for a while. The man’s burgeoning moustache iced the cake.

He saw David. “Sorry, am I in your way?”

“Uh … no … not at all.” David’s eyes darted up and down. He tried to think of anything to say to make this man talk to him. He was grateful that being black meant no one could see him blush.

“David!” Ian called from behind him. “I forgot to get you to fill out this employee form. It’s for the book-keeper.”

David took the form and when he turned back the apparition was gone. 

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City Of Valleys 4 

June

Kevin

Kevin squinted at his watch. Near ten, Saturday morning. If he got his ass in gear he’d be gone before Mitch awoke. Mitch and Therese had planned Kevin’s time since he arrived to make sure he didn’t get lost. He itched to get out on his own.

Thanks to Mitch he knew where he wanted to go. Two Fridays ago Mitch, in a van mood, insisted they ‘shoot the drag.’ On the east coast that meant an endless loop around the main street of their little town and of the somewhat larger one nearby.

In Toronto, to Mitch, it meant a loop down Yonge Street from Bloor to Queen and up Church. Mitch recommended strip joints and head shops on Yonge street. The leg of the loop up Church Street went through, what Mitch called, Fag Hell.

Shops, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and street corners there were alive with men and women. Some held hands. He glimpsed two men kiss as they waited at the lights. Mitch did this loop several times, slugged beer after beer, and got more vulgar about the strip joints and more hostile about how queer maggots spewed their filth over the sidewalks.

He wound his window down to harass a couple of muscle guys.

“You guys get that way pumping each other’s asses?”

“Start pumping that chicken next to you, instead of him pumping you, and you too can have the same amazing results,” one of them replied. Both flexed their biceps and laughed.

“Fuckin’ pervs.” Mitch burnt rubber as he squealed off. That was the last loop that night. 

Kevin hoped not to work for the summer, but he gave in when Mitch pressured him to fill in the crews at his construction site. He’d sent his résumé to several garages to offer his mechanic skills. 

He learned the love of engines from Shep. He enjoyed how each piece fit, and was dependent on the next piece to work. The logic it took to rebuild and repair brought deep satisfaction to him.

He’d had his first interview yesterday afternoon. It went well, though he felt his age worked against him. It did give him the day off from Mitch’s construction site and a chance to plan this escape today.

Every Saturday he shopped with Mitch and Therese, once Mitch had crawled awake around noon. Evenings he’d been herded around to all the east coasties Mitch knew. Supposedly for Kevin to meet some good women, but mainly for Mitch to show off Kevin’s musical talents. He’d been conscripted to do a couple of Saturday night sets at Ten Pennies, Mitch’s home-away-from-home pub. There he was billed as Kevin McLeod and not Mitch’s Cuz Kev. 

This Saturday would be different. If he was up and out by ten-thirty, he’d be out of their grasp and on his own at last. 

He put on the clothes he’d laid out the night before and grabbed his backpack. He’d had cutoffs and a spare t-shirt in it. This last weekend in June promised to be hot.

What worried him the most was money. Mitch had made him paranoid about how easy it was to ‘roll those pansies.’ Not that he could be rolled that easy, but he didn’t want to lose his hard earned cash or his credit card.

He hid the card beneath the inner sole of his left runner. He squirrelled away about $200.00 – some his wallet, some with his subway pass and the rest in a pocket in his denim jacket. Enough for the day and then some.

He opened his bedroom door to check if the other bedroom door was shut. It was. He went out the front door. He leaned against the hallway wall to breathe for the first time.

The door opened. 

“Here. You might need these!” Therese dropped keys into his hand.

Kevin stared.

“They’re called keys. You are old enough to let yourself in and out.”

“Thanks. I … uh …” 

“Get going.” She kissed him on the forehead. “You have our number. If you’re gonna to be out late … let us know or Mitch will have the cops searching for you.”

She shut the door. Kevin walked to the elevator. His feet barely felt the carpet. 

David

David rubbed the bitter taste of unsweetened coffee around his mouth. He and his two co-workers had been called into the office to wait for the manager, Karen Willis, to return.

They watched her tape a notice to the front door.

“That is not a good omen.”

“Could be the new summer hours, David,” Monica suggested. 

Karen came into the office and brushed her suit jacket.

“We’ve been merged. As of today we are an ex-bookstore.”

“Merged?”

“Index Ink has taken us over.” She handed them each a pay envelope. “As of today we are no longer required.”

David opened the envelope. It had a check for six months pay.

“Index Ink is generous. Part for p.r. and mainly because the bastards can afford to be. Any one who wishes may apply for a position within their ranks.”

“Position?” Amhad, the other clerk, asked.

“Yes. Index Ink is always eager to find experienced sales associates.” Karen didn’t try to conceal her bitterness. “That is if they survive ePub.”

“So, like, we can go home? … Now?”

“Yes, David. Unless you haven’t had breakfast. There’s money in the till.” Karen laughed. “Ten years with Bookies, I get to be a manager for six bloody months and boom, back to square one. No seniority, no pension plan, no benefits.”

“Rainbow Books is looking for staff.” Monica was, as ever, hopeful.

“There’s a spot for you David,” Amhad joked. “And you’ll have Pride Day off, after all.”

David was stunned. He’d been at Bookies for over two years. He enjoyed the business and his co-workers. He had never expected to leave.

“Or do what you’ve been avoiding.”

“Which is what, pray tell, Karen?” 

“Finally become the black queen of fashion.”

They all laughed.

“I’ll eat to that,” Monica added.

“Lubba’s has a great brunch.”

“Lubba’s it is.”

Each grabbed their personal items and waited at the exit for Karen.

Black queen of fashion. Why not? 

Yves 

As Yves approached the hospice he saw Jake on Trigger, his motorized wheel-chair. Jake spun in circles and joked with some patients out for a cigarette on the side terrace.

“What kept you?” Jake teased. “Admit it. Beauty sleep isn’t going to help at your age.”

“Considering what it’s done for you, you’re right.”

“Bitch.”

“Please Jake, bitch is so demeaning to women. Call me a prick, if you have to call me anything.”

“I’ll call you King Cock, if we can get the stuff on my list. I want Trigger to be the best float ever in a Pride Day Parade.”

“Yes, Master.” Yves put the list into his fanny pack. He wore baggy knee length shorts and a grey tank-top to keep cool while he got Jake around town. Jake was overdressed in thick green sweat pants and a rainbow striped sweater. His body temperature was unstable, and hot days were cool for him. The heavy clothes also afforded coverage for what he called his flesh-colored skeleton. 

“Where to first, Master.”

“Coffee. Coffee.” Jake’s cartoon voice made the others laugh. “Must have coffee. Must be fresh coffee.”

“You don’t mean …”

“Don’t tell me what I fucking mean,” Jake snarled. “I mean I want coffee.”

Jake’s medications caused unpredictable mood swings. For the past week, Yves was the one person Jake spoke to. The staff was accustomed to manic episodes and they could sedate patients into a chemical calm. They had wanted to do that with Jake, but Yves stopped them. It was hard for the grace of God to slip into that chemical calm.

The one thing that Jake had focused on the past week was a plan to transform Trigger into a float. Design ideas had ranged far and wide till he had settled a couple of papier maché palm trees with rainbow coconuts, a grass skirt for the motor, and himself as King Snake of Fantasy Island. 

The less Jake had to control in his life, the more he tried to control what he could. Jake had phoned Yves twice that morning to make sure he was on his way. 

They travelled side by side to Church Street. First stop was Tencity, where the coffee was guaranteed to make you tense. 

“Jake! Jake!” a voice called from the patio. A small, excited hand flapped a glossy red fan. The fan shut, and up stood Robert Ing.

“Ah, Miss Ing. I never expected to see you so early in the day.” Jake maneuvered Trigger onto the patio.

“Honey, I was up at the crack of dawn.”

“Don who?” Yves didn’t want this to be a long chat as he was not comfortable around effeminate men.

“Oh, you!” Ing flicked his fan open to cover the lower half of his face. “So good to see you out and about Jake. I hope you’ll be at the parade tomorrow. I have the most faboolous outfit. Three outfits to be honest. The first one ….” 

Yves went to get coffee. One of the things in gay life he never understood was this female thing. He was a man who liked other men as men, and not as some sort of in-between. He didn’t get excited about leather either. Men who looked hot in leather looked hot in anything, and men who didn’t look good in anything counted on the leather to do what their looks couldn’t do.

He got two coffees and a blueberry muffin for himself. He wasn’t sure what Jake could or would eat. One of the drugs Jake took affected his taste, food he liked one day nauseated him the next. As he got back to the patio, Robert kissed Jake on the forehead. 

“Toodles doll. Gotta run.” Robert stood on tiptoe to peck Yves on the cheek and was gone.

“Did you know Miss Ing was half-owner of Lubba’s? He and Luke Kwan bought out the Debarrets?” 

“I wonder how much that cost in press-on nails.”

“I wonder who the real bitch is? Him or you.”

Steven

Steven put the last of the fresh daisies in the vases on the tables. These were the “day” flowers that would be replaced by roses for evening.

Robert Ing burst in. “Where is that husband of yours? Why aren’t we ready to open? Why are you doing his job?” He folded his fan and rapped Steven’s hand.

“We are open. Luke is in the kitchen. Seems your latest acolyte has never opened as much as a can of soup.”

“I should hope not. This is a restaurant, not a place where we serve canned soup.” Robert pushed Steven aside.

Steven took the Specials board and hung it outside. Under it he had taped a poster for “Three-Quarter Time.” Though the show didn’t open till September, he wanted to get the word out as soon, and as much, as possible.

Inside, Luke and Robert were pushed out of the kitchen by Curtis, the house chef.

“Out, both of you. If I need help I’ll ask. You too.” Curtis reached in and dragged out Paul. 

“Keep him out of my kitchen. If he’s that talented, let him cook for you at home, Bobby.”

“Robert, how many times have I told you you cannot hire new people.”

“Luke … I … I …” Robert stood his full height, which left him at chin level to Luke. “I was trying to help. This is your busiest week-end. I figured …”

“Robert, let me figure.” Luke motioned to Brad to bring a drink for Robert. “Paul, what skills do you bring us?”

Paul, like most of Robert’s past conquests, was in his mid-20’s and sported several tattoos. Unlike his predecessors, he was in university. He’d completed his second year in premed and as Robert’s latest had lasted since Christmas; as long a relationship as any knew Robert to have had.

“What do you think, Steven?”

“You mind bussing?”

“Sure. That’s all I expected to do.”

“Okay, doll. Okay.” Robert emptied his wine. “You can begin by getting rid of this dirty, dirty glass.” 

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City of Valleys 3 

May

Kevin

“Play that one about, ‘Trudy’s glad you got your arms around her.’ That’s a great song.”

“Mitch, I’ve spent the last hour playing and need a break.” 

Once they got to the apartment, Mitch had headed to the fridge for a beer. The long drive made him thirsty. Kevin hadn’t expected his first night to be a command performance for Mitch. Therese had gone to bed hours ago.

When he took the guitar out, it was to play Mitch his new number. That new number stretched out to hours. Not that he minded, but he wanted more of Toronto than the view from Mitch’s twenty-third-floor balcony. 

“We gotta get a demo made of you, man. Reminds me of Jagger. A man’s voice. There’s this guy who comes to Ten Pennies. Says he’s some sort of agent or booker. We’ll make sure he hears you. ‘Cause that voice of yours is fan-fuckin’-tastic.”

“Yeah, well thanks, but it needs sleep.”

“Just one more. That one you wrote ‘bout Trudy. She’s Deb isn’t she? Come on fess up.”

Kevin blushed. “So what if she is …”

When he first wrote the song it went: “Trudy’s Dad, I got my arms around him, in a love to take us to tomorrow.” The girl in the song was Deb Trask and the Dad was her Dad, Shep, and Kevin’s crush on him was the reason he had left the east coast. ‘Dad’ became ‘glad,’ ‘him’ changed to ‘her,’ in the first rewrite.

He knew Deb from school and he didn’t pay attention to her till one day he ran into her with her Dad, Shep. Shep wasn’t the first man he’d been sexually attracted to, but was the first one he had opportunity pursue. If two years spent not getting caught staring can be called pursuit.

He took Deb on a snowmobile run the very next day. Deb had three sisters, two older, one younger. Kevin became the boy in their family. That he and Deb were meant for each other was obvious to everyone.

Shep had encouraged him to learn the guitar and to sing. He prodded Kevin into his first gig at a local variety show. To Kevin’s own dad music was a waste of time, when he ought to learn a trade or pay more attention to his chores around their house.

Yet, the fact that Kevin had a family and future suited everyone all the same. The Trasks owned the local service station, and Kevin began to work there after school to learn auto mechanics first-hand. It earned him a first class mechanic’s certificate. It was clear he’d marry into a great business. 

Kevin became more drawn to Shep. To the point where Deb once asked if he liked her father more than he liked his own. His Dad was a pretty decent guy, but Kevin didn’t know how to explain the truth.

When Kevin announced that he intended to go to Toronto, Shep was as surprised as Kevin’s own Dad. If he stayed on the east coast, he’d either kill himself or be killed when they found out his secret.

Cocksucker and faggot were words used to hurt anyone. No one believed the person they called fag was one, but it was the ideal insult. He made sure no one suspected it applied to him.

Deb was a simple way to avoid that with the bonus of Shep as a great arouser. When he made out with Deb, all he had to do was imagine her Dad in greasy coveralls and he was hard. 

He didn’t hide his arousal from Deb, but when she encouraged him to go further he didn’t. His explanation that he respected her and didn’t want to do anything foolish, was the right thing to say. Fooled her and kept her at the same time.

In the past year, physical closeness to Shep at the garage had become too painful. As they worked together under a car, his eyes went from the car chassis to Shep’s chest. Kevin’s fantasy was to reach out, pretend to wipe oil off Shep’s work clothes and rub down to his balls.

Deb knew he was unhappy, and when Kevin broke the news about his move she thought it was because he didn’t love her. How could he tell her that it was her Dad he wanted?

“What are you thinking about, sport?” Mitch broke Kevin’s reverie. “Reminded you about Deb, did I? Don’t worry. If she loves you she’ll wait, and if not she’ll be hopping the first hard cock that comes her way.”

“Yeah right.” And so will I. So will I. 

David

David had drifted inot a light sleep on the couch when someone sat next to him.

“Too bad you woke up. We were going to do your nails.” Mark laughed. “Been here long?”

David glanced at his watch. “About half an hour. Nice place to relax.”

He and Mark had lived in the same building till Mark moved last year to one of the easy-to-maintain bachelors in a complex of mostly HIV patients. Since his diagnosis four years ago, Mark had closed his law firm and removed all stress from his life. 

“Plants have positive energy. One of the day nurses has been bringing all the power plants in to this room.”

“Power plants?”

“Something to do with healing spirits. Please don’t tell anyone. We’d rather they thought medical science was working and not mystic powers.”

“Must have been a good meeting for you to be so full of it.”

“It was, but as they say, any meeting is a good meeting. Without those recovery guys,” Mark teared up, “I probably wouldn’t have lasted this long.”

David and Mark had been friends for about eleven years, but he didn’t known much how booze and pills were in charge till Mark got sober. Several years ago he had disappeared for a month, and then was back bright and shiny, clean and sober. The difference was remarkable.

So remarkable that many of Mark’s playmates didn’t recognize him, or as Mark put it, didn’t want to think themselves as damaged as he was. 

“The new drug cocktail is helping too,” Mark went on. “It’s been about a week and I can feel it working in me. Those little protease inhibitors swimming around in my blood. Strip-teasing the HIV into blowing its load before it can do any more damage.”

“Now that’s what I call a powerful visualization.”

“Yves helped me with it. He could help me with a lot more than that if I had my way. Mm mm mm.”

“Keep visualizing.”

Yves

Yves walked up the steps of his house. The lights were on in the other half of the duplex. Sometimes he dropped in on Luke and Steven, but tonight he’d attend to his own life.

From inside the front passage he saw his three Lucite and gold Leo’s as they gleamed in the street light that fell on the mantel piece. It was no accident that the first things anyone who came in his front door saw were these three “Writer of the Year” awards.

Over them was Station Five of the Stations of the Cross. Carved in walnut with inlays of light pine and reddish rosewood, it depicted Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus bear the cross. It was a reminder to Yves that help is always present, that without divine help he never would have won his awards, and that to help others was to experience his own divinity.

A big plus was the detail the carver had given the near nude torsos of Christ and Simon. Rugged, bearded men, who used all their physical strength to survive for the power of God. A synthesis of sex and spirit, carved by someone whose love of the male form matched Yves’. Perfect, except for the wisps of cloth carved to cover their privates.

The Leo’s were for his work as a news producer and writer at the CBC. But when heads rolled for budget cuts the awards didn’t help him hold on to his job. Not that he tried to hold on very tight, and his screaming match with the then Prime Minister over funds for HIV research didn’t show his impartiality in a favorable light. To call the Prime Minister a gutless, spineless asshole was its own reward and more than worth it.

Yves crossed himself and knelt before the mantel, grateful that the awards gave him a golden handshake to pay off the house and allowed him not to work until he chose. In the past three years, he hadn’t done much till he accepted an advance to write this book about cock. 

He grabbed a cola from the fridge and went to his study at the back of the second floor of the house. The desk with his computer overlooked a fitful wildflower garden. He turned the computer on and went to his bedroom to undress.

He rubbed the pop can’s cold perspiration on the small of his bare back and sat at the monitor. Rather than start in right away, he checked his phone messages:

“Hi Yves. It’s David Walters. We … uh … bumped into each other earlier tonight. I … uh … well … I’d love to talk to you about .. um … what you wanted to talk about. You can reach me at 387-5293 after, say, six tomorrow night. Bye.”

Yves played the message a couple of times to figure out what was the sound in the background.

He checked his e-mail and there was another response to his cock survey.

“Hello Yves:

Like the idea of  this. Here’s something off the top of my uh …. head ….

My mother taught me to call my cock a “goober”.  I HATED that name and was always mortified when my mother used it either privately or in public.  I thought it was the most stupid name because the television character on The Andy Griffith Show, played by Jim Nabors, was named Goober. I thought it was funny when I learned Jim Nabors was gay and my mother had always called cocks “Goobers.”

Good luck, DK Prino.”

Yves had posted the survey on various sites and often didn’t know where a response originated from. As he read this one, he looked for the perfect cock talk like he once used to look for the perfect cock. As if the man with the perfect thoughts about his dick would be the perfect man for him.

After two hundred plus, he hadn’t found the right way to start, but these near anonymous e-mail responses were the most productive. Less guarded and probably more honest. They might be the work of twelve-year-old girls and he’d never know. But that was part of the territory.

As he sometimes joked, “It puts the terror back into territory.” With his final draft due in a week, terror was in the way the cursor blink pulsed up and down his spine.

Mark

“Go on, call him.”

“Mark, I couldn’t.” David feigned fear. “He’ll think …”

“He’ll think you want to talk about cock.”

“Tomorrow.”

Mark punched in the numbers. “Why put it off?”

“Stop that right now.” David pictured Yves’ heavy-set body wrapped around his thin compliant flesh.

“It’s ringing.” Mark handed the phone to him.

“‘Ello you ‘ave reached Yves LaPointe. Please leave a message and I’ll get back directly. Thank you for calling.”

David hadn’t noticed the French accent earlier. “Hi Yves. It’s David Walters. We … uh … bumped into each other earlier tonight. I … uh … well … I’d love to talk to you about .. um … what you wanted to talk about. You can reach me at 387-5293 after, say, six tomorrow night. Bye.”

Throughout this Mark muffled his giggles with a pillow.

“Happy now Mark?”

“Not as happy you’ll be. That man has amazing hands.”

“And an accent. ‘Ello dis is Yves LaPointe.’” David exaggerated Yves message. “I do like a man with a thick accent.”

Kevin

Kevin stepped out to the balcony. Mitch had a corner apartment with a view of Toronto, though it didn’t face the lake or take in the CN Tower. It was a two-bedroom apartment where Kevin would have his own room.

He had got Mitch to bed about ten minutes earlier, and finally had some silent solitude. A few scant hours ago he was an east coast kid and now he was big city boy.

He leaned over the rail to see more of the city. Almost cloudless, the lights of the skyline merged with the stars. 

Pressed against the cool of the balcony he stiffened in anticipation. He opened his fly. His hand moved along his dick and as his come formed and moved, he breathed deep to pull those lights into him, to pull himself through the air into the lights.

He strained on tip toes, his come shot out, cleared the balcony rail and flew into the night to join the stars.

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City of Valleys 2 

May

Steven

Steven sipped his second glass of red wine as he reflected on his audition. He heard Luke let himself into the house.

“Honey I’m a homo.” Luke called out.

“And I’m a-starrin’ in the next Thicket extravaganza.” Steven poured Luke a glass of wine.

“You got the part? You usually don’t put out till the second call-back.” Luke sounded tense.

“Brad didn’t show?”

Since he’d become part owner of Lubba’s, Luke was more concerned with the hum and flow of the place than he had been when he was merely a Maitre’D.

“He showed. Too stoned to do much more than bus tables. Don’t they do call-backs, more call-backs and then you never hear back?”

“Not Evan. When he likes what he sees he can’t be bothered looking for better.”

“What did he see?”

“He asked me read with all the other audtioners so he saw me at my best.”

“Standing? I know you hate to audition on your back.”

Steven sensed an argument. He tried to sidetrack it. “I’ll be paid for this one.”

“Cold hard cash?”

“Stipend and more, if profits.”

“Are you sure this is theatre? After all, if there’s money it can’t be art. How much cash?”

“Evan says enough to cover transportation to rehearsals.”

“Evan? Evan Daniels?”

“Right. We saw a piece of his last year. That odd take on John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger.”

“By odd you mean idiotic. Changing the gender of Helena to male, resulting in this stupid queer thing happening.”

“You said it was beautifully acted.”

“True.” Luke poured them both more wine. “What has he planned this time?”

“I have it here. An original piece called Three-Quarter Time.”

“And? … How is it?”

“I just got cast, so … First glance shows it starts in a morgue …”

“That’s what we need, a play set in a steam bath.”

Steven choked on his wine. “You prick.”

“Let me freshen that. Oh you’ve spilled some on your pant leg.”

“Freshen this for me first.” Steven laughed, unzipped his pants. “On second thought ‘tis fresh enough,” he announced in his ripest Shakespearean. “First this play’s the thing, and then that’s the play thing.” 

 Yves

Yves shut Jake’s door. Jake was asleep after a bad day of chills and fevers in reaction to a change in his medications. 

“How is he?” Nancy Markas, the duty nurse, asked.

“Sleeping.”

“I don’t know how you do it.”

“It’s my superpower of putting men to sleep with my very touch. Call me Sleepman.”

“Must be hard on the sex life.”

“If there was a hard-on there might be hope of a sex life.”

They shared a quiet laugh. Yves ducked in to the bathroom to wash his hands before the next of his rounds. The image of Jake so thin and fragile wrapped in his baby blue blanket stayed with him.

Jake was a man he had known before the HIV crisis. Jake’s pride, the snake tattoo around his right arm, now appeared to be all that held his skin together. Yves didn’t often have before-and-now images to make the devastation more palpable. 

Jake had been doorman and bouncer at several bars. A burly flirtatious guy, called Jake the Snake. He had won many “Bar Guy of the Year” awards but didn’t have any friends left. Many of his friends had preceded hime, on what he called, on the HIV express.

Yves understood how easy it was to be popular and yet not have time to build real friendships. It was a pattern in his life that he wasn’t sure how to break. Yves was a caretaker, self-evolved and emotionally detached from anything more than groups of people. The love of an audience he could handle, but anything closer eluded him.

He and Jake hung out together as people in a fluid group of bar boys. Though he had known Jake for almost fifteen years, had sex with him a couple of times, he didn’t remember a private conversation with him. That Jake’s last name was Rogers was news when he saw it on the charts. He felt that lack of knowledge was his fault.

The last two bars Jake had worked held regular fund-raisers to help him. Bar employment didn’t offer much in the way of employee benefits beyond tips. His only visits were when that money got dropped off for him.

Before his next appointment, Yves phoned to check if there had been responses on his answering machine to his flyer to share the house. The basement had been empty long enough for him to enjoy it empty and for him to miss the extra rental income.

He didn’t want any crank calls. The word gay on a public poster brought out the worst in people. 

Kevin

The van rattled to a stop for a red light on a hill that overlooked the city. Kevin was entranced by the endless sprawl of lights. As each apartment block flashed by, his excitement increased. He longed to jump out and run to the heart of the city.

“See that high, high light way over to your left.” Therese pointed over his shoulder. “That’s the CN Tower.”

“Right!” He fidgeted in his seat to get a better view. Once again glass was between him and life.

“You buckled up there?” Mitch asked. “If you don’t keep still you’ll be road-kill in a second.”

“Remember Mitch, you were the same when we arrived. We dropped our stuff at Sue’s. You remember Sue from home? Well, maybe you don’t. She was a school friend of mine, but anyway we jumped out of the taxi, threw our bags in the bedroom and took off.”

“Yeah, who jumped us on to the wrong subway?”

“And who kept doing it for the first month? Good thing Sue followed or we’d’ve ended up back on the east coast thanks to you.” She nudged Mitch.

“Watch it! You want to run us off the road?”

“We get turned round the right way and we get off at Eaton’s. Your eyes were as big as I’ve ever seen’em. Pulling us all over the place.”

“I was looking for a beer.”

“So what else is new,” Kevin butted in.

“You two want to walk from here?” Mitch muttered.

“Beer! Ha! Mitch wanted a strip bar. It was most romantic. Our first night here and he can’t wait to find a strip bar.”

“To see something you don’t see down home.”

“Yeah, whatever. We certainly saw that and much more than you bargained for.”

“What? What did you see?” 

“Nothing.” Mitch’s curt reply was meant to end to this.

“Inches of nothing.” Therese pinched Mitch’s cheek.

“You wanna make me run off the fuckin’ road or what?” 

“What? What did you guys see?” Kevin had to have details.

“Let’s just say one of the strippers was not the she, she appeared to be, but a he. Nice set of  … breasts. Your fiver, and I mean dollars, certainly fit nicely between them.”

“Let’s just say these five,” Mitch made a fist, “will fit your face nice if you don’t shut that trap of yours and I don’t mean the stink hole between your legs.”

A sullen silence descended that let Kevin revel in the city and its promise. 

David

David dashed up the stairs to Mark’s hospice  room and ran in to Yves LaPointe, a massage therapist at the hospice. He bounced off Yves and almost back down the stairs. He grabbed the rail in time. 

“Fancy running into you here,” Yves groaned.

Yves offered a hand but David used the bannister steady himself.

“Anything broken?” How David might dent this power-lifter body in front of him was beyond him.

“Nothing feels broke. You’d like to check for yourself?”

David was breathless from the unexpected bump. Dizzy, he held himself closer to the rail.

“Come on.” Yves took David by the arm. “We can go upstairs.”

“Thanks. Knocked the wind out of me.”

“You’re Mark Winslow’s friend?” Yves asked as they entered the lounge.

“Right,” David sat on a small over-stuffed couch.

The lounge, known as Jungle Land, overflowed with plants given to patients who had since left or passed away. An annual plant sale didn’t dent the undergrowth in the room.

“He went down to the A.A. meeting.”

“A.A. meeting here?”

“Yeah some of the guys from his regular group put it together. They were here last week too.”

“Good stuff. I skipped supper for nothing.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Yves scratched his head. “I wonder …”

“What?”

“We have time b’fore the meeting is over? I wonder if …”

“If … what?”

“To interview you for a book I’m working on.”

“A book? I haven’t had that line used on me for some time.”

“When I tell you what the book is about it’ll sound like more of a line.”

“What is it about?”

“Cock.”

“You’re right, it does sound like a line.”

“There’s those books by women about how they feel about their breasts, their scars, their wombs. All that gyno stuff, but I’ve never seen anything where guys just talk about their dicks.”

David stared at Yves to see if this was a joke, but his expression was quite serious.

“You want to talk to me about cock? My cock?”

“If you don’t mind.” Yves took a questionnaire out of his brief case. “I’ve worked out a set of questions to get at the information without it being too …”

“Sexual?”

“Right.”

“I don’t think I can talk about that sort of thing here. You know, in the AIDS hospice and all. It might prejudice my answers.”

“Here’s my card. Call me when you want to set up an appointment.” He patted David on the hand.

“I will.” David was taken by the sight of Yves’ thick fingers on his thin tapering ones.

Yves stood. “Don’t wait too long or you’ll get too shy.”

“Me! Too shy? You have been speaking to the right people.”

Yves left David alone in Jungle Land. 

Steven

Steven yawned and dropped the last page of the script.

“That bad, eh?”

“I couldn’t tell you. I can tell you what happens, but I’m not sure I could tell you what it’s about.”

“Is that good or bad?” Luke looked away from the television.

“Good. It’s that … there are no monologues. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a script that was all conversation with no one saying more than two lines in a row.”

“Sounds realistic, Steve. Most of us don’t talk in paragraphs.”

“Except in books.”

“Except in books.” Luke muted the television. “So …”

“I’ll do it. Just to to work with Evan Daniels.”

“Unless he asked you to play Ophelia.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“If you can’t tell me what it’s about, at least tell me what happens.”

“The events aren’t going to tell you a thing. People dance around gurneys and fight over bodies. Absurd but powerful. I can’t wait to see what it will be like.”

“It must be good if you’ll take a role without a monologue.”

“Ha ha. Maybe you’d like to mano log this?” Steven cupped his crotch.

“After the news, Master.”

Steven stood and let Luke slide down his boxers. His cock brushed against Luke’s ear.

“Careful honey, you’re causing cable interference.” Luke held the cock in his palm. His two hands didn’t cover it’s length. “I know what this is about though.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Yeah. It’s about eleven inches.” He put his hands on Steven’s butt and pushed the cock to him.

Steven held Luke’s head to rock his cock in and out of his mouth. “I feel ya Ophelia, I feel ya.” 

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City of Valleys – 1 

May

Kevin

Kevin longed to press his face against the airplane window to get closer to the city that sprawled under the thin clouds. But the last thing he wanted was to appear any younger than the nineteen-year-old he was. He did manage a “Holy Shit” under his breath.

Amazement turned to fear as he felt his aloneness amongst the millions of people in the jumble of houses and high-rises that flashed beneath him. Not total aloneness, as his cousin Mitch had moved to Toronto about two years ago.

“I’ll be your beachhead,” Mitch told him.

“Beachhead?”

“Toe-hold in a new city.”

“Toe-hold?”

“A contact, for fuck sake. Someone you know who can show you the ropes.”

“Why didn’t you say that. Fucking beachhead.”

“What did you think I meant? Suckin’ dick in the sand?”

Not a bad idea. 

Holy shit! Holy shit! Holy shit! He nudged his face inch closer to the window. Not that I care if there’s sand as long as there’s dick.

Steven

Steven glanced at his watch. Ten minutes left of his shift. That idiot Brad better show up. He had an audition at seven which he could make if he got out of this hell-hole when he was supposed to at six.

“Lubba’s” wasn’t a hell-hole, but after a long lunch, one man short, it sure felt like hell. This was Steven’s first audition in six months and that was three months too long. His skin ached for stage lights.

Five to six and no Brad. The supper crowd would start in soon and Luke would expect him to stay.

Steven slipped into the staff room to change out of the white shirt and black pants that was his table jockey drag. He made a quick swipe at the day’s sweat on his chest and underarms. A swift spray of deodorant and he reached for a fresh shirt. The door behind him swung open.

“No.” He didn’t turn.

“Give me the chance to ask,” Luke purred. “Brad called and he’s on his way. Could you …”

“No can do. I’ve covered for his sorry ass twice this week.”

“Almost as many times as he’s covered for yours.”

“Luke, you know I have an audition at seven.”

Luke lifted an eyebrow. “Jesus, why are all waiters actresses?”

“It gets us better tips when we pretend to really, really like the special of the day.”

“Which can’t be easy when you call cannelloni, cantaloupi.”

“I forget levity is frowned upon by upper management.”

Steven threw his work pants into his gym bag and pushed past Luke. Their eyes locked.

“I’ll cover for Brad.” He caressed Steven’s ass.

“Mr. Kwan, being co-owner of this two-bit joint don’t give you the right to grope me when you feel like it.” Steven used his best tough-gal attitude.

“What time’ll you be home?”

“Luke, haven’t you had enough of me for one day?”

“Honey, ain’t no such thing as enough. Good luck.” They kissed quick. “Or should I say break a nail?”

Steven flew out the door and hailed a cab.

David

David saw the movement out of the corner of his eye. Why does this always happen to me? He caught the woman’s eye. She knew that he’d seen her slip the book into a pocket.

“Can I help you?” He stepped towards her.

Her initial fear hardened into a brassy fuck you.

“Listen,” he whispered, “the books are electronically tagged. An alarm will go off if you try to leave without paying for it.”

“Are you accusing me of somethin’?” She extended her neck. “Just because I’m … I’m …” She faltered as she saw no one paid any attention to them. She tugged the book out and dropped it. “Shove it up your ass … nigger.” She smiled and left the store.

Tense with anger, David picked up the book. At least she didn’t call me faggot too. They don’t pay me enough to take this kind of crap.

Yves

The train pulled into the platform. Yves quickened his steps only to be faced by a rush of people up the stairs. Once again the escalator was shut down for repairs.

Was there some sort of escalator flu that struck at rush hour? Did their innards enjoy it when men in grimy coveralls and grease-blackened hands worked them over? 

He watched the guys at work on the escalator’s gears while he waited for the wave of people to wash up the stairs. One of the workers wiped his hands with a blue hanky. Hum, never seen one of those used for that. 

If he hadn’t stopped to clear a spot for his “Room for rent in a gay household” flyer he would have been there for this train.

He walked down the stairs. He had time before his shift at the hospice. He liked to be early to drop in on his current pet patients. He wasn’t supposed to get “involved” but after five years he hadn’t learned the trick that shut off his heart.

He couldn’t massage without sharing more than the friction of his hands with the stubborn, fragile bodies of the HIV’s on whom he worked. Each touch needed a bit of the heart to convey any healing. He tapped the cross around his neck, it held the heart of Christ that passed between his hands and the hearts of the men he touched.

Steven

Steven was breathless after he sprinted up to the studio. At the top of the stairs a printed sign pointed the way: “Thicket Auditions around the corner.” “Corner” had been crossed-out and “bend” scrawled underneath it. He smiled at the joke as he turned the corner and was in the room.

At the far end a bald man picked up some papers that had scattered on the hardwood floor. He pushed his glasses back, “Steven Thomas?”

“Yes.”

The man extended his hand, “Evan Daniels. Pleased to meet you. Pic? Res?”

“Oh yes, yes.” Steven unzipped his gym bag and took out an 8-by-10 with his résumé stapled to the back. “The pic is about a year old. I can shave my moustache or do whatever with my hair. There’s a misprint in my height. As you can tell I’m 5-foot-6 and not 6-foot-5.”

Evan glanced at the picture as he handed Steven three pages. “Read these over and we’ll take it from there.”

A cold read. God I hate this business. He took a breath and scanned the page. He sensed Evan’s eyes on him. 

“Mind if I … uh … go around the bend and read these?”

“Certainly,” Evan chuckled.

David

David sat heavy on the sofa, clicked on the TV remote, slipped his loafers off, closed his eyes to enjoy that first moment of cool on his feet. The man who invented air-conditioned shoes would make a fortune. He opened his eyes to the clutter around him. Where was the TV Guide? It’s listings were a more reliable guide to important future events than astrology.

It was in the little dining nook by the remains of his breakfast. He didn’t want to expend the energy to get it. He put the remote down and took off his socks, tie, shirt, t-shirt. He lifted his butt an inch off the couch to slip off his pants and underwear and took them to his bedroom.

He stroked the red, white and black H’matta mask on the wall. The wooden tribal totem had been handed down from his great-grandmother, it was the dual-sexed spirit of abundance. “What do have planned for me tonight?”

The door buzzer rang. It was Robert Ing, aka Miss Ing Thing.

He buzzed Ing in and slipped on sweat pants and a T-shirt. He glanced at the mannequin in the corner that nagged him to finish what he had fallen asleep in the midst of two nights ago. The inspiration had ebbed, and as he studied it, the gilt patina of gold weave sent him a guilt signal. The over-wrought piece was for Miss Ing Thing, one of the drag stars of the city, who was there to check on the gown’s progress.

David had designed special costumes for several years. When he had started, he hoped it was an entree into the fashion world.

Ing lit a cigarette and looked over the work.

“I promised you something with a collar bigger than your ego.” A three foot gold collar jutted up around the neck of the dress.

“In that case I’d have to wear the CN Tower and my neck isn’t  that thick.”

“You can always use it as a butt plug,” David retorted. “But we wouldn’t see it.”

“Are you saying my butt is a bottomless pit?” Robert stubbed out his cigarette.

“It’s a hard reputation to live up to, but you’ve got what it takes.”

Ing was small, around five foot, and demanded gowns to help him tower over the giant drag queens in the city. 

“Big collar means lower heels.”

“If my heels get any higher I’ll be wearing chairs. David, baby, I love the collar, but will they see my little face in there?”

“As long as you keep your mouth open they will.”

“Bitch.”

“Thank you.”

“Will it be ready for Pride Day?”

“Sure. A few more stitches and a fitting.” Stitches! Ha, more like welds. These gowns weren’t dresses but sculptures to catch the wild spirits of the wearers.

“I must run. I have to check the flyers for my hospice benefit next week. You will be there? I’ll be wearing your road-kill number. They love it when I wear the Leader of the Pack on my back. Remember no one else is to set eyes on this till they see me enter in it.” Ing shut David’s balcony curtains. 

“Tata.” With a quick peck on David’s cheek he was gone.

David remembered this was the night he had promised to drop in on Mark at the hospice.

Kevin

Kevin, in the middle of the Terminal, was unsure which direction was which. He didn’t want to drag his bags any farther and was afraid to leave them to look for a phone. His Mom had warned him that she had seen on TV, how people turned to talk on the phone and then turned back to find their stuff gone.

Mitch was supposed to meet him here forty minutes ago. Had Mitch got the time wrong? Was that Toronto time or east coast time? His watch was still east coast so he reset it. Was he an hour late, early or what? And he had to piss bad on top of everything. Where was that goddamned Mitch?

Over the crowd he heard his name. A moment later Therese appeared.

“Mitch is at the bar.”

“How unlike him.”

“Tell me about it.” She pulled back her thick black hair and pushed it into an elastic hair band. “How was the flight?”

“Good. I gotta take a leak, bad.” He was about to dart to the toilets, but where were they?

“That way honey,” Therese laughed. “Just past that gap after the broken pop machine.”

“Be right back.”

The washroom was cool and silent. Several men were there and he had to wait for a urinal. He wasn’t sure where to look. Someone exited a stall and he dashed in.

When he was done he went to the sink and while he washed his hands he looked at the reflection of the people behind him. The moustache he had started three weeks ago had began to fill in as reddish fuzz. It matched his freckles but not his dark brown hair. His eyes met the eyes of someone in the mirror. Was that an invitation? 

He blushed and rushed out. It took a minute for him to reorient himself. When he got back to Therese, Mitch was with her.

“Well cuz, welcome to the big bad city.” He gave Kevin a huge hug. “We’re gonna have to get some meat on them bones.”

Mitch was a big guy. At 6-foot-2 he was at almost a head taller than Kevin. He’d been a high school wrestling champ and his job had kept his muscle from the decay into fat. He worked construction as a cement finisher and promised to get Kevin a job.

“Let’s haul ass while the light shines,” he barked.

They gathered up his suitcases, duffel bag and guitar case, and went to Mitch’s van in the parking garage. 

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Picture Perfect Last Words 

Picture Perfect Last Words 

I’ve some asks about the sex – why so explicit? I guess at this stage of my life I don’t care if queer sex makes people uncomfortable. I’m also always disappointed in lgbtqia writing in which they kiss, maybe fumble with some buttons – then they wake up in the morning with no acknowledgement of the actual sexual interaction. 

In this story I also played with voyeurism but sort of lost that thread as things progressed – perhaps Dan’s life got too busy to for that diversion, or perhaps it was a sign of his dissatisfaction with Sanjay? The light ‘Sir’ role play with Peter was interesting to work with but I chose not to push in deeper in b&d. 

I also had fun with the Lifend products. I did no research beyond owning a camera. Who wouldn’t love a travel mug & cameras with all the abilities that Dan’s had – again another thread that sort of lost. In next draft I may get rid of the devices that I invented but which Dan never used. I had to resist using them as life-savers for Dan as well. He needed to be more active in his adventures.

Other threads that got sort of lost: Whatever became of those little boxes Dan found in his old bedroom? Maybe, in the next book they’ll show up. Then there was that collection of old photos & albums from the rummage sale — another thread that got lost. 

I left lots of ‘seeds’ for the next Dan James adventure – his Dad’s porn career, the tourist photo serial killer, the fate of the Depot, marriage to Jeremy? I wanted to develop something around the effect of coming out on Jeremy’s career as a sports icon. Dan’s charming sister is another plot thread. Why did Dan’s Dad move so abruptly to Toronto? Was there more to it than the disappearing children? So there is more than a few plots to focus on for the next in the series: Daniel James & the Pixels of Peril (just kidding – I have no title for the next one.)

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Picture Perfect Afterwords

Picture Perfect Afterwords

When I started the edit of Picture perfect in January 2020 (https://topoet.ca/2020/01/07/picture-perfect-1/)I didn’t realize it would take over two years to get this second draft blogged. Edits usually make things shorter but this one, even with some major cuts, expanded & introduced elements that weren’t in the original draft. so 150,000 words become 188,000 words by the time I wrote -the end-

Even with that extensive rough draft I found myself getting a lost at times. Notes of names & events weren’t enough to keep names spelt consistently or the sequence of events in the right order. Some of the cuts resulted in having to revise some scenes to add or remove information so there was fair bit of re-writing. I know I have to fix names for the third draft. 

Naming was important with so many characters so that the name itself would help readers remember them.  For some of the internationals I checked out soccer or rugby teams for fun names. I changed the spelling of one character from Cyrtys to Curtis to spare my readers’ eyes. Some I dipped into my past – Moxham comes from my growing up in Sydney. Moxham Castle was local landmark.

New scenes presented themselves as I worked through the 2nd half of the book. I wasn’t fully clear on who the culprit was until Nova Convergence became an actual place – even then I had to simplify so it didn’t feel like a Poirot reveal. Who the saboteur wasn’t fully clear to me either. Once I got to the opening of the circus museum I started to create more & more new material to fill in holes I’d left in the first draft. 

All of the ‘how to’ staging of the interviews is based solely on what I’ve seen on reality TV & not from any research into how it is actually done. The same is true for Dan’s legal entanglements with his sister Linda & the separation of their two business. I night consult a lawyer for draft 3 but no one has read it has written to tell me how off-base I might be. The same is true for the damage to Dan’s vision. 

The first draft had one climax scene – a knock down fight in the circus museum ride park during a thunderstorm in which Janis is revealed to be the murderer & also, with Troy’s help, the saboteur. But as I started the edit I realized I wanted that snake attack scene in the Convergence. Peter’s death was in the cards when was he first introduced. For time I was going to repurpose that circus face-off to reveal John as the saboteur but I couldn’t find a reason to get Dan back there after the Cold east shoot was done. I added fuel to John’s resentment with the invented Gordon Sinclair award (which I loved naming). It also gave readers a lull before ‘solving’ the saboteur plot with that fist fight in Dan’s house. 

As I made cuts, as the plot developed & slightly changed directions I realize I started some threads that really got dropped – i.e. Linda’s marriage to Ushio’s brother was to be developed more but got lost. Dan’s encounters with Larry Clarke & the Moose Trail; Stan Ferguson of the Whitney Pier museum were greatly edited down. Two characters introduced to show there was a gay world on the east coast but then discarded.

I loved creating the weekly graphic for each section. Many of the painting were found on the Craven Rd fence. I also kept my eye open for art discarded & a few were actually part of some porch decor. When doing the edits the first thing I work don was the graphic. There was no attempted to co-ordinate the picture with the contents of the section.

There’ll be at least one more post about Picture Perfect as I’ve been asked about the sex scenes, the fight scenes & what might be coming next for Dan James.

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Picture Perfect 133 

Picture Perfect 133

“You do understand what ‘full disclosure’ means.” His sister’s lawyer was taking papers out of his brief case. “That if you withheld any pertinent financial information the agreement to sever the James Family business would be considered null & void.”

“I withheld nothing.” Dan said.

“Ha!” Linda explained. “As if you didn’t know this block was being rezoned for major redevelopment.”

“Please, Mrs. Tanaka. I can handle this.”

“We signed these agreements, what, almost a year ago now. The development signs didn’t go up until this morning. I am not a … psychic.”

“Dan everyone knows it takes years before those sings go up. They did their research. I know they made an offer to you.”

“Then you know more than I know.” Dan took a deep breath. “How do you know that made an offer?”

“Show him.” Linda said to the lawyer.

He handed Dan a letter from the developers.

“Read it & weep.” She said.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this.” He was folding the letter to put it back in the envelope. “No wonder, it’s address to FairVista, not here. You’re the one who has been withholding.” He took out his loupe & examined it closely. “The postmark is …”

She grabbed it from him. “I don’t give a fuck about the postmark. Serve him the repudiation of the dissolve papers, or whatever they are called.”

“Is that true?” The lawyer asked her. “That you withheld these documents from him?”

“What difference does that make?” She snapped.

“It means,” Dan said, “your claimed won’t stand up in court, sis.”

“He’s right.” The lawyer said. “Clearly you knew about this when you entered the agreement to separate the two business entities.”

“Are you my lawyer or his?” 

Dan took the letter from her. “Linda I’ll look into this now that you’ve brought to my attention.”

Linda glared at him, at her lawyer & stomped out of Dan’s office.

“I …” the lawyer started.

“She’s always been a duplicitous bitch.” Dan said. “I will check into this.”

After the lawyer left Dan faxed the letter to Dell & Strong to follow up on it saying that it had gotten lost in mail that had accumulated while he was out of town. 

He went down to the main floor to see how preparations for the weekend sale were progressing. “Hey boss is it really you?” Ushio joked. “We thought you had gone back to east coast again.”

“Can’t I leave the store for five minutes?” Dan laughed. 

“Abandonment issues.” Len said.

“I wonder what the opposite of that is?” Dan asked. “What if you long to be abandoned?”

….

He was in the back storeroom double-checking the coded price tags on sale items when Robert Warszawa come into the room.

“Scanner to the grindstone.” He said.

“Yeah. Feels good to finally be back to routines.”

“There’s been another one.”

“Where this time?” 

“Charlottetown. More travel photos, discreetly tucked into a book this time.”

“Name of book?”

“Hmmm … I’ll get them to check on that. Have you heard that Janis Hadley has passed away.”

“Yes. Troy called me with that news. I want to say sad news but well, cancer is as deadly as any snake bite.” Dan said. “Too bad there isn’t one to take a bite of the snake of a lawyer Kilpatrick hired.”

“Tell me about it. Soon the fact that you were there will be deemed as inadmissible evidence.” Warszawa shook his head.

“QTel cancelled his circus show. They shelved the episodes already shot, too. He’s suing me for that loss of income.” Dan wiped the dust off his hands on a rag. “That’s enough for one day.” 

“Buy you a drink?” Warszawa offered.

“So you can fill me on Charlottetown? No thanks. Jeremy is picking me up in a hour.” He checked his phone. “It’ll take me at least that long to be presentable.”

They went into the main part of the Depot. 

“Is there anything I need to know about the Charlottetown killing? Or can it wait until after the weekend?”

“It can wait. Just one thing.”

 “What?”

“If Jeremy Moxham isn’t happy with the way you look right now, he’s a fool.” Warszawa laughed.

…..

Dan dried his legs looking at himself in the full length bathroom mirror. He felt he was looking okay for someone who didn’t have time for working out. He sprayed himself with the smokey coconut cologne Jeremy had sent him & opted to go casual in one of the Cape Breton sweatshirts he had picked up on the east coast. Jeans that the hoped would indicate that he wasn’t interesting a fine dining excursion.

He took the ring out of the safe. Would wearing it be too much of a signal to Jeremy? Whenever he contemplated Jeremy’s proposal the same reservations went though his mind. Was he ready to have his tax level change even more than Cold East had changed it? Did he want to move into any of Jeremy’s many condos. 

Getting back into the Depot work routine was satisfying. He didn’t miss having cameras on him all he time. Being seen in public with Jeremy was to be in the pubic eye. He’d had enough of that already. People still called out to him ‘Back To you John’ when he was shopping for groceries. At first he was amused now he found it embarrassing.

His cell buzzed, It was a text from Jeremy.

“Outside.”

“Be right down.” He texted back.

He pulled on his denim jacket & went out by the backstairs so he didn’t have to re-lock the front of the store.

Dan got into the car.

Jeremy took one look him. “Is this a hamburger of a pizza look?”

“Burger.” 

“I know the perfect spot.”

“The perfect spot is one where nobody recognizes either of us.” Dan joked.

“So it’s like that is it. Then I really do know the perfect spot.” Jeremy spoke into his phone. “Two burgers with the works, fries, for pick up.”

There a pause a ding. “Ready in ten Mr. Moxham.”

“We’ll pick them up & eat right in the car. Or if you want we can go back to my place.”

“Which one?” Dan asked.

“You have a preference?” Jeremy said. “I was thinking the usual. Or we could come back to your place?”

“My place!” Dan pictured the untidy mess of his Depot apartment.

“Just kidding. Frank Place it is. You like the view.”

………

After they had eaten Jeremy pulled Dan to couch.

“Have you decided yet?” He asked.

“What do you see us doing?” Dan said. “Beside chairing charity functions.”

“Travel. Lots of travel.”

“But I have a business to run Jeremy.”

“You won’t have to worry about work.” 

“What makes you think I’d stop working for you?” Dan pushed Jeremy away from him. “You do realize I have a life that I frankly enjoy.”

“I’m sure we could work something out once we’re married.”

“It’s not simple.” Dan walked to the expansive window. “What do you see us doing in bed? What sex fantasy do you have beyond us kissing. Are we even naked in those fantasies.”

“We’d do what guys do.”

“You have had sex with another man. Haven’t you?”

“Sex, I guess, but …. not what I’d call making love.”

“So you are a top or a bottom? In your fantasy I mean.”

“Dan I don’t know what to tell you. I thought that would be something we’d discover together.”

“Oh you want me to be teacher, the dom, as it were?”

“I … I suppose so. I know you’ve had more experience than me.”

“Have I?So you want me to quit my job, marry you & then take you through intimacy 101?”

“No! I want you in my life.”

“On your terms. What about my terms? We both more more to think about before I can make a decision to take that step. It’s time for me to go. We have a huge sale starting tomorrow. I need a good night’s sleep”

……..

In the morning Dan looked at the noisy lineup outside the store & wished he’d had a good night’s sleep. Sandy was waiting at the front door for his signal to open.

“We’re as ready as we’re going to be.” Dan said as he nodded to her.

He was grateful for the crush of customers that kept his mind off Jeremy.

“Hey boss someone wants you on the land line.” Ushio shouted to him.

“Mr. James, this is Hawthorn Developments. We’re interesting in adding your property to our plan to revitalize that corner. Our representative will be by this afternoon with our offer.”

Whoever it was hung up before Dan could respond. 

The rest of the morning was like a boxing day sale. Shelves & displays were restocked as fast as possible. He longed for lull to sit for a few minutes but as soon as a dozen people were out of the store another dozen were squeezing in. 

At 3 when things were a little less frantic he signalled Sandy that he going up to his office for bathroom break. 

He sat his desk glancing at the readout of the days’ sales, so far, when he was buzzed from the floor.

“Boss.” It was Ushio. “A lady is coming to the office to see you. She says it is most important.”

Fuck! He’d forgotten all about the Hawthorn representative. There a knock at the door.

“Come in.”

The woman who entered looked exactly like the one in his Dad’s smutty pictures. He expected her to open her trench coat to reveal a corset.

“Mr. James. I’m Darla Brooks. I believe you have some photos of my mother Peggy Brooks.”

 – the end –

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Picture Perfect 132

Picture Perfect 132

Dan exited Dr. Grey’s office pleased with results of  the examination. The past two weeks of nightly self-treatment had paid off. The damage was repairing itself & this eyes were no worse from John Kilpatrick’s assault two months ago. 

After his vacation he was eager to get back to work. It felt good to be planning a ‘Boss’s Back Sale’ at the Depot instead of worrying about his lines for yet another Cold East promo. He wanted the show to be history but with each new market there were new calls for interviews. The drama of events subsequent to the end of the show kept him in the public eye in ways he didn’t enjoy.

As he rode his bike into the lane between the Depot & the building block next to it he saw that while he was out it had been fenced off with chainlink hoarding. There was a sign inviting people to a community meeting to discuss proposed redevelopment of the lot. It would be a multi-storied apartment with retail in the bottom floor. He hoped the residents would enjoy the view of the apartment block across the street as well as the roof of the Depot.

Inside he helped Ushio & Len unpack boxes of various camera equipment they had ordered just for the sale. Len had been hired some months ago to take up the slack with Dan away on Cold East. 

“What are these?” Dan pulled out a shoulder bag made of clear, heavy plastic.

“Camera bags?” Ushio glanced at the bag.

“Or portable aquariums.” Len suggested. 

“Right.” Dan gave a short laugh. “Who ordered this? I certainly didn’t.”

“I did, boss.” Ushio said. “You told me to find things we could sell fast & cheap. They were in the Shutter Storehouse catalogue.”

“No serious photograph would use these.” Sandy said. “They keep their ten thousand dollar lenses hidden.” 

“It’ll be a fun give away.” Dan said. “Free with every purchase. That way there we should be rid go them quickly.”

They worked in relative silence for the next couple of hours. The only interruptions were customers that Len attended to.

“Two p.m. Coffee break.” Sandy announced as a chubby, dark-skinned man came into the store with their standing afternoon order from the Carafe.

“Hola,” the man said. “I am Camilo Villas. Jill says you are her best customers.” He smiled broadly. “Now your Columbian will be brought to you by a real Columbian.”

“Thank You. I’m Ushio Tanaka.”

“Sandy Reynolds.”

“Len March.”

“Jajaja. Don’t tell me, you are the maestro?” Camilo turned to Dan. “I am to make sure you get this one.” He gave Dan his coffee first. “Whole milk and a shake of vanilla. Right?”

“Right on both counts, Camilo.” Dan took his coffee and scone.

“Everything is okay?” Camilo said. “I am just learning how to do so many things.”

“You haven’t been in Canada long?” Ushio asked.

“Yes. Four years now. I was in Vancouver, then Calgary. But there weren’t places for me. I am certified registered nurse but do not have degree in your country so cannot practice. Soon I will write tests to practice here. I must get back to Carafe.”

“Thanks Camilo. You can tell Jill I’ll be by before she closes.”

“Yes, maestro.” Camilo made a half bow & left.

As Dan was finishing his coffee Cliff Silver came into the shop.

“I was hoping you’d be here.” Cliff said. “Things always run better when when the Maestro is here.”

“So you’ve met Camilo.” Sandy said. “His accent thick enough for you?”

“Sandy, please, I am a Christian woman.” Cliff adopted a South accent, then dropped back to his normal voice. “Besides he’s too short for me. Married with children, as well. Married I don’t mind. Children, count me out. I dropped in with the picture you had me frame & to give you these.”

He took two calendars out of his portfolio case. “I just got these proofs from the printers. Let me know what you think, Dan.”

The first set was a year of his Cape Breton cloudy day pictures taken at various spots around the island. The second was of his Dad’s Scenic Cape Breton.

“These were a James tradition since my dad started his business. When he died we didn’t keep it up.”

So many people had mentioned the James calendars when Dan was on the east coast he decided to revive them. He was hesitant about using his own pictures though as he never considered himself as good a camera man as his Dad. Cliff had convinced him otherwise after Dan showed him the photographs he had taken.

“Have you seen the zoning notice?” Cliff asked.

“Yeah. Going be a lot of noise when they start that tear down.” Dan shook his head.

“The developers visited me this morning making inquiries about who owns the property.”

“Figures.” Dan said. 

“They … uh … made me an offer.”

“What to but this building?”

“No. To be one of the first to lease space in the new building.”

“Ha! They haven’t even gotten zone permission.”

“Their agent told me that unless there was real objections they would start work by the firs too the month. They’ve also approached Jill at the Carafe.”

“Hey, Boss,” Ushio got his attention. “There’s Jeremy  Moxham on the news.”

Dan turned up the volume. The footage was of Jeremy scoring the decisive goal in the Olympics several years ago. Other footage was of him on red carpets, shaking hands with heads of state.

“Legendary Canadian sport figure Jeremy Moxham shocked his fans today by coming out as a gay man.”

“At least he didn’t come out as a lesbian woman.” Sandy laughed. “Now that would have been shocking.”

“Shush.” Dan said. “What may be old news to us is fresh for most of the world.”

“In a press release Jeremy Moxham says – ‘In order to move on in my life I feel it is time for me to be honest with myself and my public that I am gay. I have known this about myself for several years but have refrained from sharing it publicly or even privately for fear of alienating my fellow athletes and my many loyal fans.”

“I guess he has enough money in the bank it’s safe for him to come out.” Sandy said. “He’s got nothing to lose now.”

“Full contents of the press release can be found on our web site. His ex-wife Elizabeth was unavailable to comment.” Under this there was shot of Elizabeth and Jeremy frolicking in the surf from a Sports Illustrated swim suit issue.

“In other sports news …”

Dan turned the volume down.

“I suppose than comes as no surprise to you.” Sandy said.

“That he was gay?” Dan said. “Or that he was going to come out.”

“I always felt he was bi.” Ushio said. “I think all those guys are anyway. David Beckham. Sidney Crosby. Any man who dates a top model does it to prove he is heterosexual.”

“Interesting theory.” Cliff said. “I’d better get back to the gallery. My back in ‘ten minutes’ is up.

“You can lock up here Sandy.”

“Ok boss. See in the morning. We do have a big sale on.”

Dan up to his office. He took the ring out of the safe, shook it out of the pouch into the palm of his hand. “You are making it hard to say no Jeremy Moxham.” He put it on his finger. He had worn it for about an hour after after that supper with Jeremy. Other than a camera around his neck he didn’t wear jewelry. Chains and bracelets annoyed him. He could’t even tolerate wearing  watch. The ring fit perfectly. It looked at home on his finger, on his hand but after five minutes of working on his desk top it was distracting. He checked the time & went down to the Carafe before it closed.

“Cliff dropped this off today. It’s that picture of Peter him you wanted. Cliff had it framed for me.” 

It was a shot of Peter serving coffee and muffin.

“Thanks.” Jill said with a catch in her throat. 

“Yes.” He found himself turning the ring around and around on his finger. “You heard about Jeremy?”

“You know we don’t abide current affairs in here. No TV, remember. Rats want caffeine to get back into the race they are escaping from.”

“He came out, officially.”

“It’s about time. Does it bother you.”

“I’m not bothered. He …” Dan held up his hand for her to get a good look at the ring. “Popped the question moths ago. I told him I couldn’t deal with hiding this from his adoring public. I’ve been out so long in a city were nearly everyone I know is out.”

“So you think he did it for you?” Jill laughed. “I didn’t think you had that much power over men.”

“It seems I do. Look at my history. Sanjay. Peter. Jeremy. Stan. To name a few. They’ve all …”

“Stan? Who is this Stan?”

“Just some guy on the east coast who practically raped me.”

“So you’ve accepted or you wouldn’t be wearing his ring.” Jill laughed again. “It’s my party and Judy came in wearing his ring.” she sang.

“I’m trying it on. Rings turn to chains. I told him after dealing my non-marriage to Sanjay I wasn’t ready for the real thing.”

“I hear you there.” She said. “I don’t think you feel as strongly for either of them as you did for Peter either.”

“Smart woman.”

“Peter was still young enough not to let expectations get in the way of his emotions.” Jill said. “He wasn’t a jaded.”

“A little silver bird told me the developers have been to see you?”

“Oh them.” She laughed. “You think any brand spanking new condo complex would have the ambiance this creaking old dump has you’re crazy. You’re not thinking of selling out them, are you?”

“They haven’t approached me yet.” His cell rang. “Opps spoke too soon. Hi Sandy … I’ll be right there.”

“They’re waiting for you?”

“Nope, it’s my sister with her lawyer.”

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Picture Perfect 131

Picture Perfect 131

The shower stopped.

Dan gasped. Was he hearing things in the silent house? He stood at the foot of the stairs listening intently. There was no sound other than traffic noise from the street outside. A car starting. 

He went up the stairs slowly lest his footsteps made the steps creak. At the top he peered into the dark. He took a deep breath. There wasn’t the smell of a shower, no humidity in the air. He turned on the hall light. The glare made the empty space even emptier.

He went into the bathroom. The shower was dry. There was no water on the tiles or on the floor around it.

He sagged against the wall. So this is grief, he thought. The house had to be empty before he could feel it.

“What’s keeping you, sir?”

The whisper came from the second bedroom. It wasn’t Peter. It was vaguely familiar though. 

“Who’s there?” Dan said. “I know it isn’t Peter.”

“That’s right, sir.” The voice said in a normal pitch. “That’s fucking right.”

A man rushed out of the dark & pushed Dan off balance & down the stairs. 

“Back to you, Danny boy.”

As he lost his balance Dan grabbed the stair railing to keep himself upright. The force of the shove wrenched his shoulder as he clutched the rail. Punches struck the back of his head, his arm as the man tried to get Dan to let go. Dan’s RCMP training kicked in as he sagged forward slightly then pushed himself upright momentarily distancing himself from his attacker. He took a step down & swung himself over the railing onto the living room floor.

He reached for his shoulder bag by the front door  but his attacker grabbed him from behind. They fell to the floor. Dan tried to elbow the man on his back in the stomach but there wasn’t enough leverage. He took a deep breath & pushed up with his right arm. His attacker slid off his back & Dan quickly rolled so that he was on top of the man. 

“John!” He finally saw the face of his assailant. “What the fuck!” It was John Kilpatrick.

Dan blocked John’s left hand as it swung up at him.

“Don’t act so surprised Mr. James.” John grabbed Dan’s hair with his other hand & yanked hard.

Dan fell back & scrambled to his feet. As John got up Dan hit him in the jaw with the side of his forearm & darted back toward the kitchen.

“You can’t be this sore about the show? Me winning that stupid award? What?” Dan shouted as John backed him to the kitchen counter.

“The two things I loved the most in my life you’ve taken away from me. You didn’t realize that did you?  Not that you cared  anyway. When your …. whatever he was  …. fuck toy was killed I thought that was good. I laughed. That’s right I laughed.”

“What two things?”

“My career & …. Octavio.” John began to cry.

“Octavio? Who the fuck is …. Roberto!”

“That’s right you stupid, self-centred asshole.” He grabbed Dan by the shoulders & banged his head again the cupboard doors.

“If you hadn’t switched cars he’d still be alive.”

“He was …”

“I rescued him while I was covering the revolution in San Costa. The gorillas taught me a lot during the months I was with them. You didn’t know that, did you?” 

“The bomb?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t set the timer right. But that’s all the past. You’ll be the past soon too. Both of us.” He head butted Dan.

Dazed Dan sank to the floor. 

John fumbled with the knobs on the stove, turning the gas on full. Listening for the gas to hiss he pulled a lighter out of his pocket.

Dan shook his head & pulled himself to to his feet. He started laughing.

“What’s so funny?” John said.

“Gas.” Dan took a breath & stepped back away from John & the stove. “I had it turned off yesterday. The law you know, empty house can’t have live gas feed.”

He yanked out one of the drawers & swung it hitting John. 

“Good thing I never had these replaced.” He said as John collapsed to the floor.

He waited a few minutes for John to get up to continue the battle. When he didn’t, Dan stooped to check his pulse. John was still alive.

Dan leaned against the counter to catch his breath. He wiped at the sweat that was dripping into his eyes to discover that it was blood. He was afraid to take his eyes off John lest he come to. He tried to recall if the alarm system had voice activation. Had he set it before he went upstairs? There was a trigger at the kitchen door that opened to the garage.

Keeping John in view he took the few steps to the door & pressed the alert button on the alarm panel. It would send a signal to the security firm. The garage door was still wide open after the moving van had departed. Was that how John was able to get in?   He turned the garage light on to alert the security that would arrive to come that way.

John remained still on the floor. Dan longed to go the front door to grab his shoulder bag with his phone in it but was afraid that if he lost visual contact with John that John would either disappear like the villain in all slasher movies or he would resurrect to attack him again.

He didn’t breath easy until he heard a car pull up & the doors slam as someone got out.

“Stickler Security.” A female called out. “Mr. James? Is there a problem?” She & another guard walked into the garage.

……..

An hour later Dan was sitting on the stairway as an EMS medic wiped the blood off his face. A policeman askied him about the attack. 

“I checked the bathroom & that shower hasn’t been used recently.” The officer said.

“I told you it was dry when I went up to check it. That’s when John, Mr. Kilpatrick jumped out to push me down the stairs.”

“Right. How do you ….”

The officer was interrupted by shouts from outside where another officer was questioning John by the EMS vehicle. 

“I want him arrested.” John was yelling. “He attacked me for no reason at all. No reason. I’m calling my lawyer.”

The officer talking with Dan raised his eyebrows. “You see Mr. James, we have two different stories about what happened.”

The medic applied some disinfectant on Dan’s forehead.

“You’ll need stitches, sir. That’s a nasty cut. There’ll be a scar.”

“Thanks.” More than anything Dan wanted to be alone to gather his thoughts. He went over the sequence of the attack, trying to recall what John had said.

“Ask him about Octavio.” He told the officer. 

“Octavio? Who is Octavio?” 

Just then they both heard the shower go on.

“What the … ” The officer said. “Who is up there?” He stomped up the stairs. He was gone a few minutes & came back down with a small portable speaker dangling at the end of a nylon cord loop. It was still playing the sound of a shower.

“This was hanging on the back of the bathroom door.” He said.

“It’s a wireless puck speaker.” Dan said. “We sell them at the Depot. He must have set it off now when he used his cellphone.”

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