The heavy man carried threat in through the restaurant door. Alarms bristled up my spine. Were they alarms from my last five years as the lover of a gay-liberation activist? From the last twelve years since I'd admitted I was a faggot? Or from the previous six years as an Army Ranger? Did it really matter?
Yes, I decided. Threat determined response.
I regretfully and quietly laid knife and fork onto my steak: regretfully because I liked to eat it piping-hot; quietly so I wouldn't draw premature attention. Then I leaned back in my chair and watched the heavy man.
Ignoring the young hostess, he lumbered to a stop and planted his feet, trenchcoat scrunched back so he could stuff his pants pockets with meaty hands and look everything over slowly and thoroughly.
When his eyes found mine, he leaned into the stare like a linebacker poised at a line of scrimmage. His hesitation cued me, and I swallowed a sigh. He had come after Ivan and here I sat, a six-two, 220-pound signpost wearing olive-drab fatigues sans insignia. Oddly, I didn't recognize this dick -- though I'd been sure I knew all of Red Lake's detectives on sight.
Why Ivan insisted on living in this family-mummifying, right-warped Christian, scripture-threshing, whatever-happened-to-a-loving-Jesus, homophobic town where he got arrested for blowing limp-wristed kisses at City Hall (and other things) ... well, I did know why: precisely because it was a family-mummifying, right-warped Christian, fag-hating town.
I held the stare, right shoulder quivering with my urge to look over it. Ivan had strutted his stuff in that direction just moments ago, disappearing around the corner that bent the dining room into an L-shape, as he searched for something new on the salad bar.
I didn't follow that urge, trying to catch a night-backed reflection of Ivan in the restaurant's waist-high wall of windows. Instead, I pictured the sprawling salad bar right beside the flimsy door leading to the restrooms -- and the rear exit. There'd be one more dick covering that way out. Probably a couple more out front as well, hidden by the restaurant's brick entrance. As backup, ready to hop to, depending on which way we ran.
And run we would. Ivan made it a policy never to surrender to a cop who wasn't breathing hard.
Normally, I didn't mind the game -- arrests meant Ivan had struck a nerve -- but tonight ... something deep, maybe from my Army days, muttered to my adrenal glands and they started getting all worked up. I decided that, this time, Ivan would get away from these dickheads. I owed him that much for the everyday calm he brought to my heart.
That meant I had to divert them all -- before he waltzed back around that corner.
Shrugging for show, I broke away from the heavy man's stare and looked down at my dinner. It beckoned to me, oozing the aromas of grill and grease and A.1.® Sauce. Before I could do anything about it, though, the heavy man strode up to my table. His leather soles slapped the shiny linoleum. His trenchcoat swooshed. His hands hung clenched at his sides.
"Theodore Roosevelt Azzarrio?"
I didn't look up. "Just call me 'TR.'"
"Where's Ivan Zaporizhia?"
I reached out with my combat boot and jerked it back hard, hooking his ankle. He dropped right there on the glistening floor. His chubby mouth flopped open, dark and wet like a slab of raw liver. I leaned right, dodged his big, shiny shoes, and swooped away, low, down the aisle till I could rise into a sprint.
Sitting at tables lined up around me, people jerked their heads up. I flung my arms high. "Everybody down!" I shouted. "Ivan, Ivan, Ivan!" I fired his name three times in warning, then came our code: "Escape!" Hide. "Escape!" No, run out the back. "Escape!" Better yet, wait and slip out the front.
Again, I didn't glance in Ivan's direction: don't remind the heavy man of his primary target; get him to focus on the bird-in-hand getting away.
I braked and slid up to an open table. I took two seconds to peer through the evening-mirrored glass above it. Headlights from the parking lot beyond swung past, broke the reflection, and showed me a clear sidewalk outside.
I flung a glance behind me. The heavy man had gained a knee, one arm braced across the remains of my dinner. Between us, abandoned tables sprouted an occasional curious face.
Straightening, I launched a chair at the window. It crashed outward with a satisfying burst of shards. I followed it.
No phony Hollywood dive for me. I stepped precisely but quickly up to the window-sill, ducked under the jagged edge, finally down to the concrete. Cars nosed the dirty-gray strip like curious steers along a roadside fence. I straightened to the sound of pounding foot-steps.
To my right, a cop popped out of the alley into parking-lot light. To my left, two more wheeled around the corner, their arms flailing as they swung toward me. Behind me, still inside, the heavy man plodded through a field of tabletops.
Done and done! I could rely on Ivan to sneak out the front door while I led these minions of Red Lake City Hall through ranks of parked cars, then on down the strip-mall lining Highway 63.
I darted between two cars, but a blue-and-white woke up in front of me, its rooftop lights flickering dizzyingly. I veered left, and another patrol car, flashing abruptly, roared from the highway to block that way. I jigged again. The back-alley dick -- Detective Merkins, I could see now -- filled in that gap. I spun, but the backup twins -- Gonsaglio and Ferguson -- arrived, puffing, and snared my elbows.
They held me while the heavy man strode up, his flat feet snapping glass shards like small-arms fire. When he could, he reached out a plump finger and poked my shoulder.
"Theodore Roosevelt Azzarrio, I am Public Health Inspector Symington. Pursuant to Colorado statutes and my responsibility to protect the Public Health, I must arrest you."
I gave him my best unimpressed-with-authority shrug, though my stomach swam with misgivings. Public Health?
The heavy man -- Inspector Symington -- stepped closer. "Where's Ivan Zaporizhia?"
"Somewhere else," I snarled. "Phoning our lawyer to bail me out."
He arched back with a booming laugh, then peered at me through his amusement. "Yore a'hollerin' down the wrong well. I'm not puttin' you in jail." He sent sharp looks at the three detectives beside me. "I'm puttin' you into quarantine." He jabbed a fleshy thumb over his shoulder, then spun on his heel.
I lurched back, fear juicing up surprise. "For what?" I yelped.
With a pitying glance, he said, "Yore queer, son. We're gonna fix that."
The heavy man led the way to his car. The cops followed. I, of course, went along.
Dawn licked at me, over my cheeks and forehead, through my eyelids. I opened them, then squinted at the pinkish-yellow sunlight poking through a barred square in the opposite wall. Not the first time I'd arranged for the Giver of Life to awaken me in a strange place. I rolled upright, sock-feet on concrete floor, and glanced around.
Wall with the only window and the craters where I'd ripped the cot loose from it. Back wall with toilet and sink. Wall behind me -- I checked it: I'd missed nothing important last night in the dark. Front wall with solid, stout door interrupted only by a wide, high hatch above a shallow ledge; no handle on this side.
Time to get to work. I fetched the obligatory tin cup from the sink and approached the door. Cells in the City Jail, fronted by metal bars, made this part easy. Here, however ... I ambled back to the cot, traded cup for a laceless boot -- the heavy man had taken my watch and belt and cleaned out my pockets, too -- and picked a spot on the latch-side of the door. I decided on an Art Taylor rhythm: "Tanya" with Donald Byrd on trumpet and Dexter Gordon on tenor sax. Would Art use toe or heel? I went with the heel for higher impact.
More than two hours of jammin' with no reaction, allowing myself a ten-minute break each hour, before a squeaky voice interrupted: "Hey in there!"
The hatch opened. A short, buzz-cut prune of a man thrust a cell phone at me. "Punch redial," he said and turned away, closing the hatch again.
I followed instructions; I just hoped the owner of this gift horse was on my side. After the first ring, Ivan said, "Teddy-bear?"
The unnamed knot in my chest vanished. Joy rushed into its place, spreading warmth through me. Words of relief perched in my throat, but I had to know about him first. "Are you loose?"
"Not since I met you, darling. At that luncheon buffet--"
"Remember that day, Teddy-bear? I've been true to you ever since."
"Yes, I do. Do you remember what's going on here and now?"
"I'm not in jail, Ivan. A different building entirely, a couple of blocks south of City Hall and a block east. 'Public Health Inspector Jesse Symington' stuffed me into some kind of --" I scanned the room again "-- isolation ward. No Miranda, no phone call, no rights at all."
"I know," Ivan huffed.
That was my Ivan. Leave me twisting in here till he knew what was going on. He probably spent the night doing it. I could almost see intense crows' feet setting off the smudges under his soft brown eyes. Will generated his stamina, not his body. Heavier, stronger, meaner a lot meaner -- he'd have made a great Ranger.
I made way for his explanation with silence.
"TR, have they stuck you with anything?"
My hackles bolted upright. "No."
"Have they taken pictures of your head?"
"Tied you down with your head inside a ring-shaped device?"
Honest, you can be so tedious! "I told you 'No'!" Or are you trying to distract me? Didn't work.
"Well, they want to, TR. They want to inject your brain and ... and cure your homosexuality."
My hackles had nowhere else to go. They were already giving their all to the cause of getting me ready to flee or fight, but the rest of the organism joined in now: adrenaline flowed, sweat cropped, stomach clenched, lungs heaved.
Ivan continued, "I've been aware of research projects -- funded by the Religious Right -- that focused on the so-called gay gene and its expression in the human hypothalamus. Are you with me?"
Sometimes, his tenderness rankled me because he was showing off his intelligence. Today, though, I appreciated it. "Yeah," I grunted.
"I never thought they'd try to do anything about it, I mean, try to find a fix for, uh, our condition." His voice tightened. "But I was wrong ... apparently.
"Listen. Lots of legitimate researchers think that the size of a certain part of the hypothalamus -- the third, out of four --" he drew a breath "-- 'Interstitial Nucleus of the Anterior Hypothalamus' -- determines what gender people are attracted to."
Brilliant, insecure, Ivan didn't make points; he constructed them -- then dropped them on his enemies. I had learned to admire the process, which wasn't always easy. Like now.
"If these areas are small or not present, a person likes males. If large, he or she likes females. These neurons affect attraction only, though, and not sexual roles or behavior. Cross-dressing comes out of a different place."
I wouldn't admit I was lost, but I did say, "Yeah, so?"
"So they think if they can make these parts of your hypothalamus larger, you'll be attracted to girls and not guys."
Pain flared behind my eyes. Where is my hypothalamus anyway? The rest of my brain spun furiously. "How are they going to do that?" I said. "Aren't adult brains, well, fixed in size already?"
"Good, TR, keep thinking." He sent a kiss down the line. It helped. "Here's where the Remorseless Right have made their own progress. They've adapted an avian neuron-growth hormone to fit cells in other brains -- it seems, birds change the size of their brains according to the season. Add a bit of testosterone and in a matter of days, you've got more neurons wherever it's been injected. They've tested it on ferrets, like several studies already published. Now, apparently, they're ready for people."
"Is this legal?" I demanded.
Ivan paused, way too long, then sighed. "Depends on how you read the law. In this country, a lot of responsibility for public health gets delegated all the way down to the towns. Colorado statutes give this man Symington more than enough authority. They say he may 'exercise such physical control over property and people as he may find necessary for the protection of the public health', or words to that effect, at least four times."
"But I'm no threat to public health!" I barked. I needed more from him right now than quotes from law books.
"TR! You, me, all gays, are a threat to Red Lake's 'public health,' so to speak. You know how they feel about us around here. They're afraid we'll 'give' homosexuality to their impressionable youth."
"State authorities are not going to look at it that way." Suddenly not so sure, I added, "Are they?"
Ivan sighed again and I knew he'd been avoiding something. "Our guess, TR, is that the city thinks they can cure you, which means you're infected, which means you're contagious, which means you can be quarantined, so that they can cure you. The same kind of reasoning they use to pick and choose among Scripture to condemn us.
"Look, I'm going to drop the Fourteenth Amendment on these people like an anvil. I've called the U.S. Attorney and the F.B.I. They'll get back to me soon." Maybe being hooked up with a celebrity is worth something, after all. "I'm hoping Red Lake didn't count on me being loose to make these calls. I am, thanks to you." Of course, that's what got me in here in the first place. "Still ..." Another one of those way-too-long pauses. "I don't know if I can awake the Federal hounds soon enough.
"Just in case, I've also called the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Governor's Office, and four TV stations in Denver. No point talking to the local rip-and-read crews; they know when to turn blind eyes."
Swatting at his implications like swarming bats, I tried to drive past them with, "Will it work?"
My Ivan continued with cool dispassion. "We don't know. I've had two medical researchers reviewing the literature since midnight. They can guess what these guys have been trying, but they don't know how successful they've been. Our people have also been kibitzing the URnet -- Ultra-Research Network -- so we've got internal memos, too, but we haven't cracked their encryption yet." He swallowed noisily.
"God, TR! Even if it doesn't affect your sexuality, what else could this thing do to you? Your hypothalamus sits smack in the middle of your brain in a veritable soup of hormones." A sudden storm of words. "It regulates the pituitary gland! Body temperature! Appetite! Water retention!" A spiraling plunge from the heavens of purpose, logic, and resolve into self-doubt and -pity.
"Ivan," I broke in.
"TR, they're after me, not you, always have, always will."
"Where'd you say they took you? I'll come right over."
"Ivan Sergeivitch Zaporizhia!" That shut him up, as usual. "They won't let me go even if you do come in. They won't leave me the way I am because then, I might 're-infect' you once they let both of us go. And they'll have to let us go. This is still the United States, even if the Religious Right runs Red Lake City Hall. You're too well-known in the national gay community, and I'm part of the publicity package. Stay away, Ivan, far away. I'll handle this."
"Right." Meekly, ashamed now of his emotional outburst, as usual.
"You work on getting me out of here." Pumping him up fed back into my own attitude. The room around me no longer seemed so grim.
"You stay the hell away. Just send lawyers and TV crews."
He snapped, "I've got it, TR!"
I grinned, then said, "That's my Ivan. Sic 'em, boy!"
"Do what you can to stall them, TR. Use those big feet of yours to good advantage.
"Look," he went on. "They'll need at least a robotic arm to deliver the hormones." I heard him gulp. "It'll stick you right behind the ear, no anesthetic necessary, just a skin prick. Once it's inside, the brain doesn't feel a thing.
"They may use a CAT scanner to guide the arm, or they may just clamp your head in a vise and go from there."
My Army training echoed through me. Capture on a black operation meant secret interrogation, which meant anything goes, and there's not much anybody can do against the human genius for giving pain. The point: don't get captured. Well, too late for that.
"TR? TR?" Ivan sounded scared.
"Yeah," I said gruffly.
"I love you." Gentle again.
We'd both started with the same hex on our bodies, but I'd grown up mean and only recently, with his help, turned easy. He'd started easy and all by himself, turned ... smart. "Love you back," I whispered.
The connection clicked away. I was alone again. Echoes from my past came back louder, trying to match my present. A black op into Chile where I'd performed rear-guard in a gully till the chopper whiffed my team and me out of there. That awful week twelve years ago when I confronted -- and accepted -- my sexuality. But none of them measured up. I just wanted Ivan safe, far away and safe, slapping the world silly until it gave us our due, maybe, but safe. If that left me here, in a stew without a carving knife, then so be it.
So, I punched through the gloom of reality. Meeting come to order. Any Old Business?
The cell phone. I knocked gently on the door. The hatch popped open, and buzz-cut smirked at me through it.
"You're one of Ivan's boys?" I asked.
He stretched the smirk into a grin.
"You work here?"
"We're everywhere." And that prune of a man poked out his left pinkie, stropped it across his tongue, slicked down an eyebrow, then flipped it to the side in a queenly salute.
"Thanks," I said.
He picked up the cell phone, bounced it once in his hand, then with a nod, closed the hatch gently, but firmly.
New Business? I turned to the room, dark once more.
"Hey!" I yelled through the door. "Can you turn the light on?"
Two overhead banks flickered into stark white life, washing away the window's narrow sunlight. Now I could see what I had to work with.
The detectives did spot-check things, but I'd counted on that. I lunged at them, hollering "Yew-ha!" They slammed the hatch, waited a moment, then threw open the door and charged me. The cot, on its side across the doorway, caught the three of them by surprise. They went down. I dived over their stunned heads into the hallway, tucking, rolling, banging against the far wall. I came up fast -- and took a nightstick in the solar plexus.
The heavy man followed up with two sets of manacles. All I could do was stare, limbs buzzing with nerve overload, while he grinned at me, jumped to his feet with hands raised in victory, then walked on down the hall.
I could hear him hollering: "Get that mCAT going ag'in! Is that robot needle on-line yet?"
A female voice challenged him: "Is the patient hurt?"
"He's fine," the heavy man blared. Detectives Gonsaglio and Ferguson appeared at my elbows, lifted me, scurried me along, sock-toes dragging over carpeting. "Let's get this show on the road!" They pulled me into a room.
A cot, its head encircled by two whirling gizmos, one wide, long, and curved, the other aimed at it across the diameter like a furious peach-pit. Cables sprawled from there to a computer box and a squat metal torso with an arm, like a saluting amputee. Beside that, a chrome trolley proffered instruments on a white cloth. In the middle of it all, the heavy man faced a statuesque blonde and a petite brunette in nurses' uniforms.
The detectives dumped me on the cot, cuffed my wrists and ankles to it, stood back to glare at me.
At least they were breathing hard.
The heavy man leaned toward me, careful of the gizmos whizzing around my head. "Yore friend Ivan is playin' hard-to-get. I'm not goin' to wait for the cops to roust him from his hidey-hole." With a sweep of his meaty hand, he sent the detectives from the room. Then he beckoned at the nurses.
I rejected an attack on the gizmos. Ivan had indicated that this mobile brain-scanner wasn't critical to the procedure. I couldn't waste my one chance at disruption on it.
The brunette, dainty, but plain, flicked electronic switches while the other one marched toward me with a thermometer-gun. She filled out her uniform very well, from flaring hips to full breasts. She'd wrapped her long blonde hair into a chignon, severe but serving to emphasize her other charms. (Hey, even a fag can appreciate an attractive woman. She just didn't turn me on.)
I peered past her business-like approach to the trolley. It probably held the bird juice, Red Lake's new weapon against us "scourges of humanity," and the syringes to deliver it. I had to destroy that trolley. Failing that, I'd appeal to these "angels of mercy." Yeah, right, sisters in homophobia more likely. Anything was better than lying here, letting this fat bastard steal a part of my soul.
I rolled away from the blonde, as far as the cuffs would let me. She had to stretch over the cot. I threw myself at her, harsh twinges in wrist and ankle rewarding my lunge. The cot went over. I thudded to the floor. The blonde staggered back, taking the brunette, then the trolley, down as a clanging, sprawling, glittering mess. Missed the robot, though. Yew-ha!
The heavy man took a step toward me, but caught himself. Leaning into a glower instead, he ordered, "Fetch the other kit."
"I don't want to risk it," the brunette shot back. "This isn't Patient Zero."
"Do it anyway," the heavy man said.
"The police said they've located him."
Ivan? Is she talking about Ivan?
"He's slipped them before. He'll do it again."
Damned straight he will. I grinned at him.
He sucked in air as though mustering patience, then stated flatly, "Go unpack the other kit. Prepare the injection, but don't bring it until I call you. And order a replacement from the Lab." He followed with a glare that made even me twitch.
The brunette hustled out, pulling the blonde with her. So much for Plan B.
The heavy man's gaze followed them. Without looking around, he whispered, "A healthy man would go after that with his cock and tongue hard."
I rattled my manacles. "Lose the bracelets, and we'll just see who's healthy around here."
"Don' tempt me, or I'll forget my duty to protect yore health."
The hard floor pressed against my side, aggravating the bruises it had inflicted. Cuffs twisted an arm and a leg behind me. The other limbs stretched out above me, leaving my belly open and vulnerable. I had to get out of them and onto my feet.
My favorite hand-to-hand technique started with a circle feint to lower the other guy's guard, then a charge right up his middle to throw off his focus. Words had to get me there now, and when I'd talked the heavy man into letting me go, I'd kick him so hard he'd sneeze through his pecker and jack off his nose.
I said, "Let me tell you a little story first."
He sneered, but didn't object.
"You ought to relate to this," I said breezily. "A new weight-loss clinic opens in town. A guy goes in, says he wants to lose ten pounds, and pays his money. They send him to a room on the first floor. Inside sits a nude blonde that would make your nurse friend look like a broomstick. She wears a sign: 'You catch me, you fuck me.' She gives him a good run, but he wins in the end. Plus, he loses the weight."
The heavy man grinned.
"The next week, he goes back, says he wants to lose twenty pounds. This time, they send him to the second floor. He finds a redhead more luscious than the blonde, with the same sign: 'You catch me, you fuck me.' Same story: he catches her and loses the weight on top of that."
His tongue flicked across his upper lip.
"The next week, he wants to lose thirty pounds. He goes through a door on the third floor and it locks behind him! In the middle of the room stands a huge gorilla."
I paused. He glanced around, another grin lurking in his eyes. I smirked up at him. "This time, the sign says: 'I catch you, I fuck you.'"
He sniggered, acknowledging a good straight joke, but then he strangled on its homosexual undertone. He spun toward me, his big, shiny shoes large in my floor-high vision.
"Get my drift?" I pressed him, jabbing at his macho pride. What homophobe thinks a queer can beat him up? Actually, it's what they're all afraid of. "Who's the guy and who's the gorilla? Are you man enough to find that out?"
He stomped over, then squatted to face me. "Is that what you think this is about? Fuckin'?"
Good feint, nice charge, but a total zilch in results. Where do I go next? Desperate, I kept provoking him. "Sure it is." I leered at him. "You fuck one way. I fuck another."
He sank a fleshy knee to the floor and leaned toward me. "This is not about the physical. It's about the spiritual. Whether we're followin' God's plan or Satan's."
"And how do you know which is which?" I asked, guessing his answer.
He thumped the floor. "The Bible tells us God's plan."
"Which part of it?"
"All of it."
"So you obey every single verse in the Old and New Testament?"
He reared back with a lop-sided grin. "We're not goin' there, old dog. Slick words are Satan's weapon."
My top arm tingled. My bottom leg had already gone numb from the pressure of cot and body on it. Never in my life had I depended so much on words over action.
I scrambled after more of Ivan's standard attacks on these people who hide behind scripture to justify their own bigotries. Do these people who quote Leviticus eat bacon and shave? Do the panderers of Paul and his naïve words in Romans buy the rest of his "divinely inspired" proscriptions?
I peered up at the heavy man, but he seemed prepared for that line of patter and so confident about victory that he would allow me a little debate before he plugged me with straight juice and fixed all my problems.
If he fixes me, what will happen to Ivan? I jerked as I thought, What will happen to me and Ivan? I'll lose him! Or rather, he'll lose me because I won't want him anymore. Even a hetero who didn't hate homos was still hetero, wouldn't -- couldn't -- love one.
Making love. Surely Symington can relate to that. After all, there's nobody here but us guys -- and our cocks. I tried again: "Doesn't it come down to love?"
"Of course. God's love for us. Our love for other people and their souls."
I wriggled vainly to get more comfortable. "Do you know what it's like for one man to love another?"
He flinched, his jowly face blanching.
"There's the physical part, of course. It's not all blowjobs, you know. People -- guys -- need to fuck. We gays are not equipped to do it normally, yet we have the same instincts as you. Instincts for ramming deep, plunging our hard cocks as far in as we can, rutting hard to give our sperm a good jump-off, even though they're on a suicide mission, even though I know it's tearing him up inside. I can't help myself. It's what feels good, feels natural. You get that too, don't you?"
He nodded, one curt act, eyes puzzled by his agreement.
I nodded back, sharing that part of our basic selves. "I give myself to Ivan in that way too, knowing it's good for him, letting the residual pain be worth his pleasure. It's easier now, after all these years, but I'll never have a cunt."
He jerked his head up, suddenly alert to where he knelt, what he was listening to. Disgust pushed away that trace of sympathy. He lifted his knee.
Lord, why did I think queer-fear would ever let up enough for him to see what we have in common? My gut shriveled with regret -- over my own stupidity. Lord, why did I think that part was most important?
"Wait!" I cried, driven by insight. "Making love isn't really about the physical! You know that, don't you? Physical love is just a means to carry us to a spiritual plane, a transport to that place where nothing else can take us."
He froze, but my gaze drifted off him, looking beyond this trap of a room. "At least that's what Ivan taught me. Or gave me. Or showed me. Or ... all of that." I found the heavy man's eyes again. "You see, as a guy, I was taught to be stoic and defensive and violent in order to protect family and society. As that guy, I was never happy or even content. Always alert, watchful. Know what I mean?"
He nodded, less reluctantly this time.
"In all my life, only Ivan drives that away. Whether I'm in front of him or in back of him, he lifts me above all that macho bullshit. He enables me to be ... vulnerable." A sigh of remembrance escaped me. There's no greater peace in this life than soaring within your lover's embrace, coursing with your body's electricity, completely free, completely open, completely at his mercy. "Within his arms, I am purely me, unique, pristine, offered up to the Universe for the approval of God.
"Your woman does that for you, doesn't she?"
His face set hard, snapping from ruddy, yielding flesh to gray, rugged stone. He levered himself to his feet.
Unbelieving, I followed him with my eyes. Does he not know what I'm talking about? "Don't take that away from me!"
He flapped a vague hand. "You'll find a woman to do that."
I took my last shot, vain, but I couldn't hold it in. "Like you did, eh? Fat chance!"
He slashed me with hate-filled eyes. "'Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.'"
"I love Ivan! If you change me, I won't be able to anymore!"
Without another word, he plunged out the door. He charged back with the nurses and the detectives. They knew what they wanted. I, of course, went along.
A matter of days, Ivan had said. Where have you gone? Sick days smeared together as I sweated, barfed, pissed every whip-stitch, while the blonde measured me and the mCAT spun about my head. What's the brunette doing? I wondered and caught myself fantasizing about the two of them, my hard-on straining against my hospital pants.
On my first clear day, the door to freedom stayed shut, though the heavy man's face appeared more often at the hatch. The second also dragged by, with only the blonde's tantalizing body stirring my imagination, though her demeanor gave me no hope in that direction. The third one started slowly as well, though it shone bright through my small window.
The door clacked and swung open. The heavy man beamed at me. "Yore cured. Time to go home!" he announced and sent in the blonde to escort me.
"Will I ever see you again?" I asked her longingly.
She gave me a sidelong glance and a mysterious smile. "See, you are all better now." She took my elbow, her fingers cool and precise. I wanted them touching me someplace else. It lurched again inside my pants, wanting that too.
In the hallway, the heavy man beckoned, his eyes dancing with expectation. Behind him, another door stood open. A man stepped out, escorted by the small brunette. I glanced from her tight white ass to his face.
Ivan stood there, squinting back at me, slender, a bit shorter than I expected, brown eyes shiftier, but still ... he had something -- carriage? intelligence? depth? -- that made him crisp and clear even in that dim corridor.
"I believe you two know each other." The heavy man covered us both with a smirk, then sauntered away, his laugh booming.
Then I remembered: a peaceful breakfast in our cozy nook, yellow sunlight caressing his t-shirted shoulder; joyfully watching him laugh, his head back, mouth relaxed for a nice change; my pride as his hand scribbled madly across a legal pad in the fierce light of his desk lamp; playfully lathering his back in the shower; in bed, his arm limp across my belly, his leg entwined with mine, both of us sweaty, exhausted, languid, soaring and happy.
But they were memories adrift in my brain. I could not deny them: they seemed so real. Yet how could I believe in them: they seemed so untrue. Me, love a man? Touch him? Let him touch me? Never! My stomach rebelled. Now I understood the heavy man's reaction.
Yet ... My past with Ivan lingered in a soft chamber, the remains of my betrayed heart, displaced and fading while I grew a new one.
I searched his face, down the hall a half-dozen paces. He searched mine and quirked his brows, forming those puzzle dimples between them. ... as if ... he could read my expression, could know my mind ... after all these years ...
The brunette gave Ivan a gentle shove. He turned to her with a smile and a groping hand. She batted it away nonchalantly and stepped into the room. He shrugged good-naturedly, then looked back around at me.
Nothing in his face now. I was just another guy. Who flung a mean Frisbee and liked trout-fishing ... someone good to spend time with ...
The blonde nudged me, murmured, "Go out that door," then broke away, leaving me lonely. She walked toward Ivan, an efficient, no-nonsense walk that could not disguise the lushness of her hips, the flex of her shapely calves, the strength of her thighs and the promise of what lay between them.
She passed him with a nod and I noticed him watching her too. He twisted to follow her with his eyes as she marched into the room after the brunette.
Safe out of her sight, he leered, his eyes still tracing those rolling hips. "Got anything going on with her yet?"
"Ice queen," I declared. "Gave me a cold shoulder that frostbit my toes. You and the brunette?"
He looked around and shrugged. "Not my type. Care for a beer?"
I nodded and he led the way out. Ivan Zaporizhia, my drinking buddy.
BIO: In the early '70s, Analog published two of my stories; another appeared in Lone Star Universe. More recently, The Jewish Spectator published one of my stories, and Speculations published my article on "Writing Good Computer." My mainstream short-short story "Downstream from Divorce" appears at Flash Fiction Online as part of their March, 2008, issue. More stories appear at or are scheduled for The Monsters Next Door Issue #4, Bards and Sages, Morrigan E-Zine, a Guest-Quarters story at Edge Of Propinquity, mbranesf.blogspot.com, and Sorcerous Signals as well as the Mystic Signals print anthology. You can read more at www.glgwrites.com.
I also moderate SFWA's Online-Update and SFWA-News newsletters.