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PARTNERS IN CRIME



PART EIGHT



I’ve never been away from Pittsburgh for such a long time. Michael comes to pick me up from the airport and on the way to the loft he talks about nothing but Ben, Hunter, Debbie and the baby. Apparently Melanie is now on bed rest until the end of her pregnancy. No wonder Lindsay’s mentioned a few times that they’re ‘having problems’. And it seems that Mikey was right to worry after all. Wow, that almost never happens.

The loft feels cold and smells musty. I had to let the cleaning lady go when I lost my job and there’s dust everywhere. Where does it all come from when no one’s been in here for four months? It’s nearly November already, so I feel vindicated in cranking the heating up high before I drop my suitcase in the bedroom. I’m tired and jetlagged from the long journey and yet the bed looks less than inviting. Ah well, I’ll just have to fill it with a trick or three and it’ll be just fine, just like it used to be.

Michael has put the two bags of groceries that Debbie's sent on the kitchen counter and is sitting on one of the barstools. He’s playing with my car keys and watching me closely, as he has done all the way from the airport and I know I won’t escape whatever he has to say. Taking a deep breath, I make my way down to the kitchen and take out the coffee I knew I’d find with the groceries. The coffeemaker comes to life with a gurgling sound a minute later. It’s late but I won’t be able to sleep anyway. I’m still on European time.

I light a cigarette and look at Mikey. It’s good to see him, but he’s unusually solemn, which isn’t exactly what I need right now. “Okay, out with it, Mikey. What’s up your ass?” I grin as I say it, but he doesn’t respond to the expression.

“Are you home?” he asks finally.

I look around me in an exaggerated manner. “Looks like home, smells like home, so it must, in fact… be home.”

He’s still not amused. Tough audience today, although no tougher than you’ve been over the last couple of weeks. “I was worried about you. You went off to California and next thing I know you’re in Italy. What were you even doing there?”

“I took a vacation. I told you. I emailed you every week.”

“You lost your job, Brian. And your solution is to go on vacation? To Europe? For four months?” He’s warming up to a proper queen-out. Oh joy!

“I would definitely recommend it. You should see the Italian men. And the French.”

“I’ve seen the French,” he says dismissively. Right. I forgot that he went to Paris with David. Although he was in one of his boyfriend phases then, so he probably didn’t sample the goods. His real concern follows a second later. “Did you find Justin?”

I turn around to pour both of us some coffee. The sugar in the jar has drawn water and become lumpy. I take my time stabbing at it with a spoon until it softens enough so that I can shovel some into my cup. Passing Michael his drink, I get milk out of one of the grocery bags and think that I might as well put all the stuff in there into the cupboards while I’m at it. When I’m done with that, Mikey’s still looking at me with his puppy dog eyes, concern warring with annoyance at the delay. “Brian,” he says admonishingly with that slight whine that he sometimes has.

I take another deep breath and lean on the counter, stirring my coffee. “Yeah, I found him. He was in San Diego. Waiting for me.”

“Waiting for you,” he echoes tonelessly. Then he shakes his head in a helpless gesture. “What the fuck’s going on, Brian?”

I might as well tell him, so I start at the beginning, with finding you and you getting shot. Mikey is already wide-eyed and worried by the end of that little episode. As adventures go, it doesn’t get more exciting than that, but he’s more concerned with what happened after that, possibly because up to that point, it was all about you and what you did. I was just an innocent bystander. But then that changed and that’s not easy to explain. Fuck, I don’t even understand it myself.




We’re left alone – or almost alone – for two days. Daphne leaves with a wink and a grin and only comes back twice a day to check on you and administer antibiotics. She always arrives with a flurry of noise and exuberance and a grin so big it rivals yours. Once, she has a young guy in surfer shorts and a Hawaiian shirt in tow, who looks all concerned about you and takes your uniform and your gun with him when he leaves. I withdraw to the beach while he’s there. I’m not getting implicated in any more of your schemes.

The first day you sleep for the most part and I’m left contemplating when being a bystander becomes being an accomplice. Whenever that point is, I’m long past it. Even if I were still deluding myself that I’ll turn you in at some stage, by now I’d have a hard time explaining what took me so long.

I spend long periods smoking on the back porch, watching the sea, or in your bedroom, watching you sleep. I’ve seen – and had – many good-looking men in my life but you may just be the most beautiful guy I’ve ever come across. That thought and that strange feeling in my stomach whenever I look at you – or even just think about you – makes me feel like I’m suffocating. This isn’t me. I don’t ever feel like this, so many emotions all at the same time and none of them make sense. I want my anger back and the hatred I felt for you. But even when I deliberately try and think about what you did to me, I don’t feel it.

On the second morning, I wake up to you watching me. Your bed is big enough for both of us, so there was no reason for me to sleep anywhere else. And this way I could keep an eye on you. I’m not entirely certain if I wanted to look after you or make sure you don’t take off again. You probably could have, but you just lie there, your good arm folded under your head and look at me.

“I love waking up with you.” Your smile is soft, as if we’ve just woken up on the first day of our honeymoon. It’s a little disturbing. Everything about you is disturbing. First you make yourself comfortable in my life despite discouragement from me – and having a boyfriend, I may add. Then you don’t run when I catch up with you and now you pretend we’re lovers when we’re not even friends.

“Well, get used to waking up with someone else. I don’t think they have single rooms in prison.”

Your smile only turns wider. You know as well as I do that I won’t turn you in. I can’t even recall when I made that decision. Or maybe it wasn’t so much a decision as an inability to follow through. Like I told Daphne, at this point it would only benefit Stockwell, if only by giving him the satisfaction of seeing you behind bars. I’m not up for doing Stockwell any favors. But neither do I like how smug you are. It’s bad enough that Daphne always seems so inexplicably amused.

And then you start talking, I don’t even have to ask. Which is good because I wouldn’t. You start at the end, with Stockwell, telling me how he appeared on your radar when he decided to run for mayor. He seemed the type of person who was loathsome enough not to cause you any regrets if you ruined his life.

“I was doing small scale stuff until then. You know, credit card fraud, selling fake IDs… But I was thinking that we’d get caught eventually if we stayed in Pittsburgh. If you’re gonna be a con man, you should really move about a lot. I had a feeling that the cops were closing in on us.”

“You were worried about the police, so you targeted the police chief? That’s pretty…”

“Gutsy, right? I know.” You smile broadly, a little proud.

I was going to go with insane, but gutsy works for me, too. I shrug and nod for you to go on.

You tell me how you had the idea to use Ethan’s father’s name for your scam. I suppose if you’re lying on a grand scale, having some grains of truth in there, makes it all the more believable. Nathaniel Goldstein really is Ethan’s father and their rift isn’t widely known. Ethan was keen on the idea, too, because he hates his father and hoped that some of this would backfire on him. He always resented the fact that his father cut off his cash flow. Ah well, now he has his own little fortune and no longer needs to worry about dear old daddy.

From there you go backwards to how you met Ethan two years ago, when you were taking a course at PIFA – naturally under an assumed name – and he was studying the violin there. You were together until recently but it doesn’t sound like a match made in heaven.

“It was great at first. All romantic with flowers and music and picnics on the floor. But he’s such a snob. All his friends are snobs. He thinks anyone who doesn’t listen to classical music and watches films with subtitles is a peasant. And at the same time he made ends meet by playing his violin on the streets. Not to mention that his apartment made ours look like a palace.”

Having seen the dump you lived in, I voice my doubts that that’s even possible. You smile at that.

“He was keen enough to move in with us, believe me. And when he couldn’t play anymore, I persuaded Daph to let him. It was a nightmare. They hate each other. And after he cheated on me, I wasn’t terribly keen either. That’s how it happened, you know. He cheated on me. I found out and we had a fight. He was trying to hug me – as if that would help – and I pushed him away. After that I couldn’t just leave him. He moved in with us and then I thought up this grand plan to make a lot of money. I suppose, in a way, I did it so I could get rid of him without feeling guilty.”

“Well, he shot you, so I think you’re even.”

You laugh a little as if getting shot is just one of those things that can happen to anyone. “He wasn’t always like that. He used to be really ambitious and had a lot of drive. I liked that about him. Okay, so maybe he was a bit pretentious, but it was only after he broke his wrist that he changed. He just became really depressed. I mean not just I’m-depressed-because-my-favorite-TV-show-got-cancelled depressed, I mean clinically. I didn’t realize how bad it was. I was just hoping that if he could get his hand back, everything else would sort itself out. Maybe I should have insisted that he goes to a different kind of therapy.”

I don’t really care. I’m not likely to forgive him anytime soon, if ever. “Is he likely to come back?”

“Ethan? Hardly. He’ll run away. He’s a coward at heart. A little while ago, we tried to buy this new TV with a stolen credit card. He was so nervous the shop assistant caught on to us almost straight away. We were lucky, we got out of there in time.”

That sounds encouraging in a way but I can’t say it makes me feel much better. The guy knows where you live and he didn’t seem quite sane to me. Even cowards can feel brave with a gun.

“How did you end up with a life of crime anyway?”

You go further back to explain. Starting with your childhood, which sounds a lot more idyllic than mine ever was. A nice house in the suburbs, loving parents, no money worries. And Daphne. She seems to be front and center of everything. You really have been friends since kindergarten.

But I’m already aware that Daphne’s life may have been similar to yours on the surface but was very different underneath. Your mother became aware early on that your little friend needed protection. There were frequent bruises and even a broken arm once. I know exactly how that works. I also know why Daphne always begged your mother not to take any drastic steps. I remember telling Debbie the same thing more than once.

“Then my mother and sister died.” You pause a moment and look out at the ocean through the French windows in your room before you continue. “My father and I started having problems, especially after I came out to him. And he didn’t care what happened to Daph. She’d come to our house all black and blue and then her dad would come to get her. Mom always threatened him with the authorities, so Daphne would stay with us for a while until her mother begged her to come home. Dad couldn’t care less. He made her go home every time. And then her dad started touching her and I knew we had to get away. I’d already made plans.”

There was a teacher who’d retired from your school that same year and took both of you in for a while. And that was when you started to ‘earn’ your own money. You were too young to get a proper job, so you started pick pocketing. I doubt that your mother had that in mind when she bought you that magic set. Then you got caught by Carl one day.

“I was scared shitless. I thought he wanted sex at first, but he just talked to me for ages in his car. I told him some sob story. He must have thought my dad was a real psycho, not just a homophobic prick. And the tears were real. Although it was mainly fear, I think. But there’s one thing he made me aware of and that was that if I steal from someone, they might be in deep shit trouble. So I went on to credit cards and forgery. And I started targeting a different clientele. People in sharp suits and flash cars who wouldn’t miss a little money.”

“People like me, you mean.”

You have the decency to look a little embarrassed. “I suppose. But would you rather I steal from people like Michael and Debbie or people like you?”

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t steal at all.” Although I wouldn’t have minded what you did to Stockwell if it hadn’t involved fucking up my life. But there’s no way I’ll ever admit that. I’m not giving you any encouragement.

“We had to live,” you kind of mumble. “We lived with Mr. Austen for over a year. But he made it more and more clear that he expected some kind of payback. I probably would’ve have done it, but he was more interested in Daphne and that just wasn’t an option. But by then I had a little money put by, so I made some fake IDs and got us an apartment.”

Daphne started working as a nurse. She did some courses, pretending she was older and then, when she felt confident enough, she got herself some forged qualifications and worked as a qualified nurse. There were never any problems.

I can well believe that. Nobody ever really questioned your abilities or qualifications either. Well, I naturally assumed that Stockwell had done the relevant check-ups. I might have done some myself if you hadn’t been so talented and knowledgeable. And what would I have got if I had? Justin Tramayne with a degree from Dartmouth. Everything would have looked above board. You simply borrowed someone else’s identity. Really, it’s scary how easy that was.

After the two of you moved into your own apartment, you just carried on what you were doing. Small scale fraud and forgeries, talking your way into businesses and shops and lifting goods and money. But the incident with the TV made you aware that this wouldn’t work forever, not if you stayed in the same place all the time. So you started thinking bigger. And ended up with Stockwell. And me.

You talk and talk, and I listen. I’m torn between feeling sorry for what you’ve been through, admiring your guts and despising your attitude. My life hasn’t been a bed of roses either, but I persevered and made something of myself. However, nowhere in all my different emotions can I find any anger any longer. What it comes down to is that you did the only thing you could think of to save Daphne. At fourteen or fifteen years old, your options were limited. And quite frankly, I would have done the same for Mikey.

We have Chinese take-out for dinner and you question me about my friends in Pittsburgh. I find myself talking about the whole Hunter saga, which somehow ended up with Michael and Ben becoming official foster parents. And how Ted’s now in rehab and Emmett’s still hung up about the whole thing. I don’t think you ever met either one of them, but you listen with as much interest as if they were your friends, too. That’s one of the things you do, I realize now, involving yourself intimately with strangers, so they’ll trust you. I won’t fall for that again.

When it’s time to go to bed, you ask me to help you in the shower. You can’t lift your left arm so it makes sense that you need someone to wash your hair. At least, that’s what I tell myself. First I’m helping to tape some plastic wrapping over your bandage with duct tape. Who the hell has duct tape in their house? Then we both get naked and into the cubicle, which is a lot smaller than the one in the loft.

I put shampoo on your hair, massaging your scalp a little before I rinse it off, taking my time. It’s a very familiar situation for us. Watching the water run down your tanned skin, I can feel my cock react. You’ve been half-hard since you got undressed but I’ve ignored it so far. Now you press against me, rubbing in all the right places. “Brian, I…”

“Just shut up, Justin. Not a word.”

You kiss along my jawline, small fluttery kisses, then stand on your tiptoes and kiss me desperately. Part of me wants to push you away. I mean, it’s laughable how predictable this was. But I also haven’t had a fuck in three days and I’ve never been one to refuse sex when it‘s offered. So I kiss you back and because I’m worried about hurting your arm in this small space, that’s all we’re doing until the water runs cold.

In the end, we fuck all night. It was inevitable, I suppose. I never did have much resistance when it comes to you. And the situation is still so surreal, it doesn’t matter that we’re doing this again. It’s temporary. And all temporary things, even temporary mistakes, don’t count in the long run.

In the morning, Daphne comes back with coffee and bagels and a somber expression. It freaks me out because recently, bad news no longer mean inconvenience or some problem one of my friends has. No, now they might conceivably mean cops and prison or getting shot. My life has changed beyond recognition because of you. The solid foundation it once had, proved to be an illusion.

But all she says is that she wants to go back to Pittsburgh to see her mother. I think it’s a crazy idea. If I managed work out who you really are, it’s only a matter of time until the police do, too. And from there, it’s only a small step to Daphne. But she’s determined and I can see you practically melting under her pleading eyes. You’re so used to doing what’s right for her that you put up almost no resistance at all.

“Will you come to Italy?” You look heartbroken at the thought of being without her. I remember that Daphne said you were planning to go to Europe together and feel slightly disturbed at the idea. So far, I’ve carefully avoided thinking further ahead than an hour or two at a time but it’s obvious that the next time we go our separate ways will be forever. You would be stupid to ever come back.

“Of course, but I need to speak to Mom first, maybe ask her to come with me.”

“What am I gonna do without you? I can’t go back to the Pitts.” It’s not a complaint or accusation, just a sad statement. I don’t think it’s about Pittsburgh so much as about the company.

She smiles. “You don’t need me anymore, Justin. You have Brian now.”

Wait a minute. How did I get into this discussion? I’m just sitting here, smoking, sipping my coffee and minding my own business. “Excuse me?”

“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To be with Justin.” She’s very matter-of-fact about it.

“Hardly. I came here to get the two of you arrested. Just because I changed my mind about that, doesn’t mean I want to go on the lam with you. The only reason I’m still here is because I’ve no urgent business at home any longer. Thanks to you two, I might add.”

She’s unperturbed. “You might as well admit that you love him.”

“Daph,” you say, half pleading and half embarrassed.

“I don’t love him. Love’s for straight people and lesbians.” I watch your face fall, even though you try to hide it, and feel a little bad about that, but some other part of me rejoices that I managed to hurt you. Payback’s a bitch.

“Uh-huh,” is all Daphne says to that and gets up. Somehow she reminds me of Debbie. “I’ve booked a ticket for the day after tomorrow. When will you be leaving?”

“I’ll leave on the same day then,” you say, not looking at either her or me. She ruffles your hair a little as she walks out of the kitchen, presumably to pack.

“You’re going to Italy?”

You look up and it’s amazing how fast you’ve recovered from your despondency just a moment ago. Without hesitation, you launch into an accolade of the country, the art and the men. Your enthusiasm is contagious. I always wanted to travel more, but I never had the time for it. It’s tempting. Only, I’m not crazy enough to contemplate it.

So, how do I end up in Italy with you? I can’t rightly say. I am loath to go back to Pittsburgh. I wasn’t kidding when I said I’ve nothing urgent to go back to. It seems like a good idea to let some time pass. Once the scandal about what happened with Stockwell dies down, people will remember how brilliant I am at advertising and I’ll get another job. In the long run, all the agencies are in it for the money and I can make them money – I know it and they know it. It just bugs me that I don’t have much leverage to wrangle a top position and a higher salary anymore. But I’ll get there eventually. Until then I have time to spare. Italy seems like a good idea for a little while. It’s not as if I have much to lose anymore.

You buy an old car and we travel down to Mexico to fly to London from there. You have forged papers and don’t seem to worry much about getting caught. But you still insist that we pretend not to know each other on the flight. From London we travel to France and Italy.

Europe is amazing. I speak Spanish pretty well and a smattering of French and Italian, so I get by, enough not to starve or be without tricks for long. Naturally, you’re fluent in all three languages, and German, too. You tell me you have an eidetic memory. Well, that must come in handy when you spend your life spinning lies.

Within a week, we’re ensconced in a villa on the Adriatic coast. It sure is beautiful. The weather is great, the food is tasty and the beach is endless and very clean. I spend my days tanning myself by the sea and my evenings sampling the night life and the Italian men. This is more like it. Italy is full of beefy macho man, who are tall, dark and handsome. Soon I decide that coming here was one of my better, if somewhat peculiar, ideas.

The Italian men might be more my usual type but sex with you is always on the agenda. Not a day goes by where we don’t christen another surface in the villa or various places outdoors. I should be bored out of my skull by now, but somehow I’m not. You can make me hard just by looking at me in a certain way or running your fingers lightly along any part of my body as you walk past. To say that I’m surprised that my lust for you doesn’t seem to wane is an understatement.

On top of that, we spend most of our time together. After a while we’ve seen all the major cities in Italy but you have an affinity for San Marino, which is closest to where we live. It’s some kind of enclave in itself but it doesn’t seem that different from the rest of the country to me.

You’re most interested in the museums. Some I find interesting myself, like the Ferrari one or that place with the curious objects. I even go to the Modern Art museum with you, but when you spend days and days at the St Francesco, I give up. Religious art? Really? Not for me, thank you.

We always travel into town together, but I roam other places and find my own entertainment. When I look for you at the museum after a few days of spending my days alone, you’re just standing in front of this one painting, with your nose pressed to it as closely as you can without getting into trouble with the guards. There’s another guy there, middle-aged, paunchy, in a white suit and obviously native. You’re having a murmured conversation, which ceases abruptly when I approach. The other guy pretends not to know you and immediately wanders off.

“What’s going on?” I ask, watching him a little as he slowly makes his way towards the doors, looking at the odd painting on his way. With his mane of unkempt grey hair, speckled with white, he looks like the crazy artist type.

“Nothing.”

“Anything particularly interesting with this painting?” It looks like the ordinary, run-of-the-mill religious scene to me, but what do I know?

“Distinctive brush strokes,” you murmur, not taking your eyes off it at all. Any minute now, you’ll produce a magnifying glass to take an even closer look. “Little known artist but quite thought after in the right circles.”

“You planning on stealing it?”

That gets your attention. You turn to me with an undecipherable look. “Stealing art is a fool’s game. Unless you steal to order. The market’s very small.”

I was joking really but the way you say it I’m not so sure any longer. Trying to approach the matter from a different angle, I change the subject. “Who’s the guy? I didn’t know you were into bears.”

“What guy?” You look around and, fair enough, he just slipped out the door.

And now a cacophony of alarm bells is going off in my head. “Justin.”

You look chagrined. “He’s just a guy I met. We have the same interests.”

“What are those? Your ass?”

“Ewww. I hope not.”

So do I. I wouldn’t touch that guy with ten foot pole. But the fact remains that he scarpered when I turned up and you were pretending not to know him at first. Something doesn’t add up here.

“What are you up to?”

You take a deep breath and smile. “I want to paint something. In the old style.”

“I would feel better if that didn’t involve you coming here for days on end like you’re casing the joint.”

Your smile becomes wider. “I promise you I won’t steal anything. I’m done with that. But if it makes you feel better, I won’t come here again.”

On the way out, you buy one of the overpriced books in the little shop by the entrance and then you drag me through various bookstores and buy some more books about art. They all look the same to me. The stores don’t have any large English sections and my Italian isn’t good enough yet to read literature, so I get bored eventually and wait for you in a café, watching the world go by. Some guy in tight jeans gives me the eye and I follow him to his hotel room.

Two hours later we meet by the car. I’ve ignored two phone calls from you – I was kind of busy – and you just give me a long silent look. You’re laden with bags, some with books, some with other stuff and on the way home you read one of the books while I drive. I’ve never known anyone who can read a whole book in an hour. It’s a little disconcerting.

You keep your word about staying away from the museum. The next day, when I get home from my run on the beach, you’ve set up a canvas but you haven’t started painting yet. Instead you’re mixing paints with weird ingredients, like milk and vegetables and some powders I can’t indentify.

And that’s what happens for a few days. You mix paints. Then you prepare canvases. They all look the same to me, with only barely noticeable color changes, until you’re finally satisfied. After that, you start painting. At first, it looks to me like you’re copying the painting from the museum. Why you might want to do that is beyond me. It’s neither particularly striking nor beautiful. Or even interesting. And as you progress, I see subtle differences. I would call it variations on a theme, the same painting but different.

“If you’re trying to copy it, you’re making a hash of it.”

“I’m not trying to copy it. This guy’s known to have made different paintings of the same scene. There are seven known works, but most experts believe he made twice as many.”

“And?”

“I wanna paint one from his descriptions.”

Okay. I’m rapidly losing interest and leave you to it. Nothing will entice me to spend much time indoors when I’m in Italy during a glorious summer. If you prefer to do that, that’s your problem.

I’ve started Italian lessons. Not official ones, but I’ve been going places to start up conversations with local people. Italians are very friendly and talkative and seem to have all the time in the world. I’m picking up the language very quickly. And picking up guys while I’m at it. What better way to pass the time? By now I can make all sorts of lascivious suggestions with barely an accent.

I’m keeping in contact with my friends at home by email, mainly with Michael and Lindsay and, to a lesser degree, with Vic. I’ve also contacted some people I know in advertising to stretch out my feelers for a new job, but the ones who are interested still want to hire me at a cut-price salary. I’m not ready for that yet. I still have some money and we’re living mainly on yours, at least you’re paying for the villa and the car. Fair enough, I’ve maxed out one credit card already but I have others. In the long run, I’ll have to find a job, though.

So I’ve started looking into advertising over here. My Italian won’t be good enough to give me any real edge for a long time, but London looks promising. I already know the language and they have some agencies there I wouldn’t mind working for. The truth is, I’m getting bored. I’m not made for a life of leisure. It’s fun for a while, but I couldn’t do it forever. And I’m just about fucked out as well. So I’m doing research. London is definitely an option.

“I’m thinking about getting a job in London.” We’re sitting on the veranda after our evening meal. It’s still warm enough for just a t-shirt and shorts and I feel languid, if a little restless.

“Oh.”

I turn to look at you and you look upset. “What? I can’t do this forever. I need money. And something to do.”

“I have money. I’m happy to share. And it’s my fault you don’t have a job, so it’s only fair that I pay for you.”

“Quite.” In general, we get on astoundingly well. Apart from the copious amounts of sex we’re having, we also never seem to run out of conversation. And I like being with you, even after weeks of it. But every now and then I remember what you did and remind myself not to get too complacent.

“But you don’t want me to pay for you, do you?”

“No, I don’t.” Not in the long run anyway. I have no talent for being a kept boy.

“So we go to London if that’s what you want.”

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with anger. It usually comes without warning. We can be talking quietly and then something reminds me of what happened and that I somehow find myself here in Italy with you despite that. The anger is probably more directed at myself than you because nobody forced me to come, but I always end up being furious with you. This conversation’s just brought home to me how my life has changed and although sometimes it does, this extended vacation doesn’t seem like much of a consolation at the moment. “What makes you think I want to take you with me? If I get a job, I might not want to jeopardize it by hanging out with a wanted criminal. You’ve already cost me one job.”

“I know that, Brian. And I’m sorry. I wish I could change the past. I really do.”

“Well, you can’t.” I slip into my shoes. “I’m going out. Don’t wait up.” As I go inside to change and grab my money and my keys, I can hear you mutter, “Do I ever?”

My resentment is easily cured with a couple of fucks with a guy I pick up in a bar. When I get home, the villa is dark, so I take a long walk along the beach. I love this way of life. It beats Pittsburgh by miles, but there are things I miss, people mainly, Mikey, Lindsay, Debbie, Vic, even Emmett sometimes. For now, I’m staying in touch with them by email and the occasional phone call and they seem keen to keep things going. They definitely correspond more than I do. I suppose that if I’d gone to New York, it wouldn’t have been much different. Sometimes, I miss Gus rather unexpectedly. I can’t communicate with him, so I miss him more than the others. But again, New York would have been the same.

I think it’s the fact that my life is so transient that’s getting to me. I want something permanent. A place that doesn’t feel like holiday home. A job that challenges me and gives me a regular income. Friends, whom I can trust not to fuck me over or disappear from one moment to the next. And that’s the crux of the matter really, isn’t it? That I don’t trust you and never will. That I can’t shift the resentment I have or this underlying anger. If we were here for a vacation and I’d have to go back home for work soon, I’d love it here.

It’s not going to last. You will disappear one day and God only knows what kind of a mess you’ll leave me in this time. You’re still waiting for Daphne to turn up and what will happen then? You won’t need me anymore for company and the two of you will probably go off on your next crime spree. I don’t believe for one minute that you’re done with that. For starters, you’re too young to live off your ill-gotten gains for the rest of your life. At least not at the rate you’re going through it at the moment.

I should just go home, get a job, start over. It won’t take me long to work my way up again. Only, I’m getting older and there are all these young guys coming up all the time. I could maybe start my own agency. It would have to be small to begin with, but as long as it keeps me afloat until it makes an impact, that’s okay and I know that Cynthia will definitely get on board as soon as it becomes feasible.

But somehow I can’t go home. I can’t leave. Just like I couldn’t stop you from invading my life. Or couldn’t report you to the cops. Or couldn’t stop myself from coming to Italy with you. Some days, I feel like tearing into you and making you bleed – metaphorically speaking, of course, because I’ve seen quite enough of your actual blood to last me a lifetime – but mostly I just want to be here. To keep an eye on you. And fuck you as much as I can. What the fuck is wrong with me? I keep telling myself every day that just one more day won’t make a difference.

The next morning, I wake up late because I found a bottle of whisky after my walk and emptied it on my own. But even hangovers aren’t as bad in the sunshine. I get myself coffee from the state-of-the-art coffeemaker you bought and wander into your studio in just my cotton pants. I’m brought up short in the doorway when I see that you have a visitor. That in itself is unusual – in fact, we never have visitors – but I also recognize him straight away. The bear from the museum. He looks at me nonchalantly but you look as if I caught you with your hand in the cookie jar.

“Am I interrupting anything?” I’m not jealous. I don’t do jealousy and besides, I really can’t imagine that you would ever fuck him. You have better standards than that. But I don’t want him here. There’s something about him that makes me uneasy. And then there’s the fact that he’s here in the first place when he’s supposedly just a guy whom you just happened upon in a dusty old museum and who has ‘the same interests’ as you. I’m still trying to work out what those are.

He mutters something to you in Italian, too low for me to catch, and scurries off with a large parcel in his hands.

“Did he buy one of your paintings? I didn’t know you were selling.”

“Yeah.” You’re not very eloquent this morning, or loquacious, and that in itself is worrying.

I wander further into the room. I haven’t been in here for a few days. Sometimes I do like to watch you paint because I love the intensity you put into it. I always imagine that in a different life you might have been an artist. You certainly have the talent. But all these religious scenes make my skin itch, like my mother might pop up suddenly. Now I can see that you’re still on the same theme, five paintings, all a little different and in various stages of completion.

“Wanna tell me what’s going on?”

“I told you, I’m trying out the old techniques. That guy just bought one.”

“What’s his name?”

“Huh?”

“The guy. What’s his name?”

“Uhm… I don’t know.”

I snort a humorless laugh. “So you meet this guy in a museum. You get talking. You maybe tell him you wanna try painting something similar. And then what? You give him your address in case he wants to buy one of your paintings? That he hasn’t seen. Nor does he know if you can even paint more than stickmen. Then he turns up one day to buy one and you never ask his name?”

You’re biting your thumb nail now, so I know I’m onto something. And it’s really not that hard to work out. “You’re running another scam, aren’t you? Not stealing this time. Something else… Forgery. Am I right?”

“Well, technically it’s not forgery. These paintings don’t exist. There’s just rumors that they do. I’m creating them from descriptions the painter left behind and Antonio sells them to rich but very stupid art collectors as a recent discovery.”

I’m not sure what shocks me more, that you’re running a con right under my nose or that it took me so long to work out that you’re up to something when I thought I was so vigilant. God, I really am such a fucking idiot.

“You told me you were done.”

“I said I was done stealing.”

“Semantics, Justin, and you know it.”

“I’m not hurting anyone. And I can’t just stop. This is what I do. I need the rush or something. And you said it yourself, that you can’t just do nothing. Neither can I. Never mind that my money won’t last forever.”

I’m dumbfounded. You’re not even apologizing, not that it would make any difference. Well, what did I expect? That you would change? That’s never going to happen. In fact, I don’t even want you to. Who am I to tell you what to do? On the whole I’m all for letting people make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons. But with you, one little mistake can cost you your freedom and I’m having a hard time sitting on the sidelines waiting for that to happen.

I don’t even think it’s about the money for you, at least not just about the money. It’s not that I can’t relate. Being good at my job was what I loved about it, being the best at what I did, showing others how it’s done, the money was just a pleasant and very welcome and deserved byproduct. If I were a con artist, I would probably feel the same way. And let’s face it, advertising is basically just conning people into things, legally so but still.

You will never stop. I know this. I just didn’t want to see it. And what’s really making this so hard for me to accept is that you’re lying to me the whole time. Not in so many words, perhaps, but in the spirit of things. You can’t be honest about what you do and what you’re planning because it’s illegal. You know I don’t approve.

I kind of thought that my presence here would stop you. Isn’t that what you said? That if I’d given you the slightest hint that we could be together, you would have stopped and tried. How much more do you need than me running off to Europe with you? If I’m honest I have to admit that it’s part of the reason I’m here. You need to stop. How else are you going to be safe? I must have been delusional to think that me being here with you would be enough. That I would be enough.

I walk out of your studio, ignoring you calling my name a few times and go for a long walk on the beach. Then I go into town. And when I pick up a guy an hour later, I take him home with me. You’ve disappeared somewhere, but you come back while he’s still there. In fact, you walk in on us right in the middle of our fuck. The guy doesn’t seem to mind you watching us, but when he’s finished, he scrambles off the bed and leaves silently.

You never move from your spot just inside the doorway, where you watched us finish our fuck and didn’t move when he squeezed past you. “I haven’t said anything about all the guys you’ve fucked since we got here, Brian, but this I can’t tolerate. I hated Ethan for doing this to me just the once, I don’t want to end up hating you.”

I snort a little and lean back against the headrest to light a cigarette. “We’re guys, Justin. And we’re queer. There’s no locks on our doors and we fuck who we want when we want.”

You nod. “Well, you certainly do. I would appreciate it if you didn’t bring guys into our home, never mind our bed.”

“And I would appreciate if you didn’t run illegal scams from ‘our home’. Never mind bringing the police down on us, which will happen eventually. Oh wait, I should say ‘bringing the police down on me’, shouldn’t I? Because I’m sure you’ll be long gone by then.” I blow smoke in the air and watch you rub your forehead with the tips of your fingers.

“I won’t run away, Brian. I want to be with you. But I’m not sure how much more of this I can take. Are there even any guys left in this country that you haven’t fucked yet?”

“It’s a big country, sunshine.”

You pause for a while, staring at the floor, before you take a deep breath and look at me. “I can’t make you trust me. And I sure as hell don’t blame you after what I did to you. I promise you I won’t run out on you again. But if you can’t find it in you to believe me, then I can’t see this working out.”

“Trust you?” I snort. “Not in a million years. But, hey, anything’s possible after that. Trust works both ways, Justin. As long as you do what you do behind my back, I’ve no reason to ever change my mind.”

“I thought you’d rather not know.”

“Well, you thought wrong. I’d like to keep informed so that I’m forewarned before the cops arrest me as an accessory.”

“You won’t get arrested.”

“I did last time.” Not quite true but close enough. At least it shuts you up for a while.

“I didn’t know that.” You look crushed.

I just shrug. I don’t like to think about those hours I spent at the police station, wondering if I would ever be allowed to leave again, so I didn’t tell you. Despite having to be tough all my life, I don’t think I’m quite tough enough for prison. A lot of my behavior is just projection and sheer ballsiness. I can’t imagine that’s gonna get me far in a place like that. So I’ll admit it, prison scares the fuck out of me. As does the idea of you in there.

“I’m sorry, Brian. You’re the last person I wanted to hurt…”

“You didn’t.”

You don’t look convinced but you don’t argue either. “If I promise… not to do anything anymore, can we try again?”

“Try what again?”

“This… us… being together…”

“How much more together would you like to be? We’re practically fused at the hips. What are you hoping for? Beach walks at sunset? Romantic candlelit dinners? Get real. We’re together because we want to be right now. Because we like fucking each other. If you’re looking for more, then you’ll be sadly disappointed. I don’t do relationships. Or boyfriends.”

“I know. You’ve always made that abundantly clear.”

“Then I don’t see what the problem is.”

“You’re right. There is no problem.” You try for sarcasm but it comes out somewhat defeated.

We last less than two weeks after that. We pretend that nothing’s changed but it has. You remain staunchly cheerful on the surface. Only, sometimes I catch you when your mask is slipping. You’re not happy, I can see that, so it’s only a matter of time until you’ll take off. Every time I’m out, even if it’s only for a short while, I expect you to be gone when I get back. And that’s despite the fact that you hardly go anywhere. I do. I pick up guys in town and I always take them back to the villa now, because nobody tells me what to do or not to do. You just go to the beach while they’re here. And you don’t say a word about it.

We fuck a lot. We’ve always done that, but we’re taking it to new heights. It’s hard and desperate most of the time and doesn’t seem to fill the void anymore. Gone are the soft touches and mellow conversations afterwards. Well, it suits me. I don’t go in for that lesbian shit anyway.

You don’t give any indication that you think anything is amiss, nor that you might be moving on. And since you don’t go out much, I assume you’re not doing anything behind my back either. But that doesn’t stop me from watching you like a hawk for signs of dishonesty. I can’t spot any. You really are that good at deception.

In the end, I get tired of it. I spent my whole childhood watching people so that I don’t get any nasty surprises. I’m not doing it when I have other choices. One day, I make my decision, book a ticket and email Michael. It’s time to leave.




PART NINE HERE: http://kachelofen.livejournal.com/28094.html




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