PARTNERS IN CRIME
I’m mildly surprised to find Claudia Warner waiting for me the next morning. Cynthia’s rolling her eyes behind the woman’s back and the corner of my mouth comes up in an answering smirk, which I can’t quite suppress. I spent the rest of last night fucking a couple of guys I hooked up with over the internet and feel reasonably prepared for my day. I’m not even particularly perturbed by the new set of posters, which have appeared overnight. These ones are capitalizing on the incident at the GLC and focus on Jason Kemp.
Grabbing my coffee off Cynthia’s desk, I follow Ms Warner into my office. This will be interesting.
“Yesterday was a disaster,” she says accusingly, as if we haven’t already been through this. Her tone leaves me in no doubt that the blame for that is still squarely on me as far as she’s concerned.
“I’m aware of that. I noticed that the police haven’t caught the vandals yet.”
“They will. Jim’s decided to give you the benefit of the doubt and wants to know how you’re going to fix this.”
I hide my surprise at my continued participation in the campaign behind a chuckle. “You mean he realized that firing me at this juncture would pretty much give those people who’re calling him a homophobe all the ammunition they need. And he has no idea what to do now.”
“We always know what to do, Mr. Kinney. We’d just like your input. That is what we pay you for after all.”
“Well, you certainly know how to do terrible in the polls. You did it before I came along and without my help you will again.”
“Mr. Kinney, can we get to the point?”
I smile and hold out my hand. “Show me his schedule and the speeches and I’ll work something out.”
She passes me one of the folders from her bag. I tip my chair back, open the file, and say without looking up, “I’ll call you when I’m done.”
I don’t have to look at her to know that she’s fuming at my curt dismissal. Good. I can’t stand the bitch. When I hear her leave the office, I look up at the ceiling and slowly blow out a breath. I should have thought about it before. Stockwell couldn’t fire me now if he wanted to – which he surely would be more than happy to – not if he wants to retain his gay-friendly facade. The real problem for him is that a suggestion of institutionalized homophobia in his police force has been made. I’ll have to look into the concrete examples that were given and quickly. For that, I’ll have to find Hunter. But first things first.
If I was a little surprised by events at work, everything gets a bit crazy when I leave. First there’s my encounter with Hunter. The idea that a teenager has a crush on me may be amusing in theory but turns out to be tedious in the extreme in practice. Especially when the teenager in question is a hustler – or an ex-hustler as Michael insists – complete with the accompanying forwardness and cheesy lines.
Having to spend a couple of hours in a dingy pick-up bar with him, where all the other guests are middle-aged losers and the sheer age difference between me and Hunter makes me feel as ancient as they are, isn’t much fun either. Not to mention that the kid’s inane attempts at conversation drive me up the wall. Whenever I was out with you, I always felt that you somehow enhanced the impression I made by your looks and behavior, despite also looking like a teenager still. With Hunter it’s plain embarrassing.
But at least it yields the desired results. The john who was with Jason Kemp before he died, according to Hunter, turns up eventually. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t show much interest in me when I speak to him. Well, he wouldn’t if he likes them young. But I do get a good look at him and then all I have to do is stop Hunter from giving the game away.
Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure what the game is. I’m focusing on the Jason Kemp case because Hunter has always insisted that his last customer was a cop. If that’s true and the media get hold of that little tidbit, Stockwell will be sunk for sure. Hell, even if just you get hold of that information, Stockwell will be done for. It’s surprising that you haven’t yet because you must have been in contact with Debbie to organize the GLC event and Debbie knows everything Hunter knows.
When I drive Hunter home, we get a lecture from Ben, who’s unfortunately just coming home at the same time as we arrive. It’s not quite clear whether the issue is that Hunter was with me or what we’ve been doing. Luckily, I haven’t got out of the car yet and simply drive away with a cheery, “Say hello to Mikey from me.” I’m not surprised that Hunter keeps skipping out on Ben and Michael at every opportunity.
But my real surprise of the day comes when I get home and find you sitting on the cement floor outside the loft with your back leaning against the metal door. You must be freezing even bundled up in your pea coat and scarf.
“Hey,” you say a little sheepishly.
“Do I still have a job?”
“You do. And so have I, no thanks to you. Now fuck off. Any work we have to do will be done in the office.”
“But in your office, we only have the desk to fuck on and in your loft, there’s that nice big bed. Where you can spread me out and take your time until I beg you to let me come.”
Yeah, like I’m going to fall for the dirty talk tactic twice. That’s how all this mess started, when you got me all horny at Babylon so I’d fuck you again. Why didn’t I just stick to my rules? They’ve worked perfectly for years. I glare down at you. You have a mischievous grin on your face and I can’t open the loft door while you’re leaning against it, so I wait. As the seconds go by, it’s you who gives in first. Your grin disappears, to be replaced by a soft look, which is becoming familiar to me by now.
“I’m so sorry, Brian. I didn’t realize how this would backfire at you. I just wanted to do something and I thought we had this little competition between us. And… I should have realized that this could screw up your life. I’m usually so good at predicting outcomes.”
“And what outcome did you predict for coming here tonight?”
You produce a smile as soft as your look. “That you’d shout at me for a while. And then you’d realize that you still have to work with me and calm down. And then you’d remember how much you like me and be glad that I came. And then you’d think that I’m really hot and you’d much rather fuck me than sulk.”
“Is that so? And nowhere in that little fantasy of yours did you foresee the possibility of me kicking your ass down the stairs?”
“Well, there was that. But it only carried a probability of eleven point seven three percent.”
I’m trying not to laugh by this point and your smile widens a little. Then I yank the door open, despite you leaning against it still, and you fall backwards onto the hardwood floor, where you stay for a moment, spread-eagle, still smiling up at me. I place my feet on either side of your hips and look down on you menacingly. “I don’t care what you do to the campaign, but if you lose me my job with Stockwell, I will hunt you down.”
“Promise?” You give me that slow blink that never fails to make me hard somehow.
“I swear on my mother’s grave.”
You nod, then frown. “You said your mother’s still alive.”
“Yeah, that she is.” I step away from you and walk to the bathroom, shedding my clothes on the way. Behind me I hear you get up, close and lock the door and then hurry to follow me. I suppress a smile.
“So that girl’s a friend of yours? Does she help you put up the posters as well?”
It’s after our shower. We’ve ordered some take-out and are just lounging at either end of the couch, waiting for it. I’m imagining ways to punish you for endangering my job so recklessly but that can wait until after the meal. I’m planning to spend a considerable amount of time on it.
“Daphne? Yeah, she’s been my best friend since kindergarten. We’ve been sharing an apartment forever.”
“Since kindergarten?” I chuckle.
“No, not quite that long. But about five years now.”
“She was at Dartmouth with you?”
“Huh? No. Yes, I mean, she was working while I was at college.”
I frown because it sounds a little off, but you don’t elaborate. “So she helped you at the GLC?”
“Kind of. I went to Debbie and told her what I had planned. But of course, I couldn’t go there myself, so Daph took all the stuff there and prepped everyone. She’s good at organizing things. By the way, I may have given Debbie the impression that it was your idea. Just… uhm… simply because I didn’t want to take credit for something that wasn’t my idea. But I never said it outright, you know, plausible deniability and all that.”
“Well, that explains why she didn’t have her claws out when I saw her yesterday.” I kick your foot a little, purely because it’s there, not because I’m grateful or anything like that. After all, I’m Brian Kinney and can take a little animosity without needing someone else to fix it for me. It would have blown over eventually anyway.
You shrug, but seem pleased nonetheless. “I didn’t tell her anything that wasn’t true.”
There’s a small pause. I lean my head back, blow smoke rings into the air and allow you to keep your feet against the soles of mine. My feet are cold, so a little warmth is welcome.
“How would you go about making an anti-Stockwell TV spot?”
For a moment, I can’t believe my ears. The sheer audacity of even asking the question after what happened renders me momentarily speechless. Then I snort a laugh which is genuine amusement at anything to do with Stockwell for the first time since I started working for him. I think about padlocked backrooms, cops in the diner and hustlers dumped in dumpsters. And I don’t forget how much I hate Stockwell and his team with their ideas of a city cleared of anyone who doesn’t fit into their narrow worldview. And, of course, I still have my job so I’ve kind of forgiven you. It has nothing to do with feeling comfortable right now, more comfortable than I have in a long time.
I lift my head a little to peer at you with one eye. If you can work for Stockwell and against him at the same time, then so can I. It’s all a matter of timing. Who says you can’t have it all?
“Actually, I had an idea about that today…”
What started as a means to ward off possible harm from Stockwell’s campaign before it arises, has turned into the complete opposite. At first, I primarily wanted to be prepared for any negative publicity surrounding the Jason Kemp murder, so I could have a ready-made solution at hand. But now I find that the same information would be uniquely suited to derail Stockwell’s triumph at the eleventh hour.
I’m still fuming about Stockwell’s accusations against me after the GLC fiasco. Never mind that the man was partially right – I did give the pointers for the protest to you to begin with – I haven’t forgotten his implication that I can’t be trusted because I’m a fag and ‘these people’ all stick together. Coupled with my long-running dislike of anyone in the Stockwell camp, not to mention the fact that they closed the backroom, I’m highly amused by the idea of making him lose the election and still look good for making him almost win. After all, even I can’t do anything about a set of TV spots which turn up in the last few days of the campaign when it’s too late to refute them, can I now?
I spend an evening with you at the dive Hunter took me to, only this time I feel a lot better about it. Witty banter and your outfit, which disguises you as a hustler, make up for the seedy atmosphere and the other customers. But ultimately it doesn’t help, because the man we’re waiting for never turns up. I don’t know why I feel slightly relieved by that until Hunter turns up at the loft, brandishing a used condom like a courtship present.
Hunter eyes you suspiciously. “Do I know you?”
You frown, then huff out a dismissive, “Hardly,” before you make your way to the fridge to get some water.
Maybe you really do have one of those faces that everybody thinks they recognize from somewhere. With your boy-next-door looks I wouldn’t be surprised if you resemble some teen idol or other. Hunter instantly ignores you and focuses on me.
I take it upon myself to drive Hunter home, trying to tune out his diatribe about how he would be so much better for me than you. His sexual experience may be more extensive than yours, but I can guarantee that he doesn’t surpass you in any area, even if that were all that matters. And then I try to tune out Michael and Ben’s lecture to Hunter for his reckless behavior. While I agree in principle and belatedly realize how much you would have been at risk if the guy had turned up, I think they could handle it better. I don’t know much about parenting but I know how not to do it.
“You were trying to impress Brian,” Michael shouts accusingly and the words kettle and black spring to mind.
“Well, he wouldn’t be the first one,” I smirk.
“He’d do a lot better with me than he would with blondie,” Hunter retorts.
That stops Michael in his tracks. “What blondie?”
“The blond hustler he’s hanging out with – Justin.”
I already regret ever mentioning your name in front of him. “He’s not a hustler. Just a guy I work with.”
“Half-naked in your loft? Oh, pleeease.”
“Brian?” Michael asks uncertainly. “I thought we talked about this?”
I chuckle at the idea that Michael telling me not to do something would actually stop me. “I needed someone young-looking to lure the guy. I would have thought you’d appreciate it if I didn’t use your foundling for that.” And then I decide to make a quick exit, hoping that Hunter’s behavior will prove more important than what I’m doing and whom I’m doing it with. But with Michael's track record on that, it’s probably wishful thinking.
The next day I go to see Carl Horvath at the precinct to give him the condom and supply the name Hunter discovered – Kenneth Reichert. Horvath takes some persuading but ultimately he’s first and foremost a homicide detective, who wants to solve cases, so he promises to look into it. He also tells me that Reichert and Stockwell were partners on the force for years. I nearly laugh out loud at that bit of useful information.
I’m already at the office door when Carl calls me back, so I turn and look at him.
“That guy you were with the other day at the diner, his name’s Justin, isn’t it?”
“Tramayne. His name’s Justin Tramayne. And I wasn’t with him.”
Carl blinks. “Tramayne? Hhm. Well, at least I got the first name right. Must be getting old. It’s good to see he‘s made something of himself.”
I just want to get out of the precinct, which is making my skin crawl, and you’re the very last person I want to discuss with anyone. There are already altogether too many people who make assumptions about you and me. “Yeah, he’s a peach,” I say sarcastically and walk out. Later, I will think that this was one of the few occasions I made a mistake which could have easily been avoided and might have changed everything. And all I had to do was ask a question.
I really don’t expect anything to come of the evidence I supplied Carl with, especially after he tells me it won’t be enough to prove that Reichert actually killed Jason Kemp, only that he had sex with him before his death. But a couple of days later he calls me to say that he confronted Reichert nonetheless. I barely have time to be surprised about that when he tells me that Reichert took his own life the very same night.
The man’s death doesn’t faze me beyond the immediate consequences. It’s such an admission of guilt that I don’t think much about it. How much sympathy am I supposed to feel with a murderer? You and I tweak the anti-Stockwell ad to include Reichert’s death, which only makes it more powerful. Simultaneously, I encourage Stockwell to attend his former partner’s funeral, but I have a feeling that Stockwell would have done that anyway. I just mention that not attending his friend’s funeral would make Stockwell look callous in the eyes of the voters. If it ever comes out that Reichert killed Kemp, Stockwell’s allegiance to the very end will weigh heavily against him.
For a while you and I speculate whether Stockwell knew about the murder. You’re spinning theories about Reichert being in love with Stockwell and killing himself to spare him the scandal. You never fail to amuse me. I just think that Reichert was a coward. And I know now that there must have been a cover-up after the fact. But Stockwell would probably have done that even if all he knew was that Reichert had sex with Kemp before he was murdered. I wonder how Stockwell felt about that, given his strong homophobia. There’s no way Stockwell is a closeted queer, like you jokingly suggest. I would have seen the signs by now.
The closer the election draws, the more I appreciate that you’re around and working against Stockwell. I simply don’t want the guy to win. Stockwell is everything my friends complained about from the beginning. It isn’t that I didn’t know that, it’s just that I’m no longer convinced that it’ll all blow over after the election. In fact, it might even get worse. I was blinded by my own dreams and wonder what I would do if I had to make a choice between helping Stockwell win and going to New York or making him lose and staying in Pittsburgh. At the moment I’m still hoping to be able to combine a narrow defeat with New York.
“We need a catchy acronym for the anti-Stockwell ad so that we don’t confuse it with the proper one,” you say one night. Having partaken in a couple of joints, you’re upside down on the couch with your legs over the back and your head hanging over the seat cushion.
It’s true that it’s tedious having to clarify every time whether we’re talking about the TV spots we produced for Stockwell or the ones we produced against him. I pass you the toke from my supine position on the rug. “ASS? As in anti-Stockwell spot?”
You giggle so hard you have trouble staying on the couch. I rescue the toke before it drops onto the hardwood floor and leaves a mark or sets the rug on fire.
“I got it,” you say, a little breathless from your happy fit. “S… T… D.” You pause dramatically between each of the letters.
“Huh?” Yeah, weed doesn’t exactly make me eloquent.
I have to wait for another fit of the giggles to pass before you can clarify. “Stockwell’s terrible downfall.”
“That’s indeed terrible.”
“I think the word you’re looking for is awesome.” You try to slap me with the back of your hand but only succeed in falling on top of me, all warm and soft and pliant. Then you kiss me and STD suddenly seems like a great idea, as does fucking on the floor.
The biggest problem we have with the STD – Christ, what a name – is money. We need about a hundred thousand dollars to place the ad we’ve created. The airtime’s been reserved but hasn’t been paid for yet. It’s obvious to me that you won’t be able to contribute any money to it. I only have to think about the way you live to know that. The shabby furniture and the TV from the last century in your apartment say it all.
“How come you guys don’t have any money?”
“Uhm… What do you mean?”
“Well, Ethan’s father’s one of the wealthiest men in the city, if not the state, and you guys live as if you’re just one step removed from trailer trash.”
“Gee, thanks for that.” You look a little indignant.
“You know what I mean. How come you’re not rolling in it?”
“Mr. Goldstein believes that money should be earned, not given away. So he doesn’t give Ethan any more than he would get in state assistance.”
You shrug unconcernedly and concentrate on your laptop.
“But he lets Ethan, or rather you, handle his money? Isn’t he worried that Ethan might go on the run with it?”
Your head comes up sharply and you stare at me with wide eyes. “He doesn’t know about me,” you say finally, your voice even. “Ethan’s really useless with this stuff, so he lets me act as his agent.”
I bite down the remark that Ethan seems to be useless at just about everything. “So Goldstein doesn’t know about you? How come he supports Stockwell when his own son’s gay?”
“Like I said, he doesn’t know about me.”
I wonder why Ethan doesn’t tell his father he’s gay if he’s not financially dependent on him anyway. It might stop his old man from supporting a homophobic prick. But then again, I didn’t tell my own father until shortly before his death and I’ve yet to tell my mother. So, who am I to judge other people?
“I’m thinking about siphoning some of the money Goldstein’s giving Stockwell to pay for the STDs.”
I stare at you. “Are you crazy? You can go to prison for that.”
“Not if nobody ever finds out.”
“Jesus, Justin, that’s totally fucked.”
You look upset at my vehemence. “Sometimes you have to risk everything for what you believe in.”
“Don’t be stupid. That refers to money, or your job, not your freedom or your life. Stopping Stockwell isn’t worth all that.” I’ve already been calculating how far maxing out my credit cards would get us. “Just let me handle it. I might have a way.”
“No.” You sound decisive. “I won’t let you pay for the ads. It would bankrupt you. And if it ever gets traced back to you, you would lose everything.”
“Except my freedom and my life. Let’s keep this in perspective, shall we? You’re not committing a felony for this.”
You smile softly. “I love that you’re worried about me. But contrary to what you might think, you don’t actually get to tell me what to do.”
I’m well aware that the only way I can stop you is informing Goldstein or the authorities and that would lead to the exact same outcome I’m trying to prevent. I get up from behind my desk and move over to sit next to you on the couch. You’re watching me with solemn eyes. There isn’t much of the usual cheeky and confident young man in you. You look more like a stubborn child.
“You’re good at your job,” I say, pulling you close. “You have a brilliant career ahead of you. Let’s face it, in the long run, Deekins and all the others are only marginally better. They’re just not so obvious about how much they despise us. Don’t fuck up your life over politics.”
“You have no idea how fucked up my life already is,” you mutter, clutching at my shirt as if you’re trying to get closer, when you’re practically sitting in my lap already.
“But you can sort it out. You can’t do that if you’re in prison.” I’m surprised how much that thought bothers me. You’re just the type of person who would do something incredibly stupid for your ideals. Over time I’ve become a little protective of you. It must be because you look so damned young, or maybe the fact that we’ve been fucking for so long has eroded my usual don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. I wonder what it’ll be like when this is all over and you won’t be working with me any longer. There are only two weeks to go. It’s an unsettling thought.
You seem to pick up on my strange mood, because you start kissing me languidly. Even the way you take off my clothes is slow and deliberate and interspersed with kissing the skin underneath before carrying on with the next piece. I just hold still and watch you with half-closed eyes. You know my body better than anybody ever had a chance to and it makes our fucking different somehow, more intense maybe. Although I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t spectacular, even in the beginning. Eventually, I stand abruptly, making you yelp slightly when I pick you up with me and take you over to the bed.
Daphne’s footfalls sound slow and laborious, like she has to drag herself up the stairs with her last willpower. I feel guilty that she has to work so hard. No matter how temporary it is, there’s no denying that she’s the only one bringing in money at the moment, working herself to the bone in the process by taking every available shift at the hospital. She may enjoy nursing but nobody enjoys being this exhausted.
She doesn’t see me for a moment as she rounds the corner and takes the last flight up to our apartment, then she looks up at me and her face lights up. I hope that this will never change, this pleasure we feel when we’re together. It’s warm and comfortable and makes me happy every single time. Of course, it’s nothing compared to that burning need I feel when I’m with you. Or even when I’m away from you.
“What are you doing out here? Why aren’t you inside?” She’s reached me now and sits next to me on the top step.
I hold up my pack of cigarettes in explanation and take another drag.
“And you can’t smoke inside the apartment because….?”
“Don’t wanna disturb Ethan.”
“Like he cares about anything anymore. Or did he say something? He’d better not have.”
“Don’t know. I haven’t been in yet.”
We’re sitting in silence for a minute or two. Daphne is one of the few people I can be silent with and still be comfortable. It’s only recently that I noticed that I can do that with you as well. You have this brooding thing going on that makes you seem deep when you’re silent. I have no idea if you really are. For all I know you could be thinking about your shopping list or sex or something equally mundane when you’re quiet but somehow I don’t believe that. It just adds to how I feel about you.
“Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, everything’s on schedule.”
“But nothing. Everything’s on schedule.”
“Justin.” Daphne takes my cigarette for a puff and hands it back to me. “If everything’s alright, why are you out here smoking?”
I shrug and let some more time pass. Sometimes I feel the weight of what I’ve taken on crushing me. This whole campaign and the counter-campaign is more work than I ever imagined. Plus, all the wheeling and dealing is getting to me. And then there’s you…
“I don’t know what to do, Daph.” I stub out the cigarette end on the stone step. “I’m not sure if I can do this.”
“You’ve done this dozens of times. Maybe never on such a large scale, but you’re good at it. That’s the reason you’re doing that and I’m keeping the home fires burning.” She leans her head tiredly against my shoulder. “I handed in my notice today.”
“Did you? That’s good.”
Daphne closes her eyes for a moment, then opens them again before she can doze off. She'll have to go to bed soon, so that she’ll be ready when the time comes, but I know she can’t help worrying about me. “Is it Brian?” she asks quietly.
I take a deep breath, almost a sigh. “Yeah. Yeah, it is. I really like him. Actually, I think I love him.”
“I know. We don’t have to do this, you know. It’s not too late. Just stop.”
“What good would that do at this point? Stockwell would win the election. Brian would go to New York and I'd never see him again. If I pull out now, it wouldn’t change the outcome. And didn’t I promise you I'd earn more money? You're working way too hard. And I’m tired of doing small jobs. This should set us up nicely. Once Stockwell pays, we can get out of here. And Ethan can get some decent physiotherapy.”
“Ethan doesn’t want physiotherapy, decent or otherwise. He wants to wallow in his misery, so he can make you feel guilty enough so you won’t leave him. Christ, Justin, you were gonna leave him before the accident. Don’t you think he remembers that?”
“But if I can pay for his therapy, I won’t have to feel guilty any longer.”
Daphne’s head comes up sharply. “You’re gonna dump him? Oh my God, you just made my day. I should write Brian a thank you note.”
“I don’t think he’d appreciate that.” I smile at her ruefully. I can’t deny that no matter how guilty it makes me feel, my relationship with Ethan has run its course. I’ll help him get better and if Ethan refuses, then I’ll tell him that I’ll leave him regardless. It’s not so much your influence – you’ve never interfered in my relationship – it’s the simple fact that I met you, and that my feelings for you are so much stronger than anything I’ve ever felt before. They’re what my feelings for the guy I’m with should be like.
But for all my planning and the hard work I’ve put in, for all the time I’ve spent with you and all the sex we have, in none of my visions for the future do I see us together. Maybe if you felt the way I do, we could find a way, but even though I think – no, I know – that you have feelings for me, you’re a long way from admitting that even to yourself. And an even longer way from acting on them. So I’m determined to spend as much time as possible with you for as long as I can. We’ll have to go our separate ways soon enough. But it hurts like fuck just thinking about it. It’s been a long time since I had to let something go that meant anything to me.
I’m surprised when you say you need to go after our fuck. It’s the weekend and you’ve been spending those with me for a while now. Naturally, I don’t say anything other than offering to drive you, but you insist on taking the bus. You say you have to see your mother. I’m never sure if that’s actually true, because it seems to be the standard reason you give whenever you leave. And it was also the reason you gave for spending those nights away from the loft when the posters went up. I doubt that your invalid mother helped you do that.
But I try not to think about it, not to think about what you do when you’re not here or whom you’re with. Or how it makes me feel. It’s just habit, like I used to feel a little off when I started college and didn’t spend every free moment of the day with Mikey any longer. At the moment, you’re around more than Michael ever was. And if you choose not to be around, that’s perfectly fine, too. We’re both free to do whatever we want.
So I’m even more surprised when you come back four hours later to spend the night. I just got ready to go to Babylon and don’t see any reason to change my plans. If anything, it’s more important now to stick to them. I don’t want to give you the impression that all you have to do is turn up and I’ll drop everything for you.
Of course, going to Babylon no longer holds the same appeal. The backroom’s still padlocked and fucking in the alleyway is no longer a real option, not if I don’t want to get arrested with all the cops crawling around. So we dance for a while and then go back to the loft. I don’t feel too badly about not being able to fuck away from home, after all, I’ve brought the best fuck I’m likely to get with me.
We have a long lie on Sunday morning and go to breakfast at the diner, which is blessedly free of law enforcement. Debbie serves us with a smirk. I’m not quite sure if that’s due to the clandestine nature of the GLC protest or because she’s imbibing our breakfast together with more meaning than it has. She certainly seems to be very fond of you.
In the afternoon, you do some stuff on your laptop. I’m idly and rather disinterestedly flicking through some magazines when I become aware that you’re getting agitated. Telling myself that it’s none of my business, I keep watching you covertly and try to decide at what point a distracting fuck is in order.
Finally, you go over to the window and pull out your cellphone.
“Hi, Ethan. It’s me. You need to call your dad’s accountant and ask him why the money hasn’t come in yet.”
There’s a longish pause, then you take a deep breath.
“I need it to pay for the ads we’re placing. And to send the rest to Stockwell. He’s expecting it to be there tomorrow morning.”
“No, I’m not coming home to talk you through it. Just get it done. At least call him to ask what’s going on.”
I’m no longer pretending not to eavesdrop. If it concerns Stockwell and the ads, it’s definitely my business, too. I watch you flip your phone shut and turn around to look at me. All I do is raise my eyebrows questioningly.
“The money Ethan’s dad’s giving Stockwell hasn’t come through yet. It’s tied up in trusts but it was supposed to come in this weekend. It’s supposed to get transferred to Stockwell tomorrow morning.”
I can feel my adrenaline levels starting to rise. “And this would be the money that’s supposed to pay for Stockwell’s TV campaign for the next two weeks?” I ask even though I know the answer very well.
You nod unhappily.
“The same TV campaign that will go down the river if it doesn’t get paid before midnight tonight?”
You nod again. “I’m sure it’ll be alright. Ethan’s calling his father’s accountants to find out what’s going on.”
“Do you have any idea how unprofessional that’s going to make you look?” I ask icily. “And by extension, Vangard and me?”
“You really don’t have to tell me,” you assure me. “I’m sure it will be just fine. We never had a problem before.”
“Were you ever on such a tight deadline before?”
“Well… no… but…” But nothing apparently because you seem lost for words. You look even younger when you’re flustered and biting your bottom lip.
Over time my initial misgivings over working with someone as inexperienced as you have abated in view of your obvious talent. What you lack in practical knowledge I’ve easily made up with my experience and at no point have you questioned my judgment. But now my doubts about trusting a job as big and important as this to a guy who’s basically a one man show, working from his rather ramshackle apartment, returns with a vengeance.
I curse myself for not keeping a closer eye on proceedings. I booked the times and placements for the ads myself and then left it up to you to procure payment for them. Regardless that I did this under instruction from Claudia Warner herself, if the payment falls through and there are no campaign ads, it will reflect badly on Vangard. The whole campaign will look unprofessional and I can kiss my New York dream goodbye. Nobody will care whose fault it was.
I try to remain calm while we wait. You’re pacing the loft nervously until your cellphone goes off and you nearly drop it in your eagerness to answer.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. When?”
You let out a long string of choice expletives that rivals Debbie’s talent for them and I don’t need to wait for the end of the conversation to know that there’ll be no money. It’s pretty obvious from your reaction. Eventually you just stand there and stare at your phone as if you’re willing it to ring again and change the facts you’ve just been given. When you finally look at me, you’re close to tears.
“The money will come in tomorrow morning.”
“Fat lot of good that’s going to do,” I say, my mind already racing to find a solution.
“I know. I’ll have to call Stockwell and ask him to pay for the first lot. It’s only 20’000 and he’ll get it back tomorrow morning. And then we can pay for the rest of the ads.”
“You’ll do no such thing. It’ll make all of us look like idiots.”
“I’ll make sure he knows it was my fault. Or rather Goldstein’s faults. I’m sure Stockwell would prefer that to the ads not going out at all.”
“I’m sure he would. Now shut the fuck up, I’m thinking.”
There’s a part of me that wants to leave things as they stand. Without the ads it‘s uncertain that Stockwell will win the election. I know how brilliant they are and how they’ll sway many voters. If they don’t go out, I won’t need to find the money for the STDs we created. But that part of me, the part that balks at what’s being done to the queers, is small, like Jiminy Cricket small. A much larger part of me needs him to at least almost win. People need to see how brilliant my campaign really is, so that his sponsors will want to sign with Vangard regardless of his success or defeat. Only that way will Vangard be able to open a New York office. It’s a gamble but I rely on my own genius to pull it off.
“Give me the particulars,” I say and go over to my laptop on my desk.
You don’t move. “What are you going to do? You’re not gonna use your own money, are you?”
“Of course not. I’ll get Vangard to pay for it.”
There’s a sigh of relief, before you ask in a small voice, “Don’t you need the accountant for that?”
“I’m a partner, Justin. I can authorize payments. Now send me an email with the particulars.” I wait but you’re just looking at me unhappily, not moving. I can’t work out what’s bothering you. I’m offering to fix this for you and it’s not as if I’m going to broadcast what happened. Although Vance is definitely going to find out. That can’t be helped and you did fuck up, so you’ll have to suffer some consequences. Hopefully, this way they’ll be minimal. “Now, Justin!”
With your shoulders slumped, you walk back to the couch and busy yourself with your laptop. Shortly afterwards I receive an email from you with the relevant information. I can feel you watching me as I authorize the payment from Vangard’s accounts. It’s only for the first day of the ads, the remainder will be paid over the rest of the week. I also send an email to Charles Brookes, the senior accountant, explaining the situation in general terms. As tomorrow is the last day of the month anyway, I’ve no doubt that the account will be covered for salary payments, not to mention that Vangard will get paid by all its clients as well.
When I sit back, you’re busy on your computer. There’s a strange vibe emanating from you and I decide that it’s most likely embarrassment. Eventually, I make my way over there and sit down next to you. You close your laptop but don’t look at me.
“I’m so, so sorry,” you say finally in a thick voice.
“It’s alright,” I smirk. “No harm done. You’ll learn. And in the meantime you can make it up to me.”
“I will never be able to make this up to you,” you say as you climb into my lap, straddling me. Your arms squeeze around my neck a little too tightly and your head is buried in my shoulder.
I think I can hear a shaky sob and begin to feel very uncomfortable. I don’t like drama and I’m at a loss what to do. I can’t remember the last time someone cried on my shoulder. My friends know better. My hands stroke your back and I’m just about to mock you gently for taking this so seriously when you speak again.
“Will you miss me? I mean, when you’re in New York?”
It’s so unexpected that I have to chuckle. “I intend to never think about Pittsburgh again as soon as it disappears from my rearview mirror.” And how I wish I was still as convinced of being able to pull that off as I was not so long ago.
You nod and sniffle quietly. Then you sit up and your slightly red-rimmed eyes and desolate expression make me want to do or say something uncharacteristically tender. I settle for pulling you down slowly by the nape of your neck until our foreheads are touching. You attempt a smile with limited success. “I’m behaving like a silly faggot, aren’t I?”
I hide my relief behind a smirk. “Yeah, you do. Wanna behave like a hot fag instead?”
You laugh a little and kiss me.
PART SIX HERE:http://kachelofen.livejournal.com/27131.