(Previously published in "Sanctuary #1" available from In Person Press.)
LIGHT-TRAP Series # II (Which was planned to be a six-part series, only three of which are presently in existence. They can be read individually.)
All That Lights
When did I ever deny, though this was fleeting,
That this was love? When did I ever, I say,
With iron thumb put out the eyes of day
In this cold world where charity lies bleeding
Under a thorn, and none to give him greeting,
And all that lights endeavor on its way
Is the teased lamp of loving, the torn ray
Of the least kind, the most clandestine meeting?
Edna St.Vincent Millay
Vinnie wanted to kick and scream. But the job had taught him well: never let 'em see you sweat or you're prey. They'll tear you to pieces.
He wanted to run. Except he had nowhere to run to.
If Sonny were alive...
Yeah, he'd run to Sonny, he'd gladly run to Sonny. If for nothing but to tell him: You were right, I am the mob, damn your eyes, but you were right. Guess whose blood my mob's howlin' for now?
They've got me cornered, Sonny.
As soon as he'd found out the plane carrying the counterfeit yen had belonged to Proffitt Enterprises, he'd realized the snowball in hell had a better chance than one minor government agent in the hallowed halls of Washington. Jeezus, he couldn't even pass a polygraph. Did you keep anything belonging to Mel Proffitt for your own use? No, well, not if you'll overlook more money than the gross national product of a third world country. I never used any of it for myself, though. Sure, let's mention that and land Frank and Paul in it, too.
Who do you turn to when your own turns on you?
You should've stayed alive, Sonny. You wouldn't've wanted to miss this.
Around the marble blocks of the Jefferson Memorial line after precise line of script chased themselves, words to live by, words to die for, words that now added up to a parody. Just squandered legacy.
On a nearby plaque: 'I know but one code of morality for men, whether acting singly or collectively' lovely words, Tom, but you see, you've been takin' too much for granted. First, morality has to exist.
"That's a dusty notion in this town of yours," he said to the straight-backed statue with the proud, blank eyes, and proceeded to explain to him why. So he was reduced to talking to dead men, so maybe only dead men honored truth.
No, honorable men honored truth. One was right behind him. As always. But it wasn't going to be enough. Not this time. He turned around.
"I've just come from the Attorney General's office," McPike said, looking up at him somberly from the lower steps. "I'm supposed to detain you."
Frank must've loved that. He must've doubly loved the thought of someone else doing it. So there he stood in his dogged loyalty, holding out the coat Vinnie had left behind. My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, a powerful minority in it wanted to crucify Vincent Michael Terranova and the jaded majority didn't give a damn. And in between, like a lone sentinel, this one man who even gave a damn he'd walked out into the cold night without his overcoat.
Any wonder Francis McPike owned a piece of his soul?
He took the coat, put it on. His chill was marrow-deep, beyond the coat's reach, but his friend had cared enough to bring it, so he put it on. "Yeah, I was a patsy all along, Frank. I should be detained for stupidity."
Stupid, stupid idiot. Okay, he'd thought good thoughts when he'd been summoned to the Capitol with fool's gold of promises, who wouldn't? He'd caught on as soon as he felt himself, as Sonny would've put it, fondled by the invisible man. Dammit, he'd pieced it all together, while the OCB's Ivy Leaguer, Mark-his-Econ-professor's-joy-Cermak, had watched with his thumb up his nose. He'd even brought the whole scheme crashing, not once suspecting it would crash down on himself. He'd thought they'd chosen him because he was an unimpeachable source, he'd give them legitimacy think again, sucker; they had you pinned to the bull's eye all along.
Stop sniffling and come in now, Vincenzo, I told you and told you not to play with the big boys.
Yes, Mom, I know, the littlest kid's always the Indian left tied to the tree, that's how big boys get rid o' pesky little boys. Life hasn't changed all that much, and Pete's no longer here to sneak back and untie me.
"Well, it's a big world, Vince," McPike told him rnatter-of-factly. "I didn't have to catch up with you."
Obviously, though, Frank is.
No guarantees for tomorrow, but I'm not runnin' today. "I don't wanna run. I'm exactly where I wanna be." If he said it three times and clapped his hands maybe? "My conscience is clear."
"I don't know if that's going to help you." In that incredibly gentle voice Frank rarely used, when he felt duty-bound to break the illusion but hated to bruise the underlying belief. The voice fathers use to tell their kids the truth about Santa Claus.
"I think it will." Maybe if he also clicked his heels three times? "What're they doin' with Kay Gallagher?"
"She's being detained in her apartment." They started down the steps. Down seemed to be the usual direction lately. "They want to contain the scandal, Vince. If it's never made public, it never happened. You're in a position to make a deal with them. You can accept an early retirement."
Mother of God, he was barely thirty-three years old. What was he supposed to do with the rest of his life, play bacci ball with the other has-beens of the neighborhood? How could he even look for a job? As what? A retired FBI agent? There'd be too many bullets carrying his name, and the Bureau wouldn't protect him. As an out-of-work mobster? There'd be offers all right. The worst part, he just might take one of them. Wouldn't McPike be surprised, if he glued his ear to a wiretap one day and heard too-familiar a voice?
No, McPike wouldn't be surprised, not really. May not even blame him all that much. But he'd die a little.
'That's what's wrong with this place, Frank. Instead of makin' laws, they make deals."
"Gallagher will never be able to stand up to them. That'll leave only you," a half-breath, "and me."
Life holds one guarantee, that you'll always have me. Well, it had made Motown's lop Ten once. Still claimed airtime, amidst the nasty cynicism of the Limbaughs, the Sterns and the Gangstaraps. 'Then that's the way it'll be."
They stopped at the edge of the Tidal Basin. McPike was again trying to introduce him to reality, going on about some aspect of the truth, but he wasn't really listening. The only person who knew the truth and had enough clout to get it heard wasn't about to come down from his mountaintop. I can also get me one of those, it suddenly dawned on Vinnie, I can build myself a fancy hidey-hole, too, I have more than enough money.
Sure. And in a month or two they'd find him hanging from the highest rafter. No, he wasn't about to build his own prison and tomb in one. Let somebody else do it.
They'd already done that, hadn't they? What was it Sonny had said about isolation? Merciful Mary, he couldn't breathe.
A concerned touch on his arm. "Vince?"
He gasped in air, God, how he wished he could let it out in a yell, exhaled slowly. "I'm okay, Frank. I can do this. I gotta get my head together, that's all." Easier said. His insides were knotting up tighter and tighter while his thoughts kept flying off in all the wrong directions. He had to stop staring at Wrongness and Injustice like a deer paralyzed by twin headlights. The danger was barreling in behind them.
Too bad, really, that it was McPike bringing him in. He couldn't vent the raging and the screaming in his system against McPike.
Actually, yes, he could.
Not at the entrance of a national monument, he couldn't. "Let's just go, huh?"
They rounded the Memorial, came out onto the Street. Frank, who'd parked a few cars behind him, indicated Vinnie could take his own car. "I'll follow you."
He'd be isolated soon enough. "Can we take mine?"
"Sure." McPike immediately headed for the other car, to the passenger side. "No problem."
"Not according to manual, Frank," Vinnie attempted a normal banter. He got into the driver's seat, unlocked the door for McPike, waited until he climbed in, "letting the perp drive."
"Yeah, well, too much familiarity with the manual might breed more contempt than I need right now." He slammed the door like a punctuation. "Stop assuming titles you have no right to."
Vinnie started the car, saw his knuckles whiten when his fingers gripped the steering wheel, wondered how long he could go without snapping. He swung out into the traffic. "What's the drill?"
'The AG wants to see you first. Then I'm to take you to a detention cell at the OCB."
Gallagher got to stay in her apartment, probably already flanked by lawyers and advisors, and Vincent Terranova got solitary in an eight-by-six cell. Fairness at work in the nation's Capitol.
"Give me a little time to arrange it and I'll get you back to your hotel room," McPike promised as if he'd heard. 'Want to stop there and get your things?"
According to sources, the condemned wore clean shorts. Yep, real high concern on his agenda at the moment. Besides, stopping at that hotel, with its prying eyes... "Not right now. If I need anything later "
"You need anything, anytime, you tell me," he let Frank finish for him, read into the words more than, he knew, Frank intended. "I'll stay in the building with you," McPike assured him.
"No, Frank, don't. Don't do that."
"Paul's office's got a nice couch, and Clipton's so busy kissing ass on the hill, he's never there. I'll be fine."
"Dammit, Frank, don't!"
"What's your problem?" McPike snapped. He was getting stretched thin, too.
"I just, I don't know, I don't need you " Yes, I do, actually, bad...bad...bad choice of words, "I mean, I just don't want you " That, too, I do. Jesus, this isn't the time. "There. Don't want you there.'
"It's the OCB, Vince. What's wrong with there?"
To him it was now a cell with a cot and a camera and a mike. "Can't even exchange a private word with you there, never mind " He clamped down hard before he said too much. He felt more than saw McPike turn to look at him.
Two beats, then quietly, "What do you want, Vince?"
That's permission, Frank, right? Traffic on 14th Street was in its usual tangled mess, requiring, Vinnie decided, his concentration. He wasn't going to be able to get into the next lane soon enough to turn on Independence. Constitution was coming up past Liberty Mall, it'd also take him to Justice Court. Providing he didn't choke on all these designations first. "Frank?"
More than permission? Promise? "You didn't have to find me this fast, could've taken you a lot longer, right? I wasn't under arrest, I could've been anywhere."
"Told you, Vince, I didn't have to find you at all. Pull over, let me out, keep going."
Or just mixed signals? It had been awhile. He had to see Frank's eyes, turned to look, only saw the shifting blurs of car lights glaring off the lenses. No help there. "You know that's not what I want."
"Yeah, I know."
"You said I could come back if I wanted to."
"You never did."
"I do now." Can I? he should ask, after months he should at least ask that, asked instead, "Did you mean it?"
A sigh. "Yes."
"So don't turn. Go up four blocks, take 50 East." McPike looked away, checking the mirrors, the traffic patterns around them. 'There's a motel on Fourth and Penn. Not classy, but we won't attract attention."
Vinnie left Constitution behind.
Home was described as the place that, when you had to go there, they had to take you in. Any wonder lately home wore wire frames and worsted suits?
PALMSPR.NGS .NN announced the partially lit sign, unmindful of its displacement by a thousand miles or so. No palms or springs to be seen anywhere, either, just ornate cement blocks bordering on the high fences of the switching yards. Probably a thriving business during the heyday of the railroads, gone downhill.
"Don't," McPike said as Vinnie was about to turn into the entrance, the brightest area of the drab motel. "Go around the back."
Oh, well, he was on parole from worrying about levels of stupidity. Frank had taken over, would make sure he didn't commit the costly kinds. He drove as directed, left it to Frank to check which part of the place had dark windows and no cars parked, the numbers of the suitable rooms, which spots didn't catch light from the street lamps. Felt like freedom, being able to close his eyes to the pitfalls, knowing he'd be safely led around them.
Except he was getting impatient with all the caution. Come on, Frank, come on already, or right here in this car's startin' to look good to me.
He hoped the man sitting next to him, the man he kept snaring to his need, didn't know, wouldn't suspect, had never guessed, he wasn't the object of it. The sanctuary for it, yes, but not the object of it, not right then. That'd come later please, not too much later when bodies met. Oh, but then he'd be so good to have, close, tight, hard, flesh to flesh. Come on, come on, come on.
"Park on the corner, back there," McPike said, pointing over his shoulder toward a spot, "I'll check in. Walk over when you see me come back."
A credit card past a lock and we're in, you know, he wanted to say, knew McPike would ask if they must break all the laws of God and men. He'd waited this long, he could wait out the minutes.
He let Frank go, moved and parked the car, rolled down the window to let air in.
There was no reason for the brisk night air of D.C. to feel like a late summer camp day in the rolling hills of the Catskills, in the year he'd stopped using his two languages as if they were one and let his Italian lapse. No reason at all for concrete and metal to carry the smells of vegetation just past its peak, cloying with sweetness of approaching decay. But that was how it always felt and smelled to him when he started sweating out this fever. It'd pass. When Frank wrapped around him, shot through all his senses, it'd pass.
The past, the present, they'd just burn away, at least for a while, until he could ignore one and manage the other, for a longer while.
Frank probably thought of it as stress-management. Into automotive maintenance, Vinnie always likened it to sandblasting corrosion off the basic integrity of metal. Roger Lococco had once pegged it: doin'-the-jailhouse-rock.
Roger, who'd never served time, had been wrong. Jail was one place you made damn sure you never revealed that inclination. For one, they'd be lined up around the cellblock. For another, the cover you've been trying to establish wouldn't be worth spit. You could get gang-raped in jail, and that was all right, enough force and everybody went down eventually, that was life. Long's you gave a good account of yourself before and after, you could still come out one day and get taken seriously by the mob.
If you'd spread 'em easily or, heaven forbid, willingly, you could live ten lifetimes and never live down the stigma. Sonny wouldn't've looked at him twice.
Sonny, who'd wanted to be adored on any level going, whose seductiveness came as naturally as breathing, but pity the poor sucker who gave him so much as a hint of how his flirting played in Peoria. Sonny Steelgrave, unapproachable fire. The approachable aspects had scorched painfully enough anyway.
Could you hurry it up, Frank? The memory lane is as full of stumbling stones as the halls of D.C. A key, a room, and a brief dose of amnesia, please, now.
Roger had been so good at serving that up. Knife of a smile, cold glints in narrowed eyes, his body like a finely-balanced weapon, ruthless and specific, his passion predatory. Afterwards, mellow and indolent as a humid summer afternoon's slumber, and just as detached, indifferent. Yeah, Roger had been perfect.
Frank was imperfect. But he was here.
Not as here as he should be yet.
The rolling rumble of... just trains, coming to rest in the switching yards. Just the yards, no humpbacked hills around, no storm rolling in, no grumbles of thunder, unseasonably early thunderclouds often on the horizon during those two weeks in late August, two weeks is a year at twelve, a year is forever at thirteen, a year during thirteen is forever forever...
Don't wanna go there. Get back, Frank, anchor me.
...the wildberries fat to bursting that summer, but sour on the tongue, bitter-sharp aftertaste in the mouth, berry-juice stains sticky on his face, 'Bello ragazzo, bellissimo, mio carino,' sour-salty-sticky, like milk gone bad, gagging-bad, hitting the back of the throat with bitter taste, his throat raw, unschooled, 'Molto bene, mio giovane, grazie, mille grazie,' gluey-ooze tickling down, he'd felt it gush before, in his hand wrapped inside the larger hand under dark cloth, but he hadn't thought this far, hadn't considered it'd slip-slide this deep inside of him...
What's the hold up, Frank?
...the grass wet sometimes, green-staining his jeans, sometimes dry, point-sharp on his cheek, his belly, thighs, no wonder they're called blades, tiny green prick-blades, 'Prego, veglio tanto, caro figlio, prego' the face and the hands as sun-browned as his own, as familiar and comforting as prayer, 'Com'e gentile Lei, tu sei molto generoso,' white body, candlewax-white, heavy, so heavy, the pain white-hot, 'Buono, benissimo,' not crying or crying out, the need for silence already certain knowledge, for then and forever, only saying, troppo, troppo, too much, too much, the answer harsh in his ear, 'Non ancora, quasi,' not yet, almost, 'Ancoro un po,' a little longer, 'Per favore, bello, bello ragazzo, loro sono bellissimo,' please, beautiful, beautiful boy, you're so very beautiful, so maybe it was his fault, lying curled up in a ball later and watching that big, powerful man cry like the damned, beg forgiveness, pray for salvation, no maybes in the face of that grief, it had to be his fault...
...winter, stale air, smelling of wood-polish, incense and dust, sometime that winter his own body waking up, too, suddenly pain has a companion, pleasure, inseparable, hostage and ransom to each other, and one day listening, really listening to the usual litany of remorse, realizing the man was begging his forgiveness, too, the forgiveness of a boy and the All Almighty God interchangeably, and that was power, more power than he'd imagined possible, reaching out to the crying man, holding him, for he'd been taught with power comes responsibility, the strong must protect the weak, and the cloudburst revelation: weakness hurts more than pain but, Mother of Mercy, I didn't realize it'd get into me, too...
Frank. Finally. Thank God.
By the time McPike was unlocking the door, Vinnie was at his back. "What the hell took you so long?" he hissed.
"Went to the convenience store on the corner. Had to find an ATM," McPike answered reasonably. "You didn't think I'd charge this, did you?"
Damn. Should've thought to ask but they were inside and thought could wait. Vinnie shouldered the door slammed shut, fell back against it, with the same motion grabbing and yanking Frank in between his spread legs, bending his knees to slide down to equalize their heights. Only then it dawned on him that there wasn't an inch of their bodies not separated by layers and layers of winter-weight cloth.
Well, yes, their hands and faces were bare, and Frank's hands were on his face, his breath encroaching, warm on his chilled skin, but that wasn't the point at all, what good was that?
He levered off the door, carrying the smaller man with him, reversing their positions, trapping him against the door, but what good was that? Just reminded him he was bigger, heavier. He needed Frank to take charge, do something useful with those hands, something other than trying to conjure up his face with blind fingers. Turn it up, dammit, I know you've got it in spades, let it rip.
Too many layers in the way, tethering him by cloth and fastening. "Come on, Frank, take me down," half-choking with frustration, "Do it for me."
"Vince, let me "
Frank's hands fell away, palms hitting the wood of the door with a slack sound. "I can't."
No, no can't about it. Not when his every muscle, every nerve was on edge. He attacked the cloth again, parting what he could, lifting up or pushing down what he couldn't. Sure you can, you're dyin' to, and when I match the edges of your nerves to mine, naked-wire to naked
He couldn't believe it. When was Frank ever not ready for this? Once, when he'd been asleep to start with. How could he not catch spark from the live-current between them? But he didn't, although Vinnie tried with taut, hasty fingers to arouse him, force him to complete their circuit.
"Vince, stop," Frank's hands interfered, now too many hands fitful with gestures struggling to form, "Forget it. Let me just take care of you."
Care, he didn't need. "You know what I need."
"I can't. Take anything else, anything."
He had to back away. When greed met generosity, it had to cringe. A step and half a step back, couldn't go any farther, couldn't reverse and approach. Caught there, chalk-circled to the floor, aching, breathless, Frank's offer both too much and not enough. Furnace-hot, and he wasn't even sweating, even his pores dammed. I'm gonna burn up here.
Frank was a still form of darks and lighter darks interposed against the door, the room too shadowed, the curtains too close-drawn to judge by expressions. So Vinnie stood there, waiting for a signal that makes or breaks.
"Vince..." his name wrapped inside a sigh of defeat, something cut loose with that sound, "All right, Vinnie," pushed away and put asunder. "All right."
Vinnie watched him take off his glasses to tuck them into a pocket, pull off his coat and jacket, stretch out his arm to drop them on a chair. Then he reached for Vinnie, gripped him by the tie. No jerking, a sure pull, a command that didn't need to yell. Bringing him close, slacking off on the tie without releasing, a loose rein in his fist.
Frank pushed Vinnie's head down. "Encourage me."
Maybe it should give him pause, why this man of all men would put it in words that asked for courage? But pause was the last thing he cared to consider at the moment. He went to his knees. The clothing he'd pushed apart earlier, he now pulled closed around his head buried in Frank's flesh buried in his mouth, trapping, intensifying the smells and tastes immediate to just this moment, specific to only this man. No damp earth or wood polish here, no sour-berries and bleach-acid memories, just the now.
Like moistening the mouth of sleep at first, tip and vein and root, unwilling to wake, root and vein, and tip, not for long, tip and vein sudden rush of blood discernible on his tongue vein and root, swelling, rising, you can sink onto it now, sink your teeth into it
With a low growl, Frank towed him off and up by hair and tie.
Here on, it was in Frank's hands, he'd do it all, rid him of clothes, take care of the awkward details of merging two into one, too slowly, too damned carefully, but he'd make up for it, hold him down with fine purpose, let him struggle, rage, shout, and he'd contain it all braced to his strength. He'd be blessedly wordless through it, wouldn't string together endearments and cajolings and shove them down his ear, he'd just anchor him, focus him, sweep him along the edge of pain with meticulous power, over and over, until he could accept the razor strop of pleasure, he could accept until, raped or reaped, he didn't care, could accept, yield, halt thought, stop time, dissolve.
Frank would take care of everything.
Limbo was grossly underrated. Vinnie found it so rarely, found it so comfortable, he never came back from it willingly. This time, it was easy to stay. No unnecessary warmth cuddled to his side, no firm press and rub on his body, calling him back sooner than he cared to return. Only the negligible weight of, yes, a hand.
He even liked the raw, hot aches, more reason to languish. They didn't force you to go to church if felt feverish, sore. Playing hooky from life. This was great, this was wonderful, this was...
...wrong. For a long moment, he couldn't bother to decide why, just tossed around the notion of wrongness in his head, let it go bouncing about and maybe the effect would hit upon the cause Frank?
Nothing wrong there. With his hand on Vinnie's back, how far could Frank be?
Except even an arm's length was farther away than normal. Vinnie opened his eyes.
Wherever they happened to come to rest on a bed, Frank somehow always ended up on the side Vinnie was facing. Wondering for the first time if Frank just liked to look at him, Vinnie found that, yeah, Frank was right there, outlined in the light spilling in from the open door of the bathroom. Except he was on his back instead of his side now, one arm thrown over his face, his only link with Vinnie that one hand, like a leftover impulse, a habit he was too absent-minded to forget.
Still sluggishly connecting back to reality, Vinnie didn't understand why, but nevertheless felt a sharp point enter between his ribs. Then Frank raised his arm, looked at him, seemed to remember his hand, removed it. The sharp point turned red hot.
Even after I grew up, I never condemned you, only ever pitied you. Only once did I threaten you, when I realized that new boy Angel-Voice, everybody called him, but he had a name, Tony was next. Tony was as fragile as his voice just startin' to break, he didn't have a safe home to go back to. Just wanted you to leave him alone, didn't mean to I thought that's why you did it, I thought I made you do it when they found you in that garage with the engine runnin', but maybe you had more demons than a fourteen year old could account for. You took yourself to a higher court, good enough for me, for whatever part you had in creatin' this thing in me, or just findin' it, may not have come out without you, or it'd have come out anyway, I don't know, I don't care, it's me, and I deal with it, but now, right now
for this dull acceptance in this man's eyes, Father Ernesto Ignatius, for this and this alone, I hope you burn in hell.
"You all right?" Frank asked quietly and made it worse. Vinnie buried his head back into the pillow. If he so much as opened his mouth, he was going to howl. This was why Frank was imperfect. He was too decent for perfection.
"Come on, Vince, get yourself together. The longer we stay here, the longer Masters and Stryken have to fill the AG's ears."
Who? Oh, them.
I'm sorry. Jesus, Frank, I'm so sorry. That's all I keep bringin' to you, faulty men and their diseases, and expectin' you to cure me of them. Why don't you just tell me to fuck off?
He didn't think he could look Frank in the eye again. Everything the rage-red heat in his blood had blinded him to, he could now read in Technicolor graffiti. Frank had had no heart for this tonight, he'd been too upset, too worried. Vinnie knew exactly why and on whose behalf, how he'd forced the man to perform to order. He also remembered Frank's attempts to forge a different connection between them at the beginning. He'd swatted them away like at an insect buzzing around his ear.
Just because once, just once, Frank had dared take it out of context, made something equal, something loving out of the thing that didn't deserve to be any more than throwing the beast a morsel to keep it quiet, Vinnie had claimed a right: You can't love me and throw me out. And the very next instance Frank assumed he had any rights: Shove your love, just fuck me.
You're a prince, Terranova. What do you do for an encore? "Frank?"
Christ. "Tonight, it wasn't about you." Too late now to hope Frank never realized he was only the means to an end. Vinnie had given him an explicit road map. "It's an old sickness."
"Like I didn't figure that out."
Maybe Frank had always known. "You never said, asked anything."
"Figured, you can bring me this, you'll bring me that, too, when you need to."
"Don't you want to know?"
"Not as an excuse, no. You give enough of those." So Frank did have some limits.
"Don't take on, Vince. I could've just told you to get a membership in a gym and punch a few bags instead. I didn't, did I? We're all right."
You're a silly woman, Jenny McPike. How often do you find someone who wants you to be the best, but will embrace your worst, safeguard it? This, you threw out? Don't you know you can't even count on your own mother not to turn her back on you, call you an animal?
The last time they'd talked Father Ignatius had called him hell spawn, tricking men with an angel's face. Frank just called him Vince. Even in the driving heat of sex Frank never called him anything he'd be ashamed to be called anywhere else. Frank kept him intact.
"No sense in dealing Masters a better hand," Frank, trying to keep him safe, too. 'We should go."
"What better hand? We can stay here a month and it can't get any worse." He felt the conceding shrug through the mattress.
An echo missing from the memory of his hearing, traces missing from his body. "You didn't come, did you?"
Another shrug, felt.
"You couldn't even get that much out of it."
"It doesn't matter."
"Wouldn't you rather I wasn't like this?" They'd be simply friends, good friends who loved each other. It'd be so easy and right.
"Wouldn't you rather I didn't have to wear glasses?"
That was ridiculous enough to bring his head out from hiding. He told the nightstand past Frank's head, "It's not the same thing, not by a long shot."
"What's the difference?" Frank asked the ceiling. "I didn't know you when you were, what do you call it, pure? You didn't know me when I had good eyes, more hair, and one hell of a sex drive. This is it, Vince, what life made of us. You take the sum total as you find it or you don't."
"You love it as you find it or you don't?"
"So how come I'm not allowed to? That's what you told me last time, Frank, you did, you know you did."
"Oh, Vince, of course you're allowed to. You're just not allowed to make it your whole life."
His whole life was impossible to consider anyway, not when he wasn't sure of his tomorrow morning. "Can I just make it my next hour, Frank?"
"Half hour? Please?"
"Come on, Vince, you won't even look at me."
"And I'm afraid I'm not gonna be able to. Told you, tonight wasn't about you. Now I need it to be about you."
Frank abruptly swung his legs out and sat up on the side of the bed. "You don't owe me a thing."
No thought, only reaction, Vinnie slid on his belly and banded his arm around Frank's waist to keep him from leaving. "This isn't about owin', it's about..." How come he'd never noticed Frank had a puckered scar on his side, in the soft tissue under the ribs? 'Nam? He rubbed his temple against it. "You know what it's about."
"No, I don't."
Those kinda lies, Frankie, people tell when they wanna be seduced. "I was actin' like a cur in rut and you were tryin' to kiss me." Easier to love than be loved? "You're makin' me feel inadequate here."
"Yeah? And you're full of it," stern, but not untouched by amusement. A deep breath, held, "Not as dues, Vince," let out, "I wouldn't like that."
"Not as dues, promise. No dues between us." He hitched closer, nuzzling the short distance to the small of the back, smelling perfume? No, some kind of soap. "You smell clean." So that was why the bathroom light was on. He hadn't even heard Frank get up and wash. "I reek of sex."
"That's a bad thing?"
"Not if you don't mind." Finding the palm-sized patch with barely visible hairs at the base of the spine, tonguing there making Frank arch away then press back. "Unfrequented spot, huh?" Frank's body could be full of unfrequented spots lately silly, silly woman, Jenny he'd try and hit as many as possible. Halfway up the back he had to remove his arm to sit up, but Frank didn't seem to be going anywhere.
Lavender, that was it. The motel must've found wholesale lavender soap somewhere. Shouldn't tell Frank he smelled like somebody's sweet grandma.
Vinnie smiled privately to himself, liked feeling his own smile form against Frank's skin. He liked his chest against it, too, when he rose enough to press against the back that was no longer curving away from him, smooth on smooth for a change. Also liked his hands on it, up the arms, round the shoulders, down the flanks, finding the slight fold of flesh in the sides of the waist and following it in past the hipbones, curving with the groin muscles as they sloped down and corded to a V like a prominent This Way sign, all roads lead to Rome, smiling again, into the crook of Frank's neck, tender-soft on one side of his smile, scratchy as hell on the other.
Rome met him halfway, more than ready itself for the meeting. Once denied, twice covetous? Taking unfevered time to search out the individual components that made up Frank felt good toVinnie, also felt necessary, so never again, please, not ever again, would he find this body merely convenient. But maybe this wasn't the time. He knew how the combination of teased appetite and unfed hunger felt between his own legs. Mariana Tornelli came to mind. Even Amber came to mind.
How Frank looked when truly sated came to mind, too, all soft-hued, heavy-lidded, the laziest little smile, his expression so sappy-sweet that you could swear there wasn't a single brain cell at home.
Now on a whole different impetus, he heaved Frank back into the bed a wordless growl, unmeant complaint and climbed half on top of him, looked down at the gray-blue eyes that crossed abit to meet his at close quarters. So good to be able to look into those eyes and not have to feel guilty.
"Guess what, Francis, still not a damn thing wrong with your sex drive."
"Been a long diet."
"What have you got?"
"Me? At the moment," he had to chuckle, "not much."
"I 'm gettin' to it." One kiss, to make up for the ones he'd missed out on. A short stop on Frank's chest to appreciate the rhythms of a last casual minute, to feel on his face the fall and rise of rapid breath, the drumming heart, indistinct murmurs heard more inside the ribs than out of the mouth the nipples not sensitive, or not sensitized, should take the time sometime,
not now, hands pushing him down with more haste than grace, all right, all right.
Explicit, vivid lust, foster it, stroke it, briefly, don't torture it, well, torment it a little, why not, will be all the better for it, moisten its heat, wet-slide up-down, wash, backwash, rasping sounds pouring out of Frank, and sweat, lavender hasn't got a chance now, smells like urgency, tastes like it, surges like it, all right, come on then, here I am, come on
With a sudden heave and twist of his hips Frank pulled out of his mouth, grabbing Vinnie's head with both hands, holding it away until he rode out his own surge and brought it under control. The implacable tension in his fingers relaxed, let Vinnie's head rest on his still quivering belly.
Lightly, Vinnie ran his thumb along the angry-red shaft. "It's gonna sue you, you know."
Frank's hand came into sight, laid a tube on his stomach an inch off Vinnie's nose, making him squint at it. That convenience store had accounted for more than an ATM. Funny, how he hadn't earlier wondered where it had come from. "You must've been a boy scout."
"Nah, we couldn't afford the uniform."
He lifted his head, searched Frank's face. "Did you wanna be?"
"Don't worry about my deprived past," still panting like the bellows, "worry about my deprived now."
"I won't deprive you, but we're not doin' that." Just the suggestion of it was a swift aphrodisiac, though. "You go crazy and I lose my mind. Not tonight."
"I don't have a headache."
"No, Frank." He hadn't expected to harden again this soon, never mind this fast. He'd been content to carry on without it. Suddenly contentment was another country. "You think I'm an expert. You don't realize, the only thing I'm real sure of is what not to do." Oh, but he wanted to. Idle to hurtle in zero-point-no-time and, Jesus, it wanted to go, go, go.
Only when you have time and control, he told himself. Of both yourself and the circumstances. Iffy, the first. Masters' game, the second. No way.
Frank dislodged him altogether, twisted around until his hand found Vinnie's too-eager flesh, threatened to turn it reckless. "You want to."
No joke. Pulling up at this rate, his balls might end up in his throat. "Oh, Christ, don't!" He groped for the tube, handed it to Frank. "Put some on me." Christ, Christ, that felt good, that hand not just slicking him down, but gripping and squeezing and stripping him, like the preview of coming attractions. To a show he couldn't afford. "Enough. Please, Frank, enough."
"What now? What do you want to do now?" Low and drawn-out, like painfully slow organ music. 'Want to get me ready? Want me to do it? Want to watch me do it?"
"No!" God, dear God, he was supposed to be the gas pedal and Frank the brake. This was the surest way to a fiery crash. "Yes, I wanna watch you, but here," he grabbed the seductive hand, carried it to Frank's erection, wrapped the oily fingers around the hard heat. "Right there, like that. Yeah, just like that, lemme see that."
Kept catching him by surprise, Frank's eroticism, his willingness to push limits for adventure. Who'd've thought? You should've, idiot. Might dress like an accountant, might know the rule book by heart, but he used to do the same job, he gets high on adrenaline, too.
Oh, yeah, fly with me. Just a little.
He sat up, pulled his legs under him, tugged Frank to turn his back on him and straddle his thighs, settled him on his lap. He grunted when Frank's solid weight trapped his erection between their bodies, yeah, this would get him there. Suddenly, he noticed the mirror over the sink was capturing them, framing them explicitly, oh, yeah, that would get him there even better.
"We're too old to play let's pretend," Frank protested, but, bless him, moved with Vinnie.
"What pretend?" watching himself directing Frank's hips, "This is the only way Mariana Tornelli used to let me get off, and then only at the drive-in," point-counterpoint, "Saw a lotta Bruce Lee movies."
A snicker. "How many did you see before you, oops, just slipped?"
Boys would know boys. "Don't worry, can't be as easy here." He slid both hands to Frank's groin, one circling, one cupping, milking with one, kneading with the other. "Put your hands with mine, show me your moves, teach me your beat."
Frank liked it slower than him, and tighter. More than his hands, he liked moving with his hips, the clenching and unclenching feeling heavenly to Vinnie.
In the mirror, he watched Frank throw his head back and arch into extension, his torso in sharp relief, leaving the labor of his pleasure to Vinnie and taking away his hands now, courting his own body with them, defining himself with splayed fingers and sliding palms, rubbing up and down in unconscious sensuality.
Or maybe in narcissism, hard to see slivers of steel-blue under those hooded lids, Vinnie unsure if Frank was also watching himself, watching as Vinnie spread Frank's legs farther apart by spreading his own, both bodies obeying the thrust of Vinnie's hips and lifting higher, Frank's wide shoulders and parted thighs narrowing into his center in Vinnie's hands like the crux of an X, and did Frank know how this looked, like Vinnie was taking him and he was loving it?
How could he have ever wanted this man for any other reason but his own lovely fire? He had to remember this. Just a little longer and he wasn't even going to remember his name, but for as long as he could keep his eyes from closing, he had to see this, so he'd know later, next time, he'd know.
Intimate with Frank's sounds, he heard the approaching orgasm come alive in the straining throat first, felt it in his own guts, that moment of all outward push, hips shuttling, snapping, and thecomplete inward pull, shutting off, shutting down, everybody's alone at the moment of orgasm just a little, little longer, then, he had to see this also: Frank, pared down to his own essential nature. His lovely, melting fire, and his sudden, raw beauty
never saw that. Must remember that, too.
Simply had to close his eyes. Lost sight of Frank. Next instant, lost Frank totally. Crested to his knees. Bore down the body. Just then, just a body. Locked and sealed under him. There for his use. The blade edge does not love the whetting stone. Just has to. Use it. Absolutely. Must. Use.
Oblivion is so loverless.
How come he hadn't realized that before?
For once, Vinnie didn't want to linger in an insensible no-man's-land. The world was waiting. Just then, just his whole world. Sealed and safe under him. There for his keep. Toil can love his ease. Just has to...let him go in the end.
"Am I too heavy?"
"Hey, you with me?"
"If I'm not, I've fucked up big time."
One Frank McPike, present and accounted for.
Sluggishly, they managed to move enough to lie side by side. There, that Frank-at-peace look, all warm, vague amiability, fuzzy around the edges, flimsy tufts of hair sticking out all over the place, making him look ridiculous, making him look like an orphan you wanted to take home and coddle. Yeah, sure, there might be vegetarian tigers, too.
That was all right. The fierce one who was only briefly drowsy and sweet-tempered was just fine for Vinnie. "You'd get laid a lot more often if you started out lookin' like this."
"What'd be the point? Couldn't get it up."
"Almost doesn't matter." He made his arms move, his whole body feeling both heavy and weightless, gathered Frank close. Frank simply returned the embrace. Equal and one with him.
For now and...
Don't push your luck. Now is good.
"Vince." Muffled in his shoulder.
He knew what was coming. Time to get up, get dressed, face the music. "Oh, Sweet Mary, I don't wanna go." He just meant: away from this minute.
But Frank misunderstood. "Don't. You can be in Canada before morning."
"Been there. Didn't like it." He wondered what Frank would say if he asked: Would you go with me? Wouldn't be fair, though. Frank had a son, maybe even a marriage, still. Vinnie already knew if he ever ran, he had to run alone. 'The only way out is through, Frank, I know that."
He felt he could handle it. Win or lose, he could handle it. Weak as a kitten still, but centered, steady. He tightened his hold for a short minute, then pulled away. "Let's do it."
"Just a minute."
Any trace of peace gone, Frank looked all purpose. 'This 'old sickness' you mentioned."
"Now you want to know?" Not now, please, no. One windmill at a time.
"Actually, no, I don't, but "
"Good," he cut in. "Nothin' new 'bout it anyway. Back then it would've been shockin', but the priesthood's lost a lotta sanctity since then."
Frank connected the dots immediately, of course. "Any of it your choice?"
What was that supposed to be, an absolution or an accusation? "I was twelve!"
"So it wasn't your fault. Was it your choice? Something about it must've been your choice."
"What the hell're you tryin' to say?" He had to get out of that bed. How does it go, Father Ignatius, you have to lie in unconsecrated ground and I have to lie on a bed of nails? Forever? He scrambled up. Where were his clothes?
"Did you tell anybody?" Frank could've been interrogating a suspect.
"Oh, yeah, right, shame my mother, disillusion my brother, he was in the seminary, dammit! And my father, in prison for life for the murder of a priest now why didn't I think of that?" His clothes were all over the place. Had to wash first, though. Can't face the AG reeking like a whorehouse.
"So you chose not to." Still lying there with the traces of their loving all over his body and interrogating him.
"I. Was. Twelve."
"Heard you the first time. You were twelve. You were too young to make the right choices, which is why it's not your fault. You weren't too young to make choices."
He could only ask, "Why're you doin' this to me?"
"Cause I know us." Frank sat up. "I don't know how it works for the rest of the world, but men like us, we don't make good victims. We do learn to live with the choices we make. Not easily maybe, but we do. Eventually we do." He swung his legs out of the bed. "I won't have you face Masters already feeling like a victim. He'll take you down." Elbows to his knees, he hunched. "Take me down, that's what you always say."
He looked up at Vinnie and gave a thin smile, a smile for weeping, "That's how you ask for it: Take me down. You can come to me like that, Vince, that's fine. But you're not going in front of the Attorney General, the congressional committee, or God himself if I can help it, with an image of yourself as someone that can be taken down."
Vinnie suddenly felt ridiculous standing there, not even clad in indignation. He sat next to the man determined to be his protector. Only a some-time lover, maybe, but a full-time protector. "Hell of a long road back, Frank."
"Start on it."
"What if " He hesitated, but what was there to fear? This was his safehouse. Fort Knox for his secrets. "What if I got to where I liked it? Got off on it?"
Frank met his eyes squarely. "So what? Somebody gives you an electric charge, you're allowed to jump. Doesn't make his shame yours."
Secret accepted, shame need not apply.
"He killed himself."
"That was his choice."
Neither should guilt.
Absurd exchange only a foot apart and eye-to-eye but necessary. Nothing else necessary. Vinnie didn't even want to approach. Any closer, he'd lose Frank's eyes. Many eyes had told him he was loved. Only Pete's had told him he was lovable. Before now.
"We really should go," Frank reminded quietly.
Some eyes had even told him he was obligated to be lovable. No obligations here. "I got somethin' to say."
"Your half-hour's been up."
"You're gonna get angry with me if I said it anyway?"
"Oh, Vince," Frank looked away, "I don't get angry with you," a slight shrug, and one of his off-the-cuff evasions: "I'm just Irish."
"Fine then," he turned Frank's face back to his, "I don't love you," kissed his mouth definitively, "I'm just Italian."
Frank considered, decided to smile. "I think I can live with that."
Better than: Get over it. Maybe just a little push of the luck, "Frank, I "
Immediate freeze. "Not another inch," Frank interrupted. "I won't go there."
"You're not ready to go there."
"How the hell do you "
"You don't build on a fault-line, not if you have any sense." Frank got up, started collecting the clothes strewn about. "You've got some damage to repair, Vince. When you do, you won't need damage control. Don't go into repairs thinking you're now obligated by anything you've done or said. Whatever you need to cut out of your life, cut out. Just get whole."
"You're not damage control!"
Frank said nothing, kept sorting their clothes, separating them. His silence spoke loudly enough.
"Not just damage control," Vinnie had to amend. Debt to creditor, truth to Frank.
"Maybe, and maybe not. You won't know that until you're whole."
"And then? What then?"
Frank approached, "And then," handed him his clothes, "I'm going to be one happy Irishman," reached and stroked Vinnie's hair, like benediction. "Either way."
And Vinnie couldn't assure, couldn't be sure himself how far the cut had to go, how deep it had to be. With the world out there waiting for them already full of gross distortions, mincing truths and corrupting lies aplenty, he couldn't look into Frank's forthright eyes and reassure him. He took the bundle of his clothes from Frank, pulled out his underwear from the rest, went into the bathroom, closed the door. When the shower hid him, he leaned into the tiles and cried.