[This story first appeared in Forbidden Fruit]
“He’s still out,” my condo told me as soon as I got home.
“What do you mean ‘still’?”
When the H.I. (Habitat Intelligence, though “home idiot” often seemed more apropos) didn’t reply promptly, it became apparent my houseguest, Edward, had overridden its parameters. A remarkable feat in itself, considering Edward’s deficit of technical prowess, but he’d probably just charmed the H.I. into disregarding my instructions. In attempting to make these newer models more amiable and self-sufficient, they’d lost much of their reliability.
“How long has he been doing this?” I demanded. “Going out, I mean?” I had suspected Ed wasn’t doing as he’d been told, which was to only go out with an escort.
Unable to avoid a direct question, the H.I.’s syrupy voice replied, “Since last week, sir.”
I sighed. I’d had another causality-filled day at the commercial branch of the American Temporal Institute, where I worked in marketing. A dubious occupation—I’m a travel agent, of sorts—until the tech boys work all the bugs out of this thing and we can actually start selling the past to the tourist trade. Regardless, I was tired, and tracking down this wayward Plantagenet king was the last thing I wanted to do.
We’d had him for over a year now, and it was some administrator’s brilliant idea that he needed to get out in the world, so I’d been elected to provide his indoctrination into the 21st century. But why Edward II, I’d always wanted to ask? Why had this clown been plucked from the past? Why not Henry VIII or Elizabeth I? Of course if the Virgin Queen had been the subject of temporal retrieval, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been assigned as her “mentor.” I’m as heterosexual as they come, and while Ed’s not, the only reason I can fathom that he’d been assigned to me was because my having been raised by both my dads gave me a unique understanding of the gay lifestyle. Understanding yes, but at that moment all I could think was, Damned queers!
I grabbed the usual implement from my fireplace tool stand, and, swinging it in annoyance, marched to my Mazda.
It took me less than an hour to find him. He wasn’t at the Lavender Leviathan or Bacchus’s Digs, two of the nearby upscale gay clubs, but at the raunchier Tank’s Tavern. Not that I’d ever been in the joint, but the sleek Harleys parked outside told me what I needed to know. Those who operate under the misconception that all gays are the prissy, fairy types need to have both heads examined. Tank’s Tavern was an establishment for men. Men interested in men and most things manly. The warning sign just right of the front door told all: The only good drag queen is a dead drag queen. Yes, every group, no matter how shunned by society they’ve been in the past, has its pet prejudices, and gay bikers are no exception. I half expected to find one of the outcast skirt-clad cross-dressers dangling from the rafters in effigy, but after my eyes adjusted to the low lighting, I found that wasn’t the case. I did spot Edward, though. He was in the back shooting pool.
I’m sure the sight of a prosperous white male wearing a suit and tie and carrying a fireplace poker wasn’t an everyday occurrence. Not that the booming working-class rock stopped upon my arrival, but the more-corpulent-than-muscled bartender did work his way my direction.
“Help ya?” His tone held all the geniality of a grudge match.
I tucked the poker under my armpit and pulled out my money clip. Laying a C note on the bar—one that the Institute would reimburse me for if I could get a receipt—I pointed to where Ed was shooting pool in the back. “That gentleman there with the beard. Does he come in here much?”
Immediately I recognized the fallacy of my description. Though it was early, and only a dozen or so occupants in the place so far, all the gay bikers wore beards of some sort, save one fellow with only a handlebar mustache.
The bartender, who turned out to be Tank himself, knew who I meant, however. “You a friend of King Ed’s?” he asked with a hostile glare.
I swallowed. “He’s my husband,” I said, hoping that might expedite my cause. The fact that both my dads called each other that to this day however, didn’t keep it from tripping off my tongue like a French faux pas uttered by an East Texas yokel. Tank wasn’t buying it either.
“Bullshit,” he said. “You’re from that time ’Tute aren’t ya? Yeah, we know who Edward really was . . . is.” He let out a chuckle. “Good luck in getting him back. Some of the boys consider it an honor having a real live English king spending his afternoons with them.” He pocketed my C note and walked away—meaning he wouldn’t interfere, I gathered. I decided against asking for a receipt.
As I approached the pool corral in back, half a dozen bikers turned to face me, two of them breaking from a kiss. Then the music stopped. Rather overdramatic on Tank’s part, but he probably wanted to enjoy his hundred bucks further by hearing the fuss I was no doubt about to stir up.
“Hello, Daniel,” Ed said, looking up from his shot. Despite a year among us and every attempt on his part to lose it, his 14th century Middle English accent still dripped from his every word.
“Hi, Ed,” I said, giving him a caustic eye. “I see you’ve found yourself some new favorites. Where’d you get those clothes?”
He was dressed in the height of black leather fashion complete with chains, looking like that old 20th century rocker Rob Halford of Judas Priest fame, but with a full head of hair. Though purported to have cut as impressive a figure as his long-shanked daddy, Edward the First, he actually looked a bit on the small side compared to these hops-fed Goliath bikers. He gave me a sheepish smile and said, “I borrowed your credit card fortnight last.” His eyelashes fluttered as though he took pride in his newfound knowledge of pilfered commerce, but even during his Plantagenet reign, theft probably wasn’t beneath him.
“Come on, Ed, we’re going home,” I said. “Now.” I still had the poker under my arm and was about five seconds away from brandishing it.
“I am not ready to go,” he said.
I had entertained hope that trouble at Tank’s Tavern would pass me by, but such was not the case. Ed’s pool partner, an extremely large denim-clad fellow whom I soon discovered stank terribly, laid his pool cue down on the table and approached. “So you must be Danny boy, huh?”
His voice heavy with irony, Ed said to me, “Here is my new favourite, Methman.”
“I kinda figured that,” I said, pointing to the stitching above his left breast pocket. All these bikers were wearing colors proclaiming themselves to be Beelzebub’s Stallions, which proved that there was at least one semi-literate dude in the bunch. What struck me as odd was that they seemed to take this whole time-travel thing in stride. Kind of like when the world went online last century. Now even the biggest technophobes thought time-hopping was yesterday’s fish-and-chips paper. And we hadn’t even started marketing it yet.
Appearing from my right, sandwiching me between himself and Methman, Handle-Bar Mustache towered over me as well. “Want us to teach this fellow the meaning of ‘All on one, one on all,’ Edward?” he said. “I mean, Your Majesty.” He made a dainty hand gesture, then turned back to me and bared his rotten teeth.
But the Plantagenet didn’t reply. He walked up to me and looked me over, ire flaming in his eye. He ripped the poker from under my arm and held it to my face. “So, Daniel, if I refuse to come with you, what will you do about it? Threaten again to heat this up and introduce it into my bowels?” He spat. “The first time you said it, I thought perchance you were being lighthearted, but you did go too far. I appreciated the rescue from Berkeley Castle before the horrible event that would have claimed me. To be granted a ‘second shot,’ as you call it. But to keep reminding me of it thus is . . . It is inhuman!”
His eyes moistened. “Know you what ’tis like, Daniel? To remain perforce at your manor house all the day, not allowed to leave at one’s own discretion, waiting for your return home so you could further disparage me?”
His impassioned appeal was actually quite moving, but I didn’t get the opportunity to respond. Methman’s fist connected with the side of my head and I quickly found myself studying the starry firmament of the barroom floor. Then Beelzebub’s Stallions applied boot to stomach, head, back, legs, and even groin before I could cover my testicles with both hands and curl into a ball. Pain seared through my body as the trouncing continued. I screamed a couple of times, but soon my cries were stifled by a boot to my throat.
Just when I didn’t think it could get any worse, the smell of gasoline, most likely from one of their motorbikes, filled the air, and then I heard a match strike. I couldn’t see what they were burning, but I had a good idea. A moment or two later—it seemed much longer—Methman leaned down and held the glowing poker inches from my face. Close enough so I could feel and smell its heat, far enough so I could see its incandescence.
“How would you like me to shove this up your asshole, dude?” he said. “To keep heating this thing up and cramming it up in there again and again until it burns you to death from the inside out? Would you like that? Would ya?” He turned to one of his biker buddies. “Hey, Skullfucker. Pull Danny boy’s pants down.”
“No!” I tried to scream, but the word only rasped in my throat.
“Halt!” someone cried. “I said, cease!”
Though he’d been a real milquetoast of a king back in the 14th century, this time his subjects heeded his request. The hot poker no longer in my face, I curled back into a ball and whimpered. Soon I felt someone helping me to my feet. It was Ed. “Daniel, now we shall go home.”
He said to me, as I clutched him and limped back to the car, “Daniel, I really wanted thee for my favorite, but thou hast treated me like an unwelcome houseguest.”
“I’m sorry about that, Ed,” I said, “you’re just not my type.”
That brought a frown. “Then who is ‘your type’?” he asked.
“Anne Boleyn,” I said with a painful chuckle. But she was two hundred years after his time and the jest was lost on him.
Much as I imagined time travel to be, the here and now faded in and out. Soon we were in the parking lot, the setting sun stinging my eyes. He helped me into my car, took my keys and climbed in the driver’s side. “Ed, you can’t drive this thing. You’ve never . . .”.
After finding the right key and fitting it in the ignition, he turned it on and floored the accelerator. Still in park, my Mazda screamed like a banshee and a devilish grin lit Ed’s face. “How difficult can it be?” he said. “I have seen thee do it. Twice.”
And though it wasn’t the smoothest ride of my life, we did in fact make it home. As he helped me up the stairs to the condo, he said, “Daniel, I really would prefer thee as my favorite. I have always harbored tender feelings for thee.” He winked.
“I’m sorry, Ed, but that’s not going to happen. Call me perverse, but I like girls. Do you think we could just try to be friends?”
“No hot poker threats?” he said.
It was then that I realized that my equalizer had been left behind at Tank’s Tavern. Which was good. I never wanted to see that damned thing again. “No, Ed, no more hot poker threats.” And despite my pain, I smiled.