The Fire Eaters

By Anel Viz

Illustrated by Eve Le Dez

Larry Ashton knew him the moment he laid eyes on him sitting on the makeshift camp bed and staring with dazed indifference at a small suitcase on his lap, calmer and more self-possessed than the hundreds of other bewildered, frightened people in the gymnasium who, like him, were probably about to lose everything they owned.  The order to evacuate had been issued late the day before, on Tuesday, September 14th.  The last stragglers were still arriving.

Funny how a person will come into your life in a time of crisis – lives, he ought to say – and then vanish only to reappear many years afterward when another crisis hits.  This crisis was named Ivan and expected to make landfall around midnight.

He’d known all along that Warren Hicks had to be alive and well somewhere.  He had asked about him after he’d been pulled from his last assignment because it had become too dangerous, and they told him he was dead.  He didn’t press the point.  Frank would tell him later.  Only he didn’t.  “Hicks didn’t make it,” he said.

“C’mon, Frank, I have a right to know.  After all, I saved his life.”

“You didn’t, not for long.  The Fire Eaters got to him.”

That was a lie.  He would still be Patrick Mitchell now, not Larry Ashton, if the Fire Eaters had found Warren.  More likely, he would have been just another of the many victims they’d disappeared.  But protocol was protocol, and when you were under government protection they kept your identity secret from everyone, even family.  Now they’d have to do the same for him.

Warren looked up from his suitcase and his gaze passed straight through him as if he didn’t recognize his old partner.  Perhaps he didn’t.  Larry Ashton didn’t look like Sam Corsaro fifteen years ago and still less like Patrick Mitchell a half-dozen years before that.  What hair he had left had turned gray, his shoulders sagged, and he’d developed a bit of a paunch.  Except for the suntan and his hair dyed medium brown, Warren had barely changed, no doubt because it was easier to keep in shape when you lived on the Gulf Coast and could go swimming year round.

Larry glanced at the number he’d been given at the door and went to find his cot.  If Warren had only pretended not to recognize him, that was as it should be.  The FBI had eliminated the Fire Eaters long ago, but some of them were still around, also living under other identities, and they’d kill them both if they found them.  And Warren had other reasons to keep away from him.  Just knowing he was okay was enough.

He saw him that evening soaping down across from him in the shower room.  Although he never let himself check other men out – whatever they said, he felt that if you did, it meant that you had queer tendencies tucked away in some corner of your brain – because of what had happened the last time he saw him, Larry found his eye drawn to Warren’s cock and even more to his ass.  He tried not to stare, but Warren caught his glance and smiled back at him.  It had to be recognition.  Warren would have turned away or told him to keep his eyes to himself if he’d taken it as a come-on.

When Larry came into the changing room with his towel tied around his waist, Warren was waiting for him, still barefoot in his slacks and undershirt.  He extended his hand.  “Brian Bates.”

They shook hands.  “Larry Ashton.  Here alone?”

Warren nodded.

“Wife and kids safe?”

“Sheila remarried ten years ago,” Warren explained.

“Divorce?”

“Didn’t have to.”  He lowered his voice.  “I was officially dead.  Can’t say I blame her after all those years without a word from me.  It must be hard to believe someone’s still out there alive and missing you just because someone else tells you he is.  You?”

“Oh, you know me.  I couldn’t ever stay with the same woman for more than a few months.”

“What about Daisy?”

“Your goddaughter?  I suppose she’s in college now.  I haven’t seen her since the Fire Eaters kidnapped me.  I don’t know where any of them are.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It happens.  I knew it might when I went into hiding.”  He spoke the last five words in a whisper.  “Want to take the cot next to mine?  They put a single guy there.  You can switch with him.”

“Too risky.  We shouldn’t be seen together.”

“After all these years?  Besides, who’s going to notice in this madhouse?”

“Don’t want to chance it.  We can go outside for a smoke to talk.”

“Let’s wait for the rain to stop.”

“It probably won’t for the next few days.”

“It’ll let up before then.  This isn’t my first hurricane.”

“So you live here now?”

“Pensacola.”

“Alone?”

“Yeah, alone.  I guess it was all for the best.  Made it easier to start a new life.  Sheila isn’t the only one I don’t see anymore who promised we’d be together forever.”

*****

Warren – Brian, that is – meant him.  Over twenty years ago he’d been a rookie cop in Portland, Oregon with Patrick Mitchell for a partner to show him the ropes.  Though only a few years older, Mitchell was a veteran policeman who would have been promoted to sergeant or detective except for his involvement in a few incidents where he’d used excessive force.  They hit it off immediately and rode the same squad car for two years until the FBI approached him to infiltrate the Fire Eaters in Chicago and he vanished overnight without a word.  Warren only knew that he’d taken a top secret job with the FBI and had been given a new identity.  He told Sheila that they mustn’t talk about his friend again.  Wherever he was and whatever he was up to, it was a dangerous assignment and anything they said could blow his cover.

“Promise me you’ll never disappear like that,” she said.

“They won’t give me that kind of work,” he reassured her.  “Mitch doesn’t have a family, nothing to tie him down.”

“You’re going to miss him.”

“I do already.”

He had never felt as close to any friend before or since, neither as Warren Hicks nor as Brian Bates.  They relied on each other in life and death situations and saw eye to eye on just about everything.  In their first week as partners they were called in as backup to put down a fight that had broken out when a gang of toughs forced their way into Scandals, the city’s oldest gay bar.  Mitch’s participation was half-hearted at best.  As he explained to Warren, he’d got into trouble there before and had been called on the carpet for what he called his enthusiasm.

“Welcome to Stark Street,” he said to Warren when they’d made a few arrests and the place had quieted down.  “What’d you think about that?”

“Not exactly what I joined the force for.  I felt I was fighting on the wrong side.”

Mitch grinned.  “It won’t be the last time.  Think of it as protecting property.  Maybe some night we’ll be lucky and get to nail a couple of those homos for public indecency instead of having to defend them.  You wouldn’t believe some of the things that go on here.”

“I’d sooner just steer clear of the joint.”

“Chances are you will.  Like I said, I’ve had problems here before so I only get sent here if there’s trouble.”

“That happen often?”

“Used to.  Not anymore.”

He’d learned a lot from Mitch, almost everything he knew, some of it by negative example.  How to keep his nose clean, for example.  He’d intervened more than once when he saw Mitch was about to get carried away.  He’d hesitated a second the first time, but Mitch thanked him for it.  “I need someone to hold me back sometimes,” he said.  “We’re good for each other.”

For that reason when he showed up at work one afternoon and was introduced to his new partner, he asked right away if Mitch had been suspended.

“Nothing like that.  He’s moved on, that’s all.”

“Moved on where?”

“I couldn’t say.  Don’t worry about him, Hicks.  He’ll do fine.”

Wherever he turned, Warren got evasive answers.  Nearly a week went by before he found out that Mitch was working for the FBI and that he’d known for over a month he’d be leaving.  He understood that Mitch either didn’t want to or wasn’t allowed to tell him.

He went through three or four partners after Mitch left, none of whom ever became a close friend.  Eventually he got a promotion and moved to a desk job.  He missed going out on the beat – Mitch had given him a taste for danger – but it made Sheila happy, both for the money and because she no longer had to worry about him getting hurt.

If only she’d known.  After a little more than a month at his new job he took advantage of a weeklong detectives’ convention in Chicago to turn it into a holiday for the wife and kids.  Their third day there his oldest boy came down with some kind of bug, so he left Sheila at the hotel and went out with a colleague from Chicago he’d met at one of the sessions.  A handful of thugs cornered them in an alley, slit his friend’s throat, and forced him into a car at gunpoint.  They blindfolded and gagged him, tied his hands and feet, and drove off, God only knows where.

A few hours later two policeman in plain clothes knocked on the door of Sheila’s hotel room.  They looked grim.  “It’s about my husband, isn’t it?” she said.  She had expected him long ago.

“We were hoping he was here.”

“What happened?”

“We don’t know exactly, Mrs. Hicks.  About an hour ago Delaney, the officer he went out with, was found murdered in an alley.  We think we know who’s responsible.”

“Who?”

“It would be safer not to say.  Since we didn’t find your husband’s body it’s probable they didn’t realize he was a policeman and just drove him somewhere out of town and left him there.  Anyway, that’s what we hope.”

“Do you think you’ll find him?”

“There’s a good chance we will.  If they were who we think they are we have a plant in their gang.  He’ll get in touch and tell us how we can rescue him.  In the meantime I advise you to get out of Chicago as soon as possible.  For your own safety, you understand.  We can drive you to the airport now.”

“How am I in danger?”

“You never know.  He may have had a key to the room in his pocket.  If he has any ID on him that shows he’s a cop, they might figure out why he’s here.  They know what hotel the people who’ve come to the convention are at.  I promise you we’ll contact you as soon as we know anything.”

Two days later Sheila learned that her husband had got away safely, but she never saw him again.

*****

Shortly before dawn, Brian and Larry stood underneath an overhang outside the school.  The eye of the hurricane had passed, but the rain fell heavily and the wind hadn’t let up.  They’d gone through half a book of matches trying to light their cigarettes.

“You been here long?” Larry asked.

“From the beginning.  Got a job, bought a house.  How long have you been in hiding?”

“About two years less than you.”

“And to think we’ve been this close to each other all that time and didn’t know it.”

“We’re not.  They put me in Oklahoma first.  Now I’m in New England.  I just came down for a vacation on Santa Rosa Island.”

“You chose one hell of a time to do that.”

“You’re telling me!  It wasn’t supposed to come here.  Ivan was way off to the south and headed for Mexico, remember?”

“How could I forget?”

“Then as soon as I get here it makes this sudden turn north.  I had exactly one day at the beach.”

“Car?”

“Rented one, but I had to leave it at the motel.  The bridge to the mainland was jammed and they didn’t want any more on the road.  We were bused here.  The car must’ve washed out to sea by now.  You know where yours is?”

“Right there in the lot.  How much longer you have down here, Mitch?  It’s okay if I call you Mitch, isn’t it?”

“No one knows me here, so you may as well, though I’m not used to the name.  It’s been more than twenty years since I was Mitch.  But that’s not the identity I’m hiding.  If whoever there’s left of the Fire Eaters is out looking for anyone it’s Sam Corsaro they’re after.  But I guess you’d have no way of knowing that.”

“I remember vaguely your telling me to call you Sam.  Not exactly my most vivid memory of those two days.”

Larry nodded.  Best forget about what happened.  “You asked how long I’m here for,” he said.  “I’d planned on two weeks, but I don’t have to go back anytime soon.  I’m semi-retired.  Not that my motel will be there.”

“Will you stay with me?  My house should still be standing.  It’s what they call hurricane proof and a good five miles from the shore.  Nobody’s coming after us in this mess, and we have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Thanks.  Why not?  I’m not very high priority for a flight outta here.  When do you think you can go back home?”

“Maybe this afternoon.  Tomorrow at the latest.”

Brian’s estimate was right on, but when they drove back to Pensacola early that afternoon they found Brian’s neighborhood cordoned off.  “Now where?” Larry asked.

“I own a one-room cabin in the woods outside of Slocomb.”

“Where’s that?”

“Southern Alabama, near the Georgia border.  About a hundred and twenty-five miles.”

“Will we be able to get there?  Won’t the roads be washed out?”

“We can try.  We’ll probably have to make a few detours, but there’s enough gas in the car.  Better’n going back to the school.  There’s only one bed, but it’s bigger than three of them cots put together.  We’ve been closer together than that.”

Larry wished Brian would stop bringing it up, even if he never came out and said it in so many words.  Well, it wasn’t something either of them was likely to forget.

They didn’t say much on the way up.  They arrived after dark; the drive had taken over four hours.  The few miles out of Slocomb were the hardest.  The dirt road had turned to mud and they had to get out of the car several times to drag downed tree branches off to the side.  They were wet and cold and caked in filth, and Mitch wasn’t sure there was still a cabin to go to.

“Don’t worry, it’ll be there,” Brian said.  “And as long as we’re alone I’d like to go back to being Mitch and Warren again, for old times’ sake.  It’ll be easier opening up to each other if we go back to when we were best friends.”

“It’ll be easier just talking.  I can’t think of you as anything but Warren.”

From the outside the cabin looked untouched by the storm.  The electricity was out, so they had no light, but Warren had a Coleman lantern and enough logs to keep a fire going for a couple of weeks.  The pump in the kitchen was useless, but the cistern was overflowing with rainwater.  Warren opened the valve in the pipe connecting it to the propane water heater and dragged out a four-foot-long galvanized steel steamer basin for them to bathe in.  “Left over from when I was building the place,” he explained.

“You built this yourself?”

“From the ground up.  Impressive, isn’t it?  I have a good stock of canned goods, so we won’t go hungry.  I’m afraid I don’t have any clothes to lend you.  They wouldn’t fit if I did.  But I’ve got two woolen bathrobes.  They may itch a bit, but they’ll be warm enough with the fire going.”

After a hot bath and a bowl of hot soup they brought the table close to the fireplace and sat in their bathrobes.  The rain battering the roof reminded Mitch of the last time he’d seen Warren, the night the Fire Eaters brought him to the abandoned warehouse fifty miles south of Chicago.  He wondered if they’d talk about that or pretend it never happened.

“We have years to catch up on,” he began.  “Where do we start?”

“With the Fire Eaters.”

“Why there?”

“Because you owe me one.”

“I owe you one?  Shit, I fucking saved your life!”

Warren looked him straight in the eye and said, weighing every word, “Yes.  You, fucking, saved my life.”

“Are you serious?”

“A promise is a promise.  We have a score to even out.  You said so yourself.”

“When did I say that?”

“In the car, at the truck stop.  Right after you found me that ride back to Chicago and told me how to get to the FBI.  Those were your last words to me.  Did you think I’d forgotten?”

*****

Mitch had forgotten how they’d parted.  Now he remembered.  He’d claimed the right to off the son of a bitch who’d spit in his face and had driven away with Warren, gagged and bound again, they thought to put a bullet in his head and bury the body where no one would ever find it.  He’d waited until they’d gone ten miles before untying him.  They drove on.  Neither of them spoke.  What had just happened sat like a specter in the space between them.

When it came time to separate Mitch gave him fifty bucks and said, “I don’t suppose we’ll ever see each other again.  I’m sorry.”  He held out his hand to shake.

Still traumatized, Warren shook his head and waved his hand away.

“Did I hurt you bad?”

Warren looked up and smiled weakly.  “No hard feelings.  I’ll do the same for you someday if we get the chance.  Just joking.”

“No joke, pal.  You go ahead and do it.  Give as good as you got.”

“You mean that?”

“I mean it.  It’ll be worth it just knowing we both came through this alive.”

Then he bundled Warren into the truck, walked out into the field and scratched at the earth until his hands were good and dirty.  He got back to the Fire Eaters at daybreak and said, “Dead and buried.  I don’t see what some of you guys see in butt fucking.”

The guy known as Radio grinned at him.  “You never know till you try, Sam.”

It had taken Mitch two years to get the Fire Eaters to trust Sam Corsaro, and it made him sick to think of what he’d had to do to earn their trust – kidnapping, torture, killing, rape.  He’d have gone back to the FBI and opted out, but they wanted no contact from him until the Fire Eaters had accepted him as one of their own, and he couldn’t have got away anyway.  By the time they let him move around freely on his own he had been contaminated beyond redemption.  He might as well finish the job.  To have done the things he’d done for nothing was unthinkable, as unthinkable as having done them in the first place.  Only what he’d done to Warren haunted him more.  It ate at him because it was Warren and it had been his idea, and because he might have avoided it if he’d had time to plan.  It had worked, though.  Warren was alive.  Nothing else mattered.

Once Sam had become part of their inner circle he witnessed sexual antics that made what went on at Scandals look like the play of virgin innocents.  Not all of them were gay, but even most of the straight ones would sometimes join their all-male orgies.  They used to tease him because he wouldn’t suck a cock or stick his up somebody’s asshole, but fortunately when it came to their communal life no one was forced to do what he didn’t want to.  They only required you to obey orders and terrorize the people they told you to.  Sam learned to swallow his nausea and pretend to cheer them on and laugh at their perversions.  By the time Warren showed up it had become second nature to him.

In spite of six years of practice Sam nearly gave himself away when Radio pulled the hood off some poor guy’s head and he recognized Warren Hicks.  He signaled him with his eyes not to say anything before they tore off the gag.  Probably an unnecessary precaution.  A good cop like Warren would have understood without it.

“What’s this dude done?” he asked, sounding bored.

“Don’t know that he done nothing.  Caught him walking with that motherfucker Delaney.”

“Is he a cop?”

“Don’t know that either.  No ID on him.  No wallet, nothing.”

“And Delaney?”

Radio chuckled and drew his hand across his throat.  “I’m thirsty.  You question him.”  He tossed Sam a four-inch blade liner lock knife.  “Better take this with you.  He’s a feisty one.”

He led Warren to a small soundproof room at the back of the warehouse, the one where they left the blood on the floor and walls to intimidate their victims.

“Mitch, is it really you?  What’s going to happen to me?”

“Call me Sam.  And I don’t know what they’ll do.  You saw what they did to Delaney.”

“Jesus Christ!”

“Look, I’ll get you out of here somehow.  I promise.  Now what the hell are you doing in Chicago?”

“Detectives’ convention.”

“How come you don’t have ID?”

“Lucky, I guess.  I must’ve left my wallet in the bar.”

“Well we’d better make up something believable.  Hold still a second.  We can’t let them think I’ve been too gentle on you.  I’m gonna make it look like I slashed your face.”  He took the knife and carefully traced a shallow gash from Warren’s right eye to his chin.

“Who are these people, Mitch?”

“Sam.  They call themselves the Fire Eaters.  Ever hear of them?”

Warren shook his head.  “Do they ever let anyone go?”

“Once in a while, after they have a little fun with them.  You can’t hope for better than that.”

“Fun?”

“Rape, if you’re lucky.  Rape and torture if you aren’t.”

“You mean…”

“You know damn well what I mean.”

“All of them?”

“Usually just one.  The rest of ’em get off watching.”

“You do that too?”

Sam shook his head.  “Women sometimes.  Never dudes.”

“Mitch… Sam… I want it to be you.”

“No, I can’t.  They know I don’t do that.  It’s a standing joke with them.  They’ll suspect something’s up.”

“Please.  Tell them anything.  Think of a reason.  If I have to take it up the ass, at least let it be someone I trust.”

“You won’t like it any more.”

“I’ll hate it less.  And I know you won’t be laughing at me inside, whatever shit you say to me.  Do it, Sam.  Do it for me.”

“You know what I think of that kind of shit.”

“I know.  And you’ll know that I know why you’re doing it.”

“I don’t think I could bring myself to do it to anyone.  You least of all.”

“You’ll have to watch them fuck me if you won’t.  Wouldn’t this be better?  If you cared at all for me it would.”

Sam pulled back his arm and punched him in the jaw, knocking him to the floor.  Warren spit the blood out of his mouth and said, “So you won’t do it?”

“No, I will.  This was to make it look convincing.  But when I’m inside you, turn your head around and spit in my face.  That shouldn’t be too hard to do.  And one thing more.  It’ll have to look real.”

“It’ll have to be real.”

“We can’t let them see you’re my friend.”

I’ll know.”

*****

“Why are you being like this?” Mitch asked.  “You turn queer on me or something?  Take a liking to it?”

Warren shook his head.

“Then what?  Is it some kind of joke.  It isn’t very funny, you know.”

“I’m not trying to be funny.”

Mitch studied Warren’s face.  He meant everything he said, but there was more behind his eyes, things he didn’t know about.  “Was that the only time?” he asked.  “You do this with other guys too?”

“Only once, a year or so after I came here.”

“Why, Warren?  Why would you want to?”

“To find out.”

“To find out what for Christ sake?  If you were gay?”

“That’s not what I had to find out.  I knew I wasn’t.  I know I’m not.”

“Well you sure as hell sound like you are.”

“I wanted to find out how it would feel if it wasn’t something I had to do, what it would be like if I chose to do it.”

“And?”

“And I found out.  That, and more.”

“You’re not making sense.”

“There’s no way you’ll understand unless we do it.”

“Understand what?”

“You’ll see.”

“No, I won’t see, because it’s not gonna happen.”  Mitch rose to his feet, his fists clenched.  Then he noticed that his bathrobe had come open in front and his cock was showing.  He quickly drew it closed and went on, “You’re probably stronger than I am now, but if you try anything I can still kick you in the nuts.”  The passion in his voice was unexpected, and surprised Warren.

It surprised Mitch, too – he hadn’t intended it to come out that way.  He winked and added, “You’re not so strong that you can have your way with me, you know.”

“I don’t want to have my way with you.  I want you to be willing.”

“You must be crazy!”  He sat back down.

“I know how it must sound, but I’ve had a long time to think about it.”

“How many years have you been plotting this?”

“No plotting.  I thought about it back when I had sex with that other guy, then I put it out of my mind.  After all, when would I see you again?  But I was thinking about it all the way on the drive up here.”

“Yeah, I could tell you were thinking about what happened with the Fire Eaters.  Because of those little hints you dropped.”

“I dropped hints?”

“Things you let slip out.”

“It wasn’t intentional.  Up until I said you owed me I wasn’t sure I would.”

“And you won’t.”

“You did it for me.  Let me do it for you.”

To me, you mean.”

“For you.”

“I didn’t want to do it.  Like you said just now, it was because we had to.  I hated it.”

“Did you?”

“Didn’t you?”

Warren looked at Mitch as if searching for the truth buried in some corner of his memory.

“Well, didn’t you hate it?” Mitch asked.  “Believe me, I got as little pleasure out of it as you did.”  Warren smiled knowingly at him.  “Okay, more pleasure, but not a whole lot more.”

“You have no way of knowing what I felt.  What I hated most is how it happened.  That’s why I went with the other guy.”

“And why you want me to agree to it, right?”

“Partly.  Look, why don’t we leave it up to chance?  There’s a deck of cards in the drawer by the sink.”

Mitch shrugged.  Though he maintained an outward calm, he felt he was under attack.  What Warren proposed disgusted him, and he resented his accusations.  Christ Almighty, hadn’t he saved the guy’s life?  Warren just wanted revenge, no matter how dispassionate he sounded.

Warren got up, rummaged through the drawer, and brought the cards back to the table.  “I’ll shuffle and you cut,” he said.  “Red card we do it, black card we forget about it.  Or would you like it to be the other way around?”

Mitch shook his head.  “That makes fifty-fifty odds.  I won’t go along with that.”

“Okay.  Say a face card we do, otherwise not.  That’s less than one in four.”

Mitch nodded assent.  “Don’t ask me why I’m doing this,” he muttered.

He cut the jack of diamonds.  He stared at the card for a few seconds, then stood up and began taking off his robe.

“Then you consent,” Warren said.

“Let’s say you talked me into it.  Let’s just get it over with, huh?”

“Not now.  Later, when we’re in bed together.  And I want you to think of me as your best friend, not as your rapist.”

“Was I your rapist then?”

“What else would you call it?  An unwilling rapist, but yes, you raped me.”

“And you spit in my face.”

“That was for show.  The rape was real.”

“That’s not how I remember it.”

“I ought to know that better than you.”

“What am I supposed to do until we go to bed?”

“Remember.  Take your time and call back every detail.  This will be different.  You’ll see.  At least that’s what I’m counting on.  For now just kiss me.”

“That too!”

“Kiss me.  What are you afraid of?  You’ve done it before.  Or have you forgotten that too?”

Mitch wasn’t sure what he remembered.  They kissed, gently, but Warren held on to it and made sure their tongues touched.  Mitch felt like crying, whether because of what was going to happen or because the kiss made him aware of the very real affection he still felt for Warren, he couldn’t tell.  Why had he given in?  He didn’t want to.  There was still time to back out.

Warren sat down at the table, shuffled the deck and dealt himself a hand of solitaire while Mitch remembered.  He remembered everything, from the moment he shoved Warren out of the back room until they got him back in his clothes and he took him out to shoot him.

FireEatersPic

*****

“Learn anything?” Radio asked.  “Is he a cop?”

“I don’t give a damn what he is.  The bastard disrespected me.  I’ll show him disrespect!”

Radio understood what he meant.  “Sex with a guy, huh?  It was only a matter of time.  It’ll be a new experience for you.  You sure you’ll know what to do?”

“I’ve watched you disrespect guys often enough.”

“Ain’t you though?  Disrespect ain’t much.  Get anything else outta him?”

“Says his name is Hicks.”

“So you’re gonna get your kicks with Hicks.  I was looking forward to that piece of tail myself; he’s cute as a button.  But this is a special occasion, Sam.  He’s all yours, but I’ll talk you through it.  Hey, guys, come watch!  Sam here is gonna pop his straight cherry.”

About twenty Fire Eaters were in the warehouse that night.  They pulled up chairs in a circle a few yards from the table where they put on a show with the people they kidnapped.

“Kiss him first,” Radio instructed.

“What for?  To kiss and make up?  To show him there are no hard feelings?  He’ll feel something harder than he wants before I’m done with him!”

“If you don’t kiss it’s just sex, not gay sex.  To show there ain’t no hard feelings you kiss him again when it’s over.  But that part’s optional.”

“Sex is all I want.”

Radio wagged a finger at him.  “For him just sex; for you, gay sex.  Don’t stand around the pool working up the nerve to get your feet wet.  Plunge the fuck in!”

The others started chanting, “Kiss!  Kiss!  Kiss!  Kiss!”

Sam grabbed Hicks by the head with both hands and pulled his mouth up to his, trying to make it look as savage as possible.  “For you, lover,” he said.  The kiss tasted of the blood from when he’d punched him.

“Now pull down his pants and go down on him,” Radio said.

“Suck him?”

“By way of demonstration.  Show him what you like so he’ll do you real good.”

“I don’t know what I like.  No guy’s ever sucked me before.”

“Just make him moan.  If you can get him to moan you’ll like it too.  Trust me.”

Sam squatted in front of Warren and undid his belt to a chorus of “Suck him off!  Make him moan!”  He saw his dick for the first time though for two years they’d had lockers right next to each other at the precinct.  What he saw was worth remembering.  Mitch had seen his cock twice again in the last two days, but flaccid.  Hicks was already hard when he pulled down his pants in the warehouse.  Mitch was reminded of what he’d feel shoved up his own ass in an hour or so, a good inch bigger than what Warren had had to take from him.  Was that fair?

It tasted like skin, not all that different from sucking your thumb except for the smell.  It looked clean enough, cleaner than what the Fire Eaters whipped out of their pants.  Hicks had showered before leaving for the bar, but that was a few hours ago and fear had made him sweat.

“You don’t have to gag on it,” Radio called out.  “Lick it all over if the thing’s too big to take it all in your mouth.  The head and his balls especially.  Leave the gagging for him if you feel like shoving yours down his throat.”

Annoyed, Sam turned to Radio.  “Anything else?”

“Keep your teeth off him.  This part you want him to like.”

Hicks was liking it, unless he was putting on a show.  He didn’t fake the precum, though.  Sam hadn’t expected it would taste that sweet.

“Yummy, ain’t it?”

“Just shut up and watch, will ya?  And spare me the running commentary unless there’s something you want me to do.”

“Just pointing out what there’s to like, pal o’ mine.  We want your first time to be extra nice.  How d’ya like it so far?”

“So far I wouldn’t call it disrespect.”

“It’s disrespect if he don’t want it.  Finger his asshole if you think it’ll make a difference.”

Sam almost pointed out that he hadn’t wanted it either, but then he remembered he’d told them he did.  Radio was right about the finger in his asshole, though.  It did make a difference, just not the difference he thought it would.  It wrung the first honest to goodness moans out of Hicks.  From then on Sam knew he wasn’t faking.

“Don’t overdo the servicing,” Radio said.  “Don’t forget you’re not showing him respect, you’re teaching him to show it.  He knows what’s expected of him now.”

Sam stood up and pushed his jeans down around his ankles.  Then he forced Hicks to his knees and ordered, “Suck it, shitface!”

If he’d had any doubts that Hicks might have been faking it, Sam found out for himself now just how good it felt.  His hips began rocking back and forth of their own accord.

“Show him how you like it,” Radio instructed.  “Get it all the way in, like in a pussy.”

“Yeah,” the spectators agreed, “a pussy.  Pussy, pussy, pussy…”  Most of them had opened their pants and were beating off while they watched.

Or so Mitch remembered it.  The Fire Eaters always beat off and made lewd comments while they watched someone being raped, but with their eyes on him it had seemed to Mitch like the insistent chanting of kids picking on an unpopular classmate in the schoolyard.  Did Warren have the same memories, or had he only been aware of the physical abuse and the man who was doing it to him?

Sam held Hicks’s head in a grip of steel and shoved his dick to the back of his mouth in time with the Fire Eaters’ catcalls.  Hicks choked.  His eyes watered and snot dripped from his nose.  He struggled to free his head and gulped, “I can’t breathe.”

“Nobody asked you to breathe,” Radio snarled.

Hicks looked up at Sam as if he was Warren asking for pity.  Sam hesitated only a second, before he remembered their situation and sneered down at him.  Hicks nodded weakly, took the cock back in his mouth, and they went on from where they’d left off.

As the momentum of Sam’s thrusts increased, Radio said, “Don’t enjoy it too much or he’ll bring you off.  You want to drop your load somewhere else.”

Sam jerked Hicks to his feet, swiveled him around, and shoved him forward so his chest was resting on the table.  He pointed his cock at Hicks’s cleft and pressed down.  It was like banging his dick into a brick wall.

“It’s not going in, dammit!”

“Spit on it so it’ll slide more easy,” Radio advised.

He spit on it and pulled Hicks’s cheeks apart, but still couldn’t get it inside him.  The man was automatically clenching his sphincter muscle in dread of the inevitable penetration.

Radio told him to open him up with his finger, and the Fire Eaters echoed his words: “One finger, two fingers, three fingers, your whole wrist…”  A couple of them had come already and were licking the jism from their hands, but they left their cocks hanging out.

Two fingers did the trick.  Hicks’s body tensed and he gritted his teeth as Sam roughly twisted them in semicircles a couple of times and pressed them from side to side.  He yelped when Sam pushed inside him in a single thrust.  The Fire Eaters imitated the noise and laughed.

“Look,” one of them yelled, “he’s crying!”

“Real tears!  Real tears!”

Sam fell onto him heavily and whispered in his ear, “I’m sorry, partner.”  Warren turned his head and spat in his face.

“You’re a dead man!” Sam roared.

“Dead man!  Dead man!”

“Give it to him good!” Radio ordered, and Sam gave it to him good.  But Radio wanted more.  “Harder!  Deeper!” he shouted.

The Fire Eaters cheered him on, chanting, “Hump!  Hump!  Hump!” and set the rhythm of their fuck.  The pace quickened and their words ran together until it sounded as if they were shouting “Pump!” or “Bump!”  Almost before he felt it coming on, Sam emptied his balls into his friend’s bowels and collapsed on top of him with a loud groan.

“Pull it out quick before it gets soft so he’ll feel that special pop.”  The “special pop” drew a loud gasp from Hicks’s throat.  “Now turn him over and see if he liked it.”

Sam jerked the battered man to his feet.  He’d left his own puddle on the table.

“Tell him to lick it up,” Radio said.  Hicks licked.

Sam hitched up his pants.  The rain had stopped; the Fire Eaters sat in their chairs, quietly nodding their appreciation; only Hicks’s low groans broke the silence.  “Get the asshole dressed while I go for my gun,” Sam snarled.

“Why dressed?” one of the Fire Eaters asked.

“Because this is between us.  I’m going to take him where he has to beg to me, not the whole lot of you.  Then I’ll make him scrape out a hole and put a bullet in his brain.”

“Sounds fair to me,” Radio said.

“I want to kick the bastard into his grave and spit on his face before I pile the dirt on him.”

*****

It was going on eleven now.  Warren pushed the cards to the side for what might have been the fortieth time and said, “It looks like I won’t play out tonight, not on this table.”

“It’s time?” Mitch answered glumly.

“It’s time.  You’ve thought it through?”

“From beginning to end, over and over.”

“Not looking forward to it, huh?  Well, this won’t be like that, not if you play your part.  Sex isn’t solitaire.”

No, he was not looking forward to it; he felt like a lamb on its way to the slaughterhouse.  He still saw it as revenge, but he accepted it.  Now that he remembered, had forced himself to relive that night, he understood that he had turned his anger at the Fire Eaters against his friend, and it seemed to him that Warren deserved his revenge.

Mitch turned out the Coleman.  The fire had burnt low and gave out a feeble light.  Warren stood up and held out his hand.  Mitch took it, and they walked to the bed holding hands.  At the bedside Warren took off Mitch’s robe and signaled him to get in, then slipped out of his own and lay down beside him.

Mitch was trembling.  “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Warren told him.

“I’m not scared.  I’m cold.”

“That’s why we start with the warm-up.”

“What kind of warm-up?”

“Both kinds.”  He got up on an elbow and leaned over to kiss him.

Mitch turned his head to the side.  “What’s with all the kissy stuff?  Are you sure you’re not gay?”

“No gayer than your average straight man.”

“Whatever, but do we have to kiss?”

“Like Radio said, ‘Kiss and make up.’”

“That was after.”

“This is after.”

“Is that what this is all about?  Making up?”

“Shhh.  Kiss me.  Don’t just let me kiss you.  Kiss me back.  That’s better.  Now relax.  You’re stiff as a board.”

“I’m trying.”

“Do you hate me for making you do this?”

“You didn’t make me.  I agreed to it.  And I’m angry with you, but I don’t hate you.  I couldn’t if I wanted to.”

“That’s how I felt about you after the truck drove away.”

He lowered his head to Mitch’s chest and swirled his tongue around a nipple.  Then he gently ran his fingers down his chest, stopping just above his navel.

“Don’t just lie there like a blow-up doll.  Touch me back.  Remember what Radio told you?  ‘Show him what makes you feel good.’  That’s how you make love.”

“Making love he calls it.  Radio didn’t want us to make love.”

“What would you call it?  Two men can love one another and not be gay.”

“And have sex?”

“They don’t have to, but they can, and it still doesn’t make them gay.”

“Then what does gay mean?”

“I’m not sure.  Maybe it doesn’t mean anything; maybe it’s just a word.  Like faggot.  It says more about the person who says it than the person he says it about.”

“Then straight doesn’t mean anything either, but you say you’re straight.”

“I love women.  They turn me on.”

“Me too.”

“But have you made love to them?”

“What else would you call it?”

“I don’t know.  Sex?  When have I seen you in bed with a woman?  Maybe that’s why none of your affairs ever last more than a couple of months.”

“What are we having?  An affair or a one-night stand?”

“We’re talking too much.  Leave the debriefing for after.”

He took Mitch’s hand and laid it on his penis.  He was rock hard.  Mitch wasn’t, but when he felt Warren’s arousal he began to stiffen.

“And you’re gonna stick that in me?” Mitch said.

“Yes, then you in me.  After you see how it can be.”

“Where did you learn all this stuff?”

“I told you, from one guy.  It’s not all that difficult when you care about the person.”

“Did you even know him?”

“Yeah, he was a gay friend.  I didn’t lead him on.  He knew it was just for once.”

“So now you have gay friends.”

“A few.  After the Fire Eaters I figured, ‘Who am I to say I’m better than them?’  And once I got to know them I saw I wasn’t.  Being straight isn’t a virtue.”

“And this gay friend you had sex with, you cared about him?”

“Not as much as I care for you.”

“I cared about you too.  I mean at the Fire Eaters’.”

“But you didn’t want to do it.  You were an unwilling rapist.”

“I wish you wouldn’t call it rape.  You asked me to do it.  You begged.”

“It was rape because you were unwilling.  It takes two parties to consent.  It doesn’t matter whether I forced you or the Fire Eaters did.”

“Isn’t talking someone into it the same as forcing them?”

“Not if they’re convinced.”

“Tonight it was the luck of the draw.”

“You didn’t have to draw, but you did.  One chance in four – that’s twenty-five percent convinced.”

“You’re still trying to convince me.”

“If you want to stop, say so.”

“No, I’m going to see this through.”

“Then let yourself go and give it your best shot.”

“My best shot.  Don’t you mean let yourself come?”

“You’re stalling.  Enough talk.”

“I don’t think it’ll fit.”

“That’s what you said about yours, but you got it into my ass.  Now shut up and put your mouth where my money is.  Front pocket on the left.”

Except for interjections of encouragement – “Yes… That feels good… Right there…” – they said very little until they had both come… twice.  Three times if you count the next morning.  They fell asleep in each other’s arms, Warren thinking that they might not have to debrief after all.  But it didn’t happen all at once.  Mitch was won over gradually.

*****

The gray light of an overcast morning filled the room.  Nestled close to his lover, both naked under the quilt, Mitch listened to the steady but gentle rain outside, his eyes open.  The wind had died down, and Ivan was a tropical depression crossing the Georgia-Tennessee border hundreds of miles to the north.

He saw clearly now what Warren had intuited.  Over twenty years ago they had bonded for life, and the intervening separation – total separation, not even knowing where the other was – had not broken that bond, but one half-hour of unwanted sex in the Fire Eaters’ warehouse had almost destroyed it.  Two straight men do not need to have sex, but if they do it should not be like that.  It was all wrong and had left an open wound on their friendship; doing it right provided closure and also a new beginning.  They would stay on in the cabin another day or two, then each would go to his own home.  They might never have sex again, but they would stay in touch and continue to see each other.  They had sealed their renewed friendship with an act of love.

Warren had talked him through it, but how differently from Radio!  Not “Do this, do that”, but talk about each other and their anxieties over what they were doing.  Little by little, the part of his brain that was resisting had fallen silent and he had seen that it was not resisting Warren, but an ingrained opposition to sex between men and the one horrible time he had experienced it.  Then his body had given in and his mind had followed.

When unable to put it off anymore he thought, “Let what happens happen,” and when he felt Warren’s warm mouth close pleasurably around his cock, his mind said, “He isn’t doing this because he has to; he’s doing it because he wants to.”  Ideas fixed in that mind since childhood told him, “A man who wants to do this wants to because it’s a cock,” while the evidence, speaking for itself, contradicted what he’d always believed: “Warren wants to do this because it’s me.”  Thinking that made it easy for Mitch to suck him in turn.

They lay head to groin, curled like a barred spiral galaxy, and kissed and licked and nibbled and tickled more than they sucked, attending to the sensitive surfaces from knees to navel.  Mitch quietly moaned from the threefold gratification of mouth and skin and pleasuring.  Nerve ends unknown and unsuspected woke to Warren’s kisses as though from an enchanted slumber.  Delicate points of feeling tucked away as if to shield them from pain trembled at the approach of his lips only to rejoice at their touch.  His moans melted into sighs, then to feeble whimpers that were at once pleas for fulfillment and cries of distress at its intensity.

Mitch could tell it was also a different experience for Warren.  He was giving pleasure willingly, and Mitch was letting him give it instead of taking it from him by force, holding his head as in a vise and fucking his face.  He tried to replicate the motions of Warren’s lips and tongue when he went down on him, and was surprised to find that the sensation of holding a penis in his mouth was not disagreeable.  He even succeeded in taking its full length into his throat without gagging.  Similarly, when Mitch lay with his weight on Warren’s back and his hardness inside him, following the example his friend had set when he fucked him, his penis probed Warren’s enjoyment rather than thrusting its own abandon and his hands pulled him closer rather than holding him down.  And instead of spitting in his face, Warren craned his neck backward to reach his mouth and kissed him.

Earlier in their lovemaking, both while he’d sucked Warren and been sucked by him, that male body Mitch had once looked on with indifference seemed to have undergone a mutation and become a thing of beauty, an object of desire.  The idea of having sex with a man no longer repelled him.  A neglected loneliness inside him cried out for contact, a loneliness he felt like a heavy weight weeping at the base of his torso and which was at last consoled when Warren took him by the ankles, raised his legs and entered him.  Then the point of contact inside him sang in unison with his balls and his shaft.  He lay like a beetle flipped helplessly on its back, arms and legs thrashing.  Instead of turning his head from kisses on the lips, Mitch reached up and buried his fingers in Warren’s hair.  With a grip of steel he pulled Warren’s mouth to his while his soul soared on the wings of his flesh.

Another man had penetrated him, something he had never envisaged he would let happen.  And, thousand times more unbelievable, now that he was inside him, he wanted him there.  He had never imagined a pleasure so intense, so all-consuming.  Mitch didn’t think, “He just shoved his cock up my ass.”  He didn’t feel the overwhelming urge to fight him off he had thought he would, nor did he weep inside from humiliation.  Instead he felt a desire to surrender entirely, to give more of himself.  He felt a trust beyond question, a bond that transcended friendship, an emotional and physical ecstasy so intertwined they could not be separated.  And this was what he had looked down on and shunned as an impersonal, selfish, dirty act!

Warren’s climax throbbing against his prostate had filled him with exultant joy, and when Warren withdrew he didn’t pull away thinking, “Thank God that’s over!”  No – he wrapped his arms and legs around his panting friend and glued his mouth to his, seeking to prolong their closeness indefinitely.

“Is it always like that?” he asked.

“Always?” Warren answered, a trace of laughter in his voice.  “Didn’t you believe me?  I’ve only done it once before.  What we did at the Fire Eaters doesn’t count as sex.”

“But was it the same with the other guy?” Mitch insisted.

Warren smiled and shook his head.  “Nothing like it.  We were just acquaintances, casual friends.  We didn’t feel for each other what you and I feel.”

“And you’ll let me do it to you, do it right this time, won’t you?  You said what happened with the Fire Eaters doesn’t count.”

“Yes, oh yes, as often as you like, and I you.  Tonight is a celebration of our reunion and what we mean to each other.”

Then they kissed, a prelude to many more hours of lovemaking.

So much change overnight!  Mitch had known that sex was a powerful force, but powerful in the sense of demanding, imperious.  He had not known its power to transform.  As the objects in the room brought together by the subdued light of a dark gray morning sky stood out no less clearly than they would in harsh sunlight that emphasized their stark outlines and disconnected each of them from the others, his values no longer clashed white against black – what it meant to be a man, what it meant to be gay, the meaning of friendship and the truth of vulnerability, and that sex could provide a comfort beyond physical satisfaction.

Beside him, Warren had begun to stir in his sleep.  In his mind Mitch followed step by step the scenario of their conversation to come – Was it good? How do you feel about yourself? and so on.  The debriefing, Warren had called it.  But that conversation had become unnecessary.  His words last night had been a mask to cover a nervousness he no longer felt.  Instead, Warren would wake to the knowledge that everything had been set right.

He put his head under the quilt and took his sleeping friend’s cock into his mouth.

(© 2009 by Anel Viz. All rights reserved.)

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