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Funny Boy

Funny Boy

Penguin Modern Classics Edition
edition:Paperback
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Shadow Puppet

Shadow Puppet

A Dan Sharp Mystery
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

He felt like the world’s greatest puppet master. No matter who they were or where they came from, he could make them sing and dance. All it took was a little reassurance. With a gentle smile, he let them know he understood their suffering. The shame and fear, the condemnation and humiliation. Oh yes, all of that and more.
Best of all, he could make them weep.
That was when he felt most powerful, an avenging angel, as though he could scoop up their tears and wash away their sorrow. It was also when he felt closest to the lost lambs who followed him home and undressed for him, shedding their innocence along with their clothes. Giving up the purity that would take them to paradise. He stripped them of all of that.
***
The man over in the corner had been eyeing him across the bar for the past ten minutes. Light-skinned, a hint of facial hair. Muscular, but not too big. Just the right hesitation in his glance: Are you interested in me, brother?
Music pounded as video screens threw shadows across the room. He glanced back, gave a gentle nod: Yes, I am interested. Then he turned away, not to let the other get too cocky. The time would come to spark his confidence, to let him think he was in control. But not yet. Not right from the beginning, when his hands had deftly begun to pull the strings, bringing the puppet to life with each twitch and flutter.
The song ended and a new beat edged in. The two headed for the bar at the same moment, random atoms propelled by chance. The bartender, in black leather, looked up at the shaved-headed man.
“Dude?”
“A Molson Dry, please.”
He turned to the other. “For you?”
“Same, please.”
“Two Molson Dry coming up.”
As the bartender moved off, the larger man let his arm brush against the young man’s arm. The crowd was packed in so close there was no room to step aside, just the subtle warmth of skin touching skin.
“Habibi.” They were facing each other now. “You like this place?”
The younger man nodded shyly. The bartender returned, deftly clipped the caps off the bottles and pushed them forward where they gleamed under the lights.
“I’ve got it.” The larger man passed a bill across the counter and waved away the change.
The new acquaintances picked up their beers and made their way through the crowd to a pair of stools against the far wall.
“Chokron.” The younger man lifted his glass and swallowed long and hard.
“You like beer?”
“Yes. I like it.”
“That’s good. It relaxes you.” The shaved-headed man laughed and clasped him around the back of his neck, feeling the smooth skin and warm flesh.
“Tell me, where are you from?”
“I am from Iran,” he said. His eyes skittered nervously, knowing what it meant to discuss such things openly.
“A great country.”
Talk ensued. The older man had lived in Toronto for almost a decade; the younger had been there less than a year, he said. Do you get lonely? Yes, I miss my family all the time. All good men missed their families. They agreed and clinked bottles. Of course, the families did not know they frequented bars and drank alcohol and invited the devil into their beds.
“I am Joe. What’s your name?”
“Sam.”
“Good to meet you, Sam.”
“And you.”
“Back home I was a dentist,” the shaved-headed man said. But his certificate was useless in Canada. In a year or two, he said, he would go back to school and upgrade his papers. But everyone said that, the dream easier spoken of than accomplished.
They talked of being immigrants, of the ridiculousness of all things Western and the treacherous stranglehold the West had on world affairs. Their bottles were empty now. The younger man bought another round. He was already on his third, stumbling when he stood to use the bathroom.
“Let me help you.”
The older man took him by the arm and led him to the urinals. They stood side by side looking down, the older man’s hands lingering, stretching and letting go with a snap before the stream of piss came with an impressive splash.
He looked over. “We are friends, yes? Same-same? You and I?” He rubbed two fingers together in case the other hadn’t already got the message.
The younger man nodded, a lamb drawn to the slaughter. “Yes, brother. I like you.”
“Come, habibi. We’ve had enough drink. It is time for us to go and make ourselves better friends together, away from this place.”
***
Their walk took them through quiet streets. Despite the hour, people lingered here and there. Two men together in that neighbourhood would not be noticed.
The moon was full, its light obscured by an oncoming storm. High-rises towered above. A slate of new condos being erected showed how fast the city was growing. Rain began to fall, lightly at first then more heavily. The pavement glistened, the lights of passing cars picking up their silhouettes then sliding softly away.
Beware, they seemed to say.
The younger man stopped to lean against a street lamp, the silvery glare from above outlining his features. The older man put a hand on his shoulder, gently turning him till they faced one another. He leaned in. Their lips met. The younger man shivered and turned away.
“Please, I cannot!”
“It’s okay. I know what you want. No one will ever know.”
The wind was picking up, the leaves thrashing and turning overhead like startled birds trying to escape the storm that was nearly on them.
“Yes, it is true. No one will ever know.”
The younger man nodded, conquering his fears as the pair moved along.
The game was on again.
“Is it far?”
“Not far. Just another block.”
As they walked, the younger man spoke more openly about his family, how he’d grown up with goats, a backyard that opened onto the desert, relatives who lived in tents. More than anything, he talked of his father, who did not understand his desire to remain in the land of Satan. But a good father nonetheless, he conceded.
“I will be your father here,” the other claimed.
“You? But you are not old enough.”
“I am almost old enough. Or maybe just a big brother then. I will show you the sure way among the treacherous paths of the city. Would you like that?”
“Yes, I would.”
They all wanted something: fathers, brothers, sons, loyal friends to love them forever. He wanted to be all those things.
A walkway led to a three-storey affair recessed from the street. The light over the vestibule was burned out, all the windows facing the street darkened except for a dim glow in an upper right-hand frame. They could barely make out the building’s name: The Viking.
“Is this it?”
“Yes.”
“I’ve been here before.”
“Really?”
“Yes. Just a job I did once. It was nothing.”
Fingers manipulated the lock. The door snapped open onto a hallway that reeked of something gone off, like sour milk. The walls were rough, but recently painted. The floor tiled black-and-white harlequin.
A sign identified the superintendent’s apartment. A handwritten note had been pinned to the door — AWAY FOR THE WEEKEND — with an emergency number scribbled beneath. No one to see, no one to hear.
On the right, at the end of the hallway, a heavy industrial door was padlocked and secured. The smaller man’s footsteps scuffed drunkenly as they made their way to the apartment on the left.
A black filigree key slid easily into the lock. It was the sort of key that had secured thousands of doors like this until the middle of the previous century, but was now more likely to be a curio consigned to a dusty antique shop.
The door opened into a fresh-smelling apartment where they hung their jackets side by side in the hallway. Lights glowed softly as they passed into a living room. Heavy curtains shrouded the space. The furniture was hand-carved, intricately upholstered.
Against the far wall a row of faces leered at the newcomers, an army of puppets hanging limply from metal frames. The tiny audience silently watched the men enter, as though waiting for the cue to spring to life.
“You have friends.”
Fingers reached up to caress the wooden figures. Like the lock and key, they, too were old-fashioned, the sort of puppets only a master craftsman could make.
“Very nice. You made these?”
“Yes. I am a puppet maker.”
“Beautiful. Back home we had puppet makers, but I never met one here.”
“Please. Be at home.”
The younger man stumbled as the other pushed the drunken boy onto the couch, removing his shoes and socks for him. The boy giggled at the touch, but did not pull away from the hands caressing him.
The older man sat back on his heels and unbuckled his belt, pulling until it slithered free of the loops. “That bar we were in tonight — it’s a leather bar. Do you know what that means?”
Concern lit up the young man’s face. He eyed the belt. “No, I do not. What does this mean?”
“It means that men dress up in leather — like this.” He gripped his T-shirt by the bottom and pulled it smoothly over his head, revealing a muscular chest and a harness fastened behind his shoulders and under his armpits. The studs gleamed. “Habibi. You are lovely,” he said, rubbing the younger man’s thighs. “Do you like this?”
“Yes, I like it.”
“Have you done this with other men before?”
“Once or twice.”
“And did you enjoy it? Even though you know it’s wrong for our kind?”
“Yes, yes.” The younger man leaned forward and buried his face in the older man’s shoulder. “I want …”
“What do you want?” he asked, lifting the boy’s shirt over his head. “Tell me. I am going to be a good father to you.” “I want you to do it to me.”
“You want us to be together? Same-same?”
The look on the younger man’s face was pure intoxication, though fear still danced in his eyes. “Please. Shall we have another drink first?”
The older man ran a hand over his shaved head. “Of course.”
They had come so far; it was just a matter of time. Puppet masters were patient.
Drinks were poured and sipped, the glasses set aside. The older man unbuckled the younger man’s pants, ignoring his feeble protests as he tossed them on the floor. He slipped a condom from his pocket.
The younger man shook his head. “No. This is for gays.” His eyes pleaded with his companion. Only gay men get AIDS, they said. We are not gay. We are real men.
So be it.

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Paul Is Dead
Excerpt

That evening, as Alan kept a whip hand on the coals, Paul rose from his chair and went into the cottage to fetch two more beers. Lydia remembers herself next to Briony, slicing tomatoes on a cutting board on the counter, shifting slightly so Paul could swing the fridge door open, thrilling to the brush of his ass against hers. She remembers the clatter of the bottles along the refrigerator shelf, the pop of bottle tops, her mind concentrated on cutting vegetables with such a dull knife, then the gush of water running in the bathroom. Dorian remembers Paul exiting the cottage, one of his hands gripping both beers by their necks, the other gripping … something by their necks, something plastic and dripping. Water pistols.

“I saw them earlier tucked up in a space over the kitchen door,” he murmured to Dorian, grinning, though Dorian didn’t need the grin to get the message. Paul sat. They each took a pistol. They aimed at Alan. He was not amused. He batted at the spray like an angry bear at swarming wasps before registering the source. There followed the predictable bellowing fuck-you-laced invective as Dorian and Paul blasted him with needle-fine jets of water. Alan ran to get out of the way. Dorian and Paul jumped from their chairs and chased him over the lawn. Lydia remembers looking up to the kitchen window to see sprinting shadows and the towel-laden clothesline in sudden motion, sensing Briony beside her startled and uneasy, recalling herself strangely electrified. She remembers hearing above the raucous laughter someone crashing through the front door and tearing across the floor, followed by an unfamiliar metallic rattling in the living room and Alanna saying sleepily, “Alan, what are you doing?” And then someone––Alan, apparently––crashing out the door again and roaring maleness renewed, sharper, more taunting this time.

And then, the blast––like a crack of thunder sundering the air. Lydia’s head snapping to the window, her cutting her finger. Damp bathing suits and towels collapsing to the lawn, strands of the severed clothesline silvering in the setting sun. And a piercing, shattering scream.

Lydia remembers the frozen moment that followed the scream, her mind racing to attach cause to effect. She remembers the couch’s sharp rasp in the next room, the tea towel dropping from Briony’s hand, the knife dropping from hers, her cut finger frothing blood––her scrambling through the screen door and down the steps and onto the darkening lawn, the others on her heels. She remembers Paul, fallen on a beach towel, clutching his left shoulder with his right hand, blood running between his fingers and pooling blackly on the pale cotton, his face contorted, Dorian’s face captured in a shaft of sun, pale as the cotton––a prefiguring, she reflected much later, of a horror to come, and Alan chanting like a mad monk, “I didn’t know it was loaded, I didn’t know it was loaded.”

And, improbably, before this tableau of shock and incredulity could break apart, a large black hound, like something out of hell, burst out of the gloom, trailing a lead, trailing a thickset man with slicked-back hair—suddenly an adult among the children. Lydia remembers Briony bursting into a wet sob, herself battling disbelief: a green pistol lay at Paul’s side; Dorian’s limp hand held its twin. Plastic guns. Plastic, impossible. And then she understood. She saw the dark shape of the shotgun fallen to Alan’s side on the grass, heard the stranger say, “What the hell is going on?” as he bent to grasp the leash of the excited dog and pushing the animal away, toward Alanna who robotically gripped its collar.

Dorian remembers the man shifting to his knees to examine Paul. With the evening well advanced, the light low, his face leaned in, seemed almost to touch Paul’s. “Are you all right?” he asked, and as Paul strained his reply through gritted teeth––“It’s nothing. We were just horsing around”––he shifted his judgmental gaze to the rest of them standing in a contrite row, “With a loaded shotgun? Are you crazy? Where is it? Give that to me!”

The tone of his voice broke the spell. Alanna, one hand clutching still the dog’s collar, bent for the weapon and passed it over. Briony reached down for another of the fallen towels and moved to apply it to Paul’s shoulder while the stranger, who seemed to know what he was doing, opened the chamber, directed it to the light and peered in. “Single barrel,” he grunted, snapped the gun back together, and turned to Alan who was now trembling uncontrollably. “If your aim had been four inches to the right, he’d be dead.”

“I didn’t know it was loaded!” Alan’s voice cracked.

“Jesus, I’m fine,” Paul insisted, struggling against Briony to rise, grabbing the towel from her and pushing it against his shoulder where the shot had ripped through the T-shirt sleeve.

“We have a first aid kit in the cottage,” Lydia said to the stranger, adding as if it added weight, “my father’s a doctor.”

“You shouldn’t have this lying around,” the man bristled at her.

“It’s sat in a rack on the wall all my life. I’ve never seen anyone take it down, ever, my whole life.”

The man turned to Paul. “You could press charges.”

“Why don’t you fuck off?” Paul snapped and moved unsteadily toward the cottage, Briony trailing behind. Perhaps the setting sun’s crimson rays were amplification, but Elvis’s face––Dorian recalls this vividly––blazed, his eyes seethed with contempt. He could see what this man––solid, clean-cut, tidily dressed, only a few years older (as Lydia correctly said) but somehow a generation removed––saw: a bunch of stupid, stoned, and irresponsible hippies––the usual litany of complaint of the day.

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Sketchtasy

Sketchtasy

edition:Paperback
tagged : gay, literary
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Fate's Instruments

Fate's Instruments

No Safeguards 2 - Paul's Story
edition:Paperback
tagged : literary, gay
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Fate’s Instruments

Fate’s Instruments

No Safeguards 2 - Paul's Story
edition:eBook
tagged : gay, literary
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