Book Review: Craved by Lola Smirnova

I was a big fan of the first book in this series, Twisted, moreso for the necessity of Lola’s story than the actual storytelling.  While I was mildly disappointed that the book didn’t resolve my previous criticism, my respect for Lola’s life story only increases with Craved.

I didn’t think it could get much darker than Twisted; I was wrong.  It is a appallingly honest and cutting look at man’s darkside and the nature of a woman that voluntarily, almost hypnotically veered towards the darkness.  Your bookshelf will be richer for having Craved on it, but that doesn’t make it easier to take down and open. It pushes the boundaries of our conceptions of desire, lust, pain and tolerance and that is no mean feat.  You can’t help but root for the self-deprecating, self-aware and yet demoralized Julia; watching her pinball from depression to horror to very fleeting elation along a pathway lined with neon, coke and cum is a white-knuckle-inducing, sobering rollercoaster and a blinding shot of 200-proof verbiage for the average, teetotalling reader.

Wear a cup.

I Was A Champion Then…Now FOURTEEN stories about quiet injustice, small rebellions and restless hope

Folks,

It’s taken a while, but finally, the new, updated version of I Was A Champion Then (edition 2, if you’re scoring from home) has been released and is available on Amazon. The digital version is also available.

Why a second edition?  Because, after the first one had gone to print, I discovered, of course, two more stories of my dad’s to include in the book.  Factor in the time to edit the stories, design the artwork, retitle the book and the spine width and it’s taken until now to launch the final version.  I think it’s worth it, but you be the judge.

 

 

 

Gerald and Grace, Part II

1990

“He’s a fag, Mother,” Reed declared.

Grace winced. “You don’t know that, Reed.”

“Everyone knows it.” Reed’s face was red. He’d been drinking too much today. Like his father had. Grace hated how easily he could provide discomfort. He was always a sullen, combative child who only lived for telling hard truths. It was a horrible thing to realize about her first-born.

“I don’t want to talk about it, Reed.” She was suddenly aware that her sons had her surrounded. They acted like they didn’t. Dewey’s eyes were on the floor. Arthur was staring out through the garden window. Only Reed had the courage to look her in the eyes, and even that he had to do tipsy.

“You shouldn’t have invited him here, Mother.”

“I already said I’m not going to talk about it. And I’m certainly not going to be ambushed over it. “

“We’re not ambushing you, Mother.” Dewey was still a baby. “He has a reputation.”

“Oh, Dewey,” she waved him off. She was concerned. Alarmed, even. She didn’t know Gerald that well and she’d taken to him like an old friend. But she wasn’t going to be lectured by a man who needed four — four — phone calls from her to the Board to get into Princeton.

“You don’t have to settle…there’s no reason for you to…” Grace watched Reed contort to be diplomatic. “I like Bill Havemeyer.”

“Then you marry him.” Grace said.

“Are you thinking of marrying Gerald?” Arthur was the quiet one. The thoughtful one.

“I…I…” Grace shook her head. She couldn’t believe she had said it out loud. “He is simply my companion, Arthur.”

“None of us begrudge you a companion, Mother. And none of us are telling you what to do.” Arthur looked right into her eyes. He was compassionate but razor-sharp. He hadn’t needed any phone calls to get into Harvard. Or Stanford Law. “But you owe it to yourself to at least hear what we’re saying. You can’t keep ignoring this.”

Grace took a sip of iced tea. Grace wasn’t ignoring anything. She just didn’t care to look too deeply. She didn’t need to. She liked Gerald. He made her feel light and happy. She could talk with him. She could love him. “It’s rumors.”

“You’re the only one who thinks so, Mother.” Reed murmured into his beer.

Grace looked disgustedly at Reed. She had a strong urge to say something and hurt him. Gerald wasn’t like his father. Gerald smiled and talked freely, like a friend. Russell hadn’t been a friend. Russell was a hero to Grace. Grace had never met a man like Russell and she never would again. She knew that. Russell was strong and robust. She felt like more of a woman when she had held his hand. When she walked with Russell, she felt safe and worthy. He was the rock, she was the dancing wave, frothy and determined to wrap herself around him. “Light as air and tough as steel,” he called her. No one was going to replace him. Gerald wasn’t going to replace him. Gerald was going to give Grace the confidante, the peer she had never had. She bit her tongue. “I know Gerald isn’t your father.”

“This isn’t about Father,” Reed said.

Of course it was. It was always about Russell. Arthur had been the one to find him on the bathroom floor. And Arthur had been so young. It was right before he left for Harvard. It had been such a rich summer before then. They had gone to Maine for the 4th of July. Russell had just taken first at the country club tennis tournament. There was no reason for him to leave. There was no reason for him to leave so suddenly. Except, of course, there was. This was 1980. Before doctors checked regularly for cholesterol. If only she had known. Grace ate so well now. Barley and couscous and lots of fibers. They just hadn’t known then.

Grace shrugged. “I’m not going to apologize for being happy.”

“Does he make you happy?” Arthur asked.

She smiled. “Gerald is a wonderful man. Just wonderful. I don’t know how else to describe him.”

“Cocksucker.”

Grace’s face turned angry and red. “That is enough, Reed!” Her hand cut the air in front of her. “Enough!” She needed to re-establish her authority in her own house. “Now, I’ve listened to you all and I’ve heard what you have to say. You’ve insinuated and you’ve berated and you’ve insulted both me and this man that I’ve…that I am…you’ve insulted Gerald.”

“But we’re not wrong, Mother.”

“Let me finish, Dewey.” Grace stared at them fiercely. “I am happy again. I have found a man who I can love. We laugh, we talk. He loves the things I love. And I love that. Do you understand?

“Yeah,” Reed snorted. “You’re lonely, I get it.”

“Get out.” Grace was done with him. “All of you, get out.” She stood up. Her small, lithe frame danced effortlessly from the chair and ushered them to the door. Her eyes flashed angrily. “I’m done explaining myself to you. And if you would like to explain yourselves to me, you are welcome to. But not today. Today, I am through with my children.” Grace waved them through the living room door. Reed rolled his eyes and Dewey shook his head.

Arthur lingered behind.

“You too, Arthur,” Grace nodded emphatically.

“What do you like about him, Mother?” He asked softly.

Grace sank into her chair, decaffeinated. She patted the weathered armrest. The chair had been her mother’s. It had been a gift to her and Papa when he stopped working on the riverboat as an accountant. In their German immigrant home, it was the most prized possession they had. Now, in the light of the Connecticut morning, the light trickled through the leaves of the steady oak outside and touched on so much accumulated wealth. It was only one of many nice objects. But it was still home to her. “He and I talked for hours last night at Rudolph’s. We closed the place down.”

Arthur nodded.

“Do you know he knows Italian? And French? It’s wonderful.” Grace felt her energy pick up. “He consulted when they did Barber of Seville at Salzberg. And — interesting — he just got back from Bastille where he saw a remarkable new —“

“You want to be with him because he likes the opera.”

“Arthur,” she shook her head. “What are you afraid of?”

“Him.”

Grace laughed. “He’s harmless, Arthur. It’s madness to think…” She looked at him. “What do you think he’s going to do?”

Arthur shrugged. “Take your money.”

“Because he’s younger than me? So now it’s his age?”

“If it is true about him, what does he see when he looks at you?”

“Oh, thanks a lot!” She smirked at him. “Arthur, please.” She was 54. She had never been the homecoming queen. That wasn’t her most attractive quality. It was her energy. She was sprightly and fiery. Fiesty and loving. She raised three boys and raised a theater and opera house in Norwalk. She sat on the Board at Columbia. She was the life of the party, endlessly witty and clever. Her smile brightened the room and made her stand out.

“Why does he want to be with you?”

“Why does anyone want to be with anyone? We all need friends, Arthur. We all need someone to listen to us and —“

“Not a lover?”

“I’m not comfortable talking about this, Arthur.” She wasn’t going to get into personal details with her son. She chose not to think about why Gerald was content to kiss her gently on the lips goodnight. She chose to find it refreshing. She wasn’t consumed with the need to please him the way she was with Russell. After 20 years together, 20 years of cooking and talking and being affectionate, she never knew why Russell had chosen her. She never felt he loved her, not the way she loved him. But Russell never complained and he never made her feel inadequate. Just the opposite, he was always a grateful, considerate and an icon of a man. He’d wrap his warm hand around her shoulder and hold her close while he’d talk to others in the lobby of Darien Presbyterian. But Grace never knew why. There were so many others that would have given their eyeteeth for Grace’s place. But Russell chose her. It was infuriating.

But if Russell was chess, Gerald was checkers. He swapped stories with Grace, laughed at the same stories. He made her life a fast-paced blur of intellect and culture. He had one story or a quote about everything and everyone. And he adored her. Maybe not physically, but there were more important things in life than sex, especially at their age.

“I think it would be good to talk with Richard about him.”

“Why? My will?”

Arthur nodded.

“You’re paranoid, Arthur.”

“I hope that’s all I am, Mother.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

Gerald and Grace, Part III

Grace found Gerald standing by the pool, laughing with Harold McMaster and his new wife and Diane and Tom Bickaus. Grace couldn’t stop herself from smiling. Grace hadn’t even had the chance to introduce Gerald around, yet there he was, at home. His hand rested lightly on Diane’s elbow as they shared a chuckle. Gerald looked dapper, there was no other word for it. He wore the lovely white silk blazer that he had told Grace he was saving just for her Memorial Day soiree. He was a host, not a guest. Grace stepped a little faster just to join them and catch the end of what Gerald was saying.

“I started in, straightaway, ‘Diana, you are every bit a bitch of a queen. And you too, Your Majesty.’”

The group broke into amused gasps. “Oh, you didn’t!” Diana laughed.

“I most certainly did,” Gerald said. “I got a very firm slap on the wrist for it, I can tell you.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely, I’m barred from ever traveling to Jordan.”

“You’re not!”

Gerald shook his head. “No, no, no, but I’d like to think I am.”

“Oh, what did I miss?” Grace laid her hand on Gerald’s shoulder.

“I was just telling them about going backstage to see Diana after she did the Scottish Play and Queen Noor was there.”

Grace loved that Diana Rigg was simply “Diana” to Gerald. “How funny,” she smiled.

“I wish you had been one of my professors, Gerald. Your students must be in fits.”

“If not seizures, yes,” Gerald said to more laughter.

As Tom and Diana moved towards the hors d’oerves platter, Harold gripped Grace’s hand. “It is a beautiful get-together, just beautiful.”

“Well, I’m thrilled you could be here, Harold.” Grace smiled and peeled Gerald away, leading him out of earshot where she could have him all to herself. She loved how warm and close Gerald felt to her.

“Well, he’s not that bad.” Gerald murmured to her.

“Ugh.” Grace grimaced.

“He doesn’t even have horns and a tail.”

Grace couldn’t help but giggle.

“Well, I still think it was incredibly gracious of you to invite him. You’ve made a friend out of him.”

“No, you’ve made a friend out of him.”

Gerald shook his head. “It’s your party.”

“We’ll see if he remembers that next time there’s a vote on the refurbishment of the Baxter wing.”

“You hold a grudge like an Ayatollah,” Gerald laughed. “I never want to get on your bad side.”

“That’s right, mister,” Grace nudged him playfully.

“So did you have a good talk with your boys?”

Walking past smiling faces, Grace smiled and nodded and acted like she wasn’t as surprised as she was.

“You saw us talking?”

“I was looking for you.” He smiled. “Don’t worry, I didn’t linger by the doorway.”

“Don’t be silly,” Grace shrugged.

“But you had a good talk?”

“Of course,” Grace answered stoically. “They’re my boys.”

“Far be it from me to intrude,” Gerald held up his hands in mock surrender.

“You want to know what we were talking about, don’t you?” She teased. “You want to know if it was about you.”

Gerald’s face was surprisingly sober. “I know it was about me.”

Grace smiled at Miranda Fecklenberg, grateful for the diversion.

“Is there anything I should know?”

Grace stopped and looked very seriously at Gerald. His blue eyes followed her gaze. “My Lord, you really wear a lot of cologne,” she said.

He didn’t stiffen. He didn’t roll his eyes. He didn’t protest. His eyes simply receded, almost imperceptibly.

“Grace?” Miranda was calling her.

Grace turned gratefully away from Gerald.

“Grace, this is just lovely! You couldn’t have ordered a more perfect day.”

“I know, isn’t it?” Grace turned towards Gerald, but he wasn’t there. He was already several feet away, shaking Bill Mercer’s hand goodbye and walking briskly towards the front door.

Grace felt a sharp pang of remorse. If it hadn’t been so inappropriate, she would have called to him and lassoed him back to her side.

As Miranda took her hand, Grace reminded herself that Gerald was awfully sensitive. But then, they were, weren’t they?

TO BE CONTINUED…

Gerald and Grace, Part I

2015

Grace shook her head sternly at the police. Her hand quivered and she had to hold onto the molding along the foyer wall to make it stop. Gerald was gay. It was probably only a matter of time until they locked him up.

Gerald handled it, like so much else, with stoic poise. “Can you call Richard?” he said to Grace.

“Yes, yes!” Grace nodded.

Gerald said nothing else, striding out the door with the officers. Grace smiled defiantly. It wasn’t in his nature to cut a pathetic figure. The smile didn’t last. He was still in handcuffs, handcuffs that forced his body to look like that of an actual criminal, not like that of the man she had married 35 years ago. He looked frail, not like the robust wit that hung on her arm each week at the Met.

“Richard Neniman.”

“Gerald’s been arrested,” she said matter-of-factly into the phone.

Richard was silent. Grace could almost hear his brain rewiring to process the news. “For what?”

“They said it was attempted murder,” she spoke into the phone.

Silence again. Grace tried to relax her face and soften her hardened lips. Richard had found the loophole that let Gerald steal Gustavo from the LA Phil. He had written her will and Gerald’s. He had even negotiated the sale of the house in Seal Harbor. It stuck Grace that she might finally have a problem that he was unequipped to handle. “I…I’m going to need the details,” he said, finally. “When can I see you?”

“Now, Richard” Grace felt the panic rise in her voice. “Right now.”

“Have you called Dewey yet? Or Reed?

No, and she wouldn’t. Not yet. She didn’t want to hear them say that they had told her so.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Kentuckiana, Part I

Josie’s fingers trembled as she slid the cigarette out of her lips.  He looked young.

Josie watched him through the gap in the venetian blinds.  He was facing the door, so she could only see him from the side.  But she didn’t like what she saw.  His hair looked real short and trim underneath his baseball hat.  A silver necklace snaked around his tan neck.  His v-neck said something like “Fight House,” but it was tough to tell because it was covered in patterns and anyway she was looking more at his muscles.  She could see them bubbling underneath his shirt.  His neck and arms were thick.  She could see large veins on his forearms.  He looked like the young guys from her dad’s squad that used to come over for barbecues and it made her nauseous.  She tried to look in his eyes for a tell, but he was facing the wrong way.  All she knew is he was different from the guys with spare tires under their Polo shirts and white, sickly legs under their khakis who would timidly walk up to the door.  He looked like a player.  Like he was built for partying and playing touch football with his shirt off.  Like he didn’t need to be here.

“Should I open the door?”  Layla poked her head around the corner, making her sequined blue dress cling to her curves.  Her eyes had gotten real big.

“He looks young.”  Josie scowled.  She wasn’t going to let Layla see how nervous she was.

“Does he look like a cop?”  Layla whispered.

“You got the damn peephole on the door.”

“I don’t wanna look.  I’m scared,” Layla giggled.  Josie crushed her cigarette into the ashtray on the windowsill.  She needed to crush something.

“Well fucking do something,” Josie looked around for a place to hide the ashtray.  “He’s been standing there for a fucking minute already.”  She hated being the adult.  No — she hated being the adult when she was six years younger than Layla.

Layla pressed her face against the peephole.  “Fuuuuck.  He IS young.”  She looked at Josie, her face flushed and giddy.  “Imma let him in.”

Josie shrugged.  Josie always shrugged.  It didn’t matter what she said to Layla, Layla was gonna do what she wanted.  She carried the ashtray to the bathroom and dumped it in the sink, running water along its blackened edges.

Layla put her hand on the doorknob.  “Imma do it.”

Josie refused to look up from cleaning.  “Shit, girl, do it then.”

Layla walked away from the door to ask her, “You gonna be mad if I do?”

Josie reminded herself that Layla had given her a home and a bed.  And a job.  She didn’t like any of it, but it was more than she had before.  “No, I ain’t mad,” she turned to Layla and smiled as much as she could these days.  “But making him wait ain’t gonna solve anything.”

“OK.”  Layla bobbed her head.  “Kiss me, mama,” she leaned forward.

Their lips met for a moment longer than a moment.

“Love you, mama.”

“Love you, too.”  Josie watched Layla’s short, tan legs skip across the wall-to-wall carpeting until she was at the front door.  Layla took a deep breath and grinned at Josie.  Josie closed the bathroom door and turned back to scrubbing the ashtray before she scowled again.  She poured some detergent in the ashtray.  She was glad she had a project to do.  She didn’t want to be there when the guy walked in.  She didn’t just wanna be the rail-thin blonde chick standing next to Layla.  She knew he would need a second to take in Layla.  Most guys did.  Especially when she was being a sweetie.  So Josie was gonna be at the sink, just finishing up cleaning.  She was going to make the guy wait to see her and make him wonder if she was going to be even hotter than Layla.   And Layla was gonna have to introduce her.

The faucet drowned out the sound of the front door opening.  But Josie heard Layla — “Hi.”  It was a long “Hi,” the way you say it when you’re not sure what’s coming next.

Josie couldn’t hear what he said.  His words were just a low rumble.  But it felt good to Josie to hear a voice besides Layla’s sing-song twang.  And this guy’s voice sounded better than Brian’s.  Brian sounded like such a fag.

“Sorry, to keep you waiting.”  She could hear Layla walking him into the apartment.

“No problem…are you Maggie?”

“Yeah.”

Josie winced.  Layla could never remember the right name.

“So, do you guys just use this place for…work?”  Josie didn’t like how he asked that.  Every guy asked about the apartment, which made sense since it was totally empty.  Well, not totally empty.  There was the TV and DVD player, a bunch of movies and the Listerine and perfume and baby wipes in the bathroom.  And the bed.  But this guy had asked if they used it for work.  That just sounded weird.  It sounded specific.  And not normal.  She couldn’t wait on Layla, she was going to need to lay eyes on him, straight up.  So she opened the bathroom door.

He smiled and held out his hand.

“Hey, good to meet you.”

“Yeah,” Josie smiled at him.  It wasn’t hard.  He looked like he had a rocking body.  He had real nice eyes — blue and friendly.  His hair was short and and his jeans were clean.  She felt uneasy.  He was good looking.  Too good looking.  Even worse, he was relaxed.  Way too relaxed.

“This is, um, Maggie,” Layla said.

“You’re both named Maggie?”

Josie didn’t let Layla fuck it up more.  “Nah, I’m Maggie, she’s Mollie.”

“Oh, I thought you said, ‘Maggie,'” he said to Layla.  But he said it nice, like it didn’t bother him.

“Nah, I said, ‘Mollie,'” Layla shook her head.  He didn’t argue.  Josie wasn’t surprised.  Guys usually didn’t argue with Layla.

“You guys got a nice place here,” he looked around the bedroom.  “Is there another bedroom…?”  He looked up and down the apartment.

“Nah, it’s just one bedroom,” Layla shot a worried look at Josie.  Why did he want to know how many rooms were in the place?  Even Layla had picked up that this guy wasn’t normal.

“Need some furniture though, huh?”  He grinned.

“We just moved in,” Layla said, defensively.

Josie sat down on the edge of the bed and slipped a new cigarette into her mouth.  He was a cop.  He had to be a cop.  So she might as well smoke.

“I saw they got a pool out there for the whole complex,” he grinned at Layla.  “Is that where you get your tan?”

Layla stroked her arms like they were underfed kids.  “This ain’t a tan.”

“Looks tan to me.”

“Nah, I was way tanner.”  Layla sat on the bed, next to Josie.  “Remember how tan I was during the summer?”

Josie nodded at him.  He grinned at her, like everything was chill in his world.  Fuck that.   “Are you a cop?”  Josie didn’t take her eyes off him.

The guy’s eyebrows jumped a full inch.   “What?  No!  Why?”

“‘Cuz you’re, like, hot.”  Layla meant it.

“Can I see your drivers license?”  Josie watched to see if he got nervous.

“Well, you don’t have to,” Layla said.

Josie wanted to slap the shit out of her.

Layla must have figured as much.  “But, I mean, it’d be real cool if you could.  She don’t wanna get your personal information or anything.  She just wants to see where you’re from.  We gotta be sure, you know.”

He shrugged.  “Here,” he pulled it out of a wallet on a chain attached to his belt.  “I don’t care.”  Yeah, that was weird.  Every guy they ever saw would have cared.

She looked over the laminated license.  There was a sort of hologram on it.  Maybe the cops were getting better at doing fakes.

Layla smiled at him.  “Her cousin’s from Cali.”

“I lived there too,” Josie muttered.

“No shit?”  He said.

“For, like, six months.”  Yeah, she had been places.  She wasn’t like Layla — trapped between southern Indiana and Louisville.  Back when she was dealing, Josie had been up to Indy and Cincinnati.  She’d even spent a few nights in Nashville when Dre was tripping.  She kept staring at the license, flexing it in her hand, turning it right and left, waiting for it to tell her something.

“Where’d you live?”

“San Diego.”

“Did you like it?”

“It’s nice.”  His driver’s license said his name was Michael something-starting-with-an-E.  He lived in some town Josie had never heard of.  It was probably a suburb.

“Whattya think?”  Layla was watching Josie close.

“It looks way different than my cousin’s.”  She was supposed to be the street-smart one, but she had no idea whether or not the license was real.  Sometimes it pissed her off how uneducated she was.  She’d been through too much to still be this stupid.  She handed the drivers license back to the guy.

He fumbled in his pocket for a second.  “Hey, I got the money, by the way.”

Josie froze as he pulled out a wad of bills.  She didn’t really know the law that well.  But once the money changed hands —

“Uh…”  Layla shook her head at him.

“You want it?”

don’t want it.”  Layla shook her head vigorously.  “Put it over there.”  Layla pointed to the bathroom.  “On the sink.”

“You still scared?” He grinned.

I’m not taking your money.”  Layla stated emphatically.

He placed the bills on the cream-colored sink.  “OK.  I’m leaving it here.”

Layla shrugged just like Josie would have.  “Whatever.”

Josie had enough.  She quickly leaned forward, her hand rubbing across his chest.

He flinched, but let her continue.  “I’m not wearing a wire.”

She pointed at his shirt.  “Can you lift your shirt up?”

He shook his head and stood up.  Slowly, he pulled his shirt up over his abs…his chest…”You want me to just take it off?”

Layla shook her head, “See, that’s…you got, like, a hot body.”  Josie tried not to look.  He looked that good.

He laughed.

Layla hit him on the arm.  “You know how scared I am?  We’ve only been doing this two weeks,” she lied.  “And I’m scared every time.  But this time is the worst and you’re not helping!”

“I’m sorry,” he chuckled.  “I don’t know what I can say to make you calm down.”  If he was a cop, he really enjoyed torturing them, Josie thought.

“What kinda work do you do?”  Josie asked him.

“I drive a truck.”

“Like a Chevy?”  Layla asked.

He laughed.

“Nah, he means like a 18-wheeler.”  Josie fumbled under the pillow for her phone.  Layla was being dumb and giggly, but he thought it was cute.  Josie didn’t want to bring the mood down with her disgust.  So she stared idly at the numbers on the call log.  There was Dre.  That was from a few days ago.  There was CC, which stood for Clint Cahill, who was her dad.  That was from this morning.  She was gonna have to see him tomorrow.  She could feel her stomach knotting up just thinking about it.  It made her want to take a shit.  God, she was hungry.  Brian had left Pop Tarts for her and Layla in the fridge.  She’d hid four of them in her purse before Layla had seen the box, but then Layla got pissed that Brian left them an opened box.  She had to talk Layla out of making it into an issue.  Layla was always so fucking dramatic.  But Josie was pissed she wasn’t going to be able to touch the Pop Tarts until Layla wasn’t around.  Because Layla was always around.  In the meantime, why the fuck did she need to shit?  Why couldn’t the food stay in her a little longer?  Why did her body always reject food like that?

“So, you got that body driving a truck?”   Layla’s eyes wandered over his chest.

“Nah, I get that working out.”

“How do you do that when you’re driving?”

“I’ll work out in a parking lot if I gotta.”

“You work out in parking lots?”

Josie turned back to her phone, impatiently.  She just wanted to do this.  So what if he was going to flash a badge and take them in.  She wanted to get on with the next drama in her life.  She was sick with waiting for it to happen.  Or…or maybe he was for real.  In which case, she just wanted to fuck him and get paid already.  And maybe she could make him look at her like he did at Layla.

“You married?”  Josie asked without looking up from her phone.

“Nope.”

A lot of them said that.  If they didn’t, sometimes the girls would drop a hint and the guys would pay more just to keep them quiet.  Josie wondered if other girls did that or if she and Layla were just smarter than most.

“Girlfriend?”  Layla asked.

“Nope.”

He had to be lying.  This kind of guy wouldn’t have problems getting a girl.  Or keeping her.

“How old are you?”  Layla’s eyes wandered up and down his body.

“32.”

“You look younger than 32.”  Layla said.  “How old do I look?”

“23?”

“For real?”  Layla blushed.

“How old are you?”  The guy looked at Layla.  Josie could tell he liked her.  Guys always did.

“How old do I look?”  Josie looked up.  She wanted to play too.

He screwed up his face and examined her.  “Same – 23.”

Josie didn’t let it hurt her feelings.  “I’m 22.”  She was past being butt-hurt.  Or she hoped she was, anyway.

“I’m almost 30!”  Layla said.

“No shit,” he smiled.

“It’s true, imma be 28 soon.”

“You don’t look it.”  Josie hated the way he said it.  He said it like he wanted to say a lot more.  He said it like he gave a shit.

“Man, Imma be soooo pissed if you’re a cop, you know that?”  She could tell Layla was already planning on fucking him.  “I can’t go to jail.  Look at me,” she pouted.  “I’ll never make it.”

Josie had been wrong about guys before, but the way he looked at Layla, he seemed like a good guy.  Maybe he was.

Layla must have known what Josie was thinking.  She looked at her and smiled.  “I don’t know.  Should we?”

Josie wanted to feel a guy around her, inside her.  Not one of the middle-aged, hairy, respectful guys that timidly knocked on their door.  And not a thug like Dre.  She had to break that habit.  She wanted…this guy.  So she looked away from him and her face turned hard and she sucked on the cigarette.  She knew she was getting played.  She wasn’t no rookie.  She knew better than to get her hopes up.  So she just shrugged at Layla.

Layla turned to him.  “See, we were told, we ain’t gotta see no one.  If we feel something’s wrong, we can just ask them to leave.”

“You asking me to leave?”

“No, I’m just saying,” Layla looked at him with begging eyes.  “If you’re a cop, I swear to God, Imma be so mad at you.  Not that you’ll care.  Because you’re a cop.”

“I’m trying not to laugh.”  A smile danced across his lips.  “But I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“I’m just saying, Imma be pissed if you are.”

“I wouldn’t do that to you, babe,” he said.  Josie hoped that went for her as well.

“You better not.”  Layla stood up from the bed.  “All right, then, might as well sit down.”

He sat down on the end of the bed.

“No,” Layla pointed at the middle of the bed.  “Here, in between us.”

He started towards the middle.

“Well, I mean, get your jeans off first.”  Layla said.  “We gotta get naked, right?”

Josie watched him shuck his shirt.  She liked the way his necklace stuck to his perfect chest for a second until he shook it free.  She hoped he’d leave it on.

“I need a drink first,” Layla brushed past him.  “You want something to drink?  We got water, beer, Dr. Pepper.”  Brian had left it all in the fridge to make it look like they might actually live there.

He was already in his socks.  “I’ll get water, babe, thanks.”

“How about you, mama?”

Josie wanted a joint, if she was being honest.  But she figured that if she was going to get arrested in the next minute or two, it would probably be better to keep her stash hidden in her purse for now.  “I’m good.”

Josie watched him get naked.  He looked at her as he pulled his underwear off and she watched his penis spring free of the elastic.  It was a thick penis.  Of course.  With a thick vein running from top to bottom, like it was just another of his muscles.  She looked away as he lay down on the bed next to her.  She felt his eyes wander over her body.  She felt thin and stringy next to him.  She had checked herself out in the mirror enough times to know her ass looked real cute in her heart-patterned panties, but she was always embarrassed how flat she was.  Even buying the children’s-sized tank tops, her nipples were just like pebbles on a freeway.  She hoped he wouldn’t ask about the hand-tattoos scrawled across her breastbone.  She hated that if he was a cop, she’d have to answer his questions sooner or later.  And she hated that if he wasn’t a cop, her tats would probably turn him off and he’d have to fuck her from behind instead.  There was something warm about him.  Friendly.  Human.  So she took a chance and showed him the screensaver on her phone.  “This is my son.”

His eyes softened around the edges.  He really looked.  “He’s a cutie.”

Josie found herself smiling.  Dante always did that to her.  Especially the way his face was pressed against hers in the picture.  His eyes, focused, like a boss, even though his 4-year old face was pudgy and soft.  “He’s a fighter,” she said.  “Like me.”

“You’re a fighter?”

She liked the way he looked at her.  Even if it was only because Layla wasn’t in the room.  In this moment, she didn’t even care if he was a cop.  She wanted to keep his mind on her.  “I got a felony,” she shrugged.

His brow wrinkled, but she didn’t think he was scared off.  “How long were you in for?”

“Six months.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Whatever.”  She ignored the strong urge she felt to drop into his arms.  “My lawyer says he can drop it down to a misdemeanor, if I make it past a year.”

“What if you do?”

She nodded at her screensaver.  “Then I get him back.”

“You better not fuck up.”

Josie wasn’t sure if it was a warning or advice.

“Where is he now?”

She wasn’t ready to tell him all that.  “I got three months more until I get him back.”  But she found more words tumbling out of her mouth.  “Imma get him back, though.  He needs me.”

“I bet he does.”  He looked at her the way a social worker did once.  But he was way hotter.

“He loves me, too.  He starts crying every time I gotta go.  And I gotta tell him I can’t stay and I gotta be back later.  And I tell him he’s a fucking man and he’s gotta stay strong for mama.  And he says it to me.  He says, ‘I will Mama.  I will.'”

“He looks like a sweet kid.”  He smiled at her.  It made her want to talk even more, so she shut the fuck up.

“Shit, you’re such a cop,” Layla walked back in with two waters.

“Because I’m having water?” He grinned.  Josie felt the sunbeam of his gaze shift onto Layla.

“I’ve had a bad year,” Layla sighed.  “I don’t need anymore shit.”

“What’s so bad about your year?”  He asked.  Josie scowled at her phone.  Layla must have heard the way he was talking to her when she was out of the room and now she wanted some for herself.

“My mom killed herself.”

Josie hated that Layla always had to lie.  And she really hated that everyone believed her.

“Shit, I’m sorry.”

Layla shrugged like she was used to the hard life.  “It’s OK.”

“Nah, it isn’t.  That’s fucking hard.  I’m real sorry.”  He put his hand on her shoulder tenderly.  Josie made sure not to look.

“Don’t worry about it.”  Layla shook her head.

“Hey, are we gonna do this?”  Josie shot a look at Layla.

Layla grinned at him.  “Josie wants to get this done quick.”

Josie froze.  She looked away, hoping he hadn’t heard her real name.

“He doesn’t need us there until six, you know,” Layla said to Josie.  Brian didn’t really have an appointment for them, but he did want them out of the apartment by then.

“You gotta be somewhere?”  The guy looked at the girls.

Layla brushed it off.  “Nah, we got a lot of time.”

Josie couldn’t contain herself.  ”You just said my name,” she said quietly.

“Oh, shit.”  Layla winced.  She looked at him.  “I mean, you knew this ain’t our real names anyway, right?”

“It’s cool,” he smiled.

Josie wasn’t going to let it pass that easily.  “But that don’t mean he knew our real names.”

Layla turned to him.  “I’ll let you guess mine.”

He grinned at her.  Josie hated how easy it was for Layla to flirt her way out of trouble.

“You like classic rock?”  Layla asked him.

“Sure.”

“‘Cuz that’s what I’m named after.”

“Your name is Classic Rock?”  He started laughing.

“Don’t be stupid,” Layla slapped his taut chest.

“Yeah.  Is your name Pete Townsend?”  He started laughing again.  Josie smiled, even though she didn’t really get it.  She liked his jokes.  They seemed kind of sweet.

Layla slapped him again, this time on the shoulder.

“What’s your name, then?”

“You gotta guess.”

He stared up at the ceiling.  Josie glanced at the smile on his face as he rifled through the list of songs in his mind.

Layla unzipped her dress, letting it wad up on the floor.  She shot a look at him as she unsnapped her bra.  Josie wasn’t surprised he looked at her.  “You got me on my knees,'” Layla sang off-key.  “Mmm-mm,” she looked at him. “I’m begging darlin’ please, Mmm-mm…Darlin’ won’t you ease my worried —”

He smiled.  “Layla.”

“Shiiiiit, you do know classic rock.”  She giggled as she sank onto the bed next to him.  Her leg wrapped over his and her tan, curvy body pressed against his side.  Josie noticed his penis grow.  Josie wanted in.  She finally yanked her tank top over her head.  She pulled her panties down to her ankles.  She shot a look at him.  He wasn’t watching her.  Layla’s mouth was against his.  Their tongues danced back and forth and they held each other real close.

Josie sat back down on the bed, next to him and just watched them fall for each other.  She hated that she felt left out.  She hated he had gotten to her that way.

He turned towards her.  Josie tried giving him a look that was seductive and friendly and lustful, but her face felt tight and flat and her eyes couldn’t shed their shell.  She hated herself. “Come here,” he whispered.  His hand pulled her face toward his and it felt soft and strong.  She felt his open lips on hers and she sighed as his tongue entered her mouth.  And Layla had to watch.

Josie could see Layla gazing along his body, using her time out of the spotlight to plot her next move. But Josie wasn’t going to lose her opportunity.  She held his face and kissed him deeply until she could pull away.  Layla took the bait and turned his head back to her.  And Josie slid her face down his body to where his cock pulsed, almost totally erect.

She grasped his dick and heard Layla say, “Oh my God.”  Josie poised above his mushroom head and drank in the power she had.  “She never does this.”  And she was telling the truth.  She heard Layla start to kiss him again.  “I swear to God, if you’re a cop…”

“I guess we’re gonna find out,” Josie said.  And she plunged downward, burying his cock inside her mouth.  His moan filled her ears, even if it was sort of muffled by Layla’s tongue.  And Josie smiled to herself and waited for the door to get kicked in.

TO BE CONTINUED…

American Geisha

Her eyes finally blinked open. She’d been awake since the sun came up but she waited until Don was in the shower to actually open her eyes. Her naked body spread like butter under the thousand-thread count sheets, reveling in the luxury of a bed all to herself. It was a lot more comfy than the backseat of the Mitsubishi Spyder Don had bought her. That’s where she’d slept the past two nights. Sure, she could have slept at Jeremy’s, but she was still mad at him. She rolled onto her elbow and gazed at her reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirror across the room. Her hot-pink fingernails pried a Listerine Strip from the dainty gold-lame purse under the bed and picked the gooey stuff out of the corners of her eyes. If only Jeremy hadn’t yelled at her to grow up. With his shirt off and his face flushed, he actually looked kinda hot. She didn’t want to leave him again. But she was so over his lectures. He needed to be in time-out.

The shower drizzled and shut off. She shot a final look in the mirror. Her long blond hair was tangled and clingy and adorable. She pouted her lips and when she blinked, her blue eyes pierced the puddles of smeared mascara and she felt like she was in a Motley Crue video. She curled back onto her side of the bed, closed her eyes and waited to feel Don’s belly fat press against her back.

Alpheus Brown, RIP

At the age of 101, Alpheus Quigly Brown, Harvard graduate, onscreen Nazi, professional kazooist and persona non grata in both the states of Tennessee and Germany died last Wednesday in Mogadishu, Somalia while touring with Up With People. By all accounts, and considering all mathematical possibilities, this mercurial, emphatically indecisive and aimless figure should be missed by someone.

A direct descendant of former President Millard Fillmore, Alpheus Brown (often called “Hey you”) was born to understandably high expectations. Born February 28, 1905 during the height of the Russo-Japanese War, he was the love child of prominent feminist Emma Holybee and noted litigator James V. Brown. His conception during their tempestuous affair aboard a Russian fishing vessel later became the subject of the ill-conceived Jean-Luc Goddard film, Raped By a Cossack…Or Is That You?   It is widely assumed that his bizarre origin accounted for both his uncommonly good syntax and his instinctual fear of Siberian halibut.

Raised by his paternal mother to believe that she was once removed on his mother’s side, Alpheus began a lifelong quest for approval. Seeking to mirror his mother’s interests, he took up painting, the viola and lesbianism. But it wasn’t until he quit reciting her famous “Ode to Elizabeth Cady Stanton” that he stopped getting stuffed in trash cans after school.

On the bright side, his wide range of experiences made him an attractive university candidate. Harvard was willing to overlook his lack of academic excellence due to his pedigree, his interests and the fact that his parents were willing to fund the Alpheus Q. Brown Memorial Library even though he wasn’t dead yet.

While at Harvard, he developed a keen interest in Scandanavian history while studying Folklore, Mythology and Covering Your Tuckus With Seal Bladder under the legendary Professor Erik Gadiskiold. But he left Harvard perhaps best known for his harebrained ambitions, the most memorable of which was his attempt to rival Yale’s infamous Skull & Bones secret society with the Top Secret Association of Femurs and Scapulas. It succeded in attracting only two pre-med freshmen, who, in their disappointment fled the initiation ceremony, knocking over a tub of candle wax. Determined to salvage some of the society’s cache, when two janitors arrived to clean up the mess, Alpheus promptly inducted them into the society with a secret handshake.

Following Harvard, Alpheus turned his attentions to the social whirlwind of Boston high society, becoming known as the “Casanova of the Carioca.” He quickly dropped the title however, when he turned 27 and still couldn’t get a date.

As the Great Depression hit the Northeast, Alpheus was forced to forego his salad fork as his mother could no longer afford the maid assigned to wash them. Uprooted from his comfortable lifestyle by this economic plague, Alpheus, like so many young men, decided to find better fortune abroad. Stowing away in the Honeymoon Suite of a luxury cruise ship, Alpheus arrived in Berlin on April 6th, 1935. It was not long before his enchanting neediness and flamboyant lack of personality had landed him among the Berlin glitterati. He was quite impressed wtih Joseph Goebbels, whose tender warmth and sense of humor reminded him of his mother. Though he reportedly enjoyed being accepted into the periphery of the social scene, Alpheus’ unfortunate habit of singing Yiddish dance songs at Nazi rallies soon had him banned from the country.

Not ready to return to America yet, Alpheus decided to visit his beloved Scandanavia. However, he quickly tired of the trip northward, and called it quits, saying, “Well, it’s colder than I thought.” Instead he took refuge in London where he delighted Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement set with tales the new Germany, which he described as “really neat.” It wasn’t until after his flat, located above Lady Astor’s garage at Cliveden, was bombed that he made the famous quote about Adolf Hitler, “He’s no Charlie Chaplin, is he?” This statement did not indicate a reversal of his support of the new Germany, however, as he followed it by saying, “…but he still is pretty funny.”

The 1940’s saw Alpheus Brown return to America to assume the wartime post of Undersecretary of Temporary Undersecretaries in Washington, D.C. It was a heady time for the maturing Alpheus. Co-workers, when asked, and paid off in unmarked $20 bills, would speak in awestruck tones of a passionate idealist who regularly skipped lunch to take a half-day, who would go home every night with a briefcase full of paperweights and staplers, and who would greet every employee with a wink and a “Hiya, Stan!” even when their name was Bob or Bill or Nancy. It, therefore, was no surprise that when asked about Alpheus, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson famously answered, “Who?”

It has been said that man’s greatest wish is to be immortal, and Alpheus Brown was no exception. However, when sacrificing a 15-year old virgin off the coast of Equitorial Guinea still left him with crows’ feet around his eyes, he realized there had to be another way. So, in 1951 he moved to Hollywood where his quest for immortality, greatness and 15-year old virgins could be fulfilled. But the next decade would prove to be his most difficult. Like many angst-ridden artists living in Malibu, he struggled to find a Chinese restaurant that would deliver. Often, he was forced to have his dinner catered.   At the same time he wrestled with a fierce Mary Worth addiction. Desperate to know what Mary was going to do tomorrow, he would stake out the downtown offices of the LA Times to get the first editions of the day. The day she was removed from the Comics section in favor of Rex Morgan, M.D., snipers posted on neighboring rooftops had a standing greenlight to shoot him on sight.

It would take Alpheus 10 years to be captured on the silver screen, when he immortalized the role of German Soldier #25 in The Guns of Navarone. His performance had a great impact, albeit more on him than the movie itself. A method extra, he read Mein Kampf from cover to cover, becoming precisely the seventh person to do so. His intense preparation almost led to his dismissal from the set when he objected to having his costume ironed by a Jew. Fortunately, Gregory Peck had made the same complaint earlier in the filming, so everyone assumed Alpheus was merely following suit.

Alpheus’ stroke of luck was short-lived, however, as he soon fell into the common actor disease of typecasting. Role after role was offered him: Slave #18 in Spartacus; Dead Texan #8 in The Alamo; Cowboy #11 in The Return of the Magnificant Seven. Though he turned down those roles, he was tempted to reconsider when Mike Nichols begged him to play a wounded Cherokee Indian with an axehead embedded in his nervous system for the filmed version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? When Alpheus turned it down, Nichols reportedly binge drank himself into a violent fit, breaking cameras and cursing out Elizabeth Taylor, until finally resolving to just cut the scene. Most critics agree that the film did not suffer because of it.

In 1970, having tired of the fast-paced, angst-ridden lifestyle of Southern California, Alpheus declared his intentions to “spend time on the Continent.” Failing to mention which continent he had in mind, was dropped off in Antarctica and not heard from for seven years.

Alpheus returned to the States in 1977 with a runny nose and love of raw herring. He moved to Nashville to pursue his newest longtime passion, country music. Ironically, in attempting to revolutionize country music with his bass kazoo, Alpheus captured the imagination of Hollywood icon Robert Altman, who was determined to make a faux-documentary about him until he was slapped awake by his producers who confessed to him that the little blue pills he had taken weren’t actually a new flavor of Tic-Tac.

Staunch in his plodding pursuit of excellence, Alpheus spent the better part of the next ten years recording five songs. His greatest hit, “Nashy Nash Nash” gained immediate noteriety when his next door neighbors, Jed and Hazel Bumper, tiring of listening to Alpheus rehearse it every night at 3:30am, attempted to commit simultaneous suicide to end their suffering. Sadly, Hazel, never the shot her husband was, succeeded only in shooting off Jed’s right ear lobe. Needless to say, Alpheus, mortified at the bloodshed and enflamed with the spirit of Florence Nightingale, visited Jed and sang to him each day as he lay in his hospital bed. Jed is currently serving consecutive life sentences for a subsequent spate of mercy killings.

Music appeared to have truly been Alpheus’ calling. Despite being branded a danger to the public and dumped on the Kentucky border by a phalanx of Tennessee state troopers, Alpheus was undaunted to make it in the music business. Like many aspiring musicians, Alpheus struck out for New York City and took on an array of odd jobs to support himself. Despite being 73 years old, he gamely shared a studio apartment with three primal scream devotees and an aspiring Gregorian chanter while working nights as a barback at CBGB’s.

But financial security, benefit packages and dental plans can tempt even the truest artist. And while Alpheus certainly was not that, he did succumb rather quickly to the cushy 9-to-5 lifestyle of corporate America, agreeing to become Vice President of Mergers & Acquisitions at LeRoque & Sons Lumber Company in Parsippany, New Jersey. His stunningly unproductive and nonsensical tenure was marred by his unfamiliarity with French Canadian accents and his whimsically stubborn refusal to miss one episode of T.J. Hooker.

As the 80s drew to a close, so did Alpheus’ corporate career. During one characteristically short burst of determination, Alpheus did manage to stand in for Paul Stanley on the Scandanavian leg of Kiss’ “Love Gun” Tour and his love for music was rekindled. Alpheus joined Up With People, where he was best remembered for his searing rendition of Gloria Estefan’s “Rhythm is Gonna Get You.” Alpheus was a key member of the group during their optimistic “Arms Wide Open Tour” of the Iran, North Korea and Somalia. It was during their final performance, sponsored by the Mogadishu Jaycees, that his fellow castmates finally snapped and, in a shockingly un-peppy manner, strangled him before he could reach the chorus. Following the tragedy, Up With People’s website was quick to point out that since joining the group in 1989, Alpheus had brought joy to literally 37 people.

Confucious once said, “The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.” Obviously, Alpheus Brown was no superior man. But it is fair to say that without him, superior men would have had one less person standing next to them in group pictures.

Pissing Contest

“Yo, dog, we gotta talk.” Vince didn’t bother knocking. His voice was a serrated growl that cut off whatever it was Elijah had been trying to say to Leon. Elijah knew there was no point resisting. He stopped trying to ask Leon why he was late again and instead inhaled cathartically. Vince had already pissed him off once today. He needed time to compose himself. He needed time to ignore Vince’s fast-twitch, muscular, bullet-like body in the doorway. He needed time to remember that it was Vince’s office, too.

With an exhale, he raised his head, mustered all his dignity and raised his eyebrows until they arched over his Malcolm X glasses as if to say, “Yes?” That was as much as he was willing to communicate.

“Whenever you ready, dog.” Vince’s fingers beat a rhythm on the door frame.

“I’m just finishing up with Leon.”

“Then hurry it up. This can’t wait.” Vince snapped his fingers.

A volt of rage shot up Elijah’s spine. Elijah would never have done that to another supervisor. Not even Vince. And definitely not in front of the guys.

Elijah unwound his lean, power-forward frame and stood at his full height, towering over Vince. “Excuse me,” he tried to shut the office door.

“We ain’t got time.” Vince didn’t budge from the doorway. “Jean-Phillipe wants this shit settled right now.”

Elijah bowed his head. Jean-Phillipe, always Jean-Phillipe. Saying his name bought Vince time, respect and everything else Vince didn’t deserve.

“What’s so urgent?” Elijah said.

“I’m supposed to be on the rooftop tonight, dog.” Vince tapped his watch. “I can’t be messing around with you down here.”

“So nothing is urgent, you’re just short on time.”   Elijah clarified. God, he hated being the only adult in the whole building. “Why don’t I just come upstairs later and we can talk?”

“Nah, I’m gonna be too busy.” Vince looked past Elijah to Leon who was pretending to study the ceiling tiles. “Big Leo, go ahead and bounce.”

Elijah watched Leon scoop up a Motorola and waddle towards the door. He fought for something to say, something assertive, something clever, something that clearly outclassed Vince.

“No!”

Vince and Leon looked at him.

“I need Leon here.” Elijah shook his head emphatically. It was the best he could do.

“In the office?” Leon’s doe eyes gazed at the desolate desktop computer with the broken keyboard and the rack of Incident Report binders.

“You need to start up tonight’s DAR,” Elijah pointed at the computer. “And, since I gotta talk to Vince, I need you to write up your explanation for me.”

“What about the rooftop?”

“We can cover down until you get up there.” Elijah walked away from the office. “Make sure you close the door behind you.”

Elijah led the way up the parking ramp towards the sidewalk. He heard Vince’s wingtips click on the cement behind him and he smiled to himself. He took one confident stride after another and let his shoulders relax. Vince was no match for him. He just hated how petty Vince made him.

It was already dark on the street. The smokers, the office workers, the tourists, the suits that had to pass their daylight hours in downtown were all gone back to Garden Grove or El Segundo or the Valley. Downtown was just returning to its natural state, a landscape of concrete and asphalt, glowing dully in the reflected glare of the shimmering skyscrapers; a barren, luminous purgatory between freeways where transients and drunks navigated regimented stoplights on foot. A permanent hum from the freeways, punctuated by the occasional bottle smashing or Kanye blasting out of the window of a passing Escalade as it impatiently navigated its way back to the 10.

“So, what can I do for you, Vincent?” Elijah drank in the night breeze and gazed down Flower Street. Somewhere in the distance, he heard the jingle-jangle of a transient’s shopping cart.

“You got a problem, dog.”