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Skin

By Christian Baines

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Christian Baines

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Skin

Kyle, a young newcomer to New Orleans, is haunted by the memory of his first lover, brutally murdered just outside the French Quarter.

Marc, a young Quarter hustler, is haunted by an eccentric spirit that shares his dreams, and by the handsome but vicious lover who shares his bed.

When the barrier between these men comes down, it will prove thinner than the veil between the living and the dead…or between justice and revenge.

What Reviewers Say About Christian Baines’s Work

Advance Praise for Skin


“Believable characters and rich settings pulled me into this world, and I didn’t want to leave it. I was sorry to reach the end.”—Greg Herren, author of Murder in the Rue Dauphine and Bourbon Street Blues.


“Christian Baines is a writer with a bold, original vision, a vision not beholden to the limits of conventional genre tropes. This is a writer who knows his own voice, and a writer to watch.” —Michael Rowe, author of ;Enter, Night,and Wild Fell.


The Orchard of Flesh


“Oh wow; I really have to give it to the author with this one! After how much I enjoyed the previous book, I was thrilled to dive back into this universe with the sequel and, let me tell you, it did not disappoint.…The story…was just fantastic! I’m just amazed by the imagination the author put into this, from the culprit to the resolution I just couldn’t put it down.”—Love Bytes Reviews


Puppet Boy


“Right from the start, I was gripped by this story. …I liked that Eric’s bisexuality is understated, yet unrepentant. I also appreciated the stellar writing which easily elevates this book into the literary realm. This is the type of book best read without knowing any specifics, so I’m not going to spoil it for you. Just know that you’ll laugh your head off, be horrified, and question your sanity…or Eric’s. A total mindfuck and one of the more creative books I’ve read in a while.”—Outlaw Reviews

Skin

© 2017 By Christian Baines. All Rights Reserved.


ISBN 13:978-1-63555-083-2


This Electronic Original is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185


First Edition: November 2017


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Credits

Editor: Jerry L. Wheeler

Production Design: Bold Strokes Graphics

Cover Design by Melody Pond

By the Author

Puppet Boy

The Orchard of Flesh

Skin

Acknowledgments

Thank you to my writing family at Bold Strokes and beyond for all your support, encouragement, and enthusiasm on this project and others. Special thanks to Canadian writing peeps ’Nathan Burgoine, Stephen Graham King, Jeffrey Round, and James Moran among others for all your encouragement, practical advice, and for adopting me as one of your own.

Huge thank you to my beta readers, Avylinn for keeping me focused; Lynn, my NOLA expert for keeping me honest; and Dean for keeping me motivated.

Thanks to the many friends, close family, and readers who’ve cheered me on, come to signings or launches, or just let me rave about whatever idea has got me excited in that moment. I am deeply privileged to have you all.

ANTOINE

He kissed the cold surface of the mirror, feeling it peel away the excess dark paint that announced his otherwise thin, unremarkable lips to the world. A simple ritual that would protect his boyfriend from wearing a thickly smeared Kryolan grin, just as it protected his own confidence. No doubt about it. Tonight, he was one highly kissable bitch.

He didn’t say it aloud. The thought was enough to boost his ego as he smoothed the lapels of his favorite navy blazer and checked the seams of stockings that emerged perpendicular to the low, well-cut hem of his pants. Heels sensible enough to make him feel powerful, yet playful enough to suggest mischief housed his perfectly shaped size ten feet.

It had to be perfect. Almost a week had passed since he’d last seen Kyle. They’d never gone that long before, and Kyle had been cagey in his texts in the past few days. He’d decided not to read too much into it. Kyle wasn’t the most emotional or demonstrative guy to begin with. It just meant that tonight, everything had to be on point.

The stockings were the only feminine indulgence beneath his pants-suit facade. No frilly silk prison for breasts that would never round out his flat, dark chest, its skin disappearing smoothly behind the shiny buttons of his red satin shirt. On a scene crammed with wannabe queens, baby Ru-girls, and Masc4Mascs, the line he walked between male and female ensured he would always be his own man.

He turned to the image of Saint Grace that had adorned his wall since he was eight years old. The one that had survived regular threats of burning from his mother, who insisted that under her roof, even slaves to the rhythm would adhere to their designated bed time.

Saint Grace never smiled back at him, but that didn’t matter. He smoothed his tightly buzzed hair, knowing he had her blessing.

Slay all those bitches, Mama. Slay. Them. All.

* * *

The click of his shoes seemed louder than normal, echoing off the fronts of long houses that lined the street. This corner of the Tremé, an uncharacteristic bubble of money near Esplanade and Rampart, wore the area’s heritage in name only, kept afloat by cutesy couples, a lot of them queer, ageing gracefully into domesticity in their elegantly revived double shotguns and occasional camel-backs. He couldn’t see himself ever growing old like that, nor Kyle ever wanting to live like that, not that he’d ever be able to afford it. “White trash,” his folks would doubtless say before laying into worse slurs if Kyle ever rubbed them the wrong way, which he inevitably would. This left no doubt in his mind. His family only grudgingly turned a blind eye to his…particular interests. They sure as hell did not need to know he’d been dating some newly blown-in white hayseed he’d picked up in a Quarter bar.

He forced his shoulders back, ignoring the cool wind as it swept down Rampart. The area was deserted, while the faint lights of Bourbon Street’s unending party glowed above the Quarter’s rooftops. Where were they meeting again? Oz? No, Lafitte’s. He quickly remembered. That preppy bartender at Oz had gotten some bug up his ass about Kyle of late. Most likely because that bug was as close to his ass as Kyle would ever venture.

The silence broke just as he approached the far side of Rampart.

“Hey Princess! Love the look!”

Catcallers. Nothing unusual. Nor was the inevitable question of how to respond, if at all. Tonight, however, the very thought had taken too long.

“Where you goin’?” the voice continued. “I said, ‘love the look.’”

“Thank you, kind sir!” he shot back. He adjusted his path, turning toward the streetlights and brightly lit facades of Esplanade, only to have one of the assholes step right out into his way. He discreetly scanned the streets for a cab, knowing too damn well and too damn late that he should have gotten one from home. But the walk into the Quarter was so short and the nights had been so nice out this past week, he hadn’t given it a single thought. He knew better than to stroll down Rampart after dark, but since the creeps had positioned themselves right on the same corner he’d crossed hundreds of times before, he had no choice.

“What’s the hurry?” the guy continued. “Slow down some, I want to ask you something.”

“Sorry, I’m already late.” He tried to keep an earnest, bouncy flirtatiousness in his voice as his heels clopped neatly on the pavement.

The three were in front of him before he could take another step.

“Jee-zus H Christ,” muttered one of them. “What kind of beat-up, half-assed faggot queen are you?”

“Don’t be an asshole,” the first one scolded, shrugging off the insult with a broad grin that was anything but sincere. “He don’t mean nothing. Say sorry to the lady.”

“I ain’t no lady,” he replied without thinking, stiffening his back to emphasize the flatness of his chest.

“Well then,” the first one continued. “Apologize to this...most unique individual.”

The one with the nasty mouth looked him over with undisguised contempt. “I’m sorry,” he spat out, drawling as if each syllable caused him physical pain.

He offered them a stiff, cold nod before trying to go around.

“Hey wait a sec. I said I want to ask you something. We need you to settle this.”

I told you, I’m late.

Sorry. Excuse me.

Go fuck yourself, redneck.

All these thoughts rose on the tip of his tongue, but he bit them back. Better to let the asshole talk. Better to let him make a fool of his damn self rather than think he was being made fun of.

“Trannies...”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Trannies. Like you.”

“Wait, wait, wait. No. You are way off base there, mister. You need to ask somebody else.”

“Well, what the fuck are you, then?”

“Awww, Jesus! You gotta be rude like that?” the first one sneered again at his burly wingman.

The other guy, thin, weedy, and the smallest of the three, grinned.

“One question,” pressed the one in the middle. “Come on. Don’t tell me you ain’t got time for one little question.”

He looked the leader up and down one more time, taking in his wiry frame. Colorful tattoos disappeared up the man’s sleeve, ending in the tail of a snake, poking out of the guy’s collar, licking at his neck. Ratty blond hair framed a face not so hard on the eyes, otherwise. In fact, the guy was kind of pretty, now he noticed, with a strong nose, delicate, well-cut jawline, and high cheekbones, spoiled only by a chipped lower tooth, plus a malformed one upstairs. Total white trash. But cute white trash. The same pedigree as Kyle.

No. Scratch that. Kyle was a gentleman. This jackass had just lucked out on genetics.

“Go ahead,” he conceded. “Ask.”

The punk widened his sarcastic grin, making a show of the bastard tooth. “So, if a trannie—which I know you ain’t, so don’t go gettin’ all agitated—but if a trannie blows you, right? I don’t mean, like, love making and shit, just straight up suckin’. And let’s say you drop your load down his—”

“Her.”

“What?”

“Her throat. Let’s say you dump your jizz down her throat. I got you. Go on.”

“Right. Sorry. Her throat. Exactly. Her goddamn throat. That wouldn’t make you a faggot now, would it?”

Weedy guy was in a fit of wheezing laughter as Burly piped up.

“Bullshit! Of course it fuckin’ would. If the guy’s still got his johnson—”

“Girl, Lou. Girl.” The leader was grinning like a fool, a sincere grin in all its nastiness.

He shook his head, heart beating way too fast for some bullshit ‘teachable’ moment. “I really gotta go.”

“Oh, sure, sure. Didn’t mean to hold you up. Hey, where you going? I’ll walk you.”

“No thanks, I’m fine,” he replied, trying to step around.

“You never did answer his question,” the big one said, stepping in his path.

“No, no, you did not.”

He flinched as the leader put a hand on his shoulder.

“Woah! Ease up on the attitude, some. It’s just a question. I’ll ask again. If a trannie’s giving you head and you—”

He threw himself between the leader and the thin, wiry looking one, barging his way through with his slim shoulders and catching Weedy off guard. He was soon clear of the trio, only to hear the thundering of their feet behind him. But even in heels, low and modest as his might be, he was faster, just as he always had been. He rounded a corner and powered down Barracks, veering off as he reached the Cabrini Playground. He turned a sharp left, then another right, toward a bar he remembered. It was no sure thing. It wasn’t a tourist place, and the owners seemed downright arbitrary about when they’d open and for whom. But it was his best chance. Besides, if he’d already managed to lose the creeps, what did it matter? Still, he wasn’t about to turn his nose up at safe walls and extra time up his sleeve.

There it was. Up on his left. He silently prayed as his feet pounded the cracked pavement…don’t be dark. Don’t be dark. Don’t be—

Far from it. The sudden eruption of cheers from the place would have been loud enough to blow out the windows, had they not been open already. Never in his life had he been so grateful for game night.

He slowed just enough to compose himself before ducking inside. Still, the door slammed a little too loud behind him as the cheers subsided. A half dozen guys decked out in the instantly recognizable Saints’ black, white, and gold turned and stared at the unexpected fusion of power-suited corporate bitch and Quarter fabulousness that now stood panting in the midst of their sacred shrine to the pastimes of manly America. Another intercept by the despised Falcons diverted any slow-rising fury. He may have been black. He may have been queerer than a three-dollar bill, fully decked out in makeup and heels. But in a French Quarter bar on the first game night of the season, even the smallest-minded bigot would wrap all these things up in a big bear hug before they’d drink with a fucking Falcons fan.

He tried to find a spot near the bar, far from the prying eyes of any rubber-necking asshole at the window before taking out his phone. Two new texts from Kyle. And he was late.

Where u at? This guy in my face won’t take a hint.

He couldn’t resist a faint smile. He’d always told Kyle he was too good looking to sit around in bars hoping nobody would come bothering him. He swiped over to the second message.

Fuck, this guy! I’m heading to Phoenix. Meet me there?

This time he didn’t smile. Phoenix? Phoenix??? Goddamn it! His gaze involuntarily landed on his black stockinged feet and heeled shoes. Oh sure. A bunch of straight Saints fans who’d been drinking since three in the afternoon was one thing, but the manly men of Phoenix? Would they even let him in? Did he have time to at least wash his make-up—No. No, goddamn it! They let women in, to the ground floor at least. They let drag queens in. And after the night he’d had, just let any asshole ‘no fems’ queen try to get up in his face.

Sure. On my way. Xx

He hit send and brought up… Damn it. Of course Uber was charging surge rates for game night. Fuck.

“Hey, buddy! Get you something?” the bartender called to him through the din.

He shook his head. The cabs would be just as nuts as Uber. Besides, if the fucks who’d disrespected him on Rampart hadn’t found him by now, they’d probably moved on to stir shit with some other poor bastard. Maybe a big Saints fan who’d lay one or two of them out. He smiled at the thought, pocketing his phone. He hadn’t hung out in the Marigny for a long while, but he knew it well enough. It couldn’t have been more than a ten-minute walk.

He silently let himself out of the bar and strode back toward Esplanade. He tossed a glance up toward the corner of Rampart as he crossed the neutral ground. He flinched as a loud WHODAT? came at him from the window of a passing flatbed. No sign of his laugh-a-minute friends. He could cut along Burgundy… No, Dauphine was closer. The clop of his heels echoed off the surrounding houses once more. Everybody knew the Marigny had been gentrified to all hell, but damn! Every fourth, maybe third house had something going on. Renovating, landscaping, construction of a sacrificial altar, who the fuck knew what these hipsters did to their yards? He heard an outraged roar from one of the houses. Obviously, a taste for craft beer at pricey brunches and a fervent devotion to football were not mutually exclusive.

“Hey, Princess. You get lost?”

Startled, he whipped around to see the trio’s leader behind him.

The man shoved him hard against the concrete fence of a vacant corner lot. He winced as his head hit a ‘Keep Out’ sign with a loud clatter. Once he’d regained his feet and his senses, he realized the wingmen were nowhere to be seen. It was just the cute, tatted up hick, staring him down with a smirk he didn’t like one bit.

“What’s your problem, man? Why you running? We scare you?”

“Look, I told you, I got—”

“Just answer my question. Did we fucking do anything to scare you?”

 The words barely got through to him. Could he run again? What did this guy want? Goddamn it, why was it so dark? Why was nobody else out on the street?

“What do you want?”

“Well, Jesus! I want to have a reasonable conversation if that’s not too much to ask.”

“Look, mister, I do not want to have a conversation with you. You do not know me. You are not going to get—” He fell silent as he heard the flick of a knife at belly height.

“Yeah, that’s right. That’s better. Now, I’m not gonna have to get all nasty and use this, am I?”

“Look…look man, I ain’t carrying much money, but you can have it.”

“You keep your goddamn money. I said, why the fuck you—”

“No,” he got out. “No, I don’t think it does.”

“You don’t think what does what? Go on, Princess. Tell me what you don’t think.”

“I don’t think it makes you a faggot if a trannie sucks you off. Now please, just—”

The guy’s eyes went wide as he turned around full circle, palms out, waiting for the applause of an audience that still hadn’t fucking deigned to turn up. “Oh! Well, thank you very much. I’m glad you chose to clarify that, though it still don’t answer my current, most pressing question.”

“Yes. Yes, I did!”

“…which is, ‘Why the fuck you running?’ Or did you just forget I asked you that?”

He shivered, the ache in his stomach rising as the guy drew closer. Hunger. Fear. Arousal. Disgust. “What do you want?”

Rum was on the guy’s breath as he pulled his lips back to reveal his flawed teeth. “Let’s ah…step inside here for a minute.” The guy nodded at the rusted gate to nowhere in the middle of the fence.

He watched as the creep, knife still open and shining in the moonlight, broke open the gate with ease and beckoned him inside.

Once they were both off the street, the man turned him once more. “Hey, ah…Sorry I got a bit carried away out there. I’m not gonna lie to you. The other guys? They wanted to mess you up some. Especially Lou. Man, he’s got this thing about certain types of people.”

“But you don’t? Despite, you know, holding a goddamn knife on me?”

“Total contrary.” The guy raised his hands, making a show of tucking the blade away and pocketing it. “And you’re right, that was rude. I’m sorry. That was not worthy. Hell, I was just trying to get your attention. I’m just out for a little fun, same as everybody else. I don’t care what business you got going on. You sure are pretty enough, if you don’t mind me sayin’ that.”

“Whoa, whoa.” He shook his head. “Listen, you got the wrong idea. I don’t do that.”

The man’s hands were on his shoulders, shoving him to his knees before he could dodge or fight them.

 “And why the fuck not, huh?” the guy demanded, yanking off his t-shirt and slapping a row of smooth, hardened abs.

In that moment, all he could do is stare at the piece of ripped trailer trash taunting him. The drum-tight shape of the body, the smell of it, the tattoos, the tilted hips as the man pulled down the lip of his jeans. He hated the sick feeling slowly invading his stomach. He hated the guy’s handsome face and his stupid grin.

“Ain’t nobody gonna know but us, Princess. You say it don’t make me a faggot? That’s good enough for me.”

“I’m not—”

The man’s hand stung his cheek. He choked, straining to keep his temper as the guy opened his jeans. He stared at the long appendage that rose from a mass of tight, blond curls, a grinning death’s head clumsily inked just above them. It mocked him, dared him to lick precum from the ugly, swollen organ before taking it wholly in his mouth.

It was stupid, vain hope to think this would be over quickly. Or that Kyle wouldn’t taste him. Then Kyle would know and never want to touch him again.

“I....I can’t!”

“Yes, you can, bitch,” the man barked, grabbing the back of his head and forcing the hard head against his lips.

“Fuck off!” He closed his lips tight, until the hand stung his cheek again, releasing a faint gasp that might as well have been an invitation to the thug’s hungry sex. He took it in smooth, fast strokes, hoping with each one that the man was close. That it would be over in seconds. Then he could spit it out like a bad, rancid dream.

A minute dragged into two, then three. Stroke, stroke, lick, lick. The bitter salt of the bastard’s precum bubbled at the back of his tongue. Hurry up. Jesus, fuck, just hurry up already. Why did the prick want this if he wasn’t gonna come? He pushed his tongue out farther, stroking the intruder’s flesh right down to its musky hilt. The creep praised his efforts with an appreciative moan. His tongue, his secret weapon. He worked it along the entire length of the man’s shaft, expertly edging down the foreskin, trying not to gag as the fresh sourness of the man’s uncovered head scraped his throat. With his talented tongue, he returned the flimsy sheath to its former position. Then rolled it back again, arching the back of his tongue to scrape along the slit.

“Oh, man! Where the...oh fuck! What are you—Oh, Oh!”

The man had already pulled away before Antoine realized what he was doing. The creep’s cock erupted not a half second later, sending sour, white rivulets over his face. He felt it drip from his lips as more landed on his eyes and cheeks, across his lips. Bleeding down his face, pearly white seed now stained with ruined makeup. A brown and white swirled mess came away in his hand as he tried to wipe it away. One eye was stuck shut and stung from the wayward load. The other was blinded only by rage.

If only he’d been stronger or faster or...fuck! How could he have been so stupid? The anger went through him as he slowly rose to his feet. Fuck it all. He was strong. He was fast. A fearsome electric charge went through him as he flicked away the mess from his hand. Prick. You fucking bastard asshole. I. Am. Fierce.

“How do you like that, Princess? Gotta say, you got some mighty fine ski—”

The thick wad of spit, makeup, and cum smacked across the thug’s face with a wet plop.

The man stood there at first, staring at him with nothing to conceal his disbelief. He had no makeup to ruin. No mask to shatter, except the asshole’s pride. All his dignity was now destroyed, leaving them equals.

He raised his arms up in front of his face as the man cursed him, jumping back as the first blow glanced off his arm. The second was less forgiving. Driven harder this time by the man’s rage, it collided with a soft spot right below his eye, snapping across his nose with a pain that exploded through the side of his face, all the way to his jaw. He could no longer tell where the thug had hit him, now barely able to distinguish one punch from many.

He staggered, legs failing as a hard shove unbalanced him. The dust of the vacant lot swirled up into his nostrils and mouth, mingling with spit, snot, cum, and yes, of course, blood now. Had he really expected anything different? Why the hell had he not just swallowed his damn pride with a mouthful of makeup and bolted?

“You just gonna lay down there? On the ground, useless faggot bitch?”

He barely heard the thug’s words. The steel toe of the man’s boot hit his side before he could move an inch. He buried a scream in his filthy sleeve, trying to ignore the blood he’d already coughed into it.

“You want to fight me? Come on then, get up. Get the fuck up and fight me! Stupid cocksucker!”

Pain tore through him as he tried, as if his rib cage was splintering beneath his skin. With an effort that felt like one of his shoulder blades was tearing loose, he steadied himself on one elbow, as far from the ground as his aching limbs would allow, before focusing on his breaths. In, out, in, out, He tried to slow them down, each one like a knife through his gut. In, two, three, four, out, two, three...Slave to the Rhythm.

“I said, do you want to fight me?”

He had just enough time to wonder if one of the kicks had dislocated his shoulder before seeing the final, fatal blow come right at his head.

MARC

Marc’s head felt like it had gone under the propeller of an outboard motor. His gut didn’t feel much better, and the flesh below the decorative scarring on his chest ached a dull throb. He forced one eye open, still trying to shut out the mercifully dim light that surrounded him.

Where the fuck was he? Had he blacked out again? He couldn’t remember drinking so much. Now, staring into the grinning jaws of a stuffed alligator’s head perched atop a mannequin, decked out in a top hat, a skull clutched in its dark hand, he could smell the incense and pepper. A Voodoo shop. He’d gotten pissed out of his fucking mind and staggered his way into one of the Voodoo joints that clipped tourists who came looking for ‘the local culture.’ He squinted at the dark, musty portrait that stared down at him. Some crazy-ass faggot dressed in… Fuck. Panties? He looked away, rubbing the bridge of his nose and easing up onto his feet. He picked his shirt up off the floor and slipped it over his head, dismissing the passing realization that it wasn’t his usual style. He couldn’t even remember buying it. Or stealing it. Why he’d taken it off was anyone’s guess.

“Yes, that’s right, Officer,” he heard a faint, cranky-ass voice croak outside. “Dumaine. No, I don’t think he’ll give you any trouble. But he’s locked himself in there, and I can’t… No, I’m not looking to press charges! I just want my goddamn… I’m not shouting, Officer.”

Shit! Where was he? What had he gone and done?

Marc padded as quietly as he could to the door. He put a hand on the knob and opened it as slow as he could manage, hoping no creak or latch would give him away. But the man outside seemed far too engrossed in his phone conversation to hear much else. Marc couldn’t remember how he’d gotten in there, but if he could creep quietly enough around this corner…

“Goddamn it!” the man shouted, ending his call and turning to look Marc full in the face.

The two of them stood in silence for a moment. Marc guessed the man at fifty, maybe sixty, and though he clearly moved about with the aid of a shiny black cane, the glint in the old guy’s eyes gave no hint of time having slowed or confused him. He looked Marc over from top to bottom, very, very closely.

Marc opened his mouth to say something. Apologize? Ask for the bathroom? Fuck!

“I think it’s high time you left, son,” the man said at last, leading him with a slow step to the main door and turning the lock. It swung open to reveal a darkening sky, with heavy storm clouds chasing any persistent traces of sunlight.

Marc nodded, trying to pass nervousness off as respect as he again straightened his clothes and made for the door.

The old guy arched an eyebrow at him as he passed. “Hope you found what you were looking for.”

As the first drops of an evening downpour hit his face, Marc picked up his stride and ran.

KYLE

Alien. That was the only word for it. As alien a place as Kyle had ever seen in his life, from the lurid colors of the drinks to the shirtless guys doing the pouring. Their hard stomachs, strong backs and powerful arms rippled under the dim lights as they effortlessly mixed the cocktails, strong hands moving faster than Kyle could follow. Four bodies too built to be real. All part of the fantasy the bar used to loosen a few more dollars from its guests.

Several small gangs of girls were each crowded around one in a two-dollar plastic tiara, fairy lights blinking on and off as they stared into the dim blue light of their cell phones. A cute, but cocky-looking blond guy with tattoos and a weird tooth kept smiling at him, not to mention the elephantine drag queen fresh off the stage and now sipping a bright pink cocktail at the end of the bar, in between jokes with one of the bartenders.

The sound system boomed with some hideous pop song that sounded much like the one before it, and the one before that, and the one the drag had synched to. He couldn’t remember any of their titles, or the names of the singers for that matter. He’d made himself a promise to check out every gay bar in the Quarter at least once to get a good feel for the place. Maybe find his little piece of it. But he’d soon given up on trying to find a place that played his type of music. New Orleans might have been a haven for every kind of weirdo and freak, but he guessed a gay dive bar that played punk rock might have been a stretch, even for the famously eclectic tastes of the Crescent City.

He looked down at the rapidly approaching bottom of his beer glass, then scanned the gyrating crowd again. A skinny black guy stood out half a head’s height above the throng, pushing his way through the crowd of twinks and tourists. At last, the stranger reached the bar, where Kyle could get a good view. The man looked around his age, give or take. Twenty, maybe twenty-one or twenty-two. But he might easily have been a few years older, especially with what he was wearing.

Kyle’s eyes widened as he had a good long look at the stranger’s deep purple blazer. Ass-hugging pants were stretched tight over his long, sinewy, athletic legs with decent-sized feet encased in a low pair of black heels. The guy was wearing a girl’s belt, too. As the lights flashed over the stranger’s hands, Kyle was sure his nails were painted the same shade of purple. Now that he noticed it, the blazer was also meant for a girl.

The stranger waved his long, bony hand to get the bartender’s attention, shouting just loud enough for Kyle to hear over the din. He’d braced himself for a braying, high-pitched whine like the drag queens he’d seen on TV. Instead, he heard only a polite, “Another one please, Miles,” in a clear, well-bred voice. The voice of someone way more refined and educated than he’d ever be. With a nervous swallow, Kyle realized it had given him an instant hard-on.

“Well? What are you drinking?”

Kyle struggled for breath, realizing the striking creature had just addressed him. His mind struggled to keep up, trying to match the voice he’d just heard to the drag and makeup the guy had on. Most of the queens he’d seen at least tried to sound like women when they dragged up. Not this one.

“You…you look real pretty,” he got out at last.

“Well thanks, but that wasn’t my question.”

“Oh! Ah…just Bud.”

“Oh, no. No, no, no, that cat piss is what I’d order if I hated you.” The stranger turned his attention back to the muscular bartender he’d been talking to. “Miles, can we please get this boy a Heineken, at least?”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to, ah… That is, I wasn’t…”

“On its way, handsome guy. The least you can do is share in some conversation. You don’t object to being seen with a pretty boy, do you?”

Kyle took several deep breaths, hoping the queen wouldn’t notice. “Well, no, of course not. Thanks. You’d be…more of a pretty girl though, wouldn’t you?”

The stranger stood deathly still, eyeballing him, a bright green cocktail in one hand, and a nowhere near as bright green bottle with the familiar label in the other. “Now why would you say that?”

He shrugged. “Other queens I met, they all call each other ‘girl,’ ‘her,’ ‘she,’ or whatever.”

“My friend, I’ve been called a great many things. What I am not...” He set down the beer emphatically. “…is a drag queen.”

“I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

“You didn’t.”

“But still—”

“Forgotten.”

“I just—”

“It’s fine.”

“So,” he began again, only now realizing the stranger’s lips were also painted purple. Was there a non-insulting way to finish?

“So, why all this?”

Kyle nodded.

“Because I like how it feels to know I make this look good,” he said, pushing back his shoulders within the blazer. “And because once in a while it’s nice to hear some handsome stranger tell me I look pretty. Someone I just happen to spy across the bar whose name is…”

“Huh? Oh, I’m sorry. The name’s Kyle.”

“Antoine Lavolier. Enchanté,” the man said, extending his bony hand with the palm down.

Kyle stared at it a moment before taking gentle hold. Then, feeling clumsy as a horse in football cleats, he pitched forward and kissed the back of Antoine’s fingers.

Antoine grinned, taking another sip of his drink. “Was that as hard as it looked?”

“Pretty much.” Kyle lifted the familiar green bottle he’d seen and ignored countless times in bars back home and took a long pull. Though he screwed his nose up at first, he had to admit it went down easy.

“Dare I ask, Kyle, what godforsaken town spat you up?”

He offered up a small shrug. “Not a town, exactly. More like about fifty miles out of Shreveport.”

Antoine stared at him. “That’s it? Outside of Shreve-port? That’s all I’m getting?”

“Close enough.”

“Well, all right then, Kyle from fifty miles out of Shreve-port.”

They sat in silence and near perfect stillness for a moment, watching the crowd. A trio of two boys and a girl scowled at another girl in a twinkling plastic tiara as she pushed them aside on her way to the bar. In the darkness of the upstairs balcony, Kyle spied two guys exchanging a blowjob where they thought they couldn’t be seen. He caught the blond guy scowling at him before the man turned his back and moved away.

“Hey,” Kyle said at last. “I don’t want to keep you from your friends.”

“I’m here alone,” Antoine replied. “Unless, you’d rather be alone.”

“Oh, no. I didn’t mean that.”

“Ahah, that black cloud over your head’s just a freak weather accident, huh?”

Kyle offered up a grim flick of a smile. “The music kind of sucks.”

Antoine nearly choked on his cocktail with laughter. “What would you prefer?”

“I don’t know. I guess the gays ain’t much into metal and punk.”

“Sure they are. Just not the gays who come here.”

“So, what do you like? Beyoncé and stuff, I guess?”

Antoine fixed him with a glare framed exquisitely with the darkest eyeliner Kyle had ever seen. “Do I need to explain what was wrong with what you said just now?”

“All right, all right,” he said, raising his hands in surrender. “You don’t like Beyoncé. Noted.”

“I like Beyoncé just fine. Not the point, white boy. It’s called profiling.”

“Okay, okay. I get it. Sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

“So, who do you like better?”

The shoulders of the blazer rose and fell with another shrug. “I like all kinds, on the understanding that Saint Grace reigns above all.”

“Saint Grace?”

“Grace Jones?”

Kyle stared at him blankly.

“Aaaaand we are done.” Antoine picked up his cocktail and started back toward the dance floor.

“Hey, wait a second,” Kyle said, taking gentle hold of the man’s blazer sleeve, releasing it at his stern glare. “Don’t be like that. Who’s Grace Jones?”

“Ask your Momma, Shreveport.”

This time, Kyle felt the anger flicker through his own face.

An apologetic look seeped into Antoine’s expression. “Sore spot, huh? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be a bitch.”

“You weren’t.”

“Well, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

“Forgotten?”

“Forgotten.”

The two of them couldn’t help the silly grins that spread over their faces.

“Wait here,” Antoine said, crossing to the DJ booth, pressing a banknote into the DJ’s hand and whispering something in his ear. The man flashed them a smile as Antoine returned to take hold of Kyle’s hand, barely giving him enough time to replace his beer on the bar.

“Hey, what are you—”

“Come on, Shreveport. Class is in session.”

Kyle swallowed as the last howls of some generic, autotuned pop starlet faded from the sound system, replaced by a gently rising flow of sultry synthesizers, bleeding together in a song Kyle was sure he’d heard, but couldn’t quite place. “I…I don’t dance.”

“You don’t have to dance. Just move. I got you.”

Kyle looked around nervously as several of the younger dancers vacated the floor. Most stayed. A few whooped in excitement as the synths rose again, and a forceful, female voice surged to meet them. He slowly began to sway his hips, trying to follow Antoine’s movements, which flowed with an effortless grace Kyle could only envy.

“It’s not about me,” the man whispered in his ear.

After several deep breaths, Kyle felt himself bobbing back and forth, swaying gently in time to the music. Its rhythm picked up some bounce, and his movements quickly followed, feeling more and more natural as the lights flashed around him. He caught a glimpse of Antoine’s broad grin as the man took gentle hold of Kyle’s hand and leaned back.

“Yaaaaaaaassss!” Antoine bellowed, coming back up to full height, his smile brighter than ever. “Ladies and gentlemen, le garçon de Shreveport has arrived!”

“Geeze, will you pipe down?” Kyle muttered.

“You shouldn’t be ashamed of having a good time.”

“I’m not! I just… Jesus! Do guys actually say that? All that ’yaaaaaassss’ stuff?”

Antoine burst out laughing, putting his hands on Kyle’s shoulders and pulling him closer. “Only when there’s something worth celebrating.”

Kyle moved uncomfortably under Antoine’s hands, only now noticing the stares. Dozens and dozens of eyes on the pair of them. The disheveled, unshaven white guy in the faded check shirt, jeans, and white t-shirt, next to Antoine, tall, dark, and flawless in his high fashion girly blazer, skin-tight trousers and perfect makeup. He slowed his dancing, trying to concentrate on the rhythm.

“Do you want to sit down?” Antoine asked.

He nodded immediately.

They returned to their seats at the bar, where Antoine ordered them two more drinks before Kyle could stop him.

“You did pretty good out there,” he said in Kyle’s ear. “Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”

Before Kyle could say so much as ‘thanks,’ the guy was gone. Kyle took out his wallet as the bartender Antoine had called Miles brought their drinks.

“It’s taken care of,” the bartender said, setting them down and moving on to serve a fit, balding guy around the corner of the bar.

Kyle folded his bills away, save a couple of bucks tip in case Antoine had forgotten. Damn it, he could pay his own way. Maybe not far. He’d need a job soon enough. But he hadn’t come to New Orleans for anyone’s charity.

“You made yourselves quite a show out there.”

 He turned to see the speaker, the cute-ish blond dude who’d caught his eye before. The man leaned on the bar, one side of his mouth raised in a half smile that unsettled Kyle in a way that made him want to take a swing at the guy.

“Did you hear me? I said—”

“I heard you,” Kyle said, taking a pull of his beer.

The blond guy grinned at him, his perfect upper set of white teeth marred by a single malformed canine. “You like her? Her highness?”

“Huh?”

The man nodded in the direction Antoine had gone.

He’s fine,” Kyle muttered.

“Whoa, okay there, stud. No judgment. Just thought you’d go with someone more your type is all.”

Kyle’s frown deepened as he noticed the guy had drawn closer, their faces now just inches apart. “What do you think is my type?”

“You know. A man’s man.”

“You mean someone like you?”

“Now, I didn’t say that, necessarily,” the stranger leaned in to whisper in Kyle’s ear. “Though you did look pretty funny out there with that nigger.”

Kyle forced him away with a hard shove, only to cop a furious, silent snarl from the stranger and a cautionary look from the bartender. Out the corner of his eye, he saw Antoine cutting back through the crowd.

“Everything all right?” Antoine asked.

Without waiting, Kyle pulled Antoine closer and kissed him hard on the lips. Antoine quickly returned it with just as much vigor. Kyle tasted the sweet juice of the cocktails he’d been drinking, and the sweet, soft flesh of his tongue as it explored his own.

“Whatever, faggots.” The blond stranger eased himself off the bar and let them be.

Kyle gently broke from the kiss, trying to ignore the thick smear of makeup he could feel across his mouth. “Go to hell,” he muttered after the asshole.

Antoine took a napkin off the bar and dabbed his own smeared mouth. “Just so we’re clear,” he began, “I’m going to assume you had a very good reason for doing that involving the douche you just chased off, but in the future? I don’t much care for being kissed by some boy I just met who’s out to prove a point.”

“I’m sorry. That guy just—” Kyle reached out, gently touching Antoine’s sleeve. “How would you rather I kissed you?”

The gleam of a smile returned to the man’s dark eyes. “How about I show you?”

MARC

“Five dollars.”

Marc swallowed, tossing a glance at the guys up on the bar as they gyrated and bent down to flirt with patrons eager to tuck tips into their jocks. “Actually, I’m just here to ask about a job.”

“Yeah?” the guy answered, his expression unchanged, giving Marc nothing. “Friday night, you come in here, you get and you pay for the same show as everybody else. You want to work? Talk to Dan behind the bar.”

Marc silently cursed, fishing five bucks he really couldn’t part with out of his pocket and passing it over.

The guy finally smiled, stamping his hand with the lurid purple logo. “Don’t worry, handsome. Guy like you’ll earn it back in no time.”

He shuffled inside, trying to ignore the hungry gazes of the guys nursing drinks by the wall, not yet settled on a firm focus for their lust. Marc waited for a break in between the dancers on the bar, watching one tall guy duck to avoid a low wooden beam before going back to his movements and tossing a cocky smile at a grey-haired customer to his right. Shit. Was that what this was gonna be? He felt a sudden strange and compelling urge to punch the bartender at the Pub who’d tipped him off.

“Rafael to the bar, please. Rafael, you’re up next.”

Marc watched one of the dancers hop nimbly down from the bar and scan the room until he found a patron whose gaze was fixed on him. The boy smiled in the guy’s direction before disappearing behind a red curtain next to the pool table. Swallowing his nerves and pride, Marc took his chance to approach the bar. “Umm… Excuse me?”

“What can I get you?” the guy asked through several folds of reddened flesh carpeted in grey stubble.

“Actually, I’m uh, here about the job.” Looking up just in time to see the built Latin guy coming out from behind the red curtain, he suddenly felt about ninety pounds underweight. And fat. Somehow both underweight and fat at the same time. And white. Far, far too white.

“Only jobs I’ve got are for dancers.”

Marc fought every impulse to steal another look at the Latin guy, who’d fixed on entertaining a couple of suited guys at the bar beside him. “I…I can dance, I guess.”

Without looking at him, the bartender raised his eyebrows. “That sounds like confidence. Stick around ‘til it quiets down some, then show us what you got.”

He nodded, averting his gaze from the perfectly bronzed sex god that crossed his path on the bar and taking up a relatively safe spot along the wall near the pool table. One of the dancers leaned across it to line up a shot, making a show of wiggling a perfectly rounded butt barely contained by blue briefs, all for the pleasure of a tall, older gentleman who watched with an unabashed smile.

At least if Marc was out of his depth, he could play pool. Maybe.

His gaze fell on the red curtain behind the table, with a hastily painted ‘Employees Only’ sign at its top. Employees? Right. He had to remember that. This was just a job. It wasn’t as if he knew anyone else in New Orleans or had any other leads. He’d take what he could.

“You know, it don’t magically pull back just because you keep starin’ at it,” a sly voice chided him.

He faced the stranger, whose pale white skin stretched over a sinewy body marked up with a number of intricate tattoos. A bloody looking skull at the base of his stomach. A snake that coiled around one of his arms before finally biting into his wrist, and some kind of leopard-looking cat down the other. The guy was smiling at him, lips just far apart enough for Marc to make out his teeth. He couldn’t hide the weirdly shaped one up top. Still, the guy was kind of hot. Handsome, too, thanks to the sharp lines of his jaw and cheekbones, all topped off with an unkempt mess of dirty blond hair on his head. Two piercing blue eyes ran Marc over from head to toe, then back again.

He tilted his hips to cover the uncomfortable stirring in his jeans. “Wasn’t staring. Just curious.”

The guy’s grin pulled back to show his teeth in all their imperfect glory. “Everybody’s curious their first time. Second time? Well…that’s more than curiosity.”

Marc nodded, pretending to understand. “You dance here?”

“What do you think?” The guy pushed back his shoulders to make a show of his body, clad only in a pair of tight black boxer briefs and sneakers.

Marc shuffled his feet. “You like it?”

“It’s good enough. Get to have some fun, make some folks happy. Send ‘em home with hard-ons.” He laughed in a way that almost made Marc feel foolish, but the smile that followed immediately softened it. “Really your first time here, huh?”

Nod.

“So, what? Ain’t you drinking?”

“Kind of tight for cash right now. Sorry.”

“Awww,” the guy said, flashing a smile at an older couple of guys who were eyeing them before turning back to Marc. “Just as well I’d give you a dance for free then, huh?”

“You’d… Wait, what?”

The guy flashed him one last smile before ditching him for the silver daddies.

Marc swallowed. Now he felt like a damn fool, just standing there while a half dozen guys his age in jocks, shorts, briefs, or less worked the room, putting away the dollars—and tongues—of guys twice, maybe three times their age. Okay, maybe they weren’t like models or porn stars or shit, but most had tighter abs or bigger muscles than him.

The guy who’d come up to him kissed each of the old guys on the cheek as one tucked a bill into his boxer briefs. The Latin guy hopped down with a jock full of bills, only to be replaced by some white dude even more pumped. A skinny guy grinned as one of the three women in the place slid a bill all the way down his chest, tucking it into the front of his waistband. So, this was what it was about. Even if they weren’t God’s fucking gift, these guys sure strutted around like they were.

This was dumb. He’d been an idiot. Spectacularly fucking dumb.

“Hey! Where you goin’?”


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