The Phantom speaks: Gale looked so hot in his tight, low slung jeans and black sleeveless t-shirt, despite the chill. "Is that...you?" he said to me. I stared and nodded, unable to be witty or even coherent. "Shit." He complained, glaring at Randy, who shrugged and responded, "Dude, it's not my fault, he dug his way in." Gale hesitated, then came inside and sat next to Randy on the sofa. There they were. Brian and Justin, Justin and Brian, Gale and Randy, Randy and Gale! Be still my heart! "Ok," Gale said with a slight non-Brian drawl. "You got me. Now what the hell do you want with me?" (To be continued.)
Last week on Transitions:
Brian mobilized the troops to assist Justin. Justin gets a job and a room in New Orleans, where he is hiding out. He calls Brian and they have a long conversation in which Justin tells Brian to stay out of it and avoid trouble. Brian refuses. Brian visits his bank to look for a trail on Justin. Brian then visits Ethan in the hospital and makes him an offer.
Scene 1: Brian's loft
Cynthia picked up Chinese on the way to Brian's loft, and he helped her serve it on plates and poured some wine to go with it. They sat down at his table to eat as he slid a box towards her.
"What's this?" She asked, taking in the name of the store. Harvey Nichols, London.
"Harvey Nick's as they say on ‘Absolutely Fabulous'. Just a little souvenir. Open it."
She did so, withdrawing a slinky black silk-satin spaghetti strapped gown and matching peignoir. "It's gorgeous, Brian, but...why? You decided to try heterosexuality and I'm your girl?"
He laughed. "Been there, done that, threw up on the t-shirt. When I bought it, I thought you and Josh were still hot and heavy. I guess you can keep it in your hope chest for the next big thing. What happened with him, anyway?"
She sighed. "He came on like Prince Charming, all flowers and gooey phone calls, and chocolate covered strawberries before the fire. But then suddenly he was impossible to find, claimed to be working so I put it together pretty fast. He was dogging someone else. He's that way. As deep as a sheet of typing paper. I'm sorry, but I'm way past playing the juggling the girls game. He really needs to grow up. It's nothing but rampant immaturity. Sad, really."
Brian shifted his weight uncomfortably. Why could he see exactly what she meant when she discussed this guy, and yet he was so much like Josh without all the romantic trappings? It WAS sad. And it WAS destructive. And it had cost him dearly. "You deserve better," he said earnestly and she nodded.
"I know I do. Well, at least now I have the ammunition if I run into Mr. Right. Thanks, Brian," she leaned over to hug him and to kiss his cheek. He winced.
"Not a word about this at work. Don't want people to get the wrong idea about us."
She laughed. "It could ruin your image."
He smiled at her. "Wouldn't want that."
"Damn right you wouldn't. If the women at the agency thought you were straight, you'd have everyone from the partners to the file clerks trying to break down your door."
He shook his head. "Definitely wouldn't want that. So, did you do what I asked?"
"Yes. Sorry to say it's sort of a blind alley. The ATM Justin used was at DFW Airport. That's a huge hub. Conceivably, he could have stayed in Dallas, but he also could have caught one of any number of flights from there."
"Fuck," Brian said softly. "But let's assume he's not a master criminal, trying to dust off his trail. Let's assume he's what he really is, a scared, hurt, confused kid. What does that logically tell us ? Either he went to Dallas as his ultimate destination, or he connected on a flight, planned from here. It's an American hub, right?"
"Then let's resurrect our flight list and see what American flights left the Pitts and connected through Dallas on that night. I don't think he'd go to Dallas as a final destination. I've never heard him mention knowing anyone there, and it's not a city he's talked about wanting to visit."
Cynthia smiled at him. "I anticipated you. Of all the flights we were looking at, only two were connecting through Dallas, leaving here at the appropriate time. One was going to Miami and the other to New Orleans."
Brian nodded. "Okay, either one of those cities is a possibility. Problem is, we have to guess right. He called me last night, and I thought I heard jazz playing in the background. That would suggest New Orleans. But I can't afford to be wrong, so I'll have a couple private detectives check out both places for leads."
"Brian, this must be costing you a fortune."
"I got that fat bonus for signing Trevor's company. That'll cover all of the search and some of the legal fees."
She met his eyes. "You'll spend your whole bonus on Justin?"
He shrugged. "What higher use do I have for it? All I'd do is invest it. With the market as sick as it is, I may as well get some value for my money."
She smiled. "Faker. But you're so sweet you make me want to cry. I want someone to love me like that." She saw Brian's fair skin flush as he concentrated heavily on his Kung Pao shrimp.
"Anyway, I have a meeting with Charles Winspear in the morning and I hope to be flying out to wherever we think Justin may be by tomorrow evening."
"Who's Charles Winspear? Name is familiar."
"You've probably seen it in the papers. He's the top criminal defense attorney in Pittsburgh. Charges a ten thousand dollar retainer, non refundable, just for a consultation."
"So you're not using Melanie?"
He glared at her. "Melanie may be a good generalist, but I need someone who can get around the system and get him acquitted. I think Charles is the one to do that."
"No, he's not gay, Cyn. I do know some straight people, you know. Such as yourself."
She laughed. "How did it go with Trevor? You haven't said."
Brian looked over at her. "Nor do I intend to."
"Gotcha," she replied with a nod, knowing when pushing him was nothing but a waste of energy.
Scene 2: Sons of Eire Benevolent Society Meeting Hall
Brian steeled himself as he went into the old armory that had been converted into a social club for the men who belonged to this private society that was loosely grounded upon Irish heritage. The smoke was so thick, he could hardly breathe, finding it unnecessary for him to light his own cigarette. When he was a boy, his father would sometimes bring him here. He remembered the smoke, the bad music and the clickety-click of poker chips and dominoes as the men played their games. He listened to them brag about women they never really fucked, about fights they never really had, and speak in hushed tones about Danny "Two Roses" O'Malley, the titular head of their benevolent society.
But it was rumors of Danny's other organization that fueled their gossip, for he was in charge of the most influential and widespread unit of the Irish Mafia outside of Chicago and Boston. He controlled some of the most powerful labor unions in Pennsylvania, and was said to be a kingpin in vice, movement of drugs and extortion. He earned the name "Two Roses" from his habit of sending a pair of long stemmed roses as a warning to someone who became his target. Anyone receiving that floral tribute was aware that the next flowers they would receive from Danny would be a shamrock shaped spray at their funeral, if he didn't get what he wanted.
Brian learned to be in awe of O'Malley, expecting him to be a giant among men. When he finally met him, he was shocked and disappointed, at first. Two Roses was not much taller than was Brian at age ten. Jockey-sized, he was surrounded by big bruisers with flat faces and weapons bulging under jackets that were too tight for their muscular frames. But O'Malley's suit was precisely tailored if a little flashy, and he wore a shamrock stickpin in his tie, decorated with a large, solitary diamond. He was bursting with nervous energy and his eyes had the green, mischievous twinkle of a leprechaun. He took Brian's handsome little face in one small, monkey-like hand and said,
"Who's gasur does he be?" His accent had changed little from his days in Dublin, although he left the city of his birth over twenty years earlier to move to America.
Brian was mesmerized by the man's gaze and by the flow of his energy. "He's my babby, Danny," Jack Kinney said with what Brian thought sounded almost like pride in his voice. "He's Brian, my boy."
"Yours, Jack?" Danny cut him a look, still holding Brian's face. "Musta come out of a pretty growler to be your boy and have this face. The gershas will be on this one in short time, I wager."
Brian had to think hard to translate all the Irish slang flowing between them. Gasur was boy, babby was baby, gersha was girl and growler...he knew it was a dirty word, and he thought it meant pussy. The men at the table with Jack laughed and agreed while Brian turned bright red.
"Here ya go, lad," Danny released Brian and reached in his pocket, withdrawing a small disc. "A wee gift, compliments of Danny O'Malley."
He looked down at a four leaf clover encased in clear plastic. As a child, Brian was enchanted by the good luck charm, and as an adult, he still carried it with him, hooked to his key chain. He fingered the smooth disc now as he was greeted by several of his father's old cronies. When Jack died, Brian donated a few cases of whisky and a new juke box to the hall in memory of his father. Many stopped him to thank him for his kindness.
He nodded, but tried to keep moving. He was Irish, but he felt no kinship to these hard working, hard drinking homophobes with their Catholic superstitions and deeply ingrained resentments. Too reminiscent of his father for him to be comfortable. He walked to the foot of linoleum clad stairs leading up to Danny O'Malley's private offices.
A hotshot newspaper reporter covering the trial where Danny was convicted for murder and extortion, a decision later overturned by a notorious appellate opinion that many claimed was purchased justice, wrote a bestseller entitled "Two Roses: A Portrait of Evil". The book supposedly exposed many of Danny's operatives and the stretch and stench of his criminal empire. The book talked about this meeting hall, his Irish henchmen, and the simple circumstances in which this millionaire by several hundred times over, lived. The reporter-cum-author was a mini-celebrity for awhile, pimping his blockbuster on talk shows and at other personal appearances, turning into a self-anointed expert on the Irish Mafia. He made good money, but one sunny afternoon in September, somewhere between his book signing and his hotel in Philadelphia, he simply...disappeared. No body was found, no charges were filed. Like the parrot in Brian's favorite Monty Python skit, the writer was no longer, had shuffled off this mortal coil, was deceased, was a former writer. Brian read the book, chilled by his personal brush with such incredibly powerful malice.
Now Brian was here, talking to some retired boxer bodyguard about an appointment he had with Two Roses. He was frisked more thoroughly than backroom foreplay, then waved with a wand that detected radio signals to ensure he wasn't wearing a wire. Brian, who was cool in almost every situation, felt like that ten year old boy again as he followed the big man up the stairs to a door where the big man's clone stood guard. Another wand came out, this one a metal detector. Was there some gang war going on that Brian didn't know about? Maybe Two Roses had lost his faith in his fellow man after the book came out, Brian thought with a cynical smile. That smile faded away as the guard opened the door and Brian was admitted into the inner sanctum of Danny O'Malley's kingdom.
The simplicity of lifestyle highlighted in the book was never more evident than in this office. The linoleum floor treatment on the stairs continued, and the furniture had been out of style for so long, it was back in. As collectibles. The only art to break the monotony of the drab green walls was a portrait of the Pope and a calendar featuring dreamy landscapes of Ireland. This month, the Ring of Kerry glistened under diamond points of bright sunlight. Behind a tall desk with a formica top and chrome banding sat a small man in a cheap suit, the fashion statement combining with his size to remind Brian of a ventriloquist's dummy. He even had the dummy's unreal face with red cheeks and overly large, but animated eyes. The years had not been kind to Danny O'Malley. He had lost all but a few strands of reddish gray hair that he combed over his freckled pate and held there with a heavy petroleum-based product. The lines in his skin made him look even more like an evil leprechaun, as did the inevitable shrinkage of age.
Brian realized what he thought of as expensive and interesting fashion sense as a boy was really just flash and gaudy colors, stuff outside the mainstream that he was used to seeing men wear. "Mr. O'Malley, I'm..."
"I know who ya are, Brian Kinney," he said, sounding exactly like the matchmaker in the movie classic, "The Quiet Man." "Sit yourself down, why don't ya?" Brian sat on one of the vinyl clad chairs facing the man's desk. "Ya always were a fair-faced lad, and ya grew up to be the same. You missed your own Da's wake, ya ball o' shite!"
Brian shrugged. "I uh...had business..."
"No business is more important than respecting the old fella, am I right?"
"You have children, Brian Kinney?"
"I have a son."
"May he show ya more respect than ya shown your own Da. Glad to hear ya got yourself a babby. Jack always feared ya was gonna grow up to be a crafty butcher."
"A butcher?" Brian was confused, and O'Malley laughed.
"Thick in the head are ya? A crafty butcher delivers his meat to the backdoor. A Natalie...a Gaylord..." he poured whisky into two glasses and pushed one towards Brian. "Slainte," he said as he downed the amber brew.
"Slainte chugat," Brian responded, toasting O'Malley's health as he drank. "So a crafty butcher is a queer. Is that what you mean?"
"He would have been right. I am gay."
O'Malley shook his head slowly. "Mary, Mother of God, what has happened to the Irish? Big strapping ladub like you? Fine breeding stock? I have six sons o' me own and two daughters. Each as useless as a lighthouse on a bog."
Brian smiledwryly. "I'm sure my father would have said the same."
"Yer wrong about that, ya cheeky bastard," O'Malley assured him. "Jack wouldn't shut up about his handsome, successful son. Bored us all to tears about ya."
Brian smirked. "He must have been drunk."
"Scileann fion firinne," O'Malley replied. "Wine lets out the truth," he translated as Brian struggled with his Gaelic to unravel the old saying.
Brian shrugged, refusing to be shamed by his sexual orientation. "Jack knew. I told him before he died."
"Ah. I see. Well, I think it can be safely assumed ya didn't come here to gobble me mickey, Brian. So why are ya here?"
Brian cleared his throat. "I uh, my Da always said if I had a job I needed done and couldn't think of anyone else to help me, I should come to you. He said Danny O'Malley can get any job done."
"Did he now? And what job would ya be needing done, Brian, me boy?"
"A friend of mine is in trouble."
"Is this truly a friend or is this Brian Kinney?"
"A friend," Brian confirmed, meeting his eyes. He then proceeded to tell Two Roses the saga of Brian and Justin and Ethan, spilling intimate elements of his life that he would not want anyone to hear. After his tale, O'Malley nodded sagely. His small fingers tapped a nervous rhythm on the edge of his desk.
"So ya want this fiddler dealt with, as we say?"
"Yes.I want him frightened into dropping the charges and if that doesn't work, I want him GONE."
Danny O'Malley smiled. Brian was horrified by the glint in that expression. "So, ya want this taken care of, but ya dinna want to dirty your own hands, right?"
"Brian, you understand, if we agree to this, there'll be no changing your mind. Once it's decided, it's done. Ya getting that?"
O'Malley nodded. "Yer Da did a favor for me once, when I really needed a favor done. He never asked for anything back. If I do this, I do it because Jack Kinney was a good friend, an honest man and a true Son of Eire."
Brian nodded, willing to take a commitment anyway he could get it. O'Malley went on. "But ya take a minute to think it through, Brian me boy. Ya don't live in this world. Ya never have. Once ya do this kind of thing, ya can never really go back. Not all the way back. It'll haunt ya, forever. You know what I mean? So you think about it. Because when ya close that door behind ya tonight, the deal is cut and there's no takebacks on it. Here," he opened his drawer and handed him a clear plastic disc containing a four leaf clover. "Give this to your babby, compliments of Danny O'Malley."
Brian smiled and turned it over in his hand, remembering his own gift of a good luck charm from O'Malley, so many years ago. "Thank you, Mr. O'Malley."
"Ta failte romhat," O'Malley replied that he was welcome. "Now tell me. Do we have a deal or do we not?"
Brian leaned back in his chair before responding, his direction suddenly crystal clear to him.
Scene 3: New Orleans
Justin walked past the line of mule-drawn carriages that took tourists around the Quarter. They parked before the Square on the same street where he lived. He liked to walk past them and stroke a velvety muzzle or run his hand up a long ear on his way home. The rains had stopped, replaced by a chill wind off the Mississippi. He wished he had worn his heavier jacket as his fingers brushed across the soft nose of a bay mule.
"Want a ride?" The driver, a young man dressed in livery, asked from the cart, where he was covered by a plaid blanket.
"No thanks," Justin said with a smile.
"I get off at ten. Want a date?"
Justin shook his head and walked on. The guy was cute, but his interest in men was virtually gone. Not that he was interested in women either. He was just unable to summon any enthusiasm for anything other than his acute longing for Brian. He needed a plan. His tuition money wasn't going to hold out forever, and the money he earned at the restaurant would barely permit subsistence living. He could sell his art along the Square but his artistic inspiration seemed to have died with his sexuality. Every time he began to remember what he did to Ethan, he felt a cold chill and his stomach rolled.
The only thing that bothered him more was the threat of jail, that hung over his head like a sword's blade. He wouldn't survive a week in prison, he knew that. But that's what he deserved for what he did, unable to justify the incident in his mind, despite all of his pain and fear. He went up to his small room and crawled under the covers, fully dressed, trying to shake a chill that couldn't be warmed. He tried to resist, but he couldn't hold off, picking up his mobile and dialing Brian's loft.
"Hello," Brian said after a couple rings.
"Hi, it's me."
The warmth rushed through Justin's numb extremities as soon as he heard his voice. "You still up?"
"Yeah, I just came in. What are you doing?"
"Nothing, trying to get warm."
Brian carried the portable phone over to his flat screen television, muting the sound as he flipped to the Weather Channel. He waited for the temperatures across the country to come up. "Why? Cold outside?"
"Not like Pittsburgh, but not warm."
"Guess that means Antarctica isn't your new home." New Orleans was 46 degrees, Brian noted, while Miami was 68. Bingo. He walked over to his computer and pulled up Expedia as they chatted, checking on flights to New Orleans.
"Brian, do you think you could get my computer out of his place? I locked it down, but I wouldn't put anything past him. You can store it at my Mom's."
"Maybe, might be tricky. We'll see." There was a flight at 8:30 in the morning. He retrieved his wallet and entered a credit card number, printing off an e-ticket. He then contacted the Soniat House online, his favorite small hotel in the Quarter, and booked a room for three nights. That should give him enough time.
"He probably sold it."
"Even if he did, computers are easy enough to replace."
"I know how expensive that graphic hardware is that you bought me, Brian."
"Still easily replaced. Are you in a safe part of town, Justin?"
"I guess so. Why?"
"I need to know that you're safe."
"Don't worry about me. Is Ethan still in the hospital?"
"I heard he got out today."
"Oh, good," he replied without enthusiasm.
His work done, Brian carried the phone to bed and stretched out, closing his eyes as he wished Justin were next to him. "Justin, don't despair about this. It's going to work out. I promise you. One way or another."
"What do you mean, ‘one way or another'? Brian, tell me you aren't doing anything reckless."
"I know what a control freak you are and you can't control the outcome of this."
Justin paused and then sighed. "Did you fuck Trevor?"
"I know I don't have the right to ask, but I need to know, I really do. Did you fuck him?"
"No," Brian said firmly. "We're friends, Justin. I tried to make it more, to be honest with you. I wanted more. I wanted Trevor to step in and temporarily fill the gap left by you when you moved out. I wanted the loneliness to go away. I like him a lot. But as it turns out, I like him too much. It wasn't fair."
"What wasn't fair?" Justin asked, pained by Brian's admission of fondness for the man while relieved that they weren't sexually intimate.
"Taking advantage of his strong feelings for me when I was still so caught up in you."
Justin paused. "Caught up in what way? Worried?"
"In every way."
"Brian, may I ask you something?"
"Be honest with me."
"I always am."
"Do you love me?"
Brian sighed. "We aren't having this conversation over the phone. Tell me where you are and I'll be there tomorrow and you can ask me that question again."
"I can't do that."
"I don't want to get you in trouble."
"Let me worry about that."
"No, because you won't."
"Tell me where you are, Justin. Put me out of my misery."
"You think I don't want to?" His voice quavered with emotion. "You think I don't want to be enfolded in your arms? To feel safe and protected? To kiss you and touch you? But you can't fix this one, Brian. It's beyond your control. And I wouldn't survive in prison. I can't get caught."
"I'm fixing it and you won't go to prison."
"You don't know that. And how are you fixing it? What do you mean?"
"I can't tell you."
"Brian, please don't do anything! I know how you are. Don't ruin your life because I was stupid and vindictive!"
"Justin, tell me something. Why the hands? Why did you go after his hands? Was it because you wanted to end his career?"
Justin winced. "NO! Why would you think that?"
"That's what he's pitching. That you deliberately went after his hands to destroy his talent. That you told him so when you hit him."
"Oh God, Brian, NO! I never said that, that's not why I did it!"
"To keep from going after his head, which is what I wanted to do. I wanted to kill him. But I couldn't. I couldn't get past my own bashing. The night that it happened, he hit me, hard, in the face and the stomach and then he raped me, because there's no way to call what he did consensual. As he shoved his dick up my ass with no lube, no condom, he ran his hands over my body and said to remember what his hands felt like on my skin, because these were the only hands that would ever touch me in this way. Forever. His hands were the enemy, Brian. They hurt me, and they humiliated me. That's why I hit them. So he couldn't hit me back. So I wouldn't feel them around my throat or striking my face. I waited until he went to sleep and I...well, you know. I never even thought about the violin. Oh god...what did I do?"
Brian winced, his eyes closing as he felt his lover's pain, fear and helplessness as acutely as a physical stab of agony. "It's okay, baby," he whispered. "It's okay, a ghra mo chroi," he lapsed into Gaelic, a hangover from the day.
"What did you just say?"
Brian sighed. "Sorry, Irish..."
"What does it mean?"
"Tell me where you are and I'll whisper it in your ear in English."
"Say it again."
"Not until we meet."
"Tell me where you are."
"I'm scared, Brian, and I'm running out of hope."
"Don't you dare give up, Taylor. You're not a quitter. Don't you dare act like one!"
"I'm not good at being a fugitive. I miss you. I'm lonely. I'm frightened."
"Tell me where you are, if you love me."
"I love you enough to not tell you," Justin answered.
"I'll find you anyway."
"Not if I see you first."
Justin had to smile. "Did anyone ever tell you that you can be stubborn?"
"For once, everyone is right. I have to hang up now before you wear me down."
"Don't hang up, please."
"I have to. I love you, Brian. Stay where you are. You'll never find me anyway."
"We'll see about that."
"Goodnight, baby. Sleep tight. Think of my arms around you."
"That thought is all that keeps me sane."
"Then you'd better keep thinking it," Brian said, still holding the receiver long after they hung up.
Scene 4: Ethan's apartment. The next morning.
At the same time Brian was boarding a plane for New Orleans, Ethan was awakened by a knock at his door. He cursed and rolled out of bed, hoping it was the guy who had agreed to pay him five hundred bucks for Justin's computer. He knew it was worth a lot more than that, but he just wanted the quick cash. Even something as simple as opening the door was difficult with his hands in plaster. But both of his thumbs were free and so was his index finger on his right hand. So he could twist the knob, but not without effort.
No one was there, but someone had left a gift at his doorstep. He picked up two fragrant long stemmed red roses and inhaled the scent with a smile. It was nice to have admirers. He saw no card, but there was a package and he picked that up too, carrying it in under his arm as he closed the door. He tore off the paper to reveal a book: "Two Roses: A Portrait of Evil". Confused, he read the cover liner and something cold began to rise in him, choking off the free flow of oxygen and causing his heart to pound with terror. He dumped the roses in the trash as he sat down to scan the book.
Next week on Transitions:
Trevor and Brian talk. Brian travels to New Orleans to search for Justin.
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July 25, 2004