One last interview, well, at least till I publish another book in, like, a month.
You heard me. See, here’s the deal.
“Lie” isn’t selling. Somehow when I wasn’t looking, either everyone got sick of series and they only want standalones, or people just stopped buying the first in a series if it’s the only one, or (I’m told) some people, astonishingly, don’t like the cover picture and didn’t buy it because of that!
At any rate, Daddy Needs Money. There’s a certain expectation of income with a new novel, that has not been met this time around. Never mind why, onward and upward.
I have been on a “limited work schedule” for three months, as I recovered/rehabbed from um, several decades of sitting at a desk. I’ve been writing in the morning and then saying FUCK IT for the rest of the day. OK. I needed it. But now it’s time to go back to work. Not like before, working 2 jobs/10 hour days. But no more 3 hour days, either.
I can’t sit here and stress on money if the solution is simple – write more. So I’ve added an afternoon shift to the production schedule, with a commitment of at least an extra 1k words a day each working day.
I was running on fumes for a long time, so now I know that each week I have to TAKE A WHOLE DAY OFF, do no promotion, no writing, nothing. But I have to treat my work days like work days again. The difference being that I can stop and walk away any time I want, but with the knowledge that at some point I have to come back and do more.
So I feel a little hurt/burned/gunshy around Marc and Jesse, and I’m wary of plunging into the second book – also, I don’t have a firm plot yet. But, I am writing a new book, on the new schedule, at a record pace.
Yes. That’s right. Me, writing a shifter book. Well, a werewolf book. At any rate, a supernatural/paranormal that, unlike the Rob the Daemon series, just might sell. Of course, being me, I gotta write it my way, already avoiding the standard tropes like the plague. Which is probably the commercial kiss of death again. Can’t help myself, can I?
At any rate, I’ve got 10,000 words in two days. Amazing what the wolf at the door, so to speak, can do for one’s productivity. And, well, here’s a taste…
In fact, if you’re one of the ten people who read this far…here’s ALL OF IT SO FAR!
CHAPTER ONE – THE WOLF SIGHTING
An ayahuasca trip had not been among Darien’s plans for a Saturday night. When Jacob confessed his real reason for coming back to the city, Darien sighed and shook his head.
“Come on, Daz,” Jacob urged him. “You know it’s mind expanding. It’s not like acid or shrooms, it’s…it changes you.”
“I’ve read the articles, same as you,” Darien replied. So much for dinner at the little Italian place, he thought, and catching up on each other’s lives for the last year.
But if he was honest with himself, it was a relief. What was he going to tell Jacob he’d “been up to,” anyway? Cutting meat, reading books, seeing plays, visiting museums, living his life, such as it was. He hadn’t taken up yoga or learned a language or done anything else with the sudden glut of free time he’d found himself with, after his best…be honest…only friend moved upstate.
“Here,” Jacob said, pushing his phone into Darien’s view. “Check out all these five star reviews of this guy on Google. He’s the real deal, a real shaman. He’s in town tonight, dude, that’s it.”
“It’s all very illegal.”
“Fuck yeah it’s illegal. They want us all on psychiatric meds, not psychotropic meds. They don’t make any money on those.”
Darien thought a little about the mysterious Amazon concoction that was supposed to rebirth you. Drink it up and it would shoot you through a stereoscopic polyphonic journey, during which you’d relive old memories, cry over all the things you’d refused to cry about, see yourself from the outside, heal your wounds… And all the people he knew who’d done it had loved it, had become (at least in their own eyes) different people afterward.
Maybe I don’t want to be a different person, Darien thought.
Jacob made his “poochie face” at him, and as always, Darien cracked up. There was something about a dude the size of a lumberjack, with the beard and flannel shirt to match, putting on the face of a sad Japanese anime girl.
“Doesn’t snookums want to go on a rocket ride to the center of the universe, huh?”
“If that’s what you’re doing, and you’re here one night, after a year away, and that’s the only way I can spend time with you…”
Poochie face gave way to guilty face. “Daz, man, you should come visit me on the farm. Take a week off and just…chill out.”
“I can’t, Mr. Nowak needs me,” he said automatically. And he wasn’t the least bit surprised when Jacob chimed in, matching him syllable for syllable as he said it.
“You always say that. Hell, it’s not the Old World, man, you get vacation time. You…do get vacation time, right?”
“I’m sure if I asked for it, I would,” Darien said. In ten years, since he’d come to Mr. Nowak’s butcher shop in Brooklyn, begging to be his apprentice butcher, he’d never taken one. But neither had the boss, or his wife, or his son or daughter or son and daughter in law… Working was what you did. Vacationing was what people did when they retired, or won the lottery or, God forbid, couldn’t work anymore.
“The wolf, the wolf,” Jacob said, “always at the door. Work harder, hide the money, the wolf is coming.”
Jacob was laughing, but with the Nowaks, not at them. His own grandparents had survived World War II thanks to their pickling skills (and their skill at creating cellars for said pickled goods that were undiscoverable by Nazis). Skills that Jacob had taken up, and made his craft. A craft that was easier to practice, less stressful, and more lucrative closer to the sources of the vegetables he used.
“This,” Jacob pressed, “could be your vacation, your once-in-ten-year vacation. Thank God the Nowaks are religious, and you get Sunday off. You can sleep it off tomorrow.”
“On one condition.”
“You sure about that? I haven’t named it yet.”
“You come back down here within the next four weeks, for a real visit. And I swear I will ask for a whole Saturday off.”
“Dude, this is my busy season, I shouldn’t be here at all, and I…shit, I know that look. Fine. Okay. Four weeks from this weekend. Now let’s go get on the Mad Tea Party Ride.”
The other people in the room were crying, laughing, hugging themselves, confronting themselves. Some were vomiting, as they’d been told to expect to do. Jacob sat there with an awestruck look on his face. Darien was glad for his friend that, unlike some of the other baggage handlers here on the floor of this Hell’s Kitchen apartment, he was having a good time wherever it was he’d landed.
Darien felt nothing. Nothing at all. He was just watching the others go into that 2001: A Space Odyssey “full of stars” tunnel, leaving him behind.
He turned at last to the shaman, straight from central casting – wizened, short, scrawny…fucking Yoda. And he raised his eyebrows, to ask him: Is this all there is for me?
And as he did, he felt a dread so terrible it nearly consumed him. Before him the room disappeared, replaced by a vision of his endless numbered days, flying off a calendar like they did in the old black and white movies he loved to go see at Film Forum.
And it wasn’t so terrible, seeing himself working every day, seeing himself at the Nowak’s shop every day, going home every day to the apartment above the shop.
It wasn’t the knowledge that Mr. Nowak would die, and the son would inherit, and Darien would work there till he died that made him choke, gasp, sob.
It was the last page of the calendar, the picture of himself, dying, alone. The way he’d lived his life, the price to pay for living his life the way he had.
I have a boyfriend, he tried to tell the calendar.
The calendar laughed at him. You go on dates with someone you fuck, it said, flipping its pages saucily. That’s not a relationship.
I’m better off alone, he said. My choices in men…they’ve always made my life worse than it is when I’m alone.
The calendar shrugged, turned away. Over its shoulder it said, Maybe someday a man will choose you. And that’ll work out better.
As it walked away, it revealed the landscape it had blocked. Darien smiled. It was familiar, as familiar as childhood.
Every year his parents had taken him and his sister Carrie to Yellowstone, the first day after school got out for the summer. Every year they’d come and seen the bears, the eagles, the elk. Every year Darien had watched the most fascinating animal of all – the photographers. They set up their tripods, their equipment, and they kept their eye on the landscape. Perfectly still, sometimes all day. Waiting for a shot that might never come.
The rarest of all shots at Yellowstone, the El Dorado, was a wolf sighting. In all their years, the Mackey family had never seen one. They’d heard the excited chatter of families at other breakfast tables, enthusing about their own sightings, but it had never been their good fortune to see one.
There were books you could buy, and Darien begged his parents to buy them all. He’d read “Yellowstone Wolves in the Wild” to pieces twice before he moved to New York, and the third copy, pristine, sat on his bookshelf, unopened.
The family had made the mistake, once, of giving up on seeing the wild wolves, and paid to see the captive wolves in the center near the park entrance. The sadness Darien had felt that day, as his eyes had met that of one of the confined animals, swept over him again, now. They’d all gone to bed early that night, after a quiet evening, and never spoke of it again.
But here, in his vision, here they were. It was just that part of the day when you had to be out, at dawn, or at dusk…in this strange world, it could be either or both. There were six of them, the biggest one in front. They padded across the familiar landscape of the Lamar Valley, and he caught his breath. He reached instinctively for his sister Carrie’s hand.
The lead wolf saw the motion out of the corner of its eye. He turned his head to look at Darien.
He ran across the valley towards Darien, fast, so much faster than any earthly beast could ever move. In seconds, he was face to face with the beast. Darien pissed his pants, ready for death.
The pack leader sniffed him. Regarded him with its gold-brown eyes. There was an intelligence there that Darien had expected, staring for so long at the wolf on the cover of his book. But there was something else, too… A sudden recognition. As if the wolf knew him personally.
Then the spell was broken. The wolf dashed away, to join its pack mates.
When Darien opened his eyes, there was fucking Yoda, laughing at him, nodding, smiling. You see? his face asked.
Darien smiled. He did. What he’d seen he didn’t know, but he’d seen it. With his own eyes.
Then he realized he really had pissed himself.
The next day, he tried to talk himself out of what he knew. Jacob had made that joke about the wolf at the door, and that had triggered his subconscious to present the wolf as a symbol of….
Freedom, something whispered inside him. Something wild. Unexpected, unexpectable.
He reached for it, his answer, the one he kept on…on what he saw now with brilliant clarity, the drug still working in him, as his “answer shelf.” The stock he kept on hand for these occasions.
He read the answer burned onto the little block of wood. “I don’t want the unexpected,” it said firmly.
He put it back on the shelf. And thought about whether or not that was true for the rest of the day.
CHAPTER TWO – JUST WHAT IS A HIPSTER
Sunday was Darien’s one day off. The Nowaks were off to church in the morning, and had finally given up a few years ago on getting Darien to go with them.
The neighborhood used to be as still as the grave on Sunday mornings. On this fall morning, it was still unseasonably warm for early October, so he had his windows open. The top floor apartment was bright, high-ceilinged, wood-floored, cool in the summer and cold in the winter. Over the years, Darien had restored many of the period details to the apartment’s original 1919 look.
Sunday mornings used to feel like 1919, too, with everyone in the neighborhood but him in church. That was before the Boom. It hand started with an influx of young artists and musicians, priced out of Manhattan and lured by cheap rents on plentiful apartments, in a neighborhood where the original Italian and Polish residents were fleeing to the suburbs in ever-greater numbers. Then those artists had set up galleries and performance spaces, clashing with the old residents over noise and traffic, which drove even more of them out, which freed up even more apartments, and so on.
Then THEY had started coming – the prosperous and ever-bored Manhattanites, lured to the thrill of the new by articles in New York and Time Out. It never ceased to baffle Darien. Rich people always wanted to move, in droves, to a “cool” neighborhood, and never noticed that their very presence, the way it ran the rents up, drove out all the people and places that made it cool in the first place. Instead, a year later, they just declared their new neighborhood “so over” and went on, further out, to ruin more cool neighborhoods.
Pretty soon the only refuge for the cool would be so remote from the last subway stop that only the most hardened slummer would make the trek. And, more importantly, it would be so remote from a subway stop that the rich wouldn’t move there, because it would make it too hard to get to their Manhattan jobs.
But Nowak Meats and the corner building it resided in were only three blocks from an N and R subway stop. The old sub shop, one of Mr. Nowak’s best customers for thirty years, had gone out of business, replaced by a “boulangerie.” The old gravestone carver had moved to Queens, his shop taken over by a guy who made custom granite countertops. Good ones, good quality, but stil…
The Eagle Bar was still the Eagle Bar, with its tin ceiling and burst-stuffing barstools and the reek of old beer and smoke and piss…exactly the “authentic” experience that middle class kids from the suburbs, raised in clean sterile bubbles, were craving.
The old Polish men, some of whom had spent more of their lives in the bar than they had at home, had been pushed steadily down the bar until the last one had walked out the back door one day, making an Old World gesture with his hands, marking the last day of the bar’s actual authenticity.
Darien could hear the bright sharp voices of mommies in black leggings and neon tops as they pushed their perfect little Chases and Cassidys and Coltons, Dakotas and Gwenyths and Apples, up and down the street from the café that only served cappuccinos, to the boulangerie and its “cronish,” a croissant-Danish hybrid, filled with locally sourced jams and coated with a glaze of free trade sugar.
He tried to read “Low Life,” Luc Sante’s history of old New York’s vice-ridden past, full of opium dens and gambling halls and crooked cops. He never grew tired of reading about the old days. But this morning he couldn’t concentrate, and not because of the cries of victory below, triumphant announcements about whose little superstar had been pre-approved for Harvard fifteen years early.
No. It was something in the corner of his eye. He tried to ignore it. But it stuck out at him, the way it stuck out on the shelf, just a little too long for the bookcase shelves. He shut “Low Life” and padded over to the bookcase.
He didn’t have to reread the book on Yellowstone’s wolves. He knew every word. But he had to look at the pictures. His eye was arrested by the ones where the wolf was looking directly at the photographer. It was always the same look, piercing, intelligent, wary but curious.
But not that look. The look the wolf had given him in his ayahuasca trip. There had been something else in that wolf’s eye. Something…
Darien set down the book as he heard the extended Nowak clan returning to the building. He looked at his watch, the one luxury he’d ever permitted himself, a Shinola Runwell that would have set him back a thousand bucks at retail. But of course, the Nowaks were very social people, prominent in the community, and someone always knew a guy who knew a guy in Manhattan who could get you a deal.
He couldn’t believe it was already past noon. He’d been staring at the book for hours. He shook himself and went downstairs to help with dinner.
Sunday dinner was an extended family affair, conducted in the Nowak’s apartment, downstairs and down the hall from Darien’s. The Nowaks and himself were the only residents of the building; Mr. Nowak had long ago decided that tenants were “too much trouble,” to the constant frustration of would-be residents of the neighborhood. But Mr. Nowak was no fool – he rented the apartments out as storage units, under the table.
Darien was expressly forbidden from entering the shop, or the kitchen. The men rested today. The Giants were playing the 49ers at 1 o’clock, and the priest always cut his sermons short on Sundays from August through December (and, God willing, January and February). Darien had never cared about pro sports before going to work for Mr. Nowak, but the nonstop running dialogue between the other butchers and meat cutters about players, stats, fantasy teams, etc. had made him an expert by osmosis.
“Darien!” Mr. Nowak shouted from his recliner, picking up a bottle of Wyborowa vodka from the table next to him and waving it at Darien. “You’re late! You missed the kickoff!”
“Sorry, Mr. Nowak,” Darien said, accepting his punishment. He took the bottle and lifted it to his lips.
“Drink! Drink! Drink!” the men around him shouted, as Darien chugged vodka for three seconds, to make up for arriving three minutes after kickoff. He gasped and coughed when he finished, and Uncle Piotr slapped him on the back with his thick hairy hand.
“That’ll teach you,” he grumbled approvingly.
“Sit down, sit down,” Mr. Nowak waved him towards a couch. “Shit,” he hissed. “Fucking Kaepernick. Fuck that guy.”
“Language!” Mrs. Nowak shouted from the kitchen, more out of reflex than any hope that it would work.
As the game progressed towards another catastrophe for the Giants, Darien groaned along with the other guys from the shop – Adam, Mr. Nowak’s oldest son, Karol and Stanislaw, meat cutters and cousins, and Uncle Piotr, who’d moved to Staten Island a decade ago to open his own butcher shop.
And there was Aidan, Mr. Nowak’s son in law, husband to his daughter Julia. Aidan the know it all, Aidan the Wall Street Wizard who got a bigger bonus when he helped crash the market than Darien would ever make in a lifetime.
“What you do, my daughter married a fucking Mick,” Mr. Nowak would grumble when Aidan left the room after one of his classic bullshit speeches that only revealed how little he really knew about football – nuggets all the men in the room knew he was repeating verbatim from a local AM radio show. “No offense,” he’d added to Darien Mackey, who waved it away. “At least he’s Catholic, thank God.”
Aidan was no more religious than Darien, but Darien wasn’t going to burst what was left of Mr. Nowak’s bubble.
“So Darien, man, Dazzy, how’s it hanging? You look a little raggedy today, you go to some cool club last night?”
Darien flinched. “Daz” had become his nickname when Lena, the youngest daughter, had been unable to pronounce his name. He let Jacob call him that, and he let Lena do it, affectionately, but Dazzy? That sounded like the kind of guy who’d be a total toolbag.
And Aidan knew it too, loved to needle him. “No, just hanging out with a friend.”
Aidan raised an eyebrow. “Shit, you have a friend? I thought you were a hermit, living in that cave of yours upstairs. Edgy hipster like you, you should be going out every night.”
He hated that word, too – “hipster.” It implied something…shallow, slick, trendy. Darien knew he fit the profile – bushy beard, unruly hair, tattoos covering his arms and chest. But he had a beard because shaving was a waste of time and money, and he had unruly hair because haircuts, well, same thing.
And he liked the look, liked the way it made him feel like he was someone from the old days, a sailor on a frigate who’d just stepped onto land after a long journey. If being passionate about something, about a lost time and lost arts, made him a hipster? Fine, so be it.
“So just what is a hipster, in your opinion.” Darien surprised himself, challenging Aidan, the powerful jolt of vodka loosening the tongue he usually kept well wrapped.
The whole house went quiet. There had been something…new, different, in his tone, than he’d ever heard come out of himself it before. It was low, strong, contemptuous and intelligent and impatient. An animal’s challenge to another animal.
“Oh dude,” Aidan said, throwing his hands in the air, “I don’t wanna get in your kitchen, man, I was just making a joke.”
“Please stop calling me that.” The same tone, the same effect, shocking him and everyone else who knew meek, mild, quiet Darien, who nodded and smiled and inclined his head.
“Sure, man,” Aidan said, getting up, backing out of the room, some instinctive fear driving him. “Sorry.”
Mr. Nowak punched him in the arm. “That guy? You know that computer game, Tetris?”
“Old school, yeah, even I know Tetris. Russian bastard invented it but okay, right? Fucking game what do you do, push blocks around, right? That’s what he does, finance guy, he doesn’t work like you and me, pushes blocks of money around, big game, all day. Fuck that guy.”
“Yeah,” Darien laughed. “Fuck that guy.”
“Fuck that guy!” the rest of the room echoed Mr. Nowak’s favorite saying, tossing back their vodka.
Darien smiled, feeling warm, safe, happy…part of a family. After ten years, he really was part of the family. During his apprenticeship, they’d tried to fix him up with various cousins and widowed young aunts. Mrs. Nowak simply refused to see Darien’s gentlemen friends, who sometimes even stayed the night, as anything but that.
Darien knew they could cut him off, throw him out, for being gay, but they didn’t. He wanted to be a butcher, wanted it so badly, but he wasn’t going to pretend to be hetero to get it. If Mr. Nowak had sent him away, he would have tried again, somewhere else, with someone else. His homosexuality was acknowledged by the family in the old school way – these were people whose gay family members either “moved to Manhattan,” as if to Siberia, or joined the priesthood.
Mr. Nowak had only mentioned the subject once, sort of, in ten years. Five years ago, Mr. Nowak had been closing up shop when Darien and his then-paramour came out of the building, laughing, and Jeff had grabbed Darien’s hand to hold. He and Mr. Nowak locked eyes, and both looked away.
The next day at the shop, he and his boss were stocking the case. Darien was the only one the old man trusted to do it right, to arrange everything just so, the way it had always been done.
“Hey,” Mr. Nowak said, nudging him. “That guy.”
Darien looked out through the plate glass window at a man with a cell phone glued to his ear, shouting outside the shop, waiting for it to open.
“Don’t serve him, I’m sick of him coming in here yelling on his thing the whole time. ‘No soup for you,’ right? You like that show, Seinfeld?”
“Yeah, I love it.”
“Yeah, that guy Putty. Elaine asks him, why if you’re so religious you date me when I’m not?” Mr. Nowak waited till Darien turned and looked him in the eye.
With a grin, the old man said, “He shrugs and says, ‘I’m not the one who’s going to Hell.’” He laughed and punched Darien, who blushed, then laughed with him.
Suddenly, the extended family stopped trying to set him up with any girls, and the subject was never mentioned again.
CHAPTER THREE – TIME MAKES CHANGES
After dinner, Darien was ready to make his exit, but Mr. Nowak grabbed his arm. “Come up to the roof with me.” He led the way, snagging the vodka off the table.
Darien swallowed hard. The roof was where the serious conversations happened, out of earshot of any interested party. The roof was where he’d been told he’d become a master butcher at last, right before the rest of the family streamed out of the stairwell, shouting and cheering with arms loaded with a party’s worth of food. The roof had been where Mr. Nowak had burst into tears, confessing that he had “the cancer,” which, thank God, he’d survived. Where he’d begged Darien to take care of the family if he died, doubting his own son’s ability to “do it right like you know how to do it right.”
The evening was mild, quiet, the street’s consumers gone home to their Netflix streams and gourmet pre-prepared meals. The old man drank deep and handed Darien the bottle.
“I might be selling up. Going to Staten Island to work with Piotr.”
The edge of the roof was several yards away. So why did Darien feel like he was falling?
Szymon Nowak sighed. “The times, the people, they’re all different. The people who come in now, they are all, ‘o where did this chicken grow up?’ They talk all loud about the water chestnuts in the can, ‘o it’s all from China it’s all poison,’ like I sell fucking poison. Active fitness people, all want all the fat cut off everything, never mind how it tastes. Bah. And Adam,” he shifted the bottle to his left hand so he could cross himself, “he’s my son thank God and God bless him, but he’s not a butcher at heart. You know this. I retire, leave it to him, it all goes to shit.”
Darien said nothing, knowing that only the old man could speak that way about his son.
He grunted and nodded at Darien’s silence, its confirmation. “And this Aidan. He knows a guy, wants the building.”
“People have wanted the building since I started here,” Darien said.
“Yeah, but…this guy’s got twelve million dollars cash.”
“Jesus Mary and Joseph,” he agreed. “And Agata, she wants to retire. Spend time spoiling grandchildren, not doing books and orders and bills.”
Darien’s mind spun. “Would he keep the butcher shop open?”
Mr. Nowak smiled at him, but the pain in his boss’s eyes belied it. “No, son. You’d need to move on. Find another job.” He stabbed himself in the chest with his thumb. “I’m a big shot, big king shit in butchering in this town, you know that. Anywhere you wanna work, you’re in.”
Darien’s mind spun. The vision had been a lie, hadn’t it…the vision of him working here forever, living here forever…
But maybe that meant that the vision of him dying here, alone…maybe that had been a lie too…
“So…is this for sure?”
“No, no. I’m thinking. But…you, I don’t want you getting flat feet.” Darien smiled, knowing what he meant about getting caught flat-footed, learning it all at the last minute. “And you know, I see to it, they can’t throw you out of the apartment, I make that part of the deal, you got a home here forever, fuck this guy and his condos, they make condos all around you, you stay right there, in the paperwork.”
At least one of the snakes in his guts uncoiled and slithered away at that. His mind was whirring with possibilities, ways to make if not everything stay the same, then at least close.
“I could take over the shop. I’ve got money saved, a lot, a couple hundred thousand, I could run it, I could pay you rent, I could manage the apartments, rent them out again….”
“You’re a good boy. A good man. Jesus Christ you save all the fucking money I pay you, all these years?”
“Yeah…what was I gonna spend it on? Rent was free, food was free, no utilities, I don’t have TV or Internet…” Darien paid one bill a month, for his three year old smartphone.
“Shit you are from the old school days,” he said approvingly. “Listen. It’s not certain yet, but the pressure, it’s on me, the family, they want it. Nobody wants to work anymore. Money means easy living to them. All these years, we all just work, that’s who we are. Now Agata, she leaves brochures around, beach houses, Viking River Cruises, la la la. They smell twelve million dollars and drop their pens and cleavers and talk about hiring nannies to change my grandkids’ diapers for them. Shit.”
Darien took the proffered bottle and drank deep, knowing he’d regret it at 6 am tomorrow when his work week started again.
“Nothing lasts forever,” his mom used to say, consoling him in bad times, warning him in good times. It was true. He’d had ten years of…perfection. Of the life he’d dreamed of. How many people in this world never get a day of that? How many of them sit in a cubicle, far from even a sliver of sunlight, wishing they were somewhere, someone else?
“You’ll be fine,” Mr. Nowak said, reading his mind. “You’re the best,” he said, startling Darien. “I mean it, you are the best. Your eye for meat, your hand, your way with the customers. I never see a butcher as good as you.”
His sharp eyes penetrated Darien’s. “You’re not lazy, but you’re scared. You, you should be big king shit of Manhattan, pushing your way around TV shows, me me me, not these hard blowers they got now. But you don’t want all that attention, you don’t want to stand out, you like a quiet life. I get that. But sometimes you gotta live the life you were born to. You weren’t born to be quiet.”
Darien reached for it, the wood block on his internal shelf, the statement of disagreement. It wasn’t there. Someone had taken it away in the night.
He thought of the wolf from his ayahuasca trip, its eyes on his. Eyes, he knew now, that had said much the same thing. Eyes that had warned him of a different future, of a change in him, in everything.
CHAPTER FOUR – TBD
Darien immersed himself in his work on Monday, sweating out the vodka toxins as he
INSERT BUTCHER STUFF HERE!!!!!!!!!!! (I have two books on order, but I’m plowing ahead anyway…hey, it’s first draft)
After his long work day was over, there was still enough light to make it worth his while to walk the mile to Prospect Park. Fall had come late this year, and the foliage was still amazing, the full palette of oranges and yellows and gold, all ganging up on the last green holdouts. He scuffed like a kid through the drifts of leaves that eddied across the walkways, just enough of a breeze to move them around but not enough to chill the early evening air.
Darien loved Brooklyn, he loved his neighborhood and the park and the people. He didn’t want to work in Manhattan, definitely would never live there. He loved the theater, but always got pissed when something he just had to see was in a Broadway theater in the heart of Times Square. He hated the mobs of screaming teenagers, all the people looking one way while walking another, the irking Elmos and skeevy Spidermen.
Brooklyn – his Brooklyn, the place that was almost gone now, was home. Darien had grown up in a suburban tract home, a McMansion on a cookie cutter street of them, all beige and characterless and only different in the most minimal ways. More than a few times, his mom had parked the car in the wrong driveway, hustled the groceries to the wrong door, stabbing the lock with a key until the frightened resident opened the door, and they all had a good laugh, because it happened every day.
He was sitting on a bench, lost in the pages of “Low Life,” when a hand thrust a flyer between him and the book. “Save Brooklyn! Fight gentrification!”
Darien looked up at the man proffering the flyer. Blond dreadlocks, scraggly beard, hash-stoned eyes, glassy blue irises, and all the enthusiasm that…well, that Darien had come with, ten years ago. Probably a squatter in some building that was soon to be a massive Pilates studio. He took the flyer.
It was pretty well done. It looked like something out of a Thomas Nast cartoon from the late 19th century. There was an obscenely fat man in a shiny top hat sitting on the Brooklyn Bridge, its middle bending from his weight, as he kicked his heels in the water, capsizing boats. He held a rod and reel, which he was using to haul in a building that Darien instantly recognized as the Brooklyn Mechanic’s Institute and Library.
FIGHT THE MONEY POWER! SAVE THE LIBRARY! NO MORE DISCOS!
“Oh, shit,” he said out loud.
The hippie nodded. “Yeah, man. The fucking library. They wanna make it a disco, they say the solid walls make it perfect for a dance club.”
The Mechanic’s Library was one of Darien’s favorite hangouts. The Institute had been founded in the in the 1800s to serve the educational needs of the emerging industrial working class, artisans and craftsmen, offering advanced education and training to a class of people who’d never see the inside of a university classroom. The Institute was also a social club, chess club, and, to the dismay of capitalists everywhere, a hive of radical political discussion. The library was initially stocked with books relevant to the practical needs of the workers and their wives, but eventually grew into a full service library, available to anyone with, at the time Darien joined, $100 a year. Given what he’d spend on books otherwise, it was a sweet deal, and he was supporting a fantastic institution.
He wanted to cry. This was…this wasn’t a store, a house, an apartment building, where people came and went, bought and sold. This was an anchor, a pillar of the community. And now it was going to be a fucking disco?
He looked at the date and time – tomorrow, at noon, early enough to make the local evening news and timed to get people like him, on their lunch break, to come join in.
Darien had never been to a protest in his life, never seen the use. But suddenly he felt…stronger. More powerful. For too long, he realized, he’d been the passive participant in his life, swept along its path like the leaves swirling around him. He felt like he could make a difference. That this town, this world, didn’t have to be yanked out from underneath him. That he could stop it.
Tomorrow, instead of gobbling one of Mrs. Nowak’s sandwiches with the other guys on a fifteen minute lunch break, he would tell Mr. Nowak that he had to go out for lunch.
The Mechanic’s Institute and Library was a seven-story building, classically fronted, that from the outside appeared little different from any other office building of its time. The ground floor was occupied by two retail spaces, which had been merged into, ironically enough, a Restoration Hardware store purveying “authentic” looking turn of the century lamps and fixtures for astronomical prices.
But if you looked up from the street, through the great arched windows of the first floor, you could see the open space within, three stories of book stacks making a horseshoe around a bright airy atrium and reading area. The three stories above that were given over to office space, some for the Institute and some of it rented out.
Darien had to admit that its interior was already ready-made for a nightclub, albeit a small one. The kind where you had to pass a $100 bill to the bouncer to even get into the line to try and get past the velvet rope. The kind with “bottle service” that charged 10x the retail price for a bottle of booze, so that its purchaser could enact the sort of wastefulness that Gilded Age robber barons used to display by lighting their cigars with $100 bills.
The protest was fairly large – large enough to attract news vans from NY1 and the local network outlets. He smiled when he heard, for once at a protest, an original chant. To the tune of Tina Turner’s “Mad Max Thunderdome” theme song, they were singing:
We don’t need another disco,
We don’t need any more assholes
The squatter hippie had a megaphone, and he egged on the crowd. “Inside there, right now, Terence Reynard is talking to a meeting of the shareholders, trying to convince them to pick up our history and go. He’s trying to tell them that the march of progress is inevitable, that the time for organizations that benefit the working class has passed.”
“Wait a minute,” Darien said out loud. “I’m a shareholder.” He’d joined the Library when he’d first moved here. The kindly old man at the membership desk had given him the $35 annual student rate when he’d proved he was apprenticed to Mr. Nowak – who played poker with the man every week. Working Brooklyn was a small town. Each year, as he’d made more money, and spent less and less of it, and more and more time at the Library, he’d upped his contribution until he’d reached the Benefactor level this year, at a cost of $1000.
“Then why the hell aren’t you in there!” A protestor next to him said angrily. “You’ve got a vote!”
“I didn’t know there was a meeting….”
“They sent an email to everyone,” the man said. “Don’t you read your emails?”
“I don’t have a computer, so, no.” He shouldered his way through the crowd to the door, where he presented his membership card. The guard, usually required to do little other than wake sleeping patrons at closing time, examined it carefully and finally let him in.
The main floor, usually a quiet place, had become a hubbub. Chairs had been drafted from every office in the building, a ragtag assembly that was appropriate to the crowd – old longshoremen and union men, older upper-class women with their big, stiff pineapple-blond hairdos and clunky jewelry, and ardent young people like himself, many of whom he recognized from around the neighborhood. The guy who’d taken over the gravestone shop and made custom countertops, the woman who ran the cappuccinos-only café, the couple who were personally renovating the house Uncle Piotr had sold them when he moved to Staten Island.
These are my neighbors, Darien thought with a start as he took a chair next to the cappuccino lady, who nodded and smiled in recognition. I don’t even know her name.
These were people he knew without really even knowing them. He realized that he’d been kidding himself, all this time. He hadn’t really been a part of this community, he had just…drifted above it in his bubble, his top floor corner apartment a spaceship from which he looked down on humanity, never participating in it.
No wonder it’s all going away. Because of people like me, who didn’t lift a finger.
He turned his attention to the front of the room, where a red haired man was walking around energetically, speaking into a microphone.
“This is not the end of this institution, not at all. This magnificent organization has served the community for over a century, and can continue to do so. But we all know that the membership rolls are decreasing, that the endowment is suffering, that the workers who it served have moved further afield, to Long Island and Staten Island and beyond.”
An automatic chorus of boos at the mention of all who’d betrayed the city to become bridge-and-tunnelers ensued.
“The price I am offering, and let me reiterate the sum… Twenty Five Million dollars. Would enable this great institution to relocate to an area where it can better serve the workers for whom it was intended…”
Darien shot up in his seat. “We are the workers for whom it’s intended.” Everyone turned to look at him. He had surprised himself, with his leap, with the force in his voice, the same force that had stilled the room at Mr. Nowak’s house.
“The docks are closed, yes. The sugar company’s long gone. The old manufactories are relocated. But there are still workers here, lots of them, working with their hands as well as their minds. I’m a butcher. I’ve been a butcher here for ten years, since I came to Mr. Nowak at Nowak’s Meats as an apprentice. I came to this city with nothing. I took $35 out of my first paycheck to get a library card here. This was before people wrote memoirs about how they dabbled in this or that dying art, before there was anything other than tribal knowledge to guide me – and the books in this library. Books about butchering, meat processing, animal anatomy.
“Yes, a lot of the old members have moved away with the old jobs, and the institute’s income is down. But there are people living here who are craftsmen, artisans, new tradesmen. And they need this place. They don’t know it, but they do. We need to reach out to them, I need to…”
He paused. “I’ve just been a passive member here. I’m a benefactor,” he said, waving his silver card in the air, which got the attention of everyone in the room.
“And I guess I thought that was enough, just writing a check every year, that was enough to pay this great organization back for what it did for me when I had nothing. But not anymore. I’m going to participate in this, I’m going to get involved and I’m going to help save this library. Can I make a motion?”
The chairman of the board frowned. “It’s unusual at this point in a discussion…”
“Motion! Motion!” the crowd chanted.
Darien didn’t wait for permission, he seized the moment in his jaws. “I motion to table this until we can see if there’s a way to save this place, save it right here where it is.”
He sat down to thunderous applause, a man behind him slapping him on the back.
At that moment, he felt a pair of eyes on him. How he could do that, when the eyes were behind him, he didn’t know. Weren’t so many eyes on him now? But this was different. He turned around.
There at the back of the room, a dapper gentleman stood there, in morning dress – a morning coat, a waistcoat with a watch chain evident across it, elegant black trousers, and, preposterous anywhere but here, a top hat and cane. He looked like a British Prime Minister, attending a conference to divvy up Africa with the rest of Europe.
Darien couldn’t see his eyes – he had on tinted spectacles, very Gary Oldman as Dracula. But he knew, even though the man, the gentleman, was regarding him. The man touched the brim of his hat, and Darien nodded back.
I’ve seen you before, he thought. And the man smiled, as if hearing him.
And we have seen you, a voice tickled the back of his brain.
He turned around, sweating. Now there was another pair of eyes on him, feral, angry, unmistakable. From the front of the room, the developer Terence Reynard looked at him, blue eyes like blue lasers trying to burn him.
Darien nodded. Fuck you.
No second sight, no telepathy, was needed to see the response in Reynard’s smile. Not unless I fuck you first.
Darien was mobbed when the meeting broke up. Everyone wanted to congratulate him, or give him their sudden inspirations, or throw a fundraiser for the Institute.
“You’ll be running for the Board, of course,” the cappuccino lady said, after he finally learned that her name was Carol.
“I…yeah. Absolutely. When’s the election?”
She smiled. “You’re the activist now, you tell me.”
Darien laughed. He felt energized, exuberant…triumphant. Like he wanted to release some kind of animal howl. All this time he’d sat alone at home reading, or sat alone at plays, nobody to talk to about the experience, all this last year he’d mourned Jacob’s departure from the city, and felt like there was “nothing to be done.” Here he was, a strapping young man, shoulders broad from years of hoisting carcasses, hacking at haunches, 28 years old, and only now did he feel a surge of testosterone, of strength, of will.
Then there he was, the man in morning dress, standing next to him. It didn’t make sense at first, but Darien could have sworn that he smelled him before he saw him. Not a scent of cologne or deodorant or man sweat, even, but something…more like pheromones, he supposed, something a human nose couldn’t literally “smell” but still…
“Congratulations,” he said to Darien, offering his hand.
“Thanks,” Darien said, shaking the man’s hand and getting a shock. It was rough, calloused, but the nails were long, almost sharp, surely a result of careful manicuring that didn’t jibe with the strong workman’s grip.
“You remind me of someone…” Darien started to say.
“Possibly a family member,” the man said with a secretive smile. “Reginald Scot.” He handed Darien a card. It was expensive, Darien knew – thick stock, raised lettering – and announced its holder as:
Count Reginald Scot
Lipsius Preservation Society
670 Bushwick Avenue
Brooklyn, New York
Darien had been a New Yorker long enough not to blink at the “Count” moniker. This was probably something like the Society for Creative Anachronism, its members taking on Renaissance Pleasure Faire avatars as various characters from history. Nobody ever wanted to be the filthy peasant, of course; everyone was a Duke or something grand. Which made sense for a preservation society, too, since their members were also more comfortable in the past than the present – like Darien himself.
“670 Bushwick. The old Cook Mansion.”
“Ah, you know your local history. We prefer to call it the Claus-Lipsius Mansion.”
“Yeah, I would too,” Darien laughed. The Claus-Lipsius beer fortune had built the mansion, but it had been North Pole journey faker and mail fraud convict Dr. Frederick Cook who’d made it famous.
“I thought that place was all cut up into apartments.”
“It was. We purchased it several years ago, and restored it.”
“Wow, you’re uh, funded, then.”
“Yes, we are. That was a marvelous speech you gave today.”
“Thank you. I don’t know where it came from, I never…” He shook his head. “I’ve never stood up in public like that before and just…let loose.”
“Well, there are events in our lives that change us, aren’t there. Sometimes we don’t even realize they’ve occurred, until we see the change. Only then can we look back at the path we’ve trod and see our own prints in the dirt, leading us here.”
Darien felt like there was something here he should see, something the other man was seeing in him that…
“We’d love to have you join us for a meeting. We’re having one this Wednesday evening, actually. Can you attend?”
“I…yeah, sure.” Why not, he thought. It would be worth it if only to see what they’d done with the old mansion.
“Wonderful. Seven p.m., then. Don’t eat beforehand, we put on a good supper.”
“Yeah…yes. Thank you.”
“Are you even here?” Billy asked him over the dinner table at Sidecar, a forkful of beet salad held dramatically in the air.
“Huh?” Darien said through a mouthful of buttermilk fried chicken, one of the restaurant’s “big plates.”
“I said, did you hear about Ronald Dump?”
“No, what about him?”
Billy sighed theatrically. Darien sighed too, quietly, at the sound of it. When he’d met Billy, he’d seemed so fascinating, so quicksilver, his slim body possessed of such a ripe perfect ass that Darien’s cock got hard just thinking about it. But what had been feline charms then, now just felt like queeny gestures, and what had been a spark of mischief now just sounded like bitter sarcasm.
“You’re in your own world tonight. And you’re eating like a wild animal. That’s what made me think of this. They found his body in the Meadowlands, torn to pieces! He’d been eaten alive. Can you believe it? What was that asshole doing out there anyway, looking for more real estate to suck up? And who ever thought there were, I don’t know, lions and tigers and bears in New York! Well, New Jersey. I suppose that makes more sense.”
Darien smiled. Billy did still have his moments, but they were fewer and farther between. He should break up with him, but…that ass. Darien felt his dick swelling right now. Fuck! He hadn’t been this horny in…forever. He was surprised to see that he’d finished off the whole plate of chicken, and wasn’t the least bit satisfied.
He threw some money on the table. “Come on, let’s go back to my place.”
“I haven’t finished my salad,” Billy protested.
That Voice had only come out of Darien before by accident. Now he wondered if he could just…summon it.
“We’re going back to my place, now. And I’m going to fuck you so hard, I’ll split you in two.”
Billy dropped his fork. “Oh my God…”
Darien got up, not waiting to see if Billy would follow him. He knew he would. And he was right.
“Just let me…”
“No. You’re not in charge. I’m in charge.”
Billy was a fucking power bottom, always running the action, choosing when he’d stop sucking Darien’s cock and put his ass in the air, choosing when to buck and twist to make Darien come. Not tonight.
He shoved Billy to his knees and flung open his jeans. He mashed Billy’s face into his crotch, reveling in the power, in the helpless shock of his prey. Then of course Billy did what he was told, enthusiastically, trying to grab Darien’s fat cock and pull it out of his boxers.
Darien slapped his hand away. “Don’t touch it unless I tell you to.” He wrenched his cock out and began smacking Billy in the face, inciting small moans of pleasure. He knew this type, didn’t he, known all along – Billy wanted a man to take over, to use him, to stop him from running the show. That’s what he’d felt from Billy all along that had been so wrong between them – that slight undertone of contempt, at his ability to make Darien do what he wanted.
Not anymore. He grabbed Billy’s hair, the little blond quiff above his forehead, and held him still while he used the other hand to guide his big mushroom head into Billy’s wide open mouth, his subject’s eyelids fluttering with drugged pleasure. In, all the way in, till Billy choked, then back out, then back in before Billy could catch his breath.
“I can’t…” Billy protested.
“Shut up. Suck my dick.”
Suddenly Billy’s need for oxygen disappeared, and he chowed down on Darien’s cock like never before.
“Don’t just put it in your mouth. Clamp those lips around it. Tight. Use your tongue. And don’t fucking bite it. I want to feel you fucking suck it.”
And Billy remembered, then, how to really suck a dick. Darien tilted his head back, groaned with pleasure.
Billy turned his head away, gasping. “Oh, fuck me, fuck me with that big dick.”
Darien yanked his hair, pulled Billy up hard. He leaned down and spit in his face. “You don’t get to ask for anything. You’re lucky you get to suck my fucking dick.”
This was amazing! He’d always been a top, had always enjoyed fucking and getting sucked, but he’d never been as assertive as this. Why not? Why only now? He asked himself. Who cares, the voice answered. Stop asking questions and fuck that face!
Billy sucked, Billy opened wide, and Darien took his throat, shoved his way into it, ignored Billy’s gags and coughs until he’d seen him turn just a certain shade of red.
While Billy was still coughing and panting, Darien grabbed him under the arms and picked him up, throwing him on the bed on his back. He yanked Billy’s pants down without bothering to unbuckle his belt – they were low rise skinny jeans anyway, they weren’t even mounted on his hips.
He pushed Billy’s legs in the air and thrust his engorged cock along his ass crack, over Billy’s clean shaved balls.
He looked at Billy and saw…fear. And it thrilled him. He wanted to move in for the kill, to ram it in, to ram it home…
“Oh my God your eyes,” Billy said. “They’re yellow.”
Darien blinked. He couldn’t think about that now. He was only himself long enough to reach into the bedside table and get the lube. He pushed two slick fingers up Billy’s ass, still reasonably tight after dozens of fuckings.
Because you never blew it out, you never got to fucking RAMMING SPEED and gave him what he deserves!
That was about to change. He manipulated Billy’s legs so he could hold them back with one hand, and put the other over his mouth. Then with a single thrust, his dick went all the way home.
Sure enough, Billy screamed into his hand, the painful ravaging of his asshole and the exquisite pressure on his prostate happening simultaneously, his brain not knowing which one to dwell on. Darien didn’t give him time to think, or to relax. He started pounding, hard.
He moved his hands to Billy’s shoulders, put more of his body weight on Billy’s legs. Billy was a “squirmfuck,” he was always moving his ass, trying to get a better angle instead of just letting Darien figure it out. Now he was pinned, completely, immobilized, and Darien chose the angle of attack.
“Oh fucking Jesus God shit,” Billy shouted. Darien let him. The windows were closed and the apartments around him were empty. Let him scream.
Something went out of Billy, Darien could see it in his eyes – the fight, the struggle, was replaced by a resignation, surrender…and of course delirium, delight, at all of it – Darien’s forcefulness, the pleasure he was punching into Billy’s central nervous system.
Darien felt it, the tension, rising, like never before, his own prostate tensing, his balls contracting…he was gonna cum, so hard, so much….
“ARRRRGH!” he shouted as he came. “RAAARRR! UH UH UHHHHHH….”
Billy whimpered, his eyes wide at the sight of his own cock spouting like a lawn sprinkler, shooting everywhere as it bobbed and bounced to the rhythm of Darien’s thrusts.
When Darien was finished, he yanked himself out of Billy with a pop, throwing his legs to the side and striding off to the bathroom.
He pissed like a racehorse, surprised to find himself barely winded by all his exertions. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Billy on the bed, spent, a hand on his forehead, another on his cock, squeezing out a few more gouts of juice.
He grinned at himself in the mirror as he washed his hands. Then his grin faded. Billy was right. Darien was “Black Irish,” pale skinned, dark haired, dark eyed. But his brown irises were flecked now with gold…more than flecked. Almost…alight with it.
He shook his head. The ayahuasca trip. The drug had made a physical change in him. Some part of him knew that was true. Just not why.