by Greg Bowden

Chapter Four

"Short," Chip said when he climbed into David's barber chair. "Like that." He pointed to a poster on the wall showing a pretty boy with the next thing to a buzz cut. David looked him over and said, "No. Short, okay, but with that wound on your head, not that short. Now let's see..."

He proceeded to do things to Chip's hair and when he was through you almost couldn't see where his head had been shaved for the stitches. Chip looked at himself critically in the mirror for a moment before he smiled at David. "I don't even look like me, do I?"

"No," David sighed. "You're even prettier than before." Chip took it as a joke but David meant it.

The ride home was silent, Chip staring out the cab window, unconsciously touching his new short hair. When we got into the house he went into the bedroom, stripped off the sweat suit and stood in front of the full length mirror for a long time, tracing the long red wound on his abdomen with his finger. I left him alone.

At dinner I told him I thought the haircut had been a good idea and, avoiding the subject foremost in both our minds, suggested we ought to think about doing some shopping.

He looked at me blankly. "What for?"

"Well, even though you never seem to wear them, I think you probably ought to have some clothes. You know, the stuff other people wear when they're not in bed?"

He brightened considerably. "Can I have a new Stetson? Like the one you bought me before?"

Well, I guess everyone has their priorities. "I was thinking more along the lines of shoes, pants and shirts but sure, why not. If the other stuff isn't too expensive we'll get you a Stetson too."

It amazes me the things that make a sixteen year old boy happy. He cleared up the dishes and hummed to himself while he washed and dried them. When he was finished he went in to bed and turned on the TV. I sat in the study, pretending to work and worrying about him--and those other kids out there on the street. When it occurred to me how unproductive I was being I gave up, took a shower and went to bed.

"You really watching that?" I asked, knowing from the expression on his face that he wasn't.


"Because if you're not I think we need to talk."

His eyes went wary but he shut the TV off. "What about?"

"What we're both thinking about. About what BJ said." I glanced over at him and saw him wince. It occurred to me it wasn't something he really wanted to confront--but he had to. "How reliable do you think he is?" I asked.

"BJ? He's okay as long as he's off the hard stuff. When he's shooting up he gets funny though. Kind of out of it."

"How was he today?" I hadn't a clue. I never have been able to tell unless someone's so far out in space that everyone can see it.

"Oh, he was okay. I think that girl he's with keeps him off the stuff. Why?"

How can these kids be so damn blasť about that? "Well, I was wondering if he really knew what he was talking about. He said Ty and ..."

Chip supplied the name. "Buzz. He's a good guy."

"Yeah, Buzz. He said Ty and Buzz were dead. You think he really knew?"

"I guess. He said it didn't he?"

"Yes, but I wonder how many people he told that you were dead, too."

Chip considered that for a moment before he gave that little shrug of dismissal. "He knew. He couldn't make up that part about their..." He paused, unable to say it.

"The word is mutilated. Or at least that's close enough. He wouldn't make that up, just to embellish the story?"

"What's embellish?"

"It means to add things, details to make a story more believable or more shocking. That sort of thing."

Chip laughed. "No. BJ doesn't much embellish. He's not smart enough to know how." He said it without judgment. It was simply a fact of BJ's life.

"I guess those boys--Ty and Buzz--were... working?"

He laughed again. "You mean hustling? Yeah, they were hustlers. Like me."

I ignored that last part. "Well, neither one of us is so dumb that we don't think--if they are dead and they were mutilated--think they must have gotten mixed up with that guy that almost got you."

Chip lost his smile and stared at the dark TV for a long while. "The crazy," he finally said in a low voice. "Yeah. Probably." He slid his hand under mine and it was cold. After a long time he said, almost to himself, "I guess maybe I should go to Chicago too, like Fuzzy."

I tried to measure my voice, so he wouldn't hear the edge of disappointment in it. "You could, I guess. But I think you're okay here, at least for now."

He turned his hand over and intertwined his fingers with mine. "Thank you," he said under his breath. After that he was silent for so long I thought perhaps he'd drifted off to sleep, but he hadn't. He'd been thinking. "You want me to go to the... to the cops, don't you?"

I rolled up on one arm and looked at him. He was staring fixedly at the ceiling. "Even if I did it wouldn't matter. What counts here is what you want to do."

He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. "You wouldn't be mad?"

I shook my head. "I wouldn't be mad if you did and I wouldn't be mad if you didn't. I also wouldn't be mad if you said you just wanted to think about it."

There was another long silence while he made his decision. "No," he said. "I... no."

"Okay, how about this?" I was improvising but as it turned out, it was pretty good improvising. "It seems to me the first thing we need to know is if those guys really were killed."

"How do we do that?" He'd stopped staring at the ceiling and was now looking at me.

"Maybe the gay newspapers. They sometimes run stories no one else does. We'll pick up copies tomorrow when we go shopping. The second thing we--or rather you--can do," why hadn't I thought of this before? "is make a drawing of the guy who tried to do it to you."

Chip's eyes went hard. "What for?"

"Well, if nothing else we could give copies to all the boys still out there on the street. At least they'd stand a better chance of staying alive if they knew who to watch out for."

He thought about that for a moment and then nodded agreement. "Okay. I can do that. What else?"

"At this point Chip, I have no idea. Except perhaps you could make a drawing of Ty and Buzz, too. I don't know how but it might help. Other than that, I don't know. But at least we have the beginnings of a plan." I squeezed his hand. "Now turn over and think about how nice it is not having those butterflies digging into you while you go to sleep." He smiled and did just that. God how I envy that kid, being able to drop off to sleep in about three seconds while I'm still trying to get my limbs arranged.

Our shopping trip the next day was fun. We started at Macy's in the underwear department where he cruised right past the emerald green French silk briefs and even passed up the Calvin Klines in favor of standard issue white Jockeys--which were on sale. He picked out socks and tee shirts that were on sale too and even settled for the house brand of jeans once he found that they had buttons instead of a zipper. He grinned at the salesman and said, knowing exactly what he was doing to the man, that he hated the zipper kind because he was always getting his big ol' thing (his exact words) caught in them. I don't think the salesman's eyes ever left Chip's crotch after that.

On the way out we passed a big display of digital watches and I asked Chip if he wanted one. He gave me that completely blank look of his and said, "Why?"

"Well, I suppose you might like to know what time it is, now and then."

He shrugged. "I know."

"You know what?"

"What time it is." His inflection said, `keep up with the conversation, dummy'.

"Okay, what time is it?"

"Twelve ten," he said without hesitation. I glanced at my watch. 12:11. Close enough.

"You always know what time it is?"

"Sure," he said. The unasked question was, `Doesn't everyone?' I let it drop.

The next stop was the western shop. Chip went straight to the real Stetsons and picked one exactly like the one he'd had only it was black instead of gray. He put it on and looked like he'd been wearing it all his life.

On the way to the counter a shirt caught my eye, a washed out blue pattern in a western cut. I asked Chip if he'd like to try it on. When he did it fit him as though it was made for him--like a second skin. He took to it immediately.

The last thing before we got to the counter was a small alcove filled with boots. Chip picked up a pair and studied them critically for a moment before looking at me. I sighed and nodded, figuring that he probably never had a cowboy suit when he was a kid.

A rather pretty woman asked Chip if she could help him. I had to leave when the first `ma'am' slipped out of his mouth. Obviously the boy had seen far too many John Wayne movies.

I was surprised again when he come out of the alcove, walking as though he'd always worn high heeled boots. The surprise though was the boots he chose--simple, black, square toed and with almost no decoration. Good, practical, every day boots of excellent quality and no flash. Maybe he had worn them all his life.

We went to Burger King for lunch and while Chip ordered (lavishly) I went down the block to a bar I know and picked up copies of our two gay newspapers. I stuck them in one of Chip's packages figuring Burger King wasn't exactly the place to read them. That just goes to show where I come from. Looking around the place over lunch I counted five guys and one woman reading one or another of the papers.

At home I cleared out a bureau drawer for Chip and made room on the closet shelf for his new hat. Once we were organized Chip settled down at the coffee table with paper and pencil to work on drawing his attacker. I went into the den to read the papers.

An hour later I found my first indication that something was going on. It was in one of the gossip columns:

Word among the commercial boys over at the J.P. is that something is on the loose. Two of them went down last week and the rest of the boys are so nervous that there's a traffic jam at the bus station.

I went out and asked Chip if he knew the J.P.

"Yeah. It's a video game place over by Third Street. Why?"

"Did Ty and Buzz hang out there?"

"I guess. Most everyone did, one time or another. Did you find something?"

I handed him the paper and he read the item. "Could be," he said when he finished. "Ty was really into one of the machines there. Trying to break the score record."

"Okay. I'll keep reading. How's your project going?"

He waived at several balls of paper on the floor. "It's not right yet. Its hard, trying to draw... You know."

I patted him on the shoulder. "I don't know but I can imagine. Keep trying, though. It's important." He pulled out a clean sheet of paper and I went back to the den.

The second paper, The City Reporter, is much more serious than Town Talk, more political and often more angry. I'd saved it for last because I thought it most likely to have something and I hadn't wanted to skip over the other papers. I was right. It was on page four, headlined "Murder Victim Identified":

The mutilated body found Wednesday in Lakeside Park has been identified as Tyrone Barlow from Elgin, Mississippi. Mr. Barlow was identified by fingerprints provided by SOC, a children's advocacy group active in the southern part of the country. According to his mother, Edna Brown, Tyrone left Elgin nine months ago in the company of an older man. The man, identified only as Mr. Watson, told Mrs. Brown that he could help Tyrone find movie work in Los Angeles. Mrs. Brown has not heard from Tyrone since he left Elgin.

A second mutilated body was found nearby and police believe the two young men were victims of the same killer.

When Chip read the article he shook his head. "I heard about the movie guy. He didn't say that he wanted Ty to be in porno movies. Or that they paid mostly in bad drugs. Ty left LA fast when he saw that." He paused for a moment. "So now what?"

"How's the picture coming?"

Chip held out a piece of paper. "Here. This is him."

It was a picture of a good looking man, thirty-five or so. He had longish dark hair, a broad bushy mustache and a goatee emphasizing a strong jaw. He was wearing odd, thick looking glasses and sitting behind the wheel of a car. There was nothing sinister--or even very unusual--about him.

"It's a good picture, Chip. You kept yourself out of it." I'm not sure he understood what I meant but he smiled and nodded. "I think this guy," I pointed to the by-line on the story in the paper, "would like to see it."

"Why? He's just a reporter."

"He's an involved reporter, Chip. He took the trouble to track down and talk to Ty's mother in Mississippi. That's a good sign, I think. Will you talk to him?"

Chip shook his head. It weakened my case considerably but I didn't argue. When I called the paper they told me Brian, the reporter, was out but would return my call. He did, during dinner, and agreed to meet me the next morning at a mostly gay cafe. After dinner I called Mickey and asked him to come to dinner the next night. I thought he should see some of Chip's work.

The reporter spotted me first, outside the restaurant. "Mr. Williams? I'm Brian Thomas." He was a good looking man, maybe a year or two younger than me, with curly dark brown hair, dark blue eyes and a warm, friendly smile. I took his hand and smiled back at him. It was obvious we were going to like each other.

We settled at a table by the windows, ordered coffee and world famous hard rolls and studied each other while we waited to be served.

"I understand you may have some information for me," he said, stirring his coffee.

"I think so. I read your piece on the Barlow boy. I think this is him?" Brian took the drawing and studied it briefly.

"That's him. Of course he was a lot less pretty when I saw him but yeah. It's him."

I handed him the picture of Buzz.

"That's the other boy, the one they haven't identified. And that one?" He pointed at the third piece of paper in my hand.

"The man who killed them," I said, handing it over.

He looked at the picture for a long time without comment and then laid it on the others, evening the edges with his broad fingers. "And your connection with these people?"

I looked him squarely in the eyes. "None."

"Then how..."

"The boy who drew those pictures was intended to end up like the other two. He managed to get away." Brian toyed with a hard roll while I told him what little I was going to about Chip. I didn't lie, that's not my nature, but I omitted a lot of the truth and, without saying so, implied that Chip had fled the city.

When I was finished Brian broke open the roll and buttered it, shaking his head. "I don't know. It's going to be a very difficult sell with my editor."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, look at it from my editor's point of view. Here's these three pictures being volunteered to the paper. Two of then--sure. They're the kids but this third one," he tapped the stack of paper with his knife handle, "this one's supposed to be the bad guy who did in the other two. Hell, he could just as well be your brother-in-law. Or maybe the boy's pulling a little revenge number and it's his father. What we're looking at here is a very serious accusation and if this," he tapped the drawings again, "turns out to be some poor man some kid is trying to do in--well, we'll all be in deep shit. And, in my case, unemployed as well."

I could see what he meant but it was still hard to take. I kept thinking about those kids out there and what was happening to them. I told Brian my idea of passing the pictures out to the kids.

"I doubt they'd pay a lot of attention to you. Now if it was one of them, say the boy who drew the pictures..." He gave me a smile, telling me he didn't believe for a moment that Chip had left town. "Well, that might be different. But maybe it's not such a good idea anyway. What you might do is just push the guy into hiding for a while--or send him off to some other town where the boys are plentiful and don't know about him."

He was right, of course.

In the end we agreed that Brian would approach his editor and see what could be done and I would cool my heels until I heard from him. When we left I shook his hand and said I hopped I'd see him again--soon. "Oh, you will," he said with a wink. "We will definitely see each other again." A spark of erotic certainty passed between us and we both knew we'd get together.

When I got home the house was quiet and I stood for a moment, wondering where Chip was. A quiet, rhythmic sound coming from the bedroom finally located him and I realized he was in there--masturbating.

"Chip?" There was a quiet sound as he turned over in the bed. "It went okay but I have to go out again. I'll be back in a couple of hours and tell you all about it." I went out, leaving him to his pleasure.

I wasn't sure where I was going until I found myself in front of Richard's building. On impulse I called him from the pay phone in an Italian restaurant just down the block. He said he was free for a couple of hours and would be glad to see me if I could get there soon. I said ten minutes and made it in seven.

"You look just a little strung out," Richard said, waiving me into the massage room. I hadn't known it showed but he was right. I was strung out.

"Can I have a quick shower first?" I didn't feel much better after the shower but at least I didn't smell and I'd figured out my problem--I was very, very horny. I stretched out on the table and Richard came in wearing his massage costume--which is to say nothing. He started with my neck and back, standing beside the table, making himself available to me. I found his penis with my hand and sighed, enjoying the feel of its warm bulk. By the time he'd moved down to my buttocks I was feeling a deep, warm glow inside and when he raked his nails lightly over my balls I came. All by myself.

"Well, well," Richard laughed as my orgasm subsided. "You were more strung out than I thought." He made me get off the table so he could change the towels under me and I was unaccountably embarrassed by my erection although I felt a little better when I saw he was also nearly erect. I mopped myself off and climbed up on the fresh towels. "I wonder," Richard said, beginning again, "if we can do that again. Well, we'll see."

When he had me turn over I was still erect and almost immediately Richard pushed me to the brink of orgasm and then kept me there for the better part of a half hour. When he finally let me go over the wash of relief and pleasure was almost more than I could stand. He made that last a long time, too, and before he was through he filled my hand with his own ejaculation.

He covered me with a towel and left me to drift in that warm half world between sleep and waking for a while before sending me to the showers. When I was dressed I dug out my wallet but he pushed the money away. "No," he said, "not when it's that much fun." He put his arms around me and kissed me until we were both hard again. "I think it's time we did one in bed, don't you? Maybe next time?" He broke away and swatted me on the ass. "Now go. I have another client."

I stopped at the market for dinner things and then the bakery where I bought custard napoleons--Mickey's favorite--for desert. When I got home Chip was in the kitchen, eating ice cream out of the carton.

"Hi," I said, ignoring the ice cream carton. "I'm sorry I woke you when I came in earlier."

He shrugged and offered me the ice cream. "I wasn't asleep. What's that?"

I opened the bakery box and showed him the napoleons.

"How come there's three?"

"Mickey's coming to dinner, remember?"

"Oh, yeah. The artist guy. You going to show him my pictures?"

"I thought I might. If you don't mind. I think he'd like to see them."

Chip shrugged again and put the ice cream back in the freezer. "I guess. You want a sandwich?"

After lunch Chip busied himself with his paper and pencils and I fooled around in the kitchen with a leg of lamb and the spice rack. When I went in to take a shower--what, number three for the day?--I noticed one of my early books open on the night stand on Chip's side of the bed. I took a quick glance and saw he'd been reading one of the better sex scenes. I got a sort of erotic kick to think that it might have been the fuel for his masturbation fantasies that morning.

Chip actually got dressed without being told and I thought he looked wonderful in his cowboy clothes. He was a little disappointed when I told him he couldn't wear the Stetson in the house but he took it off without argument. He showed me two new drawings he'd done "so this Mickey guy won't think all I do is copy his stuff." The drawings were of the living room, one with me sitting in the wing chair and one, oddly enough, with an elaborate Christmas tree filling the bay window. I thought both of them were very well done.

At five o'clock Mickey breezed in bearing gifts of wine and flowers. He did a slight double take when I introduced him to Chip but I was getting used to that. What surprised me was Chip. His eyes narrowed and he stiffened almost imperceptibly. It suddenly occurred to me that they knew each other--or at least had met somewhere. It was to Chip's credit that he gave no other sign of recognition but I couldn't help wondering...

Mickey is an interesting man, handsome, full of charm and very lovable but he does have his quirks. One of them is what he calls his "little collection." I think he's probably had sex with every man he's ever met--gay and straight alike. He generally does it only once with a man but once he has, that man is in Mickey's little collection--two drawings, crotch only, one front view, flaccid, and one side view, erect. He let me look through the collection once, to see it I could pick myself out. I couldn't but there were several others that I thought I recognized. It now seemed that Chip might be in there, too.

We sat and talked over drinks--Scotch for Mickey and me, Coke for Chip--and Mickey entertained us with stories of doing portraits of opera singers. He'd been commissioned to do a series of drawings for the Opera Society and evidently divas are not the easiest people in the world to work with. Not all of it made sense to Chip I suppose, but some of it did and he laughed with obvious pleasure in many of the right places. Whatever their previous encounters, Mickey had won him over--as only Mickey can.

After dinner Chip dutifully began loading the dishwasher and Mickey and I took the last of the wine into the living room. "So what's with the kid, Dan?" Mickey said without preamble.

"Not what you probably think," I said. "He's just kind of staying here for a while. I thought you might like to meet him though. He did these." I handed Mickey the folder of Chip's drawings.

Mickey glanced quickly at each of them and then went back, studying each one. He laughed at the copy of his own drawing but he frowned at the next one. "Looks like he might have something of a self image problem," he said, handing me the self portrait. "What's that all about?"

"It's about the way he looked. The stitches are exaggerated but I think maybe that's because they hurt and felt bigger than they were. The buttons are an attempt at humor I think. Actually he had a series of very ugly clips holding him together there. He had a run in with a guy and a knife."

Mickey raised an eyebrow but didn't ask. He went back to the drawings. "They're good," he finally said. "Untrained but good. The kid has a good eye. And talent." He shuffled through them again and picked out the one Chip had copied and the other self portrait. "He's also an excellent mimic. This one," the self portrait, "could damn near pass for mine."

Chip came into the room and stopped, watching Mickey as he went through the pictures again. "I hope you don't, you know... mind about the copy. I thought Dan would like it."

"I'm sure he does," Mickey said, looking up and grinning at Chip. "I'm not so sure about Bobby, though. He's awfully proud of that thing of his--just as it is." He added, "Bobby was the model."

"Oh. Well, don't show him." He looked over at me and said, "Maybe I'll do a real one. You know, of you. So I can get it right."

"There's a couple of other problems too. Like the light here, in the Christmas one."

Chip walked out of the room and I thought he was stung by the criticism but he came right back, carrying paper and pencils. "Show me," he said to Mickey.

They spent the next hour sitting on the floor at the coffee table, sketching and talking. I went out and finished cleaning up the kitchen.

After Mickey left, when we were getting ready for bed, I could tell Chip wanted to talk but he didn't say anything until the lights were out. "He thinks I should go to school. Some kind of art school." There was an odd mix of emotions in his voice that I couldn't identify.

"You want to?"

I felt his shrug in the dark. A moment later he turned over, put his hand on my arm and went to sleep.

He didn't mention it again for a week.

To be continued...


Comments, criticism and notes gratefully accepted and always answered.

Greg Bowden