SUMMARY: At a time of national turmoil, the lives of four boys become connected as each struggles to accept his sexuality and to address the challenges he faces in life. To the extent the boys succeed in coming to grips with those challenges, it may be in ways that prove surprising or troubling. This story is also being published on my blog and you can find a longer synopsis there. While some events, locations and features in the story have been moved forward or back in time for dramatic and other purposes, it takes place during an era when prejudice against homosexuals is rampant and the gay revolution in America is still in its infancy. Italics are typically used within the story to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
WARNING: Sex is not the primary focus of this story. If you're looking for erotic content, you'll do much better with other stories on Nifty. While sexual content is secondary and incidental, the story does include some scenes that depict sex and violence, sometimes graphically depending upon the characters and circumstances involved. For that reason, the story is intended for mature audiences only. If you do not wish to read such material or it is illegal for you to do so, please look elsewhere. The story remains the property of the author and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission. It is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author, but you may not use this work for commercial purposes. You may not use any of the characters, bars or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon this story in any way.
AUTHOR NOTES: This is my first effort at writing a story. As a general rule, I only plan to publish one chapter a week, usually on Thursdays. The latest chapter will always be posted on my blog before being published here. You may want to bookmark the location of my blog in the event you cannot find the story here at some point in the future and you wish to continue reading it: https://cafepalermoannex.wordpress.com. Hopefully you've reviewed Chapter 37 already or at least the summary of Chapter 37 you can find here since this chapter and the next will bring us up to date on Tommy and Andy. As always, comments and constructive criticism are welcome. Flames will be ignored. If you would like to let me know what you think, feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading the story. I hope you enjoy it.
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 39, Nolan reminisces about how he was hired to work in the Clay presidential campaign by Harlen Lane. He discovers Harlen has singled him out to carry on his legacy as the premier wheeler dealer in Washington. Once Governor Clay is elected President, Harlen offers Nolan a job as Deputy Director for House Legislative Affairs on the White House staff. Nolan recognizes that he lacks the necessary credentials for the job, but takes it anyway. It's only later he learns that Harlan is grooming him for bigger things. Nolan arrives late at his office one morning and finds a message from Harlan waiting. When he gets to Harlan's office, he is given a lesson in how little he knows about the House of Representatives. Finally, after humiliating Nolan, Harland lets him know he's concerned the McPherson amendment may pass and that its passage could damage the President's capacity to move her agenda forward. He tells Nolan that he's being detailed to the Democratic National Committee to head up its efforts to defeat the amendment. He's also told he should meet with a former CIA operative who may have information that will be helpful to the cause.
Part IV - Virtues and Vices, Public and Private
I spent a couple of hours at work on Capitol Hill catching up on things. Then I drove back to Takoma Park to take a nap. I was definitely tired from being up so late the previous evening and needed the rest. I had a decision to make, but I didn’t want to make it tired like that.
When I finally woke up, I decided to take a walk along Sligo Creek Parkway. It was the closest thing to the woods near my apartment and I liked walking in the woods when I wanted to think something through. What I had to decide was whether I was going to go back to the Café Palermo that evening, but the answer to that mostly depended on Tommy and what it was I wanted from him.
I didn't know very much about Tommy except that I was attracted to him and he turned me on sexually.
How good a foundation is that for anything? What do I really have in common with Tommy after all?
Nothing really, I recall thinking, except both of us are gay; and how could I even be certain of that given all the talk about his former girlfriend.
Maybe he was bisexual or maybe he had invented a girlfriend because being nineteen and gay was hard. And yet he had enjoyed the sex as much as I had. I was certain of that. It was confusing, no doubt about it; and yet I liked him. I don’t know why exactly, but I liked him. I liked him a lot.
It wasn’t like he was perfect, of course. There were times when he said and did things that seemed inappropriate or dumb. But he was nineteen years old after all and I tried to think back to when I was nineteen. Tommy seemed pretty mature using that as a comparison.
I still couldn’t believe what we had done that first night together at Exiles & Castaways, but I was the one who had followed him into that bathroom after all. I could have tried behaving like an adult instead of some sex starved kid, but I didn’t. Who was I to talk about being mature? Except at work, I wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue when it came to acting my age.
The hardest thing was coming to grips with him being a male prostitute. What he was doing was wrong. I knew that. But how different was he from all those K Street lobbyists who sold their souls every day for causes they didn’t believe in? Washington thrived on prostitution, but most of those engaged in the trade were too dishonest to admit it.
Tommy had obviously told me for a reason. He was testing me somehow; and, yes, it had come as a shock to hear those two words. But it also had made me wonder because it was hard to imagine anyone as young as Tommy becoming a prostitute unless something had gone terribly wrong somewhere along the way.
Was he one of those throwaway kids you read stories about in the papers, someone tossed out by his parents because he was gay or for some other reason? Were his parents even alive and did they care if they were? Or was I just trying to rationalize the situation because Tommy turned me on sexually?
Sean and Teddy offered a clue. They were younger than Tommy, but were prostitutes as well. I liked both of them too even though I wasn’t interested in sleeping with them. What kind of world did we live in where the only option available to kids like that was prostitution?
I wondered what secrets Tommy was concealing from the world. That made me hesitant to judge him given how little I knew. Everyone made mistakes. I had made more than my fair share in life. And the other thing was he didn't seem like a bad person. Was it having sex that made him bad or was it accepting money for having sex, perhaps money he needed for reasons I was clueless about?
Unless you lived in a black and white world, a world where there were never any shades of gray, answering questions like that wasn’t easy, at least not for me. In the end, it seemed like you could only answer questions like that definitively if you were perfect.
I had met people like that, perfect people with perfect values; people who figured their perfection gave them the right to judge everyone else. They never seemed to understand that believing shit like that made them something far less than perfect and thus not entitled to judge anyone at all.
And then there was the other thing, the thing I kept coming back to. It was something he had said just before I dropped him off at Ray’s place.
“I didn’t want to take a chance I might end up hurting you,” Tommy had said in explaining why he hadn’t done what I expected him to do the previous evening.
It seemed to me to be pretty telling when it came to his character. Would I have done the same thing if the tables had been turned? How many guys would have done something like that, put someone else before their own gratification?
Maybe it’ll turn out to be a mistake, I recall thinking. Maybe I’m kidding myself and it’s just about sex. But it seems like this kid could use a friend; and even if you’re wrong about that, Andy, you need a friend. Maybe Tommy can be the friend you need if you give him a chance.
So I made my way back to the Palermo that Sunday evening. Tommy was there waiting for me when I arrived just like he had said he would be; and because it was Sunday, it was slow so we sat there alone at the table and I told him about myself.
Not everything, of course; there were painful things like Jesse I wasn’t ready to share with him yet and the other thing, the secret I had kept concealed for so long. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to share that with him or anyone else for that matter.
I didn’t mention where I worked either, but I told him a lot and he seemed interested and asked me a ton of questions. I was hoping he would volunteer more about himself as well, but he didn’t say very much and I didn’t ask.
The truth is I didn’t have a lot of friends in the world so I didn’t know a lot about friendship. But it seemed to me being a friend meant being patient and letting someone explain everything when the time was right for them. I was willing to be patient with Tommy.
Including the questions and answers, the whole thing had taken about ninety minutes. I thought we were done with me for the evening, but Tommy had one final question.
“Do you work for Congress?” he asked.
“What makes you think that?” I responded, not really certain how much I wanted to reveal about my job.
“Sean says you wouldn’t have been able to drive us that close to the Capitol if you didn’t work up there,” Tommy replied. “He said you showed the cops some kind of identification card. So is Sean right about that?”
I wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but I told him the truth.
“Yes, I work up there,” I replied. “Not in the Capitol building itself, but in one of the office buildings where most of the members of the House have their offices.”
“Do you like working there?” he asked.
“Yes, I do,” I said, “very much. I feel like it gives some real meaning and purpose to my life.”
“That must be nice,” Tommy replied, his eyes drifting off toward the bar momentarily.
“How exactly?” he finally said, looking back over at me.
So that’s when I told him about the McPherson amendment and how hard I was working on it. He didn’t say very much. He just listened; and when I was finally done, embarrassed I had spent so much time boring some 19 year old kid with the whole thing, he just looked over at me and asked a question.
“Why would anyone be against something like that?” he said. “It's not like they're ever going to win that war you know.”
I remember being shocked. Somehow this nineteen year old kid had cut through all of the bullshit and summed up the whole thing in a nutshell.
“You know, Tommy, you’ve just asked and answered the best question I’ve heard in a long time,” I replied. “I wish more people would ask themselves that question.”
We would talk about the amendment some after that. Tommy always wanted to know how things were going. But we never talked about it very much, just like we didn’t talk very much about what Tommy did for a living. But it was a lot harder to ignore that, of course.
In the weeks that followed I found myself spending more and more time with Tommy. Initially, I was surprised I was able to do that. I had expected to be spending all of my time in the office once the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee reported the bill, which it finally did the following Thursday.
As expected, the Subcommittee had included all of the funding the President was seeking to continue the war. It had also included some language raising concern about the length of the war and urging the President to seek a negotiated solution. The language sounded good. That kind of language always did. But it was totally meaningless, of course, and everyone in Washington knew it. The only thing that counted was the money and the Subcommittee had provided every dime President Clay had requested.
The Subcommittee had taken its initial shot and we promptly returned fire. In fact, looking back on it now, our response was probably much too forceful. The moment the bill was reported Happy Jack took to the floor of the House. Using the statement I had drafted for him, he denounced both the funding in the bill and the language in the strongest possible terms.
Like the man said, he was good at denunciations. I had never seen him quite so passionate; and we followed up that evening with a vigil on the floor of the House in which one supporter of our amendment after another spoke up against the war, taking the Subcommittee and the Administration to task for wanting to continue it.
But that was only the beginning. The next day I began orchestrating a cacophony of voices, opinion pieces and demonstrations that continued for more than a week. It was awesome; as one paper put it, the “most impressive demonstration of opposition to a war since the height of the Vietnam demonstrations.”
Unfortunately, it also scared the hell out of the Democratic leadership. While they allowed the full committee, which didn’t make any changes, to mark up and report the bill the following week, they also decided to hold off bringing the proposal to the floor until they could conduct their own official whip count.
When they saw the results and shared them with the Administration, they decided to delay floor action until at least the end of June while they tried to round up the votes they needed to defeat our amendment and pass the bill. That left me with more free time on my hands than I had expected. Like I said, I found myself filling it by spending more and more time with Tommy.
Not that it was easy, of course. I was burning the candle at both ends, up early in the morning working out in an effort to keep myself in shape, up late at night spending as much time as I could with Tommy. Most of the time the two of us spent together was in bars. We visited lots of them together, but three places in particular were anchors for Tommy.
The first was the Café Palermo. Just across the street from where he lived, it was the premier location in Washington for young male hustlers and their admirers. I had never actually visited the place until Tommy asked me to meet him there. But given how much I had heard about it, I was surprised when it turned out to be kind of charming in its own way, small, intimate, and friendly.
I had assumed it would be dark inside given its reputation, but it was actually one of the few gay bars in Washington that was well lit. When you walked in, a small bar ran along the wall to your right and then took a ninety degree turn headed north. Once past the bar, the place widened out some and then stretched back to the rear where the restrooms were located.
What the Palermo lacked in a dance floor, it made up for in lots of small tables and chairs. You could always find some place to sit because turnover was high, especially on the weekends. It seemed like everyone was constantly on the move at the Palermo.
Being well lit, it wasn’t the kind of place where you could cruise very discreetly. Everything was pretty much out in the open and above board. What you see is what you get was the attitude that seemed to pervade the place. But if you wanted some friendship for the evening or just for an hour, you could find it at the Palermo as long as you had enough money. And if you wanted to be left alone, people respected that as well. Whatever you wanted was what you would find at the Café Palermo.
The crowd was mostly white but diverse in other respects. Lots of young boys, some of them taking a break from what was happening outside, some of them looking for a good time inside, some in search of a daddy, and still others looking for whatever it was that was missing in their lives. But all of them were looking to make a dollar. Green was definitely the color of choice at the Palermo.
There was also a smattering of fag hags, some of them surprisingly pretty but most of them damaged in some way or another. I wondered where they went at the end of the evening, but never did find out. And then there were men, lots of men, most of whom had pretty obviously seen better times, some on the make, some too far gone in the booze to understand what they were looking for, but all of them trying to impress boys half their age.
There were lots of stories waiting to be told at the Café Palermo. I remember thinking you could write a novel about the place and never run out of material.
While I liked the Palermo, it wasn’t for the reason most of the rest of the clientele did. Oh, sure, the boys were cute and that was a definite attraction for me. But to me it was a pretty nice bar, relaxed, intimate, and comfortable; and most of the action took place outside in any event, not inside.
The drill outside was pretty straight-forward. Starting whenever they wanted, boys would line up along what they called the Wall outside the Palermo while cars filled with older men circled the block night and day.
On weekend evenings between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., there were actually traffic jams out there when the weather was nice. The boys didn’t much like that because it occasionally brought out the cops and that wasn’t good for business. So they tried to make sure the cars stopped just long enough for the necessary arrangements to be made.
How much? For what? And where?
The boys came and went as they pleased and did a pretty good job of policing themselves. You never, ever, took someone’s place that had to go to the john, for example. And there were other rules as well, rules you messed with at your own peril.
If you were young, cute and willing to mess around, it could be a pretty good way of earning some cash. Even when cars were scarce, the locals provided plenty of walk up service to keep the place bustling, as did the men passing through on the buses; men who started out looking for a drink at the Palermo and ended up buying more that they would have ever imagined..
The truth is the Palermo gave a whole new meaning to the term cash and carry. You had to have money for the boy, of course. The more money you had, the more you could get from the boy. But getting the boy was only the beginning. You had to do it somewhere and basically there were only limited choices.
If you were flush, you could go the luxury route and end up in one of the rooms at the Traveler’s Landing Hotel located directly above the Palermo. Knowing its clientele all too well, Traveler’s let you rent rooms by the hour. It wasn’t exactly the Hilton and the sheets could leave something to be desired. But you could get totally naked and go about your business in something that passed for privacy.
If you had a car, of course, you could invite the boy in and go for a ride. If you decided to take the boy home, you had to pay extra to compensate him for the time he was losing by doing that and then bring him back unless you had paid for him to spend the evening with you. That could be expensive and most of the guys who visited the Palermo were too cheap to do that.
In fact, most of the time the men just had the boy do them right there in the car, sometimes while still driving. That posed its own challenges and there was always some element of risk that whoever was driving might lose control of the car in a moment of excess passion. But usually everyone survived.
The worst of the three main alternatives were the restrooms at either of the bus stations close by. Unlike the restrooms at Exiles & Castaways, the aesthetics left a lot to be desired because it was impossible keeping them clean with all the traffic that passed through the city twenty-four hours a day. You also risked being arrested if you happened to pick the wrong night for your tryst. Still, word that the police were staking the bus stations out got around quickly and the boys were smart enough to avoid them when they knew the cops were around.
It took some time for me to learn all of this, of course, just like it took some time to realize Tommy wasn’t like most of the boys who frequented the place. For one thing, he spent most of his time inside socializing with friends; and he had lots of friends, of course. He was too cute not to.
Initially the fact he didn’t hang out very much at the Wall gave me some hope that perhaps he had been kidding about being a hustler. Only gradually did it dawn on me he had regulars and wasn’t doing the street scene much anymore. Like I said, Tommy seemed to have a lot of friends and admirers and he seemed to be doing just fine for himself. Being young, cute and hot, it wasn’t really surprising I suppose.
We didn’t talk much about the business and sometimes the two of us would go for a walk when the place was too crowded. I was both surprised and encouraged when Tommy finally invited me up to Ray’s place. It seemed like he was beginning to trust me. We never had sex there, but he wanted to show me where he lived and the place was surprisingly nice.
His own room was small, but he had made it cozy. There was a computer and webcam off in one corner and a big, comfortable, chair in another. The bed was a double, small but comfortable enough to sit on. But the most distinctive feature of the room was the pictures he had placed on the walls.
They were all done in pencil, but the detail was extraordinary and the shading seemed perfect to me. They were also true to life and captured their subjects well. There was one of Teddy, one of Sean, and one of Teddy and Sean hugging one another. That was my favorite. There was also a picture of another young man as well. Tommy told me his name was Danny.
“Who did all of these drawings for you?” I asked, curious. “Whoever did them is very talented. I wouldn’t mind hiring him to do some sketches for me.”
“I did them,” Tommy responded. “Sometimes when I’m bored I just sit down in the chair and sketch whatever comes to mind. I keep most of them in the closet over there,” he added, pointing.
He let me look through them and I was stunned. Like I said, they were very good and I wasn't just saying that to flatter him.
“Do you think I’ll ever make it up on one of your walls?” I asked when I had finished looking through his portfolio.
I guess I was trying to put him on the spot to see what he thought of me. He wasn't much for passing out compliments and I was really insecure about where I stood with him. But Tommy was too smart to fall for my little trap and turned it to his own advantage instead.
“Maybe,” he replied, grinning at me; “if you’re nice to me.”
“Jeez, it seems like I'm being nice to you pretty much full time these days,” I responded, returning his grin. “I don’t know how much nicer I can be, Tommy.”
“I guess we’ll have to see about that, won’t we?” he replied, and by then his grin had become a smirk.
It wasn’t too long after that before the two of us headed over to Traveler’s Landing. Tommy was friends with the night manager and the guy usually gave us one of the hourly rentals for free.
The second anchor for Tommy was Head & Tails. To the extent Tommy had a visible means of support, it was as a dancer and Head & Tails was the place where he danced most of the time. Like the Palermo, I had heard of it, but had never been there myself before I met Tommy. It didn’t exactly have the most sterling reputation in Washington.
The official name of the place was actually Heads & Tails. However, the neon light within the first “s” had burned out a long time ago and management had never replaced it. Strangely enough, none of the other neon lights ever burned out; and occasionally, when the police or ABC staff received enough complaints and stopped by to chat, management would find a replacement for the burned out light and restore the sign to its original fully functioning state.
Usually the sign would remain in good working order for a month or two until the light mysteriously burned out again. Management claimed there was some kind of electrical short in the wiring and that it would be much too expensive to replace the whole thing with a new sign.
But none of that really mattered because everyone in the gay community called it Head & Tails. It didn’t take me very long to learn just how descriptive a name it was. In fact, the first time Tommy took me there I found it hard to believe some of the things that went on at the place.
Head & Tails seemed to have it all, small cubicles stocked with the latest pornographic movies for men who liked to get off watching videos in private, a theater where they could watch them with others more publicly, glory holes for those who were into that, public rooms where the exhibitionists could strut their stuff more openly, and hideaway cubbies for men who were into just a little more privacy and had the money to rent them.
But mostly what Head & Tails had was the youngest, cutest, and hottest go-go boys in Washington. They were the center of attention. Every hour on the hour, day and night, soft lights would banish the darkness while music filled the rooms in which they performed.
While the patrons cheered wildly and replenished their overpriced drinks, the dancers would race up the ladders and enter the small cages suspended above the movie screens and the bars. Starting out fully clothed, they would slowly strip down to their hot pants and g-strings while the porno movies climaxed in synch with their choreographed dance routines.
Tommy took pleasure in dancing and was definitely good at it. He could see the excitement in the eyes of the men watching him dance semi-naked and that turned him on. He was one of the star performers at Head & Tails as best I could tell. Oh, sure, there were other guys who were pretty good dancers too. Unlike Tommy, however, most of them were older, usually somewhere in their early to mid-twenties.
By contrast, Tommy offered the whole package. He was young. He was a very good dancer. And, best of all from management’s point of view, he was happy enough to let the customers touch him, as long as they didn’t linger too long or squeeze too hard. Not surprisingly, he was among those who got the very best tips.
What the customers never really understood was just how much work was involved in the dancing. At the end of the evening when we headed back over to New York Avenue, Tommy often asked me to give him a massage to provide some relief to his aching body.
Even when he wasn’t performing, Tommy loved spending time at Head & Tails. He was turned on by all of the action swirling around him and all the people who complimented him on his dancing and willingly provided him with free drinks.
The only thing that seemed to rival his passion for dancing was watching the porno movies that ran in a continuous loop twenty-four hours a day in the darkened theater on the second floor of Head & Tails. He was totally fascinated by those videos and loved having me watch them with him.
I could usually tell when he was especially aroused by what he was seeing on the screen because he would place one of my hands in his lap and encourage me to play with him. I enjoyed that part of it, of course, but rarely found the movies either entertaining or well done. But Tommy was totally into them and I guess they probably taught me a thing or two in the process.
One evening, just after the two of us finished a marathon session watching the very latest movies, I drove him back to Ray’s place.
“That’s probably what I’m going to be when I get older,” Tommy volunteered out of the blue.
“What?” I asked.
“A porn star,” he replied.
Try as hard as I might, I couldn’t suppress a laugh.
“You can laugh if you want, Andy, but I’ve already talked to Bill about it,” he continued.
Bill was the owner of Head & Tails and a couple of other gay enterprises in the District. They had made him a very rich man and someone boys like Tommy looked up to.
“Bill told me he’s thinking about starting up his own movie production company. He thinks there could be a big market for high quality porn. He wants me to be one of the people he uses in his movies if he can get the financing together. That’s why I watch them. I need to learn about acting.”
“I wasn’t laughing at you, Tommy,” I responded. “You certainly have the looks to be a porn star and the stamina too for that matter. But do you really want to be part of those movies we watch together? I mean, the thing is, a lot of that stuff is kind of bizarre, don’t you think?”
“Like what?” Tommy challenged.
“Oh, come on, Tommy,” I replied, “be serious. S&M. Water sports. Scat. Guys with dogs; stuff like that. Could you really see yourself in movies like those?” I responded, pushing back for a change.
“Why not?” Tommy responded, nonchalantly. “Like they say, different strokes for different folks; and it’s not like I would be on the receiving end of any of that after all. I mean, you know I’m a top, Andy. The truth is there’s money to be made in porn; so sure, why not? What else is someone like me supposed to do for a living?”
“You could do lots of things, Tommy,” I responded. “You can be anything you want to be. You just have to decide what you want to do with your life and then make it happen with the help of your friends.”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” he replied, his voice dripping with scorn. “With my education, I could be lots of things. I could be a dishwasher at one of the bars. I could flip burgers at McDonald’s. I’m sure there are lots of things I could be in life with everything I have going for me.”
It was the first time I had ever heard him express any hint of dissatisfaction with his life.
“Look, Tommy, I’m being serious,” I replied, sensing an opportunity. “Just because you don’t have a high school degree doesn’t mean your life has to be over. You could go back to school and get that degree. You could go to college if you want. You could do lots of things. I’m not saying it would be easy. But you could. You just have to decide that’s what you want to do.”
“And exactly how would I ever be able to pay for college?” he responded. “I had another friend once who suggested that to me a long time ago. But he was a lot smarter than me and he got a scholarship to go to college. I’m not that smart.”
“It doesn’t have to be a traditional college, Tommy,” I responded. “There are lots of different kinds of schools that can provide training in lots of different things. You’ve talked about modeling. Well, there are modeling schools. You play with computers a lot and there are schools that can train you in that as well. I’ve seen those sketches you’ve drawn over at Ray’s place. You’re really good at that and there are art schools that could help you become even better. It all depends on what you’re interested in.”
“And another thing,” I added. “You’re wrong about that, too, Tommy, about not being smart. You’re a lot smarter than you give yourself credit for; and I would help you out if you needed me to.”
“Oh, yeah, tell me about it,” Tommy replied, looking at me skeptically. “Like you’re the first guy who ever said something like that to me. I’ve had lots of people promise lots of stuff over the years, Andy. But you know what? They change when they get whatever they want in exchange for their promises. They make lots of promises and they all sound really good. But once they get what they want, no way, no how, forget about it.”
I remember wondering whether that was the reason why Tommy seemed to be resisting my efforts to take our relationship to another level. But I decided not to go there right then.
“I can’t help if you don’t give me a chance,” I responded. “That’s all I really want, Tommy, a chance.”
That was the end of the conversation that evening. I remember wondering what he was thinking, but Tommy liked to hold things inside pretty tightly. I didn’t really blame him for that because I was the same way myself.
The final anchor for Tommy was Exiles & Castaways. It was the place where he liked to go when he wanted to be alone with his friends; and by then he had let me into his inner circle of friends, along with Teddy and Sean. By now both of them had become my friends as well and I liked them a lot too.
Mostly Tommy liked the place because it wasn’t crowded except on the weekends. You could just sit there and talk. The four of us did that a lot. And when I was lucky, there were times when it was just Tommy and me doing the talking. And usually at those times I ended up trying to persuade him to go back to my place with me instead of Traveler’s Landing. But Tommy had decided to avoid my place for some reason after that first evening together.
“Why not?” I remember asking one night, frustrated at still another rejection. “You know I can turn you on and that I’ll do whatever you want. I just want us to spend more than an hour together at Traveler’s. Is that asking too much?”
“I know you do, Andy,” Tommy replied. “Do you even know why?”
“Because I like you,” I responded. “That’s why.”
“You don’t just like me, Andy, you love me,” Tommy said. “And that’s a problem, babe, it really is. Because love is just a word people use when they want you to be their own personal slave, when they want you to just have sex with them and nobody else. Love is all about being selfish.”
“So no, I don’t love you, Andy, and I don’t want you to love me either. I mean, I can like you. I already do. I like you a lot. But I don’t want to hurt you and I will if I let you talk me into getting closer to you than I already am.”
That pretty much ended our talk that evening. It was frustrating because I wanted more while Tommy seemed determined to keep some distance between us. It was hard to know exactly why he wasn’t interested in taking it further. Sometimes I thought it reflected a fear of commitment; sometimes the age difference between us. Sometimes I thought he just didn’t like me that much. But mostly I thought it reflected a fear of letting anyone ever get close to him.
Whatever it was, there was no way I was going to break it off, no way I wasn’t going to keep trying. He was right. I had fallen in love with him. He was going to have to be the one to tell me to get lost because I wasn’t going away anytime soon.
At the very beginning, when I was first getting to know him, the lifestyle Tommy was living seemed kind of glamorous to me at times. And that remained true until one evening when I walked into the Palermo around 10 p.m. and Tommy pulled me aside.
“Teddy’s in the hospital,” he said. “He got beaten up pretty badly. Can you take Sean and me over there? We want to see him.”
“What hospital?” I asked, shocked by the news.
“Sibley,” he replied. “If it was Georgetown we would have walked over already, but Sibley is really far away. Sean is trying to score on the street to get enough money for a taxi for us. But now that you’re here, maybe you can take us there instead.”
“Go find Sean and get him in here,” I said, as I pulled out my cell phone. “I'm calling the hospital.”
While Tommy raced outside to find Sean, I called the hospital to find out when visiting hours were.
When the two boys eventually returned, I filled them in on what I had learned.
“It’s like I thought, guys,” I told the two of them after finishing the call. “Visiting hours are over. They won’t let us see him tonight. I could take you tomorrow night if you want.”
“Do they have visiting hours any earlier than that?” Sean asked.
He was frantic by then and becoming more and more frustrated about the whole thing.
“They have them in the morning, afternoon and evening,” I replied.
“What time in the morning?” he asked.
“From 10 a.m. to noon,” I responded.
“Can we go there at 10 a.m.?”
That made it tough for me. I had my regular meeting with other congressional staff supporting our amendment scheduled for then. The meeting with outside staff would follow at 11 a.m. I had never missed either one of those before, but I could tell from the look in their eyes this was important to Sean and Tommy; and I felt the same way, to be honest. I really liked Teddy. He was such a sweet kid. How anyone could have beaten him up was beyond me.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll take you. Do you know what happened?”
The boys quickly recounted the details. Tommy had warned Teddy against going off with the guy. He thought the dude was acting kind of creepy. But Teddy was desperate for money that evening to buy Sean a birthday present so he had gone off with the dude in the guy’s car.
No one knew exactly for sure what had happened after that, but someone from Sibley had called Ray. Apparently, they had found his name and number when they went through Teddy’s clothes searching for identification. From what they told Ray, Teddy had been beaten up pretty badly. His face was all busted up and he was unconscious.
Ray had told Tommy and Tommy had tracked down Sean and told him. After that word had spread quickly and everyone at the Palermo that evening was tense. Incidents like that scared everyone off. It was bad for business and made everyone nervous.
But for three of us, at least, this wasn’t about business at all. It was about someone we loved and it was hard to get to sleep that evening wondering how he was.