Thanks for continuing to read my story. Please let me know if you like it at vichowel at aol.com.
I'll note again that this is predominantly a political thriller set in the US. It is not a tract against any major American party or politician. It's also a romance and this chapter reminds us of that.
Another of my stories, FLIGHT AT PEENEMÜNDE, can be found in the Beginnings folder.
Three days before Christmas I awakened in my own bed for the first time in sixty-five years, a bed I had bought instead of rented with a hired garret. A bed with no lumps and sags.
It was the winter solstice, the shortest day in the year. I awakened barely an hour past noon, already comfortable in only three short weeks with the knowledge a mortal was in the room with me -- one who posed no threat to me. I opened my eyes and saw Emil in sweater and jeans smiling back at me, warming his backside at the roaring fire across the room from the bed.
"Did you sleep well in your own bed?" he asked when he was sure I was awake.
"The concept of ownership has something to say for itself."
He grinned. "I think a firm mattress and springs that don't squeak say much more."
I stretched and pushed the covers from my legs. "I don't remember you complaining before."
He chuckled. "When an experience is new, a man is too involved in experiencing it to be distracted, Karl."
"Are you telling me I've become as old and comfortable as a broken-in shoe?"
His eyes widened. "Never!" He crossed the bedroom quickly and knelt before me. "You will never be an old shoe to me, Liebchen." A huskiness had come to his voice as his lips touched my thigh above the knee and became the caress of a butterfly as they moved upward.
"I love you," he mumbled and sent his tongue darting to the exposing glans of my manhood.
I sighed and lay back across the mattress, allowing him to consume me and giving myself up to the warmth engulfing me.
We lay pressed together under the covers, a sheen of perspiration on his naked skin the aftermath of our sex. He wiggled his backside against my now subdued manhood. "Am I good, Karli?"
"Good as a sexual partner or as a person?" I asked, wallowing in my satiation.
He looked over his shoulder at me, his eyes questioning. "I hadn't thought of how you saw me before," he said doubtfully. "Not that way. I guess I just assumed..." He hesitated, pulling his thoughts together. "How do you think of me?" he asked finally.
"You're intelligent, handsome, honest, honourable." I touched his cheek with my fingertip, traced it to the flair of his nostrils, and smiled. "You're independent but share. You see what needs to be done and do it. And you're someone with whom I've become very comfortable these past two months."
"You mean it?"
"I don't lie, Emi." I smiled into the pools of blue sky that were his eyes. "I don't feel I have to with you."
He turned, his lips finding mine as his body pressed against me. His kiss was not one of hunger but a simple heart-felt thank you.
"You are also someone I've become fond of these past months," I told him moments later when he pulled his face back to smile at me. My fingers absently caressed his closest cheek and moved down onto his neck.
"You'll love me yet," he said softly and nuzzled the tip of my nose with his.
I chuckled. "I already do."
He pulled back again and gazed questioningly at me. "And Tom?"
"As Sergei Alexandrovitch and Würther, I love him too. There are years and experiences shared between the two of us that will never cease having meaning, Emi. He knows those as well as I do."
"So, you love both of us?"
I frowned at the thoughts his question brought to the fore of my mind. I worked myself towards accepting that I could love more than one person at one time.
A boy, even a man, loves his parents and siblings; and that is a multiple love lasting throughout the man's lifetime. Heterosexual men love their children and wives -- but also come to love the mistresses they establish in separate households and the children they beget.
I was fond of Emil Paulik. That fondness already went far past my pleasure at his good looks and our sexual compatibility. In less than three months, we had come to share much of our daily lives -- from Sergei Alexandrovitch's reawakening as Tom MacPherson to house-hunting in Washington, D. C.
Love -- or, even, fondness -- was more than sex and mumbled sweet-nothings to each other after coupling. It was shared experiences. A life shared together. A life built on many moments of comfort, companionship, unity of purpose, doing things together -- in addition to mutually pleasing sexual couplings.
Did I really love Emil Paulik? I had to admit the signs were there. The confluence of our lives these past three months and the pleasantness of that union bespoke the beginnings of love. If we were together much longer, I would sorely, even painfully, miss him. If we parted today, rending the fabric of our lives together, I would feel pain.
Yes. I had come to love Emil Paulik. Without intending to do so. Despite my intent not to do so.
"Yes. I love you both."
He smiled as beatifically as any carved saint in any cathedral in Vienna. "Then, we need to find Tom and get this thing settled between you two."
"Why?" I groaned in surprise. "I would rather not have to choose between the two of you."
His eyes clouded with surprise. "Why would you do that?" he asked slowly. "In Zürich, l liked Tom as a friend," he continued, answering himself.
"He's also quite handsome -- actually very handsome." He grinned. "I could get used to that."
He looked down at his hands. "I think I can learn to accept him as an equal claimant for your heart. And share you in bed -- if that's what you decide you want."
"And if he will not accept that arrangement?" I asked, my voice awed with shock at the idea of a permanent menage a trois.
"Right now, we don't even know if he's willing to accept your immortality, much less your love."
"How can he not?" I demanded. "We've loved each other more than a hundred years."
"That's true. But it's not the same life after life, is it?"
I gazed at him dubiously, unsure where he was leading.
"As Sergei, he became a vampire first and saved you afterwards. You made love when he was Sergei, but were you always the topman?"
I shook my head slowly, uncomfortable at sharing the intimacy of that relationship with him.
"But, as Würther, he refused to become a vampire -- even when he was dying?"
"In bed with him, were you always the dominant one?"
I nodded again.
"It was the same soul both times; but, his second time around, he made different choices from the first time." Emil paused, pulling together the strands of his argument. "It appears then a soul does not always repeat its decisions life after life. Like a man makes decisions different from those he made as a child -- he's the same person, but maturing and learning."
I stared at him for long moments but was lost in the thoughts making their way through my mind, assimilating this idea.
"That sounds like Buddhism, Emil," I said finally. "The soul continues to return to this -- to the physical world -- to make restitution for debts incurred in earlier lives as well as to develop spiritually. That's how it grows towards what they call enlightenment in that religion."
"Perhaps, the Buddha understood things better than other people who started religions." He grinned. "Karl, we have a man who you say has lived at least twice before. I believe you -- I saw him when he collapsed back in Zürich. He knew who you were, what you both had shared -- and it blew his mind. If that's true, it's only logical there's some kind of meaning behind it. Nothing exists in a vacuum."
I sat up, staring at him still. "My God, you've become a Voltaire. A Rousseau."
"Philosophers of the age of reason," Emil mumbled to himself and shrugged. "So?"
"Then what would be the logic to his deciding not to return to my arms, to the love we've shared for so many years?"
"What was the logic to his deciding as Würther against immortality? Tom's soul is on its own agenda towards enlightenment, Karl; and we can only guess what that is. Perhaps, he needs to stand alone this time around. Or he needs to learn to love a woman and the children he can father." Emil shrugged. "I don't know." He grinned suddenly. "Or perhaps he needs to learn to share your love this time around -- with me."
"So, when do we start looking for him?" he asked, sitting up and sliding off the bed.
I stared at him, fear suddenly clouding my thoughts.
Not fear -- exactly.
Apprehension. What if Sergei Alexandrovitch Romanov didn't want either my immortality or my love? I had Emil, of course; but he alone could not come close to providing what Sergei and I had had for a century and longer. I would be starting all over again with Emil. With Sergei an increasingly distant past.
"His thoughts grow stronger, Emil." I knew I was buying time and was ashamed at myself for doing so. "They're almost coherent -- but they still continue to warn me away."
I looked down at my hands, embarrassed at the unwanted admission I was making. "They ask for time. He wants to understand what's happened to him. He wants to make his own decisions without me influencing them."
"So, you're going to give him time to put his head together?"
I nodded slowly. "Until the spring. Three to four months -- what do they matter when we're talking forever?" I was trying to put the best face on it. But I knew it was my fear -- my apprehension -- speaking.
"Think you can put up with me being around until you two do get together and decide what happens to you -- and me?"
A smile scampered across his lips when I looked up to meet his gaze. I also noticed he had again become tumescent.
"I think we should go exploring this capital of America," I told him, smiling reassurance back at him. "And that means a shower for me."
"I need one too," he said, grinning broadly, "think you could wash my back for me?"
"I suspect I could." I knew there was no way he would be satisfied with just my scrubbing his back.
We got out of our cab a block above a circle named after an Admiral DuPont. I had no idea what the good sea-general had done for his nation as navies had never had much meaning to me or any Austrians. We, of course, had one under the Empire; but it was hardly more than a shore patrol of our Ægean territories; young boys of my day did not dream of the sea nor make naval officers their heroes.
"We're now in the heart of the gay district of Washington," Emil told me matter-of-factly, as if he had become my tour-guide. I looked about us at the mostly two- and three-storied brick buildings and the men and women pulling their coats tight about them and hurrying to wherever they were going.
"It doesn't look much different than the business district about the Willard," I opined.
"It's still early." He pulled the sleeve of his coat up his arm and looked at his wristwatch. "It's only now after five."
"And you're hungry."
He looked startled, as if I had read his mind. "How do you know that?"
"You're young and we've not brought food into the kitchen at home yet."
"Yeah." He still peered at me dubiously but decided not to pursue the subject. "There are supposed to be some really good restaurants near here."
He squinted at the street signs above us. "We're at Connecticut and `Q'..." He turned completely around. "We need Seventeenth and `Q'." He groaned. "How're we supposed to know which way to go?"
I chuckled and stepped in front of a rushing woman trying to circle us. "Bitte, gnädnige Frau," I said in my humblest German before converting to English, "how do I find Seventeenth Street?"
She stopped and glanced at both of us. Deciding we weren't derelicts and accepting that we were foreigners from the language of my greeting, she smiled, becoming immediately friendly. She asked what restaurant we were looking for. I looked to Emil.
"Annie's Steak House," he offered, taking my cue and accenting his English atrociously. She nodded and told us the steaks were good and we had to try the Texas toast. She then directed us two blocks east along `Q' and half a block south.
"Why did you use something so formal as `excuse me, honoured lady', Karl?" he asked as we began to stroll eastward. "She didn't even speak German."
I grinned. "People like to help others -- as long as they feel safe doing so. The German, and the obvious pleading I put in my voice made us strangers in need of help."
"What were we before?" he asked in exasperation.
"Just two men who might be a danger to her."
"Did you pick that out of her thoughts?"
I shook my head and smiled. "There are some things one learns about human nature over several lifetimes," I told him.
After he had eaten his American steak, home fries, and Texas toast and I sipped very slowly on a cognac served in a strange one-shot little bottle with an accompanying snifter, we strolled back towards the circle along `P' Street. He was content now he had gorged himself, and I was trying not to remember I was hungry. We followed the south side of DuPont Circle, reading the signs above each converging street, looking for `P' which Emil promised was going to be so gay it'd knock my non-existent hat off.
As we crossed Connecticut and approached New Hampshire, I felt us being watched. Curiously, I looked along the walk ahead of us to find three Caucasian youths standing in front of a large apothecary and staring at us as we approached them.
I reached out and touched their minds. There wasn't much there, and I was amazed at how few thoughts a human could have when with friends.
I felt each man's desire to menace us, but they were under orders to restrict their effort to simple intimidation. Even more curious, I extended my vision to see them more clearly.
They each wore jeans, leather jackets, and thick leather, laced-up boots. All three of them had shaved their heads and their exposed skin was red with the chill of the night. All three of them wore rings and studs that rode the outer curve of their left ears. It was almost as if the attire and accoutrements were a uniform to them.
In front of the chemist's, I said to Emil in German: "Don't look now, but these three seem to be ruffians who plan on intimidating us." I touched their thoughts again, unwilling to allow Emil to be hurt, if their intent changed.
The youth closest to us had caught the language of the comment, his face frowning as he sought to recognise it. He smiled when he decided it was German. "Heil, Hitler!" he called, clicking his heels and giving us the informal Nazi salute as we passed them.
Heil, Hitler! For more than two years I had heard that greeting too many times a day before I fled it. One answered the telephone and the door with it and said good-bye with it. One greeted people on the street with it. One even greeted waiters and delivery boys with it and sent them on their way with it. I once suspected a politically correct couple began lovemaking with it.
I had hated it from the Anschluß until Würther and I fled my house on Akademiestraße with the SS a step behind us.
I touched the youth's thoughts again. I prayed he was trying to make a joke at our expense, picking up on our use of German.
I felt only a feeling of well being in him. We were from the Fatherland. We were good people, no matter the area of town we were in or our being two men together. Because he thought every German was Nazi and racially pure and, thus, good people. I shivered mentally.
How had this happened? Germany had lain in ruins in 1945, its people prostrate before the Americans, British, and Russians -- the peacocks dead, captured, or trying to hide themselves from the occupiers. I had read the history since awakening, revenge still burning brightly in me. How could these American youths, who spoke no language but their dialect of English, be Nazis?
"Why did he say that?" Emil asked, puzzled by the greeting.
"They call themselves skinheads, but they're Nazis," I growled as we walked down `P' Street. And felt the three pairs of eyes follow us, respect and something akin to envy in the thoughts behind them. Because they thought we were real Germans, the Meistervolk of Hitlerian insanity.
They were like the young schoolboys in Vienna when Hitler visited the city after the Anschluß, claiming it forever for the thousand year Reich. I could remember them still in their starched brown shirts, knickers, and swastika armbands. So proud. So sure of themselves. So naïve as to what horror it all held.
How could the grandfathers who destroyed that evil allow their grandsons to revisit it and, like young, untrained dogs, dig it up and parade its smelly remains proudly.
Heil, Hitler? Wahnsinn!
I knew where I would find my dinner tonight. There were mortals more despicable than those who chose a slow suicide for themselves. They were Würther's murderers. I tried to smile but that was impossible. It suddenly hurt too much.
* * *
Ronnie Barber chuckled and slapped his knee as he sat in the passenger seat of the Suburban. "There he is, boys," he told the six men crowded into the large all-terrain vehicle with him. "Coming out of his hole like he was a man or something, instead of the serpent he is."
"There's his bodyguard too." A burly Latino had materialised from the red Mercedes at the kerb and walking rapidly up the walk to join the smaller man.
"Yeah, but we'll take care of that. I'm going to get out and start walking up that way. I'll stay on the sidewalk and act like I belong here. When I get even with the walk." He turned towards the driver. "You take out the bodyguard. You got your silencer?" The driver nodded. "The rest of you hightail it over there when the big guy goes down. Grab the little guy and get him back here on the double. We aren't going to have much time, okay?" He glanced at the mirror in his visor and saw the men behind him nodding. "Let's do it," Ronnie mumbled as he opened the door and stepped down on the sidewalk.
His fingers touched the 9-mm in his coat pocket and clicked off the safety. He scrunched over against the cold and began to walk towards the two men, consciously keeping his eyes on the broken concrete in front of him. Out of the corner of his eye, Ronnie Barber saw that he was only two houses away from his target.
Shit! They had both started down the walk. At this rate, they'd be in the Mercedes before he comes up on them. He forced himself not to look back at the Suburban. That would only give him away; and he was willing to bet the burly Spic was watching him close now. He speeded up his step -- not too much, but enough he hoped that his boy back there would get a couple of clean shots off before he was right in there mixed up with the two Spics. At least the big guy was on the side facing him and the Suburban.
He reached the walk maybe five feet ahead of them. He started to stop but figured he'd be dead meat before the bodyguard was. He took a step past the walk, then another.
"Madre de Dios!" the small guy cried out.
Ronnie pivoted even as he was pulling out his pistol. He watched spellbound as half of the bodyguard's head blew out. He jerked himself out of that fast, even before the little guy fell to the ground and started crawling back towards the house. "Hold it right there, amigo," he growled, aiming the 9-mm at middle of the little Spic's back. He ran up the walk then, landing between the man's legs and making sure to push the pistol into the nape of the guy's neck so he knew not to try anything.
He heard running and glanced back to where he'd left the Suburban. He grinned then, his men were almost to the walk and the vehicle was almost right in front of the house. He couldn't have asked for better men. He stood up and watched as the first two men grabbed the Spic's hands and started to lift him to his feet. "Let's get this thing rolling," he growled and started for the Suburban without looking back.
Ronnie studied the Spic in the mirror of his visor as they drove towards Sheridan Square in northeast. The bastard didn't look a day over twenty. And he was almost girlish, he was so small and -- well, cute. That is if a man liked dark, bronze-coloured skin. But he couldn't understand how somebody as young as this kid was could have got so far in the drug cartel as this one had.
The boy stared at him in the mirror, holding his eyes. "What the fuck you think you're doing, man? You signing your death warrant with this bullshit!" he snarled.
Well, so much for looks, Ronnie told himself. He's as lowlife as they come. "The death warrant is yours, buddy," he shot back. "They say you're a big wheel in getting drugs onto the streets. The evidence is in. The judge passed sentence on you, boy. And I'm your executioner."
The kid seemed to drop several shades of bronze, becoming almost white. "You shitting me, man!" he growled, but Ronnie could see the fear in his eyes.
They pulled up to the square and Ronnie watched five men push the Spic boy out the door. He opened his door and turned to the driver. "Drive around the square one time. We'll be waiting for you." He dropped down to the street and crossed in front of the Suburban to join his men. He grinned when he spotted the black teenagers playing basketball.
"Push the son of a bitch over there," he told the others, pointing to the game. "We might as well make an example of this piece of shit."
"Hey! You boys! Look over here!" he called to the basketball game. Black faces turned and took in the six of them with their prisoner. Within moments every boy on the court was hugging the fence.
They pulled the Spic up near the kids. Ronnie studied each one of the teenagers, like he was inspecting them. "You boys know what drugs are?" he asked softly. No-one said a word, but every eye was on him. "They're destruction, that's what they are," he told them, his voice stronger. "Bring that Spic over here," he called over his shoulder. "God says to keep your body pure -- you can't do that with drugs." He saw one of the boys nod.
Ronnie looked down at his prisoner as his men pushed him down to his knees beside the fence. He realised for the first time that he was wearing a fur coat. "Look at that, boys. This big-assed druglord from down there in South America dresses like a little girl. He jabbed the Spic's leg with the toe of his boot. "You probably like boys too, on top of your other sins." He looked back to the blacks. "What does your mama tell you happens when you're bad?" he demanded.
"We get spanked," a younger boy offered.
"God doesn't spank you, boy. When you're bad in God's eyes, he zaps you, doesn't he?" He pulled his 9-mm from his coat pocket. Every boy's eyes rounded. "When you really do wrong, God punishes you, don't He?"
They all nodded. "This here is a real druglord. He brings drugs into DC so your brothers and cousins can get sick and die. What do you think God ought to do to him?" Ronnie idly pointed the pistol in the Latino's direction.
The boy looked up at him. "Let me pray -- a minute, no more ... Please?"
Ronnie figured he'd give even Satan himself a minute to pray. Why not? There were only these nigger boys out here. Even if he was ever caught and pulled into a line-up, they'd never be able to pick him out.
"Do you agree that God's gonna zap you if you do wrong by Him?" he growled at the children on the other side of the fence. Most of them nodded, most of them staring at the pistol in his hand.
He saw the Latino's lips were moving rapidly and went on. "Tomorrow it's gonna be a lot harder to get drugs. You tell your brothers and cousins that. You pull them into church and make them pray." He smiled. "Or else they could just end up like this boy who should have stayed in South America."
He reached down and grabbed the boy's shoulder. He felt him jerk but the Spic never looked up at him. He brought the gun to the boy's head. The boy made the sign of the cross and his face went blank. "Watch this close, boys. This is what will happen to you if you cross God in the new America we're building. He put the end of the barrel at the boy's head and smiled out at the sea of black faces as he pulled the trigger.
He felt the boy jerk and then stiffen before slowly relaxing all over. He looked down and saw the gore spattered against the fence.
He looked back to the black boys behind the fence. "You boys get right with God, you hear? You know now what's going to happen to you if you don't."
He let go of the dead Spic and started back up the walk to the street and the Suburban waiting for them. His men followed him.
* * *
I stared at the body kneeling before the fence, its head and shoulders covered by a blanket. Its fingers still gripped the chain-linked fence. Emil and I were watching the eleven o'clock news.
The victim was the younger brother of the two men who ran the biggest drug cartel in Columbia. He had been murdered in a gangland-style killing, a single bullet to the head.
The one admitted witness was telling the camera how all of these white men had just appeared, dragging the victim after them. Then they'd shot him. No, he wasn't sure how many there were -- maybe sixteen or twenty. The child couldn't have been more than twelve.
I hoped that he hadn't really seen a man murdered, there were things adults should shield children from. In the background, I could make out a woman calling the boy, telling him to shut his mouth and get his arse home.
Was this the America I had followed Tom MacPherson to?
"Bloody hell!" Emil yelped, bouncing slightly. "Now, they're having gangland killings. Here in Washington. While I am here -- we are here. Damn it! Why couldn't we have seen it?" It was impossible for him to remain still sitting beside me. I rose and watched the news account from the back of the sofa.
"Would you really want to watch someone killed?" I asked.
He looked up at me and settled down for a few moments. "Not really I guess. That would probably have me puking up yesterday's lunch. But you've got to admit that it's a rough kind of justice."
"Justice?" I yelped.
"The only other kind his sort would get is a lifetime in prison -- like that Panamian dictator."
"Emil, that boy had only nineteen years. At least, he would still be alive with American justice. He could do something with his life -- or he would have had a chance to. There was never a trial. His guilt was never proved to anyone but the men who decided on their own to kill him."
"You've never killed anybody, right?" he asked, gazing directly at me. "You've never cut a life short? Before he even had a chance?"
I sighed. "Yes, of course I have. But, for so long, I was still like a child. I did what I saw was necessary -- for me." I began to pace. "Emil, I didn't think for most of my life. I didn't look at the possibilities before me. It was only when I encountered so many derelicts there in Zürich that I opened my eyes to the other possibilities before me."
He smiled over his shoulder at me. "Karl, it's all right. This..." He pointed to the television. "It excites me as action films do a child. But I don't really want to be there -- or see it. Or participate in it. You're right. That was murder."
"Politically motivated murder, Emil. Those Negro children were forced to watch him die." I pivoted. "It's almost as if his murderers were attempting to start a war on the streets. Like the men who went into that sex place and beat those men to death."
"Are we back to the return of the Nazis, Karl?"
I cringed. How did I make this man see the connections in things?
A reporter was interviewing the Washington commander of the Christian Men United For Morality in his Arlington VA office. "The word on the street is that CMUM killed the Columbian druglord this afternoon," she intoned. "Has CMUM declared war on drug traffickers?"
The man smiled and folded his hands together on the desk in front of him -- and looked directly into the camera. "There's a world of difference between being involved in the fight to reclaim every American street for its neighbourhood and killing someone under vigilante justice."
I could feel the reassurance he was putting in his voice, and it rang false. "Christian Men United does not, and never will, condone lynching. But we will contest every street with the druglords, the gangs, the queers, and anyone else who would take them away from the God-fearing people who live there."
The reporter smiled and marched right along her scripted way. "If it wasn't CMUM, then who should the police be looking for?"
"Maybe the gangs. Drugs may be evil but they are also a lot of money. Some gangleader could have called for the hit. Or the queers."
"Why would the homosexual community want to kill this man?"
The commander shrugged and smiled. "I don't know that one. I don't even know that they did it. But it was Queer Nation last year that assassinated the Vice President. That didn't make sense either, but they did it." He chuckled. "Who knows? The queer agenda could now include the overthrow of the government."
That was enough. The CMUM commander wasn't through, but I was. I turned off the television.