The name on his birth certificate is worthy of a nineteenth-century industrialist: C. Everett Hammer III. Family and friends are allowed to diminish its Saturnian splendor by calling him “Clarence” or “Ev.” Once upon a time, the forty-eight-year-old was also known as “Clary” or “Ham,” but only in certain circles.
When C. Everett Hammer decided he no longer wanted to move in those circles, he shed the nicknames as if they were a shirt and pants that had suddenly caught fire. They’d been part of his homoerotic self, and his homoerotic self was about to be excised.
Thirty-six at the time, Hammer was ready to abandon many things in addition to his male lovers —tolerance, understanding, and, it appears, more than a few IQ points.
You can’t write that. You haven’t even met the guy yet.
“What’re you typing?”
The Baron’s Bull bar again took shape around me. Gary stood over my booth, smiling, smelling of citrus. His white shirt gleamed in the soft blue light.
My gaze wandered up his exposed forearms. He always worked with his sleeves rolled up. “Just sketching out an introduction for my new article. It’s going to be a feature story, actually.”
After saving the start of the rough draft, I eased down the lid of the Compaq, set it on the bench beside me, and crossed my arms on the table. The bar, I finally noticed, had emptied. My eyes rose to Gary’s face. His mouth moved around a wad of gum as he continued to wear that familiar smile. It was his closing-time smile, his ready-to-fuck-time smile.
I had decidedly mixed feelings about that. My reaction didn’t surprise me. I’d been fooling around with him for about three weeks longer than I usually fooled around with anybody.
“This will be my first extended, on-site assignment,” I said, as if he actually gave a shit. “Means I’ll be leaving town for a while.”
“Yeah? How long?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
I was, actually, but didn’t want to tell him. My upcoming trip to the Stronger Wings Camp and Conference Center was a golden opportunity to get out of the Gary rut. If he knew how long I’d be gone, he’d be waiting for me to show up here once I got back. And if I didn’t, he might just make an appearance at my apartment. He’d already done that a few times on what must’ve been his “dry” nights.
He slid into the booth across from me and slapped two packets on the table. “How’m I gonna unwind after a night of drink slinging if my favorite customer is gone?”
I glanced at the handy-dandy packets. Gary probably had an entire shelf in his closet lined with boxes of chewing gum, condoms, and pocket-portable lube. “I’m sure you’ll manage,” I said.
Meeting his smile, I sipped some of my watered down, room temperature mojito and glanced at his arms again. Mimicking my position, they were folded on the table. It was like looking into a funhouse mirror, seeing my own limbs distorted into shanks of beef. Gary was the Anti-twink, the perfect gym jock. Even now, with only his jaw working, beads of sweat glistened in his buzz-cut blond hair.
A lowering zipper rasped beneath the table. Lifting his bulk off the bench seat, Gary wriggled then sank back down. His jaw slowed. His smile shrank. His pale green eyes glazed.
Gary’s hands remained beneath the table.
Can’t even chew gum and stroke at the same time. Trying not to snicker, I looked at my lap. This gig was getting so fucking predictable.
“Before you take it out—”
Gary silenced me by unbuttoning his shirt and pulling it down his shoulders.
“Take your shirt off,” I murmured, which was not what I was going to say.
Lifted by the leg of my jeans, my foot jumped up. Gary’s concealed hands removed my shoe. Another yank, and my heel connected with the surface of the opposite bench, my sole with something spongy. I exerted careful pressure. The spongy something began to petrify.
A hardening dick beneath my foot. A pair of mountainous pecs before my eyes.
I slid off the bench and stepped to Gary’s side of the booth. He extended a hand to my crotch and felt around. My cock, thank God, had spared me the humiliation of being as disinterested as my mind was. Sneering in approval—Gary always sneered when he provoked a sexual response in one of his marks—he grabbed my waistband and pulled me forward. The tops of my shins knocked against the edge of the bench, and I dropped awkwardly into a one-legged kneel.
“I hope you locked up,” I said. It didn’t hurt to mention that. Gary wasn’t the brightest bartender I’d ever known. Or had.
He made an indecipherable grunt as he shifted position. Back resting against the wall, he angled toward me. His pants and underwear were down past his ass, and one ruddy hand gripped one ruddy hard-on.
At about this stage, I would normally dive at him and start kneading his upper arms and chest and biting his nipples while we pumped each other’s erection. We rarely kissed. When we did, Gary put little into it except a growth of stubble. His whiskers were still too short after eight hours for a satisfying friction. All they did was poke at my pores. So kissing wasn’t part of our foreplay.
Instead, he liked it when I got wild. He had just the right body to get wild on. Then he would “tame” me by shoving me around and finally fucking me. Another bar regular, a bona fide twink everybody called Jiminy, referred to this as “getting an assgasm.”
Gary delivered prostate orgasms that were usually a solid five on the pleasure scale, and sometimes as high as a seven, but that wasn’t enough to muffle my top needs for very long. Only consistent eight- to ten-rated assgasms could keep me content; either that, or being with a switcher I really, really liked. Gary, however, wouldn’t bottom if his mother’s life depended on it. And I was far from being infatuated with him.
I’d been idly rubbing the ridge in my jeans while I watched him, but something wasn’t clicking. The gear of desire wasn’t meshing with the gear of need. Maybe I was preoccupied with the article and my upcoming stay at New Wings. Maybe I was sleepy. Maybe the novelty of scoring quick shots with egotistical bartenders and trainers and other in-the-spotlight types had worn thin. In any case, I wasn’t surrendering anymore. My dick began to relax.
“What’re you waiting for?” Gary asked with a frown.
I got off the bench and dipped beneath the table to find my shoe. Once I got it on, I retrieved my notebook from the other side of the booth.
“I’m sorry, Gare. I have to go.”
“I forgot about a date I had tonight. Shit, and I didn’t bring my phone.” I fervently hoped my cell wouldn’t ring before I got out the door. “Is the rear exit still open?”
For a fleeting moment, I felt bad. He looked so pitiable, yet so ridiculous. “I’m sorry, man. Really.”
I leaned toward him and gave his prick a few gentle pats. “Catch you later.” Even as I chided myself for being so devious, I hustled toward the backdoor.
“What the fuck? Mick!”
“My name is actually Misha,” I said over my shoulder.
Funny, I never told any of my lovers that. Not since Robbie, anyway.
Hammer’s biographical details are sketchy. He seems to try to keep it that way. Speculation has taken over where fact has left off.
The son of a wealthy, conservative judge, Ev reputedly has a past that cost Hammer, Sr. a seat on the [Missouri? Arkansas? Oklahoma?] Supreme Court and nearly cost Junior his inheritance. Youthful homo hijinks were to blame. Never content to be discreetly gay, Ev flamed.
After being convicted on various charges related to his lifestyle [try to get specifics], Ev took up residence behind bars for the better part of a year. The circumstances surrounding his misfortune are murky, but rumor has it the elder Hammer initiated the busts.
The cloud of incarceration came with a silver lining. Ev found salvation. According to his own account, a “caring” jailhouse intervention staged by his family was followed up by the relentless preachments of a visiting clergyman. Thanks to both, Ev saw the error of his manloving ways. He left [name county] lockup a happy hetero with a mission — to help other sexually misguided men find their way from c**k to c**t.
Thus was born the Stronger Wings Ministry, specifically designed to flip gays into ex-gays via “reparative” therapy. The Stronger Wings Camp and Conference Center is the heart of the operation. Dad’s generous financial backing made it all possible, although SWM is now fully funded by donations, registration fees, and product sales.
Dissatisfied, I shoved the computer aside and downed the last of my breakfast. Damn, I still had a lot of research to do, and I wasn’t even sure it would yield much of anything. Powerful people with money knew how to alter history, even make it disappear. Unless I could actually interview Hammer once I got to Stronger Wings, I’d have to abbreviate the sections relating to his background and instead center the article on interviews, if I could score any, and my own experiences and impressions.
When the phone rang, I immediately checked the incoming number to see if it was one of Gary’s. He’d called twice last night and left messages. Nope, I was safe; my former fuck-buddy was likely still asleep.
The managing editor of Options magazine was calling.
“Get your registration packet yet?” No pleasantries or chitchat from Bree, even though she was a sweetheart beneath her professional crust.
“Yup.” Before I dropped onto the sofa, I lifted the manila envelope off the end table where I’d tossed it yesterday. “Haven’t dug into it, though.”
“You sure you want to commit so much time and money to this? I’m really sorry the magazine can’t foot the bill for your expenses, but with our budget constraints—”
“I know. And yes, I’m sure.”
I reflexively glanced at the opposite end table before remembering I’d taken down Robbie’s photo a while ago. Still, I thought of him, missionarying Christ-knew-where. With his new wife. Of the female persuasion. I sometimes fantasized about him butt-fucking her while he fantasized about me, like Ennis and Alma in Brokeback Mountain.
I was probably flattering myself.
“Yeah. Sorry, I was drifting.”
“Don’t hit on anybody there, okay?”
I chuckled. “Jesus, Bree, I’m not some hormone-driven cretin.”
“And don’t try to unconvert one of the converts.”
“I’m not a deprogrammer, either.”
“Are you going to tell Hammer you’re a writer before or after you get there?”
I tapped the envelope against my lap as I thought that over. “I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll decide once I read the introductory material.”
“Try not to piss him off. I love you to death, mister, but you have a tendency to overstep.”
“Overstep how?” I only had a vague idea. Bree might’ve had a clearer one, and it was her standards by which I had to abide.
“Just watch your mouth.”
I began to smile.
“And I don’t mean where you put it,” she said, anticipating my reaction. “I mean what comes out of it. Extremist wackos can get pretty litigious. If we can’t afford your trip, we sure as hell can’t afford a lawsuit.”
“The Constitution protects freedom of speech, B.” I’d begun tearing open the envelope. It filled me with the same combination of dread and curiosity I used to feel when opening gifts from my Great Aunt Betsy. Maybe there was a bowtie inside with clown eyes on the loops and a red nose in the middle, right over the knot.
“Neither the Constitution nor the Ten Commandments can stop assholes from bearing false witness,” Bree reminded me. “Don’t put it past those people to make shit up just to fuck with their adversaries.”
“I’ll be good. I’ll just try to blend in.”
Bree sounded a skeptical hmph. “Oh, one more thing, Misha.”
“What’s that?” I held open the envelope, peered inside, and separated papers with my fingertips.
“Don’t come back straight,” said Bree, the proud lesbian.
I laughed, but my suddenly squirmy stomach didn’t share my amusement.