It was a beautiful day for such an ugly scene. Late April sunshine was showing Boise at her springtime best, with daffodils dancing in the flowerbeds and a riot of tulips crowding the planters and edging the sidewalks. Downtown the outdoor cafés were filled with pale, happy people who were drunk on the sunshine and honey-sweet air after a long five months of winter.
Lee studied the group of hockey players crowding around his café table, their bulky bodies dwarfing the spindly iron chairs. Spring was usually a glum time for the Idaho Steelheads, when the attention of the sports-watching public turned to basketball’s March Madness and then to baseball. It had been a moderately successful season, but rumors of staffing changes and player cuts were causing the usually touchy sticks to become even more paranoid and suspicious than usual.
Julius Miller leaned across the table. “Lee, come on, man. I know you know something. The front office tells you the crap weeks before the other reporters even hear the farts.”
Lee winced. “Damn, Julius, you got to work on your metaphors, big guy. Take some poetry classes or something.”
“Looks to me like we got too many poets already and not enough hockey players.” He gestured toward a table full of young men dressed in identical white sweatshirts. Were they all wearing lip gloss? “Boise. Man, this used to be a conservative town. With some standards, you know what I’m saying? Where people came to the goddamn hockey games!”
Lee leaned forward. “Settle down. Plenty of people are coming to the hockey games, and I haven’t heard anything from the brass about you being canned.”
One of the other players sat up, a Nordic giant named Alfarr. He had a full, red beard and a missing front tooth. “So what can you do for us, Lee? Can’t you write a story saying… I don’t know… something good?”
Lee studied him. “Sometimes public sports figures do things to get stories written, you know, like….”
“What, a DUI? Rape charge?”
“No. Like volunteer work.” They stared blankly at him. “Like go talk about not doing drugs at the elementary school. Give a hockey clinic at the Y for underprivileged youth. Something like that.”
Julius was rubbing his chin. “That could work. As long as it don’t take too much time.”
“That’s the spirit,” Lee said and leaned back in his chair. He took a sip of Mexican Mocha and let the warm April sunshine flow over his face, as soft as a lover’s hand.
A man pushed open the door of Tully’s and came out onto the patio with a load of magazines in his arms. Lee flushed and looked down at his lap, hoping to avoid any accidental eye contact. He knew this guy… Jeremy something. He’d moved into Lee’s apartment building in December, and they had run into each other a few times in the elevator and in the laundry room. Lee felt the color deepen in his face. Five years he had lived in the Idaho Building, and never once had he run into anyone else in the laundry room at 0530. His sweats were in the dryer, and he had just run down in his underwear to pull them out warm. This guy was in there taking his shirts out of the washer and had handed him his neatly folded sweats without a word. He was good-looking, movie-star handsome, with sad, blue puppy-dog eyes and silky golden hair cut short. Lee had dropped his running shoes, pulled on his sweats then his socks, and the guy had watched him, not saying a word. But he was grinning by the time Lee tied the last shoestring, nodded, and sprinted away down the stairs. Since then Lee had made very sure his sweats were ready to go before he went to sleep, but he missed pulling them on warm from the dryer.
Jeremy put the stack of magazines down on the table with the boys in their matching sweatshirts. Lee caught a glimpse of the design: a big, bright rainbow with the words IDAHO PRIDE in grass-green letters. The boys were young, early twenties, maybe, and they all turned shining, happy, eager faces toward Jeremy. Lee studied his lap some more. Somebody ought to show those boys how to hide their feelings just a bit. It wasn’t a good idea to go around looking like little girls in love, and they were all looking at Jeremy like he was a big, blond ice cream cone ready to get licked.
“You guys are the best! We could never have gotten the first issue of Idaho Pride off the ground and looking so fine,” he said, holding a copy of the magazine against his chest, “without our talented and hardworking interns. This first issue is for you.” He passed stacks of magazines around the table. “These are the copies for free distribution, like we talked about. I’ve got special first-issue copies for all of you back at my place. Okay, does everyone know what to do?”
A sweet-faced kid with a small, hopeful moustache raised his hand. “Jeremy, can we give copies to people we think might be interested, or should we stick to just businesses?”
“Anyone you think might like a copy,” Jeremy said. “We’ve got two hundred set aside for free distribution, so you give your copies away how you see fit.”
Alfarr leaned forward and nudged Julius with a hard elbow. “Can you believe this shit? Looks like the ‘French Club’ has left the library.”
Lee studied him. “That is a really good example of the wrong kind of publicity. The Idaho Steelheads will not be happy with you if you get your name in the paper for gay-bashing. Didn’t you get the memo? The jocks don’t beat up the ‘French Club’ anymore.”
“Yeah, whatever, man. One of those pinks comes over here, I’ll shove a copy of Idaho Pride up his ass. Oh, wait a minute. You think they’d like that shit?”
The rest of the table started laughing, and one of the Idaho Pride interns came slowly to his feet. Well, not all the boys looked like sweet-faced poets. This kid looked like he’d come out of a few hard years at Folsom State Prison, and he had the tattoos to prove it. His dark hair was cut in a jagged flattop, a tiny shaved lightning bolt over his ear, and a green and black snake tattoo wound its way around his neck. Jeremy put a hand on his arm.
“Luis, it’s cool.” He looked over at Lee. “It’s only the first issue. Not everybody is gonna be a fan until at least the fourth issue. Maybe the fifth.”
A short boy with apple-pink cheeks stood up next to Luis and addressed their table. “You guys are Steelheads, right? Hockey players,” he explained to the rest of his table. “You want a copy of Idaho Pride? It’s a new magazine celebrating diversity in the Treasure Valley.”
Luis was standing next to him, very close, and Lee could see the kid’s hands were shaking. “I’d like a copy,” Lee said, and the boy with the apple cheeks handed him one with a grateful smile. Then Luis turned to Alfarr and tried to stare him down. The rest of the “Idaho Pride” was waiting to leap to the rescue.
Alfarr stood up. He was six-six, if Lee remembered his stats, and two hundred forty-five pounds. Julius was a little smaller, maybe six-five. They looked like Vikings on a rape-and-pillage mission. “Diversity? What kind of shit is that? It’s a queer magazine. Why don’t you call it what it is?”
Luis’s hand slid into his pocket, and Lee stood up. “Would you guys settle down? This isn’t high school.”
Jeremy took a step closer to them and put a hand on Luis’s shoulder. “This is a problem of education more than respect, Luis.” But it wasn’t, they all knew it, and Lee watched his face flood with color. Alfarr snatched one of the copies of Idaho Pride out of the kid’s hand, flipped through it, and threw it back in his face. “Keep your queer magazine out of my face, pink.”
What happened next happened too fast for Lee to remember exactly who did what first, but Luis had a knife in his hand, and Alfarr picked up a chair and threw it, then Julius lunged for Luis’s arm, and there was blood, and the young interns were screaming, and one of them jumped on Alfarr’s back like a little monkey, wrapping skinny arms around his neck. Another chair was thrown, and this one went through the plate-glass window at Tully’s. People were screaming and running, roused out of their springtime drowse, and there was a siren in the background, coming closer.
Jeremy pulled his boys off, sent them running, copies of Idaho Pride clutched to their chests. He jerked Luis around, held his face and talked to him nose to nose. “Don’t do this. Don’t let this go any further. I’ll deal with this.” He gave him a little shake when Luis didn’t move. “Go! I’ll take care of this.”
Alfarr was looking at the shattered glass, the spatter of blood from Julius’s arm, the spilled coffee, and the trampled tulips. “Shit! What the fuck is wrong with those little punks?”
Julius rounded on him. “Would you shut up? I swear your head is thicker than….” Metaphor apparently failed him, and they all turned to look at Lee.
Lee jerked his chin, and the Steelheads turned in a bunch and sprinted for the foothills. They were fast, Lee thought, watching them run. Fast on skates and fast on foot. He turned around and looked at Jeremy, and they studied each other, breathing a little faster than normal, with the broken glass and overturned chairs between them.