“WILL you come down off that fucking roof?” Mike was yelling in an effort to make himself heard.
By way of answering, I started hammering the roofing nails into the shingles even harder, making much more noise than was necessary in the hope that he would go away. It was not to be, for a few minutes later his head appeared at the top of the ladder.
“George, you promised to go to the club with me tonight… and this fucking roof can wait,” he said from three feet away, at the edge of the roof.
“I have to finish this bundle of shingles,” I said, furiously hammering away.
“No, you don’t. The roof will still be here tomorrow.”
“True, but the weather won’t be quite as good.”
“So what? All those shingles do is protect the felt. The felt is what keeps the house dry, and the felt is all in place.”
“The weather is still important. If it rains tomorrow, I won’t be able to get anything done.”
“Fuck the weather and fuck the roof. You’re coming down now, even if I have to drag your sorry ass down myself.”
“Think you’re man enough?”
“Only one way to find out.”
He scrambled onto the roof and walked over to me.
“Two ticks,” I said.
“Two ticks, my ass. It looks like you’ve settled down to stay up here all night.”
He was looking at the floodlights I had arranged in the branches of a live oak tree, which in contrast to the gloom elsewhere brightly illuminated my work area.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“I need another hour.”
“Another hour? Not on your life.”
Mike walked back to the ladder and disappeared from sight. Two minutes later the lights went out, and I was left in darkness. Shit, he pulled the plug. I put the bag of roofing nails in a pocket of the carpenter’s pouch I was wearing, tucked my hammer into the little loop on my belt, and used the faint glow from the nearest street light to find my way across the roof to the ladder and then down. When I reached the ground, I went to look for the power cord and found that the first fifty-foot section of it had been removed, leaving the plug on the second section dangling from the eaves.
Mike was waiting for me in the kitchen, a smug look on his face. “I guess I was man enough after all,” he said.
“Damn it, Mike, where’s that extension cord?”
“In a safe place. Its work is done for the day, and so is yours. You can’t hide up there on that roof forever, George.”
“What do you mean?”
“You caught that prick with someone else’s prick up his ass, and you did the right thing by kicking him out. But that was six months ago, so get over it… stop hiding on the roof… and get on with your life.”
“Is that what you think I’ve been doing? Hiding?” He had me there. I’d caught my boyfriend of two years in my bed with his legs in the air, and I hadn’t been the guy kneeling between them. After I had kicked him out, various acquaintances had shared their suspicions that there had been other infidelities as well. Aren’t friends wonderful? But to be honest, if they had told me of their suspicions, I wouldn’t have believed them—not without the all-important empirical evidence.
“Well, haven’t you?”
“In someone’s immortal words: ‘Not only no, but hell no’.”
“Methinks thou doth protest too much. This is me you’re talking to, not some twit who hasn’t known you for more than two-thirds of your life, so I’ll ask you again. Haven’t you?”
“Well, maybe just a little.” Damn, I hate it when he’s right.
“Now that wasn’t so hard to admit, was it?”
“What do you think?”
“Get your ass in the bathroom and clean up. We’re going out on the town, and you’re going to forget that prick—and the roof—at least for an evening.”
“All right, I guess I can stand an evening at the club, especially if it will shut you up.”
“Damn straight. You’re going to enjoy this evening, even if it kills you.”
I couldn’t stay angry with him—we’d known each other too long and too well for that. Twenty minutes later, having showered and shaved, I was standing naked in front of the bathroom vanity toweling my hair dry. I hung the towel up, brushed my hair, and was looking at myself in the mirror when Mike came into the bathroom. He was already naked and reached into the shower to turn the water on.
Turning to me, he said, “Taking inventory, are we?”
“Sure you are. I’ll give you a hand, speaking metaphorically. Let’s see, on a ten point scale, I’d say, face nine, body eight (you need to work on those pecs), ass ten, dick seven and a half, personality needs a bit of improvement.”
I had to laugh. “You’re no slouch, yourself.”
“True, and my dick is half an inch longer than yours when it’s angry.”
In point of fact, we shared the same vital statistics: age thirty, six foot two, waist thirty-four, and size eleven-D shoes. We had borrowed each other’s clothes since we were kids. The principal difference between us was that his black hair was worn in a buzz cut, where my thick blond hair was just a bit longer. He was right about the dick size as well—we had first compared erections at age thirteen or thereabouts.
“Why do you put up with my moods?” I asked.
“Because I love you like the brother I never had, just like you love me. Because we’ve been best friends since Christ was a corporal. Because I want you to be happy. Because….”
I cut him off, saying, “Point made, point taken. Now get in the shower.”
Without waiting for an answer, I went to my closet and selected a pair of chinos and a knit shirt and carried them into the master bedroom. I dressed quickly, gave myself a brief squirt of Tiffany for Men, stepped into a pair of deck shoes, and made my way into the den, where I settled into my favorite chair to wait for Mike. He walked into the room a few minutes later, dressed in 501s and a muscle tee.
“Ready?” he asked.
“As I’ll ever be.”
I stood up, and he looked me up and down, then bent over and pulled my right pants leg up, exposing the ankle holster.
“I thought I saw a bulge down there. Do you have to wear that thing?”
“Mike, you know I have to wear it even when I’m off duty. As they say, ‘You never really need a gun until you really need one’.”
“Your status as the youngest lieutenant ever to grace the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office doesn’t give you some leeway?”
“You know it doesn’t. We’ve been through this…. Besides, doesn’t it make you feel safer knowing that you’re going out with one of Jacksonville’s finest?”
He ignored my rhetorical question and said, “Your car or mine?”
“Your idea, your car.”
“Let’s go, then.”
My house was a fifty-year-old bungalow in Avondale, which I had spent the better part of five years renovating and restoring, mostly with my own two hands. Avondale had begun to be developed in the twenties, as people moved out and away from downtown after the great fire of 1901 had destroyed very nearly all of the downtown area. Avondale and the adjacent neighborhood of Riverside were home to a large gay population. This fact always surprised some people, given that Jacksonville boasted the second or third largest Southern Baptist congregation in the country, which dominated local politics in many ways.
Most of Riverside and parts of Avondale had declined over the years, but in the seventies or thereabouts, the Riverside Avondale Preservation society had been formed. RAP, as it was universally known, aggressively promoted the neighborhood as well as restoration of its homes. It had all begun because the city had announced plans to four-lane a thoroughfare through the length of the area that would have meant the demolition of dozens of historic buildings. RAP had put a stop to that project and was still going strong after more than thirty years. Mike drove quickly down a couple of cross streets and turned toward the Metro, a gay entertainment mecca that had been around for perhaps ten years.
“Why here instead of Brothers?” I asked. Brothers, situated in the shadow of the Blue Cross Tower, was a popular after-work watering hole.
“Because there’s a visiting entertainer I want to hear.”
“You mean a famous drag queen is coming to River City?”
“Not a drag queen. At least not in the usual sense of the word. This one does his own singing—like Jim Bailey used to do.”
“Well, that at least will be different. I’m not sure I’m in the mood to sit through yet another lip-synched rendition of ‘I Will Survive’.”
“Don’t get your hopes up. There will be a bit of that sort of thing before the featured attraction performs.”
“Does this attraction have a name?”
“His stage name is Monique, but his real name is Bob Jones, if you can believe that.”
“Bob Jones, as in the well-known fundamentalist Southern Baptist college?”
“Wow, the guy certainly has a sense of humor.”
Mike parked, and we walked up to the entrance, paid our fee, and had our hands stamped with a symbol indicating we had paid. I followed him to the main bar, where he ordered for both of us.
“You didn’t ask what I wanted,” I said, raising my voice above the not inconsiderable background chatter.
“Puhleeze. You don’t like the swill that passes for wine here, and you don’t like beer, so I ordered a glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream. That way you can nurse it all evening as usual.”
I took the proffered glass and stood there, nursing my drink and surveying the room for a minute or three. Spotting a couple of familiar faces at a table, I ambled over in that direction, took a vacant chair, and spent some time catching up with friends and acquaintances. Finally, Mike came over and parked himself beside me.
“The show, as they say, is about to begin,” he said.
The lights on the stage came up, and an emcee appeared holding a cordless microphone. God, I thought, why do these guys feel the need to emcee the show in drag themselves? Go figure. The opening acts were announced, and the audience was fed a few tidbits and teasers concerning the featured performer. I braced myself for the inevitable. Finally, the three opening acts were done and Monique was announced.
He walked on stage wearing a form-fitting gown. I noted with interest that he was fairly short, quite slim, and was doing his act with a minimum of artifice. He wore very little makeup and changed only his wigs as he did extremely credible imitations of Streisand, Garland, and Lee, among others. He was quite good, possibly even as good as the legendary Jim Bailey, and the audience went crazy.
The lights came up when it was over, and Mike whispered in my ear, “Well, was it worth it?”
“Much as I hate to admit it, it was. Thanks for talking me into this.”
“No problem.” He excused himself to go into active chase mode.
Having finally finished my drink, I wandered over to the bar for another one and stood there for a few minutes watching the crowd as I sipped on my sherry. Finally a stool became vacant and I settled down with my back to the bar, watching the crowd. Eventually, I became aware of a presence to my left and turned to see who it was. It was, as they say, a cutie-pie. Short, slim, brownish hair cut very close to the scalp, just short of a buzz cut, and very cute. We stared at each other for a long moment.
“Hi,” he said. “My name is Bob. What’s yours?”
“Well, George. What did you think of the show?”
“Seen one, seen ’em all… except for Monique. He was great. In fact, he made me think of Jim Bailey.”
“Thanks. I’ve sort of modeled myself after him, and I appreciate your honest opinion.”
“Holy shit. You’re that Bob.”
“Guilty as charged.”
“Buy you a drink?”
While I was in the process of doing that, Mike walked up to me with a younger guy in tow. He handed me the car keys. “Take my car home, will you? I’m going home with my friend… what did you say your name was?” he asked, looking at his companion.
“Right,” Mike said without skipping a beat, “my friend Stan. He has promised faithfully to get me home in the morning.”
Mike headed to the door with Stan in tow.
Bob looked at me. “I just love success stories, don’t you?”
“I do too, but in Mike’s case, they only seem to last no longer than forty-eight hours or so.”
“Sounds like you know him well.”
“We’ve been best friends, man and boy, since we were eight or thereabouts.”
“That’s impressive. I can’t think of anyone I’ve been friends with for more than a year.”
We talked for quite a while until our drink glasses were empty. Finally, he said, “I’m staying downtown at the Omni, would you like to tuck me in?”
“Don’t you have another show to do?”
“I have two performances tomorrow, but not tonight.”
“In that case, what’s your room number?”
He told me, and I said, “See you there.”
I set my empty glass on the bar, headed to the parking lot, and found Mike’s car. I hadn’t started the evening prepared for sex in any sense of the word, but fortunately Mike had a well-stocked glove box in his car, so I helped myself to a few condoms and slipped them into my pocket. Arriving downtown, I found a space in the Omni parking lot, secured the car, and made my way into the hotel. I went straight to the elevator and arrived on his floor just in time to find Bob inserting his plastic room key into the slot in the door.