SHE lay quietly, enjoying that delicious state which hovers between wakefulness and sleep, alternately drifting in and out of the latter. During the wakeful swings of the cycle, she was conscious only of occasional whispers of air as the central air-conditioning cycled on and off, stirring the dust motes hanging in the air revealed by the late-afternoon sunlight filtering through the blinds of her bedroom windows. She was, as the romance novelists are fond of saying, “basking in the afterglow.” Their lovemaking had been more intense yet, at the same time, more tender than usual, perhaps because they had both known it would be the last time.
She had been very firm about that, telling her lover that she could not continue the relationship, given her changed status. She’d expected an argument or a bitter fight. In fact, she’d marshaled a litany of reasons as to why it was for the best and had been taken somewhat aback by the quiet acceptance. The only response she had gotten to what was essentially an ultimatum on her part was a quiet “I see.”
It’s ironic, she thought as she dozed off again. She’d been prepared for a terrible scene—one that failed to transpire. In a way she was glad it was over, for her lover had recently become even more domineering and possessive than usual, and she was, frankly, tired of the frequent bouts of jealousy that precipitated ever more acrimonious arguments. There was another irony at work as well, in that today was Mother’s Day, and it was her incipient motherhood that she had given as the reason for suspending the relationship.
She was not quite sure why she awakened again, her latest period of sleep having been deeper than the previous episodes, but as she swam up through the fuzzy layers of consciousness, she became gradually aware of a presence in the room. Coming to with a start, she recognized the leather-clad figure with the black hood.
“What are you doing here?” she said. “I thought we agreed that it was over.”
The figure remained silent as it moved to the side of the bed. It was then that she saw the handcuffs and rope dangling from one of the figure’s hands.
“I see we’re going to be kinky this time,” she mused aloud as she automatically stretched her arms and legs toward the corners of the four-poster bed, the better to allow herself to be secured to them. It was a game they had played many times before, and she allowed herself to smile in anticipation of what was surely to come, even though she knew that she should be frowning at her wishes not having been adhered to.
She was still smiling when the figure produced a duffel bag and opened it, but the smile changed to a look of bewilderment when she saw something retrieved from it that was definitely not one of their usual toys. She began to scream when she realized what was about to happen and continued screaming for a time. When the screams finally turned into a gurgle, then stopped, the black-clad figure picked up the duffel bag, restored its contents, and left, closing the bedroom door as quietly as it had been opened. For a time, the only motion in the room was that of the dust motes that had been disturbed by the closing of the door and the only sound the occasional sigh of the air-conditioning. After a while, when the cool of the evening satisfied a thermostat somewhere in the house, the air-conditioning ceased cycling, and finally even the dust motes were still.
They remained so until the next morning, when there was a knock on the door and her maid said, “Señora, I have brought your breakfast.”
Receiving no answer, the maid knocked again. “Señora, are you awake? It’s almost ten o’clock.”
There was no response from the silent room. Eventually the door was cautiously opened as the maid backed into the room holding a tray, pushing the door ahead of her with her ample backside. She was all the way into the room before she turned around. When she saw what lay on the bed, she dropped the tray with a clatter, and for the second time in less than twenty-four hours, the room was filled with screams of terror.
THE late May heat, though not excessive, hit me with a blast as I entered the parking garage underneath the downtown Atlanta office building where my law firm was located. The heat did nothing to improve my mood, which had been spiraling downward for the past hour, although one would have to be intimately acquainted with me to pick up any indication of that from my demeanor.
As the scion of an old Georgia family, I’d been reared in the very best “stiff upper lip” tradition by a dowager paternal grandmother, my parents having been killed in an automobile accident when I was very young. It was an article of faith in Gran’s world that well-bred people simply must not ever lose their composure—at least not in public. “If you ever have to scream, yell, or cry,” she’d said to me a thousand times while I was growing up, “wait for an appropriate moment, then go into the privacy of your room and do it. Whatever you do, never allow others, particularly servants or subordinates, see you lose control.”
In its own way, it had been good advice—and better training. I would most likely have phrased it “subordinates or peers,” but in Gran’s eyes, anyone descended from the Lewis, Marks, and Barnett families of post-Revolutionary Georgia had few equals and no superiors. I was in her debt for having thus trained me; a childhood and adolescence of rigid self-control spent displaying the proverbial poker face had benefitted me as an adult in more than one pretrial conference, as well as in quite more than a few trials.
As I retrieved my Jaguar from its reserved parking place, I reflected for the umpteenth time that I could just as easily have walked two blocks to the nearest MARTA station, ridden to the Midtown Station a couple of stops up from downtown, and then walked a few blocks to my home, which was a three-story townhouse that had been built, along with several others, on one of the cross streets running between Juniper Street and Piedmont Avenue. I lived in a midtown area that had been, during its eighty-year history, alternately grand, deteriorating, merely dilapidated, and finally, downright seedy. It was only a block or two removed from the notorious strip of topless bars and porno establishments that had flourished along Peachtree Street in the sixties and seventies.
During the seventies, the area had become something of a ghetto containing a mix of gays, blacks, and Hispanics. Then, as the strip along Peachtree was cleaned up, the inevitable process of gentrification had begun. Buildings that were too far gone were razed and replaced by high-rises or, in some cases, blocks of townhouses like mine. Buildings that were still relatively solid were converted into condominiums and apartments. The area was still heavily gay, but the mix was now about half gay and half yuppie, with a few gay yuppies, sometimes known as guppies, for good measure. The majority of the blacks and Hispanics had been displaced by the workings of a free-market economy—they could no longer afford to live in the area unless they, too, were yuppies. In truth, the area was really totally yuppie, because the gays who occupied the expensive townhouses and apartments certainly fit that mold, with most of the older members of Atlanta’s sizeable gay community preferring to live in and around Buckhead.
Actually, it would have taken me less time to go to and from work via the subway, but rising young (I kept telling myself, sometimes even convincingly, that thirty-two was still young) trial attorneys whose names had been appended for the past five years to the firm name of one of Atlanta’s oldest and most prestigious law firms were expected to observe some conventions. Strange, I thought; Andrew—Andrew Chandler, grandson of the founder of Chandler, Todd, Woodward & Barnett, currently its senior partner and my mentor since forever, as he was an old friend of the family and Gran had turned to him regularly for advice in bringing up her orphaned grandson—hadn’t batted so much as an eyelash when I’d told him in my initial interview that I was gay. He had, in fact, over the years been at least covertly supportive of gay rights and related issues. However, the old boy would have had a fit were I to ride the subway to and from the office every day. Such are the sacrifices we make for the sake of appearances.
The Todd and Woodward of the firm had, as Gran would say, gone to their respective rewards years ago, leaving only Andrew and myself representing the living among the listed names. True, we had six other partners and more than a dozen associates, but it would be years before another name would be appended to the firm’s name, change being the antithesis of old-line law firms everywhere. Somewhere there was an unwritten code that allowed only one name change every decade or so.
As I pulled into the traffic heading north on Peachtree, those thoughts caused me to reflect for a moment on Andrew, who was the reason for my current annoyance bordering on anger. Andrew Chandler was tall, patrician, slim, silver-haired, in his early seventies, and possessed a razor-sharp intellect. He lived in an area of expensive old homes in Decatur with his wife of fifty-odd years, whom he referred to in the traditional southern manner as “Miss Emily.” Their only son had died in Vietnam, and Andrew had long ago more or less adopted me as a surrogate for his lost heir. For my part, having Andrew serve in loco parentis had provided a sort of balance to Gran’s rigidity. He and Gran were old friends, and the relationship between the two families went back decades, as indeed did that of many of the old families in Atlanta.
It was the Thursday before Memorial Day. I’d just successfully completed a grueling ten-day trial and had pretty much cleared my Friday schedule so that I could leave the office by noon and be out of the city shortly thereafter for a well-deserved (so I told myself) three-day weekend at my beach house in the Florida Panhandle. Andrew had called me into his office at four this afternoon and invited me to dinner at his club that evening to meet a prospective new client. I’d tried to persuade Andrew to have the client come to the office next week, but Andrew was adamant that the first meeting had to be both outside the office and tonight, i.e., a command performance. When pressed for details, he’d been somewhat coy, saying only that everything would be explained that evening. Hence my mood, for I could sense my weekend holiday slipping out of my grasp, and I really needed to get away. I could not, however, refuse Andrew—not so much because Andrew was my boss, but because I owed him so much. As an old friend of the family, Andrew had provided me with introductions to the right people at Harvard Law School and had further guided my career from junior associate to full partner over the course of a very short period of years. He’d been especially supportive three years ago, when Robert died.
Robert…. Merely thinking the name invoked a flood of memories. When I’d buried Robert, I’d also buried the best part of myself and very nearly all of my emotions and feelings. The few that remained were now walled up in a remote compartment of my brain, and with every year that passed, the walls grew stronger and more impregnable. I threw myself into my work with a vengeance, stretching my ten-hour days into eleven and sometimes twelve. When work as anodyne failed to ease the pain of loss, I tended to exercise myself into exhaustion and thence oblivion. Dozens of well-meaning friends had, after what they deemed a suitable period of mourning, begun to invite me to functions and dinners where I would inevitably wind up paired with their latest candidate for my perusal. Once in a while I was even tempted, albeit briefly. On those rare occasions when I felt a slight breach in my emotional defenses, I responded by adding another layer of bricks and mortar to the wall. Eventually, the invitations ceased and I achieved a sort of equilibrium with the situation.
One of the advantages of my townhouse was the presence of an attached garage, and we’d indulged in one that would accommodate three cars. As the door opened and I pulled inside, I noted the absence of my roommate Richard’s Mustang convertible (a bright red GT, of course). The Mustang was part of his self-styled image as stud about town, and he was, no doubt, already at one of the after-work watering holes—most likely the Powder Magazine, a venerable old gay bar over on Juniper Street that was very popular as an after-work meeting place—looking for a companion for the evening.
Richard’s love life, if one could call it that, was a succession of one-night stands. I couldn’t remember any of his flings having lasted more than a fortnight, and I frequently lectured him on the inherent dangers of promiscuity in this the era of AIDS. Richard insisted that he practiced only the safest of “safe sex,” and wasn’t particularly worried about acquiring anything that penicillin couldn’t cure. He frequently teased me about the Jaguar, saying, “As a card-carrying homosexual, you should be driving something a little more exciting.” Truth be told, I would have preferred a coupe instead of a sedan, but I frequently had occasion to drive clients to meetings, and a coupe wouldn’t have been practical.
The ground floor of the townhouse contained the garage, a small foyer, and a large living room that looked out into a patio and landscaped yard surrounded by a high brick wall. There was also a half bath (or powder room) for the convenience of visitors. I took the back stairs up to the second floor, which contained the eat-in kitchen, formal dining room, my study, and a large laundry room and storage area. I went into the study and put a newly acquired recording of the Goldberg Variations on the CD player, having opened a Coke (I presumed I would be drinking enough alcohol later) on my way through the kitchen. Lance, who’d evidently been down in the backyard, came in through the doggie door that led from the kitchen to the balcony overlooking the backyard. The doggie door allowed him to go out onto the balcony and down the steps to the patio area whenever he felt the need. In the small backyard he was completely protected by the eight-foot privacy wall.
Sir Lancelot of Buckhead was a three-year-old pedigreed Irish Setter. He reared up, placed his paws on my shoulders, and lapped my chin briefly in greeting. Lance was probably the only reason I was still sane. During my childhood, I’d owned an Irish Setter. By the time I went away to college he had been old and infirm, and his failing health had required that he be put down during my first break between terms. One of the very few areas where Robert and I had ever been in complete disagreement was the subject of pets, dogs in particular. He didn’t like them, and they usually didn’t like him. In addition, he was severely allergic to both cats and dogs, so the subject of having a pet had never been seriously raised during our years together. A few months after Robert died, Richard had brought Lance home to me—a tiny seven-week-old bundle of love covered in what was then dark fur, which turned into a rich chestnut as he matured. It had been love at first sight, and he’d become my constant companion. I’d quickly retrofitted the house to accommodate a large dog, installing the doggie door, for example. It was a rigid rule of the household that the doors leading down to the formal living room and to the garage were never left open or even ajar so that there was never any opportunity for him to slip downstairs and possibly out the door to face the dangers of busy city streets.
I decided to go upstairs and pack for the weekend—just in case this evening didn’t cancel my trip. Music is and has always been my passion, and I’d indulged myself to the extent of acquiring a state-of-the-art stereo system featuring speakers in every room of the townhouse that could be turned off and on at will from a master console in the study. Had I possessed the talent for it, I would probably have made a better musician than lawyer, but alas, more than one teacher had told me what I’d already suspected—that I was meant to enjoy music but not create it at any level beyond the amateur. I did sing well enough to participate in choral activities at Harvard but hadn’t indulged even that small talent for years.
Arriving finally in my bedroom, I changed into shorts, a pullover shirt, and deck shoes. Lance, who’d followed me upstairs, hopped up on my bed, selected his favorite corner, and watched me intently.
As always when I entered the walk-in closet, I was confronted with the section of clothes that had belonged to Robert and were now carefully hung, protected by plastic dry-cleaner covers. I knew I should have sent them to Goodwill a long time ago, but somehow I hadn’t been able to make myself do so. I couldn’t wear them even though we’d shared the same six-foot height, as the similarity ended there. I’m relatively broad-shouldered from years of working out, while Robert had been possessed of a swimmer’s build and hadn’t been much interested in improving upon nature.
I did my packing, then laid out the clothing I planned to wear for the evening—since I was meeting a prospective client, I settled for a pinstriped suit, white shirt, and conservative tie. Having well over an hour to kill, I decided to sweat out some of my frustration, so I donned my running shorts and shoes, which was Lance’s signal to trot downstairs and find his leash. When I arrived on the second floor, he was waiting for me with his leash in his mouth, so I slipped the choke collar around his neck and led him to the door. We headed for Piedmont Park, which was only a block or so away and would be full of runners at this hour. I didn’t necessarily consider that a plus, but it would be a change from my normal early-morning runs, which were almost always solitary.
As I ran, I wondered what kind of client Andrew could have lined up that required such circumspection. Since I’m a trial lawyer, it could be either a criminal case or some civil litigation, but try as I might, I couldn’t come up with any ideas about the evening ahead.
About thirty minutes into my run, I began to calm down, and, more or less resigned to my fate, I headed back to the townhouse to get ready for what I expected to be the ordeal of the evening. Lance, as always, trotted easily beside me. It had taken months of training before he’d learned to repress his natural urge to surge ahead, pulling me with him.
Back at the townhouse, I paused in the laundry area long enough to strip, tossed my running gear into a waiting basket, and padded naked upstairs, while Lance headed for the kitchen and his water bowl.
Standing before the bathroom mirror, I took stock of myself—smooth body, thirty-four-inch waist, fairly broad shoulders, nicely proportioned and muscled, without even a hint of love handles around the middle, somewhat larger than average equipment (which when aroused became larger still), trimmed pubic area, shaved testicles, brown hair, handsome face, and a heart that I’d somehow managed to turn to stone. They say that lightning never strikes twice, and the metaphor most likely carries over into the interpersonal arena as well as the realm of physical phenomena. I wondered, as I sometimes tended to do, what I’d done to myself over the course of the last three years.
Ah, well, no time to indulge in self-pity, I decided and began the process of shaving.