“THREE FIFTY-ONE. Three fifty-one. On two. Hut. Hut.”
The backup quarterback’s voice triggered Jamal Jones’s action. Jamal turned the ball and rifled it directly into the guy’s hands in slingshot position. The ball slid like butter, baby.
The offensive line coach’s whistle stopped the play, and Jamal trotted to the bench, grabbed a water, and poured it down his throat, sucking the liquid into his mouth and inhaling the smell of sweat, leather, and synthetic grass deep into his lungs. Training camp for the Los Angeles Diablos might not be everything he’d expected, but man, talk about your dreams come true.
He turned toward Izzy Perez, the offensive line coach. “Yes, sir.”
Perez smiled. “They want you down there.” He pointed toward the other end of the field where the first-string offensive squad was scrimmaging.
Jamal swallowed. “Uh, sure. Yes, sir.” Tossing the water bottle, he took off at a trot up the field, tingles of excitement running up his arms. Maybe Ray Shields was going to give him some hands-on training. Finally he’d get to learn from the best center in the NFL. Weird that the Diablos had drafted Jamal in the first round to play second-string center and train with Shields so he could take over for the big blond next year—but Shields had hardly talked to Jamal in the nearly two weeks they’d both been at camp.
Jamal ran up to where the head coach sat on the bench watching the practice. “Wanted to see me, sir?”
Manny Hartford reminded him more of a basketball coach, slim and slick. A political animal. So different from Jamal’s coach at SCU. Still, he liked the guy okay.
Hartford nodded. “Yes. Go in for Shields.”
“Yeah. At center. The position you play, right?” He gave Jamal a tight smile.
Well, shit, talk about ass sex with no lube. They hadn’t given him any training with the first string and now they were throwing him in the deep end. He pulled his shoulder blades together. Okay, fuck. Show ’em why you were a first-round draft pick.
Jamal trotted out to midfield. Ray Shields jogged toward him, and Jamal smiled inside his helmet, but the big man ran past like he wasn’t there. No attaboys from that department.
Jamal looked at the assembled line. Don’t fuck it up. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he approached the men waiting for him on the field. The guards, especially Brian “Boogaloo” Johnson, almost made him feel small. At about three fifty, Boogaloo outweighed Jamal by fifty pounds. Glad he’s on my side.
Jamal nodded. Be cool. “Gentlemen.”
One of the tackles, Adolphus Winston, stuck out a hand and gave Jamal a low five. Nice to be welcomed by somebody.
The legendary quarterback, Jet West, stood with his hip cocked. Did that face say Show me something?
Jamal nodded and took his place in the line. He dropped into stance, ball in hand. The defensive line took position against them. Jamal scoped the defense. “OG twenty-four, T thirty-one.” Winston’s head snapped up at Jamal’s audible for a reposition on him and the guard since centers rarely did audibles, but he moved along with Matoa.
West generally liked shotgun position for the snap, but he stuck his hands under Jamal’s butt. “Flash thirty. Flash thirty.” Adrenaline rising, Jamal ticked the running back position off in his mind.
West called, “F-stop two.” Fullback pass. “Hut. Hut.” Jamal snapped on two, his hands acting on instinct. No time to look. He felt West run backward. Jamal took three steps toward him to fill the hole and braced like a rhino for two linebackers coming at him. With a grunt, he locked a shoulder under one giant guy and pushed him toward the other one. Some luck and some skill caught the man off-balance, and his attackers wound up in a linebacker pile as Jamal opened a path for the fullback to run through for first down.
Whistle. Wow. Blood pumped like joy juice. Hard-on city. They reformed the line and started another play, with no breather. This time West slid back into shotgun, Jamal snapped directly into that soft right hand, took a step, and—oof—got sacked by three hundred pounds of linebacker. Shit! His shoulder hit the ground like he’d jumped off a two-story building, and he memorized the smell of the synthetic turf. Jesus, these guys sure hit harder than college, even just in practice. Imagine what a game will be like. No wonder Shields needed to retire; the guy was no spring chicken. Still, excitement tingled up Jamal’s spine, and every hair stood on end. He’d waited for this chance his whole life and he was up for it.
Hartford waved. “That’s it for today. Hit the showers.”
A hand like a vise clamped his shoulder. “Good going, my man.”
He looked over at Boogaloo Johnson. The guard was about an inch shorter than Jamal’s six feet seven, but that solid muscle covered by fat strained his jersey. “Thanks.”
Johnson fell in beside him as they walked toward the locker room. Johnson and Jones. Sounded liked a course in fake IDs. But this Johnson wielded power that exceeded his weight. Boogaloo was good at his job. Jamal had heard a couple guys say that Boogie, as they called him, scored as a favorite of the team owner, Arondel, which was weird since the owner made the Tea Party look left wing while Boogie still had some ghetto showing.
Johnson patted him again. “Good to see new blood on the line.”
“Happy to be there, even if it’s just for today.”
“Yeah, well, you can be full-time anytime, if they ax me, brother.”
Inside the huge locker room, Johnson gave him a shoulder punch and walked over to his group of gigantic homeboys. Being rich, famous, black, and over three hundred pounds seemed to be the requirements of the club. Three of them wrapped huge towels around themselves that still barely covered their asses and headed toward the therapy tubs.
Jamal peeled off his practice uniform and grabbed a towel for the shower. His phone buzzed in the pocket of his jeans hanging on the hook. He pulled it out, smiled, and clicked. “Hey, man. I’m standing in the middle of the locker room bare-assed.”
Will Ashford, Jamal’s best friend, chuckled. “That must be a sight. You notice any of the guys scoping you out?”
Jamal glanced around at the players rapping in the middle of the big room, many still in their jocks. He half smiled. “Never, man. This is the NFL.”
“Hmm. There are rumors that NFL stands for No-tell Fag League.”
“For sure nobody’s telling.”
“Even you, buddy?”
Jamal frowned. “Yeah. Me too.”
“Noah wants to talk to you about that.”
Noah, Will’s boyfriend, had been out and proud since he was born. Jamal glanced around again. “It’s a tough situation.”
“So let’s talk, okay? Noah and I want to take you out to celebrate your contract and getting your dream.”
Jamal turned toward the locker. “That would be great. I haven’t seen anybody who wasn’t connected to the team for almost two weeks—since they moved us into the training hotel.” He lowered his voice. “Going a little stir.”
“So I know it’s short notice, but any chance you could come tonight?”
Hell, his only alternative was sitting on the bed watching movies with three other guys too big to fit in a hotel room. “Sure, I’d love to. I can’t stay out late, though.”
“Aw, poor baby. No problem. I’ll text you an address.” His voice sounded excited.
“What are we going to do?”
Will called out, “Noah, Jamal wants to know what we’re going to do.”
The voice in the background yelled, “It’s a surprise!”
Will laughed. “Did you hear that?”
“Okay, see you at eight. Eat first.”
He hung up. He loved talking to his friends, but it split him in half, like having a foot in two really different worlds. It gave him a spacey feeling. He wrapped the towel tight and headed for the showers.
As he walked into the wet tiled area, Jet West came toward him. The man was great looking. The face that launched a thousand magazine covers. As they passed, West nodded. “Good job, rook.”
“Thanks.” No use pretending that wasn’t a thrill.
The steamy heat from the showers surrounded him as he waited outside the stalls for one to free up. Men walked around him bare-assed, cocks dangling, some of the equipment hard to find in the fat and some of it as big as the men who sported it.
Roone Curry, the rookie second-string running back, walked over wearing only his jock. The straps surrounded his tight buttocks like a caress, and his runner’s body came closer to Jamal’s style than most of these giants. Not pretty enough, thank God. Do not be staring at his cock. He forced his eyes up and looked into Roone’s.
Roone nodded. “Want to get a beer, Jones?”
“Uh, thanks, Roone. Some friends are taking me out. Kind of a celebration.”
“We’ll do it another time.”
Jamal nodded and watched that tight, bare ass flex away from him as his own equipment started to harden. Damn. One of the showers freed up, and he jumped into it. He flipped on the hot water and stepped under. The shoulder he’d fallen on throbbed, but not as much as his deprived dick. Two weeks since he’d had his cock in anyone, female or male, and he was feeling the strain. Sure, he’d been around bare male bodies since he was a kid, and he’d always managed it, but he’d been able to have sex when he needed it. Right now, he needed it.
He reached down and grabbed his rod, which at nine inches scared the hell out of some women, to say nothing of the heart attack it gave a lot of men. He stroked while he let the hot water run on his shoulder. Waiting until later was wise, but damn, that felt good. He squeezed harder and picked up the pace.
Maybe he should find a woman. There were always football groupies at the clubs and women who liked what he had. Truth, though he said he enjoyed men and women equally, he preferred men. Pretty, twinky, slender, graceful, beautiful men. He leaned against the wall, his hands both doing good work. He liked pretty guys who had a streak of spunk, beautiful lips, didn’t mind that his cock was the size of a walrus, and might like to give as well as receive—yes! His balls squeezed and the cum shot out of his cock, hot as the water flowing over him. Oh man, good.
He took two deep breaths. The noise of the players leaving the locker room crept in over the sounds of the water. Right. He’d find that kind of guy when he had the guts to tell Lex Arondel and Manny Hartford he liked to fuck men. When he got balls big enough to come out as a bisexual pro football player. In other words, he’d have that perfect man right after pigs launched their own airline.
JAMAL FOLLOWED the GPS on the black Cadillac his family had surprised him with when he got drafted by the NFL. It was used, but still shiny, and big enough to hold him comfortably. He turned onto the side street in Van Nuys. The area was a little seedy. Did he get the address right? Ahead on the left, a lighted sign said the Cellar. Okay, that must be it. Nothing else around here looked open, much less fun. Of course, The Cellar didn’t scream excitement. Hell, he didn’t care. He just wanted to see Will and Noah.
He turned into a dirt lot and parked toward the back. Avoid door dings. As he crawled out, he saw the old Toyota Will had traded in his Ferrari for pull in behind him. Good timing.
Will climbed out of the driver’s seat, and Noah opened the passenger door with a squeak. He waved. “Hey, man. Good to see you.” For a second, Jamal just looked at them and smiled—Will with his cover-of-Sports-Illustrated handsomeness, and sleek Noah with the beautiful, scarred face. Jamal and Will had been the power duo for Southern California University football. Though he’d been a great quarterback, Will gave it up for his dream—to paint and to have the man he loved. Tough to argue with dreams.
Jamal grinned. “Been missing you.”
Will walked over and hugged Jamal. He hugged back, but the shoulder he’d landed on protested, and he cringed.
Will patted him. “Those giants been beating you up?”
“Yeah. Some of ’em make me look like a flyweight.”
Will slipped his arm through Jamal’s on one side, and Noah copied him on the other. “Come with us.”
They walked around the corner and, sure enough, found a line to the Cellar. As they got closer, a big man stepped out of the shadows. A real bear type with leather and chains. “Evening, gentlemen. The next show’s in fifteen minutes. Twenty dollar cover per person.”
Show? Jamal looked at Will. “Let me get it.”
“No way, man. This is our treat.”
“But you’re starving artists.” He smiled.
“Nope. We’re paying.”
Will pulled three twenties from his pocket like he had them ready to go.
The leather bear held the door open and in they went to a small vestibule with a curtain pulled between it and the club beyond. Photos of outrageously costumed men with names like Ultra Violent and Ida Atehim lined the walls. Holy crap. Jamal looked up. “It’s a drag show.”
Will grinned. “Yep. Noah and I found this place by accident, and after seeing the show a couple times, we knew we had to share it with you.”
Jamal glanced toward the door. Not the best place to be seen. “Why? I mean, I like drag as much as the next guy.” He shrugged. “Maybe it’d be more fun to just sit and talk.”
Noah glanced at Will. “You’ll love it. Wait and see.”
There was no host, so they pushed through the curtain. The room beyond might have been a local restaurant at one time. Booths lined the walls, and tables crowded the center of the room. One wall was dominated by a stage that seemed kind of shoehorned into the space, curtains drawn. The lights were up, and a room full of people turned to stare at them as they came through. Made sense. Will looked like a golden god, Noah was pretty as a picture if you didn’t count the six-inch scar on his face, and Jamal was a black giant. Sort of a new take on Lord of the Rings. He looked down at the floor. Jesus, if he planned to stick with women, this was a rotten way to start.
Will glanced at him. “You okay?”
“Don’t really want anyone to recognize me.”
“Hey, sorry, man. I didn’t think.” He pointed toward a booth that two guys were leaving about midway back from the stage. “Let’s go over there and get away from the crowd.”
They threaded through tables occupied by a lot of guys and a few women until they were able to slide into the semicircular booth. A slim man wearing a flowered dress and red wig hurried over and batted his false lashes at them. “Hi. What can I get you?”
Will grinned. “Have you got root beer?”
The waiter put a hand on his/her narrow hip. “Root-beer-flavored vodka, maybe, but no root beer.”
Jamal shrugged. “I’ll just have a Coke.”
The queen leaned over Jamal. “Oh come now, you can’t maintain that expanse of gorgeousness on mere soft drinks.”
Jamal laughed. The guy was funny. Under the dress, not his type, but still cute. “I’ll have to try my best. Just Coke.”
Will and Noah ordered beer. When the waiter left, Will raised an eyebrow. “So what have you done about the whole ‘coming out’ issue with the team? You seem pretty uneasy.”
Jamal shook his head. “Tabled it. I figured I could hack it with females for a few years like I did in college, so I didn’t make any declarations when I signed the contract. I imagine if I had, it would’ve been the shortest contract on record. Arondel’s not known for his love of rainbow flags.”
Noah leaned against the phony leather seat. “Hell, man, how can you do that? I mean, I know you’re bi, but that’s becoming straight without a license.”
Jamal sighed. “It’s harder than I thought. In college, I went with girls, but I could always sneak some dick on the side. Now, I’m a Diablo.” He looked around and lowered his voice. “If somebody sees me with a guy looking, you know, romantic, and I didn’t choose to come out to coach, I doubt I’ll be a Diablo for long.” He leaned back and sighed. “Of course, there’s not much chance of being recognized yet. I’m so new.”
Noah frowned. “Why don’t you tell your coach? He can decide what he wants to do about it. But at least you’re clean and no one can accuse you of lying.”
“Oh man, I wish.”
“They’ve got you under contract now. You don’t have to be a poster boy for gay athletes, but at least it’s honest.”
Hell, maybe he could. The whole idea gave him a little hope. “I probably should. Hartford’s not a bad guy.” He stole a look around and whispered, “Arondel’s another matter, though. I’ve met him a few times. Eyes like a snake.”
Will squeezed his forearm. “Your coach has to want to protect his players. He’s not going to do anything to jeopardize his team. Hell, man, like Noah says, it’s your life. You get to say how you live it. I had to learn that the hard way.” He leaned over and kissed Noah gently. A couple of guys two tables away gave them a sappy smile. Jamal tamped down the envy—and the pride. They’d given up a lot to live their lives the way they wanted, but he wasn’t Will. His dream revolved around football, helping his family, and making his dad proud. All that was spelled D-I-A-B-L-O. Still, it would be nice. He muffled the sigh.
The drag queen waiter brought their drinks and shuffled them out fast as the lights started to dim. Jamal moved quick and whipped three twenties onto the table to keep the guys from paying for the drinks. He waved his hand for the waiter to keep it and got a big smile.
Will leaned in. “Thanks, Daddy Warbucks.”
Jamal grinned. It was nice to have enough money to help friends too.
A raucous voice exploded over the PA system. “Laaaadies and—ladies. Gentlemen and gentlemen, and all stops between and beyond, welcome to the Cellar. A quiet little name for a noisy little place. And now, here’s your mistress of ceremonies, she who puts the ass in astute, the cock in cocktail, and the homo in homo sapiens, Lucretia Lorenz.”
A queen almost the size of Jamal strutted onto the stage wearing a feathered headdress and red sequins, the stage lights shining off every excessive ornament. “Her” biceps bulged below the spaghetti straps holding the dress up over a substantial bosom. “Hello, my lovelies.” For a huge man, the queen’s voice trilled high and falsetto with occasional trips to the basement for a snatch of baritone. She peered out through the bright lights. “Oh my, you are lovely aren’t you? Are you ready for a display of high-culture nasty?”
The audience shouted.
“Okay, a man walks into a bar and asks the bartender for ten shots of whiskey. ‘Wow,’ says the bartender, ‘what’s wrong?’ ‘I found out my brother is gay and marrying my best friend.’ So the bartender gives him the drinks. The next day, the guy comes in again and asks for twelve shots. ‘What’s wrong this time?’ the bartender asks. ‘I found out my son is gay.’ So the bartender serves ’em up. The next day, in comes the man. ‘Fifteen shots, please.’ The bartender shakes his head. ‘Man, doesn’t anyone in your family like women?’ The guy looks at him and says, ‘Apparently my wife does.’”
The drummer did a rim shot, and the audience laughed.
“Okay lovelies, you didn’t come to see an old queen like me. On with the show. Heerrre’s Blue Angel.”
Blue Angel turned out to be a stripping pole dancer. Wildly athletic, she spun and twirled in her G-string and bikini top with a very convincing bulge on top and none on the bottom. She finally ripped off her bra to reveal a flat chest, then turned her back, did some adjustment, and pirouetted to show off her family jewels barely hidden by the scrap of blue metallic fabric. The guy was fun, artistic, if not the best Jamal had ever seen, and moderately sexy. If Jamal hadn’t done his shower massage, his cock might have been a lot more interested, even though the guy was too butch for his taste.
Following Blue Angel came a performance of the Cellar Whores, the chorus line of the club. The five guys attempted precision high kicks that weren’t too precise and seemed to be having a pretty good time lip-syncing to songs from Cabaret. Jamal glanced at his watch. The show was fun, but he kind of wished they’d just gone to dinner and talked.
The mistress of ceremonies told another joke, then glanced offstage. She grinned. “And now my lovelies, just to reward you, I have a special treat for you. I’ve been told we have a visit from you-know-who.” At least half the place went nuts, including enthusiastic applause from Will and Noah. Jamal leaned toward Will. “What’s happening?”
He got that wicked grin again. “You’ll see.”
The lights on the stage started to dim. Lucretia’s red sequins glittered a little in the fading glow as she said, “And now, my lovelies, Trixie LaRuuuuuue.”
The stage went black.
The voice that came across the PA was husky and sensual, and if he didn’t know better, Jamal would have thought it was a woman singing an a cappella version of an old song. Live. No lip syncing here.
“I fell in love when I didn’t want to, what am I to do? Can’t help it.”
A single spotlight crept up, illuminating a girl in the middle of the stage. Her pale, smooth blonde hair fell to her shoulders and, in the light, it shone almost as much as her fair, fair skin. Sweet, holy mother. Beautiful. Drag queens usually liked to be called “she,” and it wasn’t hard to think of her that way.
A single piano started behind her, not as good as her voice, but okay.
“Love wraps me in its arms. What else can I say? I was made that way. Can’t help it.”
Not a sound—no cough, snort, or giggle—interfered with the music. That might mean that every person in the room could hear Jamal’s cock screaming for release from his pants.
Had he ever seen anyone so gorgeous?
She walked a few steps, the dull shimmer of the simple dress hugging hard thighs and showing an expanse of well-shaped calf. “How can I help it if men can’t get enough?”
Pale, fragile, she looked slim as a model, but her bare arms in the long ice-blue gown showed a pattern of musculature under the smooth skin. She stood about five ten, so she’d have been a tall female had she been one.
She lifted her lips the tiniest bit in a smile. His heart hammered. “I may look like an angel, but made from mortal stuff.”
Angel was right.
Oddly, though she could have passed for a woman pretty much anywhere, Jamal’s dick knew she wasn’t. What was it? Some quality of maleness, or maybe of not-femaleness. He liked women, but he liked Trixie more. Much more.
She stared straight out at the audience for the first time. The guy at the next table actually sighed.
“I fell in love when I didn’t want to. Whatever can I do?” She raised a hand and pulled a tendril of hair away from her face, then tickled her lips with it. There were laws against that kind of sexy. Manslaughter laws.
“Can’t help it.”
The light went out. Silence. Then the place went nuts. People cheered, stomped, and screamed. The spotlight came back up on Lucretia. Trixie LaRue was gone.
Jamal looked at Will, who was staring at him with a little smile. “Will she come back?”
Will shook his head.
Jamal turned back to the stage and watched the queen do her big finale—jokes and interaction with the audience. He couldn’t focus. He felt like someone had kicked him in the stomach. Or lower. Finally the cast took their bows—but with no appearance by Trixie. The lights came up and the waitresses began circulating.
Noah grinned, his long brown hair falling over the scarred half of his face. “Did you like your present?”
Jamal’s head kind of moved in a circle. “Yeah. But where’s she from?” He couldn’t believe a talent like that hung out in an obscure club. Hell, she could be the biggest thing to ever hit drag. She could walk the runways.
Will shook his head. “No idea. We asked some questions when we first saw her but never got any real answers. They never publicize her appearances, so people show up and take their chances.”
“We lucked out.”
Noah sipped the last of his beer. “Not completely. We noticed that she does seem to come fairly often on Thursdays. I think others here probably figured out the same thing. That’s why the audience is so full.”
Will put a hand on Noah’s arm. “We thought you’d like. She’s totally your type.”
Jamal shook his head. “She’s not a type, man. She’s one of a kind. She’s gotta be transsexual, right?”
“Maybe. But trans people and drag queens don’t always mix, so I’m not so sure.”
“Wouldn’t you love to know her story?”
Will chuckled. “Not as much as you would, I bet.”