Next: Chapters 22, 23, 24
Chapter Nineteen: The Seven of Pentacles
Nelson is outraged by Gabriel and Alex being in Eleanor’s home. He orders them out, but Gabriel challenges him by asking Eleanor what she wants. Nelson storms out, and Gabriel calls Dr. Cole and begins talking to Eleanor. She is able to tell him that she heard Nelson talking to another board member about a Nazi. She braced Nelson about the conversation and he gave her a story about something to do with art importation. He also vaguely threatened her. She remembers the name as Schleiden, an assistant to Adolf Eichmann. The board member is William Christensen.
Then a doctor who claims to be Eleanor’s shows up, and some police arrive. The doctor has more credibility with the cops than Gabriel and Alex, but at least Cole also shows up and Eleanor is taken to a hospital.
Alex accompanies Gabriel to the library where Gabriel researches Richard Schleiden and his history in Nazi Germany. Later Gabriel and Alex return to Alex’s neighborhood. While they are talking in Gabriel’s car, someone shoots at them. They are unhurt, but Alex is unnerved. Gabriel stays over with him. When Alex leaves for work the next day, Gabriel does some chores and prepares to see William Christensen, who lives in the tony town of Alpine, NJ.
Alex asks to meet with Gabriel at a bar. He says he has problems–his editor and publisher have both given him a hard time over his connection to the case and have suggested that his career is in jeopardy if he continues. Gabriel is sorry about that, and tells him he doesn’t have to be involved. Gabriel is continuing the investigation, though. Alex tries to talk him out of it. He tells Gabriel he thinks Gabriel can do better in a career than investigation. Gabriel finds Alex’s attitude insulting and walks out. Angry as hell, he calls Joel. Joel is a smartass about it, but asks if Gabriel wants to talk. He does.
Chapter Twenty: The Fool
Gabriel picks up Joel from Joel’s building in Chelsea. Joel has no hard feelings and is eager to help Gabriel out with going to Alpine. Gabriel is regretful over his fight with Joel and Veronica. Joel gives him a hard time over why he’s attracted to Alex and insists that Alex’s class issues will not fit in with Gabriel’s mission to save the world. His needling gets to Gabriel. But Joel also apologizes for having disappeared, and for what happened between them when they broke up. This gives Gabriel a mental boost.
They arrive at Christensen’s house. The supercilious house servant takes them to meet the old man. Although Joel is impertinent and Gabriel abrasive, Christensen seems oddly complacent with their arrival. Gabriel tries to interrogate him and the old man pleads ignorance. A mysterious package arrives, and Joel tells Gabriel someone had hand-delivered it to the butler. Christensen fusses with the package, which Gabriel realizes is a bomb. He pulls Joel in the hallway as it blows up, killing Christensen and his butler.
Gabriel hustles them outside, to find that a sniper is hiding in the woods on the estate. Gabriel exchanges fire with the guy, and being an excellent shot manages to hit him in the legs. After that, he has Joel drive far enough away until he feels comfortable stopping behind a mall grocery store closed for the evening.
Gabriel is distraught as he cleans the car. Joel is less so, feeling Christensen got what he deserved. Nonetheless, Gabriel feels overwhelmed from the experience. Joel embraces him to comfort him, which turns erotic in seconds. Gabriel is swept away by the feelings until he’s abruptly reminded of Joel’s actions that led to their break up. He ends the encounter before it can go further.
They go back to Gabriel’s apartment and Joel insists that Gabriel sleep while Joel watches over him. Feeling safe, Gabriel does so.
Chapter Twenty-One: The Two of Wands
The day after the incident at Alpine, Joel is hanging out with Gabriel, who’s deciding on the next move. He wants to break and enter Nelson’s apartment. With Joel’s help, a subterfuge is arranged. Gabriel gets inside and finds the apartment a strange expression of Nelson’s personality. He also finds a hidden box, and takes pictures of the items inside.
Nelson suddenly comes back, trapping Gabriel under the bed. Joel tricks Nelson to come outside and Gabriel escapes. Gabriel now feels that visiting Kent is the next thing to do–to review Kent’s notes. He can’t scare up Cheng to pay for it, so Joel fronts him the money. Before he can leave, Toni is at his door wanting to know what he’s been doing, and to demand money from him. Toni is infuriated and tells him off before leaving. Gabriel asks Joel to keep an eye on her.
Between the Pages:
- I’m moving forward now with Hard Core, the fifth in the series. And damned if Gabriel seems a million miles away from how he is in THM, and yet still the same person in another way. Of course, living with Gabriel since long before 2012, when I published THM, he is very real to me as is Joel and Veronica. The events in this book set Gabriel on a path that gets more intense with each story.
- These chapters are an example of that. Gabriel is starting to feel like it’s an everyday thing for someone to be after him, but the bomb throws him off with the gravity of the situation–people trying to kill him and Joel and Alex, and people being killed. This is going to be like dominoes. He knows what voice he wants to hear while this is going on–someone telling him that he’s doing the right thing. He needs that, because look what’s happening. People and places are being destroyed. If he’s not supposed to be doing this, he could take the blame for these people’s fates.
- But he has that voice. Joel doesn’t feel an ounce of pity for the man in Alpine or his butler. Play with Nazis, get blown up. Joel feels they are on the side of the angels, as they walk away without the proverbial scratch. From the bomb, the sniper, and from being in Nelson’s place.
- What’s harder to walk away from is the feelings between them. Now, I have what I call showcase pieces or scenes in each story. In THM, finding Raymond’s body and Gabriel getting the beatdown are two such scenes. The encounter between Joel and Gabriel is another. It’s a take on the MASH event. I was a fan of MASH from childhood and distinctly remember the episode where Hawkeye and Margaret are caught in a shack while shelling is going on. Angry and scared, they end up being intimate. Feelings from the desperation of the circumstances. Perhaps a scene like the one with Ray and Bezzerides in the penultimate episode of True Detectives Season 2 is like that, just not done well enough. But I could understand why it happened. The shake up from being so close to death and no way out takes away much of the pretense and facades they carry around. Sex is always a way of defying death.
- Gabriel is so much in self-control (and he calls Christensen a control freak) that he refuses to allow the intimacy to progress. Joel takes this remarkably well, but from Joel’s experience sex or lack thereof is not something to get angry about. He knows emotional intimacy is far more valuable, and he plays this with the trust Gabriel has in him to pull off the break-in with Nelson’s apartment and its dank, ugly art.
- Nelson’s place, with its Bosch-like paintings, is not somewhere a person can just drop by and chill. One can imagine Nelson pointing out to a visitor, “Now here you can see where Judas and Brutus are chewed on eternally in agony while just above, we have some disgraced church fathers burning in pitch…would you like some hors d’oeuvres?”
Questions for Readers:
Going back to the Hawkeye/Margaret syndrome, have you ever done something you wouldn’t have thought of doing, because you were under extraordinary circumstances?
Playlist: The scene between Gabriel and Joel is easy. Howie Day, Collide.
I’m tempted to add Zack Hempsey’s Redemption, but it’s a little too heavy, better suited for bigger scenes. The spider walk in Nelson’s apartment, and the play in Christensen’s house need more of a sparse offbeat piece, something with a dark tone. I’m going for Amy Winehouse. I was not familiar with her work, but a teacher I had this semester was a fan, and I’m giving her a listen–Back to Black.
Extras: Previous Iterations
This is a scene from the second version of Gabriel, in a story that eventually became The Hanged Man. If you think Gabriel is angsty now, in this one he starts out not realizing he’s gay, or bisexual. Joel was there too, a less complicated version of Joel, who was named Daniel then. When I read this, I have to think, when did things change? Nonetheless, it can be fun to read. In this scene Gabriel and Daniel have just finished exchanging clues with the previous iteration of Alex, Matt the reporter. They’re in Gabriel’s apartment. Daniel has taken him to various BDSM clubs to try to find some people to help them in the case. They have already shared a kiss in a previous scene, and Gabriel is coming to terms with his attraction.
“That’s scary, to think someone is watching you.” He’s standing beside me.
“I know.” I let the curtain drop. “I can’t even watch the sunset in peace.”
We’re silent for a moment. Then he says, “May I sit down, or have I worn out my welcome?”
“Please sit down.”
He chooses to sit in the armchair next to the sofa. I sit on the sofa. His choice tells me he’s being careful of not pushing the subject. I sit at the far end of the sofa, leaving plenty of space if he wants to come over. So far, I’m golden. I haven’t done anything to bring this up one way or the other. Be careful, I tell myself. Don’t get out of hand with another person’s feelings.
“What’s on your mind,” he asks me. “The case?”
“Among other things.”
He smiles and sips at his coffee. “You seem very distracted.”
“I guess I am.”
“Are you sure you just don’t want to be alone?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m glad you’re here.”
“Thanks, that doesn’t happen too often.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself, you’re a decent person.”
He just looks at me while he drinks. I feel restless, so I get up to turn on my stereo. While I’m pretending to be adjusting the controls, I’m thinking how to broach the subject naturally. I want to bring it up, but I’m afraid.
“I owe you an apology.”
I turn to him. “For what?”
He looks down at his cup. “For Wednesday night.”
“We already discussed that.” I’m deliberately misunderstanding what he’s talking about; my heart beats faster counteracting my cool demeanor.
“Not the club. At my apartment.”
He’s made the opening. “You don’t have anything to apologize for.”
“I do. That wasn’t right. I act stupidly when I’m drunk. That’s why I don’t drink that often.”
“Why did you?”
He doesn’t want to answer, stares at his cup. I want to know. I go back to the sofa, sit on the arm next to his chair. “Bad memories, I told you.”
He looks up. It’s hard for him as well. I’m forcing him to tell me. “I don’t want to ruin our budding friendship.”
“You won’t. It will help to talk about it.”
“Help who?” He sits back. “Why do you want to know? You already know. Does this amuse you?”
“I’m not using your feelings for amusement.”
His face has turned dark. “Are you sure? It’s not an ego boost to know some gay guy has a thing for you? So you want to hear about it in detail to brag to your friends?”
“My straight friends wouldn’t want to hear about it. My gay friend told me to not to hurt you.”
“Told you? You’ve already talked about me?”
Now I’m embarrassed. “I was asking advice.”
“On how to turn me down?”
We’re silent again. Not surprisingly, the new U2 CD clicks in and plays next. It’s the soundtrack to my life. “What did you talk about, then?”
This is the hardest part to say. I have to choose every word very carefully. “I asked him…I was confused about how I felt about it. I didn’t know if it brought up something in me. I wanted to know if I was actually gay and didn’t know it.” God, that was hard to say. I feel exhausted.
He’s staring at me. “My God, I didn’t know I had that kind of effect.” He’s kidding, but his voice changes when he sees I can’t look at him. “Why do you think you might be gay?”
“I wasn’t turned off by your kissing me.”
“That’s all?” He laughs. “That’s not a whole hell of lot to go on. If you said you felt like jumping into bed with me, maybe I’d see your point.”
“I don’t know what I want.”
He turns serious. “Don’t question yourself too much, Gabriel. We’re friends, and you’re under stress. You could be confusing things in your mind. Don’t try to make yourself something you’re not.”
“There goes the theory that gay men are trying to recruit others.”
“I don’t recruit anybody. They come in by their own free will, like Dracula’s guests. Some straight men aren’t as put off by kissing another man as others may be. You’re open, you have gay friends. So you didn’t run screaming outside. It doesn’t mean anything.”
I feel a little miffed he’s not buying into my confusion. “You sound pretty sure.”
He gives me a half-smile. “What, you want me to convince you that you are gay? I’m not going to. You would know if you were.”
“Maybe I’m bisexual.”
“Maybe you’re black and republican too, while you’re wondering things. You don’t just decide you’re bisexual either.”
“I’ve always had…I don’t know, indications…my God, you’re making me argue the point.”
“No, I’m not. You’re arguing it. It’s not going to be a magic answer for you, although it may seem like it. It’s not, ‘Aha, that explains everything!’ you’re just stressing out.”
“I would think,” I say without thinking, “that if you were really attracted to someone, you’d try harder.”
He sits up. “Really? Well, I don’t do that where it won’t do any good. You want me to chase you now, so you can find out what you are? Isn’t that a little unfair to me? I’m supposed to put my feelings on the line to help you have a breakthrough? Suppose you decide you were just kidding, you weren’t gay or bisexual after all. Where do you think that leaves me? I didn’t think you were the kind of person who plays with another person’s feelings just to help themselves.”
“I’m not.” I grab up my pack of cigarettes and light one, hoping I haven’t fucked myself up.
“You’re not? What did you just ask me?”
“I’m sorry. I owe you an apology. I understand why you think that. But what else am I supposed to do—forget it?”
“Yes, you are supposed to. Out of courtesy to me.”
I look directly at him. “I’m not going to. I’m willing to take a chance. That’s all you ever do in a relationship anyway, any kind of relationship. There’s never a guarantee of anything. You’ve never dated someone where it didn’t work out?”
He puts the coffee down. “You’re serious. Something must be up, because what you said almost made sense. There is no guarantee, true, but you generally start somewhere where you have a fighting chance.” We look at each other for a long moment.
“What do you want from me?”
“I don’t know.” I sit down on the sofa. “I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
He closes his eyes. Then he gets up and sits next to me. “I must be crazy, you’ve really gotten to me.” We just look at each other. He reaches for my hand. We squeeze each other’s hand tightly. He looks down, trying to work it out. “Okay. This isn’t easy for me either. You can’t put yourself into much more of a precarious position. But I think…you should be able to kiss me. That’s a step.”
I wonder for an instant what brought me to this. If I’ve dived into a well of trouble in the midst of my investigation. But I feel the reality of holding his hand, of feeling comfortable with him and glad he is there. Does it make a difference what gender he is? I think about the fact that I feel something for him, similar to feelings I’ve had for certain women in the past. It’s shockingly new yet on a deep atavistic level familiar, latent and arising.
I lean over and kiss him. And unlike at his apartment, it is longer, warmer, reciprocated. It is no different than kissing a woman, but there is the awareness of the scent of a man’s cologne, the feel of a man’s face. It is exotic rather than frightening. Our arms go around each other almost reflexively. There is nothing hard or forceful in the kiss; it varies in pressure and feeling. The lack of expectations, no assumption of moving from step A to step B allows me to enjoy it for what it is. His hand drops to my thigh and squeezes gently. I get scared, like when I was a teenager, but I will myself not to jerk away. His hand doesn’t go any further, and I begin to relax into the kiss, stopping and starting. Feeling his hands on my neck, his tongue against my teeth.
And then at some point it is over, and we draw back.
“I didn’t think that would ever happen, so it was pretty amazing,” Daniel says. “How was it for you?”
“It was…pretty amazing for me, too.” The heat from our bodies has mingled with the smoke, cologne, and faint perspiration, creating a warm intimate atmosphere.
“I’m glad to hear it. It’s a start.” He takes my hand again.
“So…what do you think?”
He shrugs delicately. “There may be something there. I’m not going to push it. Take it slowly, especially with everything else going on. I’m not going anywhere, so don’t worry that I’ll lose interest. But I should be going, I have work to do at home.”
“Okay.” I get up and walk him to the door. “I’m going to get into their apartments tomorrow, at least Parker’s and Kelly’s. I have real suspicions about Ethan.”
“Do you need help?”
“Kelly has a doorman. I’ll need help getting in there. I don’t think I’ll have a problem with Parker. He lives in a slum.”
“Call me tomorrow, and tell me what you want me to do.”
“Okay.” We kiss briefly again, and then I let him go.
Copyright 2012-2022 Alex Fiano
Page updated 08/06/2022