It starts with his looks: his face is exquisite, a pretty oval just squared enough to be handsome as well, with high stately cheekbones and a strong sculpted jaw, framed by a dense cherubic halo of loose ebony curls; his eyes are large and almond-shaped with the suggestion of a faunish slant, his irises the soft warm gray of woodsmoke with wisps of lavender and sparks of gold, fringed in black lashes as thick and long as sable fur, and topped by dense and sharply arched black brows; his mouth is large and luscious, the rich red of ripe cherries, an architecturally scrolled upper lip and plump pillowy lower lip, the corners quirked with little dimples, covering toothpaste-commercial teeth revealed in a devastating smile; his nose, where even the best faces go a little wrong, is quintessential — perfectly straight, perfectly centered, exactly the right length and width for his face, with an aristocratic bridge, a slightly upturned tip, and delicate nostrils; his complexion is milk-white, as clear and poreless as a baby's, with spanked strawberry cheeks, still virtually beardless at the age of twenty-two.
This stunning face stands atop a tall body of classical proportions, long and slender but opulently muscled, broad-shouldered and narrow-hipped; his pectorals, deltoids, and biceps are voluptuously rounded, as are his thighs and buttocks, his back is deep and smooth, his laterals acutely tapered; but his belly and loins are lean and tight, a tiny waist etched with the requisite six-pack abs and a wonderfully delineated pelvic girdle with traceries of colorless veins; his forearms and calves are slim and shapely, with delicate wrists and ankles, his hands and feet large and elegantly attenuated, with clear glossy nails and pampered cuticles; his only proportional imperfection is found in his genitals, which are much too big (though most would count this an asset rather than a flaw), and by no means ungainly and quite beautiful in their own right as far as shape and color; his skin is thick and velvety smooth, completely without mark or blemish, and graced by only the merest feathering of silky black hair at the armpits and pubis.
His body is also agile and endowed with an amazing sense-memory, able to repeat any action perfectly with minimal practice, trained to dance a waltz or throw a punch with equal ease, as well as to ride a horse, hit a tennis-ball, play a piano, parry a foil, run a marathon, type seventy words a minute, and toss a football. His every movement, from the most instinctive to the most rehearsed, is as graceful as ballet, a true poetry of motion.
Danny's beauty is not just skin-deep, either: he has a beautiful mind, a remarkably retentive memory and a genius IQ disciplined and developed with the best liberal-arts education money can buy, conversant in music, art, languages, literature, science, history, and all the social graces; and he has a beautiful spirit, sweet-natured, gentle, generous, honorable, and unfailingly kind. His voice is beautiful, a sonorous baritone with a supple feline growl under the surface, able to sing light opera and showtunes, to declaim Shakespeare and murmur the sweetest of nothings; and he even smells beautiful, his sweat has a soft woodsy scent and his skin smells of fresh bread baking.
And since Fortune heaps her blessings on Danny Vandervere with a ladle rather than a teaspoon, all that beauty was born into wealth and privilege, where it could be properly nourished and cultivated, rather than taking its chances in a Midwestern trailer park or an Eastern bloc backwater. Danny's family is very rich with very old money: the third-largest landowners in California, the Vanderveres received a grant of just over one million acres of tree-covered mountains in the northern Coastal range when the state entered the Union in 1850; they are also the largest paper producers in the state, and Vandervere Mills supplies the tissues, towels, and seat-covers to over eighty percent of the public restrooms in the western U.S.
The paper-mill profits are added annually to a family trust of venerable age and staggering size, which pays Danny and his numerous relatives very comfortable allowances; he also inherited several millions from his Great Aunt Mathilda shortly after graduating from Stanford, which allowed him to buy property in the form of two apartment buildings on a quiet side-street in San Francisco's Castro district, one of which houses his own spacious and expensively furnished flat.
Of course, in an ideal placement, Fortune would have given Danny into a family that was warm and loving; instead, she gave him a family that was not only cold and distant but which actively disliked the too-beautiful and too-gentle child in their midst, so different from the rest of the handsome, arrogant clan — but at least they could afford to hire servants to love him, so though he felt the lack of familial affection, he also knew he was indeed loved and never complained.
And this underlines the beauty of Danny's nature: he knows exactly how blessed he is, and is profoundly grateful for his blessings. He enjoys his own beauty the way one can usually only enjoy another's, and he enjoys his money and privileges as if he hadn't always had them; but he never once thought his beauty or wealth made him better than others, never felt entitled to anything because of them — they were just the blind facts of his existence, a parcel of extraordinary luck that had nothing to do with his worth as a human being.
It was exactly that question, what does make a man worthwhile as a human being, that Danny pondered as he lay in bed that particular Thursday morning in May. He was drifting in the warm thoughtful euphoria between his first orgasm of the day and his first shower of the day, enjoying the late-morning sunlight filtering through his sheer caramel silk curtains, gleaming on the blond burl pearwood Empire furniture and dancing on the edges of the Venetian mirror over the small gas fireplace, reviewing his life and finding it quite satisfactory but still missing something.
He believes that everyone has worth just by existing, but that it's what one does with one's existence that makes one worthwhile; and he had absolutely no idea what he wanted to do with his existence. He had no career ambitions, no vocation to make the world a better place, no vision of his future, no clue how to proceed — he had the talents and resources to do anything he wanted, but he didn't want to do much of anything.
His only real desire, the only thing he wanted that he couldn't buy or charm his way into, was to fall in love — the kind of love one finds in date-night movies and popular music. His entire ethos of love could be summed up in the lyrics of a particular song: "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."
And though numerous men and a few women have professed to love Danny, he never really believes them: a world that allows unreciprocated love is too cruel to countenance; so he always assumes that since he does not love them, they must not really love him, they are simply infatuated by his beauty.
But he keeps searching, meeting new people and going to bed with them, having tricks and flings and brief affairs, "auditioning" the role of Lover; and instead of love, he gets an awful lot of sex. But he is a young man who truly loves sex, enjoys every moment of it no matter who his partner is; for though he vastly prefers men to women, and has a preference for hot men over homely men, he's not exclusive to those preferences: anyone who wants him can have him (within reason, of course — some people are actively repulsive, and Danny draws the line at repulsive).
This love of sex provided him with a good hobby, if not a vocation; and his ability to take on some of God's less favored creatures made it remunerative: since Danny's name gives him access to the wealthy social elite of the city, there are a lot of men with more money than looks in his social circle; and these men are usually materially grateful for the favor shown them by such a beauty, in the form of shopping trips, jewelry, season tickets, four-star-restaurant meals, and luxurious vacations — while Danny's allowance made him quite comfortable, and his inheritance gave him security, he never has nearly as much ready cash as he is capable of spending, for his tastes are extravagant and frequently beyond his own substantial means.
But this hobby did not make Danny feel that his life was worthwhile, and as he lay there in his warm bed late on a Thursday morning in May, alone for the first time in a week, he pondered what he could do that would make him feel worthwhile. A young man of his background usually goes into business or into philanthropy, but neither of these things interest Danny: even discussing business bores him to tears, so the idea of applying himself to the stock market or executive management chills his soul; and though he gives generously to a variety of charities, he discovered after volunteering in a free clinic one summer during college, extended contact with the needy makes him feel terrible, saddened by the ugliness of the world and impotent to offer enough help.
So, aside from falling in love, there was nothing that suggested itself to him. And as the semen on his belly started feeling clammy to his skin, he gave up pondering the question and went to take a shower.
*****Some time later, after his shower and his morning moisturizing regimen, then his coffee and his breakfast of yogurt and cantaloupe, seated at his Chippendale marquetry secretaire and scanning the calendar and email on his sleek and unnecessarily powerful computer, Danny felt a frisson of discomfort when he saw how little there was: aside from his usual daily visit to the gym — Thursday featured Pilates and aerobics followed by Shiatsu and river-rock massages — he had nothing planned; and the few emails he received were from distant friends, there were no invitations or suggestions for anything to do in the afternoon and evening.
It was like one of those peculiar moments at a noisy dinner party when all of the various conversations die down at the same moment, and the unease of the ensuing silence is elongated by an almost instinctive fear of being the first to break it.
Danny felt just such a reluctance to break the silence; he knew all he had to do was say "yoo-hoo" to any of a hundred men in his address book, and the chosen would come running; but something held him back, some suspicion that maybe this sudden dearth of social obligation was A Sign, that maybe he needed to spend some time alone after all.
As he pushed away from his desk and padded into the kitchen to assemble his pre-workout smoothie and vitamins, he tried to think of something to do by himself in the afternoon and evening. His childhood accustomed him to solitary pursuits, as his brothers and cousins were several years older than him and loathed him besides, and there had been no other children with whom to play; so though he is a voraciously social animal, he is also perfectly content on his own.
I could go to the movies, he thought as he assembled various powders and elixirs in a blender with some ice cubes, raw milk, and fresh blackberries, then set the machine to 'frappe.' But I've already seen everything that's out now, he countered himself while shaking pills out of the eleven bottles of supplements that stood in a row beside the toaster and dropping them into a footed Steuben candy dish, and none of them were worth seeing again. When the liquid in the blender reached a murky but uniform shade of mauve, Danny poured it into a tall glass, perched himself on the black granite counter with the candy dish between his thighs, and tuned into a Spanish-language soap opera on the tiny television mounted under the brushed steel cabinets.
I could go to a new restaurant, he thought as he started washing down pills, three at a time, with hearty gulps of the cold bittersweet smoothie; something is bound to have opened in the last few days, he fondly remembered inadvertently fooling various budding restaurateurs into thinking he was a food critic when he dined alone in a new restaurant, as he often ordered three or four entrees and at least two desserts so that he could experience as much of the menu as possible. But that would require research, and I'm not in a research mood, he shrugged as he put his empty glass in the sink and poured the last of the coffee into his mug.
Danny admired his dim reflection in glances at the glass-fronted bookcases that lined his back hallway as he walked to his dressing-room, a former bedroom that he'd had lined with built-in wardrobes of flame mahogany with mirror-backed doors and fragrant cedar linings. He set his coffee cup down on the glass top of the Art Deco mahogany dressing table that stood in front of the red-silk-shaded window and took up a big silvery bottle of 75-SPF sunscreen. He studied himself critically in the large circular mirror as he anointed himself with sunscreen to protect his milky skin from the aging ravages of the sun, but found nothing to criticize, until he was completely coated except for his face (which took a different kind of sunscreen) and a small spot in the middle of his back (which he couldn't reach).
There's always shopping, Danny thought as he seated himself at the dressing table and started work on his face, carefully applying the expensive Swiss sunscreen with gentle fingers, it's been over a week since my last trip, all my favorite shops will have new merchandise, he mused as he brushed another type of sunscreen into his hair and onto his brows and lashes; but I'm already more than halfway through this month's allowance, I'd better not go on a spree.
Crossing over to the wardrobe that held his gym gear (there were five wardrobes, each one containing a different type of clothing arranged in increasing degrees of formality), Danny briefly pondered the multiplicity of choices available, but decided to just put on whatever was on top of each pile: a white cotton tricot jock that lifted his genitals out of the way and bundled them into an eye-popping package; skin-tight fleece shorts in mottled gray with a sunny yellow sport-back tank that let his nipples peek out when he turned; white ankle socks with his favorite dirty white cross-trainers; and a dust-colored hooded sweatjacket and a matching sun-visor that he settled into his hair to provide even more solar protection to his face.
No, I've done all those things, Danny said to himself as he went back down the hall to the foyer, stopped in the kitchen to drop off his coffee cup and get his water bottle out of the refrigerator, then grabbed his handheld computer and its headphones off his desk, settled a pair of amber-lensed aviator glasses over his eyes, and headed out the door, what I need is something new, something different, something I've never done before.
He checked his voicemails on the little handheld, a three-by-five hunk of high-end technology housed in a titanium case, containing a phone, an internet browser, an email server, a global positioning system, a music player, a contact database that even Danny's extensive social circle couldn't fill up, several games, and a camera that takes high-quality stills and videos; there were only two messages, both from complaining tenants from his second building, a ten-unit block of studios and one-bedrooms that was falling to pieces and used up all of its rental income in repairs; Danny was a little disappointed that there wasn't more, or anything of a social nature, but also a little bit relieved that his as-yet-unformulated solitary adventure wouldn't be interrupted.
I could just get in the car and drive somewhere, Danny thought as he cued up a playlist of up-tempo piano concerti and tucked the handheld into his pocket, envisioning himself on winding mountain roads with the top down on his hunter-green 1963 E-Type Jaguar roadster and bel canto opera blaring out of the Bang & Olufson speakers; I could find some out-of-the-way place, stop for the night, go exploring in the morning, he focused his attention on people-watching, or more specifically watching people watching him: he loved the reactions from passersby, the feel of darting eyes on his body, the heat of lust inspired by his beauty and his shamelessly displayed body; he particularly loved to make eye-contact with those who ogled him, dazzling them with a smile, and when they didn't meet his eyes he would touch himself in whatever spot they were staring at, as if to scratch an itch or adjust a garment, making them bug their eyes or trip over their own feet.
But then I'd have to reschedule my mani-pedi tomorrow, and I hate to give up my regular appointment, he nixed the road trip with a shrug and a glance at his cuticles, three of which were slightly less than perfect. Once he'd cleared the crowds on 16th Street and started the ascent up Twin Peaks toward his gym, he broke into a jog and counted out his increasing heart rate while humming breathily along with a particularly bouncy Mozart piece as he climbed the vertiginous route up to the Burnett Gardens Health Spa just below the Twin Peaks Resevoir.
Danny was glowing from exertion when he entered the vast glass atrium of the health club, his cheeks rosy and his skin dewed, his hair ruffled and his eyes bright; the uphill half-mile from Castro to the gym obviated the need to warm up on a cardio machine, which he found tedious... he'd been a cross-country runner in high school and college, and he hated to run on a treadmill, indoors with unchanging views on a boringly even surface.
The Burnett Gardens Health Spa, a glittering green-glass cube wedged into the steep hillside with dazzling views of the City, started life in the mid-80s, built on the site of an abandoned school by the legendary Parker Weintraub, a former physique model and brilliant entrepreneur, to capitalize on two up-and-coming trends: the suddenly popular body-building machines of the trendy gyms, and the luxurious services of the spas being frequented by the self-indulgent new Yuppie class. Over the years, though, as the Yuppies aged or moved on, word got around town about Weintraub's practice of hiring only the most beautiful men as trainers, masseurs, and gym staff; the health-club became dominated by wealthy matrons and well-to-do older gay men who felt it necessary to temper their figure-keeping exertions with extensive pampering, and who liked a generous helping of eye-candy with their workouts.
Weintraub had built on a lavish scale, backed by the immense resources of a wealthy older benefactor, in a chilly but elegant high-tech style: three stories tall, with rooms enclosed by sliding etched glass panels, arranged in a U-shape with steel-railed galleries looking out over the glassed-in courtyard with its immense black-granite swimming pool and lofty tropical trees; the first floor was given over to the pool and hot tubs, saunas, changing-rooms, and a juice-bar; the second floor was made up of studios for dance, aerobics, and weight-machines; and the third floor was devoted to the spa facilities, with serene little cubicles for massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, mud baths, paraffin baths, herb wraps, and all the latest holistic therapy treatments; cantilevered staircases of steel mesh and a pair of glass elevators connected the galleries to each other and to the parking-garage beneath, but interior staircases and elevators allowed the modest or unsightly to get from one floor to another without being seen by the general populace in the atrium.
Danny never used those interior stairs: he was eye-candy. Wearing scant and slutty clothes to his workouts, sauntering up the atrium stairs in a towel and still wet from the shower on his way to the third floor for a massage, and giving the bored housewives and old queens something tasty to look at in the weight-rooms and exercise classes, these were the services for which Parker Weintraub waived the staggering membership and usage fees for the troop of built and beautiful young men, like Danny, who had been recruited from other gyms to decorate the place and keep the moneyed patrons' imaginations busy.
Danny stopped off in the black-and-scarlet changing room to leave his things in his locker and refill his water-bottle out of the cooler, then dashed up the stairs to the second floor for his private Pilates lesson (though not completely private... the small exercise studio was as visible as a theatre box, and Danny's exertions often drew spectators). He was a few minutes early, so passed the time by starting his stretches, slowly folding himself in half and then returning upright, repeating the bend until he could lay the palms of his hands against the polished black floor. With his back to the glass wall, he peeked between his knees to see if anyone was watching, and was slightly disappointed that no one was. On his last bend, though, he saw his Pilates instructor's big bare feet padding into the studio.
"If you were a girl, I'd fuck you," João Bragança leered with his sexy Brazilian accent, slapping Danny on his upturned ass as he entered the little studio.
"You could close your eyes and pretend," Danny winked up at him.
"No, my friend, you are too beautiful for closed eyes, and your balls are too big for pretending away. Let's start our breathing, yes?"
As João moved around the studio, turning on the calming New Age music at the stereo, counting out the breathing rhythm, and guiding him through the slow and deceptively simple movements of the Pilates program, Danny's eyes drank in the trainer's powerfully sexual beauty... though João was dedicatedly heterosexual, there existed a certain attraction and a definite sexual tension between the two men that helped Danny keep himself on track with his training: he wouldn't miss a lesson for the world, it was far too pleasurable an experience. The auditory thrill of the smooth and exotically accented voice, and the cock-jolting electrical charge Danny felt every time João touched him to correct a posture or encourage a stretch, worked in concert with the trainer's gorgeous and deeply tanned physique, casually concealed in loose white linen beach pants, to keep Danny coming back twice a week, paying cash for private lessons, arriving punctually and drawing out the session as long as he could.
João appeared to be in his mid-thirties, his bronzed handsome face graced with sexy laugh-lines, his full-lipped mouth losing its youthful blush to a flexible and sardonic smile, his ink-black eyes eloquent of long experience; but it was the physique that drew Danny into Pilates to begin with... though the face seemed a well-preserved thirty-five, the body was distinctly twenty-one, watchworks-tight and dolphin-smooth, flowing elegantly up and down from the tiniest waist that ever graced a muscular man. The first time Danny saw João around the spa, he asked Parker Weintraub about him — and learned that he was in fact in his mid-forties and hurtling into middle age with that tiny waist and twenty-one-year-old physique. Danny signed up for Pilates that same day.
Danny had always been an athlete, but this was the first time he'd really enjoyed stationary exercise: he dutifully performed his weight-training to keep his body sculpted, and spent his prescribed time on cardio machines and in aerobics classes to keep the fat off; and though he loved the rush of endorphins and the quite satisfying physical results of these exertions, it was all too much like work for him to really enjoy doing it. But Pilates was more like meditation, and Danny loved the yogic stillness, the deliberate slowness of the isometric motions, the measured breathing and the soothing music; and the results were exactly what he wanted, tightening his waist as if he had laced up a whalebone corset under his skin. After a session with João, Danny felt tall and strong, armored and powerful.
He usually felt horny, too, after forty-five minutes of watching João's drawstring pants slide ever lower on his deeply etched hips, observing the tiny wisps of soft black hair on his dramatically attenuated feet, getting whiffs of his natural musk mixed with a warm woody fragrance he used, soothed by the nubby velvet of that erotic voice. If only he weren't so strenuously straight, Danny thought. But if I fucked him, we'd use up the tension that I enjoy, and I'd stop coming.
"What are you doing tonight?" Danny asked as they entered the cool-down portion of their program, suddenly curious about the life João lived outside of the gym. Danny didn't really know very many straight men, none at all socially, and the need for an adventure prompted him to explore a hitherto unknown facet of life.
"Now, stretch to the left... I am going to the hustler bar," he answered.
"Hustler bar?" Danny was incredulous... he had been absolutely certain João was straight, and that he didn't even date the rich women in the club, much less hustle the men, "I didn't think you swung that way."
"No, not like the boy hustlers, but like the Hustler magazine," João laughed, catching Danny's misconstruction, "I think I used the wrong word. The Hustler Club, it's a tittie-bar."
"Oh!" Danny was relieved, and then dismayed... as much as he might like to spend time with João, he wasn't prepared to go into a tittie-bar to do it: he was a fan of breasts, as a rule, but the idea of having them thrust at him from every direction was distasteful; his feelings for women were above all respectful edging toward worshipful, and objectifying them the way he could and did objectify men rubbed him the wrong way.
"My girlfriend Marisa is dancing tonight, and she wants me to see her work... now stand and stretch your arms up... so I go and watch. I like the tittie-bars, though. It's like being home in Rio. Now shake it out. What are you doing tonight, my friend?"
"I don't know yet," Danny replied after he'd shaken his arms and legs loose, "I'm kind of at a loss."
"Do gays have tittie-bars?" João asked as he took Danny's head in both hands and shook his neck loose, then grasped his shoulders and gently shook him all over; it was Danny's favorite part of the workout, so intimate yet so brisk, reminding him of his nanny towel-drying his hair after a bath when he was little.
"Not that I know of," Danny replied distractedly, "but you've given me an idea. I'll see you on Tuesday, okay?"
"Have a good weekend, my friend," João hugged him warmly and went whistling off to his next appointment.
The words "hustler" and "tittie" had set off an unexpected train of thought in Danny's mind. As he headed off to his aerobics class, choosing a place near a mirror so as to be most visible to the rest of the room, and as he forced himself mechanically through the sweaty, slightly annoying paces as prescribed by the button-cute and abominably perky muscle-twink who taught the class (he particularly loathed aerobics, but his penchant for rich food had to be paid for somehow), Danny's mind dwelt on that unexpected train.
Danny had been fascinated by the idea of hustlers since he'd read John Rechy's City of Night for a Queer Lit course in his freshman year; once bitten, he'd read every book and seen every film he could find that treated of the subject. Before he'd ever considered using his own sexuality for material gain, he had fantasized what it might be like to live on (or, even better, to rescue a wonderful and beautiful young man from) that particularly seedy fringe of society, that underlit nighttime stratum of urban life where roiling sexual ambiguities and epic doses of small-scale delusion organized into a strictly separated caste system of trade, johns, and queens.
And although he knew lots of escorts and porn-stars who might have at one time or another passed through the hustler's life, they were reluctant to talk about it, and Danny never encountered any real and current denizens of that world. By the time he arrived in San Francisco, the highly visible street-cruising that he'd read about and seen in films had been cleaned up by officious authorities, driven underground to such an extent that Danny began to wonder if that world had ever really existed.
On the other hand, there was one person he knew who was reputed to have contact with that world, an immense and florid old drag queen named Lady Titania Cunard but affectionately called "Aunt Tittie." She was the old-fashioned kind of drag queen, patently false and slightly ridiculous but imbued with genuine strength and dignity, fitted out in a towering red wig (like as not emblazoned with an enormous rhinestone tiara) over a featurelessly round but dramatically painted face, a perilously overweight six-foot frame draped in brilliantly beaded gowns and flowing chiffon robes, enormous feet puffy and painful in pointed stiletto shoes, great hammy hands blazing with huge glassy rings and bright acrylic fingernails, screaming cheerfully in a sexless but raucous voice like a parrot's.
Danny met her at an AIDS fundraiser in a big circuit-club, one of the few places where the Drag Courts and Society gays might ever intersect. They'd become fast friends when Danny demonstrated knowledge of the origin of her nickname (from a Nöel Coward short story so obscure that each was convinced nobody else had ever read it); and since Aunt Tittie held court daily in a bar she owned on Market Street called The Parrot Pub, not far from Danny's apartment, he began to use the convenient corner bar as a meeting-place for dates and so saw her at least once a week for cocktails.
Conversing over a perfectly-mixed dry martini and whatever fluorescent tropical concoction Tittie was drinking that day, she would regale Danny with gossipy tales of scores of people he didn't know, recounting episodes of the drag queens and shopkeepers and fetishists who populated her strange world; but Aunt Tittie's most-aired gossip was her own hobby of collecting hustlers. It seemed that every week there was a new one, some trashy boy breaking her heart and dipping into her purse.
Danny never quite believed that the stories Aunt Tittie told were strictly true, though. They all seemed so fanciful, it almost seemed that Tittie took ordinary people she knew slightly and embroidered them into fantastical characters for the sole purpose of entertaining herself and her friends. The drag queens couldn't possibly do so many outrageous things during a single week, the shopkeepers couldn't possibly be so wittily rude to paying customers and stay in business, and the kinks of leathermen and bears and tranny-chasers couldn't possibly be so extreme without landing them in the Emergency Room; and a queen of Aunt Tittie's advanced years couldn't possibly handle so many boys and still manage her extensive social calendar.
Still, these fabled creatures must be based on real-life models; and if anybody of Danny's acquaintance would know where to find a hustler bar in modern San Francisco, it would be Aunt Tittie. Danny debated, while showering in the first-floor changing-room (lingering unnecessarily over the soaping-up for the benefit of a small audience), whether to call Aunt Tittie at home and risk interrupting her during the sacrosanct ritual of making up for the evening, or if he should wait until five when she would be installed with her cocktail and stories at the end of her bar for Happy Hour.
He was anxious to find out about the possible existence and location of a hustler bar, but decided by the end of his shower that it would be unwise to interrupt her at her makeup table, having done so once and been taken aback by her uncharacteristic savagery. So instead of going for his phone, Danny rinsed out his sweaty clothes in the shower and hung them in the hot laundry room to dry, then tied a tiny damp towel loose and low on his hips and headed upstairs for his massages.
Preoccupied as he was with plans for the evening, he was nevertheless deliciously aware of his own power to draw admiration to himself as he loped easily up the stairs, glistening and tight and perfect, his big cock heavy and bloated from exertion and fantasy perfectly visible through the thin towel and bouncing from thigh to thigh as he walked along the open galleries; he didn't take time to stop and look at himself in the many reflective surfaces on his way to the third floor, at least not until he got to his massage room and had a moment to study himself unobserved in the full-wall mirror there.
Though Danny was by no means ashamed of his vanity, he didn't like to be seen preening in front of mirrors: he preferred for people to think that he was largely unaware of his great beauty, and that all this exercise and personal maintenance was done just for the fun of it: Danny was well aware that the world is quick to reward beauty, but even quicker to punish conceitedness.
He noted the almost immediate effect of the combined Pilates and aerobics sessions, focusing particularly on the attenuation of his dimpled buttocks and pelvic girdle flexing beautifully above the white highlight of the towel; dropping the towel and trying out a few artistic poses, he considered that he should scale back on his shoulder-work, as his deltoids were becoming somewhat striated — which, if let develop too far, would ruin the lush fluidity of his upper body.
The theme of his body-work was to create a light and voluptuous sculpture, with rich curves in the upper and lower body, and all the tension concentrated at the waist; the power should be in movement rather than in mass, and the most compelling movement should be pelvic and therefore sexual. Anything that made Danny look as if he were capable of or inclined toward any kind of manual labor or feats of pure brutish strength would destroy the gleaming elegant perfection of line that he sought.
Danny was not alone with his reflection for long; he exchanged a few distracted pleasantries with his masseur, Moe (short for Mtombo, an extremely tall and stately Tanzanian with huge hands, glossy skin the color of pumpernickel bread, and a meticulously shaved and monumentally handsome head), and lay face-down on the warm padded table to let Moe do his work; as he pushed and kneaded at Danny's muscles, Moe habitually sang pop tunes very quietly and at the tempo of a requiem, his Commonwealth-accented basso profundo soothing and reverent despite the nonsensical lyrics.
The sexual tension that Danny enjoyed with his Pilates instructor would not have worked with his masseur; he and Moe had engaged in a brief but intense affair when Danny first started coming to him for massages, getting to know each other's bodies quite intimately and burning out any physical curiosity or reticence they might have experienced. They remained friends afterward, as Danny usually did when his affairs ended, and Moe's practiced familiarity with Danny's every muscle and nerve-ending made his massages infinitely more effective and satisfying.
But while Danny usually turned his mind off during these sessions and let the pleasure and comfort of the massage take over his entire consciousness, closely following the progress of Moe's enormous strong hands as they addressed one muscle group and then another, today his fantasies about the proposed evening in a hustler bar filled his mind and distracted him from the massage.
And so as Moe worked his magic unheeded, Danny pondered what it was, exactly, that made hustlers so glamorous in his mind. He supposed that it was, for the most part, a natural envy of one socioeconomic class for another — though your average starving street hustler would probably be better justified in envying the comfort and security with which Danny had always lived, your average privileged youth nevertheless admires the possessionless and connection-free life of the runaway, who can move from one time and place to another without carrying or arranging for anything, without telling anyone or seeking anyone's permission.
But the real attraction for Danny was the immediacy of the hustler's life, or at least the hustlers' lives he'd read about: everything in these young men's lives was of-the-moment, everything happened to them unexpectedly, their concerns seldom reached beyond the next five minutes, the next twenty dollars, the next meal, the next shelter for the night. They had big dreams about suddenly "making it," winning security and comfort without any effort on their own part, but had no real ambition to be anything other than what they were, no concept of their own age or mortality. They took life as it came, adapting to new circumstances without even realizing that the circumstances had changed, carried through time on a smooth stream of unimaginative carelessness.
"On your back, now," Moe instructed, giving Danny an affectionate slap on the butt.
Underlying the glamorous immediacy, there was also a sort of "noble savage" assumption, held by many intelligent people, that unintelligent people are by nature happier than intelligent people. A young man who wanders through life without considering or even being aware of the subtler ramifications of that life must by necessity be happier than someone who was all too aware of them and couldn't help but think about them; a boy too stupid to realize that he would soon lose his looks, get old, and die, too dense to consider the thousands of possible outcomes and consequences of his every action, must exist in a state of bliss unimaginable to a boy who was plagued by such thoughts and who sometimes couldn't sleep at night for worrying over them.
This lack of intelligence, the admirable fearlessness that went hand-in-hand with common thoughtlessness, was the hallmark, in Danny's imagination, of the street hustler; and though he knew their lives to be sordid, dangerous, hardscrabble existences, he believed they were infinitely freer and happier than himself, more involved in the moment and less burdened by doubts. These literary representations of hustlers seemed so deliciously uncomplicated, and Danny loved them for it.
"Will we be having the 'happy ending' this afternoon?" Moe growled enticingly after finishing Danny's massage at the groin, wrapping his enormous hand around Danny's inevitable massage-induced erection.
"I think I'll save it up for later, Moe," he replied, sitting up and draping his arms around the masseur's waist, resting his head against the taller man's chest.
"Heavy date tonight?" Moe rubbed the excess massage-oil from Danny's skin with a warm, rough towel, again invoking that long-ago nanny and the brisk comfortable intimacy of being cared for.
"I certainly hope so," he smiled, tucking his hard cock under his thigh in hopes of discouraging it with discomfort.
"I'll go get your river-rocks, then, and save this up for later, too," Moe lewdly grasped his great cock, as monumental and handsome as the rest of him, through his white uniform pants.
Danny reached out and ran his hand over the long linen-wrapped bulge, more than tempted to revisit it but still determined to save his next orgasm for later, "I think I'll skip the river-rock massage today, sweetheart, I don't think I can sit still for it."
"It is awfully boring, isn't it? Just laying there with hot rocks on your back, and I don't even get to touch you! Some of my clients seem to need the down-time, but I'll be glad when the fad is over. You'd better stop pulling like that: if you're not going to come, I don't want to, either. How about a sea-salt and bilberry rubdown instead? It will make you feel tingly and nice."
"I already feel tingly and nice, thanks," Danny hopped off the table and wrapped his scant towel around his waist, trying to concentrate on something unpleasant (dead puppies, maggoty garbage) so that his cock would lay down and behave, "and hungry. I'm going to go have lunch instead. But you make sure to charge Parker for the sea-salt and bilberry scrub, anyway."
"That was my intention. When you schedule an appointment, I sign my time-card for the appointment, whether I'm putting rocks on your back or playing with myself alone," Moe winked at him and ruffled his hair, then went about tidying the room for his next massage, "I'll see you on Monday, yes?"
"Absolutely! Have a good weekend!"
Danny made his way back down to the ground floor, relaxed and lively and half-hard still, and decided on a short pore-opening sit in the steam-room before he got dressed. The spacious and extraordinarily clean chamber was a little too busy, though, with four old men fiddling with themselves under their towels while watching a pair of young exhibitionists put on a bit of a show in the corner, so Danny left again without breaking a sweat. After washing off the remaining massage oil in his third (and by no means last) shower of the day, he carefully reapplied his various moisturizers and sunscreens and slipped his just-dry clothes over his gleaming skin, then went back to the locker room to put on his socks and shoes in order to be seemly for his usual after-workout lunch.
Though the long counter and group of tables at the end of the pool was designated as the "Juice Bar," it was in fact a full-service restaurant offering a rotating menu of highly nutritious gourmet salads and entrées along with the usual protein shakes and fruit smoothies; the club's resident nutritionist had also concocted a series of "mocktails" to serve in place of aperitifs and wine, strange but interesting blends of herbal essences and fruit extracts with healthful properties, elaborately garnished and served in traditional cocktail glasses.
Seated at his favorite table overlooking the swimming-pool, his body humming with endorphins, picking at a huge slab of steamed mahi-mahi on a bed of spinach wilted with a warm citron vinaigrette and tossed with blood-orange wedges and asparagus pickles, sipping at a huge cobalt bottle of Italian mineral water and occasionally clearing his palate with a ruby-colored aperitif concocted of cava-cava with pomegranate and cranberry essences, and leafing through a local lifestyle magazine in search of pictures of himself or his friends at various Social events, Danny felt perfectly happy.
"This is living," he said to himself, gloating over how good he looked in an unusually clear picture taken of him drinking champagne with a Pulitzer-winning playwright at a fundraising event for one of the local theatre groups.
"Talking to yourself, Beauty?" Parker Weintraub asked, ruffling Danny's hair as men so frequently did, and seating himself at Danny's table, "You're too young to start slipping into dementia."
"I was just expressing my appreciation to the Powers-That-Be for how good I feel right now," Danny replied, leaning over to give Parker a peck on the cheek, resting his head slightly against Parker's face for a moment and leaning his hand on Parker's shoulder. Among Danny's many invaluable social skills was his ability to remember how hundreds of different people liked to be greeted — with a wave, a handshake, a hug, a touch, air-kisses, damp or dry pecks on the cheek or the lips, or full open-mouthed kisses — everyone had a favorite, and Danny always gave each of them what they wanted.
"Prayers of gratitude, is it? And to nameless gods? How New Age of you. A sure sign of mental slippage," the older man laughed, snapping his fingers at the passing waiter, who responded speedily by setting down a tall frosted glass of iced green tea before his employer, "Any good piccies of yourself on the Society pages, pet?"
"Just two this month, at the Players' Guild fundraiser and at that silly gallery opening. But that's just Westbay View, I haven't seen the other magazines yet," Danny slid the open magazine around the corner of the black-marble table so Parker could see it. As Parker studied the magazine, Danny studied him, wondering if he would look anything like that himself in thirty years' time.
Parker had not aged as gracefully as Danny thought he should; just past fifty, he still retained the excellent physique and razor-elegant bone-structure of his youth as a model and professional sweetheart (not unlike Danny himself), but he had unfortunately clung a little too long to that youth, and ended up looking just a trifle desperate: his skin was too deeply tanned and too tightly stretched, resembling a well-cured leather; his hair was suspiciously thick in the front, with someone else's locks woven in to his own thinning hair, which was dyed too dark and cut in a style far too foppishly tousled for an adult; his clothes were similarly too-youthful, trendy to the point of being a caricature of the trends, and leaning toward the slutty. Instead of presenting an image of the mature successful businessman he was, he looked like a party-boy who'd been left out-of-doors in the rain.
He was still great-looking, of course, nothing could obscure the beauty that had been the moneymaker of his youth, winning him a legion of wealthy admirers, one of whom left him the fortune with which he built his own little fitness empire; but there was something tragic and slightly unseemly about Parker's attempts at maintaining youth, and Danny worried that he might be similarly unable to adapt when the lights went on for Last Call and youth was inescapably over.
"I don't know what you see in these people," Parker shook his head as he perused the other photographs on the page, "They're so unattractive. I mean, you'll never hear me knocking rich old boyfriends, but who dresses these women? I know that chiffon number is from Sak's, but she wears it like it's from Sears. This one needs to be told that nipples do not belong under the solar plexus. And what's with the Gloria Vanderbilt rictus grins? They all look so hungry and frightened."
"It's a WASP thing," Danny replied with a laugh, "Even when you're having fun, you're supposed to look like you're suffering. It keeps the peasants from revolting."
"Here's an exception, though," Parker pushed the magazine back with his finger pointing to a picture on the next page, "he's just about the prettiest straight-boy I've ever seen, and she looks like a cross between Grace Kelly and Nicole Kidman. And those aristocratic titles are so cute. Do you know them?"
The couple Parker was pointing out were not unfamiliar to Danny, he had seen them at various Arts events, but he'd never spoken to either of them... they belonged to a different echelon altogether, moving in that most rarified circle of the super-rich with the Gettys and the Spreckleses, the Hollywood celebrities and the visiting royalty of foreign nations; it was in some ways a literal circle, a close-herded flock for which the bodyguards that came to keep an eye on their diamonds created a sort of Armani-clad wall between them and the merely Social like Danny.
"I don't know them to speak to, but I've seen them around. 'Baron de Seguemont and Marquesa Willard-Wilkes at the Players' Guild,'" Danny read the caption aloud, studying the ethereally beautiful youth with his stunningly beautiful female companion; he was in impeccable black-tie, and the contrast of the starched white and sharp black with his romantically long silvery-blond hair, softly petulant rose-petal mouth, and huge pale green eyes was fascinating; she was dressed in a dramatic gown of deep blue jersey and wore an enormous square yellow jewel on a diamond chain around her neck, with an immense mane of auburn curls cascading around a pale and exquisite pre-Raphaelite face that did indeed combine the dreamy perfection of Kelly and the fiery delicacy of Kidman, "They're way out of my league... Vanderveres are front Grand Tier, but these people are strictly Private Box."
"I'd like to get down the front of his box," Parker leered, leaning over the magazine, "those girly little straight-boys totally push my buttons."
"He is awfully pretty. And she does have admirable style as well as great beauty, a rare combination in that circle. Though I never understood how she could have a Spanish title and an English name."
"Maybe it's a nickname, like Baby or Princess or something," Parker shrugged, turning the page, "or maybe she's Spanish and married an Anglo, but got to keep her title anyway. Here they are again at the Opera; I wonder if they're engaged to be married? They'll make some damned pretty babies. But look at this old bag... she must be a hundred, and she's painted up like a blind hooker! And a hat in the evening! Precious!"
Parker and Danny continued to critique the various denizens of San Francisco's haute monde, and then moved on to critique the advertisements and photo layouts in the magazine, making up lewd fantasies about the male models and catty dialogue for the female models, laughing and enjoying themselves immensely as Danny finished his lunch.
After the magazine and the mahi-mahi were devoured, Danny excused himself and returned to the locker room to collect the rest of his things. After checking his handheld to see that no messages awaited him in his voice-mail, Danny calculated how much more time he would have to kill before he could beard Aunt Tittie in her den at The Parrot. If he walked slowly and window-shopped his way home, and changed out of his gym clothes before he walked the two blocks to the pub, he would arrive about midway through Aunt Tittie's first cocktail.
Danny dawdled down the hill as slowly as he could, pausing to look at every flower and tree in the residential areas, and every window and sign when he reached the commercial district. He flirted with good-looking passersby and stopped to chat with acquaintances encountered in various places. He even did a little light shopping, picking up a bunch of unusual russet-colored tulips for his dining table, a huge cucumber-scented candle for the bathroom, a fresh cup of tarry black coffee, a basket of particularly tantalizing organic strawberries, and a ridiculously overpriced little Victorian bronze copy of Canova's Perseus that he'd been resisting for some weeks.
By the time he reached his apartment, he had absorbed a sufficient amount of time that he could have continued on to The Parrot and been confident in finding Aunt Tittie there. He nevertheless popped inside to change, wriggling out of his gym-clothes in the front hall and pulling on a pair of velour warmup pants and a matching hoodie the color of toast; it was one of several nearly identical suits he kept in the closet beside the front door specifically for such purposes, to be pulled on over his usual at-home nakedness in an instant if he needed to run outside for any reason, to get milk or a newspaper or a latte or a croissant, but didn't want to go through a time-consuming dressing ritual.
The comfortable warmups, despite their casual purpose, were as carefully chosen, meticulously tailored, and deliberately provocative as the gym-clothes: the skin-tight velour hid nothing, and the low-rise pants hugged his pelvis lewdly and draped luxuriously around his legs; the zipper of the hoodie usually rested just below his sternum and the hem frequently rode up to reveal an inch or so of bare skin; with a pair of brown Gucci slides and a frowsy canvas bucket-hat pulled down over his curls as if to hide a case of bed-head (which never actually happened to his pampered hair), he looked erotically rumpled and easy.
When he reached The Parrot and entered the dim barroom, Danny paused in the door to pull off his hat and drop his handheld and wallet and keys into it, which had been all dangling from his left hand by their various wrist-straps (most of his pockets were purely for decoration), and let his eyes adjust to the sudden gloom.
The Parrot Pub was so named for Aunt Tittie's loud and nasal parrot-like voice and her penchant for brilliant, sometimes violent colors; but the name was carried to its furthest possible conclusion in the décor. The dark-paneled walls of the large, square bar-room were covered in beefcake photography punctuated with pictures of parrots rendered in every possible medium, from expensive Audubon lithographs to cheap tropical-destination postcards, elegant oil-paints to kitschy pebble-mosaics; brass parrots decorated the hat-trees and dim-bulbed chandeliers, as well as the bar-rail and door handles; parrots lurked in the palms of the tropical-print upholstery and peeped out of the bamboo pattern of the carpet; and two full-sized parrots stood on big brass stands at either end of the semicircular bar that emerged from the long inside wall, one live bird at the left end chattering endlessly in Spanish to no one in particular, and one robotic bird at the right end that rustled and whirred and uttered stereotypical parrot phrases whenever anyone passed it to get to the restrooms.
Even before his eyes adjusted, Danny could make out the mass of bright colors that was Aunt Tittie at the left-hand end of the bar. She wore an elaborate apricot beehive wig with glittered turquoise silk butterflies on it, a flowing caftan of shimmering fuchsia lamé embroidered with silver cord and opalescent sequins, and a very long string of huge peach-pink pearls wrapped several times around her thick neck and draped bib-like across her vast false bosom; her makeup leaned toward blues and greens, with a startling mauve lipstick, and her nails were a brilliant orange-gold... every color clashed madly, but somehow worked together, rendering her as stately and impressive as a sunset after a storm.
The bar was empty except for Aunt Tittie, who was poring over a pile of receipts and making little notes in a ledger, the afternoon bartender, Sydney, a tall dark-haired man of unguessable age and indistinct features, polishing glasses and watching television with the sound off, and the designated drunk, Paul, a seedy but expensively-dressed middle-aged man asleep at the bar with his head propped up on one hand. Vintage disco music issued quietly from the bubbling Wurlitzer jukebox, and the whole place was very peaceful; Aunt Tittie looked up from her receipts when Danny's shadow crossed the door, and she let loose with a loud screeching "Hello!" which the live parrot near her mimicked perfectly. Paul raised his head at the noise, but didn't wake up.
"Sydney," Aunt Tittie declaimed in a Stentorian bellow that was meant to pass for an imitation of Dame Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell, which the parrot promptly echoed, "I appear to be having a wet dream. If you wake me up, I'll kill you. And please bring my wet dream a dry martini."
"Good afternoon, Aunt Tittie," Danny slid into the seat next to hers and kissed her proffered hand lavishly, using a little bit of tongue on her big dry knuckles.
"Danny Vandervere, you dreadful, beautiful boy," Tittie shrilled, "what brings you out at such an early hour, and in such pornographic dishabille?"
"I have come to tap your wisdom about a certain issue," Danny replied as pompously as he could, taking a tentative sip at the martini that had been set before him. It was exactly perfect, his favorite English gin with only the merest whisper of vermouth, and two olives flanking an onion skewered on a little plastic sword. He beamed a grateful smile at Sydney, who had to turn away to mask the fluttering effect it had had on him.
"I sincerely hope that 'tapping my wisdom' is a euphemism for fucking me silly," Tittie winked broadly over the salted rim of her passion-fruit margarita, "though I suspect it only means you want to ask me a question."
"Alas, it is only answers I seek today. Besides, you'd never respect me again if I fucked you."
"What makes you think I respect you now?" Tittie arched an eyebrow at him and bit a piece of pineapple from the skewer of fruit garnishing her drink. "What is this wonderful question that only I can answer?"
"I wondered if there was still such a thing as a hustler bar."
"Well of course, darling! Where do you think I find my houseboys? Why do you ask?"
"I just had a whim to visit one, but I didn't know where one was."
"You aren't planning to turn pro are you?" Aunt Tittie turned back to her receipts and started putting them into their file, "Make sure to put me on your mailing list if you do."
"No, it's just a silly fantasy I have about hustlers, and I find myself at a loose end tonight."
"I can't imagine what you want with a hustler bar, sweetie," she took off her rhinestone-crusted reading glasses and looked Danny in the face, "That's not your scene, you know. No society beaux, no circuit beauties. Most of them can't even produce a proper cocktail."
"Can't a boy try a different scene once in a while?"
"I suppose so, but I still can't think why. But if you insist, I recommend The Brat... it's the least dire."
"Oh, but I want dire," Danny enthused, "I want something different from my usual rounds, you know?"
"There's different, darling, and there's different. In the other places, the stench alone would straighten your pretty hair. No, definitely The Brat... it's halfway up Polk Street, and three doors to the left, across the side-street from that hideous Deco hotel they tried to turn into a Painted Lady."
"The Brat, off Polk by the painted Deco hotel," Danny repeated and jotted the information into his handheld with a little stylus, "Thank you!"
"I guess you're welcome," Aunt Tittie sniffed, stirring her margarita with the fruit-skewer, "but I still can't think why you want to go there. You don't need money, do you?"
"No, thank you, love. It's just a thing I've had in my mind all day," Danny prefaced, then poured out the whole story of his fascination with hustlers and explained his theory about how hustlers were happier than ordinary people.
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard, Danny Vandervere, and I credited you with better sense!" Aunt Tittie sat back and scowled at her young friend, "Stupid people aren't any happier than anyone else, and most hustlers are too stupid to be content with their stupidity. They're always after something, anything they can get, anything they don't have. And they have nothing. That's why they hustle."
"I suppose you're right," Danny suddenly doubted his theory, and considered abandoning the project for no other reason than to please Aunt Tittie, "but I'm obsessed with the idea, I've been thinking about it and very little else all afternoon. I have to see it for myself."
"Well, you'll find I am right, soon enough," Tittie shrugged and finished her drink, "I guess slumming is at least educational. Just be careful, silly child, and don't touch anything with your bare hands if you can help it."
"Thank you, Aunt Tittie!" Danny got up and hugged her from behind, being careful to keep away from her face so as not to smudge her makeup, "You're a wonderful auntie. I had better get home. I have no idea what to wear, it'll take hours. And thanks for the drink!"
Tittie watched Danny leave and felt a certain amount of misgiving mixed with a certain amount of smug satisfaction. The Brat would not be easy on the likes of Danny Vandervere, and though she harbored a great affection for the boy, she also harbored at the same time a sort of resentment against him: nobody that beautiful could be loved without some jealousy of his beauty and the apparent ease of his life creeping in.
"That boy's going to get in trouble," she said to Sydney when he came to refill her glass from the blender and move Danny's barely-touched martini down the bar for Paul the Drunk, "Somebody ought to keep an eye on him."
"Boys like that always end up on top, though, don't they?" Sydney smiled at his boss.
"On bottom, honey. Boys like that are always bottoms! Hah!" Aunt Tittie barked a bitter laugh that was almost a sneer.
"Bottoms! Hah!" echoed the parrot. Paul woke up and finished Danny's drink, then went back to sleep.