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 cup of coffee, a basket of particularly tantalizing strawberries, and a ridiculously overpriced little Victorian bronze statuette of John the Baptist 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 warmup suits he kept in the closet beside the front door specifically for such purposes, to be pulled on in an instant if he needed to run outside for any reason, to get milk or a newspaper or a latte or a doughnut, 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 were usually worn without underwear, so that his cock and balls were completely visible and the back seam rode deep into the cleavage of his ass; the zipper of the hoodie usually rested just below his sternum and the hem frequently rode up to reveal the low waistband and an inch or so of bare skin; Danny was only a little warmer and scarcely more decent than if he'd just gone out naked. 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 and unselfconscious.
When he reached the Parrot and entered the dim barroom, he paused in the door to pull off his hat and drop into it his PDA and wallet and keys, which had been 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 because of Aunt Tittie's parrot-like voice and penchant for brilliant, sometimes violent colors; but the name was carried to its furthest possible extreme in the décor. The dark-paneled walls of the large, squarish barroom were covered in beefcake photography punctuated with pictures of parrots rendered in every possible medium, from expensive Audubon lithographs to cheap tropical-destination postcards, from 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 upholstery and peeped out of the bamboo pattern of the carpet; and two full-sized parrots stood on big parrot-decorated 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 her bar. She wore an elaborate apricot beehive wig with glittery turquoise butterflies on it, a flowing caftan of shimmering fuschia lamé embroidered with silver cord and opalescent sequins, and a very long string of huge baby-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, and the afternoon bartender, Sydney, a tall dark-haired man of unguessable age and indistinct features, polishing glasses and watching television with the sound off. Disco music issued quietly from the 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 screech, which the live parrot near her mimicked perfectly.
"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 skewered on a little plastic sword. He beamed a grateful smile at Sydney, who had to turn away to hide the 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 if I fucked you."
"What makes you think I respect you now?" Tittie arched an eyebrow at him. "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 boyfriends and 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 belles, no circuit beauties. Most of them can't even make 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 the usual round, 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 a three doors to the left, across the street from that terrible hotel they tried to turn into a Painted Lady."
"The Brat, off Polk by the painted hotel," Danny repeated and jotted the information into his PDA, "Thank you!"
"I guess you're welcome," Aunt Tittie sniffed, "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 ideas 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 they can't have. That's why they hustle."
"I suppose you're right," Danny doubted his theory instantly, and considered abandoning the project if for no other reason than to placate 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'm right soon enough," Tittie shrugged and finished her drink, "I guess slumming is at least educational. Just be careful, 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 refresh her cocktail, "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.
"Or bottom, depending how they like it. Hah!" Aunt Tittie barked a bitter laugh that was almost a sneer.
"Hah!" echoed the parrot.