Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Chapter One (Complete)

Danny Vandervere woke up that morning, as he did most mornings, conscious of a great happiness. He awoke to a world where he knew himself the possessor of everything that a young man could possibly want: extraordinary physical beauty, both a shattering face and a perfectly-proportioned body complete with a big dick and a perfect ass; immense charm and social skill, guaranteeing that love and sex came at him from a hundred directions at once; plenty of money in the bank, extensive property, and a spacious apartment taking up a whole floor of a Beaux-Arts townhouse he owned outright on a desirable tree-lined Castro District street. His home was filled with dazzling state-of-the-art electronic equipment as well as exquisite art and antiques, his closets overflowed with custom-tailored designer clothes and ridiculously expensive shoes, and his private garage (an enviable luxury in its own right) boasted a jazzy and powerful racing-green Jaguar roadster that growled deliciously when it accelerated and gave him a hard-on every time he got it into fourth gear. He could not think of a single thing he lacked, and that made him very happy.

Danny stretched luxuriously, pulling and flexing every muscle in his long body one after the other, purring like a cat from the pleasure it gave him; working his way slowly into a sitting position against the cream silk pillows, he gave his sleep-bloated cock an affectionate pull and ran the tips of his perfectly manicured fingernails over one large and shiny rose-brown nipple. Indulging in a profound, jaw-stretching yawn and wiggling his long and meticulously pedicured toes, he took stock of his physical well-being — no hangover, no eye-crusts, no sourness or fuzziness in his mouth, no aches or pains anywhere — and then opened his clear young eyes on the new day.

The furnishings and hangings of his bedroom had been specifically chosen to set off his own coloring in exactly this light; the pale but earthy shades running from the cool eggshell paint of the architectural details to the faded camel velvet of the walls and curtains, the warm fleshy cream of the upholstery and bedding to the delicate honey-gold of the burl pear-wood Art Deco furniture accented the rose-gold tones of Danny's smooth milky skin and made it glow as if lit from within; the sheer amber silk curtains over the slightly open windows filtered and shifted the direct late-morning sunlight so that it danced flatteringly in his gilt-edged sable curls and large puppy-brown eyes. If the sun had been obscured by clouds, as often happened in San Francisco, or if Danny awoke significantly earlier or later than 10 a.m., the effect wouldn't quite come off — the success of the day's lighting added substantially to his happiness.

Kicking off the cream-silk-covered swan’s-down duvet, Danny focused on the sliding full-length mirrors that covered the shallow closet directly across from the foot of his bed, delighting in his own physical beauty luxuriously displayed against its perfectly orchestrated background — he marveled at the sight of his face and physique as if they belonged to someone else, finding aesthetic joy and erotic pleasure in his reflection the way one would expect to find it in one's beloved.

He stroked his genitals in a more purposeful manner, bringing himself to full erection and thrilling at the size and heft of his own cock, delighting in the way his round hairless balls rested with deceptive calm against the rumpled sheets. He angled his left leg up and braced his foot against the mattress; he ran his left hand over his well-developed pectorals, then traced the flowing lines of his neck, chest, abdomen, groin, and crotch while he slowly pumped his cock with his right hand.

His eyes rested on his long well-muscled legs and beautifully sculpted feet with their intricate bones and shiny nails; then surveyed his tight-turned waist from the sharply defined pelvic girdle, up his taut narrow flanks across the smoothed-out cobbles of his abdominal wall, and up to the soaring arch of his ribcage; then on the slowly pulsing bicep and deltoid of his right arm as his large fist continued to slide up and down in its comfortable rhythm at the end of his elegantly tapered wrist; then to his own rapt face with his big faunishly slanted eyes blank with pleasure, his plump-lipped scarlet mouth hanging open, soft and slick from his active tongue, his flat porcelain cheeks flushed peach and rose with the heat of his body, all framed by the delicate architecture of his cheek- and jaw-bones and the tousled cherubic mass of his thickly curling dark hair.

A fine film of clean sweat broke out over his hot velvety skin as he brought himself closer to climax; his hips bucked and his head beat back against the pillows as the semen boiled inside of him, but he became perfectly still, with his eyes focused on the mirror and his legs straining to hold his body still, as the thick jism erupted and splashed onto his chest and abdomen, then trickled and spread across his pumping hand and moist reddened cock. Danny continued to stroke himself slowly, soothingly, as his breathing returned to normal and he let his mind dwell on the pulsing waves of pleasure that rippled slowly through his body. In this calmly exalted state, he offered a prayer of thanks to the beneficent God who had created the human body with such exquisite pleasures in it.

Eventually, in the cooling aftermath of his orgasm, Danny became aware of something he did lack: someone to bring him a cup of coffee in bed. Or better yet, someone to bring a pot and cup of coffee, and a plate of toast and jam, perhaps even a slice of cantaloupe, with his bone-and-platinum Lenox service on the pear-wood bed-tray with a cream damask napkin and a cream-and-crimson rose in a silver bud-vase. He could, of course, make up such a tray on his own and come back to bed with it, but by then the mood would have been broken and the tray and Lenox service and bud-vased rose a waste of time.

Danny Vandervere's favorite part of the day was waking up, that blissful Elysium between gaining consciousness and recovering from his morning orgasm, in which nothing was lacking and he was only aware of his innumerable physical and material blessings. As he levered himself out of the vast warm bed and padded into the warm beige marble bathroom for a pee, his mind became aware of other things he lacked... a loving family, one special person on whom to lavish all of his love, or just some passionate purpose in his life.

He stepped into the twelve-head shower stall to rinse the light sweat and heavy come from his body, misted his skin with an expensive moisturizing spray, and patted himself dry with a vast fluffy towel; as he moved out of the long narrow French Provincial bathroom with its blondwood cabinetry and antiqued ormolu fixtures, down the book-lined corridor, and into the cool metallic efficiency of the long narrow Moderne kitchen, a vague but persistent dissatisfaction began to circle around at the back of Danny's mind.

By the time he had ground his accustomed two ounces of Italian roast beans and brewed the first pot of the day in the new German coffee-maker (a recent gift from an admirer who owned a chi-chi kitchenware boutique) that bristled with so many digital features that Danny himself didn't know what they all did, he had come down from the sunny summit of pure happiness and was paddling about in the warm shallows of mere contentment.

He nevertheless took great pleasure from his first cup of coffee, which he drank while standing pleasurably naked in the dappled sunlight and sweet spring breezes on the fire-escape-cum-balcony outside the kitchen and dining-room, watching with great pleasure a neighbor's young tortoiseshell cat frolicking in the scattered sunbeams across the alleyway; but these simple pleasures were slightly diminished by that vague back-of-the-mind dissatisfaction, a dissatisfaction of which Danny wasn't consciously aware — but which hung, like a dimming curtain, between him and the complete happiness he experienced upon waking up.

His second cup of coffee was set to cool as Danny slurped down a cup of lime-flavored nonfat yogurt and an obscenely large banana, after which he let go a loud wet belch that he would never have dared if he weren't completely alone, but which gave him a great secret thrill of naughtiness. Belching felt good, despite its social unacceptability, and so did walking around naked and scratching his ass or petting his cock. It was the luxury of living alone, a luxury that Danny loved despite the occasional loneliness that sometimes dampened his solitary pleasures.

He took his coffee into the opulently overfurnished living room, where he opened the front of the large chinoiserie secretaire that stood in the center of the wall at the north end of the room, wherein his computer and assorted electronica were hidden away. He settled into the florid Renaissance Revival swivel chair (one of the few pieces of Victoriana he owned, preferring the clean smooth lines of the Empire and Art Deco styles, but the chair had been a gift), wriggling into the ticklish feeling of the age-softened wool velvet against his bare skin, and waited for his unnecessarily powerful top-of-the-line PC system (another gift from another admirer) to come to life while finishing off his second cup of coffee.

Returning to the kitchen for a third cup and then detouring through the foyer to retrieve his fancy little PDA from last night's jacket, Danny paused to survey his domain for a moment before settling down for his morning reading; the big square living-room illustrated his recent financial and emotional history more than any other room in the apartment, and its jostling crowd of exquisite objects never failed to satisfy him.

The basic furniture, like the deep pillowed sofa and the Georgian wing chairs flanking the fireplace, or the square rosewood piano standing in the wide bow window and the chinoiserie desk against the wall, Danny had purchased for himself with the seven-million-dollar windfall he'd inherited from his great-aunt Mathilda Vandervere, who had died two weeks after Danny graduated with his English Literature baccalaureate from Stanford; he'd also bought the apartment building he lived in, another less luxurious building up the street, and his beloved 1956 Jaguar convertible (which he'd named Caroline Queen after his great-aunt's secret business pseudonym, under which she had amassed her tidy fortune from weekend gambling trips and slightly shady real-estate ventures, away from the profit-grasping fingers of the Vandervere Family Trust).

Seven million is quickly absorbed when you're splashing out in San Francisco real estate, eighteenth-century escritoires, and high-maintenance vintage cars, and Danny found himself with little more than his Trust allowance to live on after his initial purchases. And while his bachelor's stipend from the Vandervere Trust and his rents from his apartments constituted a fairly plush income, Danny had wildly expensive tastes in clothing, restaurants, and entertainments, not to mention a lot of property taxes.

Within four months of his arrival in San Francisco and the official inauguration of his life as a free adult, Danny was essentially broke, having squandered two quarters' allowance and the remainder of his inheritance on opera tickets, cases of pre-war Pâpe Neuf, and stacks of signature Versace silk underwear. There were two months left before he'd get another allowance check, and the rents were being eaten up in repairs and insurance, but the bills kept rolling in on his department store accounts and credit cards.

Danny had never been trained to take care of himself in this manner (Vandervere men were expected to stay at home in Vandervere, California, and either run the town or the paper mill that was the source of the Vandervere fortune, or else take up residence in the more cosmopolitan capital of Sacramento and help run either the state or the Vandervere Family Trust), and though he tried to economize on his lifestyle, it didn't occur to him to sell any of the property he'd amassed in order to raise money; and though he could have taken a salaried job of some kind, that would have taken time, and with two department store accounts and a plumber's bill past due, and a bank balance that wouldn't cover even one of these, Danny didn't feel that he had time.

So he drove up to Sacramento to beg one of the officers of the Trust to give him an advance on his allowance. A certain Mr. Uderhagen, whose task it was to administer the allowances that were drawn on the Trust, was happy to oblige with an extra few thousand in advance without mentioning it to the family... the first time. The second time Danny came begging (a mere two weeks later, having frittered away the entire amount in a few days), Mr. Uderhagen set a condition: Danny must allow himself to be spanked, then rimmed, then blown.

During the two-hour drive home to San Francisco, Danny pondered the feelings that had resulted from the humiliating and yet pleasurable transaction in the Trust Officer's office. Though Mr. Uderhagen was no great beauty, just an average-looking middle-aged accountant with a scrawny neck, he wasn't entirely repulsive; and though the spanking had been painful and embarrassing (and made the drive home a tad uncomfortable), the rimming and blowjob had been quite lovely.

These spank-and-advance sessions became a regular occurrence in the next few months, until Mr. Uderhagen was no longer able to make advances without the other Officers and the family noticing the diversion of cash-flow; Danny was several quarters ahead of himself, and his bills continued to mount. However, Mr. Uderhagen offered to pay the month's bills with his own money, if Danny would agree to a rather more complicated and reciprocal "scene"... one that involved an Eton uniform, buggery, foot-worship, and a baroque storyline about cricket practice and an impatient Classics master.

Danny complied, and even enjoyed the well-staged scene, but knew that Mr. Uderhagen couldn't afford to keep up this arrangement on his salary; and he would hate for the helpful Uderhagen to lose his job because of the advances, or become drawn into embezzlement on Danny's behalf, so he broke off the affair. But the lesson of Mr. Uderhagen remained: older, less-attractive men are often quite generous when young and extremely beautiful men show them favor and comply with their romantic fancies.

As Danny flitted through his accustomed social rounds, his focus shifted away from the other beautiful young men with whom he had been exclusively fascinated, and he suddenly noticed the great numbers of affluent-looking older men to whom he had never really paid much attention... they were so quiet and unassuming for the most part. But once Danny got to know them, they often turned out to be extremely kind, sometimes wonderfully wise, and occasionally quite interesting — but invariably generous. These men took him to dinner in his favorite four-star restaurants, escorted him to prime seating at the opera and the ballet and the symphony and the theatre, and gave him sweaters and watches and paintings and bronzes all gift-wrapped with sweetly sentimental cards attached.

Of even greater value to Danny's happiness than the gifts, these older men lavished on him an affection that he never knew he craved. He'd never received any affection of any kind from his own father, nor his mother or brother, his aunt or uncle or many cousins. The Vandervere clan, never known for its warmth or emotional content, had despised Danny from the moment his rather decadent beauty became apparent... in an entrenched old clan of handsome WASPs, an effeminately beautiful boy was viewed with distrust and anger. And though his three spinster great-aunts, Mathilda and Myrtle and Maude Vandervere, had taken him under their collective wing and poured out their maiden love on him in his adolescence, it had been undemonstrative WASP affection rather than the doting physical affection (in tandem with Venetian mirrors, Shiraz carpets, and bespoke suits) that Danny received from his elderly beaux.

Having opened his mind to the emotional and material satisfactions inherent in kindly older men, Danny started noticing more practical applications for his beauty and sexuality as a commodity: the burly Czech mechanic who serviced Caroline was more than happy to lube and tune the Jaguar for free after he'd lubed and tuned Danny in the back office; the senior salesmen of fashion houses and department stores often "forgot" to ring up various purchases after a quick tussle in a fitting-room; the owners of the shops where Danny picked up his necessities, his wines or housewares or charcuterie, kept him supplied with his daily needs after he'd seen to a few of their night-time needs.

Danny's new career as a "courtesan" (he didn't think of himself as a prostitute, since he never took money, only gifts and favors) did not take him completely away from his former sexual pursuits; instead, it doubled his sex-life when he began to notice attributes in potential mates that weren't just physical. Along with the nice old men and the well-placed admirers, he maintained a roster of stunning fuck-buddies and indulged in brief, passionate romances that burned out quickly from their own sexual heat.

And so he had everything, torrid romance and remunerative affection, hot encounters and ever-increasing financial security. He loved his tricks and sugar-daddies on some level, but it wasn't the kind of passionate love he expected to someday find: he harbored an inchoate dream for a Special Someone on whom to devote all his love, but that desire wasn't yet fully formed in his still quite young and affection-starved mind.

An elaborate musical tone from the computer, telling him that his email was downloaded and his stock portfolio and news articles refreshed and ready to read, recalled Danny from his woolgathering. Settling down into his desk-chair, he turned his surprisingly agile and retentive mind to the morning's crop of information: absorbing the events of the world, calculating the losses and gains on the handful of preferred and IPO stocks that had been the gifts of amorous brokers and lonely CEOs, and reading and answering his voluminous email correspondence.

Danny's well-trained intelligence is what set him apart from the crowds of beautiful young men with whom he competed for the limited supply of gay millionaires; older, educated, cultured men were so delighted to discover that Danny wasn't a ditzy party-boy or a narcissistic drama queen, so thrilled that his conversation ranged far beyond the limits of personal gossip and the latest fashions, so amazed that he'd read Proust in French and could debate the intricate cultural revolutions that characterized the Medieval period, that they fell all over themselves to keep him intellectually stimulated with rare first editions and one-time-only cultural events.

But while his education and breeding made the rich men trust and dote on him, these same factors formed a barrier between him and the other young men with whom he hoped to fall in love. Though he could spend whole afternoons discussing the hottest designers' new spring lines and the comparative influences of certain pop divas on the gay community, he found a complete lack of mutual comprehension between himself and his younger lovers that left him with terribly little interest in them once the sex was over.

Finishing his morning computer time, Danny switched over to his date-book program to synchronize his PDA and check his schedule for the day. It was a singularly uneventful day, with nothing but his usual Thursday afternoon spa routine: an hour of Pilates with his personal trainer and forty-five minutes of aerobic dance with the rest of the well-kept men and women who used the exclusive day-spa, followed by shiatsu and river-rock massages. The evening gaped and yawned with emptiness, giving Danny a twinge of anxiety over how to fill it up.

The lack of scheduled activities came as something of a shock to Danny, who hadn't had such a hole in his social calendar for many months; even the nights he'd spent alone at home had been carefully calendared to provide a restful counterpoint to his busy round of dates and outings. This complete lack of anything to do was something quite unaccustomed.

Those blank white spaces on the PDA calendar embedded themselves in the front of Danny's mind as he set about shutting off the computer, glowing ominously with the pulsing cathode rays of the high-resolution monitor. In those spaces, eight hours stretched vast and desertlike between the end of his river-rock massage and the earliest conceivable moment of calling an early night and going to bed with a good book. The question of how to fill those hours began to nag at Danny's consciousness, blooming quickly from a bud of slight anxiety to a furling blossom of worry.

Danny started to pick at the petals of that worry as he left the desk and returned to the kitchen for his vitamins and health-smoothie. He thought about various solitary activities while he assembled the different protein powders and liquid vitamins, poured them into the industrial-strength blender with a basket of fresh blackberries, a handful of ice-cubes, and a pint of nonfat milk, and set them to spin; while the blender did its work, Danny shook one or two pills out of each of the eleven bottles of herbal supplements that stood in a row next to the toaster and placed them in a little Steuben footed candy dish.

After three minutes of high-speed agitation, the smoothie was a peculiar but uniform aubergine color and ready to drink; Danny poured it into a tall crystal glass, hoisted himself up onto the black-granite counter, wedged the pill-filled candy dish between his thighs, and turned on the little square television mounted under the brushed-steel cabinets in order to watch South American soap operas and try to guess what the handsome and over-groomed men were saying to each other (he was fluent in French and Italian, but the high-speed idiom of the soaps went beyond what little Spanish he'd ever picked up).

I could go to the movies, he thought as he put three pills in his mouth and swallowed them down with the first sweet-and-bitter gulp of smoothie, one for energy, one for cognition, one to make his semen taste good; I don't mind seeing movies alone, he tried to convince himself as he swallowed the next three pills and gulp of smoothie, two for healthy joint cartilage, one for improved blood-circulation; then I can see whatever I want, I don't get distracted by my date, I can just get completely absorbed in the film, he reasoned with the next three pills, one that was supposed to block fat-absorption and two to enhance metabolism, counteracting the heavy meals and desserts that Danny tended to eat in the evenings; but there aren't any movies out that I really want to see, he finally groused with the next trio of pills, one to enhance fluid production, one to stimulate nerve-endings, and the last to prevent head-colds.

Gulping down the rest of the smoothie with three little capsules intended to prevent gas from the potentially explosive admixture of herbs, minerals, dairy, and fruit he'd just ingested (solitary burping might be fun, but Danny considered flatulence completely unacceptable), he poured the last of the coffee and took the cup into his dressing room.

When Danny bought the townhouse, not quite two years before, he'd immediately renovated the second-floor flat for maximum luxury: the original bath, toilet, and light-well had been thrown together to make one long, elegant, top-lit bathroom; the dinky kitchen, utility room, and breakfast nook had also been thrown together to create a more spacious galley-like room; and the smaller of the two bedrooms at the back was converted into a comfortable dressing-room with satiny flame mahogany wall-panels concealing wardrobes, with mirror-backed doors and fragrant cedar linings, covering all four walls — except where doorways gave access to the hall, bathroom, and bedroom, and where the wide mullion window let light through a ruched rose-silk curtain to illuminate a built-in dressing-table.

Danny set his coffee-cup on the glass top of the table and took up a large pink tube of 50-spf sunscreen, which he lovingly rubbed onto his legs, arms, torso, and neck... anywhere the sun might possibly age and damage his delicate skin once he stepped outside, leaving only his face (which took a different kind of sunscreen) and a small spot in the middle of his back (which he couldn't reach) unprotected.

I could try a new restaurant, he thought as he sat down at the little bench before the dressing-table mirror and carefully applied his Swiss moisturizing facial sunscreen, gently tracing the smooth, fine curves of his remarkable face; something new must have opened lately, he told himself as he spritzed another kind of specially-formulated sunscreen into his hair and spread it through with his fingers, sealing the carefully highlighted curls from the natural highlighting of the sun; but I'm just not up to the risk of a disappointing meal, he concluded as he brushed the excess hair-sunscreen onto his arched eyebrows and thick, tinted lashes.

Danny got up and crossed the scarlet carpet to the full-length triptych mirror that stood between the hall and bathroom doors, admiring his perfect physique again as he turned this way and that, checking for any stray hairs or blemishes that might have cropped up in the night. With a pair of silver tweezers, he plucked out a tiny black hair that had broken ranks with the faint treasure-trail on his belly, as well as a new whisker on his otherwise beardless chin; at twenty-two, he was still as hairless as a fourteen-year-old, with only the merest feathering of silky black down gracing his armpits and pubis.

I could go shopping, he thought as he opened a drawer full of underwear and selected a cleverly engineered white cotton tricot jock-strap that pushed his genitals up and forward, allowing maximum freedom of movement as well as creating an eye-popping package; there are clothes and antiques and books and all sorts of things to find in the stores, he rhapsodized as he wrestled himself into a pair of thin Wedgwood-blue cotton fleece short-shorts that clung lasciviously to his hips, crotch, and ass, leaving very little to the imagination; but then, I have more clothes and antiques and books than I know what to do with, he reminded himself as he slipped into a loose butter-yellow cotton tank-top that left his shoulder-blades free in the back and just barely covered his nipples in the front, allowing them to peek out the sides whenever he moved; and stores close too early, that won't take up any of the evening, he finally discarded the idea as he knelt down to pull on white ankle-socks and a pair of scuffed white hightop cross-trainers that were so comfortable he sometimes worried what he'd do if the company that made them ever discontinued the model (it was against such an emergency that he kept twenty-five extra pairs stored in a waterproof metal locker in his garage).

Tossing back the last of his now-tepid coffee, Danny returned to the kitchen and put everything he wanted washed in the sink for the cleaning lady to deal with; she always came while he was out at the gym, and finished her work before he returned, giving him the illusion that he was the only person ever in his home and that all the cleaning was done by magic. He grabbed a large bottle of French spring-water from the refrigerator and headed out to the hall closet for outerwear.

I could rent a couple of movies and make dinner at home, he thought as he slipped on his gym-jacket, an oversized petrol-gray microfleece hoodie with big pockets that hung loose off his shoulders when he was warm and zipped tight up to his throat when he was cold; shopping for food and picking out some videos will take up a couple of hours, and then the cooking and eating and viewing will finish the night off, he tried to sell himself on the idea as he chose a pair of big cyan-lensed aviator glasses from the basket of sunglasses and settled them over his eyes to prevent squinting; but then I'd have to actually cook the food and everything, he resisted the idea as he settled a dust-blue tennis visor over his brow to keep the sun off his face, artfully fluffing his hair out over the visor and band.

I really just don't feel like being alone tonight, he decided as he plucked his PDA out of its cradle on the desk, checked to make sure he had the headset for it, snatched his keys out of the china bowl on the table by the front door, and left the apartment.


Usually, when Danny took his daily hike to the gym, he liked to focus on the reactions of passersby to his purposely provocative gym-gear; he reveled in the attention, the frisson of darting eyes devouring his beauty, the heat of sexual fantasies sparked in the minds of strangers. He enjoyed making eye-contact with the men (and occasional women) who ogled him, electrifying those who dared look into his face with a "shyly appreciative" smile that was carefully calculated for impact; if they didn't make eye contact, Danny took note of where their eyes did go, and would often touch himself there, as if merely adjusting his clothing or scratching an itch, just to see his audience's eyes bulge a little.

There were quicker routes to Danny's gym than right through the heart of the Castro District, he didn't have to run the gauntlet of windows full of lunchers in the numerous restaurants, or the inevitable clutch of bears outside of Starbucks, in order to cross the busy intersection at Eighteenth Street before tackling the short but strenuous ascent up the lower slopes of Twin Peaks; besides, the gym had valet parking, so he could very easily drive there (and did, when the weather was foul).

But this daily parade through the epicenter of gay life fed his ego to bursting-point; though he never admitted such a thing to himself, nor did he even really understand the drive behind it, Danny was a glutton for approval — even if only from strangers, even if only for his shamelessly displayed body.

On that day, however, Danny barely glanced up from his PDA as he made his way through the crowded streets; those who did catch his eye when he looked around to see where he was, or to navigate through a dense crowd, received only a blank, preoccupied gaze instead of the usual heart-stopping smile.

Danny's PDA (a gift from the sweet but socially inept young engineer who'd invented several of its components) was one of those needlessly complicated models that squeezed more features into one three-by-five-inch pad of titanium-colored plastic than anyone could possibly use; it had room for thousands of addresses and phone-numbers in its database, a comprehensive calendar that calculated holidays and moon cycles well into the next century, a cell-phone, a web-browser, a reference library and e-books, a digital camera, an MP3-player, a GPS receiver, and thirty-seven different games to help pass the time.

But all of those extra features were ignored as Danny strode through the teeming neighborhood, focused solely on the colorful virtual pages of the address-book, where he scrolled through name after name trying to decide which man would be the best bet to entertain him for the evening... at each new name, he would consider whether or not the person would be available (many of his daddies and fuck-buddies were peripatetic, with their careers as diplomats or porn-stars taking them all over the globe), and then whether or not he himself was in the mood to see that particular man.

But without knowing what he wanted for the evening, he couldn't narrow down his extensive list: did he want to be petted and fawned over, or did he want a hot fuck? Did he want to be squired to a glamorous event, or did he want to hang out somewhere fun? A dream of romance or a sleazy escapade? He was not only unable to decide what he wanted, he couldn't even come up with a counter-list of things he didn't want.

By the time Danny had given up on the idea of calling someone he already knew, he was straining up the vertiginous end of 20th Street, sweating slightly and breathing hard, with only five more nearly-vertical blocks before he reached the exclusive Burnett Gardens Health Spa just below the Twin Peaks Reservoir. He plugged in his earphones and loaded a favorite MP3 before he started running up the steep concrete stairs connecting 20th to upper Douglass Street, counting off his rising heart-rate while humming breathily to the first movement of Mozart's 25th Symphony.

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 mile from his apartment obviated the need to warm up on a cardio machine, which he found painfully tedious... not because of the repetition, but because the cardio machines all faced out toward the sweeping but unchanging view, the movement prevented him from reading, the televisions were always tuned to news and sports channels that bored him to tears, and there was simply nothing to occupy his eyes.

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 gays 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 plants; the first floor was given over to the pool and hot tubs, saunas, changing-rooms, and 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 boxy 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 really 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.

It was the first time Danny had really enjoyed exercise; though 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 prospect of an empty evening ahead inclined him to try something new.

"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 faintly frightened by women, and downright terrified by the idea of them nude.

"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 upbeat muscle-twink who taught the class (he 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 reigned over 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 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 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 glass 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 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 erotic 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 stylized fluidity of his upper body.

The theme of his body-work was to create a light and voluptuous sculpture, with rich, almost spherical curves to 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 to any kind of manual labor or feats of pure brutish strength would destroy the gleaming elegant perfection of a stud racehorse or an eagle in flight 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, no thought for what was coming. 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 all the time; 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, naked old women) 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 clear herb 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 San Francisco lifestyles magazine in search of pictures of himself or his friends at various Social events, Danny felt a return of the happiness he'd felt on awakening.

"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 athletic men were wont to do, 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; though just past fifty, he still retained the excellent physique and razor-elegant bone-structure of his youth as a physique 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 but rather worn 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 died "in the saddle" and 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? That chiffon number is so obviously 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 Greta Garbo and Nicole Kidman. And those aristocratic names 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 and 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 Valerien 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 ash-brown hair, softly petulant rosepetal mouth, and huge violet 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 mystery of Garbo and the brittle elegance of Kidman, "They're way out of my league... Vanderveres are middle Grand Tier, but these people are front 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 PDA 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 very 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 warmup 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 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 impressive genitals 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, Danny paused in the door to pull off his hat and drop into it his PDA and wallet and keys, 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 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, squarish 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, 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 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 resting on his folded arms. 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 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 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 the 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 PDA, "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 doubted his theory instantly, 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.

12,745 Words ~ 22 Pages