The city’s lights are laid out in waves, heaving over the small hills and splashing down into the lowlands. Drin never gets tired of standing out on his balcony in the cool updraft from the ravines and canyons, gazing at the streets flung out in strings like old Christmas tree lights, half the little bulbs missing. You can tell it grew up from cow trails, and there’s too much history there to argue with. One thing he loves about this town, they can’t be bothered to mow down their old neighborhoods to build new sewer lines. Gotta love a civilization that puts in extra power transformers to support light-up Santas, glowing green reindeer, and ugly Shirley Temple dolls that rotate, in a climate needs no ice scrapers.
Somebody has put a creche at the base of a palm tree. The inflatable Wisemen wear tourist sombreros and serapes. A red sari is wrapped in a Pakistani style around Mary. Joseph has been wearing a pie-pan halo and strings of Mardi Gras beads. This morning he was given a purple fake grass hula skirt. Drin suspects there will be other contributions. The trumpeting Angel has deflated and flopped back on the lawn just like a corpse, but not a human one. Disturbing.
Behind him, the dimly lit house invites him back into the comfort of the leather sofa, but Drin knows he’ll go, instead, to his desk and the tyranny of the glowing computer screen and the slow data compile that he’s running tonight. As if watching would make it go any faster.
There is a compromise, though. Drin fetches his laptop and a glass of bourbon and opens the sliding door and lets himself sink into the sofa’s upholstery. For a moment, he just lays there, letting the weight of the laptop rest on his chest.
The dry wind smells of sage. It purls up over the edge of the balcony, ruffling over his toe joints, chilling his feet until the freckles practically glow. It gets a little cool up here at night for sandals.
The money he just sent off to the Metro’s recruitment fund could have bought him a couple of nice pairs of custom boots. Must be either winter or middle age creeping up, he’s been feeling a hankering for something plain and perfectly fit and old school. Last year, he would have indulged himself. Now, why bother? He hasn’t worn boots since he was in the military, and he didn’t miss taking those things off forever.
Hell, he can wear sandals like he’s at the beach the whole year, if he wants. Get tan lines among his freckles. And he doesn’t have to sleep with a gun under his head, no pillows in sight. He can have all the damn pillows he wants. Hell, he could have all the booty he wants, propped up on those pillows, waggling around waiting for him, begging to pleasure him properly.
That felt like the weirdest thing about being a civilian: He could have all the tail he wanted, as much as he wanted, procured via skill, cleverness, kindness, or money. Until he just didn’t want any more. Until he started noticing how unhappy his own eyes were. Until safe sex wasn’t about sex anymore, just about safety.
His cell phone dropped down to work numbers and online brokers and a couple of gyms. Pathetic, as he told Engerman.
Next day, those first Metro tickets were sitting on his desk. Thank God for Engerman.
Only one of the Metro’s numbers will answer if he calls this late. He could call that one, and be welcome. But he won’t keep the Concertmaster from the thick stack of scores he was carrying out tonight for edits. The First Cellist, Amalia, grabbed a big chunk of them away from Dance, too. Technically, each musician is supposed to make their own notes. However, too many of the strings are overwhelmed by Maestro Young’s fits of perfectionism, and the first chairs are getting stubborn about standards. The limited hours from their semi-retired Librarian are chewed up already. On top of that, various business managers have refused the Metro’s offers because of Young; apparently word has gone round.
Annoyed, Drin flips open the laptop, riffles through the files and websites stacked up waiting for him. Rates are down, big surprise, and there’s promotions all over, emails begging for people to buy their stuff. Things are still oozing down the initial slide from Black Tuesday months ago.
Christ, sit tight on decent stuff, and you may be ruler of the world in a month, he thinks. What is the matter with these fools? No, no, and no. He always hears The Gambler in his head while he’s dicing on stocks, it gives him a nice time limit so he doesn’t go off into OCD-land and blink awake nine hours later with his portfolio acting like it’s on crack.
Buy now, while the market is scratching itself on the bottom like a boat scraping on a sand-bar.
Shut up, he tells himself. Do the homework, and don’t get impulsive.
Stable is good. Long term is good. That one he marked ten days ago as a possible buy, that was just a dead-cat bounce, as he thought it might be. Now it reeks. He’ll wait, take another look in a few weeks. He closes out of personal accounts and opens work-related ones. Looks at recent aerospace stock slides that Bud Innes thought might reward more in-depth research.
He finds the company websites are all security-heavy and disinclined to divulge ordinary public information online. The ties to Bud’s sort of business are not obvious, and Drin has never heard of them as suppliers or customers, but with some digging on custom-built inventory, it’s there. Somebody doesn’t want to admit to nested connections that are already a matter of public record. Well, there’s ways around that too. Pay for copies of public records from the secretaries of their respective states.
It slows things down, of course, and Bud Innes will note that just as implacably if he decides to engineer another hostile takeover of a competitor. He praises Drin’s instincts for finding these sitting duck companies for him to shoot down. Bud’s elegant pink-shirted exterior is totally deceptive — he enjoys shutting down Board meetings, racking through their inventory for parts, selling everything he can’t use, and ripping the competent employees over onto his own payrolls. He’s tough on the losers.
He’s been talking to Drin about how best to manage that, how to look like a sorrowful daddy instead of a hatchet-man. It looks as if he might start assigning Drin to that sort of work. Or he might be testing how far Drin would go, what his loyalties are, what kind of cruelties Drin will sit still for.
Not much, as it happens. Plant-closing interviews creep him out. It’s not his area of expertise, he’s in no mood to learn it, and by now Bud knows it. Which might be a mistake. Bud Innes wants something, but it’s not throwing a signal which Drin recognizes. Well, Bud Innes can go on wanting whatever it is, or he can explain himself. Maybe eventually Drin will learn what it is–oh charming, another learning experience. If Bud is trying to groom some kind of protege out of such untidy material as Drin, things could get much worse. Then Bud would push him right to the edge of quitting, just to find out where it is.
Hell, if core honesty got punished, there’s no point in his sticking with Bud’s company. There’s always somewhere for an auditor to work, even if it’s not for quite so much money. He’s always worked. No shortage of other places to go, even in a recession.
Drin flips away from all of that. Metro Symphony, gotta love it. His favorite for dull, stodgy, dimly hopeful, unchanging content. The website creaks like a Victorian corset. He mutes the sound to avoid the punishment of the endless midi-style waltz. It’s embarrassing when Engerman shows it proudly to people at work.
The web mistress’s idea of color balance means the Metro’s people of color all look like silhouettes. Dance manages to look positively saturnine on the website, when the actual shot in the paper files has him laughing. But he’s never in focus. Has anybody ever taken a decent picture of him? Get those cheekbones lit properly. A decent photographer might capture that chilly academic amusement; a great one would catch lots of other things. It only costs patience, and a little money.
But Dance with his sardonic gaze must have a pretty astonishing tolerance for drippy old-school schmaltz and sentimentality after all, probably better remember that about the man. Just look at their repertoire, and the way it’s laid out on the website. Drin shudders.
Bud’s been pushing for changes, but the Metro’s admin folks wouldn’t know visuals if it came up and bit ’em–which it is, failing to keep up with the times as they are. Bud provided jazzy expensive shots of Robert and Valerie horsing around prettily, which will get people popping in happily to see more. But no, the webmistress primmed her mouth when Drin asked her if she got those new pictures up.
She hasn’t done anything about the horrible music either–Bud said he thought Geocities was banned under the Geneva Convention. Of course Bud can snap his fingers and get very sharp web designers free, but she’s still scrambling with excuses. She doesn’t want to post things that might induce people to regard their musicians in a trivial light.
He looks up away from the stupid pictures and sighs. Trivial light, for crissake. What do these poor benighted musicians think they’re selling if not romance, the sweet fools?
Most of the Metro’s people are so purely auditory they can’t even recognize faces, only voices.
Don’t leave notes for them, Dance told him gravely. You have to speak to them if you want them to remember. Dance joked that he could streak naked through that bunch, they wouldn’t notice unless he yelled.
So why is Dance always covered up in those thrift-store sweat suits during practices? He’s never complained of being cold. His hands are always hot. Hell, make him shed a few layers for a Metro shoot. Get snaps of that body, too, that no one ever gets to see. Hints of it, yes– the reflexes when someone barrels around a corner into him, the precise balance, all that comes out of the dojo he’s mentioned. The deeply cut abs when his crappy gray sweatshirt rides up for a moment. An equally sculpted shin, before Dance tugs his sweatpants back down his legs.
Those frayed waistbands that peer out when he reties his shoes? Those belong to old, soft boxers that don’t tame a hard-on in the least. So it’s not just your typical first-chair tighty whitey Concertmaster control freak under that rumpled surface. It’d be fun to see what a tailor would make of that ass, with decent design. Stop traffic, probably.
Over the past weeks, while Drin has been circling, and while Dance has been turning to face him like prey towards the predator, the once-impassive face has taken on so many subtleties that Drin now wonders… something. Is it all in his mind, or something… Numbers go spiralling down in the back of his mind. Enough, enough.
See Drin in his much-envied near-penthouse apartment on the coast, with the view. See Drin wearing sandals late in the year. See Drin surfing the Internet on his laptop on the balcony of his enviable apartment while admiring the amazingly beautiful view. See Drin check out the specs for tricking out his bloody expensive car, tune it up just that hair-thin degree better.
See Drin think about how it feels to fuck somebody in the leather seats of his amazingly sexy car. See Drin think about sucking off somebody spread out on his buttery soft leather sofa in his amazing enviable apartment.
See Drin not want anybody he could have tonight.
See Drin wave his hands absurdly in the air, figuring out a sequence of magician’s movements he could get away with, because he hasn’t really touched anything yet. See Drin reduced to figuring out how he can pull off silly magic sleight-of-hand tricks just to cop a feel while he’s running the wallet back into the man’s loose dress pants. Christ, that will deserve every feel he could give it. Just thinking about turning that trick turns him on. A hell of a lot of fun, but so very, very frustrating, on a night like this one.
“PPRETT Y BOYS ALL ASIA” says the the inbox. Damn, Drin thinks, one pretty asian boy would be enough. Dance would be enough. He’s not PPRETT Y, but he grows on you.
Drin grins and aims a sarcastic barb at himself: Why are you even fucking pretending?
He’s let himself become completely smitten with an tough-ass little violinist out of nowhere. A miserably overworked tough little violinist who’s not sleeping enough, too busy doing scores for repeated changes for Maestro Young to be able to think clearly, dammit.
“Korean twink” Drin idly taps into the search field. Oh sure, pretty boys a-plenty, a whole nation of pretty boys. Funny though, none of them look anything like Dance. Could it be the current standards of beauty? Christ, they all look like young Paul McCartney. All these guys are full-cheeked, mostly pale, and offer full and lushly pink mouths like American high school jocks, in fact– nothing approaching the other-worldly look that Dance displays.
Although– yeah, there are a few sculpted bodies, looking like they’re double-muscled, like a gene-eng Angus bull, and, oh yeah. That’s nice. Put Dance’s head on that neck, and just maybe–yeah, Dance has an ass like that, fantastic deep glutes topping thighs like a horse’s, the ladder of his spine reaching up to that pair of shoulders– oh fuck, oh yeah. Fucking perfect. The head turning, with those eyes looking up, relaxed, dark.
So many things no website will give him. The man’s brushy sharp smell when he’s sweating after performances, that odd scent which lingers in the scrap of jacket lining sitting safely in a plastic bag, up on a closet shelf.
That shuddering little shrug that Drin has felt when he pats the guy on the back– Drin wants that, wants it, wants to be the cause of it. That amazing tight little shiver he gave last night, standing up taller under Drin’s hand, and looking up into Drin’s eyes without sliding away, without blinking, without lowering his eyelids in his usual way.
Astonishing, how far the man’s pupils changed, looking up at him. He’s never seen dark eyes change so visibly in such instant reaction. It can’t be the first time, dammit. He’s just been too slow, he never caught it happening before.
If Drin had known about that two weeks ago, he’d have arranged something like a new-piece celebration dinner for all the first chairs or something, he’d have acted on it a lot sooner.
Those eyes looking at him, dialing wide open. And then Dance gave that wry, self-deprecating little smile of his. Well, funny how that went straight to the libido. Christ, he’s not pulling away, either, is he?
Drin scrabbles his belt open and pushes his slacks down with shaking hands, scraping himself with the zipper, cold air shooting up under his balls and making him gasp. His cock flips out already turning red, already showing a single drop from the slit. He spits on his palm, slides rough over the head, flicks his fingernail against the tendon just once– Careful with your teeth, Dance– he wants that hot tongue sliding right there, and at the same time his hands are sliding over a pair of sharp hip bones, and his mouth engulfs Dance down to the root. It’s pushing at his tongue, shoving down his throat, because there’s plenty to share.
Get him hard and hot and breathing heavy and then that tight body is rolling over, making the offer, wanting it, presenting himself as much as any man possibly can. Darker flesh of his crack and perineum pointing to that tight brown ring, and Drin’s touching him there, freckles sliding inside him, loving their way into him, his other hand stroking down that taut belly, gripping the base of the man’s cock–
Drin feels the pulses coming, long and slow and hard, as if it’s been months since he’s fucked anyone, and then he’s got a handful of warm wet, and he’s blinking at the stars whirling around his head.