"The end of the semester, gentlemen..." he had said it for so many years, he sometimes forgot.  "And ladies."  He bowed a little to them.  They tittered and he chastised them gently with an indulgent look.  "Is hoving into view.  Hoving, is, of course, an improper use of the perfect past tense of the verb 'to heave'.  But it is an idiom and though I would never let you write a piece of copy with such an idiom in it and survive beyond a C level, I will employ it here.  Since this is the case, I submit to you that the examination for the semester will be held December 9, at 9:30 o'clock in this room.   That's only a few weeks away and time is fleeting.  When you return from Thanksgiving break, as stuffed, I am sure, as the turkeys you consumed, we will meet only six times before the exam, for which you will all be here, and I'm sure, you will all be prepared.  This is the time, and the last time, perhaps, that, should you be harboring any doubts about your grasp of the material that you betake yourself to my office for advice.  Thank you and good afternoon."

     With a great rustling of clothing, pulling on of jackets for the boys and fur-collars coats or cloaks for the girls, they gathered themselves and went on to their next classes. 

     He watched as the students filed out of the classroom.  Matthews was lagging behind, as usual, at the top lip of the amphitheatre-like bowl of the classroom, just under the large, many-lighted windows.  Enough late autumn glare came through it that he was silhouetted against the light.  A bright boy.

     "Have a nice weekend, Dr. Fletcher."

     "Hm?"  He looked up, smiled quickly.  That Beaumont girl, in a tight-bodiced button up dress, dark blue silk, the skirt ending just below her knees.  Fine legs, black high heels.  He remembered in a flash his aunt, when he was small, and the other women.  Their skirts brushed the floor, and their bustles hid any line that nature intended for the feminine form.  Her lines were all too evident, breasts high, tightly-packed, almost conical.  Her lips were dark, full.  She would go places.  She had the look about her.  She would have gone places with him if he'd have her.  "Thank you," he purred. "And you."  She flashed all her teeth, and he scoffed.  She tossed her head, loving the game.  Her thrust, his parry.  It was the game, and she knew it better than any other female he had ever encountered in almost twenty-five years of teaching.  She had an A, without ever putting pen to paper.  She swept out of the room in a gale of "My Sin".

     He turned and picked up his lecture notes, tamped them against the desk and replaced them in their file.  "Have a nice weekend, sir," another student said.

     "You, too."  He tied the brown strings around the dark folder and picked up his gold pen.  He moved slowly.  There was no hurry.  Matthews was still talking to Jenkins and Simons.  Three veterans.  The place was filthy with them, these twenty-five to thirty-year old men, seasoned from their years in service, from fighting Nazi's or Japs or Turks, whoever wherever.  They had seen it all and come back different.  They mixed in with the farm-bred adolescents in an uneven, yet somehow appealing amalgam.

     They were coming down the steep steps along the curved backed wooden seats.  "Matthews," he said, almost sharply, his breath catching uncharacteristically.

     Matthews turned with military precision, instantly dropping his conversation with the other two.

     "A word."

     "Yes, sir."  The other two mumbled goodbyes quickly and pushed through the door.  It swung closed and clicked with a slow brass-on-brass sound.  Matthews was about twenty-six, probably.  He was tallish, built like a young soldier should be, muscular without being overstated, strong physically, but still maleable, still able and willing to take orders.  His hair was cropped short, like all the other boys, neat lines of demarcation between the smooth-shaved Mediterranean-tanned skin of neck and throat and the short, dark silky hair.

     "Matthews, your work shows definite improvement."

     "Thank you."

     "You wrote before?"

     "Yes, sir.  For the batallion paper.  And short stories.  And articles for the local paper at home.  Sarcoxie.  I've wanted to be a writer for a long time."

     "Well.  This last piece of yours was quite interesting and very well written.  I've passed it on to the Mr. Smart for inclusion in the Missourian, even though I don't usually have anything to do with the copy in there."

     Matthews bobbed furiously. "Thank you, sir."

     He picked up his file and put it under his arm, turning toward the door.  He slipped a paternalistic hand to Matthews shoulders.  "I was thinking.  I'm having a party Saturday night at my apartment.  The best people.  Some influencial, rather dignified gentlemen not only from Columbia, but from St. Louis as well, and I think an executive from a press in Chicago will probably be coming by.  Some are involved in the writing profession, but others are in other fields.  Very exclusive group.  I was thinking you might be interested in joining us."

     "Me, sir?"

     "Yes.  You, sir.  I like to bring some of the more up-and-coming young men into the circle from time to time.  It leavens the whole lump, keeps us from thinking civilization ended in 1932."     

     Matthew's eyes travelled up the double-breasted suit, paused at the silk tie, and then continued to his face.  Students were awed by him.  It got better every year, in fact.  When he started as a professor, he was only twenty-four years old and looked like a kid.  There were boys in his classes that looked older than him, that were older than him.  But it was a damned good thing they were in awe of him.  It made life so much easier.  He smiled gently, nodding a little.  "Let me give you the address. It's 108 Freedmont Apartments.  Do you know where that is?"

     "Yes, sir. Right off campus."

     "Yes.  It's the one just to the left of the front door.  You'll see the atrial and the long French windows that open out onto a small balcony.  That's my apartment.  Come around, oh, eight or so."

     "Jacket and tie, I assume, sir?"  They had paused in front of the door.  Through the icy glass, cut into diamonds by the safety wires, they could see students moving outside, shadowy shapes, defined in soft lines with no details, only muted colors.  Laughter and conversation drifted in through the transom.

     "Of course.  You have a jacket and tie, I assume?"  

     "Yes, sir."  Fletcher smiled.  The boy would scurry around all day trying to borrow one, he could tell.

     "Good.  And Matthews?"

     "Yes, sir."

     "Call me Ellis."

     "Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir."

     "See you, then, on Saturday?"

     "Yes..."

     "Ellis.  Try it."

     Matthews blushed deeply and rolled his large brown eyes up the black chalkboard to the ceiling where the lights hung in fluted fixtures.  "Um..."

     "Maybe later." Ellis smiled, patted his shoulder and then swung his hand away, in an almost dismissive gesture.

     "Thank you, sir.  Have a nice evening."

     "I will."  Matthews pushed out the door and for a moment Ellis Fletcher turned back to the classroom, and stood staring into nothing.  How many classes had he taught here, in this room?  Twenty-five years.  Twenty-five years.  It was a good room.  From the high windows, he could see a few branches of a great sycamore tree outside, and watched it go through its paces.  Only for the last ten, of course.  Before that the tree hadn't been tall enough to be seen outside these second floor windows.  He drew a long breath.  A moment, and then back to the reality of life.  Two giggling girls came to the door.

     "Oh," one simpered. "Excuse us, sir.  Are you through?  We're in the next class."

     "What?  Oh, yes.  Excuse me," he bowed a little stiffly and went into the hallway.  The giggles followed him down the hall.  Silly little bitches.

    

 

                                * * *

 

     She was waiting for him at his office door, that Parmore thing.

     "Miss Parmore," he said, turning the brass door handle.  "Did you come to see me?"  Miss Parmore was to Journanlism 128 as Miss Beamont was to Journalism 250.

     "Yes, Mr. Fletcher."

     "Come on in then."  He motioned her to a chair and put his file on the desk.  Everything was in perfect order.  Betty had dropped several pieces of mail on his desk.  One was a obviously personal, handwritten in a gradeschoolish scrawl.  Otterville.  They shouldn't write to him at the office.  They shouldn't write at all.  He smiled wanly at her.

     "Mr. Fletcher," she purred.  "You mentioned the exam."  Miss Parmore was cut from the same cloth as Beaumont.  They were both ambitious, over-sexed and aggressive.

     "Yes."

     "I'm a little worried about it."  She adjusted her chair, no doubt, he was sure, hoping to manipulate it so that her legs would swing out beyond the desk. The room was, mercifully, too small.

     "Ah.  Well, Miss Parmore, what specifically are you concerned about?"

     "The whole thing."  She waved her hand.  Her fingernails were long, filed to perfect, fashionable claws, and painted with bright red enamel that matched her lips.  Why women thought men liked that sort of thing was beyond knowing.

     "Start to finish?  Are you telling me in sixteen weeks you've managed to assimilate nothing I have said?"

     "No, sir," she wilted demurely.  "Of course not.  I've been to almost every class."  One of the nails went between the bright red lips.  She smiled, feigning shyness.

     "Almost," he tapped his pencil against the desk.  "Almost."

     "Almost," she shrugged.  She slipped one hand over the other and straightened up, catlike. 

     "Hm."  He furrowed his brow.  "Miss Parmore, I cannot possibly re-teach in any less than sixteen weeks what it took me sixteen weeks to teach in the first place.  You can, however, ask me specific questions about specific topics and I will gladly help as best I can.  You might try getting notes from other students who were more assiduous in their attendance, as well. In fact, you might ask that Simpson boy.  He sits three rows down and a few seats over from you.  Quite a nice fellow, and very attentive to the material.  Shall I give you his number?"

     "Well," she hesitated, adjusting the chain that held a gigantic class ring that fell down between her breasts.  "I was thinking.  Oh, Mr. Fletcher. If there's anything I can do..."

     "For a better grade?" he asked softly, narrowing his eyes.  She was a fine girl, it was true.  "Is that it?"

     She fingered the neck of her soft, pale pink sweater and nodded silently.  He leaned back in the chair and glanced out the window at the bare trees below.  He put his elbows on the arms of the chair and steepled his fingers.  She sat silent, but the room was so filled with apprehension that even the silence was deafening.  Two stories below, students were moving back and forth on the sidewalk.  These girls.  They wanted University educations.  They wanted to play like they were men. But in truth, they weren't. They were nothing like men.  But they would fuck their way through classes, fuck their way into jobs, fuck their way into fucking up the profession, into diluting it with their inadequacies.

     He shot her a sidelong look.  "Yes," he said, rising slowly.  "Yes, Miss Parmore. There is something you can do."  He came to the front of the desk, and leaned against it.  "Yes."  She lifted her face expectantly, almost rising out of the chair.  He sensed the moist anticipation of her body, the tautness of her limbs, of her chest and belly, ready, ready.  "Yes, Miss Parmore," he purred.  "You can do something."

     "What, sir?"  It was breathless, her response. 

     "You can study."  He paused a moment for effect, smiled slowly, fully, and watched the scarlet color her face as the tautness in her frame dissolved.  She stammered a little, rose quickly.  He was inclined to say that if he was to fuck every girl in the school who wanted an A, he would be far to exhausted to drag himself to the podium to deliver even one lecture a day, let alone four on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and two on Tuesday and Thursday.  It was too great a load as it was.

     "Thank you, sir," she said, grasping her books and pressing them against the bodice of her sweater.  She turned quickly, stumbled over the edge of the chair and escaped.  Beaumont was a slut, but she never would be so blatant.  She would get her A.  She was a slut, but she did the work.  

 

                                * * *

 

     There were men everywhere, in the vestibule, in the living room, in the bedrooms, in the kitchen, the small dining room, even, if he guessed right, in the bathroom.  There were tinkling glasses, the polite hum of gentlemanly conversation, the mingled scents of cologne and cigarettes and liquor.  Over it all, or maybe under it, there was Mozart on the record player--oboe concertoes.  He had pushed Winnie's popular music records aside.  Winnie had no taste.  No taste at all. 

     Matthews had just come in, in a jacket that swam on him, looking ill at ease, fidgetting with his cigarette, staring at the others, a little lost.  He tamped it on the back of the metal lighter, and then would put it toward his lips and then tamp it again.  He would mix, just not well at first.  Damn Winnie or whoever let Matthews in, to leave him to his own devices.  It wasn't the way things were done.  Fletcher transferred his cigarette from one hand to the other and poured a drink.  He came up behind Matthews and reached over his shoulder with the drink.

     "Are you enjoying yourself?" he asked softly.

     "Yes, sir."

     "Ellis."

     "Thank you."

     "You aren't," Fletcher purred.  "Have a drink and either light than damned cigarette or put it away.  Come on, let me introduce you to a few people."  He took Matthews by the elbow and led him up behind several men.

     "Excuse me," he said.  "James Williams, I want you to meet a young friend of mine, Theo Matthews.  From Sarcoxie."  He pronounced it delicately.

     "Sounds painful."

     "I'm sorry?" Young Matthews said.   

     The others, more accustomed to Williams' offbeat sense of humor, laughed at the pun while he turned and smiled.  The effect was dazzling.  He put out his hand, gold cufflinks sparkling in the auburn glow of the incandescent lamps.  "Theo.  Sorry about that.  No insult meant to your home town.  Nice to meet you.  One of Fletcher's boys?"

     "Yes, sir.  I'm in his Advertising Theory class."

     "Hm.  An ad man.  I should be careful around you.  No, that Fletcher, he's a born ad man.  Born and bred."  He reached over and squeezed Fletcher's forearm. 

     "I come by it honestly then," he smiled.  He patted Matthews on the shoulder.  "Come on, son.  Light your cigarette and relax.  You're among friends."

     "Thank you, sir."

     "It isn't sir.  It's Ellis.  And this is James, Jimmy if you like," and Pete.  Winnie is somewhere.  Did you meet Winnie when you came in?"

     "I don't think so."

     "James, take our young Theo in hand and see that he doesn't get into any mischief," he smiled again and when he looked at them a half hour later, James was slipping his jacket on and rhapsodizing about his new car.  Matthews, grinning was struggling to get the oversized jacket into his undersized camel coat.

     "It'll be a long time before England gets her production of sports cars back up. I was lucky to get this one."  James came alongside Fletcher.  "We may be back," he said.  "A little spin in my Dusty."

     "If we don't see you tonight..."

     "I'll be back in the morning.  I have to leave for Chicago in the afternoon.  My wife's father wants me to address a meeting of his board at lunch on Monday, so I have to be back.  But we can luncheon together tomorrow after church if you like, before I leave."

     "Good.  You'll be at Calvary?"

     "Yes, certainly."

     "We can go from there then after the 11:00 service."

     "Good."

     "We'll see you tomorrow then."  Ellis smiled, shook James's hand and then raised a hand to Theo, who was too far away to reach with a handshake.  The boy smiled.

 

                                * * *

 

     It was two in the morning.  He was almost mindlessly exhausted, but at the same time strangely excited.  Winnie was in the kitchen already, washing up.  A young man was also in the kitchen, one of the boys from the party, taking dishes and wiping them quickly, with the demeanor of a drug store soda jerk.  They turned when they saw him come in.

     "Johnson," he said cordially, recognizing the young man.  "Did you have a good time tonight?"

     "Yes, sir, Mr. Fletcher.  I did."

     "Relax.  You aren't in class, Johnson.  Call me Ellis."

     "Then you should probably call me Chip."  There was a twinkle in his eye, probably inspired by the liquor, but the boy was the likely sort, good-humored and lively.  He had done well enough in class, though he was, by no means, an outstanding student.

     "Chip?"  Ellis groaned and covered his eyes as if in pain.  "Must I?"

     "Chester, then," the boy said sheepishly, flailing the towel a little.  Ellis laughed.

     "Well, Chip, I'm glad you enjoyed yourself.  Is there anything left to eat?"

     "A little cavier, some (), and a few pieces of ()," Winnie said.     "Help yourself, Chip.  You young men are always hungry.  Finish it off."

     "Thanks."  He leaned over and took a bit of () and spread it with (), popped it into his mouth and chewed happily.  He sorted through the glasses for a half-filled one and slugged the liquor back.

     "Don't worry about this now," Ellis said quickly.  "You know, we do have a maid.  She can wash up."

     "We're almost through," Winnie said, a little thickly.  Chip began giggling.  They were both obviously beyond two sheets to the wind and were working on their third.  Ellis chuckled.

     "I can see that.  Please yourself." 

     Winnie handed off a glass to Chip, but Chip missed.  It slipped through his hands and onto the floor, shattering to bits.  They all stared at it for a moment as if time had been suspended.  Winnie and Chip had the obvious and unique concentration of drunks.  Ellis had nothing better to do for the moment than stare at it and wait for the other shoe to drop.  Breathing apologies, Chip sank to the floor and started gathering up the pieces.  "So sorry, Mr. Fletcher.  Ellis.  Mr. Fletcher.  You have such fine things.  Ruined your set."

     "It's fine..." he said, watching the top of the boy's head move over the pieces of glass.  "Don't worry about it.  Just..."

     "It's like a Jewish wedding," Winnie laughed, pawing for the fawcet handle to turn off the splashing water.

     "A what?"  The boy's face came up, flushed and broad, his mouth open, his throat almost swanlike in the incandescent light.

     "Stay right there," Ellis said softly.  "Don't move."  His hand went quickly to the fly of his trousers, and in an instant he moved forward, his other hand slipping behind the boy's head.  He knew.  The kid knew.  He leaned into it, into the recesses of Ellis's trousers and trunks.  For a horrible moment, Ellis tried to remember the last time he'd used the toilet.  No, it was before he showered.  There shouldn't be anything, not even the slightest hint of anything maloderous or tainted.  He'd been smoking and drinking, but so had the boy.  It would be alright.  He relaxed against the counter.

     The warm mouth pressed first against him outside the white cotton, eagerly defining the shape of his member through the cloth, sucking the shaft without touching the head, and then with a groan from both the younger and elder man, the boy burrowed in deep, pulled the head free and Ellis was enveloped in the warm, soft moistness of a good mouth, an experienced mouth.  He could pick them.  He knew them, almost instinctively.  He closed his eyes, let his head drop back and leaned heavily against the sink, caressing the short, soft hair.  Ellis hated dressed hair, stiff but fashionable.  He liked this. Short. Short enough that when it got good, he could grasp it in his fists and his knuckles would roll hard against warm skin.  He knew better than to take a boy by the ears, but it was still tempting.

     Winnie moved around to watch from the side.  Opening his own clothing quickly, he pulled his dick out.  Ellis could see his chest moving as the tempo of his breathing increased with his excitement.  As irritating as Winnie could be, as trying as their relationship was, it still excited Ellis to see Winnie excited.  The boy was moving delicious against him, making wonderful, delighted, desperate noises.  Winnie stroked himself, his eyes half closed, cat like.  Ellis began to move his hips.  Winnie liked that, liked to watch it go in and out of a boy's mouth.  The fingers at his hips sank in deeper, the moans became insistant.  Winnie's hand speeded up and he grunted softly, mumbling garbled encouragements to the boy.  "Get his balls," he said quickly.  "Get his balls."  The boy's hand scooped into the trunks again, while the other one smoothed around the cheek of his buttock, the fingers exploring the valley.  Ellis reached out and grabbed for Winnie.  Winnie came close under his arm, Winnie proferring his own dick to the boy, but availing nothing, squirted his load past the boy's cheek onto the floor.  Chip suddenly broke contact, stood up. He was a few inches taller than Ellis, and it suddenly surprised Ellis for a moment.

     "You don't mind," he panted.  "If I get undressed now, do you?"  He was half-stripped before they could answer. 

      

                                * * *

 

 

     The church was less crowded than usual, already redolent with the scent of warm beeswax on a cold morning.  He caught sight of Williams and sidled into the pew next to him, knelt down for a few minutes, his hands reverently in front of his face.  They both sat back on the pew.  He glanced at the program in his hands.

     "So?"

     "So."

     "How is our young Theo?"

     "Fine.  Very fine.  Suffering, I think, from Sore Cocksie this morning."

     Ellis stifled a laugh.  "You let him spend the night?"

     "Why not?  He was good for a few turns.  I didn't sleep much.  It'll be a hell of a drive back to Chicago this afternoon.  I told him when the semester ends to come up and I'd find something for him in my ad room."

     "Good.  Good.  Thanks."   Mixed feelings washed over him.  He couldn't keep them all for himself.  They had to go away and have their own careers.  He would get around to the boy before he left, though.  If nothing else, the kid owed him.  He pursed his lips.  That was an ungentlemanly thought.  Crass.  He wasn't like that.  But there were still three weeks left in the semester, surely the boy owed him a courtesy call at least.

     "Glad to.  He was a little uneasy at first, I think.  But after a few more drinks, he was lively enough.  He likes going to church."

     "Does he?"

     "Hmm.  Well, he spent a lot of time on his knees.  We went down on the Hinkson Creek, someplace he knew with an incredible hanging rock.  He said he brought girls down there from time to time.  He's a good one, though.  I like him."

     "You're a real card."

     "Yes. I am."

     Tremulous notes streamed down from the organ in the choir loft.  "Oh, yes.  Accomplished on the organ, too."

     "Mouth organ?" Ellis whispered.  Two elderly women in boxy shoes clicked into the pew behind them.  "So, will you be attending the National Association of Advertising Professional meeting this year?"

     "Where is it?"

     "Syrcacuse, I think.  I'm trying to get back up to Columbia for a seminar this summer."

     "Might be edifying at that."

     "Yes."

     "I try to get up to New York every few months.  It's a entirely different cultural atmosphere, even than Chicago.  Certainly than here."

     "Ah, true.  But I like it here.  I love teaching.  I love what I do." 

     "Then you're a lucky man."  But that went without saying.  Where else in the world could he have a good hundred new students to choose from every autumn.  There were about 3,500 students in the University, more than half men.  Of those, about eight hundred were in the school of journalism.  That meant, any given fall, he had a new class of about a hundred boys, and the last few years had been better than any in the past.  He sighed and glanced around the cool stone walls of the church.  It was a beautiful little church, charming.  The organist, who had been meandering through some Bach, suddenly got down to business and the sonorous tones of the introit hymn filled the church.  In a body, the congregation rose, himself and Williams included, paged quickly through to the proper hymn and began singing.  The acolyte, a pretty-faced curly haired boy in his lacy surplus and cassock preceeded the priest down the aisle, holding the ornate cross on its long, highly polished hardwood pole before his face.  He passed and Ellis heard Williams give an almost inaudible snort. 

     The priest followed the boys with the candles and entered the altar area.  "The Lord is in his holy temple," (or is it t his is the day the lord has made?  What are the first lines of the episcopal morning prayer?  What's it called?  he said, when the last resonances of the hymn died down.  Ellis smiled a little.

 

                                * * *

     He was stiff when he got out of the car.  Jefferson City wasn't that far, only about thirty miles.  It was a fairly easy drive, though, despite a few tight turns and hills.  The drive from Columbia to Jeff was about the only time he spent alone, he mused.  Every other time and place there were others around.  He didn't object to constant company.  He'd grown up in a house full of people.  When his mother died of consumption when he was 21 months old, his father had moved house back into his own father's home.  Ellis, Sr., Ellis' grandfather, was an important man in Sedalia, mayor for a few years, and then state representative.  He had a clothing store, upscale apparel and furnishings for gentlemen.  There was a house full of uncles, three of them, and a maiden aunt, and lodgers, men in their late twenties.  He came by his tastes honestly, then, for these men on the cusp of thirty.  He had known them since childhood.  Men were good natured at that age, horny as hell, but good to a boy.  They treated him like a prince, and once he got the hang of what was expected, it was good.  He had never suffered that he could remember, except when they left, especially if they left without saying anything.

     He locked the car outside the Governor and went inside.  The desk clerk snapped to.  "Mr. Fletcher," he said.

     "Good evening."

     "How are you this evening, sir?"

     "Well.  Thank you, Bill.  You?"

     "Well, sir.  Thank you for asking.  Same room?"

     "Yes.  That'll be fine."  The young man pulled the keys from the hook.  "Anything interesting afoot tonight?"

     "Not really, sir.  A few people in the lounge."

     He slid a dollar bill across the counter to the boy. 

     "Thank you, sir.  You might find an interesting party in the lounge at that, sir.  Have a good evening."

     "Thank you, Bill."  He slipped his coat off and over his arm and strode through the door to the lounge.  The place was only about half-full, but then, it was early yet.  He nodded to one.  "Senator," he said.

     "Mr. Fletcher."  The senator raised his glass in salute.  Fletcher passed another table, patted the shoulder of an undersecretary of the highway department.  He was with a different blonde than he had been last time Fletcher had been in.  He sat down at the bar, and the bartender came over. 

     "Mr. Fletcher," he said politely.  "Usual?"

     "Thank you, Fred."

     "How you keepin', sir?"

     "Well, well.  I'll be glad when the semester is over."

     "Yes, sir."  He put a glass in front of Ellis and poured from the dark bottle.  "I'm sure you will."

     "Anything interesting?"

     "Yes.  I would direct your attention to the young man at the end of the bar."

     He craned back a little, discreetly, though.  "I haven't seen him in here before."

     "Me either.  But he has a certain air about him."

     "Well, what about him?"

     The bartender shrugged. 

     He was a youngish man, late twenties, not small by any means.  He was wearing a fairly good suit.  His hair was a little longer than usual, but it was fairly loose.

     "Wbat's he drinking?"

     "().  Shall I send one on you?"

     "Why not?"

     The bartender poured a drink, and went down to the young man.  He leaned up, almost furtively, to listen to the bartender, and they nodded.  He turned toward Ellis, lifted the glass and nodded.  His face was longish, fine-boned, the picture of a young romantic Norman nobleman, a Lancelot, perhaps, or a Tristan.  He rose, then, and slid the drink down the bar, came up alongside Ellis.  They regarded each other coolly.

     "Thanks for the drink," he said, cocking his head a little.  "Do you make a habit of buying drinks for strange men?"

     "Not a habit.  Not at all.  Sit down, if you like."

     "Thanks."

     "Ellis Fletcher."  He put out his hand.

     "Henry David Waterson."

     "Henry David."

     The young man grinned, even white teeth in a good mouth.  One of his canines was a little more prominant than the others, but the slight imperfection only added a certain tang to the rest.  "My father was nuts about Thoreau."

     "I see.  Have you read him?"

     "Yes.  As a matter of fact.  Cover to cover.  A few times.  I really like some of what he says."  He turned the barstool around toward the room and leaned his elbows back on the table.  "I suppose the two parts that most struck me are the ones in which he talks about man standing in the manliest relation to men..."

     "Yes."

     "And how he talks about preferring clothing where he can get his hands on himself in the dark."  He laughed, a wonderful laugh.  He threw back the rest of the drink and turned on the stool back toward the bar.  He motioned to the bartender, who came and refilled it.

     "I haven't seen you in here before."

     "This is my first time.  I don't live here."

     "Where do you live?"

     "Hannibal."

     "You're a little far off course, Henry David Waterson."

     He laughed a little.  He laughed easily.  His face was perfect, flawless.  He turned a little again on the stool, and Ellis stole a look at his shoes.  They were well shined.  He was no wastrel.  "My father and brother have a stoneworking business.  They wanted to put in a bid for some government buildings going up here.  I brought it down for them."

     "Do you have a chance?"

     He shook his head.  "No.  They only want to use native stone and we deal mostly in stone cut in Iowa."

     "Too bad."

     "Yep.  It's a great little town, though, don't you think?"  He pulled up his sleeve and rubbed his wrist a little.  The cufflinks weren't real gold but at least he had the sense to wear them in a place like this.

     They talked for a while, as the place filled up.  There was a dinner-dance in the resturaunt and couples in tuxes and fur-collared coats came in and drank while they waited.  How much of what anyone said was true was anybody's guess.  As for Ellis, he used his usual cover--he was a reporter for an obscure, actually nonexistant paper in St. Louis, covering legislative news.  Henry David accepted this without comment and chattered happily on about himself.  The place began to empty.  The younger man was an excellent conversationalist, quick on the uptake, witty, charming.  He used his hands a lot when he talked, gestured, and by nine was putting his hand on Ellis's arm to punctuate points, by ten, touching his shoulder.  As the evening wore on, and he became looser and more familiar, he would lean his head closer to Ellis, close enough that Ellis could smell his cologne.  It was cheap, but went through his olfactory sensors straight to his loins.  This was a fine one.  He wasn't completely sure, though.  There was that modicom of doubt.  What if he was wrong?  What if the boy wouldn't go?  What if, this time, it was a schill, a plant, set out to trap him.  Two years to life, in a penitentiary not three blocks from this very hotel.

     Everything proceeded step by step.  They moved to a small table.  The drinking, smoking, finally each lighting the other's cigarettes.  Very polite.  Very proper. Finally, shortly after midnight, Henry David stretched a little, yawned.  He was exhausted, he said.  His eyes were heavy.  Too much driving for one day, too much beaurocratic bullshit.  Ellis smiled.  Too much drinking, too.  He stretched again, and then put his feet out away from the table, at full length, crossing his feet one over the other, cozy, familiar.  After four hours of conversation, he was loosened up enough to lounge.

     Ellis pulled out his cigarette case, tamped one and put it to his lips.  Henry David was there with the light, but this time, his fingers touched Ellis's as he steadied them to hold the flame.  They sat for an instant, hands cupped over the flame, over the now-burning cigarette.  His hand stayed.  Ellis looked up, his eyes meeting those of the other.  He snapped the case closed and put it back in his breastpocket.

     "I have a room," he said shortly.

     Henry David nodded.

     "Shall we?"

     There was silence.  He rose and put some change on the bar and looked back at Henry David.  "Are you coming?"

     "Yes.  I'm exhausted.  Thanks."

     They walked to the elevator. The attendant slid the ornate brass gate open and nodded politely to them.  They stepped inside and the man closed the gate and set the switch in motion.

     "Fourth floor, Mr. Fletcher?"

     "Yes, Bart.  Thank you."

     The elevator jerked to a stop and Henry David made a little sick noise.  "I hate elevators.  We don't have anything like that in Hannibal."

     "I bet there's a lot you don't have in Hannibal."

     "Oh, I don't know," he said.  "You might be surprised what we have in Hannibal."

     Ellis pulled the key from his jacket pocket and unlocked the door.  He stepped inside, smoothed his hand down the wall for the light switch.

     "Don't turn it on," Henry David said quickly.  "It'll be too bright.  I think I'm going to get a headache."

     "Do you want some aspirin?  I can order some for you from the desk."

     "Thanks.  Maybe later."  Henry opened his jacket, slipped to the bed and sat down on it, tested it for bounce.  He smiled a little, spread his arms and laid back on it.

     "You're drunk," Ellis said flatly.

     "I am.  I am at that."  He looked at Ellis, but didn't move.  Ellis came alongside the bed and sat down gingerly on it.  He reached over and took firm hold of Henry David's belt.  Slipping the tongue out from under the (), he pulled the tongue from the hole.  Henry David was watching him, but didn't move.

     Ellis stood up. He watched the other man's face carefully.  At the slightest move, gesture of disapproval, it was over.  He was still not convinced it was safe.  Without taking his eyes off Henry's, he began taking his jacket off.  He laid it over the chair.  He unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it off as well, his white sleeveless undershirt defining his body.  Yes. He was getting older, but his body was as good as most men in their early thirties.  A smile flickered to Henry's face confirmed his hope that he was still desirable.

     Henry sat up, put his fingers under Ellis's belt and pulled him closer, spreading his legs so that his crotch would be against Ellis's thighs.  There was no mistaking it.  It was a hit.  The hand was running down the outside of his trousers now, and he was filled with the delightful agony of anticipation.   In Sedalia, when something wasn't going well, his grandfather would say, "Son, this dog won't hunt."  But this dog would hunt.

     He reached down and pushed the jacket off Henry's shoulders, pushed him back down onto the bed and slowly unbuttoned the white shirt.  Henry's hands were moving over his chest.  He made appreciative noises, feminine sounds.  "You have a wonderful body," he said in a soft, sweet tone, totally different from the one he had been using in the bar.  "So firm.  How old are you?"

     "Forty-eight."

     "You can't be," the voice was smiling, even in the dark, he could hear it.  "I can't imagine you're more than a few years older than me."

     "I've had the same job for twenty-four years, young man."  He stood up and slipped his shoes off, his socks and took his trousers down.  He was hard already.  He needed no more arousal, but it wouldn't do any harm, either.  "Henry, I want light.  I want to see you.  I want to see everything."

     "It's so..."

     "I want to look at you."

     There was a moment's pause.  "Turn it on then.  Whatever you want."  Breathy, sweet, like a movie starlet.  "Whatever you say."

     He leaned up and snapped on the light next to the bed.  It fell fully on Henry, soft light, not garish like daylight.  He was exquisite.  It was going to be an incredible pleasure.  He had taken excellent care of his skin.  It was soft and glowed, shimmering in the light.  There was almost no hair on his body, none at all on his chest, except a very little around each of this pale but firm nipplse.  He had clipped his pubic hair back so that it was only a light dusting of reddish gold.  He threw his arm up over his head.  He had shaved his axillaries as well, more like the living embodiment of a perfectly smooth, clean Greek statue than a mid-Missouri boy in 1946.

     Henry's hand travelled down Ellis's naked flank, stopped just above his hipbone.  Ellis raised himself and laid down fully on Henry.  He took the man's face, slowly, came close, closer.  He didn't turn away.  He seemed high enough class to accept a mouth, and Ellis opened his lips and covered the other's mouth. In a moment, he was too excited to maintain any pretense.  He drove his tongue into Henry's mouth and Henry reciprocated, instantaneously, almost wildly, his hands opening and closing against Ellis's flesh.

     "Oh, God," Ellis moaned.  "Raise your legs."  Henry complied quickly, and Ellis raised up over him, his dick hanging down heavily between them. 

     "Oh, my God," Henry almost sobbed.  "You can't.  You're too big."

     "What?" He was instantly taken aback.  What did he mean?  He wasn't overly large, really more or less average.  He'd seen a great many dicks bigger than his own.

     "You're too big.  You're too big," he repeated.  "You'll hurt me. I can't take that."

     "It's alright," he said, instantly concerned.  It seemed strange.  This one seemed to know what he was doing, seemed experienced.  Had he misjudged him?  He reached down into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small jar of vaseline.  He juggled the package and managed to pull the lid off, applying it to himself first.  He reached quickly between Henry's legs, wiped it around the opening, his whole body tingling at as he touched the balls, the perineum, the other's rosebud.  It would be good, later, to take his time and explore this one, fingers and tongue.  But for now, he wanted in.  It was late, and he was tired. 

     "You can't.  It won't go.  I can't take it...Please," he moaned.

     Ellis closed his eyes.  That tone of voice, the motions, the gestures.  It was a game.  He pinned the man down, hard against the bed.  "It is too big," he said harshly.  "You're right.  But I'm going to fuck your ass anyway.  Shut up now."  It was a far cry from the gentleman he usually affected, but what the hell.

     "Oh, God."

     "You better pray."  He supported Henry's legs in his arms and pressed forward.  It slipped in easily.  He let his breath out in a gasp, and Henry cried out like a woman, wriggled and writhed.  He was a big man, at that, probably outweighing Ellis by a good ten pounds, and it was everything he could do to stay above him with the man wiggling with abandon.  In a scant minute or two, Ellis had come, and collapsed, sweating against the other.  Arms encircled him. 

     "Sweet boy," Henry said softly, kissing his forehead.  "Sweet.  Oh, yes.  You are sweet."

     He tightened his arms around the other and held him close for a moment.  The hands were moving along his back now.  He was drained.  "Now me," the soft voice begged.  "Honey, suck me off, won't you?"

     He pulled himself sleepily off Henry and laid his head opposite Henry's dick.  It wasn't very big, at least it was smaller than his, more like an adolescent boy's, but it was extremely hard, and he had good balls.  He nuzzled it, savored the hardness against his cheek and then began, slowly, gently.

     Afterwards they lay together for a few minutes.  Ellis stood up.  "I have to shower," he said.

     "Now?" Henry sat up.

     "I have to go home."

     "Now?" Henry repeated.  "Why?"

     "Someone is waiting for me."

     "You're married?"

     "Not me."

     Henry pulled the sheet up over himself and yawned.  "Well, I shouldn't think so.  A man?"

     "Yes. I've been living with a friend for about sixteen years."

     "That's a long time." There was silence. 

     "I have to shower," he repeated.

     "I live with one, too.  A man. Not a shower. Well, I have a shower, too.  But a man.  I live with a man.  His name is William."

     "Hm." Ellis went to the bathroom and snapped on the light.  He looked at himself quickly in the mirror.  There were red marks on his chest and neck from Henry's fingers.  They tingled.  It felt good.  He turned on the shower and washed quickly, wrapped a towel around himself and came back into the bedroom.

     "You can keep the room if you like," he said. "It's paid for until eleven."

     "Thanks.  I am completely worn out."  He paused.  "Do it again."

     "Oh, I don't know." Ellis said in an offhand way.  "I think it's too big." 

     Henry bit his lip, looked sheepish and then burst out laughing.  "You're a good one."

     "Thanks. So are you."  He was sorely tempted but it would mean showering again and it wasn't quite worth it.  He was too drunk and too tired, and the drive was forty minutes back home.  If he wasn't back by two, Winnie would be angry.  By three he would be frantic.  Better not to risk that.

     He looked at the man lying on the bed, so coy, one hairless leg drawn up over the other knee.  "So.  What do they call you?"

     "Me?" That sweet voice again.  "You can call me Hazel."

     "Hazel?  You're far too lovely for a common name like that..."

     "Hmmm.  That's nice of you to say.  But Hazel it is."

     "Well, Hazel, I've enjoyed being with you."

     "Will you come back?"

     He finished dressing, combed his hair carefully in front of the mirror.  "Would you like me to?"

     "Yes."

     "Here, then?  In two week's time?"

     "Yes.  I'll be here."

     Hazel stood up and slipped his shirt on. "I'll walk you to the door.  Are you sure you have to go?"

     "Yes.  We have an agreement."

     "Mmmm.  He's a lucky man."

     "So is William."  They kissed softly, gently.  Hazel's hands were caressing again.  Ellis was almost afraid to let the kiss go deep.  He would have a hard time leaving.  This one was fine.  But he had to go. He could tear himself away.  If worse came to worst, there was Winnie at home.  He could have him. 

     "Next time," Ellis said.  "We won't waste so much time on talking."  He smiled, and bit Hazel gently at the base of the throat.  He groaned and held Ellis's head tight against him for a moment.

     "I didn't know if you could be trusted," Hazel breathed.  "I wanted you from the moment you walked in.   I saw you at the door, that camel coat over your arm and I thought, 'There's a big hard dick in those trousers, Hazel, and you're going to have it in your ass if you're a good girl.'"

     "And you did."

     "And I did."

     "And you'll have it again.  I promise."  He kissed the other lightly.  "I have to go.  Now."

     "Good bye."

     He walked quickly to the elevator without looking back, took it to the lobby and walked out past the desk.  "Goodnight, Bill," he said.

     "Goodnight, Mr. Fletcher.  See you again soon."

     "Thank you."  The doorman opened the glass door for him and he strode out into the cold night.  The air hit him like a solid wall, and he realized how exhausted he really was.  It filled his lungs and he was suddenly suffused in a feeling so satisfied, he could barely remember its equal.  He should turn and go back upstairs, take that bastard again, from the back this time, hold that tight hard adolescent prick hard in his hands, jerk him off until...he had to get home.  Damn.  It was like being married. 

     He drove home, lightly fingering himself.  It wouldn't do to pull it out on the dark road.  After all, if he had an accident, that would be a fine way to find him, with his hand stuck down in his trousers.  It had only been about two weeks since the Bradford Harlin, the venerable Democratic magistrate had been killed instantly on this road when a young man head-oned him in the middle of the night about five miles south of town.  It he were killed, the headline would read, "Veteran journalism professor killed instantly when struck headon by a vehicle driven.  Masturbating at the time.  Hundreds mourn."  Still, he felt good.  He felt damned good.

     The road was empty, dark, and the sensation of rolling over the hills and around the gentle curves one after another, almost hypnotic.  The headlights of his Buick made wide, pale circles of light that danced before the car like something alive, molding and adapting to the changes in the macadam surface.  They flashed, on the periphery, up into the trunks and bowls of the close-standing trees that lined the road.  Between the stands of trees, there were fields beyond, now lying fallow, ready for the spring planting.

     Three or four hills away, the dim headlights of an oncoming car.  As they approached one another, the lights would disappear below the hill and then reappear a few seconds later at the top of the next one.  They finally became brighter and brighter, until they passed and then, in the rear-view he could see the pair of red lights moving away, around the curves in the road.  He leaned back in the seat, and put his hand back in his lap.

 

                                * * *

    

     The two weeks had ground along.  He thought of Hazel every day, many times a day.  At first, he was thoroughly confident they would meet again, and he satisfied himself a number of times in the faculty men's room stall in the Journalism school thinking about him.  He didn't mention Hazel to Winnie.  They had an agreement. Just an understanding.  Not a commitment.  Neither of them were supposed to be going off and doing anything without the other one at least having the opportunity to share in it.  Winnie went of and scouted up boys.  Ellis was far too dignified to do that, at least in town.  Winnie knew he was going to Jefferson City.  Surely he must have known for what.

     Still, understanding or no understanding this one was different.  He didn't want to share him.  In fact, the more he thought about him, the more he could imagine him in the apartment, taking over Winnie's duties.  Winnie wouldn't last forever.  But then, Hazel had someone else, too.  It was better this way.        What if he didn't come?  By the middle of the second week he was kicking himself for not getting arranging to meet sooner, but Thanksgiving had intervened and he'd been in Kansas City with the relatives for the weekend.  He should have gotten a phone number. 

     It didn't matter.  If he drove to Jefferson City and the little ass wasn't there, there'd be someone else just as good.  Maybe not just as good, but close enough.  

     After work, he got in the car and started down to the capital. He had that almost wonderful, horrible queasy feeling in his stomach.  He went in, picked up the key, went to the lounge.  His eyes adjusted to the dimness.  There he was.  End of the bar.  Same place.  Good boy.

     He started toward him.  Hazel, perceiving the approach of someone, looked up, his glass poised at his lips.  Without drinking, without lowering the glass, his lips curled into a smile, almost a mischevious smile.  He pulled some coins from his pocket and tossed them on the bar.  "Thanks, Mac," he said, standing up.  "See you 'round."

     "Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir."  The bartender nodded.  "Evening, Mr. Fletcher."

     "Evening." He turned silently to Hazel, who was slipping his jacket on.

     "You have a room?"

     "I do," he said soberly.

     "Let's go."

     "I need a drink first." He hesitated, suddenly feeling shy, tense.  How after so many years could he still be uneasy about it? 

     "Bartender," Hazel said firmly.  "Give me a bottle of Scotch, will you?"

     "Certainly."  He pulled one off the wall.  Hazel tamped out his cigarette and put his foot on the bar.  He flipped a bill over toward the bartender.  "Pay me back later," he said quickly, offhanded to Fletcher as if they were old and close friends.  

     "Of course."

     Hazel slipped the bottle under his arm.  "Come on, then," he said quickly and Ellis followed him to the elevator.  It was almost too indiscreet.  But there was also something exciting in the cheek of it.  They stepped into the elevator, stood at the back wall staring forward.  Hazel turned and studied him in profile behind the back of the elevator attendant.  It was a new boy.  Ellis shifted his eyes to meet Hazel's.  They were surprisingly hard, and Ellis felt persperation mist up on his chest, and at the small of his back.  Damn.  He hated to sweat.  What if he started to smell bad?  He could shower first. He would shower first.

     They stepped out of the elevator and he unlocked the door and let it swing open.  If he had any concern that Hazel's feelings were any different, they were dispelled by the quickness and firmness of the arms that took him up immediately.

     They lay entwined on the bed, panting.  He couldn't breathe.  "Get off," he said.  "It's too hot."

     "I like you. I want to lay here with you."

     "Let me get my breath."

     Hazel, reluctantly, rolled off, his beautifully formed, hairless arm thrown up over his head.  Ellis sat up.  "I almost forgot."

     "What?"

     "I have something for you."  He leaned over and reached for his jacket.  A hand stroked down his side, to the top of his buttocks.

     "You're a fine-looking man," Hazel purred.  "God, you're so masculine, so strong.  I feel small next to you."

     Ellis suppressed the urge to laugh.  He fumbled in the pocket and drew out a small white box.  "Here."

     "For me?"  Hazel shot up quickly, sat up Indian-style, his dick like a stubby elephant trunk or a pale lolling tongue started to harden again, and Ellis laid back against the headboard, touching Hazel's shoulder.  "I love surprises."

     "I hope you like this one," he said smoothly.  The lid came off and Hazel moved the cotton aside. 

     "Oh, Christ.  They're beautiful."  He pulled out the gold cuff links.  They were best the jewelry store had to offer that were still understated and tasteful.  "Just beautiful.  Good God.  Gold?"

     "Of course," he stroked down Hazel's curved spine, caressing down each of the vertebrae.  "Would you think I would offer you anything less?"

     "Christ.  You are a gentleman."

     "I try," he said, not even feigning humility.

     "Will your friend mind?"

     "I don't think so.  He has cufflinks of his own.  If you're a good boy, I'll bring you the tie bar that goes with them.  But I don't want to spoil you."  He was only half-teasing.

     Suddenly Hazel smiled, took one cufflink into either hand and held them up to his ears.  "I don't know.  What do you think?" he asked in his feminine voice.  "Are they me?"  He tossed his hair coquettishly and stared up at the ceiling like a model.

     Ellis growled.  "Get down here, now," he said.  "I want you."

 

    

                                * * *

 

     "Two weeks?" Hazel said, leading.

     "I don't think I can wait that long," he admitted.  "Next week."

     "Same time, same station?"

     "Yes.  Same time, same station."

     "You won't spend the night?"

     "I still have to go.  Hazel, my situation will not change, for the present.  You'll have to adjust."  He said it to himself as much as to Hazel, who leaned up, supporting himself against one arm, his cheek pressed coyly against his shoulder.

     "But I want you," he whined.  "I want to sleep with you.  I want to wake up with you first thing in the morning..."

     "Sometime."  He stood up and fastened his belt, pulled his jacket on and ran his comb through his hair.  "We'll do it sometime," he said soothingly.  Naked, Hazel rose from the bed and followed him to the door.  "Sleep well."  He reached out, stroked the other's face, kissed him gently.  The naked body pressed against his fully clothed one, conformed itself to his body, and he was aroused again, this time by the juxtaposition of naked and suited, the most vulnerable posture pressed against the most powerful one.  But he was too tired to do it again.  He had to leave sometime.

     "Good night, Hazel," he said softly.

 

                                * * *

 

     He went into the bar, almost breathlessly, anticipating seeing the man.  He had, over the week, memorized everything he could about Hazel, what he had been wearing, what his hair was like, his profile, how he  stripped his clothes off, how he would arc back a little, run his hands over his taut body idly, as if he didn't know how beautiful he was, and yet, knowing, no doubt, the effect so simple a gesture could have on an innocent bystander.

     His eyes went to the end of the bar first, but there was no one there.  He glanced, disappointed, around the small, darkened room.  He wasn't there.  He sat down at the bar.

     "Usual, Mr. Fletcher?"

     "Yes, thanks," he muttered.  He pulled himself together.  "Thanks," he said again when the bartender brought the drink.  "Anything interesting I should know about?"

     "Not really, sir.  It's been slow tonight."

     He yearned to ask if Hazel had been in yet.  If he had he was probably just in the men's room.  He settled back, lit a cigarette and drew a long draught.  But a thought propelled his body forward and he leaned against heavily against his elbows.  What if he had met someone else?  What if he was upstairs, even now, in a room with another man, sucking him off, rolling over, moaning it was going to hurt.  Stupid, Ellis thought.  It would just be one more thing.   Somebody else would come in.  He could manage.  He took a sip of the drink and tamped out his cigarette.  My God, what if he didn't come at all? 

     There was a rustling behind him, and a woman was at his elbow.  He glanced at her quickly, his eyes moving down her form.  She was tall, willowy, in a tight grey, chalk-striped dress with mammoth muttonchop sleeves.  She smelled heavily of White Shoulders.   Her dark hair was full around her face, pulled back in a long snood.  "Waiting for someone?" she purred.

     "Yes.  I am."

     "Me too.  Is this seat taken?  Can I join you?"

     He hesitated.  Why not.  "Of course," he gestured to it and she elegantly poured herself onto the stool.  "Can I buy you a drink?"

     "Thanks."  She put her purse on the counter.  "Manhattan?"

     He nodded at the bartender and ordered.  She leaned forward, arching her back and turning back toward him slightly, her upper body a torgued S-curve with her buttocks the bottom upturned curve of the S.  Very elegant, very Hollywood.

     She talked idly, above this and that, moving quickly from one subject to the next.  If she was intelligent, she made a great show of hiding it, demurring to him constantly in that self-effacing way women have.  He didn't mind being considered the greater intellect, but damn it, he wanted some competition for the honor.  This was just passing the time, and it was a waste.  But the time was passing, and he grew more concerned.  He wasn't coming.  It was nearing nine and he wasn't there.

     As if a mindreader, the woman cocked her head at him, her thickly painted lips curling into a sympathetic smile.  "So you think she stood you up?"

     "Who?"

     "The friend you were waiting for."

     "I wouldn't say that," he retorted, a little gruffly. 

     "Maybe not, but she did."  There was a teasing in her voice.  He glanced at her again.  She had too much makeup on.  He looked away.

     "Besides.  It wasn't a woman.  It was a man."

     "Oh.  You're that kind."

     He felt the blood drain from his face.  "What kind?" he asked smoothly.

     "Who meets men in bars."

     "I travel.  I meet people that I like to visit with and sometimes we have drinks in a bar."  His palms were beginning to feel moist.  He picked up his cold, sweating glass and rolled it between his hands. 

     "Is that all?" she asked insistantly.

     "Yes, that's all.  Who are you meeting?"

     "I'm here to meet a man.  To take him upstairs and fuck him until he can't stand up."

     "Oh, God," he felt queasy.  What was she?

     "You want to be that man?"

     He snorted out a bitter laugh, choked, set his glass down.  She had an edge to her voice now.  Was she a prostitute?  Maybe a detective, out to trap him either as a john or, worse, a queer.  She was probably just goading him about meeting a man.  Or maybe she was just forthright, trying to arouse him.  He turned his eyes from the drink back to her face.

     "I think you misunderstand me, miss.  I've enjoyed having a drink with you.  You're very good company. But I'm a married man, and I don't fool around.  I'm flattered, of course, and if I were cut from different cloth, I would happily oblige you.  But I simply can't."  He fumbled in his pocket for change for the tip.  His fingertips touched the box from the jewelry store.  He drew back to rise from the stool.

     "Where are you going?" she purred, seductively.  He stood up.  She reached out her leg a little, wound the top part of her high-heeled foot around the lower part of his calf.  He felt the heat of her skin even through his trouser leg.

     "Home.  It's late."

     "What about your room?"

     "What room?" he could barely breathe.

     "Upstairs. You have a room.  You come in every Friday and you get the same room.  You come to the bar.  You pick up a man."

     "Oh, God."

     "Yes, you do.  Come with me now.  We should talk."

     How did she know?  Damn.  He hadn't exactly been subtle.  He wavered.  She slinked up from the barstool, and started out, her hips slung slow, moving with that model's gait, elegant but impractical for  covering long distances.  She led him to the elevator and stepped in.  The attendant looked a little surprised, but closed the gate and took them to the fourth floor.  Ellis paused at the door. 

     "Go on," she urged.  "Open it."

     "Listen to me," he said firmly.  "I don't know who..."

     "Open the door now.  We can talk inside."  She was right.  He heard a door down the dimly lit, carpetted hall, heard the faint sound of cheerful voices.  He pushed the key in the keyhole almost frantically and pushed the door open.  She stepped inside.

     He had to close the door.  He turned quickly to her.  "Listen," he said firmly.  "What do you want?"

     "I want you."

     "Not possible.  You're very lovely.  But I couldn't do that.  I told you, I'm married."

     "You're a liar."

     "I'm not."

     "You're a queer."

     He swallowed hard. 

     "You're a cocksucking, ass-licking, butt-fucking queer."  She was too close now, whispering, taunting.

     He was about to vomit.  "What do you want?" he asked numbly.  "I'll give you money.  I don't want any trouble."

     "I want a tie bar."

     "What?" He swallowed again. "What did you say?"

     Her hands reached out for his face, gently.  He started to turn from her.

     "I said I want a tie bar."

     "I don't understand."  She moved closer to him.  He backed up against the door.

     "To go with the cufflinks."

     There was a hideous moment when he felt suddenly and completely disembodied as if his body were divorced from his mind and soul, and all three had gone into separate places in the room.  Seconds passed.  Her hands slipped inside his jacket. Paralysed, he let her touch his chest, her hands moving down over his ribs.  He caught her hand.  "Hazel?" he breathed.

     "Honey," she answered.  "Did I scare you?"

     "Oh, my God."  Sweat broke out on his forehead.  "Oh, my God."  He collapsed against the door.  He grasped Hazel's shoulder.  "You bastard."

     "Shhh.  Not now.  Let me do it."

     "How could you?"

     "Later, honey.  Later.  Fuck me now.  Fuck me hard.  I need you.  You're such a fine, big man."

     "Oh, God.  You think I could get hard after that?  You scared the daylights out of me."

     But his relief was greater than his fear, and the hands were expert and in a few minutes, Hazel was on her back, still mostly clothed, smooth legs held high, moaning like a woman, crying out in either genuine or mock passion.  Ellis couldn't tell.  Ellis didn't care.

 

                                * * *

 

    

     Hazel was suitably impressed with the tie bar.  "Mmm.  You are good to me.  You know, you don't have to give me presents, Ellis.  I'd fuck you anyway."

     "I like to.  You should have nice things."  He lay back and slipped his hand around Hazel's midsection. 

     "So, I had you completely fooled?"

     "Completely," he said, almost bitterly.  Hazel laughed.  "Why did you do that?"

     "Just to give you a little thrill.  Come on.  It was good afterwards, wasn't it?  It was really good,"  he lay back and rested his head on Ellis's chest.  Ellis blew the smoke out his nose and flicked a loose piece of tobacco from the tip of his tongue with his thumb. 

     "It was good.  But you're still a bastard." 

     Hazel was still moist, lightly misted over all with sweat. "Ha."  He turned.  "I'm going to fuck you tonight."

     "I don't know."

     "Come on. Roll over,"  He tugged gently at Ellis's hip. Ellis leaned back and tamped the cigarette out in the ceramic tray beside the bed on the nightstand.  "You haven't been fucked in a long time.  I can tell.  I want to fuck you.  Now."

     It had been a long time.  It would be him crying out that the other's dick was too big if he tried it.  The younger man's hand was firm on him, turning him over.  He smoothed his hands over Ellis's back, following the caresses with kisses. 

     "Good muscles.  You exercise a lot?"

     "Every day," he breathed. 

     "Hmm.  I hope I look this good when I'm almost fifty, Ellis. You're a hell of a man.  Trim.  Good butt."  He ran his hands over the curve of his buttocks, then pressed in, and Ellis felt the warmth of his breath before he felt the tongue.  He grasped the pillow in an embrace, squeezed his eyes shut and spread his legs.

     For a smallish man, he had a damned good stroke and he hit the right spot.  Hazel hauled him up, nearly insentient, and grasped his dick, holding it tight with a spit-lubricated hand until he came across the bed.  He moaned, collapsing.

     "That's not all for you," Hazel purred, letting up his stroke a little.  "Not by a long shot."  His hand went back between Ellis's legs, behind his balls, to the place between, and pressed hard.  In a surprisingly short time, he was hard again.  He squeezed down again, and Ellis gave himself up. His conscious mind had ceased to function, and he was abandoned.  Hazel kept up a stream of talk, some poetic, some merely banal, some too dirty to comprehend.  He would never tolerate such talk from Winnie, never, even if Winnie had the presence of mind to concoct anything like it.

     "Is it good?"

     "Yes.  God, yes."

     "You know what I wish?  I wish my little brother was here.  He's twelve."

     "Oh, God."

     "Yeh.  He's good.  He can suck off a fellow in about thirty seconds, and he's got a tight little ass, but he relaxes right into it.  You'd like him. He's a bright boy, too."

     "Oh, God."

     "I'd get him down in front of you and make him suck you off just like this while I fuck you."

     "Oh, God," he moaned, his balls tightening.  "Oh, God."

     "Yeh.  You'd like that, wouldn't you, Ellis?  Me and my little brother together.  He'd swallow it too, every drop, and then suck me off, too.  He loves to eat it."

     "Oh, God."  He was off again, panting, suddenly drained, ready to crawl off Ellis's dick and pass into oblivion.  His body relaxed completely, but hands held him back.

     "You think you're done, Ellis?  Honey, I've just started with you.  You aren't finished.  I want everything you can do in a night.  I can make you come five, six, seven times, just fucking you like this."

     "Oh, God."  Hazel had staying power if nothing else.  He would come close to coming and then slow off, cool down a little, go at it again.

     Finally, he grasped the back of Ellis's hair, held him hard against the bed so that he was flat against the mattress.  Ellis had long-since pulled the tightly folded bottom sheet away from the edges of the mattress, clutching it almost frantically against the onslaught of Hazel's passions.  With a long stream of preparatory talk and finally a deep, almost inhuman growl, Hazel came in him.  He lay stunned, the body over him, now as still and quiet as it had, only seconds before, been animated and agitated.  For a moment there was no motion at all from Hazel and then he started breathing again, panting hard.  Ellis lay under him, inert, relishing and loathing the weight.  Finally, Hazel stirred.  He kissed Ellis's shoulder and pulled up, still half-hard and Ellis reflexively pushed down, shit him out, as the Romans used to say.  The Romans.  What it would have been like to have lived among them.  What did Shakespeare mean when he said, 'I am more an antique Roman than a Dane?'     "How many brothers do you have?" he asked when he was sufficiently recovered. 

     "Three.  And four sisters.  You liked what I said, didn't you?"

     "Hmm.  Are the others like this?"   

     "Yes."

     Ellis laughed.  "My god.  Your parents deserve some sort of congressional medal then.  I am impressed."

     "Stay with me."

     "Not tonight."

     "Damn it.  Ellis.  Stay with me.  Take a nap.  We can do it again."

     He laughed.  "Hazel, I won't be able to have office hours on Monday at this rate.  It requires being able to sit, and I'm in grave doubt at this point."  He touched Hazel's shoulder.  "You are amazing.  I have to shower."

     "Take a bath."

     "Why?"

     "So I can sit with you and we can talk."

     He snorted a little.  "Fine." 

     Hazel followed him to the bathroom and sat on the closed toilet while he filled the tub.  "How did you get to be like this?"

     "Like what?  Queer?"

     "Well, the thing with the cross-dressing."

     "I'm good, aren't I?"

     "You are."  In truth, though, he realized now there were little details that had bothered him about the woman.  And he hadn't looked that closely at her, and it was dark.  But overall, it was a complete and perfect illusion.

     He stepped into the tub, and the warm water flowed gently, soothingly around him.  His ass was sore, but not unpleasantly so.  Tingling.  Open.  He knew there'd been something there.  Hazel moved to the edge of the tub, took up a fluffy white terrycloth washcloth and soaped it, massaging it along Ellis's back and neck.

     "When I was in the army, everybody got bored really easily.  Hell, it was boring.  And, really, Ellis, terrifying.  You been in the army?"

     "No," he said, a little sheepishly.  "I was a little too young for the First Great War, the War to End All Wars, and a little too old for the second War to End All Wars."

     "Well, you didn't miss much.  Or maybe you did.  Anyway.  I've always had musical talent.  I play the piano, violin, and I can sing and dance.  My parents wanted me to be Fred Astaire, I think.  Do you think he's queer?"

     Ellis laughed, and took the washcloth from Hazel.  "I wouldn't venture a guess."

     "Well, anyway, everybody was bored and where we were the U.S.O. wouldn't come.  Some of us guys put on shows for the rest of the men.  But who wants to hear a man sing a song?  They wanted to see women.  So some of us started dressing like women. It was good, because we were already that way, and it was just like the icing on the cake.  We could dress like women, perform like women, and then afterwards, we had our pick of lonely, horny officers."

     "Oh, God.  This man's army."

     "Yeh."

     Ellis snorted.  He began to wash his parts but Hazel was on his knees beside the tub, fumbling with the soap.  He took Ellis's exhausted dick in his hands.

     "Hazel, there's a limit."

     "Yes," Hazel said, that same lilting tease in his voice.  He stepped into the tub.  "And we haven't reached it yet."

 

                                * * *

 

     By Tuesday, he was dispairing.  He wanted him again.  As a man or a woman, it didn't matter.  But he wanted him.  It was a physical hunger.  To hell with Hazel's William.  To hell with Hannibal.  He stared at the phone on his desk. Damn.  There was no way that Hazel was going to get in touch with him.  He hadn't given his correct name.  He hadn't told him where he lived or where he worked.  He'd told him something, but it was all lies.  

     He wanted it right.  This one he could trust.  It would take some explaining but he would work out the problem with telling him falsehoods.  After all, Hazel was no kid.  He knew what the world was about.

     He picked up the phone.  He wanted to see him.  It wasn't going to happen if he didn't make it happen.  He got up and stared out the window.  The afternoon was drawing into evening.  It came on quickly now, the shortest days of the year.  The longest nights.  He wanted to wrap exhausted arms around Hazel, grow soft inside the protective walls of the other's body.  He hadn't felt this way about anyone since early in the relationship with Winnie.  Even so, after a few months, maybe a few years, it was all routine.  Comfortable, but routine.  Did he love Hazel?  Did he love Winnie?  Did he love anyone.  Was there anything like love?

     He turned from the window and opened the office door.  He looked out the hall, the long beige corridor punctuated with rich dark wooden doors and doorjambs.  Betty was just getting back from lunch.  She pulled her deep fur-collared coat off and hung it on the tree, pushed her bouffanted hair up a little and sat down.  She fumbled in her purse for a compact, snapped it open and studied her face, touching her cheek with the tip of her little finger.  She applied lipstick quickly, rolled her lips together to even it out and looked up selfconsciously.

     "Oh, Mr. Fletcher.  Sorry.  Didn't see you."

     "Do something for you, Mr. Fletcher?"

     "Not now.  Thanks," he turned away and in an instant was flooded with the thought of not seeing Hazel for another four days.  It was too much.  "I just...can you get a number for me in Hannibal, Missouri?"

     "Sure, sir.  Who is it?"

     "It's a...rock company.  What are they called?"

     "A mine?"

     "Not a mine, no.  A quarry, but I think they work in building stone, large, ornamental, marble I suppose, from Iowa.  Not gravel for roads, you see?  Owned by some people named Waterson, I think.  Can you manage it?"

     "Sure think, sir," she smiled.  He turned and strolled back down the hall, his hands locked behind his back.  She would manage it.  He looked at the bulletin board.  The exam schedule.  Christmas cards from alumnni and former faculty members.  He looked at the floor below, where sparkles from the cards had fallen on the wide, highly polished hardwood planks.  He ambled back to his office and sat down.  He picked up a memo and discarded it.

     She was at the door.  "Got your number for you, Mr. Fletcher."

     A secretary in a journalism department and she was incapable of using the personal pronoun in the first person.  "Thank you, Betty."  He took the slip of paper.

     "Anything else?"

     "Not now, thank you."

     She excused herself.  He looked at the slip of paper with her familiar scrawl on it as if the letters were writ in gold.  He picked up the horn of the telephone and held it to his ear.  "Operator?"

     "Yes, this is the operator."

     "I'd like to place a long distance call, please.  Station to station to Hannibal, Missouri."

     "Yes, sir.  Thank you.  What is your number, sir?"

     He read the digits off and in a moment, there was a metallic jangling on the other end.  The sound of the receiver rattling as it was picked up made his stomach jump.

     "Waterson Stoneworks."

     "Hello.  This is Ellis Fletcher, from the University of Missouri.  I'm calling for..." Hazel.  He was calling for Hazel.  What was... "Henry David Waterson."

     There was a long pause.  Static.  "You say your from the University of Missouri?"  He could hear the strain as the man tried to overcome the telephone noise or cover the land distance from Hannibal to Columbia.

     "Yes, sir," he said evenly.  "Is Mr. Waterson in?"

     "I'm Mr. Waterson, his father.  His application was turned down last month.  He couldn't find a place to live and they wouldn't accept him.  Did you change your minds?  You find someplace for him to stay?  You know, all those G.I.s."  There was an eagerness in his voice.     

     "I'm sorry?

     "You're calling long distance from Columbia?"

     "Yes."

     "Well, I'll be damned."  There was a momentary pause.  "Oh, sorry, sir.  We were so disappointed when they turned him down."

     "Is he in?"

     "Not right now.  Can I give him a message?"

     "Yes.  When do you expect him?"

     "Oh, half an hour."

     He gave the father the number and then rung off.  He sat, stunned.  It was almost like he had met the father of the bride.  "Hello, Mr. Waterson.  I've been fucking your son for a few weeks and I want to tell you..."  He smiled.  The telephone jangled and he picked it up, his heart almost in his mouth.

     Betty's voice on the other line.  "Mr. Fletcher, it's Mr. Markins on the other line, from Buster's Shoe store.  He wants to talk to you about continuing their advertising through the new years, but he wants copy changes."

     "Surely.  Thank you."  There was a click and the incomparable dull Mr. Markins came on the line. 

     "Hey, there, Max.  How are you today?"

     "Rushed off my feet.  Christmas rush. You know the damned city told all the downtown merchants they had to brownout?  We've only been able to have half the display lights lit in the show windows.  I've been fighting with them all afternoon because somebody complained we had too many Christmas lights that we left on.  I think it's because I supported McFarland in the last election."

     "Ah, small town politics," he smiled.  A smile can be heard over the telephone.  Always smile on a sales call, even if it is on the telephone.  "What can I do for you?"

     "Well..."  The man proceeded to knit out a yarn about his advertising woes.  That's why he had called Ellis directly, not just going through the boys in the ad room.  Ellis soothed him, praying that the call from Hazel wouldn't come during this call. On the other hand, Betty would get it first.  McMarkins kept on and on.  He was a friendly man, bumptuous.  Had a wife and about nine children, but shoes were his life.  He knew that Ellis's grandfather had a clothing store from the 1880s and that one of his uncles owned a shoe factory.  It practically related them, but shoelaces, which, Ellis suspected, was probably stronger than blood.

     In a few minutes, Betty popped her head in the door.  "Hannibal on the line, sir."

     He choked.  "Max, can I get right back to you.  I've got a long distance on the line."

     "Good.  Sure. You just take care of it, and I'll talk to you later."

     "Right.  Good to talk to you."  He depressed the lever.  "This is Fletcher," he said.  It was his usual salutation.  Hazel didn't know who Fletcher was.

     "This is Henry David Waterson.  My father said you called?"

     "Yes, Mr. Waterson..."

     "But the girl said it was the journalism school."

     "Yes."

     "I apply to Education..." He sounded confused, but it was the right voice.  Ellis's hand went to his fly.

     "Yes.  Henry, are you alone?"

     "Sir?"  Bewildered.

     "Are you alone.  This is Ellis."

     "What?" he spat.  If Ellis had been writing a Victorian novel, he would have written, 'What?' the young man ejaculated.  His dick was warm and little in his hand, filling lopsidedly.  He squeezed it gently.  "Ellis?"

     "Yes."

     "What..."

     "Henry, did you make application to the University?"

     "Yes.  William and I both did.  But they turned down anyone without verification of housing.  There were abotu 3,500 that got in.  We didn't."

     "I can get you in."

     "What?"

     "You want in?  You want to come here in January?  I'll get you in."

     "Where would we live?"

     "Stay with me.  I'll sign the voucher."

     There was a long pause.   "The deadline was..."

     "Never mind the deadline."

     "Say," he said slowly.  "Who are you?"

     "I'm assistant and acting dean of the school of journalism."

     "You are?"

     "Yes."

     "You're E. M. Flethcer?"

     "Yes."

     "God.  You're kidding.  You're famous.  I heard about you in Europe.  Shit."

     "Hush," he scolded.  "Don't use language like that."

     "Hell, everybody wanted to be a writer when they heard about you.  You're legendary.  Amazing.  E. M. Fletcher."

     "Do you want to come or not?"  He could only keep his breathing even with difficulty.  His hand moved up and down the shaft quickly.  "Oh, God, Henry.  If you were here..."  What if someone was listening on another phone?  Either here or there.

     "Yeh.  Yes.  I want to come."

     "Get up here tonight."

     "Jefferson City?"

     "No. Come to my office.  I'll get the papers taken care of now.  My office is at Ness Hall, at the corner of Ninth and Elm Streets.  You'll know it by the great large Chinese lions under a lit portico.  My office is in the wing to the northwest of the lions.  Second floor."

     "Should I bring William?"

     He considered for a moment.  He only wanted Hazel.  He would have to work around William.  "Do you have an understanding with hm?"

     "Yes.  You'll like him, Ellis. I promise."

     "Good.  Give me both of your full names and dates of birth and discharge dates and all that.  I'll put you up in a hotel here tonight, alright?  We'll get all the paperwork done yet this afternoon if you hurry."

     "I'll be there in an hour and a half."

     "Good boy."

     He rung off, put the receiver back in the cradle and mopped up with some tissues.  He leaned back in his chair, turned and looked out the window again. Great blobs of snowflakes were falling, almost blissfully, into the dark upreaching arms of the trees. 

     He rang Registration.  The damned phone was busy.  He was too anxious to wait.  He stood up and pulled his dark coat from the hook and his hat from the hook above.  He slipped it on, and then picked up the phone again.  Busy.  He called Winnie. 

     "Winnie, I have news."

     "What?"

     "We're having company tonight."

     "Oh?"

     "Two veterans from Hannibal."

     There was a pause.  "Cartheginians?"

     "Very funny, Winnie."  It smarted.  Sometimes Winnie was sharper than Ellis liked to give him credit for. 

     "How are they?"

     "Good.  You'll them.  I'll be bringing them home."

     "Okay."  He rang off.  The snow was picking up.  He was supposed to go to the lecture tonight, but the hell with that.  He passed Betty's desk.  "Betty, I'm going to take care of some registration problems for a couple of students.  Anyone need me for anything?"

     "Don't think so, sir."

     "I'll be back."

     "Yes, sir."  She simpered a little.  He struck out, down the steps at a quick clip, and out the heavy door, with it's diamond lights and brass fittings.  There were the columns from the administration building that had burned in the year of his birth.  They were wrapped in thick, bare vines and swathed in snow.  It was falling quickly in the dimming light.  He pulled his coat closer about him and relished the sensation.  Hazel. In Columia.  A student.  Every day, every night, if he wanted it.  There might be some changes made.  He'd have to see how well stuck together Hazel and William were. 

     He had been with Winnie for almost twenty years, had been living with him for almost sixteen.  Of course, it wasn't like they were married or something.  They just lived together.  It was convenient.  They didn't even fuck any more.  Of course he loved Winnie, like a brother and father and mother and wife all rolled into one.  But twenty years.  Winnie was getting old, getting bolder.  He was out trolling more often, picking up men.  Ellis was sure he wasn't bringing all of them home for Ellis, either. 

     He walked down the sidewalk past the venerable red brick buildings to Jesse Hall, the great ediface under a tall, spire-topped dome.  He passed Thomas Jefferson's original tomb marker which stood just to the east of the building, in a little garden.  He had a sort of mystical love of this spot, as if Thomas Jefferson himself was there, not just a stone that had been replaced by a nobler one when they redecorated Monticello's graveyard.

     He went up the stairs to Jesse.  What went on in there, away from the prying eyes was almost weepingly erotic.  He pulled the door open and went in.  It was a cavernous building, like a train station. Everything echoed.  The bookstore was off to one side and the sculpture gallery on the opposite side, with a magnificent collection of plaster casts of the great Greek and Roman sculptures.  It was a coup that they had it, and something of a joke that the men's lounge was so close by.  It was a legendary lounge, where boys went to peep at other boys through holes in the walls while the unknowing ones jerked themselves off or sucked each other.  He hadn't been in there since he'd gotten his A.M. in 1929.  Still, it hadn't changed much if the stories were to be believed.

     He turned, instead, to Registration.  There was a young woman clerking.  "Good afternoon."

     "Good afternoon.  I'm E. M. Fletcher from the school of Journalism."

     "Yes, Mr. Fletcher."

     "Your phone is busy a lot," he chided.

     "Yes, sir. It's getting busy right before the holidays."

     "Well.  I have two students who need to get their registrations taken care of."

     "Admissions were closed as of December 1."

     "That's too bad." he purred.  "Isn't there anything you can do?"          "Let me let you talk to the director of Admissions, sir.  

     "Good idea."

     She came around and opened the door for him and he stepped into the crowded little office.  There were a number of women at desks.  He nodded to them and they nodded back, politely.  She showed him through to the director's office.  He stood up, stiffly and put out a pudgy hand. He hadn't taken his wedding ring off in years, and the pale flesh ballooned out around it. 

     "Mr. Fletcher.  Good to see you.  What can I do you for?"

     He laughed a little.  God, he hated these midwestern boors.  "I have two veterans from Hannibal that need to get enrolled."

     "Names?"

     "Henry David Waterson and William Morris Sanderson."

     "Literary types, eh?"

     "I suppose.  At least their fathers were."

     "Ahhh.  Well, follow me.  Let's see what we have." The director led him back into the secretarial area and pulled out a long drawer of cards.     "I can do that for you, sir," the secretary said quickly.

     "That's fine, sweetie. I got it."  He let out a long sigh, and peered through the bottom of his glasses as he rifled through a series of cards, his mouth gaping.  "Uh huh?  Here's one and....here's the other.  Alrightee.  Let's see what we have."  He perused the cards for a moment in silence.  "Vets, eh?" He led Ellis back to his office and pointed to the chair.  Ellis sank into it, trying to look less apprehensive than he was.  The director lit a cigarette.  Ellis followed suit.

     "Yes."

     "Hmm.  Yes.  Well, looks like they were both turned down on October 15.  No housing."

     "I know.  I've agreed to put them up at my apartment for the time being."

     The director looked a little taken aback.  "How big is your apartment?"

     "Big enough," he smiled.  "These boys both show great promise."

     "As journalists?"

     "Yes."

     "Well, they both made application to the College of Education."

     "For the time being.  Can you get them in?"

     "Well, registration is closed, Fletcher."

     They stared at each other blankly.  "I know," Ellis said.  "I thought, maybe...Say, doesn't your son have the Dodge dealership down on Broadway?"

     "Yeh.  He does.  Doing really well, too.  Did you see the newest one?  Radio in the dashboard and everything."

     "We could still get an ad in before Christmas."

     "Well, he's a little strapped..."

     "Oh, well, who isn't?  These are tight times.  Half a page, maybe, opposite the sports?"

     "A half page?"

     "Hm.  I think we could manage it.  Saw a great ad campaign for a dealership in St. Louis, a girl and boy dancing and she pulls back a little and says, 'So do you really drive a Buick?'  Cute campaign.  Sex sells.  We could do something like that."

     He had the man's interest.  He smiled knowingly. 

     "Yeh. Yes.  That'd be good.  He's been worried.  Business is slow."

     "We'll see if we can't perk it up a little, eh?" He said in his most conciliatory, supercilious tone.  A real ad would be a young man sucking off another on the running board of the damned Dodge.

     "Good.  Yeh.  I think there won't be a problem with your students, Mr. Fletcher."  He bellowed for the secretary and she appeared, genii-like, at the door.  "Get paperwork fixed up for these two students.  We're admitting them on a provisional basis.  Fill out the residency voucher with Mr. Fletcher's address.  Now, you go along with these forms to the Veteran's Administration officer and if he okays it, I'm okay with it."

     "Thanks.  I'll send a boy around to your son's place with a mockup of the ad, what's today?  Tuesday?  Oh, I can have it out on Thursday.  We'll run it on Wednesday and Sundays through the beginning of the year, alright?"

     "Sounds great."  The man stood and extended his pudgy hand.  He was glowing, though.  He took the paper work and stepped out of the office, through the opposite door from the one he had entered the hall by.  The ground was dusted white now, and he drew the cold moist air into his body and delighted in it.  The view was definitely marred by the presence of the quonsot huts, dull silvery half-tubes.  He pulled the loose wooded screen door open and then the other door.  There was a secretary at the front desk and men in uniform milling in the center of the tube around the coffee urn.

     "I'm Mr. Fletcher of the Journalism department.  I've come from Mr. ()'s office at Registration.  I need to verify housing for two veterans from Hannibal.

     "Registration is closed, sir," the girl said politely but firmly.  "I'm sorry."

     "Registration is willing to let the boys in, and I personally am guaranteeing their housing.  All you have to do is agree to pay."

     "Let me let you talk to my supervisor."

     "Good.  Thank you."

     "Have a seat?"  She gestured to some uncomfortable looking vinyl covered chairs.  He stood, looking at the announcements tacked up on the cork board.

     A man came up behind him.  "Mr. Fletcher."  He turned.

     "Yes, sir."

     "Journalism?"

     "Yes.  Assistant dean."

     "Well, sir, if you are personally guaranteeing their residence, I am more than willing to sign off on these papers."

     They shook hands.  He stepped out of the office and took a long, deep, wonderful breath, twirled the rim of his hat in his hands and took the stairs back up to the rear of Jesse Hall two at a time.  He looked through the sculptures quickly.  So beautiful.  So perfect, those Greeks.  They knew what they were about.  Beautiful young men, not so young as to be girlish anymore, but fine, fully formed, well muscled men, delicious men.  Men who had it in them to give as good as they got.  Where had he read that they shaved their bodies, all but the pubic hair, like Hazel.  And then there were the Gauls, who shaved everything off but their moustaches.  What a life to be in the company of men who fought naked, their hairless, muscular bodies toned to perfection, conquoring men, men given to every passion, without conventional morality, without the straitjacket of Victorians, or censors or laws.  He could slip into the lounge.  It would be alright.  If he was careful, maybe there wouldn't be anyone watching.  He could check the stalls first, the walls.  The building was quiet.  It was late afternoon, for Gods sake, and snowing.  Everyone had gone home. 

     He pushed the door open, barely able to breathe and stood quietly for a moment.  He pushed the stall doors open, one by one.  The last one was locked.  Someone was in there.  There was a small hole bored in the door. He turned away for a second, then pushed on it again, harder.  It swung open.  He blew his breath out, relieved.  He went to the sink and washed his hands, slowly.  The door opened from the lobby.  Friend or foe.  

     He turned.  The boy was youngish, probably nineteen, a little softer looking than most, pudgy.  He shook the water off his hands and reached for the towel.  "You check the stalls?" the boy asked.

     Ellis nodded.

     "All clear?"

     He nodded again.  The boy stepped beside him, reached over.  Ellis hurriedly unzipped his trouser and pulled it out, while the boy did the same.  He reached over, without hesitation and took the boy's in his hand, stroked it until he was excited as well. He moved the boy in front of the urinals, turned him quickly toward the wall, his hands up on the tiles, spread above his head.  Ellis masturbated him as if it was himself, only a few inches forward.  The boy came silently, with almost no warning, and then turned to him.

     "Suck it," Ellis said, and the boy silently dropped to his knees and did the job.  He came in the boy's mouth and he merely coughed a little, and cleared his throat.  Ellis smiled, washed his hands again and started to the door.  "Thank you," he said.

     The boy said something and Ellis was back in the cooler air of the lobby.  He passed the naked statues.  What had the boy said?  It suddenly occured to him.  He said, "Thank you, Mr. Fletcher."  He groaned a little.  He was notorious.  He was notorious, at that.  But he was calm again, filled with that infinite post-come sense of well-being.  He suddenly regretted going to the lounge, afraid he wouldn't be able to be aroused again.

     Dean Williams caught him at the front vestible, just under the bust of Jesse himself.  "Ah, Mr. Fletcher, you save me a walk all the way over to Journalism," he said, and cheerfully belabored Ellis for a good fifteen minutes about something, plans for a Christmas party and invitations to write something for somebody, generalized townish chit-chat.  When Williams finally let loose, Ellis pushed out into the cold air of the quadrangle, and slipped down the stone stairs to the sidewalk.  It was a glorious afternoon, magnificently grey, lit with the lights along the sidewalk, the light of the city held down against it, blanket-like by the cold air and clouds.  The snow, the feel of cold on his hands, the warm, attended-to feelings in his dick.  He sighed and looked at his watch.  If they had left the instant he hung up the phone, which was impossible, they would be here in a half hour.  He was worried.  What about this William?  What if he was jealous or possessive?  He wanted Hazel, wanted him now, the minute he walked through the door.  He would bend him over the table, papers and paperweights and letter openers flying in all directions, strip the trousers off his trim little ass, push the cheeks open and drive it home.  No talk.  No useless conversation.  Just fuck him.  The air came out of his body in a gasp.  Ah.  Come to think of it, that little diversion in the lounge hadn't cause irreparable damage.  His dick tingled to life again at the thought of Hazel grasping the sides of his desk, trying to maintain his balance against the drive of Ellis's dick, howling with delight that it hurt, that he was too big.  God, in Hazel's hands he felt too big.  What did truth matter?  It was all copy.  All ad copy.  All of life is one big, long stream of ad copy.  He smiled, took his cigarettes from the inside pocket of his jacket and lit one.  He couldn't go in yet, couldn't face the stuffy air of the office, the stuffy air of conventional dull, impotent men and women who droned through their lives without ever knowing the passion, the art of passion.  It was an art, no less than the sculpture or music or theatre.  Hazel was the Mozart, the Praxidiles of fucking.  He himself, Ellis, was the Dinu Lipetti of the dick.  He snorted, smiling to himself, let the smoke come out of his body in a long, thin stream, watched it dissolve into the misty white air, join its whiteness with that of the snowflakes.

     A couple came along the sidewalk.  He had his collar up around his ears, his hat pulled down.  She was clutching the top of her coat, the skirt of the coat blowing open, the skirt of her dress lapping in the wind against his legs.  Their heads were together, close, under his umbrella.  They didn't know he was there.  They didn't care.  He hoped they were going somewhere private, to his car, maybe, or a room somewhere where he would give her a good fucking.  Things were so much different now.  A man could ask a nice girl to fuck and half-expect she'd say yes.  He couldn't get used to it, was too set in his ways to ever even consider suggesting to a woman that she might want to do something like that, any more than he could imagine the elimination of gravity. But he envied the young men their freedom.  The fact is, he thought, everyone should enjoy it, enjoy their bodies, enjoy the affection.  When he was growing up there were two kinds of women. Prostitutes and women who hated sex. Maybe prostitutes hated sex, too, but they did it.  He remembered the busts in the old days.  A girl in a room, even a girl fully clothed, meant arrest and public disgrace for them both.  

     But then, when he was growing up, Sedalia was a whore town.  They did everything big in Sedalia.  They had nine newpapers, when Columbia had only two.  Any town with nine newspapers is bound to err on the side of excess.  They had whores and whorehouses in profusion.  He had been warned away from them from the start, never allowed to cross the railroad tracks into the north part of town where the whores ran the streets and they played ragtime music in the bars.  He had been warned from disease-ridden, thieving women who had bruisers behind them ready to jump the nearest unsuspecting youngster who ventured into their woman's clutches.  Women like that were not to be trusted.  But how did one ask a nice woman to get one her knees and suck a man off?  It was impossible to imagine that a nice woman would even be able to consider such a thing and yet he liked it so well, could never see giving up what he liked so much just for the liberty of reproducing, and a life of misery and sorrow like his father had, when the sainted woman died.  So much better to have a circle of men one could trust, cautious men, dignified, affectionate.  He remembered the first time, and felt his eyes burn.  It hurt like hell.  He'd been touched before, touched others.  He had three uncles, and two of them played with him from time to time, ever since he could remember.  But Wood, Wood was the first one who even tried to put it in.  It hurt, alright.  But afterwords Wood, one of his grandfather's boarders had rubbed his back and soothed him.  "Buck up, boy," he said gently, touching the tear away that Ellis, for all he was worth hadn't been able to keep from running down his cheek.  "It's always like this the first time, even for girls.  It hurts for a while, and then you realize how much you like it, after a couple times.  Then you don't ever want to quit.  You'll see."  He kissed him over and over, told him what a good boy he was.  Wood kept him in his bed that night, held him, and in the morning, he was still sore, but they did it again, and he knew he loved the man.  He loved him with the most single-minded devotion right up until the day Wood left, without a word.  Fired from his job at the car shops, and gone.  He was stunned, knew he would never do it again, but he was desperate.  Not two days had passed before Deal, another of his father's boarders who knew what was going on, got on his back and he felt like himself again.

     He looked at his watch.  It had been an hour and twenty minutes.  Come on, Hazel.  Come on.  He went up to the office.  It was going to be impossible.  William was going to be there, and then they would have to go to the apartment and Winnie would be there, and there wouldn't be any time to get him alone.  He had things to explain to him.  There wouldn't be time.  He was getting queasy.  He should eat something.  He took the stairs two at a time to the office.  "Betty," he said. "I'm going to step back out for a bite. If anyone comes, have them wait in my office."

     "Yes, sir.  It's four, sir."

     "I'll be back in fifteen."

     "Yes, sir."

     He walked across the street to the coffee shop and picked up a cellophane-wrapped sandwich from the tray beside the cash register.  He paid quickly and stepped back into the street.  He pulled the cellophane off the white bread.  Pimento cheese.  Damn.  He should have looked.  He took a bite anyway, crossing the street in front of a large, bulletnosed dark sedan.  The horn blared.  He looked up, distracted.

     The driver was waving, grinning.  He backed up, to the curb again, and the snow-covered side window rolled down.  "Ellis."  It was Hazel.

     "You made it," he said with almost intoxicated relief.  "I was worried about the roads."

     "They were fine."

     He ducked down and looked through the window.   There was a smaller man on the other side of the car, dark hair.  "This is William," Hazel sang out.  Ellis thrust his hand through the window and shook William's upraised hand.     

     "Good to meet you. You boys are in."

     "You fixed it?"

     "I fixed it."  A horn blared behind him.

     "Motherfucker," Hazel said goodnaturedly.  "Here.  Where do I park?"       "Pull over anywhere."  He walked alongside the car on the sidewalk as they found a parking spot on the street opposite McAlester Hall, next to the Chancellor's residence.

     Hazel got out of the car first, stretched and yawned deliciously.  It took every bit of Ellis's strength not to grab him around the waist and mouth his taut throat.  He could smell, throught the icy air, Hazel's cologne. 

     "What are you eating?"

     "I'm not sure," he admitted.  "Pimento cheese on white bread."

     "Ooooh, disgusting," Hazel turned away, slapping the door closed.  The other door opened and the dark haired William got out and closed his door.  He thrust his hands in his pockets and looked up and down the street.  Hazel and Ellis stepped onto the sidewalk. 

     "Well.  I have to go back to the office for a few minutes and settle things there.  Why don't you come along and then we'll get you taken care of."

     "Thanks.  Is this alright with your..."

     "Winnie.  Winston, actually.  Winston Barrows.  I told him.  He's fine with it."

     "Good.  We don't want to impose."

     "It's not an imposition at all." Winnie would have pups, of course, but he would square it with him.  He perused William.  Winnie could have him as a consolation prize.  "William," he said firmly, paternalistically.  "What are you going to study?"  How much had Hazel told William about Ellis?  He didn't know how to be.

     "Education," the head tossed a little and the voice was soft and whispy. He was infinitely more fey than Hazel, almost embarrassingly so, and Hazel could pull off full drag.  These were odd boys, at that.

     "Well, good.  It's a good school."

     They walked three abreast down the sidewalk.  One of the older women who worked at the library passed and, almost in unison, the three lifted their hats to her.  She simpered past. 

     "Dried up old cunt," Hazel whispered, and William snorted a laugh.  Ellis was shocked. 

     "Shh," he whispered. "Sound carries.  She's a fine woman."

     "Oh, I know.  Sorry.  Never mind."  They walked a few more steps and Ellis felt the soft warmth of Hazel's fingertips touch the bare cold skin of his hand.  It was like an live electrical wire had sparked between them.  He closed his fingers around the fingertips for an instant and dropped them, moved away. 

 

                                * * *

 

(At a party)

     Hazel tipped his drink a little and looked at the paper. "Danny Kaye's got a new movie out. You think he's queer?"

     "Wouldn't surprise me a bit," Matthews said.

     "Fred Astaire? I think he must be."

     "Well what about Carry Grant.  He lives with ()>"

     "God, I would give my eyeteeth to suck him off.  Either of them."

     "I wonder how many of them are queer?"

     "Gentlemen," Ellis said soothingly.  "I think the question may be more, who isn't than who is, because in my experience..."

     "Which is considerable..."

     "Which is indeed, I find a lot more men who will than those who won't."

                                * * *

 

     "Can I see them?" he asked.  His voice rasped through dry lips.

     "By and by," the officer smiled a little.  "Yeh.  You can see 'em.  Just not yet.  They talk a lot, you know, for queers."

     He looked down at his hands and said nothing.

     "You want to know what they said?"

     "If you want to tell me."

     "They said you're all cocksuckers."

     Fletcher shifted uneasily in the chair, but said nothing.

     "Your little Winnie says you and he don't fuck anymore.  He just watches you when you fuck other men."

     The air came out of Fletcher in a single pant.

     "Yeh.  Signed it, too.  Want to read it?"  The grinning bastard slid the paper across the desk.  Fletcher took it with fingers that shook more than he cared to admit, more than he hoped the man noticed.

     It was there, typed with the same kind of typewriter that he used to crank out ad copy, pointless superfluous bullshit about Florsheim shoes and Hart, Shaffner and Marx suits, about beauty contests and garden clubs.  Names, dates, addresses.  Winnie's signature.  It was shaky.  Oh, God.  Oh, God.

     There was another, Herman's.  Just as blatant, just as detailed.  Another.  Tiff's.  God. 

     "You want to talk about it?" the man said with a sort of over-the-fence neighborly kind of simper.

     "What is there for me to say?" he asked softly, trying not to sound belligerant.

     The man pushed his chair back.  The legs made a screeching sound on the floor.  He stood up.  He was big.  He swayed back and pulled his trousers up, hooked his thumbs under the belt.

     "Look, Fletcher.  You're a cocksucker and we all know it.  It'll go a lot easier for you and your friends if you just admit it."

     "Admit what?" 

     The man swung around the table.  "Look, it wouldn't do to have to work you over, alright?  I don't want to dirty my hands with another of you.  You've got friends in high places, I know.  So, let's go easy on each other.  We've got you, Fletcher.  We've got signed statements from three men that they had relations with you, or you with them, I'm not sure which.  Admit it yourself and maybe they'll go easy on you.  It's two years to life, Fletcher."

     Fletcher looked away, suddenly unable to breathe.  There was a long pause.  The second man in the room fingered his rubber nightstick.

 

Union Station, Late May 1949

 

     The place was packed.  The voices echoed in the high ceilinged hall.  It was incomprehensibly large, far larger than any structure in either Sedalia or Columbia.  The trains were pulling away, their squealing amplified by the cave-like room.  He had been here only a few times since coming to Kansas City. It always unnerved him and he'd left without making contact.

     But it was another night.  The day had been unseasonably warm, but by dusk the air was cooling, and as it grew dark below the bowls of the trees that lined the streets, he had the same, strange, sad urge.  The fireflies were coming out, early this year.  Probably early.  Who knew.

     He hadn't meant to come.  His feet just landed one in front of the other.  His hand had grasped the great bronze handle and pulled it open.  In the station, it was hot.  He peered down at the people, at the women waiting with their children, at young madchens who stared up boldly at him, at rough-looking working class men in their shirt sleeves and men in suits.  Young boys who would ripen in their season.

     They sat on the long benches, looking off into space, they milled about, they perused magazines on the stands, looked at the pictures on the covers, thumbed through the empty pages.  Meaningless words.  Idiotic copy.  Ads that cajoled, seduced, promised satisfaction and then left the buyer flat.  He caught eyes on his face, but could not even curl his lips into what would pass for a smile.  Not anymore.

     He saw a kerchief hanging out of the back pocket of the jeans of a strapping young man.  His back was turned, the sleeves of his white shirt rolled well above the elbow revealing good muscles.  He had a high, well-formed lean ass, good looking thighs.  He could do the job. 

     His stomach fluttered.  It had been a long time since his stomach had fluttered.  Everything else in the terminal seemed to fade away.  He moved quickly, but another man, another working class type intercepted.  They greeted each other.  The white shirt turned toward the newcomer without moving his feet, his chest torgued.  He ran his fingers up his chest, laughing at something the newcomer had said.  He had a good face too, newly tanned in the summer sun, a glimpse of gleaming white skin beyond the collar.  They went off together.  He blew out his breath, disgusted.

     A voice made him jump.  "There's only one man in the world who would wear a suit to pick up cocksuckers in a train station," it said.  He turned quickly.

     "Winnie," he breathed.  "You..."

     "I scared you, didn't I?  Scared the piss out of you."  Winnie was grinning like a dog who's been whipped, a scared little grin, hopeful.

     He shook his head.  If in twenty years he hadn't succeeded in giving Winnie any class, he wasn't going to start now.  "Yes.  You did."

     Winnie laughed.  He'd lost weight, looked older.  He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, short sleeves, garish colors.  Still, it looked good on him.  Ellis knew the chest under the shirt too well, the feel and color of the nipples that were only hinted at under great white blossoms.  There was blue throughout the shirt, a beach scene motif repeated ad infinitum.   "You never change.  You're still the elder statesman of cocksuckers aren't you?"

     "Winnie," he began severely, but stopped.  What did it matter?

     "Haven't seen you in a long time.  I called your brother's house a few times. I called your father.  I even went to see him at the Y.  He said you didn't want to see me."

     "I just..."

     "It was a bad time, Ellis," he said, his eyes going soft.  "For all of us."

     "I didn't betray you, Winnie."

     "You would have.  If they'd got you first, you'd have, after what they'd have done to you."

     In his soul, Ellis knew it was true.  Winnie stood silent, sucking his lower lip under his teeth.  "I'm sorry," he added.

     "I know.  I know.  Winnie, it wasn't you.  I just...the whole thing.  I wanted to get..."

     "I know.  Me too.  You get a job?"

     He shook his head. 

     Winnie shook his.  "Sorry."

     "It's nothing.  I didn't try very hard, really.  I only had one interview.  I didn't want the job anyway.  I've been helping my brother."

     "Freight company?"

     "Yes."  He remembered.

     "Lot of truck drivers?"  The grin was lopsided now. 

     Ellis tried to stifle his.  His snorted a little.  "Yeh.  Lot of truckdrivers."

     "Good for you."  They fell silent, looking at their respective shoes.

     "You ever see Herman?" he asked at length.  It had been gnawing at him, but he'd been afraid to speak the words.

     "Yeh.  He comes around about once a week or so.  Same schedule as always.  We talk about you a lot.  He misses you.  I miss you."

     "Didn't change at all?"

     "No.  Why?  Why should it have?"

     "It's just...we weren't supposed to consort with each other.  Terms of the probation.  We aren't supposed to engage in whatever..."

     Winnie thrust his hands in his pockets, rocked on his heels and looked toward the signs.  "Where are you going?" he asked abruptly.

     "What?"

     "Where are you going?"

     "I'm not going anywhere," he answered a little sharply.

     "Then what are you doing in a train station."  Winnie shot him a sidelong, knowing look.  He smiled slowly.  "Same thing I am?  Ellis, you can't change.  You don't want to change.  You are what you are."

     "I just came to look around."

     "You haven't done it since we last saw you?"

     "Not at all.  I don't want to go to the penitentiary, Winnie.  They'd have me over a thousand times.  I'm an old man."

     Winnie had worked his way around in front of Ellis, behind a column.  His hand reached out and took hold of the top button of Ellis's jacket.  He fondled it gently without speaking.  There was something inately moving about the gesture.  He cocked his head to the side and studied Ellis's face.

     "Not so old," he purred, moving down to the next button.  "I remember the first time I saw you naked.  What was it, 1928?  You were the handsomest man I'd ever seen, that I could ever imagine."

     "Winnie, there's no point..." he said faintly.  They had been through too much, even just the weight of twenty years together.

     "You still are," his hand dropped another button.  It was indiscreet.  There were railroad dicks everywhere.

     "Winnie," he said.  He had always been the leader, always been the one who called the shots, always been the one to make the approaches.  Winnie was the follower.   "Aren't you afraid you'll be reported?"

     "For what?" he smirked a little.  "Picking up old men in a train station?

     "Oh, God, Winnie.  I think I'm being watched.  Aren't you?"               "Ellis, they aren't interested in you.  They want the ones who are chasing boys, kids, not middle-aged men who want to suck each other off."  He paused.  "Come home with me."

     Something in his stomach dropped, and he felt himself involuntarily open as certainly as if someone had flipped a switch, opened the circuit, let something electrical, hot and fluid run through his entire body.

     He looked into the eyes, so familiar, and for a moment, the light lines that marked the skin around those eyes seemed like nothing, and Winnie could have been that same nineteen year old boy in the factory, the same one who almost without hesitation, dropped to his knees to serve him.  "Winnie," he breathed.  "I can't."

     "Ellis, you can.  We've been through the worst already.  There's nothing worse they can do to us now.  We've been through it.  Come home with me.  Stay with me.  I miss you."

     "Winnie, I..."

     "You like staying with your brother?"

     "Not really," he admitted.

     "Look.  I have a job.  Thirty-five a week, guaranteed at the Palace Clothing Company, right downtown.  I have a little apartment.  No one bothers me.  I got down to the probation man and he says, what have you been doing?  I say, 'nothing.' He says, 'Well, see you next month.'  Don't get upset about it.  It's a nice place.  On a nice street.  You'll like it.  You don't have to move in.  Just stay with me."

     "Winnie, I can't say I'll stay with you."

     They looked at each other deeply.  Winnie's hand was now resting on the bottom button of his jacket.  Ellis felt suddently, completely, drained.  The strength flowed out of his legs, his knees into oblivion.  He wanted to lay down, wanted to lay down on Winnie laying down, to put his head against the soft, yielding, hollow part just below Winnie's ribs. 

     "Just tonight then," Winnie said softly, glancing up at the exit sign.  "We'll see what happens in the morning.  I'll fix you breakfast and you see how you feel."

     Coffee in bed, toast, feet against feet, the warm smooth skin of the top of Winnie's foot silking its way up over his feet, the soft hair on Winnie's calves moving gently against his own calves in a slow caress.  Winnie embraced with his whole body when he was still sleepy, only awake enough to make coffe and bring toast to bed.  He remembered the dull light of winter mornings, the cold sweating glass, the clanking radiator, Winnie's coffee, the smell of clean skin and that which made Winnie Winnie.  For the first time, the thought of the apartment didn't make him ache.  It was the memory of Winnie in the apartment that redeemed it.  Summer mornings when they woke stuck together, all the mornings when he awoke with Winnie spooned behind him, Winnie's hand protectively, lovingly cupped around his parts as intimately as if they were Winnie's own parts.

     "Yes, for tonight, then," he said quickly.  "Yes."  Winnie smiled a little, turned and led him out under the exit sign back into the street.