“When you take a single piece out of a puzzle, no matter what piece, the overall image can still be seen. Take away a few more bits and you can still get the general idea of what the puzzle is showing. If it’s a picture of an autumn bridge in Wisconsin you don’t think that it’s a sports car running the California coast. That’s assuming the puzzle was put together in the first place. Now, take the same said puzzle and mix it up, lose the box top, take away a few of the pieces, and add in a few that didn’t belong in the first place. That’s what my life was like.

“The growth of a human life is like the assembly of a puzzle. As we age more bits and pieces find their way into their proper spots and the image that we were born to become shows itself out. By the time we are teenagers, we can take over where our parents left off. Perhaps they only got the borders finished, or maybe some significant parts of the middle, but either way it leaves an impression on what the overall image is. The vision that we eventually will form was built off of the work and guidance of our parents and mentors.

“There was no one to help the world make sense to me. The one guy that did come in didn’t want it to be a Wisconsin bridge.  He added in parts from whatever he thought would work. There was no image for me to look back and say; that’s not right, that doesn’t fit. Instead, he added in his dark puzzle pieces to my incomplete and tattered mess of a life and forced me to become something utterly ugly. “


4:14:55 December 2001 second batch.

“Court of the Orange Prince”

Joey and Mike strolled down to 15th street and turned to climb a deceptively steep hill. The pace of the odd couple slowing with the subtle incline. Joey had grown up in the stamped-out housing of the Northbay commuter village. Most of his town was rows and rows of planned-out homes; never with more than five floorplans to choose from. The few streets with hills had rumors of kids on bikes dying at their bases. He wondered how many kids had raced their bikes down this one.

Nothing in Northbay was old, nothing worn or beaten down. In the outskirts there were old ranches, his Grandparents lived on one, but even then, nothing like this city. Everything was tightly packed here, aged and old Victorians, mixed in with new modern apartment buildings, and dotted with mom-and-pop grocery stores. One block had more architecture, more character, and more life than all his hometown.

Mike’s place wasn’t exactly around the corner. Joey wasn’t sure of the distance, but the climb seemed to take forever. The pizza had fueled him, but he was still exhausted from his failed adventure.

When they finally got to Mike’s home, the building itself stood out with its drab and underwhelming architecture. In a cluster of eclectic unique structures, this one seemed like it was intentionally trying to hide. Its banality betrayed it. There was an additional climb up a staircase that signaled the end of the trek. He had walked enough for a lifetime. Now, more than anything he just wanted to sleep.

When Mike opened the door, Joey saw that was where the banality ended. The entrance was bathed in black lights and fluorescent paint.  Beyond the eerie entrance, the entire apartment looked as if it were awash in a strange moving blue-green glow. The house was surreal with strange sexual paintings and odd erotic fixtures. There were several beer and alcohol signs that Joey had only seen in bar windows and restaurants.

“This is a Warhol. It’s the Orange Prince,” Mike said proudly pointing to a cheaply framed poster of the pop singer.

“It looks grey. What’s a war hole?” asked Joey, not particularly paying attention.

“Andy Warhol.”

“He was in that movie about the rain,” said Joey, but he was focused on a lava lamp, transfixed by its blue waxy swirls.

Mike chuckled as he walked further into the apartment, across a hardwood floor, and straight to a huge stereo system. He pulled out an album and slid it on the turntable. He hit a few toggles and non-descript music fluttered in the air.

“Vinyl will never fade, it has a quality that you can’t get from a cassette,” said Mike.

“I’m not really into music, but I was looking at a CD player. Is it always this dark in here?”  Joey asked browsing around the erotic gay-themed knick-knacks.

Mike dialed up the lights just enough to see clearly. The blue glow from four cardinally placed lava lamps still accented the room as the prince of music watched silently. Mike then walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge.

“Where did you get all these beer signs?” Joey asked as he studied a sign with ‘moving water’.

“I own a bar on the Castro. I own this building too. I’m rich,” said Mike as he cracked an ice tray.

“I don’t believe you, but the fantasy is kind of nice. I’m not street smart, but I think a rich guy could do better than me,” said Joey as he moved to the couch.

“You’d be surprised. The richer they are, the weirder they get.”

“So, this is where I’m going to sleep?” Joey asked as he plopped down on a green leather sofa. It squeaked under his lightweight and he wondered how many other men had been here before him.

Mike walked in from the kitchen with two glasses filled with a greenish beverage. He sat next to Joey and offered him the drink.

“I know what you’re going to do. You want me drunk so I won’t fight it,” said Joey.

“This is called a Kamikaze. You slam it,” Mike said as he took his and threw it back with a single swallow.

“I can’t drink. I fuck things up when I do,” said Joey.

“Okay, well, just take a sip and tell me what you think of the taste. It’s only got a dash of booze,” Mike tempted again.

Joey didn’t want the drink, but he sniffed at it.  He then, after a few hand waves from Mike, took a small sip.  It was sweet like lemon soda. Mike watched and waited to see the boy’s reaction. Joey smiled, then drank a little more. Once past the sip the alcohol made itself known.

“You can sleep here on the couch, but you can only stay tonight. Not much room here for runaways.”

“I figure I will try and find a job,” Joey said swirling the ice in his glass.

“You have to be at least 16 to get one,” noted Mike.

“I know but my birthday is next—” Joey stopped mid-sentence.

“18, huh?”

“You tricked me.”

“Tell you what; you tell me the truth, and I will promise to treat you like you’re 18,” said Mike.

“Fine, I’m fifteen, but I will be sixteen in a few weeks.”

“They have 15-year-old busboys and paperboys everywhere.”

“More tricks,” said Joey.

“That’s me, Tricky Mickey,” he said as he stood up and went to make two more drinks, “I used to be just like you. I used to lie, to let people hear what they wanted, but not anymore.  I don’t need to. You lie when you’re afraid. I got nothing to be scared about. I do what I want, when I want, and to who I want.

“I don’t need guns, or to rough you up, I just need to know what you’re looking for.  Once I know that; then we’re on the same page. I promise kid, I swear to God, if you stick around, I will never lie to you.”

“Yeah, right. Why am I here, then? Tell me the truth,” Joey said as he leaned back on the sofa.

“Are you asking me, why you exist, or why I chose you?” asked Mike as he offered the refilled glass.

“You brought me here because you’re going to try to have sex with me,” said Joey taking the second Kami.

“You keep saying that. Is that what you want?”

“I want a place to stay and maybe some breakfast,” said Joey.

“And you’re willing to fuck for it?”

“Absolutely not. But once I walked in that door it didn’t matter what I wanted,” Joey said looking away.

“This ain’t your first rodeo,” Mike nodded and threw back his drink, “Who fucked you before me?”

“You’re disgusting. I basically said you’re going to rape me, and you ignored it.”

“Was it your dad?”

“My dad kicked me out and so did my mom. I’ve been staying with my grandparents.”

“Why’d you leave?” asked Mike.

Joey noted that Mike had moved closer, his arm now resting behind Joey on the couch. Joey slammed the drink and looked Mike defiantly in the eye. He knew what was going to happen, he knew, what he would have to do. He was too tired to figure away out. Better to knuckle down and get through it.

His mind drifted back to something his father used to say. ‘There’s no such thing as a free place to stay; you always have to pay the rent.’ Joey took a deep tired breath and then spoke.

“I can’t stop this, but I don’t have to want it.  I need to clean up first, and I’m kinda sore down there from a few nights ago,” said Joey.

“You’re fine just as you are. I won’t hurt you. I don’t want to get off. Tonight isn’t about me, it’s about you.”

Mike is fucking gross and a monster.  Is Joey going to stick around? Why doesn’t he just call home? At least he’s not trying to kill himself anymore. Do all the color references actually mean anything?  Next week Joey gets all spiffied up with awesome 80’s fashion. Read the fine print on the next episode: “Devil in the details”.  Sign up to get notifications for the next episode of CBQ!

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