Part Seven “The Fine Art of Taking a Drag”
Joey ended up back at Mike’s and fell asleep on the couch. He was awoken several hours later by Mike who led him to the bedroom to maintain their rental agreement. When it was over, Joey snuggled next to Mike content in his dealings with the devil and relieved that he could put off his worries for yet another day. Joey wasn’t exactly happy, but he wasn’t sad.
“I like Baby,” Joey smiled in the dark.
“Me and Arron go way back. She does my books for all my businesses. The tailor thing, it’s mostly a front. He and my dad were friends back in the old days.”
“Can I stay another night?” asked Joey.
“I told you as long as we do this,” replied Mike.
“When will you get tired of me?”
“Oh, I never say ‘no’ to a pretty boy.”
“You sound like you’re proud to be a pedophile?”
A dark look crossed Mike’s face and he sat up, “Never call me that again. I am a hebephile, it’s very different. A pedophile wants tiny kids, no hair, no sexual maturity. I don’t like babies and I don’t like virgins. I didn’t do anything to you that you aint done before!”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean…”
“It’s okay,” Mike said and sat back and relaxed.
“A hebe o file?” asked Joey confused.
“I have some work for you. I like the sex, but you’re right, this won’t last forever,” said Mike, standing out of his bed, “C’mon, lets smoke.”
“Smoking’s not my thing,” said Joey and pulled the covers over his head.
“It is, you just don’t know it yet.”
Joey griped but moved. It was nearly three in the morning and cold outside. Mike gave him a pullover that didn’t quite fit and the two walked out to the front of the house.
“Smoking a cigarette can tell you a lot about a person,” Mike said as he popped one out from a box. He lit it himself with an aggressive draw, then with a quick snap handed it to the boy.
Joey reluctantly took the cigarette, then put it to his lips. He had had a few before and was able to suck the smoke only into his mouth and then blow it out.
“You’re afraid to dive in. Are you a chicken, kid?”
“Joey, my name is Joey. You’ve been calling me kid because you forgot it; or did you just not know?”
“I knew it was ‘Joey’, I just use slang a lot,” said Mike.
Joey smiled with the authority of being right, then took an awkward draw.
“You’re holding it like it’s a pencil. Breathe it into your lungs, get it inside you. Like you need it.”
“I do not in any way, need this, ‘Mike’,” said Joey.
“Focus. You gotta hold it like it belongs to you, like you made it,” Mike instructed and repositioned Joey’s fingers, “There you go. Now, when you drag it; try to look like Bogey.”
“Who’s Bogey?” asked Joey as the wind shifted and blew the ambient smoke into his eyes.
“Who’s Bogey, seriously? Jesus, kid. Drag on it like you’re annoyed, like you don’t want to do it, but you have to. And do it with style, man, with some style; with a flourish.”
Joey sucked in and immediately coughed it back out. Mike nodded for him to try again then took a big dramatic draw himself.
“Flourish,” said Mike with a slight nod of his head.
Joey gave him a quizzical look then took in another few puffs and watched for Mike’s reaction.
“Let’s see, that tells me you’re a boring kid that’s just doing what he’s told, is that who you are?”
Joey rolled his eyes and then took a deeper inhale. He held it in fighting the urge to eject it. He felt the nicotine buzz expand in his head, and then slowly let out the smoke, waving his hand in a flourish.
“A little over the top, but I think you’re getting it.”
“Joey thinks smoking is just fab,” said Joey mimicking Baby’s first-person sass.
The two laughed and both took slow steady drags from the cigarettes.
“You can read a whole book and never learn as much about a person as you do when you watch them smoke. Do they draw in quickly? Do they take it slow? Watch ’em, Joey, it’s like walking into their heads,” said Mike.
“My parents smoked like chimneys,” said Joey holding his cigarette as far away from his face as he could.
“Compulsive maybe. Possible addicts.”
“They weren’t addicts,” said Joey.
“What were they?”
“Baby said I had a dance outfit coming. I told you I didn’t want to do that.”
“You don’t have to do nothing if you don’t want to,” said Mike.
“You keep saying that and it keeps not being true,” said Joey holding up the cigarette in example.
“So, you liked Baby huh? She told me she liked you,” Mike noted as he finished his, then flicked it, with style, into the street.
“Why do you keep saying ‘she’?” asked Joey.
“It’s just how we talk. We say ‘bitch’ too. That bitch, oh bitch you didn’t. You’ll see.”
“I don’t think I am a smoker,” said Joey as he flicked his cigarette straight up into the air. It landed somewhere in the bushes.
“Don’t burn my house down, it’s almost paid off.”
“Sorry. Can we go in; it’s really cold.”
“We’ll work on flicking tomorrow,” said Mike.
Mike put his hands on Joey’s shoulders and walked him towards the house. Joey liked the strong hands guiding him. He felt wanted and safe. Things were finally looking up.
“Tomorrow we are going to the salon and get you a decent ‘do’ and an earring. You need to have some piercings too, maybe a nip? Do you want a tattoo?” Mike asked.
“Why are you spending all this money on me?” asked Joey.
“Don’t worry about it, I have my reasons; think of it as an investment.”
“I don’t even know what that means, but if I have to pay you back, you are going to have to wait an awfully long time. I haven’t finished high school yet,” said Joey.
“Don’t worry about school, I know a few teachers that will pass you through. I can graduate you in a month,” Mike noted as he entered the flat.
“Why would they do that?” Joey asked thankful for the warmth of the indoors.
“Don’t worry about it. We have a few things to do before we take you back to the Loft.”
“Don’t worry about it. Go to sleep; we’re going to have to be up by noon.”
“Tricky Mickey,” said Joey.
With that, Mike gave Joey a deep and meaningful kiss, and the two went back into the warmth of the waterbed.
Joey slept better than the night before and far better than he did at the Muni station.
Sleep took him for the rest of the night and noon came too quickly. His dreams were quiet until Mike woke him.
“Up and at ’em kid. We need to get the show on the road,” said Mike as he jumped on the bed and nearly flung Joey off the side.
“I need more sleep,” Joey said as he grasped the wooden frame to avoid flying out of the waterbed.
“C’mon, one little nose blast and you will be ready to take on the world!” exclaimed Mike.
“I don’t do drugs,” Joey said from under his pillow as Mike continued to slosh the bed up and down.
“No, you can do these ones,” Mike said and pulled the pillow up and laid next to him, “I’ll tell you what; if you don’t like it, you never have to do it again. I have a job lined up, and a place for you to stay.”
The two waited for the bed to stop its motion.
“I can’t dance. If it’s that dancer job, I’m not going to do it,” said Joey, popping his head from under the pillow just long enough to speak.
“Don’t worry about it. I told you I got it taken care of. Now, come on over and try some of this,” said Mike as he pulled out a small mirror and laid it on the bed. He poured a white powder from a tiny plastic bottle.
“I don’t’ know Mike, this really isn’t my thing,” Joey said cautiously sitting up in the watery bed.
“If you don’t like it, I will never ask you to do it again, I promise,” said Mike.
“Cross your heart and hope to die?”
“Joey, don’t make me beat you up at recess.”
“I’m serious. My cousin used it and it made him…”
“Is that who molested you?”
Joey froze wide-eyed as it had never really been said out loud. No specific words had ever been used, no declaration or accusation made. It simply happened and there were no words attached to it.
“That’s who it was; he’s the one you were fucking…” Mike said to himself as much to Joey.
The world shook as the red memories erupted out of him to extinguish Mike’s accusation.
“Fucked him? You think I fucked him? He raped me! He’s the one that raped me! It wasn’t ‘fucking’, you asshole, it was forced, he forced me, that’s why I left. Everyone found out, and I left. I don’t want to do your fucking coke or have anything to do with you!” shouted Joey and rolled off the bed tossing the mirror and white powder into the air.
Joey stormed out of the room and got to the front door, his mind on fire with sandblasting truth ripping at him. He was hearing it for the first time. He hadn’t been ready to face it, he would have rather died.
His mind lit with ‘could haves’ and ‘should haves’. He hadn’t fought back, he was too drunk, too weak, too stupid.
He looked past the door and saw the Muni Station, the starving night, and the dark water of the bay. He looked over to the green couch and saw nothing he wanted, but everything he needed.
Mike was the monster that you ran to when yours were even uglier. And, for all his weirdness, offered a better tomorrow than Joey could provide for himself. Joey caught his breath, took a moment, then walked back to the room.
Mike was tearing the sheets off the bed, he looked up, walked over to the bedroom door, and shut it firmly. Joey waited till he heard a vacuum cleaner turn on and decided to wait it out on the couch.
After about 20 minutes, Mike walked into the room and sat with intention and control, next to Joey. He then reached over and lightly touched Joey’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry, I uh…I overreacted,” Joey said.
Mike shook his head and clenched his fist, his other hand still lightly touching Joey.
“I love you,” said Joey.
Mike exploded outward and punched Joey square in the gut. He threw him on the floor, flipped him on his stomach, and pulled his arm back against his spine. Mike leaned in with his weight forcing the small teenager’s face into the carpet. Joey scrambled and kicked unable to breathe as Mike leaned in, roaring with all his might, right into Joey’s ear. He roared again, spit spraying on Joey’s face.
Joey squealed as the full weight of the adult dug into his back and his arm. Mike eased up and then leaned in close. Joey could feel the heat from his face, the moisture from his breath, and smell the sweat from the raging man. He knew what would come next, a beating or worse.
“Fuck you, Mike, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you! ”Joey spat out defiantly.
“Do you love me now, huh? I can do whatever I want to you because you’re fucking weak,” Mike hissed. “You come into my house, spit in my face, what are you, huh? Nothing. You’re a faggot whore that’s fucking to keep some food in his stomach. You worthless piece of shit, I took you in, I don’t owe you anything, but you, you owe me, you owe me…”
Joey waited for the strike or to have his clothes ripped away, but breath after breath passed and Mike slowly let up his weight.
“Alright,” Mike conceded, and his voice eased back to the kind, out-of-work, rock star.
Both were panting and covered in the sweat of fear and rage. Mike stood up and Joey rolled on his back but didn’t try to stand; he was too afraid to move. Mike reached out with his hand.
“When you’re with me you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to,” said Mike as if nothing had happened.
Joey, unsure, cautiously grabbed the man’s hand and drew himself up. Mike gently embraced him. A million emotions burst out from Joey and he began to tremble and sob.
“It’s gonna be okay, it was just a little fight,” Mike said stepping back and gently, almost lovingly, caressing Joey’s face.
“I’m sorry,” Joey said trying to compose himself in the wake of the emotional flood.
“Me too, kiddo. Let’s get that hair did, what do you think you want?” Mike asked as he wiped the tears away.
Joey, sniffling, and snot choked, had no idea what he wanted.
The odd couple washed their faces, laughed, and teased each other as they headed back out. Joey was confused about his own feelings. Mike could have beaten him, but he stopped himself. He obviously cared about Joey. It seemed that all Mike wanted to do was treat him like a prince. Baby had said that Joey ‘should indulge his benefactor.’
When Joey stepped from the salon, wearing Baby’s new clothes, bleached blonde hair, and an onyx piercing in his ear, he felt reborn.
As he and Mike walked the Castro he felt the gaze of both men and women, and instead of insecurity, he felt good. He had changed and the city took notice. Its people welcomed him with smiles and warmth.
They stopped by a payphone and Mike told him to wait while he made a call. He stood outside an abandoned storefront. Its huge window revealing an empty floor space. Whatever business had been there was now gone, and nothing but dust remained. The sign was missing, but he got the impression that it was a boutique of some kind. There in the light of day, he looked at his bright reflection, cars, and the people passing behind him, he took a sip of bitter delicious coffee, and he smiled.
Mike checked over his shoulder to make sure Joey couldn’t hear him. His face had tension as if something were pulling him down. He held the receiver of the payphone tight to his face.
“Yeah, I got a new kid. He’s cute, not very smart.”
The voice on the other end made a muffled laugh.
“He’s what we’re looking for. He don’t like the nose candy but the boys will hook him, it’s hard to say ‘no’ to them, right?“
The muffled voice talked for several moments, and Mike nodded, then looked over at Joey who was admiring himself in the reflection. Joey looked back to Mike and smiled, and Mike, unexpected to himself, genuinely smiled back.
The muffled voice asked a short question.
“You let me worry about that. You keep the cops away, and I’ll keep us earning,” Mike said in a hushed tone.
“I’ll check the missing persons, but I don’t think anyone is looking for him.”
The muffled voice seemed agitated.
“I just found him a couple of nights ago. I didn’t even know his name till last night. I got this man, don’t freak out. He looks a lot like Diamond James, you liked DJ, didn’t you? It will be the same. He’s a three-time nobody. Nobody’s looking for him, nobody’s gonna miss him, and nobody’s gonna care.”
There was no reply.
“Just like Diamond James.”
Mike hung up the phone and turned his attention to his new project. Joey was looking up to the sky like a tourist. Mike shook his head at how naive the kid could be. The boys would turn him, Star would turn him. One more year and all this shit would be done. One less runaway that no one would miss, all his debts paid, and a one-way ticket to somewhere nice in Southeast Asia. Joey was, literally, Mike’s ticket out of the Castro.