The third installment in the series brings us two characters that first meet outside the Bent Zealots Chapel. One is coming to join in after leaving the Bare Bones club in his rearview, the other is arriving for “babysitting” after an early release from a bid for Bank Robbery offers him a new opportunity. My favorite, so far, for the honest struggles of the characters that set up their own growth and development.
Harte has always believed that Leo was his father, and now that many of the members he’d known since childhood were under investigation as Leo was working to save his own skin, he’s needing a change of scenery. Not to mention that he’s discovering his own sexuality, and in the Bare Bones, as it has developed, being gay just isn’t cool.
Bond is Turk’s biological brother, even as they were separated after their parents were killed by a drunk driver. We know that Turk’s life with the Illuminatis wasn’t great, but Bond’s life was full of fighting, foster homes and rejection: all the while he believed his brother got a “Leave it to Beaver” existence. Fresh out of prison and with a chip on his shoulder the size of a potato field (with tractors), Bond is expecting to roll into the Bent Zealots clubhouse and take over – brother or no brother.
Wolfe has taken two very disparate characters here and given them both time to grow and develop. Bond starts out completely terrified, always on the offensive, expecting people will see inside his head and realize he’s worthless. Oh – and we won’t even mention his extreme (can anyone say ‘he doth protest too much’) homophobia. Imagine his surprise when he sees that the Zealots are predominantly gay, and have already given him two steps up the ladder, to prospect. On the other hand, Harte is a known entity to the club, and while not settled in his identification of a gay man (he’s still working on his genre) he’s at least honest with himself and others, and eager to see what will come. He’s the eager puppy in this book – honest, loving, kind-hearted and adorable, even when he’s wrong.
While the opportunity to take a small side-mission in retaliation for a horrific attack on Ormond appears, the whole gang of ‘outsiders’, with mindful tech geek Twinkletoes as watcher, set off on a mission that could bring the full force of retaliation down on the club. Add in the two teenaged Navajo boys rescued from near slavery in the last book, and a new member of the shatter crew in the two-spirited Fredericka and the story is full of moments that shine.
What emerges is a story that, above all, celebrates self-acceptance and awareness, showing the power of friendship and love in making things better than they were. Foul language, often rough and raw emotions and plenty of balance checks to be sure no-one is believing the less than truthful utterances, these characters are real, honest and completely lovable. Eventually.
“Stupid kids,” was all Bond would say. “Fucking spring break.”
“You never got a chance to go to college,” I said, tentatively. I thought we’d started a good conversation the day before at Ormond’s. We could certainly continue along that tack. Bond didn’t seem to be aware that Turk had had an equally lousy childhood as he had. He seemed to think Turk was rolling with some kind of sudsy reality family where Jim Bob Duggar would dispense with fatherly advice about dental cavities and wet dreams. He somehow seemed to have gathered this vision of Turk’s adoptive home as a heavenly, squeaky clean TV set, not the lousy, dirty Party Central that it was. “But Turk didn’t, either, and he was the smartest of the bunch of us, growing up. He didn’t have the best home life, Bond. I don’t know where you get your impression of Cropper Illuminati, but Turk wasn’t playing board games and roller skating. He had it rough.”
“Sure,” snorted Bond. “Cropper docked his allowance if he didn’t eat his broccoli.”
“I doubt they ever had broccoli.” I was starting to lose patience with this man. “I doubt they even knew what a fucking board game was, Bond. That house was just as bad, if not more so, than any of your group homes. You probably played Life or Trivial Pursuit a couple of times.”
“A couple of times, maybe,” Bond grudgingly admitted. “I knew what they were.”
“Well Cropper had Turk and Ford stealing Walkmans from Radio Shack when they were ten. He was handing them hits of four-way Windowpane as rewards. Before he started Illuminati Trucking, they slept with buckets around their beds because no one could afford a new roof. They rarely even made it to school, and luckily both got their GEDs because they kept up with book learning on their own. He had them selling weed to seventh graders—their own friends! Did you know that?”
“I didn’t know squat,” Bond said, somewhat angrily. “I only saw Turk twice before yesterday. He never tried to contact me.”
“Because he didn’t know where you were! I distinctly recall about five years ago, I asked him about you, where you were. He said he didn’t fucking know, but he’d really like to fucking know.”
“He could have fucking asked! He could have fucking asked the child placement agency where I went!”
I was so livid by that time I was nearly driving on the shoulder. The sun blared high above the treeless desert, and the trailer park we were passing made it even more desolate. My hands clenched the wheel. Now I was the one white-knuckling it. “He did! He said after the last group home let you go when you were seventeen, everyone lost track. He knew you were in Colorado and that was it. He tried, Bond. He tried. Yet you knew where he was the whole time. The Bum Steer clubhouse in Pure and Easy didn’t move for fifteen, twenty years. They still use it. It’s still a bar and grill.”
“Well, what would I’ve said to him? We had nothing in fucking common. At least he lived with a real family. I lived with a bunch of other kids who’d punch you just for looking sideways at them. A bunch of degenerates. Fake ‘fathers’ visiting your bed at night.”
That last part kind of sailed right over my head. I was like a dog with a bone now, determined to worry it. “You wound up having a lot more in common than you thought, didn’t you?”
“What do you mean? We both like leather? We both ride scoots?”
“No,” I boiled. “You’d both rather smoke dick than cigars.”
Boy, that one, short pause was practically electric with emotion. Bond probably needed that pause to determine whether I’d really said what he thought I’d said. Then I guess he’d decided that yes, I’d really said it, because his hand shot out and bashed the steering wheel so badly I swerved into oncoming traffic.
“That’s it. That’s fucking it. Pull over, you motherfucking scumsucker. Pull over to the side of the road. I’m not riding with the likes of you anymore.”
Luckily there were no oncoming cars and I was able to maneuver the van to the shoulder next to an old-timey diner that was boarded up. I tried to say, “Look. I was just saying it’s interesting that two brothers who’ve been separated most of their adult life turn out to be gay, that’s all,” but Bond was having none of that shit.
He yanked on the door handle so violently I’m surprised he didn’t break it clean off. His look was murderous as well, his chestnut eyes flashing. His left hand grabbed the lapel of my cut. It was an unforgiveable sin to touch another man’s cut. But I felt in the wrong, and I did nothing to stop him. In the rearview side mirror, I saw Twinkletoes pull his white Dyna to the shoulder as well. He’d been riding back door to make sure us neophytes didn’t pull any shit. Like we were now doing.
“Listen, you fucktard. You may think you own this entire gay thing because you just came out after twenty-five years in the closet. Just because you were all over that gay stage owning it like some fairy being ogled by dozens of men with your stupid fucking cock leash. I’m here to tell you. You do not get to decide who does what, when. That’s my business.” And he slammed the hell out of the door, stomping over to the shuttered diner.
I immediately followed. Of course I did. I’d brought up the subject in the wrong way, possibly at the wrong time. But I couldn’t just let him run off next to the Sand and Rock diner.
Twinkletoes, too, was striding toward where Bond had hidden himself in the shadows by the diner’s front door. I held up a hand to tell Twinkletoes “I’ve got this.” I didn’t, really, but what else could I do?
“Listen,” I told the macho parolee, who paced in the shade with his arms folded so tightly his nipple ring was set to blow. “I’m sorry. You’re right. You get to decide when and where you come out. I was just trying to tell you you’re being fucking hypocritical thinking you can live a two-faced life. It’s going to make youunhappy, number one. Believe you me, I did that for years. I didn’t start suspecting I was gay until like my sophomore year in high school—“
Bond grabbed my T-shirt this time. He struck so quickly he was like a copperhead, the way his arm shot out to grab me. I swear my feet were off the ground while he was growling in my face. “You’re damn right it’s not your business. And I want you to fucking forget it ever happened, ‘cause it’s never happening again! As far as you and anyone knows, I’m straight, straight, straight. And the second we get back I’m gonna prove it by pushing up on at least two or three sweetbutts.” He tossed me away like yesterday’s nachos.
That pissed me off. Was he seriously going to pretend he wasn’t gay in the slightest? “What the fuck is that going to solve, Bond? It’s gonna come out eventually, you living in close proximity to other gays. Eventually you’re gonna slip up and someone’s gonna see you doing it with another guy. Believe you me, it happened to me. I was sucking someone’s cock in Flagstaff and my fucking mother saw me. Yes, my fucking mother, and it all came out then and there, and not in the way I would’ve wanted it to.” My real father, Sax Saxonberg, had also seen me inhaling Dayton Navarro’s meat, but he seemed cool with it. The point I was trying to make to Bond was that it was nearly impossible to hide it. I tried.
He yelled, “Why would I slip up if I only hook up with guys in Lake Havasu City?”
“Lake Havasu?” I sputtered. “That’s like twenty minutes from our clubhouse. Who the hell is not going to be grinding in Lake Havasu? Chances are I’ll literally run into you within the first ten days.”
“Okay, then I’ll go farther! Needles, Bullhead City!”
“That’s Assassins of Youth turf! Lock was nearly beheaded by those morons for being gay before they let him leave their fucking club. Listen, what I’m trying to say is—“
“What you’re trying to say is I’m supposed to admit something I haven’t even admitted to myself! No fucking thank you!”
We were practically standing toe to toe now, shouting at each other. Being so close, we didn’t really need to shout. But it sort of fit our moods, I think. We were both pissed as hell. “It’s going to haunt you anyway, asshole! Think how wrong it’ll feel, trying to suck some girl’s boob while the whole time you’re imagining it’s some guy’s cock.”
“I don’t suck cock! I’m a fucking—a fucking—“
“Ha! You don’t even know what you are, that’s how far in denial you are. You probably don’t even know what a top or a Dom is. You’re so far in denial you’re swimming in Lake Victoria, and every time you slide your cock into a chick you’re going to be fantasizing it’s some guy’s tight ass. You’re going to be wishing that hair you’re stroking of the girl blowing you belongs to a guy, and—“
“I don’t fuck guys either! All I do is let them blow me, once in a blue fucking moon, and that’s just because they’re better at giving blowjobs than chicks are.” Bond was so close he was spitting on my face with every word.
“—and every time you kiss a girl you’re going to be pretending to yourself it’s a guy just so you can get it up—“
“Oh, fuck it.”
That last was just one long groan, and suddenly Bond was kissing me.
I know, it sounds insane to say. It sounds insane to write it. In a fraction of a second, Bond went from a straight guy who only allowed men the pleasure of blowing him because they were more talented to a guy who just wanted to kiss another man. And that fucking man was me.
Me. A guy who’d never been kissed.
I was so shocked, so taken by surprise, at first I thought it was some strange kind of torture, maybe some martial arts move. I froze like a Windows computer. Abso-fucking-lutely stunned, my hands in the shape of claws, waiting for Bond to hurt me.
But he didn’t. And he didn’t stop. The kiss just got warmer, more passionate. He parted his lips and tickled mine with the tip of his tongue, snorting hot puffs against my cheek. His palm cradled my skull, pressing me to him, and he came up so close the toes of our boots touched.
No. He wasn’t going to hurt me. He was just filled to the brim with lust.
I breathed. My hands melted, and I dared to encircle his waist. I ran my hands underneath his cut, bold enough to feel his burning skin under the filmy wifebeater he seemed to have worn just to seduce me. Ah. My pheromones were responding to his essential manly scent, that mysterious, unfathomable scent that draws lovers together. I parted my lips and allowed him to tickle my tongue-tip, even relaxing enough to utter a moan that had him delving his tongue deeper.
He bent at the knees, leaning into me. With one of his hands on my hip, the other curled around the slope of my ass, pressing me into him, sort of lifting me. I gasped in his mouth, shocked to feel the pressure of his erection against mine. The delicious sensuality when he angled his hips ever so slightly sent a rush of bloodlust to my groin. In a flash, my dick was throbbing against my fly buttons.
Never in a billion years had I fantasized about this brutal, statuesque god making a pass at me, much less kissing me. And now he was thrust his pelvis against mine, dry-humping me with quick little jolts as though he meant to lift my boots clean off the ground. Our tongues twined together now, Bond lapping at the underside of mine. The tip of his beautiful, straight nose touched my cheekbone. It was much more voracious, no holds barred then the gentle kiss of a woman. So this is what it’s like to kiss a man. Already I wanted to do it over…and over…and over.
Just as he gave his most savage grunt punctuated by a stab of the hips, Bond broke away. Panting, with hands out at his side, he looked utterly stunned. He gazed at me wide-eyed as though he’d never seen me before. Oh, Lord. This is where he takes everything back again. Already I was getting to know Bond and his flip-flopping ways. He disgustedly wiped his mouth off on his forearm.
“There,” he practically spat. “Maybe that will shut you up.” He ambled past me like a Cro-Magnon man, all bulging muscles and aboriginal forehead, just like the knuckle-dragger he was. Even his stupid voice sounded dumb, a roided-out boxer who’d been bashed in the head too many times. “Let’s get this fucking show on the road. That kid ain’t waiting forever.”
I swiveled around, still trying to drink everything in. That was when Twinkletoes stepped out from behind a pillar.
“Way to not be gay, guy.”
It was so unexpected I burst out in laughter. I looked at Twinkletoes, expected him to be laughing, too, but he wasn’t. He’d meant every word. It wasn’t until he saw me busting a gut that he realized it had been funny. He, too, started chuckling, his eyes watery.
Bond had already slammed the hell back into the rape van’s passenger seat, jamming his seat belt into its buckle, so I stood next to the former Prospect.
“Strange guy,” Twinkletoes chuckled. “I busted him coming out of the Blue Oyster, but he denies being attracted to men.”
“Oh, you saw him there, too? This is what I’m trying to tell him. He’s not gonna be able to keep it under wraps for long.”
“Especially not in a club full of homosexuals. He doesn’t need to fly the colors of a unicorn riding a rainbow for those Zealots to scope him out a mile off.”
“I don’t envy you. You’ve got your hands full sponsoring him.”
Bond rolled down the manual window on the old van. “Hey! Burning daylight here!”
Twinkletoes exhaled loudly between pursed lips. “This is gonna be a tough row to hoe, for sure.”
I slapped him on the shoulder, pretending to be cheery about the whole thing. In reality, I was tweaked, thinking about the road ahead for Bond. It was hard enough coming out when you wanted to, like me. But for a guy so determined to think he was as straight as a laser beam, coming to grips with reality would be even worse.