When he saw through the windshield that the house lights were on, his skin prickled and he started trembling in nervous anticipation. This was the night, he thought, gripping the steering wheel so tightly that for a moment he wondered if it would snap off. From the darkness of his car he watched the figure move from one room to another, and he knew that at last he would have Michael to himself. Tonight was finally the night; there would be no interruption.
He drove his light gray car around the block and returned a second time, slowing slightly but again not stopping. Not there, not in front of the large stucco duplex. This was Kenwood, the fanciest neighborhood in Minneapolis. The largest homes were here, huge old things scattered around Lake of the Isles, which lay just two blocks west. If he stopped he might be seen; a gossipy neighbor in this exclusive, quiet, and protective area might be watching. So he kept moving, his eyes trained on the building. There were just a couple of lights on downstairs, while the upper apartment was entirely black. Tonight was indeed the night he'd been waiting for.
He parked around the corner, carefully pulling his car into a pool of darkness. He took a deep breath, felt his heart churning wildly, then released the steering wheel from his death grip and looked at his hands. Shit, he thought, examining his palms, noting the perspiration glistening even in this stingy light. This would be the first time, the first one. Why shouldn't he be nervous as hell? Not long ago he'd realized he had no other choice, that this was the next step in his life, as inevitable as the next breath and the one after that. But he still hadn't believed he was really going to go through with it. Not until now. There was no other step, no shirking the need, and he felt a rush of excitement meld with a rich sense of fear.
He zipped up his brown leather coat, pulled on a pair of gloves as well as a dark wool cap, and studied the street. There were no joggers coming to or from the lake, no one huffing and puffing through this mid-October air. No one walking a dog. Which was all as it should be, not a soul to see him. He climbed out of the car, gently pressing the door shut, and then hurried to the sidewalk, where he moved along, his head hung. At the alley he took a left.
And then stopped.
Quickly, he pressed himself against a mass of tall lilacs, their spindly, leafless branches spearing his side. Down by the third garage a gray-haired woman bundled up in a coat was dragging a green bin to the edge of the alley. She was putting out her recycling, he realized. She flipped back the lid, disappeared for a moment, and returned with a grocery sack of glass, which she noisily shoved into the container. She next rolled her large brown garbage container to the edge of the alley, caught her breath, and then was gone. He heard the sound of a back door opening and closing. Still he did not move, not until the woman flicked off the floodlight perched under the eaves of her garage.
When it was dark and all was quiet again, he pressed on. As he neared the woman's garage and the recycling bin, though, he did slow, checking the lights to be sure there were no motion detectors. He scurried on, realizing that, Jesus Christ, he'd never thought he'd be so . . . so excited.
He came around the back of Michael's blue Volvo sedan, glimmering starlike on the concrete pad behind the duplex. His breath steaming, the man checked the second floor apartment again, and again saw no sign of life. But there was downstairs. Yes. There was Michael in the kitchen window, tall and lanky, his short dark hair receding. That handsome facebrown eyes, slender cheeksthat could light up a room with laughter. And the dark, thick mustache, which had been his trademark for years and years. He knew him all too well.
Hurrying to the rear door, the visitor was about to press the doorbell when he saw the naked bulb affixed to the side of the house. The man reached up with his gloved hand, turned it once, twice. Then he rang. It was an old kind of doorbell, shrill and loud, the hammering kind that made you jump in fright. When it was quiet again, there was a new kind of hush. He heard a sink suddenly quieted, the rush of water cut midstream. Next, steps. But they were going away, it seemed. Was Michael going to the front door?
The man banged on the rear door, his fist thick and hard, hesitated, then hammered again. Soon he could tell Michael was rushing this way, through the kitchen. A door was pulled open, a shaft of light cutting into the back hall. Peering through a pane of glass in the door, he saw Michael's figure move down a couple of back steps, pause. Michael groped for a switch, which he flicked three times to no avail. Grumbling about that damn back-door light, Michael came right up to the door and peered out, hesitant, for although this was Minneapolis, it wasn't as safe as it had once been.
He called, "Who is it?"
"It's me, Michael."
His surprise was evident, for it took a moment to register. "What? You're kidding." He fumbled with a lock, turned it, started to yank back the heavy door, then pushed the storm. "Why are you back here? You know, I have a very nice front door."
"I know, I know. But I . . . I was just around the corner and . . . and . . ."
Michael was still dressed in remnants of work clothes, a white shirt that was wrinkled after a day at the office, a loosened tie with the top button pulled open, the dark navy pants of a suit. The man slipped past Michael, entering through the back door that Michael graciously held open. And now that he was in, now that he was within a mere few inches of Michael, his heart seemed to be thumping so loudly that he could hear it. Standing in that dank back hall, the stairs leading down and down into some black hole of a basement, he leaned against a wall, suddenly ashamed.
"Michael, I need to talk to you."
"Of course, come on in."
"I mean, I . . ." He stared at him in the faint light of the back stairs, reached out, touched the sleeve of Michael's white shirt. "We've got a lot to talk about, obviously. No one else is home, is there?"
Michael froze as he gazed down on the hand on his arm, and clearly he sensed his guest's desperate tone, his shifting eyes, his pain, and even that pressing desire. There was a glint of panic too. Of course Michael understood.
The man continued, saying, "There's something I have to tell you. Something about me."
"Oh, God, this isn't about what I think it is, is it?" asked Michael, his voice quivering a tad.
"No shit," said Michael, his discomfort obvious. "I thought you were looking at me a little strange last week. Come on in. You want to tell me all about it?"
The man followed Michael up the short steps, through the back door, into the kitchen, a boxy room with old cabinets covered in thick, dingy yellow paint. A bright fluorescent bulb hung in the middle of the room, and the man squinted, kept moving. Not toward the living room, he thought. Too open. So he kept going, moving toward the second door, the one that opened into the dark hallway, which in turn led to the bedrooms.
Still wearing his leather coat, the man stopped there, in that hallway, and slumped dramatically against the wall, muttering, "I'm upset. My life's a mess. Totally. And this is especially hard for me."
Michael hesitated in the doorway, his tall frame outlined by the stark kitchen light behind him. "You know what? I think I'm shocked. I've heard a lot of dirt in my life but . . . but I'm still shocked. Has the whole world gone queer?"
"Will you come here?" He took a deep breath, struggling to add, "Will you hold me?"
Michael's guest held out his right hand, which was still gloved, and Michael came forward. They hesitated, both of the men in that hallway, and then Michael, the taller of the two as well as the vastly more experienced in these matters, reached forward, wrapped his arms around the other, and took him slowly, warmly in his arms. But Michael's tight embrace was a friendly one, a hug that was meant to soothe and comfort, for Michael had always had a generous soul. He'd been through this a number of times, had helped any number of men out of that closet of shame.
"Michael, I . . . I . . ." The man reached up between them, felt the thickness of Michael's chest now pressing against him, and shuddered. "Let me take off my coat."
"Sure." Michael patted him gently and pulled away. "You want a glass of wine? Let's go in the living room. You can just start talking. Trust me, you can tell me everything. I have no judgments. Like I said, I've heard it all. Come on."
"No." Desperately, the man clutched Michael by the arm, held him right there in that back hall. "I want . . . want you."
Michael couldn't hide his surprise, and his eyes opened wide. "Now, just think about it. I don't think we really"
"You don't understand."
And to make things absolutely clear, the man reached into his leather jacket, felt for a long hard object, and quickly pulled it from his pocket. It was a knife, quite long, quite thick. An altogether sharp tool used for carving meat.
"Holy shit," exclaimed Michael at the sight of the glinting weapon. "You don't have to get kinky on me."
"Just take off your clothes."
"You've got to be kidding," he said, a scared, nervous laugh bursting from his mouth. And then, when he realized how dangerous the situation really was, he blurted, "What the fuck are you talking about?"
Michael tried to pull away, but the man grabbed him and pressed the knife much too hard against Michael's belly, ordering, "First the tie, then the shirt."