Some short stories and novellas. See list of subject categories to the right of the first story. Many of these stories have gay characters and themes (other than the two obvious categories under 'Labels', Cinque Ports and Lewis also deal with gay subjects). My apologies for the errors. I am not good at proofing, and my frequent revisions leave scraps of earlier versions embedded in the posted text.
I saw them when I was driving home after work. The light turned red as I approached Chestnut Hill Road. While I was stopped, they jogged up to the intersection and paused at the crossing. Two attractive men in loose running shorts and T-shirts in their early thirties--naturally I looked. I’ve never been one to pass up such an opportunity. They stood there with their hands on their hips, arms akimbo, moving in place on the pavement, lifting their legs high at the knees and twisting their torsos to keep the muscles loose and stretched. They had been running hard enough to work up a sweat, and wet triangles pointing downwards from their necks and shoulders plastered their T-shirts to their bodies. One of them lifted the bottom of his shirt to wipe his face dry, exposing a nicely muscled abdomen. Their bodies were ruddy from their exertions.
If that had been all that I saw, I would have quickly forgotten them. They would have become just two more men that I have looked at appreciatively over the years. Handsome, yes, but not memorable enough to make the all-time best list. What imprinted them on my mind was a smile. One of them turned to the other and said something, something brief, a dozen words, no more. The other replied, even more briefly. The first man said one word. And then the second man smiled--joyfully, sublimely--a smile that transformed them and made the air radiant with their happiness.
It was a smile that bespoke a history, a smile that promised a future, a smile that demanded a story.
‘Come on, get up. Let’s exercise that beautiful ass of yours. Keep it tight and firm.’
Bram grunted. He rolled over onto his side, turning away from Stephen, and pulled the covers up over his head. He burrowed his face into the pillow and muttered, ‘Five minutes. Let me have just five more minutes. It’s Saturday for chrissake.’
In response, Stephen tugged the cord on the blinds. The slats rose with a clatter of noise and banged against the window. ‘It’s a nice day out . . . Wait, no, I spoke too soon. Actually it’s not. It’s very foggy.’ And then with more enthusiasm. ‘But that will burn off by the time we get out.’ Stephen stepped back to the bed, grabbed the covers and yanked them off Bram.
‘Hey, put them back. It’s cold.’
‘We’ll soon have you warmed up, lover. Up, up, up! Come on, you lazy sod.’
Bram wrapped his arms around the pillow, flexed his buttocks, and ground his groin into the mattress. ‘Come back to bed. I’ll soon have you warmed up.’
‘Don’t be cheeky.’ Stephen slapped Bram’s ass playfully.
Bram groaned. He opened one eye and squinted at Stephen over his shoulder. ‘Coffee. Let me at least have a cup of coffee before you drag me out to that lake.’
‘There’s a cup of cold tea left in the pot from yesterday. That’s all you get for now. You need to work off that extra dessert you ate last night.’
‘I couldn’t let it go to waste. Lewis made that especially for you, and you wouldn’t eat more than a spoonful. Besides, all that exercising we did after we came back home burnt off more calories than Lewis fed us last night.’
‘Doesn’t count. Lying there moaning doesn’t count. I was doing all the work.’
‘Work, is it now? Out of the goodness of me heart, I let you have your way with me, and you call it work? You ought to be grateful to me for letting you get all that exercise.’
Stephen bent over and kissed Bram on the back of his neck. ‘I am. It was great. You’re great. I’m great. But you’re going to get fat if you don’t exercise more.’ Bram rolled over and grabbed Stephen by the shoulders and tried to pull him down onto the bed. ‘Now, none of that now. Later. After you’ve been a good boy and jogged for an hour.’ Stephen pushed his arms under Bram’s body and lifted him out of bed and stood him up. ‘There. If you exercised as much as I do, you could do that too.’
‘Hmm. You promise if I’m good and jog along with you, you’ll take me to bed again?’
‘Promise. Now into your jogging kit. There’s a good lad. Four times around the lake this morning.’
Bram groaned and stretched. He walked over to the window and looked out, his naked body grey in the dim light. ‘How can we run in this fog? We won’t be able to see the goose and dog shit in time to step around it.’
‘Stop making excuses. The sooner you do this and get it over with, the sooner we can get into the shower and work ourselves into a lather.’
‘Sex, sex, sex. That’s all it is with you.’
‘And exercise. I think of that too.’ Stephen began jogging in place.
Bram’s eyes fixed on Stephen’s midsection. ‘Are you wearing anything under those shorts?’
‘You’ll find out in about an hour. Sooner if you run faster today. Four times around the lake and then back here. If you’ve been good, you can rip the shorts off my sweaty body.’
‘You love it.’
‘I love you.’
‘Prove it. Run as if your life depended on it. Your sex life does, I can tell you that.’
‘Good morning, Mrs Adams.’ Stephen held the door to the building open for an elderly woman carrying a net shopping bag that bulged with groceries. ‘You’re out early today.’
‘My son’s coming over later this morning. I just needed to get a few things from the shops before he arrived. Are you two going to be warm enough in those shorts? There’s quite a chill in the air this morning. And this fog is so heavy. You won’t be able to see where you’re going.’
‘Exactly what I told him,’ said Bram, pointing to Stephen.
‘We’ll warm up once we start running. Come on, Bram. Enjoy your son’s visit, Mrs Adams.’
The fog was dense that morning. They couldn’t see ten feet ahead of themselves. It was difficult to run along the pavement. Pedestrians would suddenly appear out of the fog ahead of them. They barely had time to react and dodge to the side to avoid them. The fog grew even thicker as they jogged through the trees in the park. Both of them automatically slowed their pace as they headed down the steep hillside that led to the lake. The first indication that they had reached the gravel path that ran around the lake was the different sounds their trainers made as they left the dirt trail through the trees.
Both automatically turned to their right and began running counterclockwise around the lake. Their legs rose and fell in unison, both of them pushing themselves as usual. The fog closed in around them, limiting their vision to a circle of a few feet. ‘I wonder if anyone else is out.’ In answer to Bram’s comment, a goose off to their left in the water honked a warning signal and beat its wings against the water. Several others joined in.
‘The geese are here anyway.’
‘Yeah, we take our shoes off at the front door. I don’t want to think about what we’re stepping in here.’
‘Hmm, you can’t wait to get me undressed, can you?’
‘I want to find out what you have on under those shorts.’
‘I think you’re familiar with those bits already.’
‘Oooff.’ Bram tumbled to the ground as another runner came dashing out of the fog. The man’s shoulder hit Bram about mid-chest, pushing him sideways and onto the path. Bram broke his fall with an outstretched hand. The man didn’t even pause. He disappeared into the fog. For a short moment they could hear the sound of his feet hitting the ground and then even that was swallowed up.
‘Hey! Watch where you’re going.’ Stephen’s ineffectual shout of protest met with no response.
Bram stood up, clutching his right wrist and holding his hand open upwards. ‘Christ. That stings. I scraped half the skin off my palm.’ His breath hissed through his teeth as he shook his hand in an attempt to throw off the pain.
‘We need to get some antiseptic on that right away. This gravel must be filled with germs. Let’s go back. Can you run?’
‘My legs are fine. It’s just my hand. That guy didn’t even stop. I could have broken a leg. If you hadn’t been here, I would have been . . .’
The woman’s scream came from up ahead in the fog. A man began shouting ‘Oh my god, oh my god.’
Bram didn’t hesitate. He sprinted away through the fog in the direction of the screams. ‘Police,’ he cried out as he ran.
Stephen ran after him. When Bram wanted to put on speed, he could, and the sound of his footfalls receded as the gap between the two of them grew. His voice cut through the fog. ‘Police. This is DI Maxson of the Sussex Police. Where are you?’
‘Here. Here. We’re here.’ Both the man and the woman began shouting, their voices overlayering each other’s. ‘Come quickly. He’s hurt. Someone’s been hurt. He’s bleeding.’
‘Stephen, come here. You’re needed.’ Bram the gentle lover had become Detective Inspector Maxson. ‘Stand back. My partner’s a doctor. Stephen, hurry. Where are you?’
Stephen suddenly came upon the group. The body of a man lay on the ground. His running clothes were sodden with blood and clung to his body. In his agony, he had raked the gravel with his hands, his fingers drawing bloody grooves in the ground. Bram had torn the man’s shirt open and was bent over him, trying to close the wound in his chest with his fingers. Stephen knelt beside the man and felt his neck for a pulse. Bram reached into the pocket of Stephen’s windcheater with his free hand and pulled out the mobile phone Stephen always carried. He flipped it open and keyed in the number with his thumb.
‘This is DI Maxson. I’m on the jogging path along the old reservoir about a half-mile south of the Chestnut Hill entrance opposite the Midlands Bank there. A man’s been stabbed. We need an ambulance. He’ll need transfusions right away. Send . . .’
Stephen looked up and caught Bram’s eye. He shook his head and lifted Bram’s hand gently off the man’s chest. It was the hand that he had scraped when he fell to the ground, and all that Stephen could think of was that Bram’s open cuts were covered with a stranger’s blood.
‘Wait. Hold on a second. Dr Holloway’s here too.’ Bram looked up at Stephen.
‘We’re too late. There’s no pulse. He lost too much blood before we got here.’
‘Are you sure?’
Bram spoke into the phone again. “Dr Holloway says the man’s dead. Send the nearest car. We’ll wait here. We’ll need the coroner and the murder scene group. Who’s on duty?’
‘Tell them--the PCs need to bring a first-aid kit.’ Stephen broke in, his voice full of urgency. ‘I’ve got to get your hand cleaned off. You don’t have anything, do you?’ Stephen turned to the woman. ‘Some perfume. Anything with alcohol in it?’
She shook her head no. Both she and the man with her were looking on with horror. ‘We were just out for our morning run. We nearly didn’t go out this morning. The fog was so thick. We didn’t see him until we were almost on him. I nearly stepped on him.’ Her voice began to sound hysterical. The man looked as if he were about to be sick. He couldn’t take his eyes off the body.
‘Do you at least have any water? I’ve got to clean Bram’s hand off.’
‘You can’t, Stephen. At least not until samples have been taken. It’s part of the crime scene now. We have to be able to account for everything found on the body. I may have introduced something by touching him.’
Stephen lowered his voice. ‘But he could have hepatitis. You don’t know. He might even have AIDS.’ He was leaning across the body and looking into Bram’s face and imploring his lover to let him treat his hand.
There was a shocked intake of breath from the woman. ‘Did you say he has AIDS? Oh my god, Henry, he had AIDS. We have to get out of here.’ The two of them turned and ran off.
‘Damn.’ Bram leaped to his feet in annoyance. ‘Stay here. There will be some PCs here in a minute. Tell them where I’ve gone.’ He ran after the couple.
‘Did someone take care of your hand?’ Stephen had to force himself to remain seated when Bram walked into the DCI’s office. He wanted to jump up and grab Bram and hug him tightly so that he couldn’t run off again. ‘He wouldn’t let me see to it. It needs to be treated, and he needs a tetanus shot and . . .’ He began explaining to Chief Inspector Gwillam.
‘It’s all right, Stephen. Dr Jameson cleaned it up.’ He held up his palm so that Stephen could see that it was clean. ‘There were only a few scratches. And my tetanus shot is current. Really, it’s all right.’
‘But . . .’
‘Stephen, I’m fine. Don’t fuss.’ He turned to his boss. ‘Is Stephen through assisting the police with their enquiries?’
He doesn’t want to seem soft in front of his mates, thought Stephen. He has to look professional.
Gwillam nodded. ‘We’re through with the two of you for now. You know the drill, Bram. We’ll want to speak with both of you again. Stephen, please don’t talk to any reporters. We don’t want the person who did this to know that you’re a witness.’
‘You think the man who knocked Bram down did it?’
‘It’s too soon to speculate, Stephen. He is a person of interest. We would like to talk with him--if we can find him.’ Gwillam shook Stephen’s hand. ‘You were very helpful.’ He turned to Bram. ‘He’ll make a good witness if we ever find the man.’
Bram faced away from Stephen and spoke to Gwillam, two professionals talking about their work. ‘I’ve never been questioned as a witness in a murder investigation before.’ He grinned. ‘It was a new experience for me. I kept wanting to tell Susan and Russ how to conduct the interview. “Ask me this.” “Ask me that.” It was all I could do to hold myself in and let them ask the questions.’
‘At least you didn’t request a lawyer.’ The two policeman chuckled.
‘I’m not likely to do that.’
Stephen felt shut out as the two cops reverted to their familiar relationship. It was like being a child again, sitting there on your best behaviour and trying not to fidget while the adults discussed adult matters. He had been in the DCI’s office for an hour answering Gwillam’s and another detective’s questions. When they were finally satisfied that he had nothing more to add, the detective had left, and Gwillam had spent the ten minutes before Bram arrived chatting about unimportant matters. Gwillam had tried to turn the meeting into a social occasion, the boss entertaining the partner of a member of his staff.
Stephen’s thoughts drifted back to the body of the man they had found. He was used to injuries, of course, and he had seen dead people before. But always in a hospital setting, sanitised and civilised. Surrounded by efforts to keep the person alive, the busy work of routine keeping the demon at bay. The bright lights preventing shadows. He never saw the bodies as Bram saw them--the people who had been dead for hours, days sometimes. The medical examiner took care of those, far from Stephen’s sight. Bram saw the violence. By the time it arrived in the hospital, the process of taming it had already begun. A few hours ago, he had stumbled into Bram’s world.
A jumble of images succeeded one another in his mind. The body of a stranger lying on the ground. His lover’s hand covered with blood. Geese calling out warning signals to one another. The PCs appearing suddenly out of the fog and suspicious of Stephen. Bram escorting the reluctant and sullen couple who had discovered the body back to the murder scene.
‘Stephen, are you all right?’ Bram shook him by the shoulder. ‘I’ve spoken to you twice, and you haven’t answered. We’d better get you home.’
It wasn’t until they were in the car and a few blocks away from the police station that Bram dropped out of the character of DI Maxson and became Bram again. ‘They said you made a very good witness. You didn’t go beyond what you knew. Stuck to the facts.’
‘I remembered your complaints about witnesses that try to be too helpful.’ Stephen plucked the fabric of the shirt he was wearing and pulled it away from his body. ‘They took my clothes for tests. Your Sergeant Gupta gave me these. I’ll have to have them cleaned and them give them back.’ He knew the uniform hadn’t been worn since it was last washed, but still it felt dirty on his body. He didn’t feel himself wearing it. Some other person’s memories, foreign memories, were attached to it. And he wouldn’t have been wearing it if his own clothes hadn’t become part of a murder scene. It was a symbol of what had happened. And he didn’t like it. He wanted to forget the events of that morning, not be reminded of them every time he felt the stiff starched fabric against his skin.
‘Maybe not. You look good in a uniform. I can think of several ways we can use those clothes. Two coppers getting it on. That could be hot.’
Stephen turned away and looked out the window at the passing scene. He didn’t want to think about making love. He pressed the knuckles of one hand against his mouth, trying to keep his feelings inside and not let them spill out over Bram.
Bram glanced away from the road and toward Stephen. He took his left hand off the wheel for a few seconds and squeezed Stephen’s knee and then ran his hand up and down Stephen’s thigh. ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be joking. It's not a momemt for humour, is it? Tell me what’s bothering you. Please. Let me try to help.’ Bram’s voice dropped into its most intimate register, the one he used only when they were alone together.
‘You ran away. You didn’t stop. As soon as you heard those people calling for help, you ran to them. You didn’t stop to think that it might be dangerous. That you could get hurt.’
‘That’s my job, Stephen. It’s what we do. We help people. You came running up. You were there to help too.’
‘No, it wasn’t the same. You were running to help them. I was chasing you to stop you. It was you I was concerned about, not them.’
‘But you did your job, Stephen. We both did. We both do every day.’
‘You could have been hurt. You didn’t know. They could have attacked you.’
‘Yes. I could have been. Every day on the job I might get hurt. And the same is true of you. You’re exposed to all kinds of diseases in that hospital. You get crazy people there, and you put them into rooms filled with needles and sharp knives. Your job is just as dangerous as mine. But we can’t think about that, Stephen. We have to go on expecting that at the end of the day we’ll be together. That we can hold each other and find our own world for a few hours. We can’t let ourselves think about anything else. This is the only life we have. It’s the only time we have. We can’t let our fears rule our lives. We have to remember that at the end of the day, we’ll be there for each other.’
‘But what if . . .’
‘No, no what if’s. This is what we have chosen for ourselves. This is what we are, what we have. There is no safety. No guarantees. Just us. Just you. Just the wind that has been blowing around my heart since we met.’
Stephen’s eyes filled with a rush of tears. He wiped them away quickly. ‘You’re getting to know me too well. You know what buttons to push.’ Stephen allowed himself a small smile. He couldn’t quite bring himself to meet Bram’s eyes, however, but he was willing at least to look vaguely at a spot a foot in front of Bram’s face. ‘How did you get to be so wise?’
‘A lot of people helped. You remember that Detective Constable Rampe who was my partner when we first met?’
Stephen nodded. ‘I thought you and she were a couple.’
‘Not a chance. You couldn’t have thought that.’
‘You were very close.’
‘Partners tend to be. Either that, or they hate each other. There’s no in-between. Anyway, this isn’t about her and me. It’s about someone we met. She and I once took a woman whose boyfriend had stabbed her in the leg to St Brendan’s hospital. There was a daughter too. Just a kid. She had seen the whole thing, and she was hysterical by the time we got to the A&E department. The mother wasn’t in any danger, but the child didn’t understand that. The daughter wasn’t injured, but she had blood all over her clothes and she was clinging to her mother. She wouldn’t let go. And then this doctor walked up. Really cute guy, even if he did have blood splattered all over his clothes. And he stopped and talked to the girl, and in a few minutes, he had her calmed down, and she let the nurses take her away to get cleaned up.’
‘I remember that. But you know, I don’t remember your being there. I know you’ve told me you were, but I don’t remember you or Rampe. Just two PCs standing there.’
‘Because you were focused on doing your job. That’s what mattered at that moment. And later, Denise asked you how you had calmed the child down, and you said that it was all a matter of discovering what was really frightening her and then finding a story that would help her deal with it. And I thought to myself, that’s smart, that’s really smart. That’s something I need to learn how to do.’
‘So you asked me out for a coffee to learn my technique.’
‘Well, for that and for your body. It had been a long day, and I was hoping to take you home to my bed.’
‘Is this the story that helps me deal with my fears?’
‘One of them. I have more if this one doesn’t work.’
‘You won’t need them.’
‘So I not a big dumb cop.’
‘You got two out of three right. You’re big and you’re a cop.’
‘You used to think I was dumb.’
‘Only for the first fifteen minutes. Then you started to frighten me. No, that’s not right. I wasn’t frightened of you. I was frightened of what I might feel for you. It meant so many changes in my life. And so much risk.’
‘But we passed that stage. Luckily for me. You know the time I was most frightened? The night I found the courage to ask you to marry me. I was so afraid you would say no. I couldn’t think beyond that. I just couldn’t conceive being without you. I couldn’t think of what I would do if you said no.’
‘Did I ever answer your question?’
‘Not in words.’
Bram waited until the oncoming traffic cleared, his hands resting lightly on the rim of the wheel, and then turned right into the street that led to their flat. Bram does everything with such grace, Stephen thought. It was as if he never doubted that machinery would do other than what he wanted. ‘You know one of the things that first attracted me to you?’
Bram stopped the car at a parking space and began backing in. ‘No, what?’
‘You are so marvellously at ease in your body. I’ve never known anyone as comfortable in his body as you.’
‘Back to my body again. You’ve got this thing for my body.’
‘It’s hard not to with you.’ Stephen tried to leer at Bram, but he was still too unnerved to succeed at that.
‘Hmm, well maybe later. If you’ve been a good boy, and jog with me around the lake four times.’
‘What? We can’t go back there. Not now.’
‘Yes, right now. As soon as we get changed. It’s like being thrown from a horse. You have to get right back on. If we don’t go back today, we won’t go back tomorrow or the next day. You won’t even be able to see where it happened. Most of the soil has been taken away as evidence, and the rest has been cleaned up to discourage the curious and the thrill seekers. By tomorrow no one will be able to say where that man died.’
“But that’s terrible. There should be some marker, some sign, of what happened.’
‘No, there won’t be a sign. Just our memory.’
Two runners circle the lake four times. Their legs rise and their arms pump back and forth in unison. They may run a bit faster than most joggers, but their gait is relaxed. They make running look easy. One of them eyes the ground warily at first, but soon he raises his head and his gaze shifts forward. They do not say much to each other, as if they have been together long enough to be secure with their own and each other’s thoughts.
The light is already dimming by the time they are finished and begin jogging back. The shadows grow thick under the trees, even as the setting sun makes the top branches glow with added radiance. Each individual leaf seems more in focus, its colours brighter. The line dividing the night from the day is quite sharp. Below it all is dark and obscure, above it the world is clothed in light. The two runners are stopped by a traffic signal and stand at the crossing lifting their legs at the knees and twisting their torsos from side to side to keep the muscles loose and stretched. One of them turns to his other and says, ‘Something’s changed, hasn’t it? Our life became different today.’