Book 3: The Centre

by Rick Beck

Chapter 10

The Plan

"Hey, Joe, I've got to go to work. You going to sleep all day?"

"No," I said, rolling over and burying my head between the pillows.

The luxurious bed had swallowed me and after a few days on a couch, this was heaven. Everything had a clean fresh smell and felt magnificent.

"What time is it," I finally managed from deep within the pillows.

"10:30. I go to work at noon. We need to talk."

"It's 10:30 in the morning?"

"Yeah, that usually comes just before noon. I've rustled us up some breakfast."

I put on my freshest set of sweat pants and my last clean T-shirt. After a couple of false starts, I found the dining room again. Argyll was still in his boxers with a white T-shirt. He sat reading the paper. In front of him was a tray with all sorts of peculiar items. I recognized the yogurt, English muffins, bagels, jams, and butter, but there were several bowls of something that looked like gravel, a bowl of English walnuts, sunflower seeds, and unidentifiable artifacts of one variety or another.

"Help yourself," Argyll said. "It's all healthy."

"Help myself?"

"Sure. I spent all morning putting this feast together. I thought there might be something you could eat. They don't deliver breakfast in a form I can eat."

"They don't? You got this where?"

"I stop in the evening and buy things for breakfast the next day. This is some of that. Sometimes I oversleep and don't eat what I bought for breakfast. That's how it builds up. I throw away rancid stuff."

"Coffee?"

"You wouldn't want my coffee. I'm not much of a cook."

"Coffee takes a scoop of grounds and water. A coffee maker helps. You went to Stanford?"

"Yeah, they didn't have any cooking classes. They do coffee real well at the diner. They even pay them to make it."

I sat down a little out of sorts. Sal's sumptuous breakfasts filled my nose even before my eyes opened to launch me into each new day. This wasn't that kind of breakfast.

"Look, there's a market across the street. We'll go over tonight and I'll introduce you. You can keep busy 'til you drop over there, but I'll need to be with you the first time. I'll ask Matilda if we have a coffee maker. She comes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to clean and change the beds. She's a good cook but can't cook for just me. It's wasteful."

"A maid?" I said with an understanding for how the place was kept so neat and clean.

"You don't think I keep this place up myself? You eat what you like. When I get to work, I'll order something."

"I see," I said. "We're going to talk."

"The market owners have a key to the front door of the building but you'll need to answer the door and sign for it. It won't be breakfast. Maybe they have orange juice and coffee. By the way, you need some pull."

"I do? Is that a new cereal with nuts and twigs?"

"No. What you want to do will require someone with connections. You need to find out how things are done and who the doers are. Then, you bug the hell out of the people with the pull. They'll findly come around or have you arrested for stalking."

"What do I want to do again?"

"Those kids have always been there, Joe. I can remember them when I was young. I knew to steer clear of them. No one cares about street kids. I mean people might care but the law is so complicated that trying to help a street kid can land you in jail if anyone suspects any hanky panky or has a grudge against the fellow that's trying to help. One word about funny stuff and you're ruined. It's a tricky subject. Even the guys with pull might not want anything to do with it."

"Hanky panky? You mean the kids that are selling their asses to eat can't be helped because someone might suspect people that help might want them for their bodies?"

"Exactly. As long as they're on the street, no one cares, most people don't care, how they survive, but as soon as someone takes an interest, tries to help one, there are suspicions, you know. The bureaucracy kicks into gear and wants to make sure everything is on the up and up. It's the law."

"I knew the government did something," I said. "I was out there three months and the only people that came near me were cops and creeps, and they cops cost me a soft bed in a motel room, my shoes, and most of my things."

"I'm telling you they aren't geared to help street kids. Get them into a program. That's the only remedy they know. Most of those kids run the first time they see anyone that looks like government help. They don't want to be within a country mile of social services."

"I wonder why?" I said in a silly pondering voice.

"It's what's there for them. You can't make this stuff up, Joe. I'll talk to my priest, Father Flannery. He's a kind sort and might have some ideas."

"A priest? He'll pray for them?" I asked cynically. "I won't mention priests aren't seen as being good to have around kids."

"Joe, we aren't all assholes. He might get involved if he's asked. The church does good works. If I take the idea to him the right way, who knows? What else have you got?"

"That's pull," I mused.

"I know a member on the Board of Supervisors. I use the term 'know' loosely. He's gay but not out. When I took the job with the police department, he made himself known to me. I think he likes me is why. He has pull but he's also got a secret if you know what I mean. He may be reluctant to get involved in an underage issue. It's complicated for politicians, but he's the place to start the ball rolling with the government. I don't want to lead him on, but I can invite him over and forget to tell him the reason why. But you've got to be nice. I need to work with these people."

"You've given this some thought? You think he'd come?"

"My impression is he'll come. I told you he likes me. That gives me some pull in this case."

"What good will he do if he's afraid to let anyone know he's gay."

"He's on the Board. It's a start. He has an ear. You fill it with your story, and maybe he's sympathetic. Maybe he knows how to approach the problem without hitting it head on."

"It's a start, Argyll. Thank you for wanting to help."

"Glad to help. I see the problem every day. It just never occurred to me to do anything about it, because there are so many of them. Those kids can be dangerous. Don't let their innocent appearance fool you. Once they learn the ways of the street, they know every conceivable way to get a buck out of someone. One word… one hint you touched one, you're toast, dude. You're over eighteen and the sex laws are deadly."

"Toast! I don't suppose you have a toaster?"

"There's a small contraption in the kitchen that does toast and TV dinners. I never use it but I've watched Matilda use it. She knows a lot more about the kitchen than I do."

"Can we go see the contraption?"

"You're easy to entertain. Sure."

I followed him to the kitchen and the contraption was a multi-function convection oven. I could do toast for a dozen people in that thing, except there was no bread.

"Can I look in the fridge?" I asked, as he stood watching me.

"Yeah, but you'll be disappointed."

It was a two door refrigerator. It was so white inside it sparkled. All the empty shelves sparkled. There in the door, a dozen more single size containers of yogurt, all varieties. There was a half-a-jar of Vlasic dill pickles and a half-used jar of mustard.

I looked back at him and there was a look on his face, like he was sorry. Of course he hadn't planned to bring anyone home. If I slept until the afternoon, they'd deliver food. I wasn't sure I could eat what was on the table.

I took an English muffin, offering to do one for him, but he said no, and I managed to get it out of the oven before it burnt too much. I raced back to the table to slather on some really great jam. He watched me intently with the start of a smile appearing on his lips while he observed my contortions.

"It'll only take me a minute to pull myself together," I said, wiping the jam from the corners of my mouth with a cloth napkin he'd put in my spot.

"No need. You can stay here and read. I'll only lock the main bolt and I'll order you some food once I'm at work. Simply sign your name when it comes. They won't ask any questions. They have a key to get in downstairs, so all you've got to do is open the door."

"I don't know," I pondered.

"You don't know what? You don't know if a park bench is more comfortable? Let's face it, Joe, no matter what you think of me, you won't get a better offer on short notice. Stay. I won't bother you. You can trust me, I'm a cop."

"Offering has nothing to do with it. Why would you trust me? You don't know me. What if I decide to steal you blind?"

"What, you going to steal my autographed copy of Homer? There's nothing here of any value you could get out without a lot of effort. Besides, you'll probably be in the library reading when I get home. I am a cop and I do have some instinct, even if it doesn't extend to culinary pursuits."

"There is that," I said. "I like Italian of any kind."

"Now, we're talking. I just happen to be Italian. Hot blooded and made for love," he bragged boldly, waiting for my reaction.

"When you order my lunch, think Italian. You're Italian?"

"Argyll Anthony Fiserelli at your service, Joe," he stood to take a bow, his blue eyes riveted on my face.

He was cute.

Taking in his inconsequential build, I asked, "You ever get your ass kicked when you were a boy, because of your name?"

"All the time, when I was a boy."

"Ever think of calling yourself Tony?"

"Nope! I'm Argyll. They've always called me Argyll."

"I'd have changed my name," I argued.

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. My old man enrolled me in Karate class when I was eight. After that, I had no further difficulty."

"Kicked a lot of ass, did you?" I rationalized, not seeing him as the least bit threatening.

"Heavens no! I'm a lover, not a fighter. No, they taught me all those crazy noises you make when you're kicking the shit out of someone. I figured that if I employed those noises in advance of the ass kicking, it might make fighting unnecessary. I was right. Never had another fight. It did require me spending a lot of time looking in the mirror and practicing those noises."

"How's that work?" I asked, unprepared for a demonstration.

In a flash he was circling the table, raising and lowering his arms as he moved adroitly, crossing one leg with the other, never taking his eyes out of mine. He made the strangest noises I'd ever heard. By the time his fists and arms were flailing, he was a regular sound-effect production source, twirling and whirling his way about the room. I laughed until I was hysterical at the sight of him preparing for battle wearing his underwear complete with big red dots.

"That was one reaction. Difficult to get a good fight going if everyone is laughing. The other reaction was absolute uncertainty about whether or not I was a lunatic. No one wants to fight a crazy kid, and I was accused of being crazy more than once. Never got my ass kicked again though."

"You're funny," I said, still giggling at the sight of him. "I took karate classes and I never saw anything to compare with that."

"Funny ha-ha, or funny queer, sweetheart?" he said in a Bogart tough guy voice.

I laughed some more. Argyll was a classic. He was a soft and tender boy that had grown to manhood on his own. He was lonely, a bit insecure, and more than happy to have me around. I wasn't certain I should humor him. Would he think something might come of my staying there? The last thing I wanted to do was to deceive or hurt him. I'd been honest. If he began making my staying there more complicated than it needed to be, I'd go.

He took me to the market, left a list of all the restaurants where he ordered food, and we settled into a casual friendship that often had me laughing at the stories he told about his life with two parents that didn't necessarily like each other or him. As with most marriages, it was easier staying together than it was going it alone, until Argyll was old enough for college prep courses at a live-in school. At sixteen he was enrolled at Stanford, a novelty to be protected by upper classman who were in awe of him, the boy wonder.

Matilda was a trip. She was a large woman, maybe from Jamaica or Haiti, maybe not. At first I steered clear of her. She had her appointed rounds and she was like a small tornado, washing, wiping, and cleaning everything that was anchored down.

On the first day, in the second hour, she came storming into my bedroom, not even noticing me as I primped in the bathroom just off to one side. In a flash she had my bed stripped down and the beautiful white sheets tucked in her arms, dashing out of the room for parts unknown.

I put on my shirt and followed her down the corridor to see where she was going. When she reached the end of the longest hallway in the apartment, she reached for a keychain and unlocked the door, letting it sit open once she entered. I moved to the door as she stuffed sheets from all the beds in the house into an industrial sized washing machine. She sorted out some clothing that was mixed in the bedding, tossing it to one side, before starting the wash cycle.

"Don't you be getting in Matilda's way, young'n," she barked with an accent so heavy you could have hung the laundry on it.

She was off and running again as I stood back to let her move swiftly back down the hallway to get lost in the house. When I looked in the kitchen, it sparkled beyond what it had sparkled before Matilda arrived on the scene. Nothing was loose in the room. Every pot, pan, glass, plate, knife and fork had been cleaned and stored in its proper place. I'd never seen anything like it or her. Any rumors I'd ever heard about maids being slackers did not include Matilda. She was a one-woman power cleaning machine.

For some reason I opened the door of the fridge and there on the top shift, all by itself, was a brown paper bag. A jar of unopened olives had been set down in the door beside the half jar of pickles. I began to see a pattern. I thought pickles were a bit exotic for Argyll.

I swung into action. There was a tin of lasagna we hadn't opened from last night's dinner. There was also a large portion of garlic bread and salad makings that were far fresher than the market offered. I popped the tin in the convection oven, set the bread to one side to heat later, and put the tin with salad fixings on the counter.

"Boy, you can't wait 'til Matilda's gone before you be makin' the mess," she barked, sweeping into the kitchen like a bull on a rampage.

"It's lunch. We didn't open one tin of lasagna last night. I'm heating it up. There's wonderful garlic bread and all kinds of things to throw into a salad. I saw your brown bag. I thought this would be a nice change for you and we'll never eat it."

The woman swung around and her focused black eyes narrowed on me. The look on her face could have stopped a Mack truck. She eyeballed me from head to toe, and I watched her expression soften into a most mellow smile.

"You'd do this for Matilda? You don't even know me, young'n. Why you do this?"

"I know you have to eat. I know this will go to waste if you don't eat it. Why waste such good food. We just ordered too much."

"I do love the lasagna," she admitted, weakening. "You don't have any crazy ideas about taking advantage of my good nature," she barked back to attention, suspicion still present.

"Only your appetite," I assured her, and the oven buzzed.

I slid the salad makings in front of her on the counter, popped the lasagna out of the oven and the garlic bread in. There were small plastic packets of dressing and she used one. She ate the meal without speaking, but Matilda and I were buddies after that. I tried to order extra food on the nights before she came, and we always sat together while she ate. It made living there a little more natural, although everything was sterile, thanks to Matilda.

Each evening before we ate I told Argyll we weren't going where he so frequently told me he wanted to go, but Argyll was not easily discouraged. Otherwise, he treated me like royalty and I loved it. It was quite a step up from the first time I stayed in San Francisco.

One evening he came in with Pizza, not his favorite, but one of mine. He did like the breadsticks and always had some sort of extreme antipasto that came from a different restaurant than the pizza. He told me of directing the assembly of the antipasto, so it contained too much of the things he liked most.

He brought me hard-bound books he thought I might enjoy. He brought me this absolutely wonderful chocolate, but he never ate any himself. Argyll was probably the most thoughtful man I'd ever known. Not once did he cross the line to make me feel uncomfortable, even if he kissed my cheek or hugged me, when he thought he could slip such things by me without protest.

I felt great affection for him. If not for being in love with Carl, I'd have certainly fallen for him, but I knew better. I wasn't the least bit interested in romance from anyone but Carl. I was aware I was treading on dangerous territory, but after my experiences from the summer before, I wasn't about to complicate my life any more than absolutely necessary.

I'd sent my address and phone number to Carl's house in Alabama, not having his military address. Once Carl started calling, Argyll always made a face when he answered the phone. He never pretended he didn't want me for himself, but he was polite and refrained from making comments, when handing me the phone. By his reaction he didn't need to tell me who it was.

Carl wanted to know all about "sock" boy. I told him everything except for the harmless kisses and hugs that Argyll deserved. He'd shown me he respected me, reluctantly respected my choice in men. Of course he thought he was a better choice. He calculated I'd change my mind one day and he lived with that idea in mind.

Carl sent me an eight-by-ten glossy in a very nice frame for my bedside table. He wanted to be the last thing I looked at each night. He was. The fact he was only wearing a pair of boxer shorts gave me the full view and didn't require much imagination to remember the rest, which was the plan.

"This him?" Argyll asked the first time he came into my room and saw the photo that arrived in the daily mail.

"That's Carl," I said.

"He couldn't send you a picture with his clothes on?"

"I think that's more for your benefit than mine. I know everything about his body," I said suggestively.

"I bet you do," he said in a mixture of sarcasm and disappointment. "I can see why you never gave me a second look. What a body. Not half bad looking for a guy."

"Argyll, I never gave you a second look because I have a lover I love. If I wasn't in love with Carl… well, let's say you'd be at the top of my list."

"Really. Do you think I'm handsome?"

"Yes, you are good looking. You're sweet."

"Do you think I'm intelligent?"

"Very intelligent," I said with extra emphasis.

"Top of the list, huh?"

"You're probably the nicest person I've ever known. I like you quite a lot," I said, taking his hand in mine.

"Means a lot to me, Joe. I really mean that. You might have a lover, but I don't, and if you'd have me…."

"Argyll!"

"Yeah, I know, you're in love. Just remember if anything ever happens, I'll be here for you. Anything. Ever."

"I never doubted you would be. Thank you, Argyll. That is sweet. I wish things could have been different for your sake. You deserve to have someone special in your life."

"I have someone special in my life, Joe. You are a gift."

"Argyll, you need someone for yourself."

"I've been saving this but I guess I'll give it up on account you're treating me so nice, Joe. There's a Board of Supervisors meeting without the mayor tomorrow night. I'll take you. They have an open microphone for whatever time is left once they've concluded business. You can say your piece."

"The gay Supervisor?"

"Mr. Henderson. He'll be there. He'll hear what you have to say. Once you've said your piece, I'll see if I can get him to meet with you alone. Have him to dinner one evening."

"It's a start. Thanks. I'm so comfortable here I almost forgot about why I came back to the city."

"To be with me, of course," Argyll chirped. "It's God's plan. You can't mess with God's plan. You'll see."

"You sure you're Catholic?"

"Of course, I'm Italian aren't I."

"You're going to hell you know."

"Yeah, but I'm going to have a talk with God about that. I'm going to tell him he needs to rethink this entire faggot deal. If he continues to let the breeders run rampant, the earth is doomed. If he lets us fags take over things, man, we can reduce the population in no time. Fags having kids is counter-productive. I think the whole purpose is population control in the first place."

"Yeah, sounds about right to me, but leave it to you Catholics to bugger up the plan."

"It's what we do. It's why we're here. That and to pamper handsome young men that you find jaywalking."

"If you treat all law-breakers like this, we'd have a crime wave the likes of which no one has ever seen."

"Rest assured, the Western World is safe. You're the first lawbreaker I've ever brought home with me. Besides, we both know you weren't technically jaywalking."

"Why me, Argyll?"

"I don't know. You aren't half bad to look at. You said the right things. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. I brought home a kitten once. The old man made me take it back where I got it. 'They're unclean,'" he yelled. "I've got to admit you are way better than a cat."

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