Book 3: The Centre

by Rick Beck

Chapter 22

Mission Overload

Argyll's unhappiness complicated everything. My heart ached in a way I couldn't ease while living in his house. His big generous heart was suffering because of me and I suffered. I was doing what I came to do and the closer I came to success the closer I was to leaving him. I wasn't certain it was that or if it might be my many absences when he was home. This tear in my gut reminded me of who stuck his neck out to see that I got what I came after.

I didn't envision it's becoming so complicated, as my goal came closer to realization. I wanted to stay home and comfort Argyll because of his unhappiness with my plans. Going off on holiday to bargain with men who couldn't get enough information to commit to my project was risky. I didn't like the setting but I'd come too far to let go of the hope they represented.

I missed Argyll when I sat in with the 'moneyed interests' to reassure their many doubts. They wanted to know more about my story of their streets and I'd stay until I got an answer and hope Argyll stuck with me.

The men I'd met wanted my time at their convenience. Each wanted different details about my experience, except for Claude King, who wanted a drink and then another. Success seemed there for the taking but at the same time illusive. It was close enough to touch. It seemed too good to be true that I was here with my high hopes with such high-powered men.

While I felt way older than I was, they had a way of making me feel like a child. Their questions seemed to lack purpose. Their randomness confused me like lessons in my geometry class once did. Ben-Al, Rand, and Horst were always almost satisfied except for one question more before the meeting ended. Then would come another call from Adam, asking for more of my time.

Rand required the most reassurance. Our frequent meals were toned down when my wardrobe failed to meet his taste in restaurants. I refused his offer to dress me 'properly.' Adam was pleasant when he said I should beware of Rand, and he was a man who didn't like disappointment.

"Why's that?" I asked in my most naïve fashion.

"There are things you do because it is prudent," he had said.

Argyll warned me that I was not only endangering my mission but my relationship with Carl. He didn't mention his respect and my boy's affection, but I could read it into the way he said what he said. I still wasn't able to get the commitment I was looking for. I did what I thought I had to do. What else could I do?

Success stood just beyond my reach, or so it seemed. I still saw life on simple terms. I was a boy, striving to accommodate men who didn't seem easily able to understand the message I brought or how they could help.

I still thought I could respect these men if they put up the money necessary in the end. They certainly had no trouble gathering money by the sound of it. Everyone made it clear that if I had these men on my side, I couldn't lose. I suppose that made me no better than they were. I'd do their bidding for the bucks. My face was associated with the problem thanks to George and they were willing to funnel funds in the proper amounts to worthy projects if I stood out in front and kept my mouth shut, but the word came that one more meeting was required.

While I was guilty of coveting the money they waved in front of me, there was a big difference between me and the men who interviewed me. I didn't need to appear respectable in a culture that allowed kids to live and die on its streets. I could tell it like it was and suffer no consequences, because the object was for me to be the voice of a problem most people ignored.

I even imagined these 'moneyed interests' would come along to hand out meals and their cold hearts would warm to the idea they could make a difference in a way that actually brought them happiness and peace of mind. I envisioned they'd look into the eyes of a grateful recipient touched by their generosity, and they'd understand.

My idealism came out of my dreams and not my life.

Listening to my benefactors had me questioning their veracity and my stamina. One more meeting, one more line of questions they needed to have answered, and my patience was wearing thinner.

"As businessmen we can't be too tightly identified with such efforts with our individual relationship to the gay community aside. Some of us are more visible in that respect and some of us are invisible. It's a matter of propriety concerning business interests. You understand our position? We can't stress this element enough. You will be the face but will be denied the ability to say where the money comes from."

"Yes, sir," I said. "It's none of my business who puts up the money."

"We want you to know our concerns. If we provide money it has to go to the best use possible. While we might be persuaded to help, we want our funds to bare fruit in a productive way. We want the boys to become productive members contributing to society. It's our responsibility."

"I think if you give these kids an opportunity to be productive, they'll respond to whatever educational possibilities you put in front of them. These kids have no home and are eating out of dumpsters. Any alternative you give them is likely to succeed, but no one can give guarantees that they'll all flourish. It seems to me salvaging these lives has a direct correlation to how quickly you can get them off the street. If there is a program you can get them into right away there are no limits to what they might achieve.

"It still remains to be seen if in general they want the kind of help we'd be willing to offer," Ben-Al responded.

"They have a relationship with Father Flannery and his kitchen brigade, because they cared enough to feed them. We take food to the streets and make sure no one is going hungry, but most of the kids go up to the church. The kitchen brigade talks with them. They want to feel welcome. That's where we are: food, fresh socks, and a doctor once a week. It will be no different for anyone who is sincere about wanting to help them.

"What you need to decide is if there's a role you want to play that makes them feel wanted, not because you are gay—I don't know that—but because you have the resources to reach them. If you fail to help, what's it say about you?" I asked, looking into each face as we were once more back at the leather table in the private room in Adam's loft.

"Ouch!" Claude said, reaching for the Johnny Walker bottle that was always there and always full when we started if not when we finished.

"You are persuasive," Rand said softly. "We want to help."

Horst would meet my eyes. Rand smiled pleasantly and Ben-Al talked for the lot of them. It was starting to be predictable and I let my impatience show.

"You present us with a fresh face and an opportunity we couldn't have considered before you came along. We can provide certain funding for the proper projects. There are stipulations we haven't finished developing. Money isn't free and we'll need reassurances. We are determined to help."

"I've told you everything I'm able to tell you. I'm neglecting my responsibilities at home by meeting you every day. I appreciate your interest but I'm hearing words and little else."

"Yes, and we appreciate your time, Billie Joe. We'll talk this weekend at the Russian River house. We're close. Very close. You'll be happy with us. I promise you," Ben-Al said.

Rand smiled. Horst nodded his agreement. Claude rattled his ice cubes , watching them move around in the brown liquid.

I'd been patronized before and I didn't like it then either. I thought about telling them to get over themselves and put up or shut up, but I smiled and accepted my dismissal with grace.

"Do you need a ride home," Adam asked, as I went downstairs to leave.

"No, it's only a ten minute walk. I like the fresh air."

"Don't get discouraged. They're hard men when it comes to money, but I'm certain they are going in your direction. They do confide in me. They simply require more detail than anyone is capable of giving them. You've got their ear and they'll come around. They rarely spend this much time with anyone."

"Yes, well, I'm talked out. I don't have anything else to say. Does The Center operate without their say so or do you need to run everything by that crew?"

"We don't have that much of a budget. What they do for The Center is in the form of private donations. I'll see you this weekend at the River? Let me know if you want to ride with me."

"Yes, they expect me to be there. Thank you, Adam. I've got to get home."

It was the following morning that I was up and out with Argyll first thing. He sounded back to normal and we chatted about the kids, Matilda, and the movie we might see this weekend, except I had to tell him about the Russian River meeting.

This piece of news made Argyll quiet and our carefree chat was over. It was beginning to be difficult to keep going. I hated it more each time Argyll was disappointed with me. The quieter he was the worse it made me feel.

We loaded a dozen hot meals into the new hot box in Argyll's Jeep and we started making our rounds. Most boys knew they could walk up to the church to eat, when they got up. They didn't need to wait on the corner, but we still put off a couple of dozen meals on the street each day.

By ten we were all but done. I spotted two older boys sitting on some stairs and we stopped. I went around to the back of the jeep, getting out the last two meals on our second run that morning. I handed each boy a meal along with one of the cards Father Flannery had printed up for the kids to hold onto in case they got into trouble. Each day there were a few new faces, unacquainted with the meals and the other services available at the church.

I'd seen one of these boys before and he readily took the meal and the card. The other kid looked a bit confused and I explained we brought food for them each day, which got me a delighted smile. I gave him the card and directions to the church.

As I turned to return to the Jeep a familiar face was staring at me from the corner. It was the guy who objected to my giving out meals a few weeks before. I pointed him out to Argyll, but by the time he got to the corner the young man was gone.

"What do you think he's up to?" I asked, being made uncomfortable by seeing him so close to the kids we fed.

"He's pimping these kids, Joe. We're cutting down their need to work for the likes of him. He's probably got someone running him. He's just the face we see, but if we see him the kids see him, and that might scar some of them. He's trouble."

It sent a chill through me, seeing him a second time. I remembered how the street stole your dignity and self-respect, making it easy for anyone who showed an interest to get your attention and distract you from what's right. It was bad enough when it was happening to me, but thinking about it happening to other helpless kids nauseated me. Someone had to put a stop to it, but it wasn't an idea I shared with Argyll.

This encounter brought out Argyll's protective side. He left no doubt he was concerned for my safety. He reminded me to be careful, especially when taking our boys to the different parks we used for exercise. It pleased me to know he still worried about me, but I knew his biggest concern was for the boys. If he had any plans to do anything to handle this guy he wasn't sharing it with me.

Once Argyll left for work, I busied myself while waiting for the boys to get involved in their school work before I walked back to The Castro. I kept my eyes open and met two kids who were new to San Francisco. I gave them Father Flannery's card and explained how they could find the church.

When they found out they could get free food, they wasted no time heading in that direction. I watched them walking away from me and couldn't help but wonder whether they ran away together or if they met somewhere along the way. Whatever their story, they were young and vulnerable, fifteen, maybe sixteen at most.

By mid-afternoon I was back at home eating one of Matilda's marvelous mystery lunches. She danced around the kitchen like a girl, putting things away, getting things out, and cleaning up as she sang.

It struck me how lucky I was to have found Argyll. I'd never lived as well or been as secure. Without him I'd probably have long ago left for Alabama. Was there some grand plan that put Argyll there for me, so I wasn't back in Alabama, so I was still dealing with the careful old men with the money to spend?

Carl came to mind during most days. I wondered what he was doing and how long it might be before I'd see him again. Once again I counted my lucky stars. I didn't think many men like Carl would put up with my antics. I knew I meant well, but there were limits to everyone's patience. I hoped to finish here before Carl's ran out.

The rest of the week went smoothly. Each afternoon I toured the Castro, looking for our pimp friend. He was either very good at avoiding me or he wasn't there. My feet were sore from walking, but I had no luck and entertained the idea of giving up my detective work. It was wearing thin and I didn't know what I'd do if I found the guy.

The Russian River didn't so much rush as it meandered. The house was large and twenty to thirty people were there at all times. It had wide Redwood decks all the way around. In the rear of the house, which sat up against the river, a room sat on top of the huge back deck. The room was all windows on three sides, with the glass starting two feet off the floor and running up to the ceiling. I was led up the stairway on the back deck by Adam, who had driven me to the house in his silver Lexus.

A brawny man opened the door for us and closed it behind us as we entered off a catwalk that was built between the room over the deck and the house. Inside sat my hosts, each in his own wicker chair with the most deliciously comfortable pillows. From this perch you could see to the bend in the river above the house and you could see where the river blended with the trees and disappeared below the house.

The noise of jet skis and boat motors were barely noticeable, once I'd reached the room. The buzz and movement created by people coming and going from the deck below couldn't be heard at all. Big overhead fans churned the air.

"Ah, Billie," Ben-Al said, standing to greet me. "Adam. Glad you got him here safe and sound. My house is your house, Billie."

Rand turned his head to smile. Horst watched the river, and Claude was absent. Being the youngest of the 'moneyed interests', he still spent time in boats and floats in the river, although he would always appear sunburned to me as his face had a reddish glow. It was never more apparent than at the Russian River, but he was no vision of loveliness and he rarely had anything to say.

There were huge glasses of odd tasting iced tea and tiny little sandwiches on plates on a table on one side of the room. You'd need to eat a ton of them to ever have enough. There were some with this delicate cream cheese that I couldn't resist, but those ran out first, mostly because of my effort. There were nuts, salsa, dips, and chips for when the mini sandwiches were gone. They'd figured out how best to tempt me. After some politeness and before I could eat the rest of their food, they sent me out to play.

There was always a large group of people there, but the faces changed. I was among the youngest, except for a couple of boys that might have been sixteen or seventeen. Since the rest of the crowd was middle aged, I figured the youngsters were with some of the men. The idea their parents were about was negated by the size of their bathing suits, or lack there of. Big things often come in small packages, but not these kids packages, which no doubt had something to do with their presence.

They ignored me, the next youngest person there, and Adam was next, after me, being in his early to mid-twenties. I was surprised that he became more attractive to me in his bathing suit, which made it clear he was still very young. In fact I was a wall flower next to the boy with perfect teeth and a swimmer's body.

I was immediately in his care, once I'd been dismissed from where the 'moneyed interests' held court. It was easy to see Adam was there to keep me from getting too restless. He seemed attentive and ready to take care of my every need.

When I lamented my lack of planning for river activity, Adam escorted me to a room deep inside the house. On one wall hung all sizes and varieties of the latest swim wear, T-shirts and terry cloth jackets; the floor underneath was filled with flip flops of all colors and sizes.

"Take what you like. It's provided for guests. Once you pick something out, it's yours."

"Adam," I protested.

"Billie, insulting them isn't going to do anyone any good. Take what you like and say thank you, once they want to sit down and talk. Today will be for fun, so enjoy. If they want to talk it will be tonight."

I must admit sticking with Adam allowed me to enjoy myself, even if he was their flunky. I tried to ride a jet ski and kept falling off to the sound of Adam's laughter. Luckily the thing shut down once I was no longer on board. I ended up riding behind Adam to get a good look at the river on both sides of the house.

I got hard as his butt was pasted to my best part. I couldn't remember the last time I was made so horny, but I couldn't remember my name either. I kept tucking myself back down in my bathing suit, and I'd picked one out with infinitely more material than Adam's. It made for easy hiding of my equipment but there was no way he missed what was behind him.

"You certainly know how to make an impression on a fellow," Adam said, once we got on shore, giving up the jet ski to more happy river rats.

"I'd need to be dead not to respond to you. I've got a lover, Adam," I said.

"You are something," he said. "You have a lover, you aren't dead. It's okay to feel something for other people. If you don't realize that, it's going to be a difficult life for you, Billie. People are going to hit on you because you're special. Don't tell them you have a lover the first thing out of your mouth. You aren't required to jump in bed with everyone who likes you. A lot of us like you without ever thinking about taking you to bed."

"Thank you," I said. "I don't know what to make of all this. I didn't know anything about what it means to be gay, except I am, and I like guys, and that's it."

"I know," he said, putting his arm over my shoulder as we walked toward the back deck.

Rand Cohn stood at the window looking down at us as we glanced up at him. He wasn't smiling. I felt strange but didn't dare rearrange myself to contain most of the evidence of my naughtiness. I was human, so sue me.

With all the laughter and joy around me I was still able to feel alone or perhaps out of place. My life was a jumble of feelings, hopes, and opportunities that were leading nowhere. I didn't know what the fuck I was doing at the Russian River.

On the deck under the room with the windows a great grill was filled with every conceivable kind of food, some of it unconceivable and unidentifiable. A half dozen women worked around the twelve feet of live coals, handing out plates full as people went about filling their plates from buffet style cooling and heating stations.

Adam wanted to change out of his Speedos before eating and I was just hot and sweaty enough to want a shower. Other people came and went from the dressing room but the majority of people were busy with the food.

"You need to do something about that," Adam said, when I came out of the shower drying my hair.

"Oh, I can't. I mean it won't cooperate once…. The jet ski ride might not have been the best idea when it comes to containment," I apologized, I think.

Adam laughed as he dried his crotch, while watching mine.

"Don't be sorry, you've got a lot to be happy about. I've been having the same trouble since you sat so close," he said, moving the towel away from the thick ruddy red half-hard cock that was as beautifully cut as the rest of him.

The dry mouth was nothing new to me, when pleasant scenery was at hand. Adam would turn on most people old enough to notice or not too old to appreciate the way he kept himself. I gave my hair a rough going over with my towel, trying to divert my attention from the wonders that abounded around me. I felt Adam's arms around me as he slid his aroused appendage across my erection. His hot smooth skin made me deliriously dumb.

My knees bent as he pressed his lips against mine, letting me taste his ample tongue. My arms were immediately around him, my fingers delved deep between his cheeks, touching his rosebud of joy as our hips ground together.

Someone came in behind us as I circled for a landing. His fingers felt my crack. It wasn't something I wanted to be doing in public, but it was difficult to protest as someone suggested we go for it. His tongue was made of velvet and my cock throbbed with anticipation.

Adam broke the embrace, stepping back one step to look at me. I felt a little woozy and found myself speechless.

My towel was still in my hand but I forgot what I was doing with it. I used it to hide my erection, feeling embarrassed that I let it happen.

I sat on the bench. He sat next to me and watched me squirm.

"We've got all night for fucking," he said, unapologetic for his desire. "Since I felt you digging that thing in between my ass cheeks, I've been thinking about you using it on me, Billie Joe. You're a stud and I like studs."

"I have a lover, Adam," I explained.

"Jesus, Billie Joe, half the guys here are married. They don't come here to worry about their wives. It's called a party because it is."

"I have a lover I love, Adam. You are as nice a guy as I've ever seen. I've never been with gay guys, but you are one I could go with in a minute, but I can't. I'm spoken for and as horny as I am… as horny as you make me, I would hate myself if we did something."

"Yes, you are horny. I guess you are in love. I don't take to many guys, but when I do, I don't apologize for it. I am sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. I imagined you were someone I could love. I do want someone who will love me as much as you must love your man. I can respect that. Can we be friends, even if you won't fuck me?" Adam asked.

"Yes, I like you. We can be friends if you want. I just can't do what we both would like to do. Do you know Argyll?" I blurted without reason, knowing how stupid it sounded.


"Argyll. The guy I live with? You met him when you drove me home that first time."

"Oh, no I don't know him. He's not your lover? The night you told us about your friend's suicide, he was holding you."

"He's the sweetest guy on earth, next to my lover. He's not with anyone and he'd make a great lover," I explained, seeing a way to make lemonade out of our lemons.

"I do my best to avoid match makers. There are plenty of guys available. I just don't connect with them. I want someone who isn't in the middle of the gay scene. Too many ways to be bad. I want to be good."

"You are very good," I confessed with a blush.

I kissed his cheek and got up to put on my clothes. My cock swung in front of me still half hard from the experience. He watched until my pants hid the excitement. He got up to dress. We went out to get our hands on something to eat.

The food was incredible and was I hungry. Adam stood next to me and he joked, we laughed, and we were part of the crowd that swarmed like bees over the food and they never stopped coming and there was always more food.

Adam took me out in a rowboat and told me about being a boy in Wyoming and how he rode horses and wrestled calves to help get them branded. It was easy to see the result of his physical activity, but he wasn't real muscular, only cut tight and firm.

It was far easier being with him, once I'd told him no. I expected he'd drop me like a hot rock but instead it allowed us to be friends without the sex thing getting between us. He was smart, lovely, funny, and he made the Russian River pleasant. I no longer regretted coming, but I missed Argyll and the boys, when I had time to think. I really wanted to be at home with them. I didn't need to party and mingle with rowdy crowds of hangers on.

When we rowed back to the dock, the big brute from the door of the upstairs room reached to tie us up to the post.

"Boss wants you should come up, when you come back," he said in certain terms.

Adam followed me as I followed the guy with arms the size of small hams. His shirt was cut tightly over his muscled back. He wasn't a fellow I'd want to meet on a dark street. The room was cool and pleasant. There were tables full of food and another for drinks. I was still full and went to sit in one of the luxurious chairs that were now in a circle.

"Adam, could you see if everyone is sufficiently supplied with whatever they want," Ben-Al said, as the brute, now inside the door, opened it to let Adam out. The brute went with him, leaving me alone with them.

The night had claimed the river, but there were lights from the dock and the lower portion of the house. The lights in the room were a dimmed yellow or orange, which was easy on the eyes. I sat silent until Ben-Al took the role as spokesman.

"We have a building. It's part of the Stein Foundations holdings. It was an old hotel that had fallen on hard times. There are twenty rooms that could be turned into a residential facility, but Mr. Walker, we can't facilitate druggies and malcontents. There will need to be rules and restrictions. My foundation can't be associated with a meaningless exercise in futility. There will be strict screening. We'll accept the best and the brightest. It's the best we can do."

"How do you determine who is okay for your cause?"

"I suppose you need to instruct us on that point. We don't want to be impractical and yet we don't wish to be seen as the financiers of folly. Please, somebody," Ben-Al pleaded for assistance.

"We certainly can't risk scandal. Who do we employ to supervise the building and the boys?" Rand asked.

This was a bit more like it. They seemed sincere. There was a building. It required thought and ideas. These were questions which I couldn't answer, but I hadn't thought about them.

"You can't recognize which boy is a best bet and which is a loser," I said. "Some boys in the worst shape will respond best to structure and opportunity. Some of the smarter kids may be too smart for their own good. Maybe bring up these ideas at The Center. There are bound to be people who are interested in helping with the details."

"Education," Horst said, "We'll need to get them in school if they are to become productive. This moves them from our supervision and into public school. Many opportunities for them to backslide. No backsliders. No thank you. I don't think so."

"Private schools are out of the question. We couldn't get them in even if we could swing the expense," Ben-Al observed.

"Home schooling is all the rage in Minnesota. It reduces the outside influences," I said. "My boys are tutored at home and they are thriving. Would you consider that as an option?"

"Excellent!" Horst said. "No backsliding. This can work."

"This is good. This is what I'm looking for. We need ideas," Ben-Al said happily. "We'll need to discuss it more."

"That's wonderful," I said, liking the enthusiasm. "Make it a community operation."

"Good, Billie Joe, more Ideas. We will succeed at this if we aren't too ambitious at first, but our success will be an invitation to others to become active in assisting in this endeavor. Perhaps other abandoned buildings will be seen as residential living opportunities. You do realize the building we are talking about is under construction as we speak. We obtained it some weeks ago with the idea it would be the perfect housing unit."

"Why didn't you tell me? I've had absolutely no feeling that anything was coming of our talks," I revealed in my honest opinion.

"Yes, but it kept you thinking and probably added to the ideas you've come up with for the project. Men with money play their cards carefully. We can always figure out ways to spend it. We can feed and cloth the homeless, but reaching these kids, making the investment that will make a difference in their lives isn't quite so easy. This requires ingenuity.

"We are maybe halfway there, but it's close enough to give you what you need to keep working toward a satisfactory resolution of the problem. We are determined to get it done," Ben-Al announced to me. "You have always been right, Billie Joe. It isn't about you, but you are the driving force behind our desire to succeed. We do not start programs we don't expect to succeed at."

"What do you want me to do to help?"

"Think," Ben-Al said. "We'll build it, and after we've dotted each I and crossed each T, they'll come."

Horst laughed and Rand smiled.


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