Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hungry Heart by Jenna Byrnes

“Life sucks, and then you die.” Gil Gates raised his beer mug in a toast and took a drink.

“God, that was cheerful.” Long time friend Nick D’Amato shook his head, sipping his own beer.

“It’s been that kind of a week.” Gil set his glass down on the napkin coaster. “I can’t remember when so much shit has flown my way.”

“No kidding.” Sam Nielson fingered the handle of his mug. “The media coverage of your troubles this week has been incredible. Reminds me of our police academy days when that serial killer had all of New York City up in arms. What did they call that guy?”

“Son of Sam?” Gil reached for the name. There’d been more serial killers in the city than he cared to think about, let alone recall their nicknames. He prided himself on a good memory, though.

Sam chuckled. “Nah, this was after Sam, and I still resent the name choice, by the way. The strangler guy. Remember at the academy, going over all the details we could dig up? The three of us thought if we could catch him, we’d graduate as heroes or some dumb ass thing.”

“Oh, yeah!” Nick laughed. “Little did we know, the cops didn’t release most of the pertinent information to the public. We were green as toads back then.”

“The Night Strangler?” Gil offered.

“Wasn’t that a TV show?” Sam nudged him jovially.

“Fuck, I don’t know.” Lifting his mug, Gil took another drink of cold beer. It had been one hell of a week, and Friday night out with his two best friends was a welcome distraction. He’d had concerns about going to Houlihan’s, their usual hangout, because the pub always crawled with cops. Gil felt them looking at him. No one dared say anything, but he knew he figured heavily into everyone’s conversation when discussing events of the week. He’d had the worst week possible.

He closed his eyes. Officers Stanis and Malone were dead. They’d obviously had worse weeks than him. And their families—he could still see the sad eyes of Stanis’ small blond-haired son at the funeral. Funerals. One right after another, and then two burials. It’d been a fucking nightmare of a day for everyone, but as the officers’ police captain, he took it especially hard.

“Get you boys another round?” Donna, their usual waitress, smiled sadly at Gil.

He frowned. Does everyone know my problems? Yeah, they probably did. As Sam had noted, media coverage on the police department fiasco had been intense. “Keep ‘em coming, Donna.”

“Bad week, eh Captain?” The plump, middle-aged woman nodded sympathetically.

The last thing he wanted to do was talk about it. Before he could reply, Nick held up a dollar bill.

“Donna, see what you can find on the jukebox, will you?” He waved the cash, smiling at her.

She plucked it from his hand, feigning irritation. “Springsteen, I assume?”

He blinked innocently. “There’s other music in there?”

“Three beers and the Boss, coming right up.” She walked off.

“Thanks.” Gil looked at Nick. The man with consistently scruffy brown hair was a good friend, and had been for over twenty years since they met at the academy. Back then, Gil was an exemplary cadet with a spotless record and a secret—he was a gay man attempting to enter the heterosexual boy’s club of the NYPD. He thought he’d done well keeping up appearances until Sam approached him one day and flat out asked him for the truth. Gil was hesitant to admit his orientation, but warmed up to it when he discovered Sam and Nick were fucking like rabbits in a local hotel on the weekends.

From that point on, he’d been included in the wildest, hottest bouts of group sex he’d ever experienced. They maintained the torrid relationship throughout their time at the academy, eventually breaking it off so each man could pursue his own job interests. The three remained friends. Closer than most, Gil mused, smiling to himself. They now met for drinks every other Friday at Houlihan’s.

Strains of Bruce Springsteen’s ballad My Hometown wafted through the pub. Gil nodded to his friends and sipped his beer. This was exactly what he needed—time to relax and forget—not that I ever really could.

“So,” Sam tore his coaster into tiny shreds. “Are you getting any sleep?”

“Some.” Gil watched him for a moment. “Christ, enough with tearing the napkin already. Remember how he used to tear the labels off his beer bottles the same fucking way.” He looked at Nick. “Am I right?”

“You’re right.” Nick grinned. “Piece by little fucking piece. We always accumulated a pile of trash on our table by the end of the night.”

“Still do.” Gil swept the paper into his hand and wadded it up. “Jesus, man. You’re a pig.”

Sam raised his hands. “This is the thanks I get for being concerned about you? And, by the way, you better cool it with the ‘Jesus Christ’ stuff. Bobby’s mom is a strict Catholic. If you start talking like that at our wedding, she’ll have your hide. It won’t be a private thrashing, either, it’ll be right there in front of God and everybody.”

Gil laughed. “Oh yeah? Does the blessed Mrs. Rodriguez know her little boy uses his handcuffs for more than just police work? She might be shocked to find out he cuffs you to the bed and paddles your ass before he fucks your brains out.”

“Thanks for that image.” Nick shook his head.

“Jealous?” Sam grinned. “Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.”

Nick snorted his beer. “Hell, if I’d have known you wanted to be spanked, I could have taken care of that a long time ago!”

They stopped talking as several officers walked by, nodding as they passed. Sam and Nick lowered their eyes, fighting back their grins.

The group passed and Gil scowled. “Did you see them looking at me? Every-fucking-body has an opinion. It’s getting pretty damned old.”

“I think you’re being paranoid.” Nick looked into his eyes calmly. “They weren’t staring at you.”

“You have nothing to feel bad about,” Sam added. “Hold your head high and remember you did the right thing. The only thing you could have done.”

“Shit.” Gil rubbed a hand over his face. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” The night of the incident both Sam and Nick had come to his house and the three of them spent the night drinking and venting their frustrations. After being grilled by Internal Affairs, and with the media’s constant scrutiny, Gil was talked out.

“We don’t have to talk about it.” Nick touched his hand lightly then pulled it back. “I’d like to hear more about Bobby cuffing Sam to the bed.” He turned to the lighter-haired man. “Does he use regulation cuffs, or do you prefer the fur-lined style?”

“Fuck you.” Sam tossed a scrap of paper at Nick. “I’ll never kiss and tell. Just save your ribbing for anytime other than the wedding reception. Remember Bobby has seven brothers and sisters, and one of them’s a nun. If either of you so much as mentions a word…” He furrowed his eyebrows menacingly and fingered the masculine necklace his lover had given him.

It looked like a shiny bicycle chain. Gil knew that only he and Nick, and possibly a few chosen others, realized it was a French Prison Collar designed to signify Sam’s submission to Bobby in their D/s relationship. Once Bobby had locked the collar around Sam’s neck, it had never come off.

“Shit, we’d never say anything.” Nick tossed back the last of his beer. “William and I have our own skeletons. You guys have always kept our confidence, like I knew you would.”

Gil thought about that as he finished his beer. Nick’s partner, Will, had been a hustler when they began dating. After a close call with a serial killer who had a penchant for hookers, Nick convinced his lover to move away with him for a fresh start. They’d left the South Bronx and moved north. Will entered therapy and found a new line of work. They’d gotten married and Nick had taken a job with an anti-gang task force in the fifty-second precinct, not far from the fiftieth where Gil was captain.

Sam remained a homicide detective at the forty-first precinct in the South Bronx, where he’d met Bobby, also a detective. The two men hit it off instantly and began a Dominant/submissive relationship, the likes of which Gil would never have believed if he hadn’t heard about it from Sam himself. He liked to tease Sam about their unusual sexual practices, but he’d never seen his old friend happier.

He gazed at Sam and Nick thoughtfully. Once Sam and Bobby tied the knot in a little less than a month, both his best friends would be married in happy, committed relationships. He’d be the odd man out. Hell, I already am. Gil had dated one man for several years, but both of them had known all along that it would never last. Sometimes his heart ached; he was so hungry to find that one special guy. Other times, like tonight, it was all he could do to keep functioning. Sex and love were the last things on his mind. “Love Me Not,” he said, and smiled.

“Excuse me?” Nick blinked, raising his eyebrows questioningly as he pulled some cash from his wallet.

“The serial killer who terrorized New York when we were in the academy. The Love Me Not strangler. Am I right?”

“Damn, you’re right.” Nick nodded.

Sam grinned. “Hell of a memory, buddy.”

Gil shrugged. “Once I hit forty, it comes and goes.”

“What doesn’t?” Nick made a face, and they all laughed.