"Nine o'clock," Harold blurted before kissing him under the 59th Street Bridge. Reese gripped his overcoat lapels and kissed back, stooping a little. It was probably just for show, but kissing Harold felt thrillingly taboo, and he surged forward, warm everywhere they touched. Harold surprised him by opening his mouth; Harold always surprised him. But if it was a show, they should make it a good one, and Reese groaned and licked into Harold's mouth and felt the shudder all the way down.
He was brought back to himself by a cough from nine o'clock. "Hey, guys," the cop said; he was wrapped against the cold and idly spinning his nightstick, but nothing in his body language suggested a threat. "Don't mind me if you're enjoying the view, but just so's you know: Twist is still open—that's on Second--and The Shed serves til four. It's getting pretty cold out, so might want to take it inside."
Reese narrowed his eyes and debated explaining that under the equal protection clause, he and Harold could kiss wherever they wanted and he could lose his badge for implying otherwise, but Harold, red-faced with cold or embarrassment, stepped in front of him. "Actually, officer," Harold said, rubbing his ungloved hands together, "we were looking for the Silenus Club."
This was news to Reese. The cop appraised them: his eyes moved over Reese's suit, then took in Harold's glasses, overcoat, and shoes—which were custom-made, at least a thousand dollars. "Sutton Place," he said finally. "Corner of 57th Street," and Harold said thank you and tugged at Reese's arm.
Reese followed him away from the waterfront. "Care to fill me in, Harold?" he murmured.
"I'd wondered if the police knew about it," Harold said without looking at him. "The Silenus Club."
"Well, they seem to," Reese replied. "Is that where we're going?"
"Yes. If you'd, um," and now Harold did cut an embarrassed glance at him. "Indulge me a little further."
Reese turned away quickly, biting back a smile. This must be some case if it compelled Harold to kiss him. He already looked back on the kiss with a kind of visceral fondness. The back of his neck prickled. He wondered if he'd ever get the opportunity to tell Harold how much he'd enjoyed it.
"I'd follow you to the ends of the earth, Harold," he said. "I thought you knew that."
The Silenus Club was on the ground floor of a neo-Georgian townhouse just off Sutton Place. At the side of a discreet door – it might once have been the service entrance – was a little labelled bell. Reese would have missed it completely, but Harold seemed to know exactly where he was going.
An older man, neatly dressed, answered the door and ushered them into a well-appointed hallway. "Good evening, Mr. Waxbill," he said, having closed the heavy door behind them. "So nice to see you again. May I take your coat; it's cold out there tonight, sir, isn't it?"
"Yes, Peter, it is," Harold said, allowing the man to help him out of his coat. "This is my friend, John. He'll be my guest for this evening."
"Very good, sir. Please let me know if there's anything I can do to make you comfortable," he added, addressing this last to Reese. "The dining room is closed, but I could put together a cold supper if you--"
"No, no, no," Harold said, waving that away. "Thank you. We'll just have a drink at the bar."
"Very good." Peter hung up their coats, then reached into a carved wooden cabinet attached to the wall, took out a key, and handed it to Harold. "Again: don't hesitate if you need anything."
Harold slipped the key into his pocket. "I won't," he said. "Thank you," and led Reese through the heavy oak door at the end of the hall. The room was dominated by a fireplace and clusters of leather armchairs. A long bar ran along one wall, a large bookcase ran along another, and the air was filled with the chink of glassware and the low rumble of men's voices. Harold led him to an overstuffed settee and yanked at his sleeve when he made to sit in the armchair opposite. "Sit beside me," Harold murmured, jerking his head at the loveseat. Reese immediately complied, and it was only when he was sitting next to Harold that he realized that they were the mirror of every other couple in the room: the bar was full of men, in pairs, sitting ever so slightly closer to each other than was usual.
A waiter stopped beside them. "Can I get you a drink?"
"Yes. A glass of wine would be nice," Harold replied. "Amarone if you have it," and Reese smiled politely and ordered the same. He wanted to know what this case was about, but he knew better than to open the subject before the wine arrived. He looked around the room. Was their number a victim or a perp? Everyone seemed civilized enough; the room was monied and mature, not to say old. A few men were covertly studying him. Their surreptitious glances made Reese feel like a debutante.
The waiter brought their wine. Harold took a sip and settled back on the sofa, his customary brittleness mixed with obvious, even smug, enjoyment. Reese burst out laughing. Harold quirked a smile and didn't even pretend not to understand. "It's not often I'm the subject of other people's envy," he said.
"That's because they don't know you," Reese murmured. He tasted the wine. It was ridiculously good. "So what's the story here, Harold?"
"I won't insult you by explaining the nature of the club," Harold said in a low voice. "It's one of the oldest, perhaps even the last, of its kind: older than the Sons of Macedon or even Club Verlaine. It was a New York institution, once upon a time. Not that we should regret its passing," Harold added. "Clubs like this having been rendered superfluous by the passage of time and the march of civil rights."
Reese took another sip of his excellent wine. "So what's the problem?"
"The problem," Harold sighed, "is that Einstein was right: not everyone experiences time at the same speed. For some, the Silenus Club is as necessary as it ever was, and there may even be those driven to violence by the thought of a threat to their safe haven." Reese looked the question at him. "A journalist," Harold explained. "Quite a good one, actually: John Foster, attached to the J school at Hudson University. He's writing a history of gay life in New York. Rumor has it a cover article on the Silenus Club—and its members-- is coming out in Sunday's New York Times Magazine."
Reese turned, leaning in closer, letting his arm drape over the back of the loveseat. Harold blinked at him furiously through his glasses a few times before apparently remembering where they were and who they were pretending to be, and breathing again. "Rumor has it?" Reese repeated. "Is it true, or—"
"It's true," Harold said, then coughed to clear his throat. "Or rather, it was true. I've got connections at the Times; I've asked them to hold the story for the moment."
Reese widened his eyes. "Are we interfering with the freedom of the press, Harold?" he said, smirking. "I thought we were holding the line at the massive violation of global privacy."
"Well, I like to keep in practice," Harold said. "John Foster received two death threats in the mail, but he didn't take them particularly seriously; he's had death threats before. Then a letter was sent to his office at Hudson. NYPD dogs got to it first. Anthrax." Harold pursed his lips. "And yesterday, a package exploded in a FedEx storage center in Newark. Nobody was hurt, thank goodness. But records show it had been intended for Mr. Foster. He's now understandably rattled."
"Understandably," Reese agreed. "So what's the plan?"
"Much as it saddens me to say it, I believe these threats came from a member of the Silenus Club," Harold said, and Reese nodded. "I'm also fairly sure," Harold added, squirming around a little as he felt around in his pocket, "that they don't know what Mr. Foster looks like: as an investigative journalist, he keeps a low profile. No head shot, no Facebook, no photos on his website." He came up with a cell phone and handed it to Reese. "His phone." Reese nodded and put it into his pocket.
"So how do we figure out which of these gentlemen is our perpetrator?" Reese asked, glancing around.
Harold reached for his wine glass. "I'm hoping he'll come to us. Well, to you, actually: I've planted a rumor that Mr. Foster plans to infiltrate the club to spy on its members." Reese closed his eyes and huffed out a laugh. So not everyone was checking him out; somebody was carving him up. "So far our man has preferred to operate at a distance," Harold said eyeing the room. "I was hoping that if we presented him with an irresistible target, he'd be tempted to try a more hands-on approach."
"Hands-on." Reese smiled into his glass. "Thanks a lot, Harold."
"I have every confidence in you, Mr. Reese," Harold said.
"John," Reese corrected, remembering how Harold had introduced him to the concierge: passing him off as John Foster. He slid back into the sofa, spine curving, knees coming up. "So we just wait?"
"We wait," Harold agreed. "We have our nightcap. We let the grapevine spread word to the necessary party. And then," he said, "when we're ready, we retire upstairs. I, um. I've reserved us a room."
Reese grinned and tapped Harold's glass. "Then drink up, Harold. The fun's upstairs."
Their room had a solid wood door and a strong lock. Inside, it was furnished simply but luxuriously: heavy furniture, brass lamps, dark green drapes. The bed dominated the room; it was enormous. Reese locked the door behind them, then moved silently across the thick carpets to check the windows, the bathroom. Everything was locked, the door the only way in or out. Reese relaxed.
Harold was looking through the drawers of the leather-topped desk. "Oh, look, there are cards," he said, taking out a pack wrapped in cellophane. "Would you like to play a couple of hands of gin rummy?"
Harold turned, cards in hand, and Reese kissed him; he felt he was owed at least one freebie for the shenanigans under the 59th Street Bridge. This time, Harold leaned up into it, and Reese pushed him back against the desk and slid a hand inside his jacket to caress his side. He crooked a finger around Harold's belt loop and, thus rooted, felt suddenly, crazily communicative: wired up and hooked in. He crushed Harold's mouth beneath his. Harold grasped clumsily at his suit. He was revealing everything. Information flowed between them; months of it. Years.
When they broke apart, Harold was flushed and out of breath; his glasses fogged. "That's not gin rummy as I've ever played it," he said.
"It's what this place is for, isn't it?" Reese asked, ignoring him. "Trysts? Assignations?"
"Yes." Harold took off his glasses and wiped them with his tie. He looked naked without them. "But we needn't hew so closely to our cover story. Not--if you don't want to."
He made to put his glasses on; Reese stopped him. "I want to," he said, and then slowly, slowly, he took the glasses from Harold's hands, folded the earpieces, and gently set them on the desktop. "It's more fun than gin rummy," he said, and kissed Harold again. This time, he got Harold's jacket off his shoulders.
They were interrupted by a gentle knock. "Mr. Waxbill?" Harold leapt like a startled rabbit, his arms caught in his sleeves. "Yes?" he yelped, while Reese yanked the jacket down, unfolded his eyeglasses, and handed them over. Harold fumbled them onto his face, went a few paces; stopped. "Yes, what is it?" he asked through the door. He looked back at Reese, frowning. Reese only shrugged.
"Telephone call for you at the front desk," the voice said.
"One moment," Harold called back, then said, in a much lower voice: "That seems to be my cue." Reese glanced around the room: no telephone. "It's for privacy," Harold explained. "A fellow might need to leave a number with his office or his, um—" Reese rubbed his ring finger. "Right."
Reese pulled his gun, checked it. "Right. Feel free to dawdle when it turns out there's no call."
Harold quirked a smile. "I'll be sure to make a complaint." He turned for the door, but Reese put a hand on his shoulder. Harold was in his shirt sleeves, glasses askew. Reese was going to straighten him up, then abruptly went the other way: loosening his tie, ruffling his hair, rumpling him up. Harold blinked in surprise, and Reese gave him another quick kiss, knocking his glasses further off-kilter. Then Reese pushed him toward the door. "Just looking after your reputation, Harold," he said.
"I'm a stranger in paradise," Harold said, and went out.
Reese smiled as he shut the door behind him. There was a bar in the corner, and he decided that he would in fact have another glass of wine. There was nothing as nice as the Amerone, but Reese found and uncorked a bottle of Merlot. He was on his second sip when he heard it. He was beside the door before the knob moved: turned, stopped. He could sense the man's surprise at finding it unlocked. He carefully put down his glass, and in a flash, flung the door open and yanked the man into the room. Reese locked the door behind them; he didn't want Harold coming into the middle of this.
The man was older and sturdily built: white-haired, mustached, late sixties, perhaps. He steadied himself against the high-backed leather armchair. "I've got a gun," he said, and pointed it at Reese.
"Yes," Reese agreed. "But you haven't thought this through. If you kill me, everyone associated with the club will have to be investigated. Names will be taken; records subpoenaed. You think John Foster's investigation will hurt the members of the Silenus Club; what about a police investigation?"
The man looked suddenly uncertain. "Possibly, but--" and then the more significant point dawned on him. "You're not John Foster. Who are you?"
"I'm here to warn you away from this." The man's gun was shaking ever so slightly. He still had the safety on. "You're damn lucky no one's been hurt yet," Reese told him. "You could have taken out a lot of innocent students at Hudson. Your amateur bomb never even made it into the city."
"What business is it of his?" The gun barrel wavered, and Reese could see beads of sweat on the man's lined forehead. "He's not part of Silenus: why is he sticking his nose where it doesn't belong?"
"You've lost perspective," Reese told him, not unkindly. "The guy's writing a historical essay for the Times. Kill him and you'll be a headline in the Post." The guy sat down hard in the armchair, though he was still pointing his gun at Reese. "Hell, do you even know if you're mentioned?"
The man looked up. "It's about the club," he said. "I'm known to be a member of the club."
"It's not going to be a big story. It's yesterday's news: Tim Gill, David Geffin, Andrew Tobias--"
"My son doesn't know," the man said, closing his eyes.
"He knows," Reese said. "Believe me: he knows."
By the time Harold came back, John was on his third glass of Merlot. He'd taken off his jacket and tie and was comfortably lounging on the bed, propped up against the headboard with his legs stretched out. Harold peered around as if making sure he wouldn't stumble over a hostage, or a corpse.
"Everything all right?" Harold asked, craning his neck to peer at the far side of the bed.
Reese poured Harold a glass of wine and gave it to him. "Everything's fine."
Harold sat down on the side of the bed and sniffed at the glass before venturing a sip. "You'll be shocked to know that there was never a call for me. You'd think someone was determined to waste my time, Mr. Reese." He shot a sharp look at Reese over the rim of his glass. "Did we have any visitors?"
"We did, yes." Reese let his eyes drift to the ceiling. "We had a nice talk. I told him he shouldn't worry so much about keeping this particular secret; that the people closest to him already know."
"Yes." Harold turned his glass in his hands. "I think that's probably true. That's because it's a secret you don't really want to keep. Not really. Not from the people you—the people close to you."
"What was the number?" Reese asked suddenly.
"What?" Harold asked.
"Was it Foster's? Or was it--" He stopped, seeing Harold's face. "It wasn't a number."
"No. There was no number." Harold carefully set his wine down. "It was just something I--knew about: I've been a member here for a long time. And I'm not afraid of an expose, but it would break my heart to have the Silenus Club associated with murder." He looked directly at Reese; his eyes were a huge gray sky. "So are we sure there's not going to be any killing? Because I won't have it, Mr. Reese."
"I think we're all right, Harold," Reese said.
Harold slid his fingertips beneath his glasses and pressed them against his eyes. "Thank you," he said finally. "I appreciate it more than I can say. Take the rest of the night off." Reese smiled, knowing it was past midnight already. Harold shifted, as if to get up, but Reese put a hand on his arm.
"I'm going to stay; will you stay?" Reese asked softly.
Harold went very still. "This." His voice wavered. "This isn't part of your job, Mr. Reese."
"That's right, Harold," Reese said patiently. "In fact, you just gave me the night off."
"John," Harold said, sounding desperate, but Reese immediately began to undress, yanking out his tails and unbuttoning his cuffs. Harold let out a moan as Reese wrestled the shirt off, sleeves turning inside out. He grabbed Harold's wrist, pulled his hand to his chest.
Harold didn't breathe for a long time.
"Get with the program, Harold," Reese murmured roughly. "Trysts. Assignations."
Harold shook his head, but he was touching him, at least: thumb idly stroking across his pectoral.
"I want you to," Reese said. "I want to. C'mon, Harold, you've taken bigger risks than--" and finally, finally, Harold kissed him, sliding deft hands over his chest and shoulders. Reese let out a breath and let Harold move him, do him: do whatever he wanted at any pace he liked. He found himself sprawled back on the pillows with his pants around his ankles, getting the best blowjob he'd ever had in his life. He closed his eyes and made fists in the bedsheets, determined not to thrust up or grab Harold's hair or do anything that could spook him or hurt him. At the end, he couldn't contain his moans. Oh Christ, it was-- And then he was there: "Harold, wait. S-stop." Harold didn't stop, and Jesus, he couldn't help it; his hips jerked up off the bed, however tightly he yanked on the sheets. It shuddered over him like a wave and left him lying there, weak and more relaxed than he'd been in years.
Harold's face suddenly loomed over his, flushed and red-lipped. His hair was standing on end. "John. Are you all--" and Reese cupped his neck and pulled him down to kiss him.
"Hang on," Reese murmured, pushing up and rolling them over, "let me do you," but Harold gripped his arms and wouldn't let him slide down.
"Don't," Harold said, clutching him. "Just kiss me," and so Reese obeyed, lying half on top of him and cradling his head in the crook of his arm. Gently, with his other hand, he moved downward, unbuttoning and unzipping, caressing and stimulating, until Harold was hard and raggedly gasping into his mouth. Reese closed his eyes and pressed their heads together. It was oddly moving to have Harold tremble and sweat beneath his hands. He felt honored. Harold came silently. Reese kissed his forehead.
He waited, patiently, for Harold to speak; he was determined to take Harold's cue, and he was contented enough to lie there, sated and grateful. Harold sought out his hand before he said anything; found it and squeezed. Reese knew then that, regardless of what Harold said, they were going to be okay.
"It's been a long time," Harold said, rustily, when he finally spoke. "I used to... Nathan and I, we..."
Reese squeezed Harold's hand back, hard: it was enough; he'd already given so much. They lay there, dozing, their sides touching. Nathan Ingram was married, of course. Reese wondered if he ever took telephone calls at the front desk— All at once he was angry. He closed his eyes, breathed. Om Namah Shivaya. Om Sri Rama Jaya Rama. After a time, he felt calmer and said: "Harold, I'd like to become a member here. Do you think that the Silenus Club would consider my application?"
He didn't think he'd ever seen Harold so taken aback; Harold was usually three steps ahead of him. But he hadn't seen this coming. His face was a startling display of contrasting emotions. "After what you've done for the club," Harold managed, "I should think they would. I'm sure they'll find you a place," and Reese buried his smile against Harold's neck, knowing, absolutely, that he'd already found his place.