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From The New York Times,

"Hunter S. Thompson, 65, Author, Commits Suicide"

From The Aspen Times,

"Gonzo Fest a Go: GonzoPalooza to invade in July"

 

Billy Tallent had been on less exciting roller coaster rides. The plane from Denver swooped up over the eastern face of the Rockies, then banked hard and landed on a tiny airstrip. You walked across the tarmac to get into the terminal. He was surprised to see a coffee shop in it. It wasn't a Starbucks. He thought about getting a coffee, then decided it was too late in the day, even for decaf.

He picked up the case of the Fender, then the Martin. His duffel met him at the baggage claim area. Bags were rolled in on the baggage containers instead of going on a carousel. Billy always wondered why they didn't let passengers pick up their checked bags on the tarmac, the way they did their carry-ons. Wasn't like the bags hadn't come out of the same hold.

A girl was holding a card reading 'Tallent' in the lobby. She didn't look like she was old enough to drive. Billy figured she was the intern. There was always an intern, these days.

Back when he first got into the game, they'd just called them groupies.

"Full plane," she said, taking the duffel. "You're it for us, though."

He grunted something noncommittal and climbed into the passenger side of the Jeep. It looked like it had been there for a while. There was lots of corrosion and pit marks down around the wheels from the road salt.

It made him think of Edmonton.

"Who else is here?" he asked. It would give her something to talk about while they drove into town.

The intern started babbling about the bands already in town. The summer music school and festival had given GonzoFest the 'Tent,' and op-eds were already appearing in the press about the damage to the local environment. Not to mention, of course, the noise pollution.

He listened to it in a haze, as they crept in to town at a snail's pace. Traffic was pretty nightmarish for a town of 5000. It took them an hour to drive from the airport to the hotel: a distance of all of 3 miles.

Even with his luggage and guitars, Billy could have walked it faster.

The intern handed him a room key and showed him to his room. The hotel was a Ritz.

Billy had never stayed in a Ritz before.

It had the same bullshit rules about smoking in the room that every other hotel did.

 

In the morning, Billy had a godawful headache. Before the custody stuff, he'd had the pleasure of getting totally shit-faced before getting godawful headaches. He'd been so wasted from the flights the day before he'd just crashed. Hadn't even ordered room service, which really sucked since GonzoFest was picking up the tab.

He stumbled into the bathroom to brush his teeth and shave. His reflection looked haggard and old. He felt haggard and old. His eyes had dark circles under them and he looked skinny. He used to look lean and wiry and kind of demented. Now he just looked skinny. Every one of his forty-five years was grinding into his skin like gravel. Or road dust.

He nicked himself shaving when he wondered if this was why Thompson blew his brains out.

The concierge was nice. She was from New Zealand. She made appropriate sympathetic noises when he asked where he could get something for his head.

"It's the altitude. Usually it hits people when they drive up, but sometimes it gets them when they fly, too. Here." She gave him a packet of Sudafed and another of Tylenol. "Go across the street, down the stairs and tell Charlie that Claire sent you. Take these, drink the coffee, eat the pastry he gives you, and drink the water. And Mr. Festus called and asked why he can't get you on your cell."

Billy snorted, and shoved the little plastic envelopes in his pocket. "I'm sure." He remembered when the stuff people gave him in little plastic envelopes was recreational. He wondered how many plastic envelopes would be going around. Rocky Mountain High.

"I edited it for family listening."

"If he calls back again, just take a message." He'd turn that cell phone on when he felt like it. If he did. "My daughter's meeting me here. Billie Pendrell?"

Claire tapped a few keys on her computer. "She's booked for arrival Saturday. Room adjacent to yours, two weeks. Is that all right?"

"That's fine." He smiled and tugged the soft guitar case over his shoulder. "Thanks, Claire."

"Our pleasure, Mr. Boisy."

 

Across the street and down the stairs was apparently a very popular destination. It was a mostly local crowd. Billy saw people from Walk of Shame (mostly accountants, but several internet magnates), two jocks (Martina, the girl in front of him said excitedly, favored the flavored latte,) and a couple of people he actually had seen at various shindigs in Vancouver. He nodded to them. They nodded back. He pushed his dark glasses up on his forehead. The nose pieces snagged on his hair and pulled at the scalp.

"Hi, what can I get you?"

He looked at the guy behind the counter. "Claire told me to ask for Charlie?"

"He's off today. What can I get you?"

Billy closed his eyes. Colorado hated him.

Salvation came from behind him. A rich tenor. "Jeff, get him a large breve cappucino, double the shots, brew it with sugar. Give him a bottle of water, and one of those paradise pastries." A mug went across Billy's shoulder. "I'll have regular."

"Sure."

Billy looked at the guy behind him. Tall, broad-shouldered and ridiculously good looking. He even had a cleft in his chin like some kind of Errol Flynn impersonator. Billie would probably swoon over him, if Billie swooned any more. Or if she swooned yet. Billy wasn't sure which way it went with girls.

He made eye contact with people. He apparently knew people. He certainly knew Claire, (or Charlie) if he knew what they would have had him get for the altitude hangover.

He'd bet anything the guy was a ski bum. "Thanks."

"Welcome. Can't have you keeling over before the fest." He grinned. "TJ Burke."

"Billy..."

"Yeah, I know." He nudged Billy ahead. "I wrote the press releases."

"Ah." Jeff passed them a paper cup, TJ's mug, a bottle of water and a paper bag. "Thanks again..."

"Welcome. Had a chance to change your money?"

Billy looked puzzled. "Change my...?"

"Let me." TJ slipped past him, picked up the pastry bag and forked over an American twenty. "Join me?" He nodded toward a blessedly dark-looking corner that wasn't horribly overcrowded.

Billy followed TJ to a table in that corner. One of the walls was a line of haystacks dividing off the café from what looked like a vacant ski shop. Billy wondered why it wasn't converted over to a club for the offseason.

But then, it didn't seem like there were more than two clubs in the entire town, and both of those dead until the snow came back.

Billy was suddenly glad that they hadn't tried to play Aspen by driving up there in the snow. He snorted, thinking about the road's dividing line twisting and curving as Joe drove for hours at a time.

TJ frowned at something he was reading in the Aspen Times Weekly and slid it across the table. "Assholes," he commented. "Like they were there."

Billy took the paper and glanced at it. The article purported to be a retrospective of Hard Core Logo, with detailed accounts of the last concert tour in 1996. The description of Joe's funeral was particularly lurid and featured a blurry photo of the funeral proceedings. He felt himself wince and slid it back across to TJ.

"I'd apologize, but I'm afraid there's not a lot I can do about local hacks," TJ said, sipping his coffee.

"Yeah." Billy shrugged. "I'm used to it." He felt a smile coming on that he tried to suppress. He was pretty sure it turned into a smirk at that point. What the hell. "Like you're not?"

TJ's lips twisted into a answering grimace. He gazed steadily at the long fingers, wrapped around the paper cup and spotting it here and there where a cuticle had cracked. "Not another one."

"Hey, I was a studio drone for five years. I did some of the riffs for your ads. At least you were nice to look at." He tugged the Weekly back and kept flipping until he came across a book review with Burke's by-line. "And you make good copy."

"Not like the stuff you write," TJ retorted. "'I went to the window and what did I see / Two little children dancing cheek-to-cheek. / They carried the tune somewhere in side them / They didn't need music for company / And rock'n'roll should be so lucky." He looked at the by-line, snorted and closed the copy of the Weekly. "I heard that one a lot when I first came out here."

"M'surprised you can still hear, then." Billy'd met a lot of Logo fans in the past years. Most of them didn't sound quite so wistful. "You a fan?"

"A friend was." TJ stared at his cup. He set it down and fidgeted with the paper napkin dispenser.

"Ah."

Everyone else appeared to be leaving the same way they came. TJ picked up the newspaper and tossed them on the stack of the rest of them for customers to reuse. "I read your review in Rolling Stone. Snarky."

Billy'd thought the review of the latest CD was pretty complimentary for a group of middle-aged rockers. He said so.

TJ laughed. "No, not their review of you. Your review of that tell-all. Comparative deaths. Cobain, Zapata, Joe. By what's-her-name."

"Charlotte King." Bill had known her when she was still Charlotte Kodalsky, new to Vancouver from Barrie, ready to conquer the world of rock journalism.

"That's it. Didn't sound like she'd done a very good job of it." TJ unfolded a napkin and started folding it again. He stared at it. Apparently he expected it to do a trick. "Your piece was good."

"Thanks." Billy used the sweet coffee to take the pills Claire had given him. The kick of the caffeine made him feel better. "So you're with GonzoFest?"

TJ looked over the other man. He looked worn down and skinny, dark shadows under his eyes. He looked vulnerable and brittle and was fidgeting with his cigarette lighter. The clicking made him think of Dex.

He shook his head to clear it. "I write."

Billy raised one eyebrow. "Book reviews for a weekly pay well enough…?"

TJ shrugged. "Okay, so I also write. And I do a broadcast for the local public radio station."

"During the off season."

He squinted a little and shook his head. "During all seasons. I just do a different shift during the ski season." TJ didn't like to think about the way his knees hurt at the end of a day on the slopes now. Hell, the way they ached the next morning. It felt like the bones knocked together when he locked his boots into the bindings. He shifted his attention back to the guy across the table, who was still staring at the stack of newspapers like they were going to transmogrify into some sort of press driven monster, rise up and bite him.

TJ tilted his head to the right. He had an idea. No, more accurately, he had an article aardvark, one that was probably not going to behave itself and go away or make itself at home in the aardvark hutch, and would probably disturb his sleep and wake him at all hours of the night until he said something or worked on it. He nudged the pile of newspapers with his foot. They cascaded down on to the floor, and good Canadian that he was, Billy leaned down to pick up the mess.

He took a moment to admire the ass on display, then leaned down to help. Their hands met on a copy of the Weekly. He smiled as the copy flipped open to the HCL article. "How 'bout something to set the record straight?"

Billy looked puzzled. It was a good look on him. Puzzlement made Billy a little more real, a little less superficial. Puzzled was not, apparently, part of Billy Tallent's repertoire, so the viewer got Billy Boisy instead. Billy cleared his throat. "Not sure what you mean," he said. His voice cracked.

TJ nodded at the newspaper again. "Like I said. I'm doing the press releases for GonzoFest. You're one of our headliners. How about something to run… well, not in next week, that's going to press tomorrow, but the week after's Weekly?"

Ah, that was it. Boisy disappeared, replaced by Tallent.

TJ missed him already.

Billy looked kind of uncomfortable. "Not that I don't do interviews all the time, it's part of my job. For Jenifur. But I'm not getting why I should do this one. Or why I should do it with you."

TJ smiled. It was pretty devastating, he knew. He tried to keep the smile-related fatalities in Pitkin County down to a minimum. "I'm a writer. I like to write."

Billy continued to look at him as if he had grown a second head.

He was wondering what the hell made Burke think there was a market for an interview with him. There couldn't be that many LogoHeads in Aspen

"I like to write stuff that gets the story right." TJ finished his coffee.

There was a story behind that, Billy figured. He wondered what it was.

TJ went on, "And something that's on, something that gets it right, and is well written, is going to sell. I get my name in a lot of places. You get more albums sold and more residuals." He got up to go get more coffee.

Billy was getting tired of being some kind of multi-media cash machine.

He'd kind of hoped that TJ wasn't that kind of guy.

TJ slid past Billy, a feather-light hand glancing across his shoulder as he did so, and a muttered "'scuse me." He sat back down. "I like to see a story that gets it right and gets it right about the people it's about." He sipped his refill.

Billy thought about this. He played with the crumbs of the Danish. The memory of TJ's fingers pressed into the callus where his guitar strap dug into the shoulder. He watched him flipping through the glossy pages of the Weekly.

He knew he was being picked up. TJ was not being subtle.

Fuck, John could have noticed TJ's overtures. On or off of his meds.

Billy'd slept with worse. He'd certainly slept in worse surroundings.

TJ fingered the page with the blurry snapshot of Joe's funeral. "Doesn't look to me like it happened much for you. Or Joe."

Billy wondered if Joe's ghost might shut the fuck up for ten minutes if he did it.

Billy met his eyes and finished the last of his own coffee. "Sure," he said. "Why not?"

*~*~*

The sun was still too bright when they came out into the courtyard. Billy pulled his sunglasses on and still had to squint.

The best way to work on a long article or interview, TJ said, was to ignore it. To just get to know the people. Go for a walk and make conversation. See where it led.

"Right now," he said, "I'm being led over to the Rio Grande Trail. By approximately 75 pounds of fur and a quarter ounce of brain." He led Billy out of Café Ink and towards a gigantic dog that looked like it was at least 1/2 wolf, if not more.

"Jesus," Billy said, "how much?"

TJ looked puzzled, and then realized what Billy was asking. "Oh. None. This is Ruedi. She's a Malamute. You get hybrids up in BC, don't you?"

Billy nodded. He kept a careful distance from the dog.

"Well, she's not. And she's an old softy. Ruedi, this is Billy. Billy, Ruedi. Show some manners, nimwit." Ruedi looked at TJ and then at Billy. She sat and waved her paw in the air at him and vocalized.

Billy would be very hard put to call it a bark. It sounded like some kind of cross between a yodel and a howl. It sounded half pathetic and disappointed and half like a kid wanting to make friends with the new grown up. Billy crouched down and took the paw. "Nice to meet you Ruedi."

The big dog took her paw back and yodeled again. Billy looked at TJ. "What's she after?"

"This." TJ smiled and pulled out a dog-sized bagel from the cafe. Billy supposed that a human sized bagel probably wouldn't have been too far a bet for the big dog. He broke it in half. "Now. You know how this works. You behaved nicely while we were here, you get half your treat now. Keep from pulling me down the hill between here and home and you get the other half."

"Does it work?"

"Well, no." TJ smiled. "But makes me feel at least like I tried. That, and it convinces everyone else in earshot around me that I tried, so when it fails completely to control her, at least I don't get hassled over it."

Billy chuckled.

TJ unsnapped the carabiner that held the leash to itself around the bench. "When I first got here, they used to let dogs into Ink."

"What happened?"

"Oh, some tourist brought a really badly trained great Dane. Knocked over one of the local kids. Not a big deal, no one hurt, but the city said the dogs had to stay out after that."

"Shame."

Burke chuckled. "Did a number on their vacuuming bills, Billy looked puzzled, so he explained. "The dogs used to get all the crumbs, so..."

"Once they kicked the dogs out, they got stuck vacuuming."

"Which is a real bitch in the winter, let me tell you. There's a reason everyone around here has hardwood, rock, or linoleum."

Bill nodded as if that made any kind of sense to him, and followed TJ up the stairs.

The man leapt up them like he was ten years younger than him and in better shape.

Well, that was one of the advantages of being a rock star. You got to be seduced by people ten years younger than you and in better shape.

He took the stairs more slowly, hanging on to the banister.

TJ paused on the sidewalk. He looked up the street, then down. He started walking down. The Malamute apparently was pulling him along for the ride.

Billy was relieved that 'down' also described the slope of the hill.

"So. Let me show you around the town," TJ called over his shoulder.

"This," Billy walked a little faster to catch up. "This your way of starting an interview?"

"Nah." TJ grinned at Billy, and it was suddenly blinding. Billy had to touch his sunglasses to make sure they were still there. The light glinted off TJ's teeth in the bright sun of mid morning instead of the dim darkness of the cafe. "This is my way of starting you on a new addiction."

Ruedi tugged at the end of the leash and led them off to the left towards the numbered streets.

 

TJ found himself treating the walk and conversation much as he would an initial run down a new ski-slope.

Aside from which, Billy was interesting to watch.

At one moment he was half bouncing, feet dancing as they made their way down Durant and past the soccer field. TJ half expected him to start swinging from the monkey bars with the kids at the playground, or beg to stop for popcorn from the stand at the in-pavement fountain. A moment after that he'd be half lagging behind, slumping in his coat. Playing at standoffish Rock Star.

 

Ruedi had apparently decided to adopt him. She was dancing alongside him, bouncing as if she were a pup again.

TJ decided she was probably just trying to get at the crumbs on his shirt.

Or maybe it was the scent of the cigarettes.

They walked for an hour, talking about everything and nothing. Ruedi was mostly ignoring them at the end, except to keep Billy's spirits up. She came dashing back and bounced at Billy when he lagged. She went bolting off into the bush on the flat bits, when Billy and TJ walked together. They kept pace with one another on the flat parts. It was like they'd walked together for years.

 

After an hour, TJ was still smiling, and jollying him along. Billy felt like he'd done two back to back sets. Billy really wished he could hate the guy, but it'd be a bit like kicking a golden retriever puppy for bringing you a ball.

Ruedi went dashing off again, this time to chase a golden who had a ball of his own as they came up to a soccer field.

"She's going to be nuts for the rest of the day," TJ said ruefully. "This is only about half of her usual dose."

Half? Billy was half dead on his feet, and this guy'd be doing this again today?

Billy eyed TJ's denim-clad ass (something he'd had ample opportunity to do while playing catch-up) with new appreciation. Ski bum or not, TJ apparently had found a human variety of Energizer battery. He could go hither and yon and up and down and still be ready to party at the end of the day.

TJ smiled at Billy, not without sympathy. "It takes time and practice. And remember, I've had 12 years to acclimate myself. You've had 12 hours. And Furbrain's had her whole life here."

Billy tried to smile at that. It was pretty hard not to: Ruedi was still chasing the golden (who'd found yet another friend) in the field. TJ waved at the couple on the far side of the field, then gestured toward the building adjoining the self-proclaimed hockey rink.

"This is work," he said, "I've got my shift from 10 to 2. You could probably use a chance to sack out some. You said you have a master class tomorrow?"

Billy nodded. "At one. And a sound check today. Why, I've no idea. We're not fucking on until Friday. They'll just fuck it up."

TJ agreed, nodding. "Yeah, they will. The bus stops," he said, pointing at the corner, "right there, if you don't want to walk. It'll take you right up to the depot, across the street from the Ritz. I'll see you at sound check. Got to earn my press credentials. Ask snarky questions. Usual shit."

Billy nodded, and his cell went off. He pulled it off of his belt and looked at the number. Festus again. He could catch the voice mail later.

"You won't see us much worse," he said. He pocketed the cell.

"Or better. Depends. You know what they say about that Toronto high school where the Stones rehearse."

Billy smiled. "Yeah, I do. Your ears are still ringing when the bell goes."

TJ grinned again. Billy was surprised that he still hadn't gotten used to it. TJ'd been smiling almost non-stop since they'd hit the paved trail by the river.

"So, let's head out after sound check. I'll take you out to Ashcroft -- a real ghost town -- or up to Independence Pass, or something. Sound good?"

Billy hesitated a little. He still felt a little like crap. "I dunno; m'not sure I'll really be up for much, TJ..."

TJ's smile didn't fade, but his eyes darkened a little. His eyelids lipped a little down and he shifted his gaze to Ruedi. "Billy," he said, almost gently, "People who have never met me before in their life trust me to teach their kids how to play in the snow with fiberglass sticks strapped to their feet. I teach 'em to slide down cliffs and hills -- and beg to go back up and do it again." The grin snuck back, and Billy relaxed a little. "We're talking about a drive and a walk, not free-form rock climbing."

Billy chuckled a little. He still wasn't sure how far he wanted to take this.

TJ whistled for Ruedi and headed into the offices of KAJX. "I save the rock climbing for second dates," he called back over his shoulder.

Billy laughed at that, a short bark that Ruedi answered, while he watched the building's door nearly hit TJ on the ass.

He was being teased.

He knew it.

TJ knew it.

What the hell. They were both over 30.

They could have fun if they wanted.

Billy decided to walk back toward Main and see if Mary was giving Billie any more shit about seeing his parents before she came to see him. He pulled the cell phone out of his pocket, hit Billie's number on auto-dial, and headed toward South Aspen.

 

TJ watched Billy get on his cell phone, talk for a bit and then walk up Aspen towards Main. He sat down in the Aero Chair the sound booth had recently been equipped with and looked over the playlist. KAJX was not the sort of place he would have remotely thought himself working ten years ago. The station's combination of NPR, APR, national concerts and locally produced classical music programs was not the sort of thing he had grown up listening to.

He'd fallen into it the way he'd fallen into a lot of things when he'd moved up to Aspen. A chance assignment reviewing a string quartet's new CD for the ADT had gotten him noticed by the programming director. She'd had an unexpected vacancy in her graveyard shift and offered it to him.

The job came with the opportunity to listen to decent music while doing nothing else in particular. He could plan the next show, or read, or even write. It even came with healthcare benefits to cover the off season.TJ had jumped at it.

Ah, yes. Bach's lunch. Not Johann the father, but Johann Freiderich the much overlooked son. TJ hit the mike to live, introduced himself, the date, that the theme was Musical Families and influence. Briefly talked about the conversation he'd had that morning, without identifying Billy, and how other close musicians influenced work of a more or less famous artist. That they'd be listening not only to all of the Bachs, and the Mozarts, but also Bobby McFerrin and the recording of his father from Porgy & Bess. He hoped they'd enjoy it. Weather was lovely, call for thunderstorms later in the day as usual and here was a keyboard concerto by CF Bach. Burke ticked off the microphone, started the track of a concerto for pianoforte performed by the Academy of Ancient Music, and glanced out his window while queuing up the next CD.

The glimpse of the guy walking by in the orange baseball hat shook him more than he was used to any more.

He refocused on the CD playing over the air. There was a catch from a not quite right editing patch job, at about the 'D' section of the second movement. If TJ paid attention, he could adjust the panel so that it wouldn't be so noticeable over the air. It had never occurred to him to wonder why no one else ever asked him about the flaws that stuck out like pebbles in gravel roads to him.

*~*~* 

The next day, Billy walked all the way to Main Street from his hotel and glanced up and down it. By mid-day, he could see how pretentious Aspen could be. There was easily a quarter of a mill in Versace jeans and YSL micro minis and Polarfleece vests walking up and down the street and window shopping. He passed the courtyard of the Main Street Bakery, found himself suddenly starving and dying of thirst, and stepped in.

He pulled out his notebook while he waited for his sandwich. He was worse than John for carrying a notebook and scribbling in it, these days.

 

Dear Joe.

I'm 5000 feet higher than you'll ever be again. The altitude's a killer.

I can't get you out of my head. These letters are supposed to help me do that. So far they haven't much. But the shrink says to not give up yet, 'cause I've only been at this for a month or so, so I'm not.

Besides, I can't really do journals. They make me think of John.

If I were honest, I'd probably say that the shrink has helped me more with getting things together with BJ. She's a good kid. Smarter by half than any of us ever were. Probably smarter by half than all of us put together. Mary's being a real shit to her and it fuckin' drives me nuts. Evan and I are talking about BJ coming to live with me, and we're trying it for a week or two while I'm up here.

Here is Aspen, by the way. More money than can possibly be healthy for any one town.

You know what I think pissed me off the most about you? You never fucking listened.

I told you what I wanted. I wanted to play music, and make some money while I was doing it. I've been lucky enough to do that. I've got an actual place in Seattle, now, where I have a mortgage that I've paid off and everything. I play with a band that isn't psycho or completely wrapped up in their head games. They like playing and they like making money and they like each other. They even like me.

I'm not sure you ever did. Even in kindergarten in North Van.

You got off on bossing me around, sure. Fuck, you got off on bossing everyone around. You didn't do too well when you weren't in charge, did you? I mean, look at how long it took you to learn the 7 times tables.

Sometimes I wonder if you might not still be alive if I'd just stuck around to stand up to you.

 

Billy stopped writing for a moment to push the tablet aside when his sandwich arrived. He bit into it. Half of the foursome at the next table were griping about how crowded St. Kitts had been in the springtime. He smiled and went back to writing.

You'd have loved it here. At least you would have loved hating it. Irony is that you'd have fit right in. Everyone else here seems to be as obsessed with image as you were.

You were so obsessed with image that I guess that you didn't really care what anyone else ever wanted.

I kinda wish I could say that surprised me. But I knew you for 35 years. You cared more about what people thought of you than can possibly be cool.

You've been dead for almost 10 years now and I still can't believe that I can't fucking get you out of my head.

 

Billy fidgeted with his pen and wondered if TJ was going to prove as image obsessed as Joe had been. He didn't think so, but then, he always thought that sooner or later Joe'd get the hang of a minor 7th progression. Never did. He put the pen back to the page.

I met a guy yesterday. He's tall and gorgeous and well hung and well read. All those things you'd have hated, provincial snot that you were. You never could stand the notion that someone around you actually had a better idea than you, could you?

Sometimes I wonder how much of you being dead is my fault.

And yeah, I left. But you didn't exactly give me a reason to choose to stick around with you. You didn't even ask.

I miss you.

Billiam.

 

He ordered a coffee and two chocolate chip cookies to go. He'd need the caffeine and sugar to keep him going through the master class. Even if he was teaching it.

 

TJ retrieved Ruedi from his office and stopped to get a bagel from the break room. Ruedi got the other half of her dog-bagel. They started the hike towards his jeep to get Billy from the Aspen School.

The hike out to the employee / commuter parking lot was a fairly long one, two or three miles, all the way out to the Aspen Airport Business Center. Ruedi enjoyed it (even having to walk squished next to TJ on the pedestrian bridge), but then, Ruedi enjoyed anything that brought her into contact with humans. They tended to fawn over her.

TJ found grooming her soothing. His friends whom he met up with at the dog park commented on the same thing, so he assumed it was normal. Grooming was a normal human / primate thing. You got nervous, you felt lonely, you groomed.

He pushed his hair out of his eyes.

The Aspen church parking lot was empty except for a minivan. TJ waited at the red light at looked at Cemetery Lane and looked out at the south side of the valley. The rushing of the cars passing by him and up and down the valley reminded him of the sound of Dex asleep in the top bunk of the VW van, their first winter out there. Those first weeks when they'd thought they could just drive and park overnight.

The light changed. A guy on a bike in red and black spandex and helmet whizzed by him. He stood, bemused, watching him disappear down the hill toward the roundabout, zigging and zagging in out of the traffic. The rider wasn't demonstrating very safe biking habits, TJ mused. But then, Dex had always been better at teaching the rules than playing by them.

He shook his head and crossed the busy street. Dex was gone, he knew that. TJ had put his coffin on the plane back to his parents and Michigan.

It occurred to TJ that he'd never been back east to see where his and Dex' mom had decided to bury him, or if they'd just cremated him and scattered his ashes on Winter Hill. TJ thought Dex would have liked that. After all, waiting in line for the ski lift all the way to the whopping 500 foot vertical drop over a quarter mile was how they'd really bonded.

The wait for the lift was at least half again as long as the runs downhill. Probably longer.

 

Burke sat in traffic trying to get back up valley to head to the Aspen School. Ruedi grumbled in the back seat, a sort of half-growl of discontent.

"Yeah, I know. Stupid tourists."

He wondered if Billy would have objected to him and Ruedi walking to meet him at the master class.

It certainly couldn't have taken any longer for them to get there.

The Aspen Country Day school was the chichi private school for Not-Really-Locals. It also happened to be the only private school in the valley. Burke picked up ski school students here (they got parental permission to blow off their afternoon classes to go skiing), and used the library for a weekend writer's club during the ski season. He knew his way around, and was used to a certain level of volume and cacophony. He wasn't inside the building much during the off season. He hiked or biked by, and chuckled at the serious look on the faces of kids who didn't look old enough to be so worried.

Or to be hauling around instruments almost as big as they were.

The building was air conditioned, which surprised TJ. He didn't think it was new enough to have central air. The whoosh of it didn't quite cover the brass quintet that needed to sort out their timing issues. He wandered down the hall to the auditorium, where the master classes were taught. They were open to the public, TJ knew. He figured there would be a bunch of GonzoHeads or LogoHeads or FurBrains there to see Billy.

 

He was surprised at the quiet in the room as he came in. The school had gotten a grant to build the auditorium, and the acoustics were tuned perfectly for music or theater performances. Billy was sitting up on the stage, a folding rectangular stool under his left foot. There was a cigarette, unlit, wedged onto the end of one of the tuning pegs. Billy was sitting back and looking at the speaker like he really wasn't quite sure what the fuck she was taking, but he was pretty certain he wanted to know who her connection was so he could make a score to get through the rest of this. He was the only person on stage not wearing mostly black.

A tall, statuesque brunette was waxing rhapsodic on something about one of the performers. After "Deconstruction of the lyric line," and "harmonizing the undertone," TJ stopped trying to figure out what she was saying too.

There was a quartet of guitarists students setting up around the microphones as the brunette was going on.

TJ found himself more interested in what their squeaking footrests were saying when they squawked at inappropriate moments in her speech. She had just finished some BS about the mystical harmony of ensemble work evident in 'Who The Hell Do You Think You Are,' and how lucky they were to have him there for their annual ensemble master class, and wouldn't they welcome William Boisy.

Everyone applauded politely.

Billy unslung his guitar and set it into a stand next to his seat. He pulled the cigarette out of where it was jammed into the pegs. "Okay, hands if you have the first clue what she was really saying."

The audience laughed as expected.

The brunette laughed, too. It had a braying, forced sound to it.

Billy smiled, fidgeting with the cigarette.

"For a mining town, there doesn't seem to be anywhere you can smoke around here." He stuck the cigarette behind his ear and leaned on the podium. "So how this is supposed to work is I give some spiel about how vitally important music is to me, and to the world, and how I'd just die if I didn't have it and so on. I don't buy it. A good friend of mine did. You probably all've heard of him. Well, some of you. You." He pointed at an Asian kid in one of the front rows wearing what looked like a Mozart T-shirt. "You probably haven't. But that's okay." He smiled.

"See, thing is, it's about the music. If it's not about the music, then you're getting way too serious about something that's supposed to be - wait for it - entertainment. It always hit me as pretty weird that all of us worked so damn hard at doing well at something that was supposed to be fun. But then, professional baseball never made much sense to me, either."

He got another laugh at that. TJ didn't join them. It sounded a bit rehearsed to his ear.

"So. If this is supposed to be about the music, and about what the musician-composer wrote, and putting it out there for a new audience, then we should probably shut up and play some. Okay? Okay." He sat down. He looked at the quartet who looked a little startled, as if they were expecting to have another 20 minutes to get their shit together. "What're you doing?"

The youngest-looking of them, a girl maybe in her late teens, said, "Tuning?"

Their leader, a guy who looked like he was just about legal to buy a beer, said stiffly, "Vivaldi."

TJ was not quite as surprised as he expected to be when Billy asked intelligent questions about which piece, how the transposition for guitar ensemble had been acquired. The bass player pointed at the girl who'd spoken out of turn, talking about her transposition project, and the object of his accusation blushed crimson. Billy talked about how they'd done the composing and transposing and asked how it had changed as they'd rehearsed. Then he sat back and let them play. TJ had by now done his day job at KAJX long enough to recognize the first movement of 'Winter.'

The melody was carried by the classical quart bass. It was technical and showy. There was a lot of fast finger work for the lead kid to play with. He didn't flub any of it. This was possibly because, while it was technical and showy, the melody also followed mathematically determined patterns, as baroque concerti often did. TJ could feel where the player carrying the melody was trying to rush the rest of the ensemble. The contrabass player, who looked like he was older than the rest of the ensemble, was vaguely amused at the younger guy's attempt to rush the group. They wouldn't let him, and as the contrabass player was providing the base rhythm group, the melody was compelled to slow down.

TJ was practically cheering him on.

The unpredictable hard part was what the rest of the quartet was doing while the lead player was showing off. The support was dissonant and quiet: neither one was particularly easy to maintain in ensemble.

Billy fidgeted throughout their performance, too. His fingers twitched at the melody's attempt to rush things, stilled when the ensemble came together at the end and unified for the conclusion to the movement.

He thought for a minute, then nodded. "Okay. You?" He pointed at the offender, "you're really good with the technical stuff. Which is why they gave you this melody. And why you really pushed 'em to let you do it in front of me. And you're good. But you don't listen. And it's really, really important to listen in ensemble work."

Billy pointed at the bass player. "Why contrabass? Why not acoustic?"

Bass player pointed at composer, who shrugged. "I wanted more range. The contrabass needs to cover the double-bass and cello so..."

Billy nodded. "You didn't want this in this, did you."

She shook her head.

"They said it had to be. Same thing I said to him: you gotta listen. Sometimes your band mates are right. This time they were. This was good. I wanna hear it again when you've had some more time with it. I'm here for 2 more weeks. We'll jam next weekend."

TJ was startled. He hadn't known that Billy was going to be in town for more than just the festival celebrating Hunter Thompson. He sat back as Billy started talking to the third member of the ensemble, a slightly older girl, probably a senior in college. She was serious and studied and measured in her responses to Billy, almost like she was only going to go so far before the master class was done.

That was, eventually what he called her on. "Tight and controlled is good. Too tight and too controlled is not music. Loosen up a little - I promise an occasional fortissimo ain't gonna kill you. So." He tilted his head toward her. "What did she want you guys to play," he pointed at the composer-girl, "that he didn't," he pointed at melody-guy, "that you had to be the last vote on?"

Middle-ground-girl giggled. "An arrangement of Lauridsen's "Dirait-on" that was done for the LA Guitar Quartet by Scott Tennant."

Billy looked thoughtful. He nodded slowly. He tugged the cigarette out from behind his ear. "Okay, this I know. I've heard it. Okay. Good. Let's hear it."

The contrabass player swapped his instrument out for a classical quart bass. The quartet retuned, and then began.

Lauridsen's setting of the Rilke poem, TJ knew, had been done to death. Every chorus, choir, sing along group, barbershop quartet that was missing one member and replaced him with a hurdy-gurdy had done it. TJ had heard quite a few settings of it himself.

Most of them set his hair on end.

This guitar setting was unusual. The melody began very quietly, growing slowly and keeping to the meaning of the term 'andante,' 'as if walking.' The structural apex came in the next-to-last section, quieting into the decrescendo and ritard of the conclusion.

Removing the words to the song seemed to allow TJ to lose himself in the image of a Greek youth lost in the attraction of his own beautiful reflection, bespelled there by a spiteful being tugged away from gazing at himself in the still waters of a river pool. He knew the Rilke poem that inspired the piece.

And though he knew just enough French to find his way around the menu at Cache-Cache, he did not know enough French to properly translate the poem.

The versions he read in English never sounded as pretty as the ones in French.

He supposed that that was part of the point.

Billy was still during the performance. He made a few technical comments that TJ didn't follow, having to do with dynamics and capos. They repeated the section of it that he was commenting on and he noted the improved technique.

The brunette who'd done the lecture introduction did not look pleased.

Billy continued, talking about how to use lyrics even when you weren't using lyrics.

"There's an awful lot out there about Rilke. I never got into him much beyond that book they make everyone read in high school about his letters to a poet. Didn't find them much use, either, I gotta say." He pulled on the guitar, and played a segment of the melody, humming the melody, then unexpectedly half hummed (as if he were channeling Glen Gould, which was ridiculous, even if both Billy and Gould were Canadian), "Ainsi tu inventes le theme / du Narcisse exauce," he finished off the next bit of the theme, set aside the guitar, and commented, "I always wondered," he lit up, "what was making that damn daffodil so happy."

The audience laughed. "It's probably something about the complicated close-harmony and descant that get thrown after it. After all, repeating 'Dirait-on,' over and over is a pretty good way to put the audience to sleep."

"I've never done that yet, and am not gonna start here. Thanks for coming out. See you at Gonzo."

Snooty Brunette looked startled and displeased, as Billy crossed the stage, shook the ensemble's hands, starting to chat with them. There were eight or so more guitarists down in the front row, several of them.

Tall, busty and flirtsome stood up in front of TJ, looked around, chatting for a moment with her companion. TJ had lived in Aspen long enough to recognize the ritual division of territory between two alpha females when it was displayed before him.

Tall, busty and flirtsome's companion (slightly shorter and flatter of chest, perky haircut), headed off to the other side of the auditorium. She tried her luck on one of the young guys who arranged for master classes. Burke wished her luck: he knew the guy she was hitting on. Intimately.

Tall, busty and flirtsome had decided that TJ was just her type. She dropped her shoulders and pulled them back.

She actually batted her eyes.

TJ thought he was going to be ill.

He wondered if Billy's altitude headache was contagious.

 

Billy glanced at TJ out of the corner of his eye as he wrapped up with the students. Cards were exchanged, arrangements to jam made. The tall blonde was making her move on TJ. Billy kept his gaze on the contrabass player, but his eyes on TJ.

"I just adore Vivaldi, don't you?"

The brilliantly designed acoustics of the auditorium allowed Billy to hear every word clearly.

TJ made a noncommittal noise.

The tall blonde groupie cooed. Billy could hear the mourning-dove-like noise all the way at the other end of the room. "You're on KAJX!! I heard you on the WEB!"

Billy saw TJ's wince. He smiled and nodded at the contrabass player, made polite-sounding noises, and started to collect his gear. He stubbed out his cigarette on the 'no smoking' sign backstage and drew an exclamation point with the ash. Then he started to ease up the aisle with his Martin and other gear in hand.

The tall blonde's friend, who was perky but flat-chested, had struck out and was hanging at the edge of the crowd, watching TJ go through the motions with her friend.

TJ looked remarkably uncomfortable, Billy thought.

Not uncomfortable like he wasn't used to the attention, but uncomfortable that he wasn't happy with it. His gaze was averted. His answers were monosyllabic. The day before, he'd been snarking about anti-disestablishmentarianist deconstruction and Whitman with Billy: now the groupie was hard pressed to get more than a 'maybe,' out of him.

Billy figured that TJ was kind of sick of being taken at face value alone. And he, Billy Tallent Boisy, was hungry, and had been promised 'ribs, if the new smoker hasn't been mauled by bears the way the old one was last month.'

Billy'd grown up in North Vancouver. He was used to bears.

He still wasn't sure if he was being fucked with or not. Bears didn't often destroy cooking equipment at the Tim Horton's on Lonsdale.

Billy cleared his throat. When the groupie turned and looked at him, her nose actually slid up a little into the air.

"Sorry to interrupt," Billy said. "TJ, weren't you going to let me buy you dinner? Gigs always leave me hungry."

TJ's gaze shifted to Billy. He smiled. "Yeah. Sure. Ruedi's probably going nuts outside, anyway. Can I..." He lifted a hand towards the gear.

Billy shook his head. "Nah, I got it. Thanks." They started to slide towards the door.

The groupie was not to be lost so easily, though. "Ruedi?" she asked, her eyes narrowing.

"My dog," TJ replied.

She cooed again. "Oh, I just love dogs! I have the cutest little Havanese!" She followed them toward the exit.

Billy headed through the door ahead of her and turned down the hall toward the exit. "Well, TJ says 'dog,' but Ruedi's mostly wolf. Hybrid. You know, 80, 90 pounds, about up to here..." He held his guitar case up at about his waist to demonstrate.

"Oh." Suddenly deflated, the groupie looked around for her perky and flat-chested friend. "Oh, Penny, good, there you are. Ready to go and change for dinner?"

TJ and Billy eventually stopped laughing before they started the drive down-valley.

Ruedi couldn't see what was so funny. She could have been a wolf, if she'd wanted. Except for being a different breed.

The drive down toward Woody Creek was much quieter and faster than the drive up valley. Burke piloted the aging but well cared for Jeep down Cemetery Lane, a curvy, windy, one and one half lane road crowded with dumpsters and periodically littered with construction debris.

Billy hung on to the 'oh shit,' bar and hoped his guitar wasn't getting too jostled in back. Burke made a sharp left and took them down a steep slope. It leveled out beside a creek. They stopped at a stop sign and Billy noticed that TJ seemed to be staring at an old red caboose on the other side of the river.

He nodded at it. "Another relic of a bygone age?"

Burke shook his head and put the Jeep in gear sharply. Ruedi protested. "No."

Billy's eyebrows rose. "Oookay." It looked to him like TJ didn't want to talk about it.

He waited. Guys like TJ Burke usually didn't exercise their right to remain silent.

TJ didn't, either. "I lived there for two years. Two and a half, really."

"Oh." Bad memories, apparently. Billy let that percolate. "Gutted and skinned you when she left, eh?"

"No," Burke replied. They turned to the right, heading up the side of the valley. "Well, yes, but that was a couple of years later. No, he died."

"Died?" Billy echoed. What the hell?

He?

Billy digested for another moment. They pulled up in front of an older cabin, without much view, a smaller yard, and a smaller house than most of what Billy had seen around Aspen so far. He climbed out and got his guitar. "He?"

TJ nodded as he unlocked the door. Ruedi was already out of the Jeep and frolicking in the yard, rubbing up against pine tree trunks and leaving tufts of fluffy white undercoat caught in the bark.

"Yeah." Burke tossed his keys into a bowl on a cabinet by the door. "Dexter Rutecki. Came out here from Michigan with him." He left the front door open and led Billy down the hall, past a couple of open doors on a bedroom and office and into an open space facing the back yard. Billy set his guitar down on the left, in the living room section of it and surveyed the yard.

The trees had spouted undercoat there, too.

TJ had gone to the right, to the kitchen, and was scooping out dog food. He refilled the water bowl, and nodded at a picture on the wall next to the fireplace. "That's him. On the right. When we first got here." He passed Billy a glass of water. He'd been chiding him on his water habits since they left Café Ink the day before.

Billy took the glass of water, rolled his eyes and looked at the picture: two guys, early twenties. 'Welcome to Aspen' sign behind them. He'd seen the sign on the road from the airport.

"What happened?"

Burke put up a few dishes before he answered.

"Do you ski?"

Billy shook his head.

Burke nodded. "The thing about skiing is that you really don't go down the hill, you go across it. You come back this winter with Billie, you'll see me leading streams of happy or less happy people down hills, taking long runs across the slope, making a gentle turn, and then across it again the other way. Kind of like switchbacks on a mountain road."

Billy nodded. "Okay, so what about those nuts in the Olympics?"

"Ah. Well, same principle." Burke grinned. "Shorter cross-runs. Those are called Christie turns. You're basically planting your pole and hopping around it - then doing the same thing going the other way. Makes a sort of 'S' in the snow. If you can see your tracks. Or the tracks of the guy in front of you."

Billy nodded again. "Okay. This is how you ruin your knees, isn't it."

"Yep. Kinda hard on 'em after a while." Like, say, ten years in Aspen. "So, there's a competition, every year. It's called the Powder Eights, and we've got the oldest one in Colorado right here. It's pair's Christie turns. The pair that makes the longest and most perfect run of figure eights in the snow wins. Here's the trick." He set the kibble down for Ruedi, who came barreling in the front door and inhaled the food in about two seconds flat.

"You gotta be able to see the tracks of the other guy. Which means you basically can't train for it on the public slopes."

"So, what, you go and find private slopes? Like crashing a country club?"

"Aren't any: not around here, anyway. It's all National Forest. So, no. You go out of bounds." TJ headed over to the couch where Ruedi had sprawled out to digest. "Which is bad for a few reasons. One, it's illegal. If you get caught, your license to teach gets pulled, and you're out of a job. Two, it's illegal because it's dangerous - there aren't any patrols, and you've gotta hike in, so there's no real help if you fuck up and get hurt. And three, there aren't any patrols 'cause the places are real prone to sliding out from under you."

Burke nodded at the picture on the wall. "That's what happened to Dex. I didn't get the avalanche report. We went out and trained on a 'red' day: that's when it's so dangerous that one wrong noise'll set off a slide. We had beacons, at least. I got out. He didn't."

Billy knew edited versions of stories when he heard them. He waited to see if TJ was going to expand on his story. He wasn't. Billy thought about it some.

He mainly wondered why Dexter Rutecki had come out to Aspen with TJ Burke, just because he asked.

Billy wondered what else Dexter did just because TJ asked.

Or what TJ did, for Dexter - when Dexter didn't have to ask.

He gave it another moment to see if TJ was going to say any more, but the younger man had seemed to say all he wanted to.

Instead, Burke shrugged and closed the sliding glass door to the back yard. "I'm starved. Let's eat."

 *~*~*

The Woody Creek Tavern believed in generous portions. After dinner, Billy felt less like he was walking and more like he was rolling. Waddling, maybe. His pace put him in mind of a Pekinese he had once seen in a dog show on TV. A mostly night-time job translated to a lot of daytime TV.

He had a sudden image of himself as a punked-out poodle. Or that Peke, hair dyed. Punk Peke-a-rama.

"How can you eat like that and stay so skinny?" TJ asked. They turned down the hill toward his street.

Billy shrugged. "Good genes, I guess. I always was starving after a gig. Unless I was shitfaced."

TJ had noticed Billy's one beer with dinner. "That happen often?"

"Used to." Billy's grin reflected the moonlight as it rose over the down valley mountains. "You know what they say about punk rockers. It's mostly true." He lit a cigarette. Its end glowed red in the dark. "Is what they say about ski instructors true?"

TJ walked a few more steps forward as if he had not heard, had not understood, or had deliberately misunderstood, the question. Then he turned and leaned against a thick pine. He watched Billy for a moment. The moonlight was reflecting in his eyes. He smiled. "I don't know. What do they say?" He reached out and tugged the cigarette out of Billy's mouth. His fingertip brushed the older man's lower lip. He took a drag, exhaled, and stepped closer.

Billy smiled and reached for the cigarette. "That you're... athletic?"

He reached for the cigarette, plucking it from TJ's fingers. He inhaled, then exhaled. The smoke and condensation from his breath mixed and puffed in the cool evening air.

TJ took the cigarette back again. He took a drag, and as he exhaled, he retorted, "Pretty."

"Give me that. You're supposed to be a fitness kind of guy." Billy took the cigarette back again and inhaled its sweet toxins.

TJ snorted. "You can hear my knees pop a mile away. They don't let me on the slopes on orange alert days anymore. I trigger slides by locking in my binders." His eyes were on the cigarette, which was, not so coincidentally, in Billy's mouth.

Billy exhaled again. He offered TJ a cigarette of his own. TJ declined with a head-shake, but took Billy's cigarette again. The musician said, "Enthusiastic."

"They do call us 'show dogs.'"

"You'd look awful in a poodle cut." Billy watched the end of the cigarette burn red and then go out. It was close to the end and the ember lit up TJ's fingertips. "I'm not into bestiality."

"We'll leave Ruedi outside the bedroom." TJ stubbed the cigarette out into the tree, crushed the filter, and pocketed it. He reached toward Billy again, and this time tangled his hand in the musician's hair. It was softer than it looked. Much softer than he expected. He closed the space between them and touched his lips to Billy's.

Billy's mouth opened against his. He slid his tongue into TJ's mouth, letting TJ's teeth scrape against it. The grainy taste buds scraped against the roof of TJ's mouth: the smooth underside and tension of the muscles echoed the ache in TJ's groin.

TJ savored the hint of tobacco for a moment, then shifted his head for a different angle. Billy's fingers laced into TJ's hair as the younger man's tongue followed Billy's 'home,' teasing his palate, the tip of his tongue rubbing just behind Billy's teeth.

TJ broke the kiss and adjusted himself in his jeans.

He hated that he never could find a cut that was loose enough and didn't hang off him like burlap sacks.

Billy apparently had the opposite problem. He just shifted a little on his feet. His shoulders relaxed after a second squirm. He looked more comfortable than he had a second earlier. He smiled. He pulled TJ in, this time.

TJ's teeth scraped gently against Billy's lips. His tongue traced their lower lips, and then Billy's teeth. They stood like that and kissed under the pine for a while. Billy's breath sounded absurdly loud in TJ's ear: the air from his nose tickled.

After a few minutes, Billy pulled back and smiled. His fingers brushed along TJ's face. He traced the scar above TJ's eyebrow, and tugged very gently at his earlobe, the way he'd seen TJ do when he was nervous.

"Watching me?" TJ asked.

"Saving you the trouble." Billy replied. His hand slid up through TJ's hair, and then down again, rubbing TJ's eyebrow.

TJ leaned into the touch.

Later, neither one of them could actually recall walking the rest of the way back to the house.

The door closed behind them. TJ turned to put his keys on the hook. Billy slid his arms underneath TJ's and rubbed gently at his waistband and belly.

"Feels kind of tight there... T.... Gah!!!"

TJ looked in the mirror and saw what had happened. Ruedi had tried to stretch Billy's boundaries about bestiality. He chuckled and turned.

His hands slid over Billy's ass and squeezed. "I'll protect you." He smiled. He bent his face over Billy's hair and inhaled. His hands roamed over Billy's back, tracing each knobby vertebra.

Billy grinned, tilted his head up and gently bit TJ's chin. "And who'll protect me from you? Or..." his voice dropped and he half growled, "you, for that matter, from me?" His hands slid down from where they had been around TJ's neck to undo the buttons on his Henley. He leaned in and nipped TJ's throat. He licked the spot in apology. Then he sucked the red spot into his mouth, between his teeth, and nibbled and sucked.

TJ moaned. His back arched against the wall. Billy guided TJ's hands to his shoulders. "Lean on me."

TJ shook his head. "I'm fine." He shifted his hands down to caress Billy's ass again. Watched as Billy's chin jerked in response to the touch. "I've... I've been wanting to do that since I bought you coffee."

"Mmm." Billy leaned against the wall, in towards TJ. TJ's hand slid between denim and cotton knit. "A whole 36 hours?"

TJ nodded. "I can be very..." he squeezed. Billy's breath caught. "Patient."

"Patient." Billy repeated. He sounded... distracted.

TJ nodded again. He squeezed again, too.

"I'm more of a 'goes for what he wants' kind of guy myself." Billy brushed his thumb over the fly of TJ's too-tight jeans. Then his fingers were undoing the fly and his hand slid inside, past TJ's jeans and under his boxers. Strong, callused fingers stroked TJ's dick.

TJ's eyes shut. His teeth caught and bit his lower lip. A somewhat worried noise escaped him.

Billy leaned in closer. His hips leaned against TJ's. One leg threaded between TJ's thighs and rubbed, gently. "Let it out, TJ." His head bowed forward. He caught TJ's ear between his lips, licked, then nibbled, gently, just where he'd pulled a little earlier.

The fingers that had been stroking formed a circle around TJ's dick and slid, up and down, playing with the skin.

Billy whispered, "Come."

TJ came. Billy held him upright in the hallway when his knees did give out.

When TJ'd gotten his legs back under him, he blushed. Not very noticeably: it was dark in the hall. And TJ's time not spent writing or working was apparently spent out in the sun - the blush was only a slight tinge against the tan.

Billy smiled nonetheless.

TJ closed his eyes. He gathered his composure. After he took a few deep breaths against the wall he traced a hand along Billy's side, down to the waist of his jeans. He let his fingers play at the button for a moment, collecting himself from the light haze his orgasm left him with. He popped the button and slid the zipper down, intent on getting a feel of the man who has just made him lose all sense of decorum in his hallway. In front of... "Oh, god." He groaned.

His voice was echoed by Billy before he pulled his hand away. Billy looked up, concerned. TJ shook his head. "We're moving to the bedroom before we get any more unwanted help."
Billy's eyes widened, then practically closed. He bent his head forward and laughed once. It turned into a moan.

TJ's hands returned to Billy's waist. One gently grasped the waistbands, the other cupped and caressed Billy's ass. He walked Billy backwards across the hall and into the bedroom. TJ kicked the door shut behind them and pulled Billy close enough to him, still by the waistband, to kiss, or lick, or caress. He gazed at Billy for a moment. His tongue brushed his lower lip as if he could not quite decide where to begin.

Billy began to squirm a little.

TJ smiled. He released Billy's waist, his hands spanning the narrow, almost bony hips.

Then he gave Billy a gentle push towards the bed. Billy was still watching TJ, so he didn't turn, but just stepped backwards. TJ still had him by the waist and turned him. He closed the space and between them, cuddling his hips into Billy's lean and spare ass. He nudged Billy forward and nibbled, gently, on the tendon and vein below Billy's left ear.

Billy made a sobbing kind of noise and kind of rippled, from his feet up through his head. He stiffened and gasped. TJ's agile fingers were tugging at his shirt-tails and the hem of his T-shirt pulling them out of where they were tucked into the jeans and then brushing up over his abdomen to slide Billy's jean-jacket off. He tossed it on a chair in the corner.

His hands ran down Billy's arms, and back up. Billy, thinner than he, shivered momentarily in the change of the temperature.

Then he shivered again when TJ's fingers brushed up and down the forearms. They slid back across to Billy's torso, stroking toward his waist. He slid his under the hem of Billy's T-shirt, and across skin. He traced circles on the skin at the hollow of Billy's hip, rubbing under the waistband of the other man's briefs.

"I see one of the things they say about rockers isn't true..." TJ murmured. "How... practical." He slid his fingers out from under the waistband and down into the slit. They curled around Billy's cock, caressing through a layer of cloth. Billy whined. "A bit snug, though, I think." He brushed his fingers against Billy's cock once more and then eased his hand out from the briefs.

A gentle tug was enough to free Billy from the jeans. TJ's own jeans and boxers were a bit harder to shimmy out of, but when he had, he turned to find Billy sprawled out on his side on the bed. The flimsy knit of his T-shirt draped against his torso. His red and green plaid shirt was in a puddle on the floor next to the bed. He was watching TJ intently, his index finger brushing his lips. As his finger moved, TJ could see the edge of a tattoo ripple on Billy's bicep.

His legs were spread wide, knees bent, one leg flat on the bed, foot of the other planted flat and knee bent.

TJ pulled off his Henley and watched back. Billy's right hand was stroking his hip where TJ's hand had been, almost absently. He still had his damn navy briefs on.

TJ had to smile and shake his head at that. "What the hell?" he asked. He crossed the room and climbed on to the bed. One knee planted next to Billy's thigh. He swung his other leg over Billy and rolled him onto his back. "What does it take," he asked, sliding his hands down Billy's torso, "To get this stuff off of you, mmmm?"

Billy chuckled "Warm is good. Can't help it if I'm skinny..."

TJ grinned. It was the same wicked smile he'd made sure Billy had first seen in Café Ink. "I think I can keep you warm." He leaned in to kiss Billy again, and worked his hand under the T-shirt.

It was a long and lazy kiss. TJ's fingers found Billy's right nipple, circled it. He scraped across it, barely touching it. Billy arched underneath him, and his mouth worked against TJ's.

TJ slid his hand across to the other nipple. He stopped. He pulled back a little from Billy, tugged the T-shirt the rest of the way up and then over Billy's head. His eyes widened and darkened. He turned the light on the bedside table on.

A bright blue, titanium ring with a captured bead shone in the left nipple.

TJ chuckled and very, very gently brushed a finger against the ring, brushing against the nipple at the same time. The ring rotated up. TJ released it and it dropped back against Billy's chest.

Billy whined again. "TJ..."

TJ smiled. "Pretty," he said, repeating the motion. "And shiny." He bent his head to lick at it. "Mm. Almost salty. Tastes like you."

Billy squirmed under TJ's attentions. His hands moved toward his briefs.

TJ's hands blocked Billy's, holding him gently, but keeping them away from his briefs. "Mine." he said, rubbing against Billy's groin. "Only fair, after all."

TJ kept nuzzling and licking at the nipple ring. The unadorned nipple was stiffening in sympathy, almost pouting that it was getting no attention.

"Fair?" Billy gasped.

"Well, yeah." TJ bowed his head and let his hair brush against the sensitive nipples. "I didn't even get out of my jeans." He lifted his head and grinned. "You had your wicked, punked out rocker way with me in the hall."

His hand drifted down to the waist of Billy's briefs and pulled the elastic away from the skin. Billy squirmed again as if he missed the feel of TJ's touch.

"So, you're gonna what, just torture me? Revenge for the dog?"

TJ smiled and stripped the knit briefs down. "Keep you warm, remember?" He slid his hand back up Billy's leg, gently rubbing the outside of his thigh. "I promise, it's one of the biggest jobs a ski instructor has: keeping the students warm."

His hand slid around to caress Billy's ass again, and watched as Billy arched back into the gentle squeeze. "And besides. That way," he leaned in and inhaled Billy's scent, brushing his nose against the uncut foreskin, "everyone has fun."

TJ very gently sucked the head of Billy's cock into his mouth. Billy rippled again, but TJ was ready and held his hips down to keep from getting choked. He licked, up and down the cock, imitating the motion of their tongues and their first kisses in the street. He drew patterns on Billy's skin, with tongue and with fingers, tracing where his tongue couldn't reach.

Billy's muscles tightened and relaxed reflexively, getting taut as TJ stroked, then losing that tension when it was too much to maintain. TJ kept stroking, licking and nuzzling, and then released Billy's cock from his mouth. He left his fingers circling the cock, pushing just a bit, just behind the head of the cock. He looked up and gazed at the other man.

Billy's head was thrown back, throat bared. He was arching, nipples and chest forward: the piercing was trembling from the muscles' tension. TJ kept teasing with his hand, and slid up Billy. He slid one thick, strong thigh between Billy's legs. The friction teased, and he rubbed his own hardening cock against Billy's leg. His bent his head to circle the piercing with his tongue again and then reclaimed Billy's mouth with his own. His other hand slid under Billy's shoulders and head. Fingers tangled in the blond, sweaty hair.

Billy's free leg wrapped around TJ's hips and they rolled on to their sides. TJ's hand tightened a little on Billy's cock as they moved, then milked, gently. His hips rocked against Billy's leg.

Billy's hips were circling and rocking back and forth, now: TJ's hand barely moved, and Billy's cock sought the friction of movement.

His eyes squeezed shut, mouth opened. A hoarse cry emerged. Shadows cast by the lamp fell on the wall and bedspread. TJ's own hips worked faster against Billy's leg, brushing his leg against Billy's cock as well as his hand.

Billy keened as he came in TJ's arms. The tension left all of his muscles.

TJ's own orgasm, following so fast after his earlier one in the hall, came not long after. The sudden slickness between them sent him over the edge and down.

They both lay on the bed and gasped for a moment or two. TJ reached for the Kleenex on the nearer bedside table and gently wiped them both off.

Billy shivered a little, sweat drying quickly in the mountain air. TJ shook his head, tugged the quilt down, and gently rolled Billy under the covers. He pushed the used Kleenex off the bedside table and into the wastepaper basket, then. TJ slid under the covers on the other side, and leaned against and over Billy to turn out the light.

Billy had curled up on his side, back to TJ. He was still shivering slightly.

TJ wondered how much of it was the cold, and how much was memory, or even withdrawal.

He curled up behind Billy and wrapped his arms around him.

Billy exhaled softly and relaxed in TJ's arms. He made a small, content sounding noise that sounded almost like '''nk y'''

Then he was asleep.

TJ gazed at him in the starlight for a long time before following.

*~*~*

Billy awoke the next morning when the sun crept over the mountain range and streamed into the bedroom. At some point in the night they had uncurled from one another and rolled to their 'own' sides of the bed.

He leaned against his elbow and looked at TJ, still asleep and curled up, back to Billy. He watched TJ sleep for a while, hearing the guitars in his head.

TJ certainly was pretty enough to be Narcissus.

Pretty enough to be narcissistic, if he wanted to be, too.

He wondered if TJ saw this as fulfillment.

He was pretty sure he didn't, anymore.

He was forty-five. Didn't fucking matter if Keith Richards was old enough to start collecting Social Security and still rocked. He, Billy Tallent, was getting tired of one shot deals.

It was Thursday. GonzoFest was tomorrow. Billie would be arriving the next day. He and Billie'd get their state mandated two weeks of the summer together, and then she'd be back to fucking Calgary. He'd be back to his apartment in Seattle, crawling through grunge clubs, looking at software executives trying to make like they were still young and hip and hot.

Trying to talk himself into that as well.

Maybe - if Billie wanted him to - he'd take Mary back to court to get more time with her. It wasn't like there weren't schools and universities in the States, too. And he wasn't mortgaged to the hilt, not any more, not the way Mary and Evan were.

But he was still tired.

He wanted something more real.

He wanted a longer term relationship that was healthier than the one he had with Ed Festus.
Billy rolled quietly and softly out of bed. TJ slept on. Billy couldn't find his briefs, so he borrowed some of TJ's shorts and pulled his jeans back on.

He stole TJ's red and black flannel shirt.

Ruedi was sprawled out on the couch in the living room. She lifted her head up as Billy came in.

Billy hadn't done a 'meet the family' scene for quite some time. He thought the last time was when he met Evan's parents when they were arranging for the custody transfers of Billie. But George and Emma were old-style Alberta parents (spare the rod, spoil the child; spare the chocolate, spoil the grandchild). They did not come with four paws of sharp and long claws, much less a pair of jaws that appeared to be able to crush his fingers with or without the presence of forty-two gleaming razor-like teeth.

Ruedi rolled, groaning as if it were simply more than she could possibly cope with to roll off the couch. She shook herself, starting at the head and ending at the tail. Fur flew off of her in single hair strands. Her tail kept wagging as she padded over to Billy.

He tried to relax as she approached. She shoved her nose under his hand and rubbed her head underneath it. She apparently approved of him.

Billy smiled. He opened the door to the patio out back, and let her out into the yard. He wasn't sure about food, but he topped up her water bowl. The cool breeze rustled in the aspens.

Billy wandered to the front hall and found his guitar, cigarettes and sunglasses. He tucked the pack and a lighter into his shirt pocket and slid on the sunglasses and padded out, barefoot, to the patio.

He settled on a lawn chair. The pop of his bones echoed in the garden. Ruedi found a spot in the sun and laid down. Billy lit a cigarette and set the lighter on the table. There was a flat-ish triangular rock on the ground near him. He set it next to the lighter on the table to use as an ashtray. He sat back, and looked at the dog.

The dog looked back. She remembered the burnt-paper smell. Burnt-paper guys usually knew how to treat her the way she ought to be treated. They'd go out with her for hours and hours, burning their paper all the way.

"Whaddaya think, Ruedi?" Burnt-paper asked. "Enough, already? Time to get off the road? Settle down? Find something permanent?"

Hot-Wax-and-Chapstick said the same kind of things to her sometimes. She usually found that her intervention was necessary to get him to remember the important things. Like feeding her. Burnt-paper apparently didn't understand that it was past her breakfast time.

She got up, trotted across the yard, planted her paws on the arms of the lawn chair and started licking his face to get his attention refocused.

He laughed. "All right, all right." He pushed her down gently. Made sure she was steady on her paws.

She shook her head violently, trying to shake the taste. The taste of burnt-paper, she decided, must be a two-feet thing. She went inside to wake up Hot-Wax-and-Chapstick.

Billy watched the dog gulp down half her water bowl, then heard her claws clicking on the hardwood as she went down the hall. He reached for his guitar. Started playing around.

 

TJ heard the jangle of dog tags. Ruedi woke him with her usual sloppy lick. He rolled over in the bed to look for Billy.

He was alone. Fuck.

He'd kind of hoped Billy'd had more class than that.

"Okay, Ruedi, m'up." He rolled out of bed and pulled on some sweats. He was halfway out the front door to pick up the newspaper before he felt the breeze in the hall.

Funny. He didn't remember leaving the door to the garden open.

He was down the hall and in the dining room before he heard the guitar.

TJ made his way to the coffee and flicked it on. He was usually too wasted in the morning to sort out beans and grinding and water, so he just set it up the day before.

He stared at the machine for a moment as if watching would make it brew faster. It never worked.

He leaned against the counter and listened as Billy played. Finally he looked out into the garden through the screen.

The sun streamed over the front range and lit up the yard. Billy sat in its beams. He was wearing, TJ noticed, his shirt. The outsized flannel seemed to embrace the slimmer man, forming a barrier against both cold and the outside world.

He looked infinitely relaxed and weary at the same time.

The angle of the beams on Billy cast a shadow against the grass.

It looked like a daffodil in profile.

TJ wondered if all it took to make the daffodils happy was coffee with sugar and cream.

 

From The Aspen Daily News

""GonzoFest Over The Top and Completely Outrageous" Says Chief of Police: 'we haven't had overtime like this since Clinton was here!!'"
by Miriel Hayden

From The Aspen Times

"City Estimates Revenues from Gonzo Tourists over $750,000 This Year."
by Kestrel Williams Hume

Front Page, Aspen Times Weekly

"Who's Buried in Joe Dick's Tomb?"
By Tobias J. Burke