One of the weak points in Christine Powell Spar's work on Hunter Rose and his dual life as a member of the literary elite and a ruthless crime lord is the lack of consideration she gives to Larry Stohler. Through Spar's lens, we are shown that this was a relationship of servitude and toleration. In her words, "Larry simply cooperated, and Grendel let him." Rose's notes do not contain many details about his relationship with Stohler. Meetings are recorded, of course, but few insights are delivered by the author. Rose notes no tensions, and reports no disagreements. Spar interprets this to mean that Stohler was not personally important to Rose – that he was a useful tool and not given further consideration. However, a closer examination of the text reveals a deeper bond: at the very least Hunter Rose trusted Larry Stohler.
This is most evident in terms of Stohler's relationship with Rose's ward, Stacy Palumbo – Rose often left her alone in Stohler's care, or under his supervision, as he conducted his criminal business. Stohler was present at the private parties Rose threw for her – he was allowed to be close to her, she called him Uncle the same way she did with Rose. He was, in point of fact, allowed to be a part of their very exclusive family. As Stacy never expressed any great affection for Stohler (possibly because of the close association with Rose), it is clear that the instigator of this dynamic was Rose himself. More broadly, it is clear that Rose relied heavily on Stohler's information to plan and carry out his operations, and Stohler was personally involved in some of these. Rose may have been able to carry out Grendel's work without Stohler, but it would have been far more difficult for him to seize and maintain control over such a large and widespread operation. Stohler was essential to Rose both personally and professionally.
But what attraction could a man like Larry Stohler hold for someone like Hunter Rose, like the merciless, brilliant, egoistical Grendel? The answer is simple, once considered. Stohler was the only person other than Jocasta Rose who ever identified in Rose himself the qualities of the truly extraordinary. Hunter Rose's reaction to Jocasta's interest was a deep and immediate sexual attraction that resulted in what became the defining relationship of his life. So, what about Larry Stohler?
Scholars have been too quick to dismiss rumours about Stohler's sexuality and his relationships with various members of New York's elite, male, female, or other. By modern standards, Stohler was very likely bi- or even pansexual, and doubtlessly he exploited his various sexual liaisons in the service of Grendel. Sex seems to have been another way for him to slip past the defenses of those on whom he was, essentially, spying. If we can consider rather than outright dismiss the elided passages in the memoirs of contemporaries such as Jason Estevez, we can also infer that at least some of Stohler's sexual liaisons took the form of sadomasochistic master/slave dynamics, with Stohler acting in the dominant role.
Spar's consistent refusal to consider the possibility of a homosexual relationship between Rose and Stohler is based on her obvious idealization of Rose as a heteronormative (if somewhat Electral) 'father' figure, both in terms of his relationship with her mother, Stacy Palumbo, and his typically 'macho' male domination of the criminal underworld of the eastern seabord. She refuses to explore the implications of Rose's own writings, brief though they may be, on the matter of homosexuality. Rose's stance against the mistreatment of homosexuals within his organization was notably progressive given the prevalent cultural attitudes of the time. This was not the sort of matter that attracted the personal attention of most leaders of the day, criminal or otherwise. Other than his persecution of pedophiles (and in particular those who preyed on young girls), homosexuality is the only 'moral' issue on which Grendel took a clear stance. Given that by the standards of the day both were viewed as deviant criminal sexualities, this interest is notable and, like his crusade against (certain kinds of) pedophiles, must be considered in terms of his own personal experiences and desires.
It is true that Rose did not record anything directly implicating that he had a sexual relationship with Stohler. Given the obvious closeness of the two men, he barely writes about Stohler at all. If Grendel was thought to be a ghost, then Larry Stohler was the shadow of a specter – so intangible that even after Rose's death, it still took the police several weeks to amass any direct evidence of his involvement with Grendel's operations outside of the testimony of a deeply mentally disturbed nine year old girl. I propose and will explore three reasons for what can only be seen as a purposeful omission on Rose's part. The first is that his relationship with Stohler undermined Rose's personal narrative of his self-creation and rebirth as Grendel after the death of Jocasta Rose, and that he chose to omit it on these grounds. Other Grendel scholars have already explored and questioned Rose's reliability as a narrator, and I will draw on their work as well as my own to argue that Rose always intended for his journal to have an audience, and that his words must be given appropriate critical consideration in this context rather than being accepted at face value. The second is a corollary to the first – Rose was uncertain of the meaning of his relationship with Stohler and was not prepared to admit or explore that uncertainty in what was intended to be a paean to his own success and perfection. The third reason I propose is based more on a focused exploration of Stohler's own life rather than viewing him, as others have done, merely as a minor actor in Grendel's story. In an attempt to recognize his personal agency, I will explore the possibility that, for his own reasons, Stohler asked Rose not to write about their relationship and that, for reasons reviewed above, Rose agreed.
-Anthony Seong, Criminal Queering
Larry had always been sensitive. That is to say, his senses were particularly sharp, even as a child. He perceived things, and felt them, more acutely that others. He learned this quite young, and learned to separate the emotional impact from the physical. The effects of vulnerability were readily apparent, and he tried to avoid becoming a victim. Big boys didn't cry, no matter how much they hurt. Or so they claimed. He learned early to redirect unwanted attention by focusing it on someone else – making jokes, revealing overheard gossip. It was easy, given how much he noticed and how oblivious everyone else was. He could gauge reactions and read people like they were books. Finding the right words was never difficult.
Larry was observant of himself as well, and came to certain realizations very early – he liked men. This was a relatively easy self-discovery to make in a Catholic boarding school, but given his knowledge of the affairs being carried out in that milieu, it made life rather more awkward and confusing than strictly necessary during his younger years. Once he was older and had greater exposure to the fairer sex, he found to his initial relief that he liked them just fine. But this didn't replace his attraction to men, and only left him with further uncertainty. Until he found the right crowd.
Larry was good at mixing with crowds – a social chameleon. He often thrived on the edges of scenes: tolerated but rarely embraced, present but rarely remarkable. It made it easier for him to move between crowds as well. People weren't surprised at where he might turn up, and he was skilled enough at deflection not to become a target for gossip himself. He made a space for himself in the margins of the queer community that gave him the opportunity for casual hookups without needing to embrace the lifestyle. It was a woman, though, who introduced him to the fringe of New York's underground fetish scene. There, he learned that sometimes big boys, and big girls, did cry – that sometimes they liked to be hurt. Larry was happy to indulge, but what may have started as the enactment of youthful revenge fantasies blossomed over time into something more complex.
Larry savored the power as much as the pain. He savored the secrecy, and he never felt any shame in his actions. His sensitivity was a boon here – it was something he could share with those greedy to feel more deeply themselves. And of course it opened doors into even seedier aspects of New York's underground culture. Both the skills – at mingling, at being unobtrusive, at hurting people – and the connections would serve him well once he entered the service of Grendel.
He'd been a hair nervous, taking Hunter up on his offer to stop by for a drink, but mostly excited. There was always a thrill in figuring out a secret, but Hunter's was different. Most people wanted their secrets kept at any cost. With Hunter, it was more of a test. What he really wanted was someone clever enough to appreciate his genius – as long as he could be certain they posed him no threat. Larry knew exactly how that felt. They had, he thought, a lot to offer each other. And of course, it did provide a certain satisfaction to know that he'd been the one to see it. It couldn't have worked out any other way.
Of course, there had been some rough patches in that first meeting, as Hunter had circled and probed and tested. "I hear you like to hurt people," he'd said.
Larry had shrugged, taking a drag off his cigarette. There was no sense in denying it, and besides, he'd considered, maybe there was more opportunity before than he'd first imagined. Hunter apparently found him intriguing, perhaps even confusing. "Some people like to get hurt. Some of them just like pain – it can push your mind into a completely different state. Some find it a challenge."
The conversation had wandered then, but the seed had been planted. Of course Hunter wanted to test himself, to explore his limits. He would bring it up in conversation, as though it was somehow relevant to business and it was someone else's motivations Hunter was trying to understand. Larry was of course happy to explain, to reveal all the juicy and potentially useful anecdotes he had stored up, but he knew that it was going to be up to him to take the initiative.
It was Argent that gave Larry the opening he needed. The wolf had managed to track one of Grendel's operations based on some anonymous tip, and had been waiting for him. They'd fought, inconclusively as always, but Argent had managed to score a few significant hits before Grendel had wounded him severely enough to escape. Larry didn't see Hunter until the next day, when he'd already had the worst patched up by one of the doctors in his employ, but he was moving more slowly than usual and his reliance on his cane was more than just show. Most people wouldn't have noticed the difference.
Larry made no comment until after Stacy had been put to bed. When Hunter came back from her room and sank carefully into one of the high backed chairs in the living room, Larry smirked and finished mixing a martini. "Oh, he got you good, didn't he?"
Hunter didn't generally bother with masks around him, neither physical nor metaphorical, and shrugged. "As much as I despise Argent, at least there is something around that can provide me with a challenge."
"Oh, only one thing?" He passed Hunter the drink and lit another cigarette for himself, leaning back against the bar. "Well maybe you'd like to try something else."
Hunter's consideration was broken only by a quick glance down the hall towards Stacy's room, no doubt either wondering how she might judge him, or concerned about disturbing her. Larry gave a shrug of unconcern, but he knew that particular kink in Hunter's twisted mind would have to work itself out without any interference. He didn't have any doubts that it would, either, and had his confidence rewarded a few moments later when Hunter made to rise.
"Finish that." He nodded to the drink. "And bring your cane."
The latter also gave Hunter pause – the cane was Grendel's weapon, camouflaged to appear as innocuous as Hunter himself, and equally as deadly. He picked it up, thumb running lightly over the end from which, if activated, the twinned blades would spring. But Larry was more confident meddling with this part of Hunter – it was his weapon – it was part of him. It would let him feel a little more in control of the situation, which made it even more of a perfect prop. "Don't hurt yourself, now, Larry," he said as he handed it over, his tone slightly mocking.
"Where would be the fun in that?”
Larry had been thinking – he wouldn’t admit to fantasizing – about this scenario for a while. Hunter’s home had a great number of possibilities that he hoped they might explore in time. But there were certain things that he wanted for this first induction: he wanted to be able to see Hunter’s face, he would need Hunter restrained, and of course he would prefer access to his back – ideally his front as well, but that didn’t need to be as direct. And of course, Hunter would need to be naked.
Hunter’s ego – what Larry thought of as his Grendel aspect, the sociopathic part that saw his fellow mortals as no more than insects – rebelled against giving up that much control once Larry explained his requirements. If it were anyone else, things would never have even gotten past the stage of initial suggestion. But Larry thought he had a pretty good idea just how Hunter saw him. He was reliable; more than just useful and amusing. Trusted. Larry knew him, and he filled a hole in Hunter's life that no one, or at least no one else alive, fit into. Larry could easily imagine the thoughts turning through his mind. The curious ‘why not?’, the latent unvoiceable loneliness, the narcissistic desire to be completely known and understood, the curiosity about just what Larry might have to offer him.
Larry still leaned semi-patiently against the bar, finishing his own drink and gesturing again for Hunter to do the same. “Would it be easier if I was naked too?”
Hunter didn't answer directly, but he finished his drink. "Where are we going?" And that was that.
There was a large footstool in the study that would serve nicely. Larry allowed Hunter to undress himself at his own pace, finishing his cigarette while he watched. Of course he was incredibly fit, lean and well-muscled. There were dark bruises on his ribs, and his upper left arm and part of his shoulder were bandaged, not doubt covering cuts from Argent's claws. The injuries, and Hunter's general nonchalance about them, just added to his overall attractiveness. He was a young man in his prime, exceptional in many ways, and he looked the part.
Larry used their belts to secure Hunter's arms to the front of the footstool, and borrowed the sashes from the drapes to bind his legs. He could feel the tension in Hunter's body, watching him testing his bonds. They were secure, but not inescapable, and he seemed satisfied. Really, other than aesthetics, the reason Larry had insisted on the restraints was that he wasn't sure how deeply ingrained Hunter's instincts for self-preservation were. Probably he could maintain complete control of himself, but that was a risky assumption. Grendel was a killer, after all.
Once he had Hunter where he wanted him, Larry undressed himself, staying just far enough back that Hunter couldn’t quite see what he was doing when he craned his head. He also took a moment to look over the cane and make sure he understood how it worked – he didn't want to find out the hard way that it had a hair trigger, and he wanted to get a better feel for the weight of it. It was solid, but lighter than he'd expected. The hidden blades gave it a strange balance and reduced its flexibility. He took a few test swings, and it cut through the air with a satisfying swish.
Hunter braced himself for the first impact, certain that it would be coming any time. Larry gave his ass a light, playful tap, lit himself another cigarette, and wandered over to the stereo. Apparently the last thing Hunter had been listening to was Die Walküre. "How about some nice mood music, hmm?" He didn't think Hunter would scream for him, but the Wagner would help cover any other sounds, and it would likely help him relax a little as well.
"Very classy, Larry, but I thought you were supposed to be hitting me."
"Oh I will." Larry knelt beside him again, rearranging the straps on the belts a little more, giving Hunter a chance to look at him more closely now that they were both disrobed. "But first I wanted to see what shape you're in." He ran a hand down Hunter's side, probing gently at his bruised ribs. The skin was warm to the touch, but Hunter didn't flinch then, or when Larry started to remove the bandage on his shoulder.
"Nothing broken. Most of the cuts are shallow, though they did require stitches, and he came very close to cracking my clavicle." Hunter rolled his shoulder a little as he talked, his tone conversational, eyes tracking Larry's movements as much as he could.
"Well, you've had worse." Larry caught Hunter's gaze and smirked, his fingers lingering over the stitching on the longest slash. He pressed down, lightly at first, but with increasing strength.
Hunter took this as a challenge of course, turning it into a stoic stare-down. Larry kept pressing until blood welled up between his fingers, then wiped it off on Hunter's back, stroking his skin.
"Is that all there is to this?"
"No. It's not actually about enduring pain at all. It's about embracing it. About savouring sensation for its own sake. I know what you think about drugs, but really the best ones are the ones the human body produces all on its own. I think you'll like it."
Larry knelt beside the stool to be at a better height for controlling his strokes, and laid the cane against Hunter's thighs. He didn't flinch at the sensation of the cool wood on his naked skin, but he was clearly concentrating on keeping in control of himself, breathing regularly and deeply. "Yes, that's great, stay as relaxed as you can." Larry rolled the cane along Hunter's thighs, up over his ass, warming him up so that his nerves would be more responsive. Larry knew that even if he didn't bother with any of the preliminaries, Hunter could certainly handle the worst he could dish out. But he wouldn't get anything out of it, or not anything worthwhile or enduring. It might be fun, once, but this would pay off better in the long run.
"In a fight, you'd have the adrenalin in your system already, that brings a kind of rush, I imagine." Larry was not a fighter, even if he'd had the lungs for it anymore. He started tapping with light strokes as he spoke, watching Hunter's lovely pale skin start to turn a light pink. "This will draw out something even deeper. Pain without panic or fear... Or are you going to tell me you never feel either?"
"Rarely," Hunter answered, a little dryly. "There's little enough out there to be concerned about."
"When you're as good as you are? But that's the thrill of the challenge, isn't it? All of that rush, that thrill, that release...That's what you're really after."
Hunter didn't answer him, locked into his own thoughts, though he flexed a little against his bonds. Larry ran a hand down his back, following the curve of his spine, trailing fingers down Hunter's tailbone, feeling the heat of his skin where he'd landed the first initial blows.
The music had moved on past the lull in the overture and into the first act, with Sigmund and Sieglinde's initial meeting. The familiar music gave him something to work with – he didn't want Hunter to anticipate the hits completely, but he did want him to stay relaxed. It gave them a shared reference point, allowing him to build and diminish naturally in intensity. In the quieter moments, he could lean over to see the expression on Hunter's face – still one of intense concentration – and sneak a drag off his cigarette. He hoped to draw the session out for quite a while, and knew it would require a slow build up.
Hunter surprised him during a short lull by opening his eyes. Of course he knew exactly where Larry was, lounging for the moment on the rug and tapping the cane idly against his own thigh. His eyes were still clear, but either his thoughts or the beating were clearly having some effect. The look he gave Larry was wary, but Larry knew it wasn't him that he was unsure of. He flashed Hunter a smile in return, then rose back up, butting out his cigarette for the moment. It was time to take things to the next level.
The next set of blows were intermixed with harder strokes, though Hunter didn't flinch at the increase in intensity. Hunter's cane made it easier to give the heavy impact hits, but light stinging slaps were more easily achieved with a more flexible rod, and it took a little more finesse on Larry's part to add any in for variety. The sound of the wood slapping against Hunter's reddening ass and thighs made, he thought, a lovely counterpoint to Wagner's leitmotifs.
Larry could see the change in Hunter's body as the endorphins started to take effect – the last lingering tension in his shoulders dissipated, and he hung rather than clung over the footstool. He wasn't gone completely yet, but he was getting closer. Standing up to give his own knees a break, Larry circled around to better appreciate the view. He knew he was getting in to the scene when the urge to light another smoke was fleeting. Hunter looked up at him, hair falling down into his eyes.
"This is the first time I've ever seen you without a cigarette."
Larry smirked. "That's how you know I'm really naked." He knelt back down beside Hunter, brushing his hair back out of his face. The shock of white was coarser under his thumb, just like he'd always suspected. He kept a grip on Hunter's head, though he didn't seem inclined to look away. "How are you feeling, Hunter?"
"Strange. Like my thoughts are trying to float away from me." His voice sounded a little distant, but his gaze was sharp enough.
"Let them go." He released his grip on Hunter's hair, feeling along the side of his face with the back of his hand, and tilting his head more gently. "That's what you have me for." Larry ran his thumb across Hunter's lips – very beautiful lips, in fact. For once, he looked his age. "Isn't it?
Hunter nodded, lifting his chin of his own accord. Larry leaned down to kiss him. There was no resistance, only the hesitation of unfamiliarity as they adapted to each other's style. Larry's cock responded to the rush of pleasure, reminding him that they still had unfinished other business. His hand tightened around the cane, and he pulled back with a sly smile.
"Later," he promised, straightening back up, standing and stretching. The rush Larry felt was more than just the kiss, more than the promise of the scene they had yet to complete. It was the same thing he'd felt when he'd come out of that first meeting at Hunter's, of knowing he had the chance to become part of something grand and fascinating and exceptional. And clandestine. He readjusted his grip on the weapon. "This is going to get much more intense from here on out."
Larry did his best to deliver. This was for Hunter more than himself, and it wouldn't serve either of them to get too carried away. He let the intensity build up more quickly after the short lull, raining down blows that turned Hunter's skin an angry red, evenly spaced impact lines dotted with dark speckles.
Hunter bore it beautifully. His breathing remained deep and even, with only an occasional hitch at a particularly sharp blow. He never tensed, but seemed to relax further and further against the leather stool. Eventually his breaths, though still regular, took on a wavering quality. When Larry came around to check on him again, he found that tears were streaming down Hunter's face from his open eyes. His beautiful mouth likewise hung open loosely. He wasn't crying from the pain, though – no, this was something that cut much deeper.
Larry took a few deep calming breaths himself, realizing that the record was reaching the end of its side – the end of Act I. Time could sometimes stretch in an intense scene, but he hadn't realized it had been so long. "That's enough," he said finally. "For now."
He untied Hunter, pulling him carefully out of the position where he'd been bound for almost an hour and gathering him in his arms on the floor. Larry felt a surge of proud possessiveness as Hunter leaned against him, compliant and trusting. Here was Hunter Rose, famous prodigy novelist. Here was Grendel, infamous assassin, crown prince of New York's criminal underworld, letting Larry Stohler wipe away the wetness from his cheeks as he slowly came back to himself.
It wasn't a complete surprise when Hunter slid a hand down his chest, leaning into his shoulder, then down to his thigh, exploring, and finally wrapping his hand around, Larry's cock. It was pleasant. Hunter was no slouch at reading people himself, and in his current state he was no doubt hyper-aware of Larry's every twitch and tension. His grip was firm, his rhythm growing steadier. He trailed hot kisses from Larry's shoulder to his lips, swallowing their quiet moans. Larry tried not to squeeze him too tightly as he came, careful of the bruising on Hunter's ribs from his fight with Argent the night before.
"How about you, then," he asked, once he'd recovered his breath.
Hunter shook his head, still leaning against him, one fist clenched and covered in Larry's come. "I can't."
Larry stroked his back. Hunter might still be too overwhelmed to give his body that kind of release, though it might also be some other issue. Guilt perhaps. "Another time, hmm? Well good, because I really need a cigarette."
Hunter sniffed indifferently at that, but let Larry help him over to the high backed chair to sit and accepted the handkerchief he was offered. He cleaned off his hand as Larry lit up. Both men were silent for a few moments, each giving the other some time and space to process. Larry was thinking partly about the scene, partly about Hunter's life, and his own, and just how they fit together.
"I have an appointment tomorrow with the Cartelone's," Hunter said eventually. "I have a message I've been intending to send them."
"Hmm? Yes, they have been getting a little overly ambitious, haven't they? I hear they've been hunting around to try and find their own top killer. I'm sure you'll have fun with that."
"I'd been expecting it to be a cakewalk. I may have to revise."
Larry smirked, watching their reflection in the glass of the window. No doubt with the endorphin rush wearing off, he was starting to feel the aching in his posterior more deeply. "Yes, well Hunter, you do enjoy a challenge – but you might need this back then." Larry turned, picking up the cane from where it was still leaning against the footstool, holding it out to its owner.
Hunter accepted it with a slow-building smile, running a finger over the trigger to expose the blades, inspecting them and the rod where they were housed, seemingly satisfied. "It's been in good hands – none the worse for wear."
"It is a fun little toy," Larry agreed, reaching for his pants and offering Hunter his as well. "Or would you like me to get you a robe? A nice hot shower would do you good."
Larry dressed quickly, leaving Hunter to his thoughts again as he gathered the rest of the shed clothing, already piled neatly where Hunter had left it. He paused before he left the room. "You're not going to put this in your journal, are you?"
He took a slow breath, turning things over in his mind. "No. I remember."
Hunter was a writer, and if he liked his story complex, he still wanted the structure clear. They'd talked some that first night, and some since, about his writing – the unpublished bits. Larry wasn't interested in legacy. He'd rather people be left to whisper and wonder. It seemed fitting, somehow. And, he figured, it pleased Hunter's ego to construct himself as a solo protagonist, as sole ruler of his criminal kingdom. Larry preferred to live between the lines. And this was no different.
Larry nodded, smirking again on his way out of the room. "I'll know, you'll know – to hell with the rest of them I say."
This is not to suggest that I believe that Hunter Rose was in love with Larry Stohler, or not in the same way he'd loved Jocasta. He would not have been able to cling to the narrative he'd constructed if it had been so deeply compromised. But the evidence demonstrates that the two men shared a deep emotional bond, and that they relied heavily on each other. Spar is correct in her assertion that Rose, as Grendel, would not have been able to expand or maintain control of his vast criminal empire without Stohler. But where she sees a relationship of master and servant, I see more equitable partnership, and one that extended beyond business.
The death of Hunter Rose at the hands of Argent brought this partnership to its brutal, inevitable end. Other scholars have studied Stohler's suicide in depth, and while the details are clear, the motive remains elusive. Stohler had been expecting the police, and likely had been tipped off by someone in his and Grendel's extensive network of informants. Before he shot himself, he destroyed several pages of documents by fire. Marian Gonzales suggests, intriguingly but with little hard evidence, that these may correlate to missing pages of Rose's journal, or else that they represented some other personal correspondence between the two men. As Grendel's bookkeeper, Stohler could have done more, if he'd been inclined, to confuse the records, but he didn't bother to destroy anything else. Debates over whether he could have avoided arrest or the wrath any of Grendel's many enemies by fleeing beyond the reach of American authority are missing the point. Assuming he could have disappeared, either by fleeing to a country with no extradition treaty, or else going underground and assuming direct control of their criminal empire – what, given the portrait that we now have of Larry Stohler, would have been the appeal?
-Anthony Seong, Criminal Queering