Terrence Bottom wants to change the world. A prelaw student at Columbia University majoring in political science, his interests range from opposing the draft and the war in Vietnam, to civil rights for gays, to anything to do with Cameron McKenzie. Terrence notices the rugged blond hanging around the Stonewall Inn, but the handsome man—and rumored Mafia hustler—rebuffs his smiles and winks.
Cameron McKenzie dropped out of college and left tiny Paris, Kentucky after the death of the grandmother who raised him, dreaming of an acting career on Broadway. Although he claims to be straight, he becomes a prostitute to make ends meet. Now the Mafia is using him to entrap men for extortion schemes, he is in way over his head, and he can’t see a way out—at least not a way that doesn’t involve a swim to the bottom of the Hudson in a pair of cement flippers.
Cameron is left with a choice: endanger both their lives by telling Terrence everything or walk away from the only man he ever loved. The Mafia hustler and the student activist want to find a way to stay together, but first they need to find a way to stay alive.
Tuesday, June 24, 1969
Terrence Bottom tapped a
sandaled foot on the linoleum-tiled floor and bit his lip. Speaking his mind at
a Mattachine-New York meeting was a waste of time and energy. But watching the
older members of the homophile organization nod their heads in agreement as the
speaker droned on about homosexuality being a mental illness had been more than
he could take. As the uptight men and women nearby glared at him, he rolled his
eyes at Kelsey Ryan and whispered, “You ready to blow this joint?”
Before she could answer,
the esteemed speaker concluded his remarks. After a polite round of applause,
the well-dressed men and women filled the aisles and chatted as they made for
the door of the Columbia University lecture hall where the meeting had been
Kelsey and Terrence
merged into the slow-moving mass creeping toward the exit. Between reed-thin
Terrence’s curly blond hair and Kelsey’s height—never mind that she was built
like an offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins—the unlikely pair stood
out in the crowd. Rather than the suits worn by other men in the lecture hall,
Terrence had on faded bell-bottomed jeans embroidered with flowers, a tie-dyed
T-shirt, and a wide white belt with a peace-sign buckle.
“The old guard just
doesn’t get it,” Kelsey said, rolling up the sleeves of her oxford shirt to her
elbows as she walked. “Working behind the scenes to change the world hasn’t
gotten us anywhere.”
“I don’t know about
that,” Terrence said, falling in beside her. “Legal challenges to alcohol
regulations have helped to crack open the door here in New York.”
“How?” Kelsey shoved her
hands into her pockets. “The police have raided every gay bar in town at least
once in the last two weeks. Legal victories haven’t stopped them from harassing
us every chance they get.”
“Philip and George—”
“Are just like the other
men their age working for change.” She shook her head. “They think we should be
patient, but my patience has run out. We need new tactics so the world stops
seeing homosexuals as mentally ill, morally bankrupt freaks who can’t be
trusted to work in the government or around children.”
Terrence nodded. She was
on her soapbox now. He didn’t bother reminding her he agreed with her. She was
too wound up to stop until she’d said her piece.
“The white men in power
aren’t going to give us our rights. We need to stand up and fight for equality,
like the Black Panthers or Students for a Democratic Society.” She punched her
open palm with a fist. “They didn’t get anywhere until they stood up to the
cops. What a fight!”
Despite Kelsey’s pleas,
Terrence hadn’t gone uptown with the students in his sociology class last year
to show support when the SDS had staged a protest over Columbia University’s
backing of the war in Vietnam. Rather than protecting the students, university
and law enforcement officials had beaten them with nightsticks and bombed them
with tear gas. The sight of his bruised and bandaged classmates afterward had
flipped the switch for Terrence. If he hadn’t learned anything else on the
streets, he’d learned you fought force with force.
Terrence and Kelsey
descended the steps into the subway station to wait for the next train to
Greenwich Village. Businessmen, sweating in suits, loosened ties and glared at
them. Terrence knew they made quite a pair. He’d toned down his flamboyance
some, but next to Kelsey—sturdy, stocky, and rumbling, like a Mack truck—he was
the picture of femininity. Despite her efforts to conceal them, her impressive
breasts might have been attractive on another woman, but on her masculine
frame, they just looked out of place.
“Want to grab a drink at
the Stonewall Inn later?” Terrence asked, spotting headlights moving toward the
Kelsey snorted. “And
would the reason you want to go have something to do with that high-class
callboy you’ve been watching?”
Terrence punched her arm.
“You don’t know he’s a callboy.” He tossed his hair and smiled. “And he’s
watching me. I just happened to have noticed.”
“Who wouldn’t?” She
paused, waiting for the noisy train to come to a stop. “The man is gorgeous,
and for me to notice is saying something.” They stepped onto the car and the
doors squealed shut behind them. “But he’s a hustler, trust me, and he’s
working for the mob. I’ve seen him talking to Frankie Caldarone too many times,
and he ain’t shining the man’s shoes.”
Terrence led the way to
the back of the subway car, and they settled onto the last seats on each side
of the aisle. “Frankie Caldarone? The bald-headed goon at the Stonewall Inn?”
Terrence crossed his legs and adjusted the forty-inch bellbottoms to cascade in
folds above the sandals he wore. “He’s just a bouncer.”
“More like the enforcer,
at an unlicensed private club, owned and operated by who?” She spread her legs
wide, leaned back, and wove her hands together behind her head.
“Wouldn’t that be whom?”
Terrence didn’t want to admit Kelsey could be right. Trading sexual favors for
money didn’t bother him so much. Hustling was a dangerous, dead-end job he’d
managed to escape more than two years earlier, thanks to Philip and George.
Hustling for the mob, however, was a death sentence with no chance for parole,
pardon, or escape.
“Either way, the answer
is the same.” She shook her head and leaned forward, dropping her hands to her
knees. “You’d be smart to stay the hell away from that one.”
“Come on, Kelsey.”
Terrence fluffed his hair and adjusted his headband, feeling the embroidered
peace sign with his fingers and shifting the band a bit to center the emblem
over his nose.
She laughed and punched
his arm. “You say that like going out with him is the furthest thing from your
Terrence gazed at her,
wide-eyed. “You know me better than that.”
“Oh, you are so good.”
Kelsey shook her head and folded her arms. “I know you all right. Hearing you
can’t have something just makes you want it that much more.”
Terrence sat up, turned
to her, and put his hand on her knee. “All we have is right now, this very
minute. Two minutes from now, this train could crash, killing us both.”
“Shit, Terrence.” She
shuddered. “You know I hate the subway.”
His gaze shifted to the
window behind her. He stared, seeing remembered faces in the passing blackness.
“When you want something, you gotta go for it—before somebody snatches it away
from you and it’s gone, forever.” He brushed a fist over his eye and shook his
head. “Besides, I’ve never even talked to him.”
“Maybe not, but the way
you two look at each other is enough to make me blush.” She chuckled. “I’m just
jealous. Hell, I’d pay a year’s tuition to have a pretty girl look at me like
Terrence reached over and
tousled her short brown hair. “You’re a good person, Kelsey. If I was a
lesbian, I’d be proud to be your girlfriend.” He leered at her and grinned.
“Even without those big titties of yours!”
She laughed and reached for her top button. “Careful now, or
I’ll turn ’em loose on you.”
Michael Rupured has always loved to write. Before learning the alphabet, he filled page after page with rows of tiny little circles he now believes were his first novels, and has been writing ever since. He grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, came out as a gay man in the late 1970s at the age of 21, and considers surviving his wild and reckless twenties to have been a miracle.
In 2010, after more than twenty years in academia, Michael joined the Athens Writers Workshop, which helped him transition from writing nonfiction to writing fiction. Michael writes stories “true enough for government work” about the gay experience in earlier decades that, in addition to entertaining the reader, highlight how far the gay rights movement has come in the last fifty years. A serial monogamist who is currently between relationships, Michael writes with his longhaired Chihuahua, Toodles, in his lap from his home in Athens, Georgia.