I rolled over in the bed, reaching for Esteban, but he wasn't there, setting off in me a mild zing of irritation. He'd gone to sleep last night while I was fucking him and now he wasn't there at all in the morning. This brought the decision I had to make back to mind and was, perhaps, yet another nail in the decision-two decisions actually. I had an opportunity to head up the Radio y Televisión Martí radio transmission operations from Marathon Key targeting to Cuba what we called information and the Cuban government called American propaganda. So that was one decision. But another decision was whether to ask Esteban to go with me or to encourage him to stay in Miami. It's unlikely the Miami Herald would have anything for him to do on Marathon Key.
I smelled the coffee brewing out in the kitchen. That might have been what woke me up to begin with. Groaning, I crawled out of bed and stumbled toward the shower. I had a full day's work to wedge into a half day in the office before I started out driving from Miami down to Marathon Key and then on, the next day, down to Key West to check out our Cuban radio-monitoring activity down there. And I hadn't even packed yet.
I'd needed a good fuck last night or this morning. I was strung out, and I needed something to siphon off some of the tension. Esteban had let me down. Esteban had been letting me down a lot lately-not least by letting himself go. We'd been together, what, fifteen years now? And it had only been of late that he'd slowed down. And it was showing in his waistline and the effect of gravity on his face.
This was all bringing my decision to a head. Maybe I was in a rut. Maybe Esteban was getting too old and slow and uninteresting for me. Something to think about. This had a great deal to do with going down to see the operation at Marathon Key. I didn't really have to see that operation for a decision on whether I wanted the job there. It was the further trip down to Key West that was motivating me to take this exploratory journey. Key West was less than fifty miles from Marathon. I could live there and just do with the overnight facilities at the Marathon office when I couldn't be more than an hour from work. Sometimes it took me more than an hour through traffic just to drive to work across Miami from my apartment.
Key West was where it was at; Key West was where it was happening. Life was short, and I had a lot of delicious young men to go through yet.
I started to include that I wasn't getting any younger, but that gave me a twinge. I looked into the mirror over the bathroom sink and then at myself full length in the tall mirror on the bathroom side of the door, and I choked down those words. I looked damn good. And I worked hard to stay that way-unlike what Esteban had been doing of late, whenever he took the time to try to keep in shape.
Esteban was just pouring the OJ and coffee and setting out an omelet and toast when I got to the kitchen.
"Gotta gobble fast," I said as I sat down to it. "Gotta pack. I'll be leaving from the office."
"You're all packed," Esteban said, as he sat down in a chair across from me and looked at me. I hadn't told him anything about the Marathon Key operation offer, but I could tell that he sensed there was something going on. "I did that last evening while you were on the computer-you'd left most of what you'll need out on the chair in the bedroom. I packed after I got the Jag gassed up for your trip."
"I'm packed? I wanted the glen plaid suit-"
"I'd taken it to the cleaners," Esteban said. "You somehow struggled with some marinara sauce at the paper's annual banquet last weekend, so I took it out to have it cleaned. Got it back yesterday afternoon, though, and it's packed with all of that other stuff you put out. You're taking an awful lot of party clothes for a business trip, I must say."
"Have you seen the radio script I brought home last night for editing? I thought I left it by the computer, but when I looked for it-"
"It's in your briefcase. I edited it for you. It's a good piece, but you really should read those aloud more when you write them, Carlos. It's not like written essays. Certain words don't come out right in spoken form when they are put together."
"You're always saying that."
"Because it's always true. I've been editing your radio copy for what? More than fifteen years now. I edited your copy before we hooked up-before I left the station and went to the paper."
"Yeah, yeah. I picked you because of your editing abilities."
The kitchen went silent. Esteban gave me a hurt look and went to the kitchen stove, turning away from me, and moved pots around in meaningless patterns on the stove top.
Embarrassed at having said that, and not meaning it, of course-we'd really had something going, at least until late-I swallowed my coffee in big gulps and stood to gather everything I needed and hit the road. He was so sensitive, getting to be high maintenance.
He wasn't at the door when I left; he was still puttering and pouting at the stove, facing away from me. I was relieved, really. We had a rule that when either of us left the apartment, the other one would be at the door for a kiss. Esteban was pretty adamant about that ritual. The man he'd been living with before he had hooked up with me had left one morning without a kiss, was run over by a hit-and-run driver, and died without ever returning. Esteban always said we needed to treat even the most temporary good-bye as if it was our last. But I wasn't in the mood for that sort of contact this morning; I thought that maybe all he had to do was look into my eyes and he'd know where I really was going-and why.
At the door, not wanting to leave in silence, I called out. "I think we're out of red wine."
"I'll stop and get some more on the way home tonight," he answered without turning.
"Well, I'm off."
"Have a good trip."
It was almost as if he knew what I was thinking about our relationship and how this trip might end it.
There was no kiss at the door.
* * * *
It had been a good decision to drive my own car down-well, Esteban's and my Jaguar convertible. This was an encumbrance I guessed I might have to face-who got the Jaguar. But I was the one who had wanted to buy the Jag. I had the top down all the way down the key-hopping Route 1 from Marathon down to Key West, and every cute guy I passed coming into Key West was attracted by the Jag and then gave me the eye. I loved getting the eye; it told me I still had what it took. I'd have a ball here, I just knew I would if I could keep Ramon Famosa off the scent.
Ramon was the sole employee of our Key West outpost office. Its facilities included an office and a house on the government's Truman Annex at the very southeast tip of Key West-and thus also of the United States. He recorded and translated radio broadcasts from Havana and sent the transcripts up to Miami to our studios there, where we composed radio content that responded to what Havana was saying. He also somehow managed to get some regional Cuban newspapers down there that we didn't always get up in Miami.
I had been glad when the office sent Ramon down here. Otherwise I might have gotten into trouble. Ramon was quite the looker, and if he'd shown the slightest bit of interest in me, I think I would have gone off the deep end. Office romances were the kiss of death in Radio Martí, however-and there was Esteban. I don't know how it came about that Ramon was sent down here; it had seemed to have been an overnight "now you see him/now you don't" move at the time.
But as good looking as he was, he would be in the way of what I wanted to do in Key West. I wanted to party and to share all of this goodness I had in me-which included, I've always been told, a cock to die for. Key West was just the playground for this sort of death. And if-I was thinking more in terms of when now-I moved to the Marathon operation, I could Key West myself away. The more serious and conventional Ramon was sort of a waste down here, I thought. Although I had overshot the Key West position some time ago, there was a time when this would have been the perfect assignment for me. Key West was one of the gay male magnets of the world.
That evening, after pretending to be fascinated by Ramon's briefing on his operations-at least as fascinated as I was with seeing him, as two years away from Miami had just made him more attractive and arousing than I'd remembered him to be-I had the hardest time breaking away from him so that I could cruise the gay bars on and off Duval Street. Ramon said he wanted to show me the night life here. I assumed he was talking sedate jazz bars, as he seemed to be crazy for that music, and this wasn't how I wanted to spend my time.
So, I told him I was tired and wanted to go back to my hotel off Mallory Square, and, eventually, he'd reluctantly let me go. He'd offered to let me stay with him in the small house we provided for him on the Truman Annex, but I wanted to wake up in someone sweet's bed, and he surely would have been shocked if I'd brought a little honey back to his place for the night.
I was driving the Jag, so I took it out to Duval and parked it on the street in front of a gay bar I'd already researched as someplace I wanted to visit.
The Bourbon Street Pub was right on Duval, and the crowd around its entrance left no doubt that it was a gay bar. I got enough cat calls when I pulled myself out of the Jag before pushing through the crowd and entering the dimly lit bar area that I knew I wouldn't be lonely tonight unless I wanted to be. It was noisy and crowded. Soft-core porn films were flashing on screens on all four walls, and the shadows on three sides of the room enveloped booths offering some semblance of privacy, although I could see from the undulating bodies there that all forms of pleasure were being explored from smoking weed to blowing cocks and even more intimate pursuits.
This was what I was looking for and this is what I loved about Key West. Anything goes there; no need for inhibitions. One of the deep-side walls was fronted its entire length with a long bar, and along this at intervals rose shiny metal poles running up from the bar top to the high ceiling. Barely legal young men in thong bikinis were playing the poles to something close to the beat of the loud, heavy-metal music.
I saddled up to a bar stool and ordered a scotch on the rocks. It had barely arrived when a young blond, with a curl hanging down over a blue eye topped by long lashes and sparkly gold shadow paint on his eyelids, insinuated himself in beside me. He was dressed in white cotton trousers and shirt, which was opened to the waist, and had a filmy blue scarf around his neck that matched the shade of his eyes.
"Buy a girl a drink?" he asked.
"Sure," I said. He was very young. Just what I was in the mood for. Esteban no longer was any sort of young.
That done, he took a sip, primping like he thought he'd learned from Bette Davis, and pulled my face down to where he could whisper in my ear.
"If you take me someplace, I'll make you a very happy man," he whispered.
"Take you someplace, huh? But I just got here, and I understand there's something called The Pile downstairs."
"You drove up in the Jaguar convertible, didn't you?"
"Drive me down to the beach in your car and I'll take you to heaven."
He gave me an expert and efficient blow job in the front seat of the Jag in the parking lot of a beach at the northeast end of the key not far from the airport. Esteban actually gave better-and longer-lasting-head, but the novelty of a new, young man doing it did, indeed, take me to heaven.
"I have a room at a hotel," I said when he was done.
"Maybe I'm interested," he said. "Maybe if you do something nice for me."
"What would that be?"
"Let my friends and me borrow your Jag for a day."
I paused for several seconds. There was no way I was going to let a stranger drive off in my car. "I'll take you back to the Bourbon Street Pub," I answered. "And we'll see what is what."
Well, what was what was that the young man disappeared into the crowd when he couldn't wheedle the keys to the Jag from me. And in his wake, I looked around the room. No one else even close to my age was in there, and I was suddenly feeling out of place. The music also was so loud I couldn't think. I hit the street.
Just down the block from there, I stopped in front of a bar called KWest. I remembered the name from my research and I went in. The music was more subdued, and the place wasn't as crowded as the Bourbon Street Pub had been. The clientele looked a little older too, and the bartender, who was mouthing off to a guy at the bar, looked like he was as old as I was.
As old as I was. I thought back to the blond trick I'd just left. Jaguars are nice, but back when I was cruising the scene, no guy would look at a flash car when I was in view. There it was again. "In my day." How many years had it been since I'd even cruised a bar? Maybe five. Esteban and I had done that together for several years after we moved in together, but then we just fell out of the habit. He was a great fuck; we'd just stay home and do it when we had the time. We both had demanding careers. At some point it had just been simpler to stay home and fuck than to do all of the preliminary shopping.
Once more I went up to the bar.
"What'll it be, Pops?" the rude bartender said when I finally got his attention and he'd come over.
"Pops." The old guy had called me Pops. The guy who must be at least as old as I was.
"I don't got all day," he said. "Order a drink or take a hike."
That was my second scotch on the rocks of the evening.
There were some nice-looking guys in here. Still, I wouldn't have to worry about anyone not being of age with this crowd.
It wasn't long, though, before an Italian-looking dark-haired beauty, with an androgynous look and brilliant red lipstick, slid down the bar to perch on the stool next to mine.
"Lonely?" he asked. He had a smooth, deep baritone of a voice.
"I've been lonelier," I answered.
"Sort of quiet in here tonight."
"Yep, but I like the music here better than the last bar I was in," I responded. "That gave me a headache."
"It's a little livelier upstairs."
"Yes, they have rooms. Would you be interested in making a little music up there tonight, darling?" He added, "Just you and me?" so I wouldn't miss the implication.
I looked him up and down. He had a good body. A lot better shape than Esteban. He was maybe in his mid twenties. I'm not sure I would have been interested at the height of my cruising days, but . . .
He leaned into me and whispered, "I'll blow you for twenty-five; we can go all the way, either of us top, for a hundred."
He wanted me to pay! God, I'd never paid for sex in my life. He was OK, but no Apollo, and he wanted me to pay him a hundred bucks for sex.
I must have been displaying a shocked expression, because he gave me a slightly irritated look and said, "It's the going rate on Duval Street, honey. It's not like you're a prime stud or anything. I see some friends at a table over there. You make up your mind while I'm still here, you let me know, ya hear?"
He pulled himself off the barstool next to me, and clumped over toward a line of tables in shadows. It was only then that I realized that he was wearing a skirt and high heels.
My emotions were mixed. He was kinkier than anything I'd ever considered before, so, on the one hand, I felt relief he'd backed off. But on the other hand, I'd never paid for sex in my life-and he'd said I wasn't a prime stud.
In front of me there was a ceiling-high mirror running behind the bar for its whole length. I looked hard at myself in the mirror. I hardly recognized the man staring back at me. That wasn't the same face I'd seen in my bathroom mirror just that morning. This was the face of that face's father.
As I stared into the mirror, though, I saw movement at the tables across the room, and, with a sense of horror, I recognized Ramon Formosa, our man in Key West. He had seen me too, and he rose and walked toward me.
He was smiling. "Hi, Carlos," he said. Then he laughed. "If you'd let me show you around the key this evening, I'd eventually have brought you here."
"Here?" I said.
"Yes, of course." There was a pause and then he laughed. "You didn't know I was gay, did you?"
"No," I murmured, still in shock.
"I'm sorry. I thought you knew. That's why I was transferred from Miami so quickly. A bit too friendly with Renata's husband. You, know, the chief Spanish linguist, Renata. But I knew you were gay too. I guess you didn't know I knew that."
"No, I didn't," I said weakly.
"Sort of too bad," he said. "You know I had a crush on you then. I would have done anything you asked of me."
"I . . . I didn't know that."
"I think I might still have a crush on you."
We fucked in his bed in the company-supplied little house on the Truman Annex. Ramon liked twisted positions-me sidesplitting him or jack hammering down into him from above with him supported on the floor on his shoulders-and he wanted it again and again, being obviously pleased at the size of me. He exhausted me, and, with him, it was I who first cried uncle and drifted off into a spent sleep. He wanted it again in the morning, and I did what I could, although my back was in pain from the calisthenics of the previous evening.
As we lay there, panting-me panting more heavily then he was-my cock still inside him as he lay cupped into my lap, he whispered something to me. I had to have him repeat it because there was a pounding in my ears still from the exertion of the fuck.
"Was I good for you?"
"Yes, of course," I said. I realized I might have been lying, though. As vigorous as the fucks had been and how insistently he asked for them to start again after we had both come, I wasn't sure I would survive a week with him. With Esteban, it was slower, more sensual. Not nearly as athletic. And after the time we had been together, we fit perfectly, each knowing what the other wanted-and when he wanted it.
"If I was in Miami, we could fuck more often," he whispered. "And isn't it true that you are on the promotion board? I sure could use a higher salary."
I made my retreat as diplomatically as I could. I had planned to stay two more days in Key West, but suddenly I felt so old and out of the game. I had found out what I needed to know in Key West, but it certainly wasn't what I had thought I'd learn.
With each mile north on the Overseas Highway up the spine of the keys to Miami, I remembered yet another trait of Esteban's that was laudable and that I should have appreciated better.
"You're home early," he remarked when I came through the apartment door.
"I missed you," I said. "I found that I missed you too much."
"And the job in Marathon?" he asked.
"You knew about that? You knew I was considering taking a position in the keys?"
"Yes. Jorge at your office told me you had that opportunity."
"I can't take that job," I answered. "You're here. I can't-and won't-ask you to give up your position at the paper."
Estaban's face took on several expressions at once, running from shock to relief to the look of love. It took him a moment to get control of his voice because he said, "So, you're back?"
"Yes, back where I belong." I turned away from him so he couldn't see the tears of my realization of what I had almost lost swell in my eyes.
"Do you have to go into the office this afternoon?"
"No. Is the bed made?"
"Yes, of course."
"Can we muss it up?"
"Yes, of course."