It was quite a step up, from senior waiter in the formal dining room to senior evening desk clerk. All of the lower-end staffers at The Madison were careful to congratulate Philip--perhaps a bit too careful, formally, and perfunctory on the part of many of them. Philip knew it was a leap-frog advancement, although he thought he'd done a fine job in the dining room. He knew that many would ascribe the advancement to a special "in" with Old Man Stewart.

Mr. Stewart was the head porter at the posh hotel in Richmond, Virginia, on West Grove Street, at the top of the Fan District. It was just a couple of blocks away from the even more posh Jefferson Hotel, on West Franklin. These were perpetual steps away, though. The Madison was always running to catch up with The Jefferson in style and services but never quite catching it.

The position of head porter was much more responsible and powerful than it sounded. Mr. Stewart's job was to stand in the lobby and make sure that everything ran smoothly. In doing that, he was in charge of everything--well, everything but Housekeeping, but, as the head housekeeper was a woman and this was 1920, you could just as well assume that Mr. Stewart was the day-to-day top dog at The Madison. The hotel manager did most of his managing from the golf links.

It wasn't Philip's fault that Mr. Stewart favored him. It wasn't Philip's fault, but it was his fate, that he had started at The Madison just before the Great War and at the same time Mr. Stewart's only son, Ron, started there, or that Philip and Ron had shipped off to France together, or that only Philip had returned from France and had been with Ron when he died. It wasn't Philip's fault that all of the hopes and dreams that Mr. Stewart had had for his son were thereby transferred to Philip.

But many on staff at The Madison saw all of this differently and watched Philip like a hawk for any chinks in the armor Mr. Stewart covered him in. That's why Philip felt he had to be perfect and exemplary in everything he did at The Madison, with the result that he did everything extremely well. But it also meant that Philip had to internalize all of his own feelings about anything.

And that was why, on the second evening of Philip's move to the reception desk, he nervously looked away from the theatrical appearance of the not young, but not too old man just inside the entrance to the hotel, looking expectantly about with enough authority and arrogance that Mr. Stewart was quickly at his side.

He was dressed to the nines in a gray suit with matching gray cape, top hat, and gloves. The cane he carried was burnished wood with a gold lion's head handle and gold tip. He was tall and well, if large, built. He had the face of a leading actor, albeit one of the previous decade, and a perfectly styled head of gray hair. Philip decided that his eyes were gray too in the moment that he'd frozen at the sight of the man and been able to gather his wits and look away.

In the moment, though, the man's eyes, after scanning the lobby, had returned to the reception desk and had captured Philip's eyes.

Mr. Stewart was signaling behind his back, holding two fingers extended. Philip knew the signal was both for him and for the two junior porters who materialized from behind potted plants and rushed to take possession of the man's trunk.

On each reception desk shift, the five most-important guests who were expected to check into the hotel were identified. Mr. Stewart, who knew all of the repeat guests of any import, would signal which guest had entered the hotel so that the staff could greet the guest by name--and so they also knew the five most-important guests to be extra differential to. The same system was used at The Jefferson--but to include more than the top five guests. Mr. Stewart's goal in life was to have to use both of his hands for this maneuver as the head porter at The Jefferson did. To do that, though, there had to be more than five extraordinarily worthy guests each night to rank, and although there were at The Jefferson, there weren't, as yet, at The Madison.

Philip knew he had to look up and make eye contact with the man Mr. Stewart had identified as the second most important guest to check in on the evening shift as said guest approached the reception desk. He did so, only to be fully captivated by the knowing gray eyes again--and the slight smirk of a smile.

"Good evening, Mr. Bell," Philip said as evenly as he could, even though he felt his heart had risen to lodge itself in the back of his throat. "Thank you for choosing The Madison for your visit to Richmond. Per your request, the Jackson Suite is ready for you." And, indeed, it was ready for Jack Bell's arrival, complete with chilled champagne and an hors-d'oeuvre cart.

Jack Bell inclined his head slightly and broadened his smile, also slightly, to acknowledge his appreciation for being recognized by name. Of course he considered it his due. Anyone who went to the theater regularly, which Philip didn't, would recognize Jack Bell on sight. He had been the leading stage actor of his day, primarily on the New York and London stages. Now he was an impresario, staging his own plays and operas.

He was in Richmond for the start of the season at the Lyric Opera House on Theater Row, over on the 100 block of Broad Street. Bell was in Richmond for only a few days this time, attending a season-opening concert of Brahms' Four Serious Songs, being introduced to America, under Bell's sponsorship, by the British baritone David Bispham, in his farewell tour of America.

The impresario would be coming back to Richmond for an extended stay later, though. For some reason he hadn't been able to book into The Jefferson, which, Mr. Stewart knew, wouldn't making him favorably inclined toward the competing hotel where he normally stayed. Mr. Stewart wanted him back at The Madison later in the season, and he had prepared the hotel staff to do everything it could do to make this happen.

Philip couldn't avoid eye contact with the man as he checked in and received his key. Bell's scrutiny was quite open and Philip was wilting under it. How could he tell? Philip wondered. And could he tell? Was Philip just imagining the extra bit of interest?

"Let me take you to your suite," Mr. Stewart said smoothly, coming up beside Bell. "Your luggage is already up there."

"Perhaps you can show me to the bar instead," Bell said, turning to speak to Stewart, but holding the hand that Philip had proffered with the key for perhaps a fraction of a moment longer than necessary. "A drink and then I'll be going out for a bit. You can have my luggage sent straight up to the suite." He looked at the key. "Room 140."

"Yes," Philip said. "The Jackson Suite, room 140. Please don't hesitate to call the desk if there is anything we can do for you."

"Oh, I will. You'll be the first one I contact," he said. "Room 140. Remember that."

The head barman, Robert, came up to the desk with a stack of receipts as Stewart was ushering Bell across the vast lobby toward the hotel bar.

"Might expect mincing steps of that one, or twinkle toeing a foot off the ground," Robert said as he leaned an elbow on top of the reception desk.

"Excuse me?" Philip said.

"You can tell what a man like that is into," Robert said. "You can always tell. Of course, in his case, other men--mostly jilted ones--have already told."

"Can you tell?" Philip asked. He was aware of the porter, Bernie Irons, who was standing at the other end of the desk turning away. He well knew why Bernie would do that. He was an attractive young man. He also roomed with Philip on the attic floor of the hotel. Much of the large staff of the hotel lived in the hotel--and worked there most of their waking hours. Philip was well aware of Bernie's proclivities--and that he had turned his affections on Philip. Philip just hadn't done anything like that--not since returning from the war, at least. He had come home resolved not to be like that, to recast his life. And he thought he'd been successful at that. Bernie, he knew, pined in silence and isolation, not having a clue of what could, at another time, be between the two of them.

His belief that he had successfully made a transformation made Philip wonder even more why the impresario, Jack Bell, had made the immediate assumption he apparently had made when their eyes had locked.

Later that night--much later, as Philip was close to coming off his shift--Jack Bell entered the hotel again, walking not too steadily, with a sloppy grin on his face, and with a much younger man supporting him a bit. The younger man--younger by a couple of years than Philip's twenty-four--looked more pretty than handsome. But quite good-looking he was. He was blond and willowy and, though his suit wasn't as expensive-looking and well tailored as Bell's was, he wasn't a street urchin either. Philip guessed that he might be a student at the recently opened and nearby Richmond Professional Institute or maybe a shop clerk Bell had picked up at a bar--there was one, the Docks Club, down by the river in Shockoe Bottom--where such men skulked around, or so Philip had heard. Whatever was going in this line, like the consumption of alcohol, was still well underground in the staid Richmond of the 1920s.

Supporting each other, the two slowly worked their way up the grand staircase.

Philip was closing out his records behind the desk. Mr. Stewart was leaning on the other side of the desk watching the two men climb the stairs, his face a set mask that Philip knew was one of disapproval and distaste. Robert, the barman, appeared, bringing his close-out receipts. His eyes too went to the stairs.

"Would you look at that," he said. "How brazen. Right out in the open. There's only one booked in that suite, I would reckon, Mr. Stewart. Is that so?"

"Aye, that's so," Stewart answered, his voice hard.

"Well, are you going to let that be? That nonsense is against the law. The hotel could lose its license."

Stewart turned and gave Robert a steady look. "There is nothing that either of us saw. I don't like it any more than you do. But there is certain business you don't turn down in this town. Not with The Jefferson just a couple of blocks over. I have seen nothing, and neither have you, Robert . . . or you, Philip, son," he said, turning to him.

"Yes, Mr. Stewart," Robert said, and edge to his voice. "I hear you."

Philip just nodded. This tore him apart. They were right, of course. It was against the law, and hotels were especially scrutinized, although rarely ones as high class as The Madison. But what really tore him up--and it was, to Philip's surprise, just tearing at him this evening and had been in his mind since Jack Bell had arrived that afternoon--was knowing Mr. Stewart's attitude on the subject as well as what else he knew that he could never say. It ripped at him when Stewart called him "son." He knew that he was being a surrogate in the old man's eyes for the son he lost. Philip knew the basis for that was that he'd left for France with Ron and had been there when Ron died. What he never could tell the old man, though, was how close he and Ron were--as close as two people could be--closer than most men would admit they could be--that Ron had died in his arms but had been no stranger to being in Philip's embrace.

And, on top of that, he had to watch Jack Bell and the young man he'd brought back to the hotel walking up the stairs--up the stairs to the Jackson Suite, room 140, to the king-sized bed in the Jackson Suite.

Never before, since he'd returned from France, had Philip felt so conflicted and frustrated--and aroused. Not before this moment, though, did he admit to himself that he lusted for Jack Bell.

* * * *

Philip woke the next evening about 10:00 p.m. in his bed in the small attic room he shared with the porter Bernie Irons to the feeling that he was being watched. The gas lamp on the wall was dimmed down but let off enough light for him to make out in the murky light Bernie in the other bed, just a few feet away from him. He was being watched. Bernie had his eyes open. He was staring at Philip. The expression of ache on his face made Philip want to cringe. He realized that one of his hands was cupping his cock under the covers. He hoped that Bernie didn't realize that--although from the movement of the sheets at Bernie's groin, it was evident that Bernie was following a fantasy of his own.

With a groan, Philip turned over in the bed to face the wall. On top of all the other feelings that were accosting him that he'd thought he'd managed to sublimate in his mind, he really didn't want to add the obvious want of Bernie for him to the list. It wasn't that Bernie wasn't desirable. It, rather, was that he was desirable--and obtainable. A relationship with another hotel employee like Bernie wouldn't be long in reaching the awareness of others on the hotel staff either. Philip had managed to force the natural interest in Bernie out of his mind up until Jack Bell had arrived at the hotel the previous day.

This was supposed to be Philip's day off, but they'd been shorthanded in the dining room and he'd volunteered to do the afternoon shift there. He needed to build all the goodwill among the hotel staff that he could muster. He'd hit the sack coming off that duty and had fallen right to sleep. That had been a mistake, because now he was awake and might sleep fretfully in the night, if at all. His thoughts went back to the previous night when Bell had returned to the hotel with the young man. At the time, especially since both of them were at least slightly inebriated, he thought of that men's bar in Shockoe Bottom, the old dockside section of the city on the James River, he'd heard about. He couldn't see Jack Bell going to a place like that.

But he himself had had fantasies of going to a place like that. Some days he thought he should check out if there really was such a bar--not to go in, of course, but to know that something like that existed in Richmond. On other days he wanted to forget the name of this phantom bar altogether.

If it was a phantom bar.

Restlessly, he turned over again. Bernie was still looking at him, but as if in embarrassment at having been caught doing so, he gave an audible sigh and turned over in the bed himself.

Thirty minutes later, unable to sleep and reasoning with himself that a walk in the night air might make him sleepy, Philip found himself walking out of The Madison. Without giving it any thought at all, he let his feet move him toward the river--the James and the part of the city known as Shockoe Bottom.

* * * *

He had just meant to see if there really was a Docks Club in Shockoe Bottom. He didn't really believe there could be--not being the type of bar he heard it was. That was illegal in Virginia. He had to look pretty hard for it and then only found it, in a basement walk down on a cobblestoned alley running up from the docks on the James, by following a couple of young male drunks staggering by arm in arm who had stopped in the shadows near Philip to kiss.

Once he'd seen where it was and the couple thump down the steps, bang on the door, and be let in, he still didn't really believe it was that kind of bar--more of a speakeasy--and he thought he'd probably been mistaken that it was two men he'd followed.

When he rapped on the door, a big bruiser of a guy who looked like he'd just walked off the docks gave him a close up-and-down scrutiny, smiled, and accorded him entrance.

"You be new offerings here," the doorkeep said.

"Just checking what's here," Philip mumbled.

"Well, the likes of you will be real welcome here now that you be here; there will be a lot ready to just check what you got," the man said, with a snort, gesturing in the direction Philip was to go.

The room was smoky and dimly lit. It was fairly crowded and noisy. All Philip could see were men, and snatches of racy conversation from a mix of deep and tenor voices cutting through the noise. He almost turned to leave, but the guy at entrance to the bar room said, "Haven't seen you here before. Guys are really gonna like you. Belly yourself up to the bar over there. I'll bet you won't have to pay for your drinks."

Such affirmation from the greeters were just making Philip more nervous about being here. He had assumed--and hoped--that he could just observe on the fringe.

Alcoholic drinks, free or otherwise, were as illegal as homosexuality in the States at the moment, although access to them flourished under the surface. The Prohibition Era had set in in the previous year. Philip wouldn't mind having a drink or two himself, despite the ban. Alcohol had been a staple on in the trenches he'd so recently escaped from. For that matter, so was men turning to men for affirmation, affection, and forget.

He moved in the direction the doorman indicated and found himself standing in a just-vacated space at the bar. The men on both sides of where he had landed turned and smiled to him. Both offered to buy him a drink. As nervous as he was, he suddenly felt freer than he'd felt in years. At least here maybe he could be unguarded and honest with himself. He didn't have to do more than just talk. He didn't have to do anything about his desires. One of the men, younger than he was, quite good looking, slender, and a bit limp wristed, placed a hand on his forearm, letting his fingers ruffle up the matting of hair there, and gave Philip a brilliant smile.

Philip felt a chill go up from his spine and his cock begin to harden.

Less than fifteen minutes later and after a beer, a whiskey chaser, and some very explicit talk from the young blond, who lisped a name of Chad, no doubt a false name, but receiving a false name and profession in response, Philip was in a back corridor of the club. His shoulder blades were pressed into a black-painted rock wall, his hips were angled out from the wall, his trousers and underdrawers were down around his ankles, his fingers were buried in blond curls, and he was receiving a divine blow job. It was the first such attention he had received since Ron had gone down on him in France the night before Ron was blown out of the trenches by a hand grenade.

Philip was left in the dark corridor, trousers still around his ankles, pelvis still jutting out, and now going soft after he'd ejaculated and the blond, having gotten what he'd come for, having evaporated. Mixed emotions were coursing through Philip's mind--disappointment in his resolve and weakness, euphoria of experiencing a long-denied pleasure, resignation that he was what he was, railing against what he was, frustration that it hadn't gone beyond a blow job. He didn't plan to fall into this ever again, and there was a disappointment that, if it was his last, he didn't get more.

As he pulled the trousers up and was buckling his belt, he rationalized that it was some sort of check on how well he was fighting his nature. It was only a blow job--and it had been performed on him. Perfectly straight soldiers had accepted blow jobs from other soldiers in the trenches during the war. It didn't mean they were queer. It was to receive a natural release. This didn't mean Philip had slipped--not really. It had only been a blow job, and it had been performed on him. He hadn't fucked the young blond. Sure, he'd thought about doing so, and he couldn't positively say he wouldn't have done so if it had been asked. But he didn't initiate it. That's what was important.

He could go back to The Madison and his new life now, and know that the thoughts that the sensual and assuming impresario hotel guest Jack Bell had sickened his mind with had been dissipated.

And then, while he was still buckling his trousers and coming through the beaded curtains from the dark corridor and into the not-much-lighter barroom, he heard a laugh separating itself from the crowd noise and his attention was drawn to a nearby table. The laugh had come from Jack Bell, who was sitting there with yet another young man--and who was staring, and smugly smiling, directly at Philip. Philip's mind went back to the encounter in the darkened corridor. A vague figure had appeared briefly at the other end of the corridor and the, with a laugh--a laugh very similar to Jack Bell's--had withdrawn.

* * * *

The next evening Philip looked up from his station at the reception desk of The Madison and into the eyes of Jack Bell. Mr. Stewart was standing a few steps away, turned to observe the entrance of the hotel, but Philip had no question that the head porter was tuned into everything going on in the hotel's lobby. Bell was as handsome as ever and was elegantly dressed, in white shirt, vest, and matching trousers, his eyes sparkling and an amused smile on his face.

"I will be staying in this evening, room 140," he said to Philip, maintaining his smile.

"Yes, sir. Very good, sir," Philip answered, quite properly but a bit stiffly. He was determined to act like the man knew nothing, had seen nothing. But Jack Bell wasn't going to let him go.

"I don't think I've caught your name. I want to remember you for giving good service."

"Thank you, sir. My name if Philip, sir." He dare not give a false name. Mr. Stewart was standing just there, listening to everything. The staff had been told to be extra solicitous of Jack Bell to win his future business. But Mr. Stewart surely had no idea at all what this dance at the desk was about. Philip knew, though, and Jack Bell most assuredly knew.

"That's room 140."

"The Jackson Suite, yes, sir. Room 140."

"I'll be there, alone, all evening."

"Yes sir, I'll see that you're not disturbed."

"It could be that I want to be disturbed," Jack Bell said. And then he gave that laugh Philip remembered from the gay bar, turned, and floated up the grand staircase.

Of course Philip had no intention of going to room 140--not tonight. Not any night that Jack Bell was booked into this hotel.

The last thing he had to do when he was on shift was to walk the halls of the top two guest room stories of the hotel to ensure that all was quiet and in order.

"I'll take your floor as well tonight, Bernie," he told the porter who shared his room in the attic. "You look beat. Go to bed."

"I'm fine," Bernie said, giving Philip a searching look--a knowing look, in Philip's estimation. And a false assumption, Philip said. Bernie's hall check assignment was for the two lower floors. Philip's view, though, was that he only was offering because Bernie looked worn out. He was doing it as a favor. It was no big deal.

But Bernie had been behind the desk when Jack Bell had come by, and Bernie was more aware of what was oppressing the atmosphere than Mr. Stewart was--or that Philip would admit, even to himself.

Philip did the upper floors first and worked his way down, until, without really intending to, he was standing at the door of the Jackson Suite, room 140, with his hand raised.

He would not knock. He would come this far to show himself that he could resist.

He didn't have to knock. Jack Bell had sensed that he was at the door--or had been watching for him through the eyehole--because the door opened of its own volition, and Bell was standing on the other side, in a silk dressing gown, but unsashed, so that it parted down his sternum and belly, and was parted at his belly by a hard, jutting, upcurved cock.

No words were spoken. No words needed to be spoken, and there was no question who was in charge. Maintaining the half-amused smile that the theater impresario had turned to Philip the day Bell had arrived at The Madison, that he'd shown to Philip in the Docks Club encounter, and that he had flashed that very evening at the reception desk, Bell merely took hold of one of Philip's arms, pulled him into the room, reached beyond him to close the door, and pressed down on Philip's shoulders, guiding Philip down to his knees in front of him. Philip took the hard cock in his mouth and made slow love to it.

Bell fucked Philip on the bed, with Philip's wrists bound to the headboard above his head with his own leather belt. Philip started on his knees, his chest flat on the surface of the bed, and Bell's face plastered between his butt cheeks. Bell fucked him doggy style then. Philip had always been the top with Ron, but he made no effort to resist Bell doing whatever he wanted with him. The younger man came fairly quickly and collapsed flat onto the bed after ejaculating, with Bell riding him down and continuing to pump to his own climax.

There was nothing tender and passionate about it--just Jack Bell putting another notch on his own belt. Still, for Philip, it was as if all the barriers of suppressed need and desire were being exploded and he was being born again into the life he was meant to have. He ached for more--for Bell to suck him off as the young blond had hurriedly done in the dark corridor behind the Docks Club, or for the two of them to explore each other's bodies with their hands and tongues, or for Philip to be inside Bell.

But it didn't go that far. After Bell had come, he withdrew from Philip's ass, rolled off the bed, and padded toward the bathroom. "There's a ten-spot on the nightstand," he called out over his shoulder. "The service is good, very good indeed. You may leave while I am in the shower."

Bell stayed at the hotel for two more nights. The next evening, the first time after having been in his room that Philip came face to face with him, Bell returned to the hotel in the late evening with another young man in tow.

When he came to the desk for his room key, he moved to the side of the desk where Bernie was standing and asked him for the key to room 140. He gave Bernie the amused smile he'd once given Philip. He didn't look at Philip at all.

In frustration and anger, that night, in the room Philip and Bernie shared, Philip slipped into Bernie's bed and fucked Bernie half the night away, roughly and with as much passion as Philip could muster. In the morning, as they both drifted back into awareness, Bernie made Philip fuck him again.

This coupling became a near nightly ritual. Neither man made a single complaint about what he was receiving from the other.

Jack Bell checked out a day later, during the dayshift when Philip was still pumping Bernie in their attic bedroom. To Philip's knowledge, Bell never booked in The Madison again.

But as unsatisfying as sex with Bell had, in retrospect, been for Philip, the part of bringing him to accept who and what he was was something Philip was grateful for. It did complicate his life, however. He and Bernie had to be very discreet about their relationship. It was still against the law, not to mention against the code of decorum for The Madison staff. And there was Mr. Stewart's attitude on top of that. Philip wouldn't be at the hotel, wouldn't have had a job to come home from the war to, if it weren't for Mr. Stewart. And now, if it weren't for the loyalty he felt he owed to Mr. Stewart, Philip would move away from the memories of The Madison, if he could.

This all put him in a dangerously balanced sense of limbo.

* * * *

The days and weeks went on, and both Philip and Bernie became adjusted to their life and their secret. Although there had been whispers among the staff of their new relationship, nothing concrete had been said. Normally, Philip's rise to Mr. Stewart's de facto assistant, the head porter's favoritism evident and marked by all on staff, would merit him a private bedroom of his own in the attic. But neither Philip nor Bernie welcomed a change that would make their liaison more dangerous. They became adept at hiding the relationship when working the reception desk, but having to creep around in the staff area at night would not have gone unnoticed for long. They were in luck here, though, at least for now.

"I'm sorry, I tried to replan the staff rooms, but I just can't free a single bedroom for you yet," Stewart told Philip one afternoon.

Trying to look at least a little disappointment, Philip answered, "That's fine. It's probably best, even, as I already hear mumblings about favoritism toward me. Bernie doesn't snore too badly."

Bernie didn't have much of a chance to snore at all, with Philip fucking him through most of the night. The problem that was slowly creeping up on them was to get enough sleep to be able to function in their jobs at all.

The delicate balance was destroyed one evening, though, when a middle-aged guest entered the hotel lobby, walked up to the desk, and asked for Philip. He was a salesman for the type of construction material that went into stage set designs, and he was quick to declare that The Madison had been recommended to him by the stage impresario, Jack Bell.

"Mr. Bell tells me that you, in particular, give very good service, Philip." He was giving Philip a hard look and a cold smile and held Philip's hand for a moment longer than was necessary when he took his room key. He took a look at the key and noted the room number aloud in a very deliberate tone, "Room 328. You may wish to take note of that room number, Philip. I don't plan to go out this evening. I expect the same good service Mr. Bell told me that you provide."

"I'm sorry, but--" Philip answered. He had no intention of doing this again. The city regulations on hotels were very strict--it didn't take much to get a hotel shut down as a business of ill repute. For that reason, unaccompanied women were not permitted in the hotel bar and were closely attended in all public areas. It would be far worse on a hotel if a staff member were found providing the sorts of services Philip knew this Preston Alexander was suggesting. And if it were males only involved--well, Philip thought the five-story dome over the lobby area would come crashing down.

"It would be very sorry indeed for the hotel if it became known . . . but there's no reason it should become known, should it, Philip? Perhaps you could show me to my room."

Philip looked around in panic for Mr. Stewart, to try to turn the trip to the room over to him, which would be natural and would be enough of a privilege to a guest like Alexander that he couldn't deny accepting the honor. But the head usher was standing over near the entrance to the dining room, conversing with a truly important couple.

In resignation, Philip turned the desk over to Bernie. "I'll be showing Mr. Alexander to his room," he said. Then he added, his eyes on Alexander, who gave Philip a slight smile, "Then, if you can handle the desk alone, I believe I'll take my evening break. I shouldn't be more than a half hour."

At this, Alexander's head inclined and his smile broadened.

Alexander stood in the middle of room 328, while the junior porter brought the suitcase in and placed it on the luggage rack and Philip slowly made the transit of the room, adjusting the drapes and checking the bathroom to ensure it was properly stocked.

As the door to the room closed behind the porter, Alexander was unbuttoning his trouser fly and Philip was kneeling in front of him.

The salesman was quick about it, putting Philip on all fours on the carpet in the center of the room; covering the young man's body from above, Philip's trousers and undergarments down around his ankles; mounting Philip; and fucking him to a quick ejaculation. A ten-dollar bill floated to the carpet next to Philip when the salesman was done. The full import of the business Philip was now end was sealed.

The kicker came when the salesman demanded that Philip return for a couple of hours that night. Philip had to manufacture the need to make a night deposit for the hotel at the hotel's somewhat distant bank before the morning to explain an absence from his room to Bernie. Such was Stewart's reliance on and favoritism toward Philip that Bernie had no reason to question that an important errand like this had been assigned to Philip. And, if nothing else, it gave Bernie a couple of extra hours of needed sleep.

Alexander took Philip more slowly and completely in his hotel room bed that night, not giving Philip a chance to leave until the salesman had dozed off to sleep. Philip quickly cleaned himself up in the bathroom, trying to make sure that there would be no hint to the maid the next day that more than one man had been in the room, and looked both ways to the ends of the corridors when he left. He was in luck that there were no lurking staff members to see him leave Alexander's room at the hour of the morning.

Philip tried to tell himself that this was a one-time happening. The salesman admitted that he'd given Bell a deep discount on stage supplies for information on how he could get his itch scratched in Richmond. Surely, Philip thought, it would be just that one time.

But of course it wasn't. There was the Broadway actor taking the lead in one of Bell's plays and a financier from Charleston who Bell needed to back one of his productions. And, although, it didn't happen often, what Philip was now blackmailed into providing constituted running a male brothel--no matter how high class it was--and could get the hotel closed down. Philip was part of the hotel's receptive staff and the extent of his receptiveness was undeniably illegal.

As the only out Philip could think of, he started to explore where he could get a similar job far away from Richmond--one where he could avoid the extra services. He started to discuss his desire to leave with Bernie, without telling him the real reason why he would do this. Bernie expressed the desire to go with him, and such was their relationship--the only stable and satisfactory aspect to the life Philip had fallen into--that Philip started looking for both of them.

The kicker, of course, was Mr. Stewart. Philip was a surrogate son for the head porter, and Stewart was grooming Philip to take over from him at The Madison. He even told Philip that the reason why he was training Philip so hard and was ignoring the mumblings of the rest of the staff about favoritism was that his doctor had warned him that he needed to slow down with his work and turn much of the responsibility over to someone else.

If Philip just cut and left, it was quite possible that it would kill Mr. Stewart. Certainly it would crush him. Philip couldn't bring himself to do this.

But then that was taken out of his hands. One morning Mr. Stewart didn't appear in the lobby. He had died in his bed in the night.

The staff started to buzz loudly and to give Philip dirty looks when they thought he wasn't looking. But Bernie could see them doing that, of course, and reported it all to Philip.

"They have a right to resent me," Philip said. "I have risen too fast and been moved by too many men who had more right to the training for the job."

When he was called into the hotel manager's office, he knew what he was being summoned for, but he was prepared.

"I thank you, Mr. Taylor, but I'm afraid it would be disruptive to the staff. If you think about it, I'm sure you'll realize that the disgruntlement will disrupt the service the hotel has been known for and will put it at a disadvantage to The Jefferson. Randolph Peyton is your man for the job. He's been here for many years and is respected by the staff. They will accept him where they won't me."

"Yes, I can see your point. But I respect Mr. Stewart's judgment and I must honor his memory. Perhaps the position of head waiter in the main dining room so that everyone's dignity is maintained."

I'm trying to save the dignity of the hotel here, Philip thought in frustration. I'm trying to save The Madison from being judged to be a male brothel. I could as easily be called on to provide the extra services in the position of dining room head waiter as at reception. What he said, though, was, "I don't see how it would save Andre's dignity. He is nowhere close to retiring from that position. No, I have seen this coming. I don't wish to take a position that is in competition with The Madison. If you will give me a good letter of recommendation, I have found another position a good distance from here--at The Homestead, up in Hot Springs, in the mountains. I ask only one thing."

"Yes, what is that?"

"I ask that the staff be instructed not to tell any guest who asks where I have gone. I don't wish anywhere I go to be put into comparison with The Madison."

As Philip left the hotel manager's office, secure in the belief that he had shut down on Jack Bell's recommendation service on his own terms, he knew there was another stipulation for his leaving The Madison. Bernie would be going with him. He'd already bought a cottage in Hot Springs from the inheritance Mr. Stewart was leaving him, and he'd found a position for Bernie in an inn that was separate from The Homestead resort. Neither the hotel nor the inn need know that Philip and Bernie were living together--and living in the way they chose to.

He almost laughed out loud. He had seen a reservation for Jack Bell registered for three weeks hence. By then he and Bernie would be gone, and Jack Bell would have to start all over again if he wanted to compromise the reputation of The Madison.

 

Habu

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