Read an excerpt from Minions of the Moon or listen to a preview of the audiobook:
In fact, I long ago learned to see my Shadow as the embodiment of my addiction, my will to self-destruction. The wise man who taught me to do that also showed me how to stay aware of the one he called my Silent Partner without dwelling on him.
After long mastery of that high-wire act, I grew confident, even, God help me, proud. Then the other night, I saw a kid get on a streetcar in Boston over forty years ago. The sight gave me pause, made me wonder if my time of grace was running out. And in that moment of uncertainty, I felt my Shadow close in.
I’d had a warning a week or two ago when Gina Raille, an old friend, said she had seen a guy around who looked like he might be my evil twin. But I had other things on my mind and things like this happened every once in a while. Not until last Saturday night and Sunday afternoon was I shown signs I could not ignore.
A toy merry-go-round on Ozzie Klackman’s work table was the first of those. Other business had brought me to his blowsy old apartment slightly above the riot that is Avenue A in August. Ceiling fans rotated. Decades worth of East Sixth Street curry hung in the air. Sirens wailed in the East Village. A boombox car bounced sound off the buildings. “LOCK UP THE FUCKING BANJA BOYS!” yelled a hoarse voice, a woman, or maybe a drag.
Ozzie, red faced and unshaven in paint-stained shorts and T-shirt, said, “You tell ’em, honey,” and drained a tumbler of fruit juice and vodka. Then he went back to demonstrating a Chatty Cathy. “I reworked it for this rich fetishist down in Pennsylvania.” Cathy still had her dippy smile. But now instead of inane talking-doll phrases, she uttered a string of obscenities in her dippy little voice. “It’s costing him plenty,” said Ozzie self-righteously, like overcharging the guy made him an agent of justice.
Every trade has its skullduggers, resurrectionists, procurers. Old toys is no exception. Ozzie Klackman is all those things and more. It’s why I had business with him.
Years of cruising and of buying antiques have taught me to nod, smile, and look with bland indifference at what interests me. The carousel was worn, wooden, American-made by my guess. The condition was better than I would have expected in a toy that old. The detail work too, with each horse a firebreathing stallion, and the decorative motif of smiling suns and frowning moons was suspiciously bright. Not one of Klackman’s master forgeries.
But it was its accuracy that made the hair on my neck stand up. To paint this, Klackman must have seen the real one as I had. He stopped talking. When I looked up, his small clever eyes were on me, measuring my reaction.
“You saw the original?” he asked. “I did. Years ago out in East Asshole, New Jersey. I was working for Augie Dolbier and he heard about this merry-go-round for sale. So he took me along and we barged right in. Real creepy scene. Like it was some kind of con game or rip-off. The carousel was the lure. The ones who had it weren’t interested in selling. Not to us. Recently I got reminded. I took this old beat-up toy and did it from memory.”
He waited like he expected me to ask questions. But I cultivate an attitude of professional disinterest and right then I was preoccupied with the present. “I’ve had a long day,” I told him and turned to go.
“Sorry I haven’t been to see George,” Ozzie said. My partner, George Halle, was at Cabrini Hospice in a terminal coma. I indicated the visit wasn’t necessary.
At the door, I handed him fifty dollars in tens and said, “Here’s your retainer. You’ll be at Masby’s Monday at eleven sharp, right? And you know what I want you to do?”
“Don’t worry, Kevin me lad,” he said in a Long John Silver voice. “Nighty night.”
Downstairs, yuppie couples scuttled home with Sunday papers and Kim’s videos. Over on Second Avenue, old guys with hats and cigars hung around newsstands eternally waiting for that final Brooklyn Dodgers score and a few hookers still operated in the shadow of the St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery baptistery.
But mainly it was kids. From New Jersey and the Bronx, by car and subway, they were outfitted like 1950s nerds, like cybersluts and MTV stars, in shorts and baseball caps, miniskirts and high heels, striped boxers and sneakers, souvenir T-shirts and envelope-shaped bell jeans, sporting crew cuts, beaded pigtails, wisps of Day-Glo green and blue hair that caught the streetlight like glaucoma auras.
I walked through them, middle age making me as invisible as a ghost at a tropical carnival. It amazed me that with everyone out of town for the weekend, the city could still be so crowded.
A bus rolled downtown. That summer they displayed Calvin Klein ads on their sides. Each was a row of photos of the same well-defined young man clad only in various undershorts. His expression varied from defiant, to dazed, to blank. It looked like the draft physical for the clone wars.
Actually getting force-stripped is disturbing, not sexy, a subspecies of rape, as I could testify. Fantasy, though, is something else. Klein’s genius is the exploitation of hustler poses, and August in New York gives everyone a horny itch. Normally I satisfied that itch through safe, clean call services.
Ozzie and his carousel had me thinking about the past when I stopped to pick up The Times. Just then, I noticed what looked like any club boy in his early twenties. His slightly glazed eyes met mine and held. The kid was for rent. Then his face lighted slightly. “Fred?” he asked. And I understood the kid had dealt with my Shadow.
Chilled but curious, I replied, “I have been. You and Fred are friends?” He indicated they were. I took the bait. Negotiations were fast. We were both pros. I said what I wanted and made an offer. He agreed and gave his name as Matt. I stuck with Fred, which had served my Shadow and me well enough in the past.
When we got to my place on Seventeenth Street, Stuyvesant Park across the way was still unlocked. Beneath the new moon, dogs and people moved under the lamp-lit trees, sat on benches waiting for love.
My building was quiet. Everyone else in the co-op is middle-aged too. My apartment is on the third floor and comfortable. On the living-room mantel I have assembled an antique toy zoo, animals behind bars, visitors pointing their articulated metal arms, an expensive whimsy. “The Heineken’s is cold.” I opened one for my guest and was not tempted. Once or twice in my past I have been touched by a grace so rare that it carries me through sordid passages and empty years.
I sat on the couch. Matt was cute in a dark buzz, shorts, and sneakers. I could remember when having to wear that particular outfit was a sentence to dorkhood. Of course, way back then we didn’t have the option of silver earrings and leg tattoos.
Matt swallowed some beer, stood in the center of my living room, and stripped when I asked him to. Ralph Lauren, Gap, Old Navy, Tommy Hilfiger—the layers fell away and revealed how skinny he was.
He glanced at my front windows and noticed they were uncurtained. He made an involuntary gesture as if he wanted to cover his crotch and eyes, then thought he shouldn’t. I felt a key turn in my heart even as I knew it was all part of the act.
Because of age and scars and a sense of aesthetics, I kept my shirt on. In the bedroom, the air conditioner played on our skin. I stroked his hair, which was as short and smooth as I imagine an otter’s to be. He smelled of smoke and booze, Obsession and sweat, the scent of nightlife. Wings were tattooed over his left nipple, a snake wound up his right calf.
Then we got down to business and for a time, with my cock being licked and tickled, my hand on another’s head, my mind sailed free with not a thought of who he was or who I was or what were the circumstances of this happening. It was like being a kid again.
To work completely, commodity sex should be emotionally self-contained and anonymous. Too much involvement makes that impossible. Matt had aroused my curiosity. And my empathy. Never underestimate a doppelgänger’s subtlety. This kid evoked my past.
When he got up and went in the bathroom, I looked through his clothes. Except for the sneakers, they had all been bought or boosted that day. Tomorrow if all went well for him, these clothes would be in the trash and he’d have a new outfit. He carried no wallet, seven dollars in change, a couple of pills I couldn’t identify, and slips of paper, most with names and numbers, one with just a Hell’s Kitchen address.
In a small shoulder bag he had underwear and socks, Vaseline, polyurethane and latex condoms, plastic gloves, dental and tongue dams, skin salve, and nonoxynol-9. My guess was that these were all his possessions.
When he was ready to leave, I gave him a card. The name and number of my shop were on the front and my name and home phone number were on the back. “Call me soon.” He nodded as I would once have done. “Since you used the name Fred, you must have met my imaginary friend,” I remarked.
He gave me a look that said my Shadow was at least as real as I was. Then the kid was gone. And since nothing of any consequence was on my answering machine, I lay down on the bed and started leafing through The Times.
The next thing I remember was a kid getting on a Boston streetcar. An ordinary enough child, blond and small, a very young twelve, he walked like he was wary of being hit. He sat at the back of the car and turned his face toward the window. Someone once said that when the Irish get hurt they stay hurt. He might have had in mind something like the way that kid moved and avoided eye contact.
The last streetcars in New York ran long before I arrived here. But deep in the night, I started awake. The Week in Review and Arts and Entertainment sections fell on the floor and it seemed as if I’d just heard a trolley bell clang at the end of my block.