ALTERED BOY A NEW NOVEL BY Jim McDonald CHAPTER ONE Late Friday by runout


									                             ALTERED BOY
                       A NEW NOVEL BY Jim McDonald

                              CHAPTER ONE

  Late Friday Night, December 1, Approaching Midnight, Saturday December 2, 1960

   ―Here we go-o,‖ said Shorty. ―A mark is looking this way. Don‘t turn
   Mickey, sitting across from Shorty in the back corner booth of Luigi‘s Pizza,
tried to catch the mark‘s reflection in the kitchen door‘s circular window.
Instead, the round glass reflected the image of glum Luigi at the front leaning on
the counter, reading an Italian magazine and smoking, in his white bib apron
tainted by fresh and ancient splatters of pizza sauce in various shades of red. As
Mickey craned his neck to get a better angle, Shorty rapped his knuckles on the
table twice, saying, ―Be cool. Here he comes. Lemme do the talking.‖ Shorty
took the switchblade from his boot, and, thumb on the button, held it dangling
out of sight between his knees.
   At about eleven-thirty on this wintry Canadian Friday night, the boys nursed
coffees that had turned cold. Fourteen-year-old Shorty, who wasn‘t short, had
been making money hustling what they called ―the track‖ – Gillette Avenue from
the river up to Wyandotte Street – since he was twelve, when older boys from
his school St. Jude‘s had shown him the ropes. Now his apprentice, thirteen-
year-old Mickey, wanted to rake in easy bucks for Christmas, twenty-four days
   The mark brought his steaming cup of coffee with him. A big, fat man, he had
pink cheeks, red hair, thin on top, and he needed a shave. Blue suit, white shirt,
and tartan tie, mostly green. He left his heavy dark blue wool overcoat draped
over the back of his chair. Salesman, probably. ―Excuse me, lads,‖ he said in an
English accent, standing in front of Luigi‘s kitchen door, and looking straight at
Mickey, ―but I‘m new in town, and I expect perhaps you could direct me to the
Black Rose Motel.‖
   Mickey stared into his cup, cradled in both hands. Shorty scooted sideways in
his seat to give the mark room, saying, ―Yeah, I know that place. Sit down a
    The man ignored Shorty. Leaning forward, he touched Mickey‘s shoulder,
and said, ―Do you know where the Black Rose is?‖ Mickey wrinkled his nose
and shut his eyes tight.
    Snick. The sound came from between Shorty‘s knees. The man pulled his
hand from Mickey as if from flame, and stepped away, setting his coffee cup on
the next table. Now he faced Shorty, looking him up and down as if inspecting a
hyena at the zoo. His gaze lingered on the unusual medal around Shorty‘s neck.
German? Silver? Artefact from the war?
    Mickey gave the Englishman the once-over: a big baby about forty years old, a
pink-skinned fatboy with an immature downy moustache. He didn‘t want to
imagine this person touching his skin. But money was money. As his dad said,
it was a fact that almost nobody got paid to do something he enjoyed.
    ―We‘re a team,‖ said Shorty. ―How much for both of us? One hour.‖
    After a momentary smile, here and gone like the spark from a cheap old
match, pulled up the corners of the Englishman‘s mouth, he said, ―Well, you do
get to the point, don‘t you? Allow me to be frank as well. I‘m looking for one
boy, and …‖ He held his palms out toward Shorty. ―Nothing personal, my
friend, but I‘d prefer this young man.‖ Turning to Mickey, he said, ―I‘ll pay you
fifteen dollars to accompany me in my car, and direct me to the Black Rose
    ―OK,‖ said Mickey, thinking, Wow! Fifteen bucks!
    ―No,‖ said Shorty, pointing at Mickey. ―We‘re a team.‖ Swiveling his pointed
finger toward the mark, he said, ―Twenty-five for both of us.‖
    The man clasped his hands behind his back, and bowed slightly to each boy in
turn. ―I‘m terribly sorry to have bothered you … and you. Excuse me, please.‖
He put on his coat, buttoning it to the neck, and wrapped a tartan scarf around
his throat. In order to force open the door against the cruel frigid wind, he had
to put his shoulder into it.
    ―I coulda made fifteen bucks,‖ said Mickey.
    ―Are you nuts? You don‘t know,‖ said Shorty, twisting the medal on the
sturdy chain at his throat. This silver medal had German words engraved on it
in a semi-circle surrounding a longhaired violinist. ―You‘re just a kid. Man, you
don‘t know. Some-a these guys are freaks, I‘m tellin’ ya.‖
    ―I think I‘d be OK,‖ said Mickey. ―I got my friend, here.‖ He reached down
and freed the knife from the heavy rubber band around his ankle. Glowering at
an imaginary mark, he said, ―OK, buddy. Don‘t mess with me.‖ Snick. Pressed
the button, and the blade appeared like magic. ―Just gimme the money,‖ he
said, waving the knife. ―All of it. Hurry up, or—‖
    ―Put that away,‖ said Shorty. ―Luigi‘s lookin‘ over here. Hurry up, ditch it.
Here he comes.‖ Mickey shoved the blade back into its handle, and replaced it
at his ankle between his sock and the elastic band, snap.
    Luigi stood in front of them for a while, arms folded, lips pursed, head tilted
sideways. The smell of pizza sauce drifted from his stained apron.
   ―Hey, Luigi,‖ said Shorty. ―Getting ready for the big holidays? Gotta get
those decorations up, eh? Lotsa business, eh?‖
   Luigi cut the air with the side of his hand, saying, ―No decoray. Whatsa matta
you? Drink-a the cof‘, and go out.‖ He reached out with each index finger to
push the cups closer to the boys. ―Drink.‖
   ―Man, this is cold,‖ said Mickey. ―How about another—?‖
   ―No,‖ said Luigi. ―I close. You go now.‖
   ―But I gotta wait for my father.‖
   ―No. Go.‖
   Shorty stood up. ―Let‘s split. He‘s mad. We better go, or he‘ll kick us out for
good.‖ The boys zipped up their worn leather jackets, put on their gloves, and
went to the door.
   Pointing to the calendar, Mickey said, ―Hey, Luige, gotta change that over.
November‘s over. It‘s December first, 1960. Um … no, wait, it‘ll be the second,
December second, nineteen hundred and sixty, in about half an hour. Want me
t‘change it for ya?‖
   ―No touch,‖ said Luigi, waving his forefinger. ―Go out.‖
   Shorty waved. ―Bye, Luigi. Thanks.‖
   ―Go home,‖ said Luigi, pointing his thumb at the door. ―No trouble.‖
   ―We good boys,‖ said Shorty. He joined his gloved hands in prayer, saying,
―We altar boys.‖
   Luigi shooed them out with the back of his hand, tossed their cups into the
sink, and turned on the steaming water.

   Outside, the wind took their breath away. They walked backwards, collars
turned up, toward the riverfront, where lonely men sometimes found willing
boys. Up and down Gillette Avenue, the track, daring kids could hustle queers
for bucks. It took Shorty a while to learn the ropes, and last summer he did OK.
But, y‘know – easy come, easy go.
   A bitter Friday, with sparse traffic on the track. Usually, especially in
summer, you find half the traffic has American plates, mostly Michigan, but
some Ohio, some even from New York, the Empire State. Every till in the
downtown core has its share of American money, Washington on the ones,
Lincoln on the fives, and Hamilton on the tens. On Friday nights, Bingo night,
the Windsor Arena is filled with Americans, mostly Negroes, hoping to win the
thousand dollar jackpot.
   Mickey said, ―Think anybody‘ll be down at the park?‖
   ―Let‘s give it a shot.‖
   At Riverside Park, the north wind over the black river gnawed at their cheeks
and noses. Across the murky waters, atop Detroit‘s Penobscot Building, the big
red flashing light punched its way through the haze that veiled that pitiless city.
They stood under the archway in front of the locked door of the men‘s room.
The plaque on the door – Men – served that night as their business sign. Shorty
said hi to an old coughing man shuffling by, but – nothing.
   ―This is stupid,‖ said Mickey. ―I should go.‖
   ―Look,‖ said Shorty, a head taller than his apprentice. ―Here comes a mark, I
know it. ‗Member my medal? It‘s good luck. Watch. Stand over there.‖ Shorty
unhooked the heavy-duty chain, and raised the dangling medal to eye level. He
liked the medal – the violinist, the German words, and a date. He recognized
the word Berlin and the year 1936. Its connection to the Hitler era gave Shorty
the feeling it possessed a sinister power.
   The man strolled from around the corner of the building, stopped to look at
the swaying medal, and said, ―What you got there?‖ He was slightly built,
shorter than Shorty, and held a steaming take-out cup of coffee.
   ―Nothing,‖ said Shorty. ―Nothing, just a, a thing.‖ He looked the man up and
down – diminutive, non-threatening – and tossed out a line: ―But we need a ride
home, my brother and me.‖
   ―Hi,‖ said Mickey, with a little wave.
   Shorty said, ―We‘d do anything for a ride home.‖
   ―Oh, my,‖ said the man, ―and it‘s so cold, getting colder.‖
   ―You bet,‖ said Shorty, hugging himself and stamping his feet. ―We gotta get
home, and get money. We need money right now. As I said, we‘ll do anything.‖
   The man frowned, saying, ―What do you mean, anything?‖
   ―You know … money … a ride. Get it?‖
   The man stepped back, eyes darting from one boy to the other. He dropped
the cardboard coffee cup, which split open and splashed over the cracked
sidewalk, causing Mickey to jump sideways. ―You‘re too young for this,‖ the
man said. Lifting his chin, he added, ―I‘m a happily married man.‖
   Shorty swatted the air. ―Good for you. Whaddaya want? A medal?‖
   The man rushed off, calling over his shoulder, ―You should be home with your
mother and father, doing homework.‖
   ―Shut up,‖ yelled Mickey. ―Ya numb-nuts midget!‖ He stamped his boots
rapidly, running in place, to scare the man. It worked. The man thought they
were chasing him, and, arms flailing, he tore off as if fleeing a ticking H-bomb.
The boys had a good laugh over that one.
   ―Hah,‖ said Shorty, ―my mother and father, he says. I‘d have to be dead to be
with my mother. And Pops … ?‖ He threw up his hands.
   ―Let‘s walk,‖ said Shorty. ―Down to John‘s. See what‘s shakin‘.‖ John‘s was
Big Bad John‘s strip club, not a likely place to find a mark. But you never know.
   They kicked down the red paving stones, each with his own thoughts. Mickey
was glad they were getting closer to his house. If no action at John‘s, he‘d leave,
and go home. He wondered if Shorty knew what he was doing. It all seemed a
waste of time.
   Shorty thought of last December, just about exactly a year ago, when a
carload of drunken queers picked him up on the track, and took him to one wild
Christmas party in the penthouse of the Holiday Inn. Hell, he drank champagne
all night, and was propositioned constantly, but, man, a guy‘s got only so much
jam. He held out for twenty bucks, and got it in advance, twice: first from a
silver-haired drunk who said he was a dentist, and later from a tranny wearing a
red pixie wig, who fell asleep halfway through. Shorty rifled the tranny‘s purse
to find ten more bucks. What a night. It could happen again.
   The parking lot of Big Bad John‘s contained four cars, three with Michigan
plates. ―Check ‗em out,‖ said Shorty, ―and I‘ll look out.‖ While Mickey tried the
car doors, his partner in crime leaned his weight against the entrance door. If
anyone pushed on the door, Shorty‘s job was to hold him back for a second, and
whistle a warning to Mickey. While waiting, he tapped his foot to the music
inside. A live band, a trio, played ―Rockin‘ Round the Christmas Tree.‖ He
imagined a plump girl in a tight red dress dancing around a Christmas tree on
   Soon Mickey was beside him, saying, ―Nothin‘.‖ Sometimes, some idiot left
his car door unlocked, and you could maybe score some gloves, booze, or money
– or, on rare occasions, keys. Often people hid a spare key under the driver‘s
seat, or under the mat on the driver‘s side. On those lucky nights, it was joy ride
time for an hour or so, until the owner called the cops, and the word was out.
   They waited, but no one entered or left Big Bad John‘s.
   ―This is weird,‖ said Shorty. ―A Friday night, and nothin‘s shakin‘.‖
   ―My teeth are shakin‘,‖ said Mickey. ―It ain‘t Friday no more, I bet. What
time is it? It‘s gotta be way after twelve.‖
   ―Prob‘ly about twelve-thirty.‖
   Mickey thought of the steaming pot of tea his mother would brew for him the
moment he walked in the door. And cookies, too. But … fifteen bucks. He could
have gone with that English mark, and been done by now. And he‘d have fifteen
big ones. From now on: no more freebies. He let Father Lennon and Bill,
caretaker of the church, do it for free every time. They never once gave him a
cent, and he never thought to ask. The first time with Bill, when he was eleven,
was a surprise, but it just kinda happened again, and then again. Bill let him
hang out at his apartment, drink free pop, eat chips, and watch TV. Then he
introduced Mickey to Father Lennon, who took him swimming, bowling, and
once to dinner and a movie in Detroit. But to get paid cash for it would be cool.
They did the work, and you just lay there. Easy. They seemed to enjoy it.
Strange. Except Lennon knocked up a girl half his age, and got fired. Now he
has to marry her. So, he‘s gone from Holy Family Church, and a new priest
showed up last week, Father Damon, from Alaska or the Yukon or some place up
north really far away. Anyhow …
   ―I gotta split,‖ said Mickey. ―It‘s after twelve, and my Dad‘ll kill me.‖
   ―Gonna leave me here alone?‖
   ―Sorry, man, I gotta.‖
   ―Yeah, kid,‖ said Shorty. ―We‘ll try again tomorrow night. You‘ll see: there‘s
lotsa guys who‘ll pay good scratch to just look at you, just look.‖
   ―Hard to believe. Weird.‖
   ―Well, you best believe it. I‘m gonna hang out, make some scratch.‖
   Mickey walked down the block, the clacking of his boot heels echoing off the
brick warehouse walls. When he turned the corner, he ran, to warm up, and to
get home faster for that cup of tea and cookies.

    Shorty made his way over to the track, Gillette Avenue. They had their usual
festive red and blue lights strung up across the road from one lamppost to
another. On every second post they had their Merry Christmas signs made of
silver and gold tinsel that swayed and flashed in the wind, kinda cool looking.
At Major‘s Department Store, he pressed his forehead against the window,
gloved hands covering his ears from the wind, and followed the toy train‘s figure
eight route across plastic bridges and through cardboard mountains. A shadow
approached silently, and stood next to him.
    The voice said, ―Lovely, isn‘t it?‖
    Startled, Shorty leaped sideways into a boxer‘s crouch, dukes up, ready for
    ―My mistake,‖ said the man, hands up high as if under arrest. ―Didn‘t mean
to alarm you.‖
    ―I‘m not scared,‖ said the kid, recognizing the Englishman‘s accent, the same
guy from Luigi‘s. ―You snuck up on me.‖
    ―My apologies.‖ He lowered his hands, but kept them visible. ―All my fault.‖
    Shorty turned back to the window, followed the train‘s circuitous voyage, but
kept one eye on the man, his big tartan scarf up to his chin. So, he‘d been
cruising the track, and didn‘t find anybody, eh? Well, now it would cost him
twenty-five big ones for one boy.
    ―Cold,‖ said the man.
    ―It‘s OK.‖
    ―Fancy a cup of coffee? Warm up?‖
    Shorty pitched a lob ball: ―Well, I‘m on my way to my uncle‘s. He got some
work for me. Pays twenty bucks.‖ He paused, pretending to think it over. ―But
if I could make twenty-five bucks tonight at something else, I could prob‘ly do
my uncle‘s work tomorrow.‖
    The mark took the bait. ―I have some work. Twenty-five dollars is fine.‖
    ―Sounds OK.‖
    ―I believe it‘s the appropriate time for me to introduce myself,‖ said the man,
offering his gray, kid leather-gloved hand. ―I‘m Nigel. How do you do?‖
    ―I do fine,‖ said Shorty, briefly tapping the man‘s palm with his gloved
fingertips, and thinking, Nigel, Nigel Bruce the actor, that stupid fat guy,
Sherlock Holmes‘ buddy, Doctor Watson.
   Nigel bent into the wind. ―My vehicle is around the corner. Bloody hell, it‘s
cold! This way.‖
   That fat mark had a sharp ride, a ‘56 green and white Ford Crown Victoria,
Ohio plates. So, a yank, probably from Toledo, about an hour‘s drive down
highway I-75 from Detroit. After turning the key to start the motor, he reached
into an inside jacket pocket, flipped open a silver cigarette case, and said,
   Shorty laughed. He knew fag was the English word for cigarette, but it was
   ―Oh, my dear,‖ said Nigel, placing his fingertips daintily on his chest. ―I
know. I keep saying that word. What a scream.‖
   ―Yeah,‖ said Shorty, checking out the interior of this beautiful machine. ―A
   ―So, do you care for one? A ci-ga-rette?‖
   ―Nah. Got any booze?‖
   ―As a matter of fact,‖ he said, pointing. ―Open the, um, the little door, there.‖
   ―Glove box?‖
   ―Of course, the glove box.‖
   In it was a pint of imported scotch, Glen Something. Shorty took a snort.
Nigel waved it off.
   ―So,‖ said Shorty, ―we going to that Black Rose Motel place?‖

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