The Dark Horse
An excerpt from the novella by Josh Lanyon
The post card was nestled between Variety and the Edison bill.
Just an ordinary picture postcard. White font proclaimed MALIBU! across the Mai Tai-colored sunset. I turned the card over and there was the spidery black writing I had thought I would never see again.
No signature. No signature needed. I looked at the postmark. Pacific Coast Highway. Yesterday's date.
I stared for a long time while Dan's deep voice receded into the cries of the gulls overhead and the pound of the waves on the beach a few yards away until those too faded to a kind of white noise.
No. God no.
Then Dan stretched across and took the card from my unresisting hand, and I was abruptly back in the present.
The wooden chair creaked as he leaned back, his long muscular body at ease. His dark brows drew together. Absently, he raked his still-wet hair back. It's not like there was a lot to read. One simple sentence.
A rhetorical question if there ever was one.
Water glistened on Dan's broad sun-browned shoulders, one drop trickling down between his rock-hard pecs, sparkling through the dusting of dark hair across his flat abdomen, and the tiny flicker of irritation I'd felt at his arrogance faded in the wake of lust. After nearly a month of playing Bodyguard to the Stars, I couldn't blame him if he still occasionally reacted like he was getting paid for overtime.
“It's not Hammond,” he said, and tossed the card to the table. It landed face up in a blob of crabapple jelly.
“The writing is the same.”
“Superficially. We'd have to get it analyzed. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Say one of his cards was delayed for a few days, it doesn't change the fact that he's dead.”
“If he is dead.”
His eyes, blue as the surf behind him, met mine levelly. “Sean, he's dead. I saw the car. No one could have survived that crash.”
“Then why wasn't his body recovered?”
“It's somewhere in the aqueduct. I don't know. It must have been swept away or lodged somehow.”
I nodded tightly. It's not like there's high tide in the California Aqueduct.
Dan's large hand slid under my fingers nervously fiddling with a teaspoon. “It's over, chief. Trust me.”
“I do.” It came out more husky than I intended.
He turned my hand palm up, lightly kissing it. The warmth of his lips against my surf-chilled skin made me shiver. I dropped the teaspoon. It hit the edge of my saucer with a silvery chime. He grinned.
You only ever hear about closeted cops, so Dan's relaxed attitude still caught me off guard. He was probably more at ease with his sexuality than half the “civilians” I knew. He sure as hell was more relaxed than me.
I pulled my hand away at the familiar yap-yapping of the four-legged hairball belonging to our nearest neighbor Mrs. Wilgi. Sure enough, a moment later “Mrs. Wiggly” came around the cairn of rocks, armed with her usual binoculars and police whistle.
I caught Dan's eye. His grin was wry. He was getting to read me pretty well.
I said, “Hey, for all I know Mrs. Wiggly has a spy cam concealed in her muu muu.”
He forked another waffle off the plate. “I don't even want to think about what that muu muu conceals.”
I laughed. My glance fell on the jam-stained postcard and I made myself look away. If Dan said it was over, it was over. He was the expert here.
All the same, after a year of being stalked, it wasn't so easy to drop my guard. One week after Paul Hammond lost control of his car during a police chase on Highway 138 and crashed into the California Aqueduct, I still tensed when the phone rang, waiting for that familiar whisper. I still sorted through my mail fast, trying to get it over with in case, like today, something ugly fell out of the mix. I still watched the rear view mirror everywhere I drove, although for the past three weeks Lt. Daniel Moran of L.A.P.D. had been riding shotgun with me-when he didn't insist on doing the actual driving.
I said, talking myself away from my anxiety, “I just don't want to turn up in the National Inquirer as the gay Benifer or something.”
“Dansean?” Dan suggested, playing along.
“I'm the celebrity,” I pointed out. “My name gets top billing. Maybe…Seandan.”
“You can be the top anything you like.” Dan's eyes were very blue. “Just say the word.”
Heat rose in my face.
I mean, how ridiculous was that? You'd think I was a blushing virgin of seventeen, instead of which I was a reasonably experienced twenty-five year old veteran of the Hollywood party scene. True, most seventeen-year olds probably saw more action than me-although things were definitely looking up these days.
Automatically, I returned Mrs. Wilgi's wave as she tromped along the shoreline, her red and yellow dress puffing out and flattening against her ungainly body. The dog, barking hysterically, veered off, galloping towards the deck where we sat, as though he'd just noticed this house on the otherwise empty beach.
“Doesn't that thing have an off button?” I murmured.
Mrs. Wilgi began clapping frantically and calling to the dog.
“Speaking of off buttons,” Dan remarked, “I'm supposed to start back at work tomorrow.”
I tried to hide it, but I knew he could see my disappointment.
He said, his tone very casual, “Were you planning to stay out at the beach for a few days or should I drop some things off at the house?”
“The House” being my place in the Hollywood Hills. My place and now, maybe, Dan's place too. It was still so new this relationship, so unexpected. We were both tentative, feeling our way along. Trying not to take too much for granted. Or spoil it by not taking enough for granted.
I said, going for the same off-hand note, “I was thinking of staying out until next weekend. What do you think? Malibu too far to drive every evening?”
“Not if I'm waking up next to you every morning.”
My heart skipped a beat. How the hell could he say this stuff and not sound corny?
Practice, I guess. Dan was ten years older than me-and they had been an active ten years.
I said, “That can be arranged.”
We'd been sleeping together for one week, starting with the night Dan had returned home to tell me Hammond had crashed into the aqueduct. But the attraction had been immediate. My manager, Steve Kreiger, kept saying what a great screenplay it would make. Gay cop falls for the gay actor he's assigned to protect from a crazed stalker. And it was true: for once real life was every bit as satisfying as the movies. Dan was a decorated officer frequently held up as the poster boy for the new and improved (read “sensitive and diverse”) L.A.P.D. It didn't hurt that he was articulate, smart, and old-fashioned movie star handsome. A straight arrow in every way but one-and that one way got him assigned to my bodyguard detail.
So now we were finding out what happened after the screen faded to black and the final credits rolled.
Mrs. Wiggly was blowing her police whistle like a crime was in progress. The fur ball ignored her, standing at the foot of the stairs leading to the deck where Dan and I sat having breakfast, barking shrilly, plumy tail waving frantically.
I tossed a sausage link, just missing its indignant nose. Both Dan and the mutt disapproved of this, the mutt vocally, Dan silently. I was getting to know him well enough to know his silences. I smiled at him and he shook his head a little.
“I'm trying to win him over,” I said.
“I don't think he appreciates your cooking the way I do.”
“I guess not.”
I was going to miss our early morning swims followed by these lazy breakfasts. I was going to miss having Dan around all day. Hopefully I'd be going back to work myself before long. But what happened if the next film I got required a location shoot? Dan and I were way too new to survive extended long distance. I knew, without asking, that he would not be willing to hang up his career in law enforcement to keep me company in New Zealand or Romania for twelve weeks. And I was at a place in my own career where I had to pick my projects carefully.
He pushed his chair back and said, “I think I'll have a quick shower and drive into town. I want to pick up a few things.”
“Okay.” My gaze wandered back to the postcard.
“Want to help me try out my new back-scrubber?”
I laughed. He made it so easy. I rose, dismissing the card, but as I followed Dan indoors, I couldn't help wondering if Paul Hammond hadn't sent that card, who had?
* * * * *
“Gotta admit, I had my doubts about you when I saw the pink bubble bath.” Dan squirted pastel gel into the ramie mitt and slid it over my shoulders. Scented steam rose from the granite floor of the large shower stall.
“Mm. That feels good.” I bent my head and he smoothed the mitt down the nape of my neck. “It's not bubble bath. It's shampoo slash shower gel. There's a difference.”
“You'd know. I've never seen so many grooming aids in one bathroom.” The rough cotton felt good on my wet skin and Dan applied just the right amount of pressure. I relaxed-only recognizing at that moment how wound up I'd been.
“Tools of the trade,” I informed him. “I'm a commodity. I'm in business and I am my product.”
“That attitude and a pair of tight jeans will get you arrested on Hollywood Boulevard.”
“Attitude is everything,” I quoted sententiously.
He pulled me back against his own wet hard body. I arched my neck for his kiss and his mouth closed on mine, warm and male and with a hint of the tart-sweetness of crabapple. Our tongues slid together, twined. My heart started that heavy slow beat that matched the throb in my groin.
“You are so beautiful...”
“I bet you say that to all th-“ His hands slid over my slick body, flicking my nipples and I moaned into his mouth, words failing me. If felt so good. Everything he did felt good. He never made a wrong move; that was the advantage of having so much experience. Of course that kind of expertise was a little intimidating sometimes.
Putting my hands over his, I held them against my chest. He palmed the nipples, back and forth, just the right amount of teasing abrasion.
I turned to face him; wrapped my arms around him.
Smoothing the mitt over my ass, Dan gave one cheek a playful squeeze before sweeping the mitt up my spine. My dick came up like a divining rod, nudging his already hard thickness. Heart pounding, I pressed against him, wanting more, wanting closer. I was surprised the shower drops didn't sizzle on my skin; I was so hot for him. Dan shook off the mitt and his hands closed on my ass, urging me closer. I groaned, feeling for his cock.
“Yeah, Sean, just like that,” he muttered.
His fingers slid down the crevice between my butt cheeks, intimate and familiar, finding the mouth of the secret passage. He delicately circled my opening, then slipped the tip of one finger inside: a sweet and slow piercing. I caught my breath.
Just a fingertip, like the press of a button-I button I badly wanted him to push. That weird clawing ache started in my belly. I made a sound in the back of my throat-even I wasn't sure what I meant.
Dan's kiss gentled. He kissed the underside of my jaw, his finger simply holding its place, like a book he meant to read later.
Let go, I instructed myself, impatiently. What the hell is the hold up? You want him. He wants you. Act, if you have to.Act like…a porn star.
I found his mouth, kissed him back hard, surging up against him. I could feel his surprise. His mouth covered mine hungrily, he pushed his finger into me deeply; I started, my foot slipping out from under me in the sudsy warm water.
He steadied me, both hands on my arms, smiling. “Easy, chief.”
“Yeah.” I laughed, but after a week of this I wasn't fooling anybody, including myself. “I'm just not sure about that yet,” I said, feeling like a fool. I still felt the memory of his finger in my body-an erotic fingerprint.
“I know.” He sounded easy and a little amused.
“I mean, I want to,” I said. “I'm just…” Why did I have to say anything? The last thing I wanted was for this to turn into an issue. Why couldn't I just have let it happen, naturally, spontaneously?
“We don't have to rush it.”
Was six days rushing it? Probably not. His dick poked into my belly like an elbow in the ribs reminding me that he had places to go and things to do and so far this morning he wasn't getting anything but talk.
Porn star, remember? Act. It's what you're good at.
“Let me tell you a little secret,” I said and slid to my knees taking the head of his cock into my mouth.
“Oh my God,” Dan said, closing his eyes. His fingers brushed my cheek. “What you do to me.”
Yeah, this I knew how to do, sucking him with soft wet heat and then hard. I murmured encouragingly-not really an act, come to think of it-and tugged with my lips. Sweet and soft. Tight and hard.
Dan's breathing went slow and deep, fingers fluttered over my ears, the base of my skull, urging me closer, but not forcing-never forcing.
The water sluiced over his shoulders and rained down on me. I tasted shower gel and clean skin and the salty taste of pre-cum. His swollen cock throbbed between my lips-he pushed deeper into my mouth. I relaxed my throat muscles and took even more of him. A muscle in Dan's cheek jumped. He looked down at me and his eyes seemed dazed.
I made soft sounds, inciting him to riot.
Groaning, Dan braced his hands on the granite tiles. His legs trembled.
I backed off a little, laved the cleft in the head of his cock with my tongue, took him back in and sucked hard.
“I'm going to come,” he warned huskily.
His cock jumped and he began to come. Hard.
Not a problem for me. I liked this part. I swallowed enough to show I cared, then buried my head in his belly, nuzzling his genitals. He twitched and shivered. Petted my wet head, stroking the hair back from my face.
I smiled, watching him. After a few moments he shook his head like a wet dog and gave a shaky laugh.
“You are one crazy guy.”
“Hey, you.” He reached up and turned off the tap, drawing me to my feet. Energized. And how the hell that worked, I had yet to figure out.
There were dents in my knees from the granite floor and my legs felt wobbly with my own need. He pulled me against his long strong body, one hand cupping my balls. I rested my head on his shoulder breathing in the scent of his clean wet skin. The hair on his chest tickled my nose. Just the feel of those steely fingers handling me...
I guided his hand to where I needed it to be. He wrapped his fingers around my cock
“I like that little sound you make,” he whispered.
The bedroom phone rang.
“What the hell!” I opened my eyes.
“The machine will get it.”
I nodded absently, listening. Dan's heart was settling back into its normal rhythm. The phone rang again. Dan's hand slowed. I rested my hand on his, urging him on. He tightened up a bit and I caught my breath. Big brown capable hands. Good for all kinds of things: gripping a gun or shaking cocktails or…driving me to total distraction.
The phone rang a third time and then the answering machine picked up.
“Dude!” the tinny voice of Steve Kreiger, my manager, drifted from the other room. For an eerie minute it was like he stood in the doorway watching us; I could picture him scraping the lank red hair out of those mournful Bassett-hound brown eyes. “You there? T.J. Hooker got you handcuffed to the bed or what?”
“Damn! I've got to take it.” I popped open the shower door and abandoned that sweet steamy warmth, sprinting for the bed and the overnight stand beyond. I heard the shower door close behind me.
I bounced on the white duvet and stretched, grabbing the phone off the receiver. Reached across to pick up the phone. “Hey.”
“Hey. So you are still alive.”
“Yep. Alive and--uh--kicking.” I sucked in my breath as two hard hands wrapped in a plush bath sheet closed around my waist. Dan toweled me down with hard efficiency, blotting shoulders and ribs and butt through the folds of the oversized towel. He rubbed my head briskly. I put the phone against my ear listening through the fluffy cotton.
“I got a copy of the Charioteer script. I was planning to drop it by this afternoon,” Steve said.
“Roll over,” Dan ordered quietly.
I rolled over, the Naturlatex mattress molding to the contours of my body. The duvet felt damp beneath my back. I stared into Dan's blue eyes.
He smoothed the towel over my chest, sliding down to my groin. My dwindling erection made a pup tent of white towel.
I closed my eyes and expelled a shaky breath as Dan's fingers wrapped around my dick once more. “Uh…great.” And it was great. I'd been hounding Steve to get me a look at the script for weeks. You wouldn't think that the screen adaptation of a minor gay classic would require security clearances on the level of the Pentagon-especially given the typical indie film production budget.
Dan's hand slid up the length of my cock. Slowly slid down. I gritted my teeth to keep from moaning.
From a long, long way away Steve said, “Yeah. But there's a problem. Lenny Norman is directing and he doesn't want you.”
I sat up, dislodging Dan's hand. “You're kidding!”
“I've never even worked with him. Why doesn't he want me?”
“For one thing he thinks you're too good looking for the part of Laurie.
I glanced across at the reflection of myself in the mirror hanging over the bureau dresser: tall, skinny, brown eyes, brown hair. “I'm not that good looking,” I protested.
“I agree. I don't think you're so good looking. In fact, I think you're butt ugly. This is his opinion.”
I gnawed my lip, ignoring these witticisms. “That's it? He doesn't want me because of my looks?”
Steve said, a little more serious now, “That, and he thinks you're not gay enough.”
“What? What the hell does that mean?”
“Hey, I'm just telling you what was said.”
“But what does that even mean? I'm gay. I'm out. What more does he want?” Dan's hand closed around the nape of my neck, his fingers knowledgably prodding the muscles knotting up. I felt a spark of annoyance; I could practically hear him telling me to take a deep breath, relax. I didn't feel like relaxing. This was business. This was my career.
“It's not like we had an in-depth discussion. I think it's a political thing with him. He feels like you're walking a line with straight audiences, that you're not openly gay. 'You play it too straight,' that's what he said.”
“Well, so does Laurie! So does Ralph. I mean, it's historical drama. It's World War Two. Nobody was out. What's this idiot planning to do, portray them as a couple of flaming queens?”
“Chill, dude. Don't kill the messenger. I'm just letting you know what you're up against. He went ahead and fedexed me a copy of the script, so you're not totally out of the running.”
I was silent. Dan scraped the back of my neck with his fingernails and I shivered involuntarily. Never mind the P-Spot. Apparently I had an N-Spot….
I made myself focus.
“Do they have someone else in mind?”
“For Laurie, no. For Ralph I think they're looking at Peter Grady.”
I swore. The last film I'd done with Peter Grady had earned us the title of “The Gay Spencer and Hepburn” in the queer press. I loved working with the guy; we had major league screen chemistry-one more reason I so wanted to do this project.
Steve soothed, “You haven't even read it yet. Maybe you won't like the adaptation. Maybe you won't want to do the film. Let's not worry about it anymore till you've seen the script. Okay?”
“I'll see you around two.”
“See you.” I hung up and flung myself back against the mountain of pillows.
“So who's the bastard with the bad taste not to want you?” Dan inquired. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, putting his watch on, so apparently we had lost our window of opportunity.
“Oh.” I grimaced. “Lenny Norman. He's directing that film I told you about. The adaptation of The Charioteer. He doesn't want me. He thinks I'm too good looking.”
“The guy must be blind.”
It barely registered. “It's that goddamned People magazine article. 'People's 50 Most Beautiful People.' I was number 49 or something.” I brooded over this for a moment. “And he thinks I'm not gay enough.”
Dan's brows rose. “You seemed gay enough to me five minutes ago.”
I grinned reluctantly. “Maybe you could vouch for me.”
He got off the bed, the squeak of floorboards giving voice to my inner protest. “I'd have preferred to do something else for you, but now I'm running late.”
I shot him a quick look. He sounded regretful, not annoyed; his smile was rueful. “Sorry,” I said. “I kind of had to take that call.”
“Yeah, I know.”
I had the uncomfortable feeling that he did. Well, hell. I was out of practice at having relationships. Actually, who was I kidding? I'd never had a real relationship. Not like this. Not living together 24/7 with a for-richer-for-poorer-in-sickness-and-in-health option. The closest I'd come was when Steve and I roomed together for about a year after college. That was when Steve had still been trying to make it as a comic. Before he'd decided that managing my career would be easier and more lucrative than having his own.
I watched Dan move around the room, dressing. Casual wear: khakis and a black t-shirt. Not the beautifully tailored suits and expensive ties he wore on duty. You couldn't afford suits like that on a cop's salary, but Dan supplemented his salary by working as a consultant for the film industry-which was the other reason he had snagged the bodyguard gig with me.
I tried to think what I would do all day. Now that I didn't have to worry about being taken out by a potentially homicidal fan I'd have to find a new hobby.
Maybe I'd go for another swim after I worked out in the weight room. No problem going by myself now. Just like a big boy. Maybe I'd see if I had a copy of Renault's The Charioteer here at the beach house and reread it. Or no, maybe that would interfere with my reading the script. Maybe I'd just put on some music and catch some rays. Sunshine was supposed to be good for depression-not that I was depressed. Exactly.
“What time will you be back?”
“About five.” Dan slid the leather badge-wallet in his back pocket, double-checked the fit of his khakis in the bureau mirror. “You want me to bring something home for dinner?”
Home. That was kind of nice. I gave his question the careful deliberation it deserved. “I'll cook. Could you pick up some scallops?”
“I'll do that, chief.” He bent down over the bed and gave me a quick hard kiss. “Have a good day. And don't worry about anything.”
I answered with one of Steve's favorite lines. “What, me worry?”
“You're right,” said Dan. “That's my job.”
Copyright 2000-18, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.