The "50 Excerpts" project fell off track due to life. More coming...
The Official Web Log of Famous Author Rob Byrnes,
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Defining Deviancy Down Since 2003
...Grant wasn't a fan of Jamie Brock. The three of them -- Grant and Chase on one side, Jamie on the other -- had been distant acquaintances for most of the fifteen years Grant and Chase had been together, a fact he blamed on Chase. But Jamie was the type of person who only knew you when he needed something. In a sense, Grant felt he and Chase -- both approaching career criminal status, despite his partner's low-paying Groc-O-Rama gig on the side -- were still more sincere and productive than Jamie, who continued to play his "trust fund boy" game with the moneyed gay crowd a decade after the last time it had actually worked on a meaningful scale. Now that he was solidly joining Grant and Chase in what some would consider "middle age," the act was getting older than he was.
Chase allowed himself a smile as he returned to busywork. "Screw Jamie. I can hear about his latest Hamptons drama the next time we see him out at the bars."
from Straight Lies
Kensington Publishing Corp.
Buy it at TLA Video
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"You said she walked in on you?"
Jimmy was visibly energized, and took Quinn's vacated deck chair. "Now that was a scene! You know the story of how we met, right?" Noah shook his head. "It was on the set of When the Stars Come Out. He was starring opposite her -- and let me tell you, I love Quinn dearly, but he should not have been doing musicals -- and I was a dancer in the big musical number at the end of the show. Anyway, I had just ended a horrible relationship with an evil, evil man -- dead now, God rest his soul -- and I didn't think I wanted to meet anyone, but we were on the set, and our eyes met, and something just clicked."
"And... happily ever after?"
Jimmy threw his head back and let out a loud, high-pitched laugh. "Not exactly. Remember, Quinn was married to the top box-office draw in the nation, maybe the world. And up to that point, he had never even admitted to himself that he was gay. It was very complicated. Let me give you a brief flashback..."
I stood in the darkness outside Bar 51 and reflected on the indignity of it all. Being asked to leave Bar 51 before closing was like being asked to leave a dive bar before all your teeth have fallen out.
Since the night was cool, and I wasn't ready to go home, I decided to take a walk through midtown to the east side, where I could catch a train back to Astoria. I needed to calm down, and I thought the walk might burn off some of the alcohol that had ceased doing me any favors.
I walked up Ninth Avenue, then turned east of Fifty-seventh Street, along surprisingly empty sidewalks. As I crossed Fifth Avenue, thereby officially entering the east side, a group of equally drunken girls shouted catcalls at me, which at least put a smile back on my face.
It had not been my intention to return to the Penthouse, but, as I walked, I realized that was exactly what I was going to do. I was going to find Jamie, and take him in my arms and promise to protect him... to never let him go... to...
The blare of a taxi horn stopped me seconds before I would have been run down, and I leapt back to the sidewalk.
The next morning I took the subway one stop past my usual station and walked a few blocks out of my way to Fifth Avenue.
Hanover's Book Store wouldn't be open for another hour, but the window gates had already been rolled back up. I squinted at the displays in the row of windows lining Fifth Avenue but only saw the same old authors and the same old books set out to entice impulse buyers and window shoppers. Stephen King's latest; Jackie Collins's latest; a new collection of shorts by Garrison Keillor; the new unauthorized joint biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver; Doris Kearns Goodwin; Diana Gabaldon; Tom Clancy; Nelson DeMille...
I was about to leave, my anticipation unrewarded, when I thought I saw a familiar sight out of the corner of my eye. I strained against the glare of the sun off the plate-glass window and, sure enough, saw the cover of The Brewster Mall in the hands of a store employee, just as he was about to set the book on a wooden prop in the window.
And then he took away a Tom Clancy book. No, not just one Tom Clancy book... all the Tom Clancy books! One by one, as I stood in slack-jawed witness, he removed copies of the New York Times number-five best-seller from that valuable window space and then, when Clancy was gone, replaced the entire display with copies of The Brewster Mall. By Andrew Westlake. Me.
I decided that it was going to be a wonderful day.
I was wrong once again.
If he ever thought about how he ended up doing what he did for a living, in an entirely alternative -- well, okay, illegitimate -- field, Grant would have been hard-pressed for an answer. But he seldom thought about it, so it didn't really matter. What mattered to him as each day drew to a close was that he was working, putting bread on the table, and... that was about it.
The handful of times he did think about it, he thought it was a mostly wrong but inescapable career path, to the extent that being a professional thief was a career. Which is certainly was, to him.
Growing up in a fading industrial city in southern New Jersey, close but not too close to Philadelphia, Grant watched the rich get richer and the more numerous poor get poorer. Just like the song promised, except without a catchy tune. That's why he had to get out of there. Not only was it no place to live as a gay man, it was no place to make a decent living, unless you were fortunate enough -- or lucky enough, which he figured was about the same thing -- to be one of those rich getting richer.
But it wasn't a Marxian appraisal of economic inequality -- not that he would know Karl from Zeppo from Richard -- that led Grant Lambert to his alternative economic lifestyle.
It was New York City.
Returning from the projection room after turning off the VCR, Jimmy had a tissue in his hand.
"Here," he said, and Noah took it. Jimmy leaned against the aisle chair across from Noah. "You saw The Glance?"
"I saw a lot of things," Noah said, grateful to feel Bart's arm reach around his shoulder. "But, yes, I saw The Glance."
"Well, first of all, don't listen to that asshole husband of mine. I can guarantee you that in just a few minutes he'll be locked in the bathroom, crying like a baby. He can be a bastard, but at least he's a sentimental bastard." Noah laughed. "And secondly, let it flow. It was a beautiful moment that led to the rest of our lives, and it's preserved forever on celluloid. That's sort of special, and if it's beautiful enough to make you cry a little bit, I think that's great."
Noah smiled, even though that made his head hurt even more. "Thanks, Jimmy."
Jimmy patted Noah, then Bart, on the shoulder. "I'm going to bed. Thanks for joining us for movie night."
They said their good nights. Then, when Jimmy was gone, Noah turned to Bart.
"You know what else?"
Bart smiled knowingly. "I think I know. They were young once. And now they're not." His hand squeezed Noah's shoulder. "I know, baby, I know."
The Penthouse was located in the low East Sixties, a few buildings off Second Avenue. I followed Rick through the front door of what I first thought was a residential brownstone until he opened the interior door and the commingled conversation and laughter of a hundred male voices spilled out into the vestibule.
And that's how, minutes after nine o'clock on a warm Thursday evening in June, Brett Revere, Trust Fund Baby, made his debut at the Penthouse, following Rick Atkins dutifully as he snaked his way through the crowd to a long, polished bar.
I took a look around the room while Rick ordered drinks. The rumors were true: the patrons were on the older side, and many of them were still in suits, not having had quite enough cocktails to steel them for home. However, as Rick had promised, there were enough young men not readily identifiable as prostitutes to give the place a bit of variety.
"...(L)et's face it, Drew, you and Frank were mismatched from the start. You had almost nothing in common except a mutual attraction, and mutual attractions don't last forever. Trust me on that. I mean... the guy wasn't even gay!"
"Oh, I think he was gay. Well... sort of."
"With you, maybe. Which wouldn't make him the first heterosexual to experiment, would it?"
"It just seems like we've gone through too much to have it end this way," I said, not answering her question and still trying to rationalize the relationship.
She sighed again. "I'm not saying you didn't go through a lot, Drew. But we all go through a lot every day. We're New Yorkers. It's our
We're New Yorkers. Right. And everyone knows that the average New Yorker's day is spent dodging bullets while being indiscreetly watched by cops and robbers, all while streaking up the New York Times Best-seller List as an overnight -- literally -- success story, thanks to an on-air endorsement from an extremely popular radio shock jock.
Right. I was living a New York life, right down to the tapped phone and the bruised ribs.
Twenty minutes later, the lights were turned back up. Hadley glanced at Romero and, sure enough, the actor was ashen. This was going to be easier than he had hoped.
"So you see the problem here," he said, and Romero nodded, not making eye contact with anything but the aquarium. "If this tape were to get out, well... like I said earlier, it would mean the destruction of your career. Romeo, everything you've worked forty years to build would be destroyed within days."
"What do you want, Ian?" His voice was weak.
Hadley laughed. "I assumed that was obvious."
Romero nodded his understanding of the unspoken blackmail demand. "And the tape? I will get possession of it, of course."
"Of course." The smile disappeared. "As soon as I'm adequately compensated for my silence and discretion, you will get the tape." He paused, then: "Can I ask you a question, Romeo? Why did you do it?"
Romero finally looked at him. His eyes were tired. "Because I am a human being, and I'm weak."
"Hmm." Hadley tented his fingers on the desk and stared at them. "That's interesting. You see, I've always been fascinated by the things people do to self-destruct. And you, well... you especially fascinate me. Thirty years out of a forty-year acting career spent pretending to be gay, just to keep your calling alive. And then to almost have it undone by an indiscreet romp in a hot tub, well... that's fascinating."
"That's one way to look at it."
"And you know what made it worse, Romeo? You know what made the whole thing so sordid?"
"That Speedo you were wearing. I mean, what were you thinking, man?"
Noah left the imposing Sixth Avenue building housing Palmer/Midkiff/Carlyle and began wandering aimlessly up the avenue, into the West Forties. Even though it was still technically the final days of summer, the tourists had largely decamped after Labor Day, and he was determined to enjoy the relatively uncrowded sidewalks. The holidays, with their maddening hordes, would arrive soon enough. After a dozen blocks, as he approached Radio City Music Hall, he saw something out of the corner of his eye that stopped him in mid-crosswalk.
It was that stranger, the handsome young man from Bar 51, walking south on the opposite side of Sixth Avenue.
Noah squinted, unable to believe that he was having this third coincidental encounter. As he stood in mid-crosswalk, the lights changed; two milliseconds later, a line of cabs and delivery trucks laid on the horns. Noah jumped and dashed for the opposite corner, narrowly avoiding a bicycle messenger in the process.
He looked back at the stranger, who now -- thanks to the ruckus -- was staring back at him. And when he smiled, Noah smiled sheepishly in return.
His view temporarily blocked by a row of passing tour buses, Noah tried to make a quick decision. Should he be bold, and dart across the street while he still had the light? Or should he walk away and recognize this for what it was: a chance series of encounters?
The decision was one that, in the end, he didn't have to make. Because when the buses were gone, so was the stranger.
Anxiously, he scanned the sidewalk, looking up and down Sixth Avenue, but he had completely vanished.
Noah thought, How the hell does someone disappear like that? Where did he go? And he cursed himself again for letting opportunity slip through his fingers.
In all honesty, after a year of being apart, I was more or less indifferent to his presence. Yes, the breakup had been his idea; and no, I hadn't seen it coming; and yes, I was bitter for a while, especially when I found out who he'd dumped me for. But time had passed, and the wounds had healed. There were even times when I missed him a bit. Not enough to return his infrequent calls, obviously, but I still felt a little something whenever I picked up his voice mail: a tinge of nostalgia, as memories of the good times crept into the corners of my mind.
Enough not to mind his company for a few minutes while I waited for David, at least.
"So again." he said, after ordering his drink, "what brings you to the Jones?"
"I hope this isn't going to sound rude, but I'm meeting someone here."
A thin smile crossed his lips and he took a long, slow look at the handful of regulars strung along the bar. "Anyone I know?"
"Not even anyone I know." He looked at me, not quite comprehending, so I filled in the blanks. "It's a blind date."
Again came the smile. "A blind date?"
I looked away and sighed. "An Internet date. Are you happy now? Your ex-boyfriend is so pathetic that he's meeting someone he's only talked to through e-mail."
Stuart laughed. "Oh, Brian, that's not pathetic. Well... maybe a little. But why are you meeting him here?"
"Because I never come here. If I had him meet me at the Pub, say, he'd know where to stalk me."
"It sounds as if you've already decided it won't work out."
I shrugged. "It's an Internet date. What could possibly go wrong?..."
...I returned to the subject of the watch and asked, "So what's the verdict?"
"Nice," he said, rolling it slowly through his fingers. "Just don't get it wet or drop it."
"Is it that fragile?"
"Yeah. But only because it's probably some five dollar knockoff, not the real thing."
"I assumed one of his ladies gave it to him."
Jamie raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Maybe." He paused, then added, "But did you think to ask yourself why Michael would give you a watch worth... well, for the sake of argument, let's say he didn't find it on Canal Street, and it's really worth thousands of dollars. Why would he hand it over to you?"
"Good question. I suppose if he has a few good watches and thought I needed one..."
"You're overestimating the generosity of Michael DeVries. If Michael thought he had too many Cartier watches, he'd want even more Cartier watches." He handed the watch back to me. "Still, on the outside chance it's real, congratulations."
"Well... it looks real." I strapped the watch around my wrist. It did look real. To me, at least.
"Yeah, it looks real." He let out a bitter laugh. "Story of our life, right?"
I ignored the comment, even though those might have been the most truthful words I had heard all day.
Kensington Publishing Corp.
Buy it at Now Voyager
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"...I can't even begin to tell you how many things I get invited to. Openings, benefits... Most of them are very tiring. I don't even bother opening half the envelopes that come in the mail."
"Then why are you inviting me? Aren't there going to be any eighteen-year-old Armenian sailors in port that night?"
He glared at me unpleasantly. "If you'd rather not go..."
He brightened again. "I'm inviting you for three reasons. First, because I've come to enjoy your company despite your puzzling habit of biting the hand that feeds you. Second, because I'm hoping that an appearance by the author of Allentown Blues and The Brewster Mall might generate a little interest and publicity and help make both of us some money. And third, because maybe you'll meet your next lover there."
"That's very noble of you."
"Nobility has nothing to do with it. If you meet a nice upstanding white-collar man, maybe you'll stop moping and rediscover your muse. Then you can write me a best-seller."
I realized with a jolt that we were headed toward Ted and Nicky's love nest, so I gently took hold of David's arm and guided him around a corner. He never even seemed to notice.
"This place is going to be great!"
"Who owns it? Who's Benedict?"
"Benedick," he corrected.
"Oh. Now I understand."
"No, you don't," he said, shaking his head. "Benedick. Remember your Shakespeare? Much Ado About Nothing? Although I can't be sure there's not an intentional double entendre at work."
"Classy. There's nothing like a bunch of Shakespeare-quoting homosexuals in spandex dancing to Madonna to give me hope for the future of our sexuality. And anyway, wasn't Benedick straight?"
"As far as I'm concerned, the jury's still out. Remember, he was a confirmed bachelor in the beginning of Much Ado About Nothing..."
"And almost a married man at the end," I pointed out.
"Details," he snorted. "Even Oscar Wilde was a married man. Maybe you're still too bitter to go out in public."
Kensington Publishing Corp.
Buy it at Giovanni's Room
What's this about? Click here.
Since I'm making a series of public appearances over the next six weeks or so (New York City, April 22; Chicago, May 4; New Orleans, May 13-17 -- so mark your calendars) and doing some writer-ish things this spring (Saints & Sinners Literary Festival; Lambda Literary Awards), I thought it would be a good time to introduce and reintroduce you to my work.