Rick R. Reed © 2020
All Rights Reserved
The night had turned cold while they were in the Brig, one of Chicago’s oldest and most infamous leather establishments. A strong wind out of the north had blown away the cloud cover that allowed the city of Chicago to retain a little Indian summer heat this late October night. With the wind, the temperature had plunged nearly twenty degrees, from a relatively balmy sixty-two, down to the low forties. But the wind had also revealed a sprinkling of stars, visible even with the ambient light from downtown. And the moon had emerged, almost full, lending a silvery cast to North Clark Street.
Donald wrapped his arms around Mark as they headed south on Clark, toward the side street where they had left their car. Even with his chaps, biker jacket, and boots, Donald felt the chill bite into him, vicious. He couldn’t imagine how Mark was faring, wearing only a T-shirt and jeans. He’d get his boy into leather one of these days! It was just past three a.m., and the far north side neighborhood called Andersonville, once the province of Swedes and working class folk, and now the home of yuppies and gays, was quiet. A lone taxi headed north up Clark, looking for fares. Someone even unsteadier on his feet came out of the adult bookstore ahead of them, blinking rapidly, and looking around, perhaps for more excitement than he had found in the bookstore. Donald thought that, once upon a time, he could have been the sad, singular man emerging from an adult bookstore while the rest of the world slept, but things had changed since he had met Mark six months ago.
“I feel almost—almost—like we’re the only two people on earth,” Donald said to Mark, drawing him in close for a sloppy, beery kiss. When he pulled his mouth away, he flashed the crooked grin he knew entranced his boyfriend and completed the thought with, “And that’s fine by me.”
Mark grinned back, then rubbed his upper arms. “It’s not fine by me. Not when it’s this frickin’ cold! Let’s get home!”
They wrapped their arms around each other to ward off the cold, much as they had done the night they met, back in March, in the same leather bar. And once again, they were just a bit boozy and flushed with need for each other. Tonight, the weather outside may not have been as frigidly cold as it had been last winter when they had first laid eyes upon one another, but the heat and electricity passing between them was still burning as brightly as that very first night.
Donald stopped again in the middle of the sidewalk, pulling Mark close and planting a kiss on his cheek. There was no one around, and in this neighborhood, such displays really were nothing to worry about, Donald thought. Hell, most anyone they encountered would either be sympathetic or jealous. He nipped at Mark’s earlobe and whispered, “I love you, you know that?” He paused to breathe in Mark’s scent and to nuzzle his nose in Mark’s blond curls.
And Mark stopped, right there in the middle of Clark Street, on an early Sunday morning, and placed his hands on Donald’s shoulders, so he would stop walking and so he could look right back into Mark’s penetrating stare. “And I love you, Donald.” He gave a small grin and looked down at the ground for just a second, almost as if he was embarrassed, and then said, “And I always will. This is a forever thing.”
Donald felt a rush of warmth go through him at the exact same moment a harsh wind, full of chill and with the smell of dark water, glided east from over Lake Michigan. He pulled Mark close and kissed him full on the mouth, his tongue lifting Mark’s and doing a little duel with it. Neither of them closed their eyes, preferring instead to stare into each other’s rapt gazes. Just as they were breaking apart, they stiffened as the roar of a souped-up engine shattered the still of the night. The backfire issuing forth from the car’s muffler made both men jump. They gave each other a quick glance, then laughed.
The car, an old maroon Duster that had been tricked out beyond good sense, taste, or fiscal responsibility, slowed across from the pair. Three shadowy figures moved inside. One of them rolled down a window, and a young male face, pale and marred by acne in the moon’s light, emerged making a kissing sound, exaggerated and prolonged. Donald heard the other guys in the car laughing. He stiffened and felt a trickle of sweat roll into the small of his back, in spite of the chill in the air.
Just as suddenly as they had arrived, they roared off, leaving them in a wake of sour-smelling exhaust. But they did not leave without casting a parting shot out the window. “Fucking faggots!”
Donald shook his head, glancing over at Mark, whose young face was creased with worry. “Don’t let shit like that get to you. They’re idiots. And chickenshits… It’s pretty easy to call names at people from a speeding car.”
The pair continued south. Up ahead, they needed to turn east to make their way to the little side street where they had parked Donald’s Prius. The street could usually be counted on for a spot, even on a busy Saturday night. Donald thought it was more the fact that the street was hard to get to than the fact that it ran along the northern border of St. Boniface Cemetery that made it such a good parking bet.
“I know. They’re just a bunch of assholes,” Mark said as they continued east. Donald could feel the defeat and fear in his voice. He hoped the hotrod homophobes hadn’t broken the spell of their night. Because Mark was much younger, he hadn’t been exposed to some of the same ridicule and taunting Donald had, growing up in the late sixties and seventies.
Donald bit his lower lip, suddenly feeling all the shame and embarrassment he had once associated with being gay rise up again. It never really disappears, does it? His face felt flushed, and a curious mixture of emotions warred within him. First, there was the shame, which he chastised himself for, but he still couldn’t stop the little inner voice that scolded him for the public displays of affection, even on an early Sunday morning and in a part of town that was very gay. Second, there was a more recent, more reasonable voice that was enraged and asked “How dare they?” This voice was ready to chase after the speeding car, shouting epithets right back at the cowards who hid behind the car’s macho posturing and tinted glass. And the final voice, the other half of the fight or flee duo, just wanted to grab Mark’s hand and run back to the car, jump inside, and make sure all the doors were locked before roaring off into the night themselves. Thank God they had a secure garage to park in at home.
“Yeah…assholes,” Donald whispered, then spoke up. “I need to be getting you home, young man. It’s way past your bedtime.” Donald quickened his pace so Mark would match his step and tried not to let the name-calling weigh too heavily on the evening. He was pissed about how a mood could be so easily shattered, especially by some more-than-likely suburban rubes that were not entitled to it. Fuck them! He wished he could make the mood come back, but not now, not with the “fucking faggots” still ringing fresh in his ears.
Maybe when they got home, Donald could put things right. No maybe about it! He would light candles, open a bottle of wine, put on some trance music, and urge Mark over to the couch. He would undress him slowly, gliding his strong hands over every inch of Mark’s silky skin as he exposed it. He could already taste Mark’s lips and the clean heat of his mouth.
They were almost to their car when they both tensed, slowing as they heard the growling muffler of a car behind them. Donald closed his eyes, thinking, Oh God, please not again. Not them. They both stopped for just an instant. Donald didn’t have to look back to know who was in the loudly idling car behind them. His heart began to thud, and he resisted an impulse to simply grab Mark’s hand and run the three or four feet it would take them to get to the car. But such a sissy maneuver was probably just the kind of thing those assholes would take particular delight in seeing. And the hot pursuit of a couple of scared queers would be the perfect capper to a boring night.
Donald spoke quietly, out of the corner of his mouth. “Let’s just walk to the car. Don’t look back. Don’t even give them the satisfaction we’re aware of them. We both know who it is. But to look back will just open the door to more shit.”
Mark kept pace. “Right.” His voice was clipped, and Donald could pick up on the fear and tension in it.
Behind them, they heard the kissing sound again, over the beat of some heavy metal music, the bass throbbing hard enough to shake the car’s frame. “Hey, boys!” A falsetto voice, mocking, rang out through the autumn night. Donald wanted to freeze in his tracks and could tell Mark did too by the way he tensed. But Donald had enough presence of mind to keep moving forward slowly, cautiously, the way one would back away from a lion about to pounce. No sudden moves. No eye contact. Donald had to remind himself to breathe.
A wolf whistle cut through the night air. “Hey, if you guys are gonna suck some dick tonight, can we get in on the action?” The car’s passengers erupted with laughter.
Donald dug in his tight-fitting Levi’s for his keys. His hand was trembling. His stomach was churning. He wished they had left much earlier. He wished they had parked on busier, more brightly lit Clark Street. He wished they had taken a cab. He wished he had left his leather gear at home, just for tonight. He managed to grasp the keys just as they arrived at the car. Mark hurried around to the passenger side. When Donald met Mark’s gaze, he saw that the younger man’s eyes were bright with fear. He mouthed the word “Hurry” to Donald.
The sound of car doors slamming behind them made Donald’s hands shake so badly he dropped the keys into the gravel by the side of the road. “Fuck,” he whispered. They were off busy Clark now, and the side street was dark. Empty. He couldn’t see where the keys had fallen. He could see where they should logically be, but of course, that’s not where they were.
Mark said, in a tense voice, “Hurry up, Donald.”
Donald didn’t have to look behind him to know the car’s occupants were no longer in the Duster and were getting closer. Each slam of a car door caused his heart to beat a little faster, his breath to quicken. One of their voices sounded almost right behind him.
“So what do you say, guys, how about a little head?”
Snickers. High fives. Laughter all around.
Donald swallowed painfully, his throat dry. He tried feeling around in the cinders beside the road with the toe of his boot and came up empty. He did what he had to do, bent down to grope in the gravel for his keys.
“Nice,” one of the boys hissed behind him. “Hey, Justin, look at that. He’s getting ready for you.”
Donald straightened quickly, the keys in his hand now, hoping the two of them could get in the car before the guys drew any closer.
He had his finger on the remote button that would unlock the door to the Prius when he felt the blow to his lower back. He tried to suck in some breath, but it seemed there was no air. The pain, rushing up, white hot, from his kidneys was fierce, intense, and agonizing. He saw stars. There was no air. He dropped the keys again and groaned, slowly reaching back to rub at the spot where something hard had landed powerfully against the tender area of his back. Through pain-blurred eyes, he looked down and saw the keys lying on the gravel once more, glinting back at him mockingly in the moonlight. He didn’t know if he could reach down and get them, couldn’t imagine how the movement might ratchet the pain in his back up to unbearable levels. And then he groaned again, not because of his own pain, but because he saw one of the other guys, his face hidden by a shadow from the Chicago White Sox baseball cap he wore, grab hold of Mark from behind and pull him close to his chest. The guy whispered something in Mark’s ear and made that infernal kissing sound again. Only this time, no one was laughing. He lifted Mark, whose bright, terrified eyes seemed to reach out to Donald across the hood of the car, pulling him aloft for a second and away from the car. Another of his buddies, this one wearing a do-rag and a leather jacket that would have looked very much at home in the Brig, stepped up, pulled back his arm, and punched Mark savagely in the stomach. Mark let out a great whoosh of air and then a groan.
The guy in the Sox cap let him go to watch Mark stumble, clutching his stomach. Donald heard Mark whisper, with what was left of his breath, “Please…no.” Donald attempted again to reach for the keys, but the pain, searing, prevented him.
And then another of the trio stepped up behind Mark, and Donald saw the hard, blunt object that had just so painfully connected with his own kidneys, an aluminum baseball bat. This guy wore no cap and had the face of a boy: ruddy, matching the dark red hair that topped his head. He handed the bat to the guy in the leather jacket, smiling. The man in the leather jacket took the bat from him, gripping it firmly around the base. “Batter up!” the guy in the Sox cap called and then guffawed. The guy in leather’s face was a mask of grim determination as he raised the bat and prepared to bring it down, with great force, on top of Mark’s head.
Donald cried out, heedless of his pain. “No! Get away from him, you son of a bitch.” Blindly furious, Donald stumbled forward, around the back of the car, to try to do whatever he could to stop that bat from connecting with Mark’s skull. But as in nightmares, his movements were agonizingly slow, as if he were moving through something thick and viscous, even as the beating on the other side of the car seemed to speed up, as if in fast-forward motion.
Donald stood frozen near the back bumper, breathless and wheezing, as the bat came down and landed with a sickening thud on Mark’s head, sounding like a watermelon being squashed. Mark dropped to the ground, and Donald rushed to help him.
Like a pack of animals, they were on Donald, and it was only seconds before he too was on the ground, watching as booted and running-shoed feet kicked at him everywhere they could find that was soft: his stomach, his balls, his face.
He rolled into a little ball and had enough presence of mind to chastise himself for not being able to save Mark. He also thought, in that split-second moment, how quiet it all was. And how fast—how very fast—everything was moving.
He turned to look up. The guy with the leather jacket stood above him, swinging the bat; on his face an expression that was a curious mixture of glee and rage. He smiled, and Donald noticed details: the gap in his teeth, the stubble on his face, how his nose skewed to one side, as if it had been broken once. But the last thing—the most horrible thing—Donald remembered seeing was the bat whistling down through the air toward him. He rolled away, hearing someone whisper, “Get him. Get the cocksucker.” He reached out for Mark’s foot, which was only inches away.
And then everything went black.