|Title||The Blood of Love|
|Author||Victor J. Banis|
|ISBN#||978-1-60820-154-9 (print) $14.99|
|978-1-60820-155-6 (ebook) Â $6.99|
|Release Date||June 2010|
|Cover Artist||Deana C. Jamroz|
|Available At:||MlrBooks (ebook)|
An ancient curse. An endless terror. A love that will never die.
The Amorinii, “the Blood” – the undying sons of the loins of Amor, the ancient Roman God of Love. For desiring men, they are forever cast adrift by the Goddess of Love, Venus herself. Scorned and pursued through the centuries by those who would see them destroyed. For some men, love is a curse.
Jonathon Everest, just leaving his office, started and turned his head in the speaker’s direction. What he saw was an old man, round shouldered, leaning on a cane with hands that trembled noticeably. An old, old man, wizened. Staring wide-eyed at him, a look of hopeful expectancy on his face.
“I beg your pardon?”
“It is you.” The stranger grinned widely, revealing a gap in his yellowed teeth. “I knew, the minute I saw the picture.” He tugged a newspaper clipping from the pocket of a worn but clean shirt and shaking it open, held it out for Jonathon’s perusal.
Jonathon took no more than a glance at the clipping. He recognized it, of course. It had come from the San Francisco Chronicle, yesterday’s edition. It showed him accepting an award for humanitarian of the year from the Council on Gay and Lesbian Studies. He’d clipped it from the paper as well. At the moment, his copy was tacked up on a corkboard in his office. He knew, also, that it clearly identified him by name: “Jonathon Everest, of Weatherby, Weatherby and Dean, accepts humanitarian award from Gay Council.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said now.
The old man thrust the paper at him determinedly. “Here, take it.” His voice insistent.
Jonathon ignored the clipping. “My name is Jonathon Everest and…”
“No.” It was said in a surprisingly forceful tone. “Your name is Ethan Soames. Do you think for a moment I could ever forget you?”
“I tell you, you don’t know…”
“But I do know.” The old man’s voice was rising in pitch and volume. He was nearly shouting now.
They were in the corridor outside Jonathon’s accounting office. It was five o’clock, quitting time, and the hallway was filled with people hurrying on their way home for the day, eddying around the two men and some of them casting curious glances.
“Look, we can’t stand here arguing,” Jonathon said, mindful of the sideways glances. “Come with me.”
Without waiting to see if he was obeyed, he walked quickly, decisively in the opposite direction from those heading toward the elevators, taking a key from his pocket as he went. He unlocked the unmarked door at the end of the corridor, stepped inside and, as the old man followed him in, closed it after them and locked it again.
They were in the firm’s executive restroom. It smelled of disinfectant and soap, something artificially piney. Other odors lingered beneath those, faint but unmistakable. Bright lights glittered off gleaming white tile and spotless porcelain. Brass fittings winked. There was ice in the unmanned urinals, glittering as well. The stall doors stood open.
The two men were alone. The toilets suddenly flushed in unison, water gurgling, breaking the silence, but it was an automatic system, timed for every six minutes—just in case someone forgot. Executives had other things on their minds, it seemed, more important than flushing when they’d finished Number Two.
Jonathon turned to confront the old man. “Now, then, Mister…?”
“But you know my name. You can’t have forgotten that.”
Jonathon only stared at him, waiting.
The stranger sighed. “Samuel,” he said. “Samuel Barney. Sam. But I can’t believe you didn’t know that. I can’t believe you don’t remember.” Samuel Barney stood now without the help of his cane, and he drew back his shoulders in a determined way. He looked like a man very sure of himself. A man not easily intimidated.
“Mister Barney,” Jonathon said, speaking in a patient and carefully neutral voice. He was sure he could handle the situation. Handling situations was a specialty of his, perfected over long time. At this stage in his life, he thought that nothing could surprise him. “I don’t know what kind of delusion you’re suffering from, but…”
Barney did surprise him, though. “Take down your pants.”
Jonathon’s jaw dropped. “What?”
Samuel Barney smiled. “Your trousers. Lower them.”
Jonathon’s laugh was embarrassed. “Now look here, if this is some kind of, well, I don’t know what—sexual advance, I suppose, whatever, I am not…”
“You have a wound, a prominent scar, right here.” The old man put a hand to his right groin. “You show me. If there’s no scar, I’ll apologize and leave. Otherwise, you’re going to have to do some serious explaining. Or I’m going to raise some serious hell.”
They stared at one another for a long moment, eyes locked. Jonathon gave a shake of his head and sighed. “No. I’m not going to do it. This is ridiculous. A perfect stranger accosts me on my way from work and demands that I drop my drawers for him? I’ve had some passes in my day, but yours takes the cake. Next I suppose you’ll be describing my dick.”
“I could, you know. You know I could. Hard, soft, anything in between. I saw it often enough. The never-cum-dick, I used to call it. You see, I remember everything. And you won’t do it, you won’t show me because you can’t, because you know I’m right.”
Jonathon looked around as if to appeal to some higher, restroom authority. “Look, what is it that you want, really? Forget about my dick, I’m particular who I share that with, but, what then, money?” He reached for the wallet in the inside pocket of his blazer. “I don’t know how much I have, but if it’ll get you out of my hair…”
“Money?” He fairly spat the word. “You dare to offer me money? After what we…after…” He sputtered and seemed to lose the thread of what he had been about to say.
“What were we, Mister Barney? Or, rather, what do you think we were?”
“We were…” For the first time, though, Samuel Barney grew confused, lost the confidence with which he had spoken up till now. He blinked, his head rocking to and fro in a palsied motion. He saw himself in the mirror behind Jonathon, and was shaken by his image, looked quickly away from it. Old men were not fond of mirrors. Especially not old men who had once been young and very, very handsome. Now he was…just old.
“But…but, it can’t be, can it? Look at me. Look at my hands.” He looked down at them himself. They were shriveled, brown-spotted, the knuckles prominent. And they had begun to shake again. “I’m old. I’ll be eighty four in another month. And you ought to be too, but you’re not. You’re so young. As young as you were then. You haven’t aged a bit.” His shoulders, a moment before held back firmly, slumped in an attitude of defeat. “I don’t understand it.”
“I’m forty one. Half your age, if you want to look at it like that. So you see…” Jonathon spread his hands in a dismissive gesture.
“I see that there’s something very peculiar here. Something…something unnatural, something weird beyond comprehension.” Sam tilted his chin up, and his eyes blazed with sudden anger. “Damn you, I want to see your groin. I insist.” He raised the cane as if he meant to strike Jonathon with it. “Show me.”
They were interrupted by the sound of a key in the lock and the door swung inward. Horace Weatherby, Jonathon’s boss, appeared in the doorway.
“Not interrupting anything, am I?” he asked in a voice that said he knew perfectly well he was interrupting. He looked from one to the other, an eyebrow cocked.
“No. The gentleman just mistook me for someone else. He’s leaving.” Jonathon’s tone was final.
Weatherby came the rest of the way into the room, unconsciously moving to stand beside Jonathon, the two of them confronting Samuel Barney with a kind of united front. Barney looked back and forth, swallowing.
“I think you should go home,” Jonathon said in a gentle voice. “Forget whatever you think you know—about me.”
The toilets punctuated his suggestion with another flush, the noise loud in the room’s tense silence.
“Oh, I’ll go all right. Home.” Barney made the single word sound ugly. “But I’m not going to forget. And you needn’t think for a moment you’ve fooled me either. We aren’t finished yet. I’m going to learn the truth. Something’s rotten in Denmark, all right, and I’m going to find out what. What’s more, when I do—and I will, you can believe that—I’m going to share it with the world. I told you, I’m going to raise some serious hell. You aren’t going to jilt me twice, in the same lifetime, and get away with it.” And he added, in a definite voice, “Ethan.”
He went out, once again leaning on his cane, his fingers quaking. The door swung shut behind him.
Weatherby looked at Jonathon. “Ethan?” he said. “Is he…?”
“No one,” Jonathon said firmly. “No one that need concern us.”
* * * *;
Samuel Barney’s “home” was just a room in a Tenderloin hotel for transients. He could have lived better, had often been coaxed by his grandson to move in with him in his Castro apartment, but he’d preferred to be alone. His loneliness was his only legacy from the great love he had once known.
The loneliness, and the mirror. He took it out of the locked drawer where he kept it, held it up and looked into it, as he did every day. He was not looking at himself, but at the shabby room behind him. Or, really, not even at that. He was looking, as he always did, for something. But for what, he had no idea. In some far corner of his mind, he knew there was something he should see, something that he had once seen, but that had slid away from his consciousness without recognition. What? He’d asked himself that question a thousand times or more, but still the answer did not come.
The mirror was small, no larger than a sheet of typing paper. The glass, cloudy with age, was surrounded by an elaborately carved bronze frame, inset with semi-precious stones. It was pre-renaissance, maybe even late Roman, someone had suggested years before, and a collector had once offered him an incredible sum of money for it. He could sell it at any time, he knew, for enough to leave this seedy room behind and make a new life for himself.
He couldn’t bring himself to do that, though, and not only for sentimental reasons. He wasn’t sure how safe it would be to sell it. He’d stolen it, though that had been long ago, and whether anyone else even knew of its existence, he had no idea. Ethan did, surely. And must have known who had taken it. It had been valuable to Ethan, certainly—yet in the intervening years, Ethan had made no effort to reclaim it, which was in itself a mystery.
More than forty years ago. In some ways, it felt as if it had been only yesterday. He’d gone to Ethan’s apartment in not-quite Beverly Hills, unable to believe the note he’d gotten, that Ethan was gone, that they would never see one another again.
How could he believe it? They had been so in love, so devoted to one another. Yes, yes, he knew for certain they had been in love, and both of them. His had been no one-sided passion, his love for Ethan had been matched by Ethan’s love for him. On that score he had not a single doubt: Ethan had loved him too. So, then, what possible reason could Ethan have for ending it so suddenly? It made no sense. What could have led him to pen that note?
“Remember me fondly, please. Our time together has been very precious to me, more precious than you will ever know.” And then, one word, that had never before seemed so stark, so terrible: “Goodbye.”
At Ethan’s apartment he used the key Ethan had given him to let himself in, half expecting to discover that the lock would have been changed.
It hadn’t, but it was clear at a glance that Ethan had gone. Or, at least, that he was in the process of going, of moving out. The closets were empty, his clothes, all his personal belongings gone. Only a few cardboard boxes, already taped shut, stood neatly stacked against one wall.
And atop the boxes, the mirror, with a note attached to it, in Ethan’s handwriting: “Frank: Pack this for me, please, carefully. I didn’t trust myself to do it right.”
Samuel debated just staying there, waiting for Ethan to come back; but it did not appear he meant to return. This looked more as if someone else, movers perhaps, would be coming to finish emptying the apartment. He even toyed with the idea that they must surely be able to tell him where Ethan had gone.
But what explanation could he have given them for needing to know. This was a long time ago. Homosexuality wasn’t as accepted then. Certainly homosexuals had few rights. He knew that. At best, they’d probably laugh at him. Or, worse, throw him out violently. Maybe call the police. Homosexuals were still arrested then, often on the slightest pretext.
He left without waiting to see anyone, but he crumpled up the note and took the mirror with him, partly to have something of Ethan’s, and partly in the hope that Ethan would come for the mirror. He hadn’t even, at the time, thought of it as “stealing.” Certainly he had no qualms about taking it.
If he doesn’t care about me, he told himself, maybe he’ll care enough for it.
He went back to his own apartment with the mirror, a real apartment then, and not just a room in a seedy Tenderloin hotel. He got drunk.
Four years drunk, as it turned out, until he awakened one morning lying in some garbage in an alley, with no memory of how he had gotten there, with no money, everything he’d owned gone—except for the mirror. When he got up, brushing garbage and alley dirt off himself, he discovered the mirror carefully wrapped in his filthy jacket. He had somehow held on to that. Or maybe it had held on to him.
He stood in the faint light of early dawn, staring into the milky glass, trying to remember. Something that he had seen in the mirror, or half-seen, anyway, teased at his memory. Something that he wanted to see again, that instinct told him would solve the mystery of Ethan’s disappearance. The memory would not come. Like the mirror’s glass, the four years were shrouded in mists, and they had remained so.
He sobered up, got a job. Met and became friends with Annabel and her new son, Nate, the only people since Ethan who had really cared for him. He resumed his life—or a pretense of it. Without Ethan, it wasn’t really a life, just an empty ritual. He’d gotten through it as best he could, had managed to regain some sense of self-respect. If he’d ever asked himself what it was that he had kept living for, ever delved into that question, he would probably have told himself it was for Ethan. Somehow, over the years, he had remained convinced against all odds that he would one day see Ethan again.
And, finally, so he had. He had recognized him instantly when he’d seen the photograph in the newspaper. How could he ever forget that face? He was certain beyond any doubt that the man he had accosted today was Ethan Soames, no matter what Ethan said to the contrary.
But that thought no sooner entered his mind than he asked himself, how could that be? Ethan would be as old as he was now, or nearly so. And the man today had been as young as Ethan had been back then. He hadn’t aged a day.
He stared into the glass as if he might see the answer there, but whatever the mirror’s secret, whatever he was supposed to see, had gone with his memory of those four years. And today, too…something flickered in his memory of that scene in the restroom. The artificial stink of pine. He heard the water running, Ethan’s voice as if from a great distance…he had a conviction that he had seen or heard something significant in those brief moments. But, what? Again, the answer refused to come.
Something moved behind him—and as suddenly as that, the mists vanished from his mind and he remembered. In a single instant, the mirror revealed its long held secret to him. The glass into which he gazed showed him an empty room, though he knew with chilling certainty that it was not empty. Just as once before, years ago, in Ethan’s apartment, he’d seen an empty room, though Ethan had stood no more than two feet away from him…and today, too, when he’d glanced in that restroom’s mirror. He had seen an empty glass, that should not have been empty.
He turned. A man stood just inside the room, though the door was locked. How had he come in, through the locked door, without a sound?
Samuel said, “You.”
It was the last word he uttered.