A word of caution: This story’s a little more heavy-duty than my others so far. It contains scenes of non-consensual sex and exploitative sexual situations. It also makes heavy use of the term ‘boy’ in its colloquial sense – that is, to indicate a male of younger age and lesser status than the speaker. It is not a reference to children. All characters are 18 years of age or older.
New York City, 1902.
I saw the dark-haired boy first, as I was stepping out of a late appointment with my tailor. On the opposite side of the street by an alleyway, leaning, kicking a toe with a heel in the comfortable slow rhythm of one who’s done a deal of this sort of thing and expects to do more. A lot of waiting, a life lived largely outdoors, on the street, to somebody else’s schedule.
But what really caught my attention was the way he’d positioned himself at the exact corner of the building, the edges of the bricks no doubt cutting in, indenting along his spine if he’d been there any time. Was he in the alley, or not? If not, he was likely to get a unpleasant surprise sometime soon.
Any alleyway is only nominally about access or egress. Mostly they function as sheltered marketplaces for dubious transactions. This particular alley, I knew, was given over to the sort of dubious transaction that takes place between young men in need of ready cash and older, wealthier men in need of release.
Had he been down there? Was he about to go down? Was this…this hovering in the borderland him trying to steel himself, summon up the courage?
He’d notice me staring soon, and if he was whoring, it wasn’t unthinkable that he’d be bold enough to cross the street, parade his wares for closer inspection. I didn’t want that. I’d never involved myself with street urchins – I didn’t need to. I could make other less risky arrangements, and they’d worked well for me thus far.
It was widely known about the city that Frank Leyland was interested in the arts and could be counted on to sponsor the efforts of those young artists he considered promising, and so far as I could tell, it remained far less widely known that Frank accepted…encouraged, even…creative expressions of gratitude for his support.
I lit a cigarette and drew out the paper from under my arm, unfolding it to a quarter-sheet, appearing to frown down at it, cutting my eyes repeatedly across the street without moving my head, wanting for some reason to know what would happen next. After a few minutes I saw him suddenly straighten, pushing fluidly away from the wall as another boy emerged from the alley.
Ah…he was waiting for his friend.
The other boy came fully into view now, under the halo of a gas lamp, its radius widening as the day’s light failed. My breath caught in my throat – I saw stars, heard thunder, broke out in a sweat all over. Oh, sweet lord, he was beautiful! I never saw anyone so beautiful. Not in the last twenty years, anyway.
His cap was clutched in his hand and his hair was curling and golden-blond, longer than a schoolmaster would’ve permitted, coiling beguilingly around and below his ears. I couldn’t, of course, make out his eye color, but in profile his face showed a neat, regular nose, full lips, a strong jaw.
He was healthy looking, straight shoulders and lovely limbs, and it was hard to imagine him ever being short of custom down an alley… My upper body lurched forward in sheer animal instinct, but fortunately my reason maintained control of my feet, keeping them firmly planted to the sidewalk. No, Frank…
They were talking together now, the dark-haired boy watching, listening intently to whatever it was his companion had to say, head to one side like a bird, a hand resting on his mate’s forearm, as though in reassurance.
The blond boy shook his head slowly and replaced his cap, and the dark one’s palm came up to clap him on the shoulder lightly, before moving in, rubbing briefly between the shoulder-blades with the heel of his hand. He stepped back, and made some comment. The blond one’s posture relaxed, and he threw back his head and laughed.
I heard it, echoing across the street, I saw the expanse of soft exposed throat, and my long-held resolve to have nothing to do with urchins crumbled in an instant, slipping through my fingers like sand, like water.
They turned to walk away, close side-by-side, nudging one another intermittently. I watched them go for now. The dark-haired one had been down the alley too, before I arrived – I could tell from his gait. Both of them, then. In for a dime, in for a dollar…
I remained for some time after they’d retreated into the dusk, continuing my charade with the paper, keeping half an eye on the traffic in and out the alleyway opposite. There was nothing remarkable about it, or about the alley itself – nothing to suggest it was notorious.
Of course, that’s the whole point. There were probably a thousand others of precisely the same sort about the city, anonymous featureless slots, dark gashes mersin escort in a sea of pale facades. And yet somehow, people knew…even people like me, who’d never ventured into one.
Never ventured into one? My conscience nudged me uncomfortably as I tucked the paper under my arm again, and set off walking in the opposite direction. Like a great many things, that was a matter of definition…interpretation. Truth was, I had many a time intruded into one vicariously.
I discovered, by innocent accident the first time, that the goings-on of an alleyway situated beside a tavern – as so many of them are – could be viewed from above, if one took a first-floor room on a night when the better, street-facing suites were all already spoken for.
Thereafter, I always selected my hotels, when travelling, for their exterior entertainment possibilities, passing myself off as tight-fisted in disclaiming the need for a front window. I would set the lamp burning very low, well inside the room, and take up position by the window, cheek at the glass, my heart thumping, an answering pulse in my awakening cock, peering down at an obtuse angle, shapes gradually emerging from the gloom as my eyes adjusted.
I like to watch. I’ve always liked to watch. But it’s a difficult past-time to indulge. People who are sharing a deep intimacy understandably desire privacy, and people committing a public indecency are…similarly leery of attracting an audience.
A lot must needs be inferred in such a situation, for if you’re to remain unseen, the angle will be awkward, and the darkness permits very little detail. Just shapes, moving masses, edges blurred and bleeding into their surroundings, lacking depth or texture – simply blunt contrast and motion. Big shapes, smaller shapes, pale flesh, dark serge, glowing cigarette-tips bobbing about.
Depending on my position, I might see the smear of a face descending to waist-height, might discern the subtle rhythmic movement following, becoming quickly shorter, more choppy, signalling an impending explosion, before the thing was done and the crouching or kneeling figure came to his feet, dragging a dark sleeve across a pale visage.
Or I might see the process interrupted mid-way, the stooped figure hauled upright, whirled swiftly around to face a wall…might, sometimes, catch a brief glimpse of suddenly exposed buttocks, near luminous in their whiteness, before the other figure stepped forward to obscure them, leaving me with nothing to go on but a pair of pale hands braced against the dark brick, a capped head lolling down.
The sagging, sinking, of the head screamed out defeat – capitulation, rather than co-operation. I’d usually turn away at that point. A boy who wants to be taken will arch spontaneously, his head reaching back in helpless, instinctive seeking of the author of his pleasure. Whereas this…was an exchange in which passion played no part. It was desperation, not desire, that drew boys down these dark corridors.
At moments like these, I’d feel grubby. Wouldn’t you rather, Frank, watch a young man give himself willingly? Well, yes I would. But where are you going to find such a thing?
* * *
I went back early evening two days later – told my tailor I didn’t like those buttons after all, to use the smaller ones. Then I slipped outside, lit a cigarette, and looked about me.
No-one leaning on the corner. No-one anywhere in sight just now. But humans are creatures of habit if nothing else. I hid behind my paper and settled down to wait as the twilight crept slowly in and a light mist gathered.
After about three-quarters of an hour, the dark-haired boy emerged around the corner, cap askew, hands in pockets. Instead of leaning though, he turned to his left and began to walk.
This wasn’t in my plan. “Hey! Boy!” I called out.
He stopped dead, pausing a second before turning, head only, slow and wary.
“Come over here,” I instructed, beckoning to him.
He didn’t move a muscle. “Sir?”
I knew he was poised for flight, calculating options, weighing up the risk of angering me by running against the likelihood that he’d outstrip me in fewer than two blocks. I watched and he pondered. I appeared to have no accomplices. He appeared to have none either, today.
“I mean you no harm,” I called over, quietly now that I had his attention. “Come over here, please.”
He stood glued to the spot for another several moments, then he trod lightly over to me, coming to a halt a couple of feet away.
I looked at him. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Vittorio,” he replied. “Ah…sir,” belatedly remembering his cap and sweeping it off, stuffing it in his waistband. The shades of his native accent were easily perceptible, but not such as to make him difficult to comprehend.
“How old are you?” I queried.
He blinked rapidly. “Eighteen, sir.”
I squinted at him, tugging my upper lip. It could be true. He was fairly small, but a lack of nourishing mersin escort bayan food as an infant will do that to a person, imprint on them forever. His shirt-sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, and his forearms had a certain sinewy definition to them. His shoulders weren’t especially broad, but they were wider than those of a mere child.
And his face…little to go on there…all angles and shadows. Thin lips, sharp nose, narrow jaw, dark deep-set eyes under some nicely arched brows. He wasn’t a beauty like his companion of the other day, but…those eyes were quite something, the irises so dark they were indistinguishable from the pupils in this murky light.
The overall effect was that of an animal of some sort, I mused. He stood, patient and wary under my scrutiny, a sort of feral skittishness in his expression, matching the feral grace of his movements. I frowned at him, and discerned boldness too as he returned the stare, standing his ground, the street his territory, not mine.
“Would you like a cigarette?” I asked, drawing out my case from my waistcoat, removing one and proffering it between finger and thumb.
He nodded cautiously. “Yes, sir. Thank-you sir,” reaching out to take it, settling it in the corner of his mouth in a manner which suggested long practice. He didn’t wait for me to offer a light, instead producing his own matchbook and striking one ably against the side of his boot-sole.
I took a cigarette myself and lit up in a rather more dignified manner as I remarked, “I saw you the other day, you know. Tuesday. With your friend. He was coming out of the alley.”
He met my gaze, saying nothing.
“And you had been in there earlier, hadn’t you?” I prompted.
The eyes slid away.
“I know what goes on in that alley,” I remarked.
He merely shrugged. Not going to apologize to me. And why should he, after all? One does what one needs to do.
“How long have you been doing it?” I asked.
He took a slow drag of his cigarette, looking down at the gutter. “‘Bout three months, sir.”
Three months. Not too long. He might not’ve caught anything yet… “Do you come here every evening?”
He drew in his chin. “No, sir. Two nights a week, maybe three.” He shrugged. “Not much point in the rain, nor a Sunday nor a Monday…” shrugging again, tailing off.
“And your friend?” I enquired.
He frowned in incomprehension.
“How long has he been involved in…all this?”
He shifted from foot to foot. “Ah, since Easter, sir.”
Easter? A little over a month…good…
“Are you sure you’re eighteen?” I suddenly demanded.
A sharp swerve in the conversation acts to expose any dissembling, more often than not, in the pause that follows…as they scramble to remember what it is they’ve told you. Apparently he’d been truthful so far though, based on his slight frown, his sure, swift, response.
“Yessir, coming up a year now.”
“And your friend?” I asked. “How old is he?”
He exhaled a long thin plume of smoke before answering. “He’s eighteen sir. Since Epiphany.”
So this one was the elder of the two. I wouldn’t have guessed, just looking at each of them. But replaying in my memory the slight consoling gesture Vittorio had made, rubbing his co-conspirator’s back the other day…there was something of the big brother in that exchange, yes…
“What’s his name,” I asked, “your friend?”
He let the tiny stub of the cigarette fall to the sidewalk. “Angelo, sir,” he replied.
I almost wanted to laugh. Angelo. It was too perfect.
“He’s well named,” I observed. “He resembles an angel, surely.”
Vittorio scratched at his neck and fidgeted, seemingly made uncomfortable by my observing this. I decided to swerve again.
“So how did it come about,” I prompted, “this, ah, loitering in alleyways? Did you have no work?”
He shook his head. “I have work, sir.”
I smiled. “Ah, so this is just your overtime…your insurance? Your beer-money?”
His gaze cut to me, just for a second, and I saw that despite observing the forms of respect in his address and his actions, he held me in contempt. Those eyes, they belonged to one who was not wholly an adult, but who has yet never truly been a child. What do you know? they said. What do you know of overtime, of beer-money – of work?
I stepped back a pace under the force of it. “Let’s forget I said that,” I instructed. “It was ill-phrased. The truth is, I would like to know how it came about that you find yourself here.”
He raised his chin and stared at me without replying.
Well, perhaps I should pay to hear the story, I thought. I brought my cigarette-case out again.
He nodded, as though understanding the transaction, lit up once more and began to talk.
“I have work, sir. Shifting crates and nailing lids on packing cases, at Drows. Five years now I’ve been at it. Angelo, he works there, too. We all have work, sir.” This last issued almost as a challenge.
“So escort mersin what changed?” I asked. “You’ve just said you’ve only been out here three months.”
He nodded. “Well, sir, my stepfather-“
My blood ran cold. “He misused you?” I cut in, in a whisper.
There was no puzzlement in the look he gave me – he knew precisely what I was alluding to, but he shook his head stoutly.
“No sir, he never did. But he made me turn over all my pay every week and I got to be needing some boots, and I told him, and he said I’d have to wait – well, my youngest sister was sick, so they were needing money for that, and extra coal, and then it was time for the rent, and my boots got worse and worse until one of them just came apart altogether. And the other a few days later.
“‘You’ll have to wait,’ he said. I was going about with rags tied on my feet, and that’s alright if it’s dry, but if it’s wet, y’know…” he trailed off.
I didn’t know, but I could imagine, so I nodded, and he continued, “and then, and then, all that was over and it wasn’t rent week and I came home and handed him my pay, and he went straight and spent up the spare on drink! All swallowed, no boots!”
He seemed to recollect himself about then, the eyes taking on an alarmed glint, mouth sealing shut.
I offered him another cigarette. “So you decided to earn your boots another way?”
He took it, stashing it above his ear, nodding, looking at the ground. “Thank-you sir. That’s right, yes.”
“And then?” I prompted.
He sighed, rolled his shoulders. “It only needed three outings for enough to buy some boots – good ones. And he didn’t even notice! Didn’t even notice! And my sister Lucia, her boots were near as bad as mine had been, so I thought I might as well get a pair for her.”
He winced. “He noticed that. I wouldn’t tell him how I came by them and he accused me of stealing them. Then of stealing money to pay for them. I wouldn’t say. He went to get his razor-belt to make me talk, but just as he was about to lay into me, he figured it out,” a quick one-shouldered shrug, “and he slung me onto the street instead. So.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, and I was, in addition to being bewildered, ashamed and outraged, all turning over one another like eels in a barrel. “So now you’re on your own you need to keep at it to live, in addition to your regular pay, is that it?”
He blinked at me. “I could manage in a way, on my pay alone,” he said, “but I’d have to stay in a flop-house, and those places…well, you don’t just sleep with your boots and your belt on to stop folk from making off with ’em…”
It was another nasty look into this kind of life, this measuring of distasteful options one against another. Abase oneself in an alley, or go about with frostbitten feet? Give oneself up on one’s own terms and make good use of the money received, or hold onto one’s pride, sleep in a flop-house, and potentially have what you were trying to keep taken from you anyway…
“With the extra, it makes the difference,” he was saying now. “We can afford – Angelo and me, that is – we have a space in one of those, those,” he gestured, as if I should know what he was talking about, before finishing limply, “well, there’s only six beds to a room. And partitions.”
Only six… I shook my head, to clear it.
“I’m sorry,” I said once again, “but you really shouldn’t be carrying on like this, you know.”
He gave me a long measuring stare containing some small residue of what do you know, but made no reply.
“Have you not considered,” I continued, leaning in a little, “that if you know about what goes on over there,” gesturing with my head, “and I, and your customers and no doubt most of the shopkeepers in the vicinity also – that it’s unlikely the police are unaware of it? And if you’re discovered and held over for public indecency…you won’t have work after that, will you?”
Alarm bloomed all over his face and he took an involuntary step back.
I held up a hand. “Don’t worry,” I assured him, “I’m not a policeman. I’m not a Baptist either, or a bolshevik, or a pamphleteer. In fact, I like to buy what it is you’re selling, but I don’t transact business in alleyways. I have a house.”
He nodded slowly, thoughtfully, chewing at his lower lip. His teeth – what of them I could see – looked in good order.
“I have a proposition for you and your friend Angelo to consider,” I began. “I want you both to come and visit me at my house. I want to see if we can form an arrangement that’s agreeable to all parties, that we might perhaps keep going for some time. Mmh?”
He looked dubious. I could hardly blame him. It had all the hallmarks of a set-up in a sense.
“Listen, Vittorio,” I said, “I’ve kept you here talking for some time and only lawyers earn money by talking.”
I took out two quarters and pressed them into his palm.
“There’s no obligation on you to do anything, anything at all,” I stressed, “but a house is a great deal more comfortable than an alley, and safer. I have no particularly unpleasant habits, and you may be assured I’ll pay you well for your effort.
“If you decide you’re interested, go to the corner of — and — streets, at eight on Saturday evening, and wait there. I’ll come by for you. But you must bring your friend.”