Mardi Gras by A.B. Gayle
Date: June 28, 2010
Publisher: Noble Romance
The Blurb: Fifty year old American novelist, journalist and blogger, Damien, has arrived in Sydney for the 2010 Mardi Gras Parade. Damien is traveling incognito because in a recent blog he criticized the relevance of the parade and bemoaned the fact it had drifted so far from its roots as a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots—the first time the fairies fought back.
He is met at the airport by Simon, a young Australian who has been asked to look after him and give him a real "Taste of Australia."
Set against the backdrop of Sydney and its world-famous, colorful Mardi Gras, the two men find they have a lot more in common than either at first realize.
Fuck. I nearly dropped my GMS sim card on the airport terminal floor.
Turn fifty and your swollen knuckles start bitching about all the years
you've abused them by bashing a keyboard too hard. The bastard didn't
want to go into the little slot. Trying to do it with a laptop stuck
under one arm and a wheeled suitcase balanced against my hip didn't
help. Got it. I turned on my cell. Four bars. Great.
Should I call Aaron and let him know I'd survived being cooped up in a
flying coffin for twelve hours - stage one of his unexpected munificence
of an all-expenses-paid trip to report on Sydney's Mardi Gras? I tried
to do the math in my head. Seven o'clock Saturday morning here. What
would he be doing? Was it still Thursday in San Francisco or Friday by
now? Crossing the dateline and having to get my head around the fact it
was now tomorrow always threw me into a funk. No, definitely Friday. He
was probably running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying
to get the weekend edition ready for publication.
Usually, my employer needed general anesthesia and a three hour
operation to part him from his money, but a month ago, I'd bloggedabout
the event's decline in my regular column 'Damien Dishes the Dirt',
criticizing the way a political statement about the Stonewall Riots had
turned into nothing more than a tawdry commercial extravaganza. A
torrent of vitriolic posts had followed. The worst was from Patrick85, a
regular respondent who called me a bitter, wanking Yank queen who
couldn't get his arse out of the past. That had hurt.
Subscriptions to Aaron's online gay newspaper had doubled, so he was
ecstatic. "Go to Australia and give me another story, first hand this
time," he'd said.
"Mr. er . . . Stanton?"
A young body invading my personal space dragged my gaze away from my
cell up into eyes that most observers would simply describe as pale blue
without a trace of any other color. To me they seemed to be trying to
carry on a conversation of their own - an important conversation - about
life and death or something of equal significance.
Strange. I blinked to break contact and nodded, suddenly lost for words.
Then the speaker's attire registered. In his khaki button-up shirt and
shorts, dark brown hiking shoes and rolled down white socks he looked
like a clone of the late Steve Irwin or one of his junior employees.
I glanced around. Nope, no crocodiles needing wranglinghere, just the
usual cross-section you'd expect in a cosmopolitan city of four and a
half million people.
"Welcome to Sydney, mate. Mr. Reynolds asked me to meet you. I'm Simon
Jennings." He held out his hand. The words might have matched the
outfit, but the expression in his eyes and the voice didn't. His
enunciation was crisp with just the hint of the expected Aussie drawl.
Great, now I didn't have to call Aaron. I replaced the cell in my pocket
and grasped his hand. My brain /mouth connection finally clicked into
gear. Was the delay due to jet lag or his presence? "Pleased to meet
you, Simon, but please . . . call me Damien." The surname wasn't really
Stanton, but I preferred to keep my real identity private. The internet
may have its good points, but the world was full of crazies. I had one
name for my novels and another for my blog which was syndicated to
Aaron's paper. Neither of them were the real me.
His handshake surprised me. I'd expected typicalAussie brash confidence,
instead his skin was moist and his grip just the hardside of softness.
Almost immediately, he let go and wiped his hand against his shorts.
Why was he so nervous? It wasn't as if I was the intimidating type.
Mild-mannered reporter was the usual tag people gave me. It was only
when they caught the barbed tail on my tongue that their attitude
Simon stood still for a few seconds, biting his lip as if trying to
remember his cue. "Er . . . Mr. Reynolds asked me to look after you."
Without even asking, he swiftly extracted the bag from under my arm,
lodged it under one of his and grabbed the handle of my case.
Not the laptop . . . we were a twosome, seldom parted. "I can . . . ."
Before I could retrieve it, he set off toward the exit.
"No worries, mate." His words floated back over his shoulder as he
gripped the bag closer to his body. At least he wouldn't drop it.
We were a similar height and build, both around five-ten, but his legs
must have been longer as I almost needed to run to keep up. After a
while, I gave up trying and concentrated on dodging people. An obstacle
course would have been easier to negotiate than the crowd resulting from
four airbuses spewing out their loads as soon as the morning curfew
lifted. Many of them were probably visitors like me, arriving for this
The heat hit me like a sledgehammer as soon as Iwalked outside. I'd worn
a jacket because the temperature inside the plane was freakin' cold as
usual. The Qantas stewardess, no sorry, customer service manager, had
provided a couple of blankets, but even though I could stretch out on an
airbed, I'd still had difficulty falling asleep. The sooner they
discovered matter transference the better.
As I followed Simon into the nearby car park, atrickle of sweat ran down
my spine and onto my ass. I pulled off my tie, stuffed it in my pocket
and slung my jacket over my arm. Shit, it was still early morning, what
would it be like later? In a way, heat was good, at least for all the
boys who'd be wearing nothing more than underwear and a wide smile
My escort stopped, and I nearly ran into his back. Was he on speed or
something? All his movement seemed like that. Sudden. He gripped my
shoulder to stop me from falling. "Sorry, mate. I forgot whereI left the
sports car." This time the worry was evident in his eyes, and it wasn't
just from the slight frown between them.
Visions of cruising up Oxford Street, the centre of Sydney's gay
community, in a sexy convertible distracted me as we wound ourway
amongst the vehicles. If any of my old buddies were still around, they'd
take one look at my companion and shit themselves with envy - young,
good-looking kid with sun-bleached hair. Though I suppose I shouldn't
think of him as a kid as he was probably in his early twenties.
"Here's the ute, mate." The parking lights on a shiny, black pickup
flashed. Geez,what happened to the sports car? I clambered in. The back
section was covered with a tarpaulin so I couldn't see inside. I was
pleased he didn't throw my bags but stowed them carefully. As he slid
behind the driving wheel, he turned to me and said earnestly. "Faircrack
of the whip, mate, I reckon you must be ready to hit the sack now after
your long flight. Do you want to go straight to the hotel?"
The concern seemed genuine, but once again the words sounded more like
something he'd been taught to say rather than coming naturally.
If I'd managed to convince Aaron to put me up at the Park Hyatt on the
waterfront at Circular Quay I might have been tempted to take Simon up
on his offer. I could have lain in bed and gazed across at the pearly
white tiles on the Opera House roof as ferries bustled around to
different parts of the harbour. But Aaron had warned me I'd be staying
in a cheaper hotel in the centre of the city. Not worth spending the day
"I slept on the pla - "
"Beauty, mate. I was hoping you'd say that. Mr. Reynolds wants you to
have a real taste of Australia, so how 'bout we checkout the sights
first." Simon took a deep breath after speaking and stared at me as he
waited for my response.
What was he waiting for? A score? Nine out of ten. I'd been a keen
student of Aussie slang during my last visit. The 't' in beauty should
sound more like a 'd'. "Sounds great. It's too early to check in anyway,
so I'm in your hands . . . mate."
Simon blushed. I nearly didn't notice it at first, as the color barely
registered against the goldenness of his tan.
He seemed nervous as he started the engine, tentative. I shrugged. There
must be some reason I was participating in a gay version of Crocodile
Dundee meets visiting US reporter. Hey, I didn't mind being a
participant in a mystery if my co-star was young and handsome, as long
as it wasn't written by Stephen King or Dean Koontz.