I was still thinking about that look on Benevetti’s face as Helen and I huddled around her computer to look at the discs we had brought back from the Imperial. That it made me a little nervous was something of an understatement, but surely not even he would be callous enough, or stupid enough, to try anything just because I was the new kid on the block and might be cramping his style.
I had seen it before in some of the other stations I had been posted to in my brief career . . . the old cop trying to put the young cop in his place, but I had hoped that in taking a step up from a suburban command to a major crimes squad such as this was, that sort of crap would be a thing of the past.
Perhaps that was just wishful thinking?
‘What’s wrong with you?’ Helen said to me after watching the first few minutes of footage.
‘What makes you think there is something wrong?’ I answered.
‘Well, for one, Corcoran just walked past and you didn’t even see him,’ she replied. ‘And for two, you’ve had one eye on Joe from the time Richardson left the room. You don’t fancy him, do you?’
‘Well, I’m just puttin’ it out there,’ she chuckled.
For a moment or two I continued watching him. He was sitting at his desk at the end of the room, talking to someone on the phone, but keeping it quiet.
‘Do you trust him?’ I asked her, almost in a whisper.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, is he a good cop or a bad cop? The looks he has been shooting me all afternoon aren’t exactly of the friendly variety.’
‘You don’t have to worry about old Joe . . . he’s just like that with everyone, the cranky bastard. As far as policing goes, though, he’s a straight shooter.’
‘I hope you’re right about that.’
‘When the chips are down he’ll be on your side . . . just don’t expect him to ever behave like a best buddy . . . especially not toward someone who’s . . . errr . . .’
‘Ha! You said it kid, not me!’ she chuckled.
I still wasn’t totally convinced, but if that’s what Helen thought, then I suppose it was good enough for me. I guess only time would tell.
Turning my attention back toward her computer screen I could see shadowy figures walking down one of the hallways in the building, but could make out little detail. The fact that the interior of the place was largely painted black certainly didn’t help much, but that was all a part of the ambiance they were trying to create, as odd as that may seem.
‘Where was Corcoran?’ I asked Helen.
‘Hang on. I’ll just back it up a bit.’
I watched as Helen clicked on the small dot along the bottom of the viewing window, dragging it to the left about one centimeter, then releasing it. The scene above it quickly changed, with the footpath outside of the building easily recognisable, along with quite a line of people queuing up to enter.
‘It was just near here somewhere,’ Helen said. ‘He was coming inside, amongst this crowd . . . here . . . that’s him, isn’t it?’ she asked, while at the same time hitting the pause button.
She was right. It was unmistakably Corcoran.
‘Yeah, that’s him,’ I replied. ‘He doesn’t look to be with anyone. Maybe he was meeting someone there . . . or he was out on the prowl.’
‘Sweet Jesus. Just the thought of that is enough to give me the heebee-jeebees.’
‘Just let it play . . . Adam and I would have been somewhere around there too . . . I remember seeing that guy there with the black baseball cap on sideways,’ I said to her, while pointing at the screen. After a minute or two there we both were, joining the queue, while talking and laughing as we inched our way forward toward the doors.
‘Well, at least he wasn’t following you,’ Helen remarked.
‘Just wait until he spots us,’ I replied. ‘I hope it shows something like that.’
For the next couple of hours we worked through the two discs, fast-forwarding through the sections showing endless empty laneways or hallways. We found Corcoran in the function room, watching us. We saw him talking to the barman who was soon dispatched to our table. We saw Adam and me approach the crowded bar, before then heading off in the direction the barman had pointed, after we had spoken with him. We had returned a short time later, going straight past the bar, with Adam already having his phone out and looking at it as we walked.
‘What was happening there?’ Helen asked me.
‘We were leaving. We didn’t go back to the table . . . Adam was sending a message to his boss to say we were going.’
‘And while you were in the laneway?’
‘There was nothing to see. Corcoran was gone, so we came back inside and then left.’
We continued to watch the footage and soon spotted the two young guys who had gotten into a fight, leaving one dead. It appeared as if the victim had come on to his attacker a little too strongly at the bar, possibly already drunk, and that guy had resented it. The attacker was trying to get away from his victim and in doing so had left through the open doorway that led to the laneway behind the hotel. As to what happened after that we could only speculate, as there didn’t appear to be any footage from the laneway other than that which came from a camera mounted directly above the rear door and covered the immediate area outside and part way across the lane. The last we saw of Corcoran, or our other two persons of interest, were shots of them leaving through the door and then exiting stage left.
‘That didn’t seem to give us a lot to work with,’ Helen dryly remarked as she shut down the viewer and ejected the last disc.
‘I thought it did seem to give us something on the two boys though,’ I replied. ‘The one who ended up dead was the one doing the chasing. His friend was simply trying to get away from him.’
‘That could be clutching at straws . . . but then again we don’t actually know what happened in the laneway . . .’
‘Maybe there are other cameras elsewhere out there?’
‘Let’s hope so. Stabbing a guy just because he’s coming on to you is a bit extreme . . .’
‘But if it went further, then self-defense could become a factor?’
‘That’s true,’ I answered.
‘I’ll let Jack know. He can get the uniformed guys onto the job and scour the lane for cameras. Maybe the killer might get lucky after all.’
‘We’ll see. It is still illegal to be carrying a knife, after all.’
‘Hmmmmm . . . if we do find him and it ever goes to trial, I think he’d prefer a charge of manslaughter to murder. He’d probably get off anyhow if it was a case of the victim being the aggressor, although there’d still be a charge for carrying the concealed weapon. Twenty years for murder . . . or a token sentence for manslaughter . . . and sweet bugger all for carrying a knife . . .’
‘You almost sound like you’re convinced it was self-defense.’
‘Oh no, not really . . . I’m just looking at all the options,’ she grinned.
A short time later, after finding out very little in the way of extra information that would be of any use to us, we decided to call it a day. Apart from the Inspector, the remainder of our colleagues had already left, and were quite possible already gathering at the pub they usually frequented. I wondered if they would already be sipping on their first beer, although given the clientele that would be likely to be frequenting any establishment that was open in the city tonight, especially with the influx of visitors this weekend, I did wonder if they would bother at all. And now that I thought about it, that may have even accounted for the fact that there didn’t seem to have been any plans being made for after work socialising today.
‘So, do you and Adam have any plans for tonight?’ Helen asked me as we waited for the lift.
‘No, not that I know of. I think last night was probably enough excitement for one week. How about you?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. I might head over to Megan and Cathy’s place and check up on young Casey and see how he’s doing. The girls tell me he’s been climbing the walls, wanting to get out and find out what’s going on in the city . . . especially given what’s happening tomorrow. Have you spoken with him lately? I think he could probably do with a guy friend about now . . .’
‘Yeah, you’re probably right, I should go see him, or give him a call, or something.’
‘There’s no time like the present!’ Helen observed as we stepped into the lift, while offering a crooked grin as she did so.
Jesus, for someone I had only known for a few weeks, she had sure learned quickly just how to press my buttons.
‘The girls were just going to cook up some sausages on the barbeque, and said they’d be happy to throw a few extra on if you and Adam wanted to come around . . .’ she ventured.
‘And just when did you get the time to arrange all this?’ I asked.
‘Oh, you’d be surprised. So, what do you think? Do you want to call Adam and see what he says?’
‘All right . . . all right . . . anything for a quiet life!’
* * *
I had to admit that I was at first a little surprised when Adam said yes when I asked him if he would like to visit Casey at Megan and Kathy’s, but in hindsight I knew I shouldn’t have been, especially given the way that he had welcomed the other four boys into his life in recent weeks.
He was yet to meet Casey and I wasn’t sure where this sat with regards to Casey being in our care, but seeing as it had been suggested by Helen I was happy to go along with it. Besides, Adam truly was a one of a kind guy, and we were all lucky to have him in our lives, so it wouldn’t hurt for young Casey to have one more guy in his corner.
Helen was already there when we arrived, with her car parked out on the edge of the narrow street. As we pulled in behind it we noticed Cathy come out the front door and wave to us, indicating we should pull into their short driveway and park in front of the garage door. I guess that you can never be too careful in a neighbourhood like this and a car like Adam’s.
She was waiting for us on the front steps when we had exited the car and headed her way.
‘Helen said the car was a bit fancy, so it might be safer in the yard,’ she said to us. ‘Hi, I’m Cathy,’ she greeted Adam.
‘Nice to meet you. I’m Adam Bennett,’ he replied, before shaking her hand. I never quite knew what to do when meeting a woman for the first time, but Adam certainly had no such problems.
‘We’ve already heard quite a bit about you,’ Cathy added.
‘I hope you didn’t believe it all?’ Adam chuckled.
‘Any friend of Coop’s is a friend of ours,’ she replied, before greeting me with a kiss on the cheek.
Just then we heard the sound of running inside the small home, followed by Casey’s appearance at the door. I hadn’t seen him since the morning after my confrontation with Corcoran at the skate park, which was less than a week ago, yet seemed like a lifetime ago now. Even in that short time he seemed to have changed immensely. These kids grow up so quickly these days.
‘Hey there, Casey,’ I said to him, as I stepped through the open door and briefly hugged him to me. ‘How’s life in the suburbs?’
‘Hey, Coop,’ he replied. ‘It’s great here. I think I want to stay here forever.’
‘Is that so?’ I laughed.
‘Well, maybe not forever . . . but . . .’ he added.
‘I think I get the picture. I’m glad you like it here, mate. But what about your uncle?’
Casey gave me an odd look, which seemed to be one of disappointment, tinged with just a touch of resignation.
‘It doesn’t look like that’s going to work out,’ Cathy remarked. ‘How about we talk about it over some drinks? Helen and Megan are out the back.’
‘Sure,’ I replied, while suddenly realising that this was going to be more than just a social gathering.
All this time Adam had stayed in the background, trying to keep out of the way. I had noticed Casey look in his direction a few times, somewhat warily, and figured that he would know who he was, as I’m sure Helen would have told him we were both on the way. Still, I needed to introduce them and so I motioned for Adam to step inside.
‘Adam,’ I said, as I placed an arm around Casey’s shoulders, ‘I’d like you to meet Casey. He’s the young man I told you about who has really helped us out with the big case we’ve been working on. And Casey, this is my boyfriend, Adam, who I told you about the other day.’
Adam stepped inside and extended his hand. At first Casey seemed hesitant and looked at Adam’s hand for a moment, and I could feel his body tense beneath my hand for a few moments before he tentatively reached out and shook it.
With everything he had been through it was hardly surprising that he may have trust issues with other men, and I think that in that instant we all recognised that.
‘I’ve heard a lot about you, Casey, and I’m really glad to meet you,’ Adam said to him. ‘From what Rick has told me, it sounds like you’re an amazing young man. He’s very proud of you, you know.’
‘He’s told me about you, too,’ Casey replied. ‘He’s a good guy, so . . .’
‘Yes he is. And I promise I’ll look after him,’ Adam added, having picked up on what Casey had obviously wanted to say, just as Cathy and I had also.
Casey gave a little nod. It wasn’t difficult to see that they understood each other.
‘Okay you lot, enough with the introductions, how about we head out back and get this party started?’ ordered Cathy.
‘That sounds like a plan to me,’ I replied, as I pointed Casey in the direction that Cathy had turned, and gave him a playful slap on the butt in the process.
We found Helen and Megan outside in the back yard, struggling with trying to get a table-cloth to stay on an old wooden table thanks to a breeze that was beginning to pick up. Casey and I grabbed one side each and held it in place, while Helen and Megan set some plates and trays of food on it, which soon fixed the issue.
Helen and Adam already knew of each other, even if I wasn’t one hundred percent sure if they had actually been introduced before. They both acknowledged the other and said hello, which only left me to introduce Adam to Megan.
Over the next couple of hours the five of us had an enjoyable time, with everyone pitching in and helping out with everything from cooking on the barbeque to serving up. Casey certainly made himself useful, which I was very pleased to see, not that I had any doubts that he would settle in and make a contribution while staying here with the girls.
It wasn’t until after we had finished our sausages and salad, and while Casey was busy cleaning things up and taking dirty plates inside to the kitchen, that we had the first chance to discuss Casey’s future. He knew that sooner or later we would be talking about him, and between trips to the kitchen he would stop and listen in to our conversations, which had varied from everything from what tomorrow’s Mardi Gras parade would be like, to the trouble at the Imperial the previous night, and even my having had a drag queen sitting in my lap. When we started to discuss the arrangements for his care, however, it didn’t take long for him to find a spot between Cathy and Megan and settle himself in.
‘I’ve spoken with our Inspector,’ Helen had said. ‘And while the cases involving Jarvis and Barrett are still pending and still some way off going to trial, it looks like we’ll be able to keep Casey hidden for as long as it takes. The Inspector wants all details about where Casey, Jimmy and Shane are being kept to remain off the record for as long as possible, even if he does have DOCS breathing down his neck. With cops involved in these cases, it’s fairly important that we can keep all of the boys right off the radar and out of harm’s way until the very last minute.’
‘We understand where you’re coming from, Hel, but do you really think he’ll be able to keep the lid on things indefinitely?’ asked Megan.
‘I really don’t know,’ answered Helen. ‘But we’ll do everything we can to keep the boys, and those caring for them, as safe as possible.’
‘So, what’s this about things not working out with his uncle? Do you know something we don’t?’ I asked.
‘No one seems to be able to find him,’ Cathy replied, as she placed a comforting arm around Casey. ‘Casey has given us all the information he can remember, and Megan has asked some of her colleagues to look into things for us, but so far we can’t find anyone matching his details.’
‘I’ve been making some enquiries, through my office, and it’s like he has simply vanished,’ added Megan. ‘It’s possible he may have just moved on, or even left the area for work or something . . . or it could be because of something else entirely.’
Glancing at Casey I could see the disappointment in his face. I knew first-hand what it was like losing contact with family and friends, but I also knew that while ever there was life, there was hope, so until we knew for certain where Casey’s uncle was, or what may have happened to him, all was not lost.
‘As you already know, Cathy and I are licensed foster carers . . .’ Megan continued. ‘That’s why Helen came to us in the first place . . . and we think it might be possible to arrange for Casey to be placed in our care officially, once your Inspector is happy for it to happen. We’ve discussed it with Casey, and he wants to stay here.’
‘Well mate, I can think of plenty of worse places you could be,’ I said to him. ‘But we’ll still do everything we can to find your uncle. That much I promise you.’
‘It’s . . . it’s okay. Cathy and Megan have been great to me, and I really do love it here . . . it’s the closest thing to a home I’ve had since . . .’
He stopped and looked up at Megan, who reached out and took hold of one of his hands.
‘You can stay here for as long as you want, Casey,’ she said to him. ‘For as long as the powers-that-be will let you remain here.’
‘And we’ll do everything we can to convince DOCS and the judge that this is the best place for you,’ Helen added.
‘But what if they won’t let me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t want to be sent to some home or nothing . . . I’d only run away again anyhow if that happened . . .’
‘We’ll figure something out, mate,’ I tried to reassure him, even if I wasn’t totally convinced in my own mind that there was much that we would be able to do ourselves.
The evening eventually wrapped up following dessert, coffee and talk of tomorrow’s parade, along with Casey quizzing Adam about what he did and where we were living. In some ways it was almost comical, as if Adam was being interviewed by a potential father-in-law to ensure that the boyfriend was good enough, but there was also another, deeper side to it. In other ways I felt that Casey was trying to reach out, as if he were searching for another male friend that would accept him for who he was and wouldn’t simply be trying to screw him over.
As we were leaving he came to us both and hugged us, as well as hugging Helen also, and as we drove away I couldn’t help but think again of the idea of introducing him to Nick and Brad, and saying as much to Adam when he said, ‘A penny for your thoughts?’
‘So, now you’re playing Cupid?’ he asked.
‘Maybe,’ I sniggered. ‘They could both do with someone around their own age that they can relate to. They could actually be good for each other.’
‘And what about Casey’s past? Do you think that might be something that Nick will be able to see beyond . . . or Nick’s mother for that matter?’
‘I don’t know. I’d have to talk it through with them first, I think. Anyhow, there’s nothing wrong with giving true love a bit of a helping hand, is there?’
‘You old softie,’
‘I’ll show you who’s soft later on . . .’
‘I bloody well hope not!’ he quipped.
* * *
When the new day dawned it was with mixed emotions that I greeted the morning. It was going to be a long day, for all of us, and there were no guarantees as to how it would end.
I was hopeful that it would end with the arrest of Danny Corcoran, but with the parade to contend with, coupled with the fact that Adam, Nick and Brad would also be in attendance, there seemed to be just way too many things that could go wrong, so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached the day ahead.
Adam found me sitting on a stool at the breakfast bar in his kitchen, nursing a cup of coffee.
‘You’ve sure turned into an early riser,’ he remarked as he came in and switched on the electric kettle.
‘Yeah, it seems that way. Lots to think about I guess.’
‘Worried about today? You really shouldn’t be . . .’
‘That’s easy for you to say,’ I shot back. ‘You’re not the one with a target on his back.’
Adam walked behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders, before proceeding to massage my shoulders and the base of my neck. It felt good, and I could feel myself relaxing under his touch.
We had discussed what was possibly going to happen today, although it had been impossible to know exactly what might go down. All I knew, and all I could tell him, was that there was a good chance that Corcoran might make some sort of a play for me, although just when, and where, and how was impossible to determine.
‘You’re going to be fine,’ he said, trying to reassure me. ‘You’ve got an excellent team around you and they’re not going to let anything happen to you. Helen promised me that.’
‘Yeah, we chatted briefly last night. She’s concerned as well, but she has confidence in everyone who will be there. You’re not the one who needs to be worried . . . that’s Corcoran’s job.’
‘That’s just it . . . I don’t think he is worried any more . . .’
‘Ssshh . . . stop it. You just be concerned about yourself and making sure that you’re on your game today, that’s all you’ve got to do. I’ll keep an eye on Nick and Brad and keep them out of trouble. You just keep an eye out for Corcoran,’ he replied, before leaning forward and giving me a kiss on the cheek.
Nick and Brad, I thought. I was beginning to wish that we’d never agreed to let them come along in the first place.
‘What about the boys?’ I remarked. ‘I guess we should call them and see what time they’ll be ready?’
Looking at the clock on the wall I saw that it was after seven o’clock. A little over twelve hours before the parade would be starting. The clock was running.
It was just then that I heard my phone ring in the bedroom, so I got up and went to answer it, quietly cursing that anyone would be calling at this hour.
When I pulled the phone from the pocket of the pants I had been wearing yesterday and glanced at the screen I saw that it was Nick’s number.
‘What the hell are you doing out of bed at this hour?’ I said to him when I answered it.
‘We’re showered, shaved and ready to go,’ he cheekily replied.
‘You shave?’ I asked him.
‘Of course . . . but only about once a month,’ he laughed.
‘That’d be about right. So, what are you doing?’
‘Waiting for you guys. Are you going to pick us up, or will we catch a bus to Bondi?’
‘Jesus, kid, you’re a bit keen. The parade doesn’t start for another twelve hours. Have you had breakfast yet?’ I asked him, as I walked back out to where Adam was pouring himself a coffee in the kitchen.
‘No. Not yet,’ Nick replied
‘Okay, how about you give us an hour to shower and change, then we’ll pick you up and we’ll all grab some breakfast somewhere.’
‘Sure, why not? We may as well make a day of it. We’ll see you in an hour, okay.’
When I had disconnected I looked up at Adam, who I found grinning at me.
‘You’re a soft touch, Detective Cooper. Those kids have got you wrapped around their little finger.’
‘Well, today they need to be wrapped up tighter than that. I might see if I can find some spare handcuffs so they can’t get away from you. The last thing I need is their mother coming after my balls with a blunt kitchen knife because something happened to one of them.’
‘Ouch . . . just the image of that is enough to scare me.’
‘Be afraid. Be very afraid. Hell hath no fury like a vengeful mother,’ I assured him.
‘I’ll have to keep that in mind,’ he soberly replied.
It was just on an hour later when we pulled into my parking space at my apartment building, which was technically still where I lived, seeing as my rent was paid until the end of the month and I had yet to move the last of my belongings out of there.
I had sent Nick a text message when we were getting close and I had found him waiting there for us when we had arrived, looking pretty hot in colourful long shorts which reached at least to his knees, and a loose-fitting, tie-died coloured singlet which exposed plenty of tanned teenaged skin, while excitedly bouncing around like a six year old.
This was going to be a big day for him as well, being his first venture into the big world of all things gay, while knowing and acknowledging that he was a part of it, that it was where he belonged, and Adam and I wanted to do our best to ensure that it was a positive experience for him.
I made a note to suggest he tone down the outfit a little, lest he might end up with every fifty year old gay man on Oxford Street following him around like puppy dogs, while frothing at the mouth and thinking thoughts that would horrify his mother.
‘Hey, kiddo,’ I said to him as I climbed from the car and ruffled his blonde hair. ‘You ready for your big day out?’
‘Hell yes!’ he answered. ‘It’s going to be awesome.’
‘All right, let’s go check in with your mum and find your brother, before we hit the road. I’m starving.’
As we climbed the stairs to the landing outside our two apartments I asked him if there had been any sign of Corcoran, or any other strange characters around the place since he had returned from visiting his grandmother.
‘No man, but we only got back yesterday,’ he answered.
‘Okay, that’s good news. Now, when we get up to your apartment will you go do me a favour?’
‘Well, you might want to change into something a little less . . . errr . . . eye catching.’
‘What do you mean?’ he asked, while looking down at his clothes and sounding a little hurt. ‘I thought I looked pretty good in these?’
‘What Rick is trying to say,’ Adam interjected, ‘is that you do look hot in those clothes . . . and a lot of the guys on the street today will think so too . . . especially some of the older guys, if you get my meaning.’
For a moment a frown wrinkled his forehead, but then his eyes widened as he realised what we meant.
‘Oh, shit. I didn’t think of that. Like, all those old pervs might be looking at me and thinking . . .’
‘Yeah, mate. That’s exactly what we mean,’ I replied. ‘It’s okay to look good, but when you’re only fourteen and flaunting it, it might attract the wrong kind of interest, and trust me, you don’t want that . . . apart from the fact that your mum would kill me if anything happened.’
‘But you’re older . . .’ he shot back.
‘Yeah, but we’re mates and I’m here to look after you, I’m not trying to jump your bones. I can tell you that you look hot, and you certainly do, and it doesn’t mean I’m getting a hard-on for you . . . other guys will look at you and all they’ll be thinking of is doing stuff with you. Have you ever seen guys looking you up and down at the beach when you’ve been there in your swimming shorts and nothing else.’
‘Yeah . . . some of ‘em really creeped me out too.’
‘Well, they weren’t exactly admiring your ability on the surfboard, mate. Let that be lesson number one in how the gay world really works . . . the bigger the smile someone has when they are looking at a teenage kid, the bigger the shark they probably are.’
* * *
After collecting Brad and reassuring Wendy, the boys’ mother, that they would be in safe hands, we drove back to Adam’s apartment, before strolling down toward Bondi Beach, where we found a café that looked out over the ocean.
At least Nick had changed his clothes and was now wearing some plain cargo pants and a checkered cotton shirt, and while he was still cutting a striking figure it was without the extra skin that would draw unwanted attention.
As we watched them devour double servings of pancakes with maple syrup, while at the same time listening to their incessant chatter, I was quickly reminded of just how ravenous and full-on teenage boys could be.
When we had all finished eating I decided to take this opportunity to broach the subject of what was going to happen today, and the ground rules for what the boys needed to do while in Adam’s care, seeing as I would be on duty all afternoon. I stressed how they needed to listen to whatever Adam had to say to them, along with just how dangerous things could be for an unsuspecting kid in the middle of the city, especially when surrounded by some of the types of people who liked to frequent gay events; not that everyone who attends should be thought of as being, or labeled, a pederast. It was simply better, in my mind at least, to be forewarned. I didn’t want to scare them even before the event had started, but I had hoped that I had, at least, managed to put just a little fear into them both so that they would think carefully about everything they did today.
As I would be on duty from after lunch time, they both knew that after we had eaten in the city around then they would be with Adam. I asked them to be on the lookout for Corcoran and to phone me at the first sign of trouble. I also warned them that the guy was a chameleon and that they might not recognise him, so to be wary of anyone who seemed to be taking an undue interest in them.
I also told Adam that once we had been briefed by the Inspector after lunch I would try and give him a heads-up as to what would be happening and where I would be, just in case.
They all seemed to take in everything that had been said and when we finally left the café for the stroll to a nearby bus stop, which we had decided to take into the city rather than drive and have to deal with finding parking, I was happy that they seemed to grasp the seriousness of what I had been saying.
While we waited for the next bus we listened to the boys joking with each other and clowning around. An old lady sitting at the far end of the bus shelter seemed to disapprove when Brad ragged on Nick for being gay and wanting to check out all the nancy boys on parade, to which Nick responded that he was coming too, so what was it that he wanted to check out?
I just smiled at the old woman and said, ‘What can I say . . . boys will be boys,’ which only earned another look of disapproval. I wasn’t sure if she noticed Adam holding my hand or not, but when the bus finally arrived she was the first one on her feet and climbing the steps up into it, before choosing a seat as far to the back of the bus as she could find, no doubt so that she wouldn’t have to be near the gay boys.
‘What’s her problem?’ Nick whispered to me as we settled in close to the front on one side of the aisle, glancing back over his shoulder at her as he did so, and while Adam and Brad took two seats on the opposite side.
‘My guess is that she just doesn’t like our type,’ I replied. ‘That’s just something you’ll have to get used to, mate.’
‘But how would she know?’
‘I know that Brad probably calls you a fag or a poofter every day, and that he only means it in a joking manner, but if someone else heard it they would probably think straight away that it was for real, even if it was meant as a joke. Haven’t you seen that happen at school . . . someone jokingly calls someone gay and the whole school jumps on it?’
‘Yeah . . .’ he bitterly replied.
‘Well, out in the real world it works just the same. People can be cruel, no matter what their ages, especially when it comes to folks like us. You just have to let it wash over you and ignore it . . . because if you let it get to you, every time you hear those words it’ll just keep eating at you and eating at you . . .’
‘Did that happen to you?’
‘At school? Yeah, in some ways. But in the end it didn’t matter to me, because I had someone who loved me, and after a while nearly everyone accepted me for who I was. These days it’s a bit easier . . . to a lot of folks those old prejudices are just that, old . . . a thing of the past, but every now and then you’ll still find someone like that little old lady who just can’t let go of the past, and the best thing to do when you meet someone like that is to simply smile and say hello.’
‘And what about now, that you’re older and out in the real world? Does it still happen now?’
‘Yeah, mate. It still does,’ I answered, as the face of Joe Benevetti immediately came to mind. ‘But it still doesn’t matter, because I have friends like you guys, and I have someone who loves me, and that is what’s really important.’
To be continued . . .