The Dun Linden New Dawn
Monday, May 1, 1923
Your Sun of Ireland 1 P
Michael’s life began all over again on Monday. The rain that had been threatening for weeks finally banged Dun Linden with bare fists just as dawn broke, pummeling and pounding, leaving everyone a little off balance. Setting the banner line for the day’s newspaper edition, he’d looked up from the linotype into the most arresting pair of eyes he’d ever seen. They were soulful and tormented, of a color somewhere between teal and turquoise, like a rare metal seen once in a lifetime. Or an undiscovered ocean on the edge of a wet dream. He stared in spite of himself at the man behind the eyes.
He was tall—all of six feet, almost as tall as Michael. A black felt bowler hat covered his hair. But Michael knew it had to be as dark as the eyebrows and the growing shadow around his upper lip and chin. Had the man even slept last night? The mouth itself was sulky, arrogant, almost angry.
Michael’s cock set up a slow hammering beneath the stiff leather apron.
He grinned and shifted a wooden match between his teeth. “’Tis help ye need, now?”
Under a fine woolen greatcoat, invitingly open, the man was wearing an impeccably smooth silk brocade jacket, with a neck scarf to reflect the unusual blue of his eyes.
“Yes.” His voice was as clipped and rude as his mouth. “You may place this obituary in the newspaper. And you may insert an advert as well.”
I may, may I? Maybe I’ll insert something else, lad. To himself, Michael mimicked the other’s tone of voice. He knew the man had been educated at a few up-yer-arse schools, probably Eton, then Cambridge. He barely moved his mouth when he articulated every syllable. Here was a man who wouldn’t know a back-alley expression if it slid up his bunghole.
“An’ what’ve we here, then?” Broadening his accent even more, he reached for the first square of paper, the one the stranger held as if reluctant to hand it over.
“A death announcement. To be placed in the first page of the obituaries, four-point black barred, four columns width, one column depth.”
Michael reached for the paper, but the man placed it just out of reach on the surface of the linotype, as if reluctant to see it in the hands of any but himself, smoothing it and letting the expensive woven surface crackle.
“The obituary notice is to run immediately, as soon as this morning’s press run, until and including Thursday. No later. The other, the advert, must run daily until I remove it personally or send a courier. Is all this quite clear?”
If the man hadn’t been so suck-my-dick handsome, Michael would have turned his back and walked into the pressroom of the newspaper, sending an apprentice typesetter to contend with the rude bastard. But, in fact, he was that riveting. Michael was hooked like a bloated fish, but he’d be goddamned if he’d show it to this uppity-muppity.
“An’ there be something else, m’lord?” He knew he was being insolent, but it was the only way he saw at the moment to insert a pinprick a very small way into the man’s starchy veneer.
The man’s eyes flicked across him briefly, as though loathe to acknowledge his presence. “As a matter of fact, there is. I wish to send a telegram to New York. Is there anyone at this establishment capable of doing it or must I send it myself?”
Michael held out his hand. “Ye’re fortunate I’m a cheerful lad. I’ll do everything ye’ve asked today, for a quid-ten.”
The other man stood, adjusting his cuff as if he had not heard a word.
Michael walked from behind the giant linotype, wiping ink-stained fingers on his heavy printer’s smock, sizing up the visitor. Here was a man who badly needed a few things. One was a good frigging lay. He also, by God, needed a man who could take some of the starch from his collar—and he was just the one to do it. He was easily three inches bigger around in the chest than this too-proper prick, and probably in the biceps, too. And a few other places besides. His cock shifted menacingly under the apron.
The sulky mouth spoke. “A pound and ten is robbery, pure and simple.”
“An’ ’tis a pity Dun Linden has but one respectable newspaper.”
“But luckily the newspaper has but one street hooligan from the underbelly of Boston. Probably Boyle Street, from the guttural edges of his accent.”
Now Michael was not just delighted. He knew he had to have this man, at his speed, and in his own way.
A man like this no doubt was a member of some gentleman’s club-or-other, taking lessons once a week in how to defend oneself from the spit-riddled sidewalks. He was careful to speak with a sneer. “No man in Dun Linden would be me equal in a bare-knuckles bout.”
“That same quid and ten says you are quite mistaken.”
“I’ll take your wager, mister. But it has to be at me own call. When and where I say.”
He was astonished when the man squarely met his gaze. “Very well. Call it.”
“Pay now. An’ if ye beat me fair and square, I’ll hand it back to ye.”
For the first time, the other man smiled. It was a slow smile, but one that caught him up in those ocean-sky eyes and threatened to drown him. Michael could not wrench his eyes away. The man unfolded his advert and a telegram message printed in block letters and laid them next to the obit on the type machine’s gleaming black metal surface.
“Tell me, then. The place? The time?” He arched his exquisite eyebrows.
“Within one week. The place? I’ll let ye know.”
Now the man threw his head back and laughed outright. “You Yanks. I look forward to taking your money. Send my telegram right away. Good day.”
In two swift gestures, he inserted his hand in his trouser pocket and threw a sovereign, then ten shillings on the surface of the large typesetting machine. He strode to the exit and pulled open the heavy, glass-paned door. A sullen rain continued to pound the sidewalk outside, and he took a moment to re-button his coat at the waist. Once outside, the man snapped his cane, a movement causing it to billow into a large umbrella. The last sight of him Michael enjoyed was a figure in a greatcoat holding a black silken barrier against the sky.
By now, a small ache had begun in his balls. He grinned and fingered the stiff paper as he read the handsome script.
The friends and family of Sullivan “Sargent” Castleton grieve the passing of the former decorated Lieutenant, stricken in his twenty-and-fifth year. He is survived by his brother, James Riverstone Castleton; his brother’s wife, Mrs. Rose O’Hara Castleton of Baybridge South; and by his father, John J. Castleton, of New York. A brief Memorial will be held at noon on Friday the fifth of May in the year of our Lord 1923, at the Blackpool Circle of Remembrance, twenty and a half Markham Lane. Funeral follows at the Blackpool Cemetery.
Strange a man so young was dead. “Stricken.” An accident? A dread disease? Michael wondered whether the deceased had been a brother, a friend, or a lover. Somehow, the angry stranger didn’t seem the type to keep a lover. Maybe this dish was James, the brother. It came to him without pondering overlong when he picked up the other paper and read the advert. It, too, was written in an elaborate script, in deep black ink, with an emphatic flourish under the letters SH.
Roomer needed. Must be neat & quiet. Two quid a month for gentleman’s quarters near the Zool Gardens. Inquire at number three Rolling Street, 3-C, from four in the afternoon. ~SH
Yes, the departed had no doubt been a roomer, perhaps even a friend. Knowing now where this fellow lived, he’d call on him and politely extract another quid-and-ten. An’ maybe a little more besides. His grin widened as he re-folded the advert and put it in his pocket.
The telegram was addressed to John J. Castleton, Clothiers, in Manhattan, New York.
SARGENT DEAD-STOP-SERVICE FRIDAY MAY 5-STOP-IN SORROW SIMON HART-STOP
Suddenly, Michael lost his grin. There was something ironic and sad about the last two words: Hart-stop. No wonder the man had seemed distant and snappish. The dead man really had been held dear, and this stranger, Simon Hart, was in mourning.
He decided to give it a few days before he exacted the quid-and-ten. Pushing his visor back from his forehead into his long blond-red hair, he finished setting the first page, sliding the type slugs into place with practiced fingers, before calling his apprentices to complete Monday’s edition. The rain was still falling in fits and starts when he left the newspaper building two hours later and headed for the Zoological Gardens.
* * *
Michael McCree let his stiff bowler be a rain shield, pulling it down over his too-thick hair as he lounged back against a stout brick wall. He was in a small alcove across from a group of two- and three-story brick houses near the city park. The structures were no doubt a few hundred years old and included a pub, a butcher’s shop, a lady’s millinery and a dry goods grocers.
He eyed the Silver Hind, a middlish-class pub whose address marked it as the living quarters of Simon Hart. In this city and throughout the British Isles, keeping rooms above a pub, or even a bookshop or other place of business, was common enough. He wondered idly if the man he sought had chosen the pub for its initials. SH. Stor. Haisce. Both Gaelic words for “treasure.”
After reading the stranger’s advert, he’d decided two quid a month was fair exchange for a change of living style. He’d been staying with a distant aunt and her three sons in a large, run-down flat near the docks, paying her one quid a month for room and board. He loved his good-natured, hard drinking kin, but he found himself often prowling the seamy underside of the docks, staying with fellow rough-trade omi-palones, not often finding answers, but always looking.
Michael was, by nature, a man’s man who craved men, but he shied from the bitches—effeminates who ogled every bulge in a man’s pants. He’d always been attracted to men like himself, roustabout street boys, those with a grudge and a few dark secrets. Men with an attitude. Especially heterosexuals—omis—who didn’t yet know their innermost cravings. Men like Simon Hart, he was sure of it.
Now that he’d encountered Hart, he wouldn’t easily let him go. The man needed someone right now, he had already decided, and he would be there when Hart was ready. Now he must find out more about the man and how a fair-to-middling-looking newspaperman and runaway Irishman could fit into his life.
His thoughts flicked for a moment back to Boyle Street, the so-called Mick Metro, a haven for immigrant Irish near the Boston Harbor. Simon Hart had guessed his neighborhood, even to the very street. Yes, he was Irish and proud of it. But from the moment his family, a generation back, had arrived in the town, they’d been reviled and driven to pockets of “New Ireland,” places where only the Irish lived and only the Irish felt safe. To make his living at the Boston newspaper, he’d dyed his hair and carefully lost his accent. Of course, he’d lied about his name, calling himself Mo Mammoth, his own tongue-in-cheek reference to his genitalia.
He kept his recent past shrouded in mystery, even from his relatives. Three years ago, he told them, his identity had been discovered, forcing him to run for his life. Emphatically, no Micks were allowed at the Boston World, or any similar respectable place of business. He had two choices: return to the docks or flee to Ireland. And so, to hear Michael tell his tale to his cousins, he had arrived in Dun Linden with a small stipend in his pocket, a large chip on his shoulder, and his prick tucked between his legs like the tail of a whimpering hound.
The truth was much more inconvenient. He shifted a little, pulling his bowler lower on his forehead when the rain eased a bit. Michael was a man who could slip into any role, and his employer thought his Irish heritage would allow him to step onto any stage, from the High Mall to the docks. He was, in short, a brain and body for a shadowy agency that ostensibly did not operate in Ireland at all.
The rain had ended, but Michael kept the hat lowered. If Simon Hart were to appear, he needed to blend into the brick wall. He alternately leaned, squatted and knelt in the corner, half hidden from the street by a large dustbin, which the proprietors must use as a common repository for everything foul-smelling.
“Say, mister, got a ha’penny?”
He stiffened. The voice belonged to a child. Yet a child could be a betrayer as easily as a grown man.
“Ye new here?” the voice persisted. It was coming from the far side of the dustbin. Michael glanced up from his crouch and saw the stiff, copper-hued hair of a boy maybe ten or eleven years old. He must have been standing, or crouching like himself, in the rain. But why?
“Waitin’ on a friend,” he muttered, wishing the boy would leave.
Shit, criminy, this kid was street wise. He had just asked Michael if he was trolling for a homosexual bang.
“Right ye are, lad. So bugger off.”
“A ha’penny makes me invisible.”
Michael dug in his pocket, pulled out a ha’ppence, and flipped it to him. Even from eight feet, the boy caught it with a practiced flourish and took off running.
Michael settled back into his squat and returned his gaze to the Silver Hind. It might be a very long night. When he got tired of this post, he’d go inside for a pint and keep an eye out for his quarry from a different vantage point. There must be a roomer’s portal around back. Yes, he could wait. He must be sure of the man he’d selected on a moment’s whim, a one-second leap o’ the cock.
The sky opened again.
He lapsed back into thoughts of three years ago when he’d arrived in Dun Linden as a man with a secret. Actually, many secrets. He’d right away melted into the coarse fabric of the docks. By day, he’d bought himself into becoming a newspaperman, thanks to the funds provided by a sudden “death in the family.” By night, he soon learned every seam of the sprawling town-becoming-a-city—from the tenements to the granite homes of the wealthy.
His natural language was the street lingo every homosexual spoke, from Boston to Belfast, from Cambridge to the continent beyond, a way of effectively shielding themselves from the hetero world around them. Yet Michael knew how to enter a fine drawing room, how to speak politics with the uppity-muppities, how to blend with any crowd he selected.
Always he came home to the brawling, rollicking, free-drinking docks of Dun Linden, the ones reminding him of home. He’d gone from New Ireland to the real Ireland, and he loved it.
Now he was consciously seeking a change in his life, drawn by his own unruly prick to the promise of a desirable man. From the life I enjoy to the one I crave. Grinning, he shook his head, and the gesture caused accumulated rain to drip from his hat into the collar of his thin linen shirt and run down his back. He balled his hands into fists as he squatted, letting the sky bash him, never taking his eyes from a doorway across the cobblestone street.
It occurred to him that today was Beltane, a day replete with centuries of meaning. A day for lovers. His grin widened.