Jake felt an overwhelming desire to pull Ash into his arms and kiss him and saw his desire reflected in Ash’s face. He heard his name yelled over the noise of the crowd, and there was a tap on his shoulder; Jiffy had returned.
“There’s seats at a table over yonder, being jealously guarded!” said Jiffy. “Come, this way.”
Ash smiled and inclined his head in farewell to the man they had been talking to and followed Jiffy through the crowd.
Jake turned to the stranger. “I hope you have a prime evening, sir,” he said, giving the man a warm smile.
“I hope you and your companion end the evening as you wish,” he responded, his eyes alive with sagacity. “You must cherish him. Such bright eyes, such a beautiful young man.”
With a shock, Jake realized the man had correctly read his relationship with Ash. He knew he must be more prudent in future. He was not ashamed of his behavior, and he had no care what strangers thought of him, nor if his friends approved or not. Nevertheless, he found a certain zest in keeping it secret, and for now he wanted it to be a private thing between him and Ash. He would tell his friends of it after the affair was finished, when the experiment was done; they could judge him then as they wished.
“Was I that obvious?” he asked the stranger, his voice a little stiff.
“You need not be concerned,” said the other man, his smile gentle. “Men such as ourselves know well the love between comrades, but others will not see what is beyond their experience. Ah, I see my friend Charles swimming through the crowd. I shall farewell you for now—Jake, is it? Perhaps we shall meet again.”
“Perhaps,” echoed Jake, watching after him as the man began to weave his way through the throng. By his own words the stranger had implied he was a man who loved other men, and Jake did not know if he should be offended that he had been included in that fraternity. Fucking and being in love were not the same thing.
Making his way through the crowd, he found the table in a busy section near the long bar. Waldo Scott sat at the end of the table, sharing a bench with Jiffy and chatting amiably with the stranger seated next to him. An orphan living with the cousins who had been his guardians until he came of age, Waldo was the least trammeled of Jake’s cronies. He was not partial to Corinths; his hijinks took the form of haunting dance-houses. There he rubbed elbows with the working class b’hoys and g’hals of New York, and he copied their manner of speaking, making him at times rather incomprehensible, even to his intimates. He was an adept dancer, and he was very fond of the vibrant music found only in the lowest establishments. He was also, somewhat incongruously, passionate about prizefighting and could name the points of all the currently active boxers and the outcomes of even the most obscure fights stretching back years.
In build he was a compact young man who had regretfully accepted he was not likely to grow any taller, and with his shock of red hair, tawny eyes enormous in his freckled face, and a great enthusiasm for life, he bore the appearance of an overgrown boy. On Jake’s approach, he jumped over the bench into Jake’s arms.
“Aww, Jakey, now ain’t this just high!” he cried in a deadly accurate parody of the b’hoy accent.
“Missed ya fearful bad, little fella!”
Both of them laughed as Jake swung his friend from the ground in their customary greeting ritual, to the peril of those around them who were in range of Waldo’s feet. Once he had lifted Waldo to the highest point, Jake dropped him, and Waldo landed nimbly and with a flourish. Jake ruffled his bright head, and Waldo grinned up at him before resuming his seat.
On the long side of the table, to Jiffy’s right, Ash sat next to Beaumont Greene, both of them smiling at his and Waldo’s antics. Beau was even taller than Jake and of a strapping physique that would be at home in a wrestling tournament. He lifted his hand to Jake in a far more restrained greeting before turning his attention back to Ash. Empty oyster shells were set out on the scrubbed table in a diamond pattern, and Beau’s fair head was close to Ash’s dark one as he moved oyster forks around the diamond. Jake guessed his friend was demonstrating their last baseball game. He grinned to himself; it had not taken Beau long to try to recruit Ash to their team.
There was a space on the bench next to Ash, and Jake sat down. Ash shuffled over to make more room, casting him a smile as their legs pressed together. Feeling his dick tighten in his drawers, Jake wondered how soon they would be able to make some excuse to leave. He sat silent among his cronies, sipping whiskey, an ear to both lively conversations—one about baseball, the other about the virtues of Yankee Sullivan and the Tipton Slasher.
Leaving Waldo to talk to the stranger on his left about boxers, Jiffy leaned over to Jake.
“I’m glad your new mama has turned out to be a good ’un.” Jiffy glanced at Ash who was listening to Beau’s animated discourse. “If her son takes after her, she must be uncommon handsome.”
“She is. And she’s not my mama. I had but one of those, and she’s gone.” His tone was forbidding.
“Of course,” said Jiffy quietly. After a moment, he added, “I hope he’s not offended by what I said of her.”
“No, Ash knows I was dead against her, and anything you said was because of what I told you. He’s not the type to hold a grudge. You’ll find he’s the right sort; I was pretty glad when he agreed to spend the summer here.”
“So he hasn’t been inflicted on you, then? He seems first-rate, although I’ve not spoken much to him. Hell, he doesn’t say much anyway, does he?”
“He’s a quiet one, which makes a blessed change among us! But under that he’s riotous good fun.”
“Waldo has been talking about a new stepping ken in Bleecker; shall we take Ash along there later?”
Scowling, Jake shook his head. “I’m not in the mood for dancing, Jiffy.”
“You’re not in the mood for much at all,” said Jiffy. “Is something amiss?”
Surprised, Jake responded, “No, I guess I just—” He broke off, not sure how to explain what he was feeling. Usually, he would be talking, drinking, laughing as much as any of them, but tonight he was on edge.
For the second time that night Jake fell into a reverie as he recalled another of the many times he and Ash had fucked over the previous days. He could clearly picture Ash writhing under him, the blurred sapphire gaze meshing with his as Ash shook and came over his own belly, tightening invigoratingly around Jake who followed him, crying out his bliss. He wanted Ash again, badly. But perhaps sex with Ash, amazing as it was, was not fulfilling him if he needed more already.
“Shit, I need petticoat company,” he said, having a sudden flash of insight into what his problem was. Strangely, the thought of a being with a woman was not as enticing as the thought of riding Ash, hard and fast or slow and sweet, but it must be the solution to his restiveness.
Jiffy was laughing. “Don’t we all, Jake, don’t we all,” he gasped through chortles. He wiped a stray tear from his eye. “So were the nightingales of Philadelphia not up to the task of taming the Huntington trouser serpent?”
“Er, no, I found it too difficult, with the wedding and everything else. Father is always understanding, but I didn’t want to explain it to his wife. So I, er, went without women. Except for the first night when I sneaked out to that goosing-crib Monty slung me the tip for.”
“My dear fellow, four whole days! That explains it,” Jiffy added, nodding with mock solemnity. “You’re devilish crotchical when you don’t get enough.”
Jake raised a quizzical eyebrow at his friend’s teasing. He ran a finger idly around the thick rim of his glass tumbler, now empty. “I’ll stay for a drink or two, but then I’ll take Ash off to Miss Shandwick’s. I promised to acquaint him with Addie.”
Jiffy looked slightly startled. “The lady-bird with the great ass? I thought she was your latest particular.”
“That’s the one.”
“You going to wait your turn? That’s not like you.”
“As to that, we might, um, share.”
Jiffy gazed at Jake in astonishment. “I’ve heard of men doing that sort of thing.” He grinned. “To be honest, it sounds uncommon fun.”
“It is.” Jake shot Jiffy an arch look.
His friend burst out laughing. “Trust you to start a new craze in sin. Preachers will be thundering from pulpits all over the city!”
“Don’t people have better things to do than carp about the morals of others?”
“Not Mama and her confidantes. I don’t think they talk of anything but the morals of others. Their own morals, of course, are impeccable,” Jiffy added acidly.
“Doesn’t the Bible have something to say about gossip and judging others?”
“Probably. Can’t say I’ve actually read much of the good book; I spend my Sundays otherwise occupied. Gil’s old enough to escort Mama to church now, and I’ve told her I prefer private devotions at home.”
“Private devotions?” Jake said in mock astonishment. “Oh, I understand! Pleading with God on your knees to make it stop while you flash your hash into a basin.”
Jiffy shoved him lightly. “Hey, I can hold my liquor!”
“It’s just a shame you try to hold too much,” said Jake with a grin.
“I’ll remember that next time you need a pal to stop you slipping on your own puke!”
The waiters at the Ratkiller were efficient, and drinks quickly replaced their empty glasses. Jake began to relax and joined in the animated discussion about the finer points of the two pugilists who were rumored to be meeting at Staten Island in a few weeks.
“Say, you and Ash are heading to that fancy house in Church Street, right?” asked Beau in an abrupt change of subject.
“I want to come too. I’ve got a horn you could sharpen a fucking knife on.”
“Thanks for the picture, Beau,” said Jake, a pained spasm crossing his face.
Beau grinned and drained his glass. He stood up, wiping his mouth on his sleeve in a style worthy of a b’hoy.
Jake looked at Ash, who shrugged and finished his drink. Signaling to Jiffy and Waldo that they were leaving, Jake followed Beau weaving through the crowd, Ash in his wake. Out on the street, he found the other two men were behind them.
“Got an itch to go to this sore-eye,” said Waldo airily. “Jake’s best goosing-crib has to be a flash dispensary, and the bartemeys gallus.”
“You’re coming to Church Street?” hazarded Beau. When Waldo nodded, he added, “Damn, Waldo, why d’you not just say so?”
Waldo grinned. “I did, Beau-boy, I did!”
Jake was surprised. Waldo found purchasing the services of a fille de joie
distasteful and almost never accompanied his friends on such visits. He was a romantic, shyly courting the belles he met in dance-houses, bestowing chaste kisses and paying earnest compliments. Waldo seldom spoke directly of his conquests, and Jake suspected his sweethearts were lavished with gifts, but he would never go so far as to suggest to Waldo that it was a purchase under a different guise. Jake was never quite sure how many ladies his friend bedded, but Waldo was no innocent, and his talk, as coarse as the next man’s, made it clear he enjoyed having his cock sucked best. Having received such amazing mouth-fucks from Ash, Jake no longer wondered at this as he once had.
Jiffy and Waldo began to stroll together, arms companionably around each other’s waists as they engaged in their usual rapid-fire chatter. No matter how cryptic Waldo’s words were to the rest of them, Jiffy always seemed to understand him. Linking his arm with Ash’s, Jake followed Beau, who was impatiently striding through the streets.
“Beau’s boiling over for some horizontal entertainment,” Ash murmured.
“He often gets like this when he’s had a few drinks,” said Jake. “He’s pretty single-minded about his dick when the mood takes him.”
Ash gave Jake a look brimful of amusement. “He ain’t the only one,” he said, dancing out of the way when Jake, laughing, tried to cuff him.
As was the custom for bordellos in most large cities, Miss Shandwick’s premises was euphemistically labeled a boarding house, and she currently had seven ladies “boarding” in her narrow brick-and-stone townhouse in Church Street. As the friends approached, the house was quiet, but lights could be seen shining in the curtained parlor windows. The stoop led to a single door set in an elegantly austere stone frame. Jake knocked softly and was subjected to a careful inspection through one of the sidelights.
The door opened, and the five friends were bowed inside by Amos, the man of all work, filling the roles of butler and porter. Amos greeted Jake, Beau, and Jiffy by name, all of them having patronized the house before. Jiffy had been here only once, but Amos never forgot a customer.
“And might I inquire as to the names of these two gentlemen, sir?” he asked Jake.
“This is Mr. Moore from Philadelphia, and Mr. Scott, who is local but has not yet visited this fine establishment,” said Jake.
“It is a pleasure to meet any acquaintance of yours, Mr. Huntington,” said Amos. “Tonight has been an eventful night with a number of gentlemen callers, and the misses have been busy. However, I do believe Miss Brown is unengaged at the present.”
“Thank you, Amos,” said Jake, and they followed him through to the parlor where he introduced them before stepping back to allow them into the room.
The two downstairs parlors had been thrown into one double room, furnished with modern stuffed chairs, sofas, and a rosewood piano. Thick rugs covered the floors, and tasteful drapes hung in the long windows, closed against the night. Three handsome young ladies were at present in the parlor, one playing the piano while another turned pages for her, and the third sitting on a sofa. They looked around when the men entered the room, smiling a welcome. The blonde girl at the piano rose, her smile becoming more genuine when she recognized Jake.
“Mr. Huntington, it has been a monstrous long time since I had the pleasure of your company.” She walked forward, both hands held out. Jake took them, laying a kiss on each one in turn, and drew her over to where Ash waited.
“Addie, this is my good friend Mr. Moore. Ash, this is Miss Adeline Brown, quite the loveliest lady in New York City.”
Ash took the pale hand held out to him and, following Jake’s example, kissed the slender fingers. “She is,” he said, laconic but not shy. Recalling his initial nervousness with Miss Rose, Jake smiled at his friend’s newfound confidence.
With a glance at Jake, Ash leaned forward to murmur in Miss Brown’s shell-like ear, and the young lady blushed and giggled. She cast a playful look at Jake and took Ash by the hand, steering him to another door that led upstairs to the bedrooms.
“You already know the way, sir,” she said coyly to Jake. “You must follow.”
At this moment, Miss Shandwick, an elderly lady with a serene manner and a slightly watery eye, bustled into the room, bringing a faint smell of paregoric elixir with her. Miss Brown introduced Ash to her, and despite the residual haziness in her eyes, Miss Shandwick raked him with a measuring glance. It seemed she was satisfied with him, but she indicated Miss Brown to wait while she turned to Jake, greeting him with the effusiveness she reserved for her best customers. Jake bestowed his most charming smile on her. He had no notion if she liked him or merely respected his wealth, but he knew she treated her girls kindly, and he thought well of her for it.
“Mr. Moore and I wish to entertain Miss Brown in her boudoir. Together,” Jake added, so there was no mistake about their intentions.
Miss Shandwick blinked in surprise but recovered quickly, no doubt accustomed to unusual requests. In any case, it was her duty to please, within reason, the gentlemen who visited her house and her girls. After a short discussion, she came to an amicable agreement with Jake.
As he left the room, Jake glanced at his friends to see Waldo and Jiffy grinning at him, and he flung back a grin of his own. Following Ash and Addie up the stairs, he was no longer bored or restless, and he prepared to enjoy himself immensely.