I’ve been running iCopyright on my stuff for a while now, but no one has tried to use it
It seems like such an awesome idea, whereby you can run a syndication feed on your website of other peoples’ content. So I put my stuff up on offer, but no one seems to want to try even the free version out. It’s kind of disheartening.
“From Diamond to Coal,” by Sol Crafter
Genre: mm sci-fi
Pushing open one of the bright red double doors that led into A Shot In the Dark, he couldn’t help laughing when Cindy, his usual barista, saw him and pointed. She was a tall faux-redhead that wore tee shirts at least two sizes too small for her busty frame. “Got you covered, babe. Go sit down and I’ll bring it to you.”
“Thank you,” he said, looking around to find a free table. The place was pretty packed for this time of day. It made him wonder if something was going on.
All of the little black tables were full of people and he only recognized the faces of a few regulars he’d seen before. The TV in the corner was playing a Muppet movie for the entertainment of the younger crowd sipping cocoa and eating sugar cookies, and there was a definite festiveness in the air. The chatter was a soft roar and the glow of the hanging cone lights seemed warm, reflecting off the white tiled floor with its gold leaf pattern.
William felt a frown tugging at his lips when he realized there was nowhere for him to sit. He really didn’t want to just grab his coffee and go, but that was what it looked like what was going to happen. Maybe he could drink his coffee in the park?
“You can sit here,” a voice called.
William turned to see a blond man sitting at a table to his left. “Really?” he asked, already walking over.
The guy smiled at him, flashing nice teeth. He was good-looking and William couldn’t help running his eyes over what he could see of the man’s body, liking the way his broad chest stretched his dark blue henley, the short sleeves showing off the cut of his arms. He had kind blue eyes beneath the fierce slashes of his eyebrows and there was a barely perceptible crook to his nose, the remnant of an old break.
William really wasn’t into the idea of sitting with a serial killer or something, so he made sure to look the man over thoroughly before he pulled out the empty chair and sat down. “Thanks. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
“I was surprised by how busy they are myself,” the man said. He had a newspaper folded under his elbow and there was a black wool coat hanging on the back of his chair. Up close, he had the beginnings of crow’s feet and faint smile lines around his mouth.
“Yeah, what’s up with that?” William asked.
The man shrugged. “I guess there’s some kind of convention or something going on a few blocks from here. Most of these guys came from that”
“Huh.” William held out his hand with a smile. “My name’s William.”
The man’s hand was warm and dry against his own, his handshake firm. “Alan. Nice to meet you.”
Cindy came swaying across the room, dodging tables and customers to bring William his coffee. “Here you go,” she chirped, “one quad-shot white chocolate mocha with a swirl of cherry syrup.”
William pulled a folded ten dollar bill out of his pocket and traded her for the cup. “Thank you,” he said, taking a quick sip before setting it down on the table. It tasted delicious. “Nice.”
She winked at him. “You’re the whole reason why I work here, sweetie. You’re the perfect eye-candy.”
“I try, ” he said, buffing his fingernails on the front of his tee shirt. “I pose in front of the mirror for a good five hours a day.”
“Oh you.” She lightly tapped him on the shoulder. “Well, I better get back to work. Are you going to be here for a while?”
William shrugged. “I was thinking I would be. Probably at least for another cup of coffee.”
“All right, I’ll leave the cherry syrup out just in case,” she said, walking away.
William shook his head and looked at Alan. “She likes to guilt-trip me into ODing on her drinks.”
“‘Quad-shot’?” Alan mock-shuddered. “And you’re going to drink two of them?”
“They’re good,” William excused. He carefully took a large gulp of his coffee. It was hot enough to burn his mouth, but there was no way he could wait until it cooled down. “So delicious.”
“Am I in the presence of an addict?” Alan asked, leaning back dramatically.
William shrugged. “Pretty much.”
Alan sat back up. “Oh, well, at least you admit it. There are some people out there… they won’t admit anything right to their graves. Very dramatic folk, those.”
“You’re kind of silly, aren’t you?” William covered his mouth with his fingers, hiding his smile. It was a habit he’d liberated one day in his youth and had never managed to give up.
“What makes you think that?” Alan asked in surprise.
William shook his head. “I’m pretty good at reading people, and no matter the volume, I can hear sarcasm at any time. You hide it pretty good though. Do you work with the public a lot?”
Alan shrugged. “That’s actually pretty close. I have to give speeches and stuff all the time and I have to answer peoples’ concerns in a warm and non-patronizing manner.”
William felt a sinking sensation. “With those kinds of experiences… do I have to guess that I’m in the presence of some kind of politician?”
“Possibly.” Alan took a drink of his latte. “Why, do you have an irrational dislike of politicians?”
“It’s not really that irrational,” William said, “considering all the lousy things politicians have done in this country lately. They almost disrupted the whole economy and wrecked America completely just a couple of years ago. It’s one of the reasons the progressive party got so powerful and…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Alan waved his hands. “I can tell that you’re very into talking politics, but I can also see that you’ve got your mind pretty set. So how about this, we continue to talk, but it can’t be anything about politics.”
“But you’re a politician,” William said, “it’s your job.”
“Exactly,” Alan said. “It’s my job. So if we make a deal not to talk about either one of our jobs, we can just be William and Alan when we talk to each other. And I think I want to talk to you some more.”
William blinked. “What?”
Alan looked vaguely embarrassed and he ran a hand through his sandy blond hair. “I know we just met a little while ago, but in my life I’ve learned to grab onto opportunity as it presents itself. So I can’t help thinking that our meeting was predestined in some way. We were always meant to meet here in this moment and that’s a pretty beautiful thing.”
“Are you a hippy or something?” William demanded.
Alan snorted and shook his head. He had on a disbelieving smile, as though he didn’t quite know how he was supposed to respond. “What?”
“Well, you’re sounding pretty hippy to me, very pagan ‘the universe is all one’ type thinking.” William fingered the cardboard sleeve around his cup. There was something completely relevant about the sleeve, though he couldn’t think what. That or he was trying to distance himself from the surreality of the situation.
“It doesn’t bother me or anything,” William said, “that you’re a pagan. It’s actually kind of cool.”
“I’m not a pagan,” Alan laughed. The fact that he totally seemed to be getting William’s strange brand of humor was a big plus.
For the first time William was seriously considering socializing with someone new. His life had been so shut off the last couple of years that he wasn’t sure he would know what to do, but he kind of wanted to try.
If Alan didn’t turn out to be some awful creep.
“I could be around here again in a couple of days,” William said nonchalantly, trying not to sound too involved. He picked at the corrugated cardboard of the sleeve with his fingernail.
“That would be great,” Alan said enthusiastically, “and I can be here. Around this time on Tuesday?”
William was surprised the guy was so enthusiastic, but he couldn’t help being a bit excited himself. He took a big gulp of his coffee, emptying the cup. “I will be here on Tuesday,” he said.
Alan’s smile was bright and happy. He didn’t look like he could be a bloodsucking, evil politician. He just looked way too nice.
“That’s so great,” Alan said. “We can talk about movies or video games or whatever. It will be so nice to have a normal conversation without worrying that someone’s going to take it out of context and I’m going to be looking at my own face in some news report sounding like an asshole.”
William didn’t know what he was supposed to feel. He had been absolutely sure that Alan was totally into him and wanted to have a relationship with dating and kissing and hopefully sex in the future. Then Alan acted like they were simply going to be best friends forever.
It made William seriously have to wonder if he had read the vibe around Alan wrong. Sure, every fiber of his being was absolutely certain that Alan was gay, but maybe he’d made some serious mistake somewhere. It left him feeling off balance and maybe a bit afraid; he really didn’t like being punched in the face.
“So, do you watch any sports?” Alan asked.
William shrugged. “Not really. I played some baseball when I was younger, but I’ve never really liked watching other people playing games. It just seems boring to me.”
“Ah, you’re really missing out,” Alan said, then preceded to tell William exactly why he was wrong.
And maybe while William’s life wasn’t exactly enlightened by that conversation, his life was irrevocably changed. Because after that, his trips to A Shot In the Dark weren’t just to get away from the stress of his day-to-day life. They were also opportunities to see Alan.
It was kind of nice to meet someone in a neutral setting. And since they had decided not to talk about their jobs at all, there was an exciting amount of mystery to it. They could have been anyone to the rest of the world, but they got to be just William and Alan with each other.
Neither one had any preconceived notions, so they were allowed to just be themselves. They would meet up and talk for hours about books or movies and they once got into an almost-argument about the feasibility of the “Back to the Future” movies. It was great.
William threw himself through the doors of the coffee shop and had to grin at Alan sitting at their usual spot. “Whoo, it’s pretty windy out there,” he called cheerfully, striding over to the
Alan raised an eyebrow on seeing him and looked as though he wanted to laugh out loud. “You look like you’ve been in a wind storm.” He reached out to brush his hand through William’s hair when he sat down. “You’re all frazzled.”
William grinned. “I know, isn’t it great?”
There had been something wonderful about running through the storm, his hair and clothes whipping around him as his feet pounded the pavement. He’d felt a bit like Dorothy, though he hadn’t bothered to crush any evil witches today.
“I ordered your usual,” Alan said, pushing a cup toward him.
“Thank you!” William hurriedly took a sip. “You’re a lifesaver, you know that?”
“I do try,” Alan said modestly.
William reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a beat up old paperback. “Here, I brought you this.”
Alan took the book, examining the cover quickly before reading the back. “Is this that book you were talking about?”
“Of course,” William said, propping his elbows on the table. “You’re really going to like it.”
“Okay,” Alan tucked the book into his own pocket, “I’ll be sure to bring it back when I’m done.”
“Take your time,” William said. “That’s a book that’s meant to be enjoyed.”
Alan smiled at him, a semi-silly expression that William had been seeing more and more of lately. “I’ll have to bring you a book to read too,” he said. “It would only be fair.”
“Sure,” William said. “We can swap books all the time. It could become our thing. We could be like a book club.”
“A book club that only has two people?” Alan raised his eyebrows.
“We could invite more people,” William said, and even to his own ears he didn’t sound that enthused by the idea.
“No, I think we’re good just the way we are.” Alan reached out to carefully lay his hand on top of William’s own. “What do you think about that?”
William looked down at Alan’s hand resting on his. There was just something about the contact that made something fizz low in his belly. The skin of his face felt hot and tight and there was the sensation of a balloon expanding in his chest. “Yeah. Just us. That’s the best way to be,” William said dumbly, his lips twitching up in a smile.
There was the sudden click of a camera and William whirled around, reluctantly pulling his hand away from Alan’s.
The man with the camera got a full-on front shot of him and William instinctively raised his hands to cover his face. There were bright flashes that stung his eyes through the gaps in his arms and he hurriedly turned away.
“What are you doing?” Alan demanded, pushing to his feet. He moved to stand in front of William, blocking him from view of the camera that kept snapping.
“Well, Congressman, it looks like I’ve just found you in your little love nest,” the man smirked. “Who’s the little boy?”
William gave Alan a surprised glance. “Congressman?”
Alan shrugged uncomfortably. “We weren’t talking about our careers, right?”
“Huh.” William stayed behind Alan, right up until he heard the distinct sound of James stepping up to handle the situation. Then when he next looked at the paparazzi, it was to find the man face-down on the floor with James’ knee jammed painfully in the small of his back, the expensive camera already half-disassembled.
“What is this?” Alan asked. “Who’s this guy?”
William stepped out from around him, now that he was fairly sure no one else was about to play candid camera. “That’s my bodyguard, James. James, this is Alan.”
“Hello Alan,” James said. He’d practiced his bland smile until it gave absolutely nothing away.
“Why do you have a bodyguard?” Alan asked, looking at William.
William shrugged. “It’s one of those job things we carefully weren’t talking about.” He sighed heavily and pulled on his jacket before picking his cup of coffee up off the table. “Why don’t you come back to my place with me and we can talk about everything?”
Alan looked at the paparazzi, then gave William a nod. “All right.”
James touched his ear. “The boss is going to be on the move. Someone come in and handle this guy.”
Immediately the door opened and a tall man in a tailored black suit strolled in. He looked like he would be able to handle any situation without breaking a sweat. “Here you go, sir,” he said, letting James move out of the way before taking charge of the paparazzi cursing about his camera.
“Byron, right?” William said.
The man flashed him a bright smile, looking more mischievous than dangerous for a moment. “Yes sir. I just started working for James a week ago.”
William nodded at him. “It’s nice to meet you.” He tried to be as friendly as possible with the men and women working to keep him alive.
“You too, sir,” Byron said. He had a nice smile, one that included a dimple at the left side of his mouth. “I’ve got this guy.”
“Thank you,” William said. He gestured Alan toward the door. “Come on, let’s go.”
“Yeah,” Alan followed him, “it looks like we have a lot to discuss.”
William had to carefully hide a wince. If there was one thing he hated, it was the Talk. It was one of those things his life definitely could do without.
It was a short walk to the brownstone William was currently occupying. Sure, it may have seemed an odd choice of home for a billionaire, but William had fallen in love with the place the minute he’d seen it. He’d known immediately that there was nowhere else he wanted to live.
William had spent his whole life wanting to be normal and have the kinds of things that normal people took for granted. And just because he’d started out life poor didn’t mean he wanted to blow all his money on shiny things. He’d always been of the belief that love, like air, should be free.
He’d come to the decision that instead of living some lavish lifestyle, he wanted something real instead. He wanted actual friends and people he could count on. He wanted to surround himself with people that didn’t care about how smart he was or how rich. He wanted to talk to someone and not have them immediately point out that he was “the” William Neeley.
Anonymity had helped him a lot in his goal, but he still had to live surrounded by bodyguards. Because no matter how much he dreamed about things being different, there was a price to pay for the ridiculous amount of money he’d managed to accumulate. And the price was his privacy.
So taking Alan up the stairs of his house, William couldn’t help feeling nervous. People always took it so weird when they found out what William’s life was really was like. Either they were completely turned on by the money, or they were freaked out by all the security hanging around.
He opened the front door and they walked into a white-on-white room with a big black desk manned by a woman in well-cut business attire that immediately said, “Good evening, Mr. Neeley.”
He gave her a nod, but walked passed her desk to a row of round silver buttons on an otherwise blank wall. When he pushed one, the wall slid apart to reveal the hidden outline of the elevator before parting to reveal a warm brown wood interior.
William gestured Alan inside, then followed him, James taking up the rear. “The whole white room thing is kind of a mindfuck,” he said, pushing a button on the elevator pad. “People come in, and they don’t know what to think. It really throws them off their game.”
“Especially when they can’t figure out where the elevator is,” James added. “That stops a lot of would-be thieves right in their tracks.”
Alan was a line of tenseness where he pressed close to the elevator wall. “Why do I feel like I’m walking into a horror movie or something?” His jaw was clenched tight and his Adam’s apple bobbed when he swallowed.
“It’s nothing like that!” William cried. “I swear, you’re not going to end up in a freezer somewhere or anything like that. This… this is just the place where I live.”
Alan slanted him a look and there must have been something in William’s expression because he relaxed a little. “I don’t really think you’re going to do anything,” he said, “but this is a bit strange.”
“I’m sorry,” William said.
There was a ding and the elevator doors slid open on a more welcoming and normal lobby area with red couches and a dark wood table and a large flat screen TV on the wall. Framed in the middle of everything was a polished black door with silver hardware.
“Come on.” William reached out as though to grasp Alan’s sleeve, but dropped his hand before he could touch. He didn’t feel as though he had that right, not anymore, not yet. Instead, he quietly stepped out of the elevator and walked across the plush carpet to push open the front door of his private suite.
“So, this is my place,” William said, waving his hand.
The building still had that classic brownstone look on the outside, but he’d had it gutted and remodeled on moving in. He had his own suite–three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a large living room–and the rest of the brownstone was living space for his bodyguards. They had their own sleeping area and the large, expanded basement was a fully-stocked home gym.
For added security, he also owned the surrounding buildings. James had suggested it as a way to keep down the possibility of a rooftop sniper. He’d also completely ignored William’s objections that he was worth a lot more as a living hostage. So William had ended up owning the neighborhood that he lived in.
It was just another one of those things that he forced himself to ignore so he could keep to his delusion that he was a real boy.
“This place is nice,” Alan said, looking around.
William had to smile even through all the awkwardness. “I like it.”
The living room displayed William’s love of wide open spaces. There was a U-shape of cream colored couches filling up the living room and facing the large flat screen hanging on the wall. The coffee table had a glass top that peered into the terrarium William had built–inside, Igor the Iguana languished on his favorite rock, his belly fat from his rich diet. He didn’t exactly look as though he hated captivity.
William led Alan over to the couch. “Here, why don’t you have a seat?”
“Sure.” Alan sat, his long-fingered, artistic hands folding on his knees. “So, what’s going on?”
“Well,” William sat down on a couch half-facing him, “it looks like you’re some kind of important Congressman or something.”
“Yeah, about that,” Alan held out his hand for a shake, “Congressman Alan Trent, pleasure to meet you.”
William put his hand in Alan’s, feeling the warmth of skin on skin. “William Neeley, CEO of CyberAngel Industries.”
Alan’s hand tightened in surprise before he let William go. “CyberAngel Industries?”
“Yeah.” William shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s not that big a deal.”
Alan gave him a keen-eyed look, then shrugged. “Okay, if that’s how you want to play this.”
“What do you mean?” William asked.
Alan jerked his chin. “We both know that CyberAngel is getting pretty important in the world today, but if you just want to be Joe Normal Guy, well… Okay, we can do that. And I can stay being just Alan with you, right?”
“But you’re a member of Congress!” William hated the way his voice went up shrilly at the end.
“So?” Alan cocked his head. “That’s my job, it’s not me. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve really liked meeting you for coffee and conversation. I enjoy hanging out with you.”
William looked at him, examining the image he presented: Sandy blond hair that had been ruffled by the wind, clear blue eyes, and a handsome, intelligent looking face. He looked like someone that could talk about the national budget and be listened to.
“I do like talking about books with you,” William said slowly.
Alan grinned. “So why do we have to change the way we get along with each other?”
“But what about the paparazzi guy?” William asked.
Alan frowned. “Yeah, that’s going to be trouble.” He rubbed his chin with a sigh. “Once someone figured out where we are, that’s pretty much it. There’ll probably be even more reporters showing up, digging around.”
“You’re not married, are you?” William asked in sudden horror. There was no way he was ever going to let himself be “the other woman,” or a facsimile thereof. It just wasn’t his scene at all.
“No!” Alan shook his head. “I’ve never been married, and in fact I’m openly gay. It was just one of those decisions I made when I first started out, not wanting to hide who I am just to please a couple of closed-minded people.”
“And you’re a Congressman,” William said.
“Of the proud state of Iowa. We gave the world fabulous corn and James Tiberius Kirk,” Alan said.
William huffed a laugh. “At least you’re still the same dork I first met. I don’t know what I would have done if your personality had suddenly changed.”
“I would never lie to you,” Alan said, and there was that silly expression again. The one that William had to be the only recipient of, because there was no way Alan would have been able to function in society if he was showing that look all over the place. It was surprisingly endearing.
“Well, maybe we should get to know each other a little better,” William said, “now that we’re not just William and Alan anymore.”
“We’ll always be just William and Alan to each other,” Alan said, “and that is a heartfelt promise.”
William couldn’t help a slightly silly grin of his own, though he couldn’t really explain it. There was just something about how confident Alan was that they were going to know each other far into the future that pleased him.
Maybe because he really wanted to keep Alan in his life too.
“From Diamond to Coal” at Kimichee.