People ask me: where did you get the inspiration for RENT, your male escort romantic suspense novel? I think subconsciously, it’s from people like the one below.
Now, I have met people who have traded sex for money. Other than what they do for a living, most of them are unremarkable with the same ups and downs most of us face every day, the same fears, joys, and frustrations. But the one person who haunts me the most is one I glimpsed only in a photograph…
By Rick R. Reed
Oh God, it’s trite. It’s such a cliché and all my writing life I’ve lived by one credo: avoid cliches like the plague. But it’s true: one picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes photographs can inspire a whole springboard of emotions and thought.
Such is the case with a photo my friend Sukie had taken and shared with me recently. The photo was of a young hustler he met in a bar…a photo Sukie promised never to publish. Such a simple photograph, really. A young man sits at a table in a bar, staring directly at the camera. He wears a T-shirt and a bandana on his head, one arm is up, holding a smoldering cigarette. The other arm is near his chest. That’s it. The smoke from the cigarette moves upward, looking more elegant than deadly.
It’s the young man’s face I can’t get out of my mind. He’s just on the man side of boyhood and it shows. His nose is still that of a little boy’s; his skin is unlined. But it’s his eyes that remain in memory, as if someone has branded those eyes on the soft pink tissue of my brain with an iron. Indelible. There is nothing young about those eyes, green, flecked with gold. These are eyes that have seen far too much. One doesn’t need any objective verification to know this. They are old eyes, tired eyes. Even though I don’t know exactly what they’ve seen, I know it can’t have all been good. His gaze is guarded. You can see the hurt in those eyes. Hurt the man/boy has tried to mask with the cigarette and the glowering stare.
I could go all sentimental here. Conjure up a story about a boy who was never loved, a TV-movie tale of familial abuse. Rejecting parents who tossed a boy carelessly from their home, a piece of refuse, garbage. Make it on your own. Sin or swim. Conjure a tale of crystal meth, rock, cocaine, huffing, and heroin…tonics to dull the senses and obscure the hurt. The need to get by…to eat, drink, get high…and how does a boy with no education or talent get those things? A boy could look at this same unlined face, this same button nose, the sinewy body and know that his youth is a commodity with which he can barter.
I can wonder a lot about the man/boy in the photograph. In fact, I can sit all day, imagining his life. Imagining hanging out on Halsted and Clark streets, alone, easy prey for men who feel like chicken tonight. Imagining him in a bar filled with older men, an outsider, cadging cigarettes and drinks, bartering with alternate smiles and glowers, whatever his audience would find appealing. But no matter where he is, he’s always alone…be it on a city street late at night, when Chicago’s chill gets under his clothes like the greedy fingers of tricks, or in a not-so-clean, not-so-well lighted place, where he’s condemned to be alone, regardless of the ebb and flow of people around him.
But I know none of those things. All that exists, really, are the slightly glassy eyes and the cold tale of loss and emptiness they tell. That much is true. And also true is the fact that this same boy would sell his ass in exchange for a ten dollar bill.
On the worst day of his life, Wren Gallagher loses his wallet, his job, and his security. Can a stranger met in a bar deliver on his promises of wealth and meeting Mr. Right?
Sex can be a dangerous business. So can love….
On the worst day of his life, Wren Gallagher wants oblivion when he steps into Tricks for a drink. He’s lost not only his job, but his wallet as well. When a mysterious stranger steps up to pay his tab, he also offers Wren the key to fulfilling his dreams of prosperity and true love. But appearances are not always what they seem….
His savior is the owner of the escort agency, A Louer—and he wants the young and handsome Wren to work for him. So down on his luck, Wren figures—why not? He can use the money. When he joins, though, he hadn’t counted on meeting Rufus, another escort with whom he quickly falls hopelessly in love.
But their love story will have to overcome the obstacles of not only trading love for money, but A Louer’s dark—and deadly—secrets.
It always amazed Wren that Tricks could be so busy, no matter what time of day he stopped in. Today, for example, it was three in the afternoon, a Friday, yes, but still, three in the afternoon. And yet the stripper bar was crowded, mostly with older guys, but some like Wren, too. Younger-wearing snarky ‘what am I doing here?’ expressions on their faces even as they cast furtive glances up at the two buff guys dancing in G-strings to the latest Lady Gaga anthem.
Outside, Chicago in summer was in full swing, but once you entered Tricks, you forgot all about the city and the season. The traffic sounds at the intersection of Belmont and Broadway, the rumble of the el a few blocks west, and the voices of many pedestrians mingling on the street, disappeared. Tricks was a world unto itself, a universe where nearly naked men, alcohol fumes, colored lights, dirty floors, the clinking of ice in glasses, the husky music of men propositioning men, and mirrored walls all conspired together, creating something that was one part sleaze, one part gay, and one part home (at least for many of the men who frequented Tricks).
Tricks was all about escapism. Its dancers allowed you to free yourself from the shackles of your own body issues. Too skinny? Too fat? In-between but nowhere near remarkably ripped? It was okay at Tricks because the dancers were beautiful and one could imagine they got their ripped and muscular physiques effortlessly, from hanging out in bars, consuming copious amounts of alcohol, and tricking athletically with a parade of handsome strangers. The magic might work for you one day, too.
Or at least that was the fantasy they were selling at Tricks.
And…if your self-esteem tank was running a little low, a wink or a smile from one of the dancers was enough to kick it up a notch. The hunky bartender calling you ‘Gorgeous’ or ‘Stud’ didn’t hurt either when he asked what he could get you. This kind of behavior from those who worked at Tricks was hard to swallow, yet easy to cling to, making you believe, if only for a second, you were hot. You were wanted.
It was all part of the make-believe. And sometimes, it was enough.
Wren Gallagher, all of twenty-three years old, today needed some of the escapism Tricks offered. Yes, he required it even at three in the afternoon. As the crowd jostled him, Wren kept his eye on the one open stool at the bar in front of him. It was like some sort of prize, an alcoholic holy grail, a place where he could park his skinny ass and maybe, just maybe, forget for a few hours what a crappy day he’d had.
Just as he elbowed his way through the laughing and chattering crowd of mostly middle-aged men and had managed to get within inches of the vacant stool, a heavy-set guy with a bottle of beer in one thick paw materialized out of nowhere to claim it. He was focused intently on the blond Adonis gyrating on the bar, so he did not see that there was a competition for the stool.
Wren stopped and regarded the man with his brown eyes, hoping his telepathy was in good enough working order that the man would feel the force of his gaze. At least one thing would go right on this shitty day, Wren thought, and that one thing-all I ask-is that this character makes eye contact with me.
Lo and behold, he did. Wren smiled prettily, trying to buoy up the older, balding man’s ego with the combined force of his slightly gap-toothed, turned-up-at-one-corner grin and his shock of red hair, his slender hips encased in denim, and the geek allure vibe he knew he gave off. He knew because he had been told he was a sexy nerd on more than one occasion.
The guy did a bit of a double take when he saw Wren trying to make eye contact, smiling. He looked up at the dancer and back at Wren, as if he had to decide between one or the other. As if he had a choice…
That was all it took. The older man stepped back, away from the stool, and gestured with his hands, the perfect gentleman, that Wren should take it.
BUY from MLR Press
In ebook http://www.mlrbooks.com/ShowBook.php?book=RR__RENT
In paperback http://www.amazon.com/Rent-Rick-R-Reed/dp/1608207587/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
All Romance Ebooks https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-rent-964674-144.html
Amazon Kindle version https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-rent-964674-144.html
Rick R. Reed is all about exploring the romantic entanglements of gay men in contemporary, realistic settings. While his stories often contain elements of suspense, mystery and the paranormal, his focus ultimately returns to the power of love. He is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a two-time EPIC eBook Award winner (for Orientation and The Blue Moon Cafe). Lambda Literary Review has called him, “a writer that doesn’t disappoint.” Rick lives in Seattle with his partner and a very spoiled Boston terrier. He is forever “at work on another novel.”
Visit Rick’s website at www.rickrreed.com or follow his blog at rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. You can also like Rick on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rickrreedbooks or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/rickrreed.