When Keith turned his attention back to the door, he saw David Fisher standing there, reading the closed sign.
Keith swung the door open.
"What happened?" David asked.
"Imagine that, " Keith said. "They close at 11. So I got take-out."
He noticed that Son of Fisher was holding a huge black binder, which he now pressed protectively against his chest. It looked to be embossed leather, at least 6 inches thick with documents.
"What's that?" Keith asked, gesturing towards the book.
"The Fisher and Sons catalogue," David said.
" Of what?"
"Of funeral stuff. That's what you wanted to talk about, right? Funeral plans. For yourself? Or a loved one?"
"Riiiiiiiight.....Here, help me carry some of this," Keith went to the back of the restaurant to retrieve his take-out packages. He'd ordered so many different dishes, taking into account that Son of Fisher might not eat meat or seafood or bean sprouts, that the total order had to be packed in three plastic grocery bags.
"I hope that thing's not too heavy," Keith said, indicating the binder. "Because it's a long walk back to my place."
He held out one of the plastic bags of food, which David looked at, but didn't take.
"Your place?" he asked.
"Well, yeah. Or we could go sit in that bus shelter over there, but it might get messy. Not that I don't hope it gets messy. Don't you?"
When David didn't respond right away, it finally began to dawn on Keith what an idiotic plan this had been all along. Rapidly, he said: "I got a little bit of everything cuz I don't know what you like. Hope you like sesame chicken? Eggplant? Shrimp dumplings? Szechuan pepper steak? Broccoli? Snow peas? Salt and pepper squid? Anything? "
David finally took the bag. "I like Chinese food, " he said. "I like everything." With an enormous, albeit well-hidden sigh of relief, Keith turned towards the cooks and waiters and saluted them goodbye, then nudged David out the door. Keith waited on the sidewalk as one of the waiters locked up behind them, then he gestured with his head up the street.
They walked in silence for a half block, neither daring to even sneak a peak at the other. Keith stopped in front of an ungated stoop, and climbed the few stairs to an open vestibule.
He turned to David, who hadn't yet walked up the stairs.
"Aren't you glad I lied? Come on. One flight up."
David stood his ground on the sidewalk.
"I thought you wanted to talk about funeral arrangements," he said.
"I do." Keith answered. "Like, 50 years from now."
"I thought you wanted to make preparations for future burial plans. I thought you wanted to do business with Fisher and Sons."
"Hey, I'm in a union, and they're going to bury me for free. And I might even get a 21 gun salute."
David had no response to that. His body language was unreadable, which caused Keith to make a fateful decision: what's the point of fishing if you're not going to reel 'em in? So, feeling just a little desperate, he said: "Look, David, I just got off work. I'm hungry. It's late. You came all the way out from where-ever to Hollywood to have dinner with me. I don't know about you, but these bags are fucking heavy. Please come upstairs. We don't have to do anything. We can talk about funerals, if you want. But please come upstairs and help me eat this fucking shitload of Chinese food. As far as I'm concerned, that's been the plan all along, nothing more. Okay?"
David opened the bag, looked at the cartons of food inside.
"Salt and pepper squid, huh," he said.
Keith laughed. "They make an unbelievable salt and pepper squid."
He turned and mounted the stairs to his apartment, leaving it up to the fates whether or not Son of Fisher had followed him.
Once inside, David helped Keith set the containers of food on the kitchen table. They both took a minute to enjoy the warm, salty smells that emanated from the now-opened cartons.
Keith's kitchen was small and functional, with standard issue built-ins and cupboards. There was no other furniture except for the glass- topped table with matching upholstered chairs. David noticed some discolored rectangular shapes on the walls, each with a nail hammered in its center. Someone had taken down pictures recently, and hadn't yet gotten around to cleaning off the greasy residue that outlined the missing frames.
As Keith fussed about the counter, getting plates and forks, he invited David to help himself to the contents of the fridge for something cold to drink. David opened the fridge door and noted a bottle of white wine and a single tall can of Bud light. Other than that, nothing, not even the requisite box of Arm and Hammer. He closed the refrigerator door.
"Water's fine for me," he said, and sat down at the kitchen table.
Keith put plates, forks and napkins on the table in front of David. "Well, I'd love a beer," he said, and turned to the fridge. "Oh wait, even better," Keith said, pulling out the bottle of wine. He trummaged in a drawer for the corkscrew. Not finding one in the utensil drawer, he went through all the other drawers with no success.
"Shit. My ex must have taken it. Well, whatever, it was part of a set. You know, one of those 50s style bartender things with the martini shaker and the ice tongs? Who needs it. Who the fuck makes martinis at home?"
Keith brought a pair of coffee mugs and the can of Bud to the table, and they began to pile spoonfuls of food onto their plates.
After a while, Keith said, "Hey, is it true that your hair and fingernails still grow after you're dead?"
David stopped for a minute, then shoveled a forkful of fried noodles into his mouth.
"Why?" he asked, finally.
"Cause I may need a hot wax job, if that's the case." He indicated his bald head.
"Oh." David forced a laugh. "It's a myth. Surrounding tissue shrinks, making the hair look measurably longer. It doesn't grow. You'll still be bald, after you're dead." David thought about that for a second, then said: "Not that you're bald."
Keith laughed and shrugged his shoulders. The warmth of Keith's grin was infectious. It made David feel a little more comfortable, and he couldn't help but smile back, before plopping a fresh tangle of noodles into his mouth.
"So how long have you been a mortician?"
"A long time. It's my father's business, and I started out helping him, and then... Well, you know, Fisher and Sons."
"Right. How many sons?"
"Just one other. My brother."
"And he's also a mortician?"
"No. He's not."
"Why were you so upset at Nana Eddie's funeral?"
"I wasn't upset. I told you, I had an allergic reaction to someone's perfume."
Keith reached over and held his wrist under David's nose.
"Smell that," he said. David raised his eyebrows a little, then leaned forward and sniffed.
"I don't smell anything."
"Do you...what do you do for a living, if I may ask?"
"I work for the city."
They ate in silence for a few minutes. Keith picked a little blossom of squid tentacles out of a carton and waved it at David, before plopping it into his mouth, prompting another smile from David.
"Because, in the chapel," Keith said suddenly. "You just looked so uncomfortable. I noticed you then, I followed you outside."
"You followed me? Why?"
"I don't know. I guess I wanted to see if you needed help."
"No. I just needed fresh air."
"What about the spider webs?"
"What spider webs?"
Keith smiled. "Nothing, " he said. "Forget it."
For the next few interminable minutes they ate in silence, except for each making a comment about how good the food was. They could both hear the other chewing and swallowing.
"Did you have to go to school to be a mortician?" Keith asked, finally.
David put his fork down, and pushed his plate away.
"Mr. Charles, why don't you just ask me what you're dying to ask me."
"What do you mean, David? I'm sorry, I'm just making small talk."
"I don't think so. I think you've been fucking around with me here, and on the phone, and at the funeral, and I really don't appreciate it. You may think I'm some kind of stupid fucking na•ve idiot oddball freak, and maybe I AM, but I wish you'd just say what you want to say and get it over with."
"Honest to God, David, I haven't been fucking around with you. I like you, I do."
"You don't know me! You could like me if you got to know me, but you don't want to know ME." David had stood up, and was hitting his chest with the flattened palm of his hand. "You want to know what it's like to stick a tube up a corpse, or patch a hole in its head, or glue its nose back on. You want to make insinuating jokes about fucking dead bodies, and whether or not dead guys get hard-ons, and does sniffing embalming fluid get you high. You want to know if I'm allergic to garlic, do I sleep during the day in a coffin, is my real name Lurch, do I get OFF on what I DO, is it a turn-on, does it get me HARD looking at all those dead dicks and cunts and...fuck. Fuck. Whatever, whatever..."
Keith followed David to the front door.
"David, I swear to God, not a single one of those thoughts were in my head. I really do like you, I do."
David had gotten the door open, and whirled back into Keith's face. " 'Oh, Mr. Fisher, is it true that your hair still grows after you're dead? ' "
Keith's shoulders slumped, and whatever fantasy he'd been entertaining about forcibly carrying David back into the apartment vanished. He'd fucked up. He'd had the fish halfway on the boat and, kersplash...Leftovers for a week.
The funny thing was, if Keith had tried to stop him, David would have stayed. He'd have willingly fallen into Keith's arms, and allowed himself to be led to the bedroom, to be stripped and ravished by the most handsome man he'd ever been within kissing distance of.
But Keith didn't. He just stood there at the open door. So David fled down the stairs, and sprinted the 3 blocks to where his car was parked.
Sitting in the stuffy confines of his car, he prayed for the purging, self-pitying release of tears, but they wouldn't come. His heart was pounding, and he reflexively reached into the glove compartment for his cell phone, then stopped, realizing that there wasn't a single soul on earth he could call.
He glanced at the back seat and saw the crates of wilting yellow chrysanthemums he'd bought earlier that day off the back of a truck parked near the flower mart. An unexpected, but not unwelcome, rush of excitement began to wash over his tired and battered psyche, slowly replacing the feeling of loss and indecision.
Fifteen minutes later he was standing outside the door of Keith's apartment, holding a pot of mums. When Keith opened the door, David handed him the flowers. "I left my binder inside," he said. "These are for you."
"Yeah," Keith responded, taking the flowers. "But you get them at a discount."
"Forty percent," David said. "Well, even more for those. Do you really want to talk about the funeral business Mr. Charles? Because, fine. That's just fine. Let's talk about it."
"I don't want to talk," Keith said, taking David's hand and gently coaxing him into the apartment. "I am so sick of talking."
He closed the door, and moved towards his bedroom, leading David by the hand until they were safely inside. He switched on a lamp on the nightstand next to his bed, then went over to the window and opened it. David glanced down to the street below, appreciating the cool breeze, and the quiet darkness of the room.
Keith pulled off his sweatshirt and unbuckled his jeans. He sat on the bed and loosened the laces on his sneaks. He was more than willing to bring David to the bed, if that's what he needed, and guide him through the entire night, if that's what would get this show on the road. But for now, he was content to let David stand by the open window, and process whatever thoughts were necessary to keep him from running away.
He pulled off his shoes and socks, then took off his tee-shirt. He boosted himself into the middle of the bed, and sat cross-legged.
"You know, " Keith said. "There's something about myself that, if I tell you, I'm afraid you'll leave again, for real this time, and not come back. And I wouldn't blame you."
David looked at him. "What's that?" he asked.
"Oh fuck. Omigawd. G'bye." He did a little dance step, as if he might leap out the door. Keith untangled himself from his lotus position and rushed to David's side. He put his hands on his hips and pulled him into a close embrace.
"It's funny," Keith said, after planting a long, tender kiss on his mouth. "I hate telling people I'm a cop. Not on the first date. Because they make assumptions about me, who I am, what I'm like. They think they know me, cuz I'm black, and I'm a cop, and I'm..."
"Gorgeous," David finished, helpfully, wishing he'd shut up and put his mouth back where it was.
"Well, I don't know about that. But I should have been more sensitive to your feelings. We're kinda in the same boat." He tilted David's face up, looked into the shadows of his eyes. "You are beautiful," Keith said, and pressed his lips against his mouth, softly at first, then with growing insistence. As he parted David's lips with the tip of his tongue, Keith loosened and unzipped David's jeans, then pushed inch by inch past his hips.
"Since the minute I laid eyes on you," Keith said, "this is all I've been thinking about. Your eyes," he kissed David's right eye. "Your smile," he kissed David's parted lips with his open mouth, sharing his warmth and wetness. "Your sadness," Keith said, sliding his wet mouth down David's chin, his neck, stopping to suck at the beat of his pulse pounding loudly under the tight skin of David's throat.
David moaned, held his hands out away from his body, longing to press them against Keith's ass, to push their bodies so close together that they might melt from the heat. He felt incapable, rudderless. He felt swept away, into the abyss, a place he'd dreamed of all his life, never realizing until this moment that the abyss was nothing more than a double bed in a darkened room in a small apartment in Hollywood.
Where dreams come true.
continue to part 6