Author: Guede Mazaka
To be honest, Paul doesn’t want or like coffee anymore. It’s weak, it’s brawny, it’s bitter, it’s sweet as the perfume of a rape-and-kill victim mingling with eau de sewer. It’s always what is most likely to make him hurl—objects or food from his stomach. And somewhere along the line, he got too old for more than four hours of sleep a night, so it’s not like the caffeine-sugar jitter is something he has to put up with now.
But still, the coffee comes in useful. His mind’s gotten slower, earned itself nicks in the frames so they don’t open and shut properly, lost bits from the gears so sometimes he reaches in for a thought and everything just jams. Asking for coffee, stirring coffee, sipping coffee, complaining about coffee…it’s all a convenient stall. Going out for coffee—it’s the universal excuse. Everyone gets the unspoken goddamn I need something to jumpstart it all but I’m on duty on duty can’t duck into a bathroom fuck me fuck it GO meaning behind that statement, and everyone’s in the same damn position so they can’t point fingers.
The counter is actual zinc, a last reminder of the old, kitschy, simpler days. Not the better or the golden or something equally stupid in its sentimentality, Paul thinks as he traces the bullet scars in it. Nah. Boston’s always been going through a crime wave. That’s its natural state of being. Try and make it stop now, and something in the city might break. Something important, something vital, something that keeps its hungry, snarling head above the waters of time that have washed under so many other places. Grease and wheels and all that.
“Evenin’,” Connor says, out of the corner of his mouth like he’s just throwing the disheveled guy in the nice suit a bone, just in case he turns out to be a snapper. He catches Paul’s surprise when no echo carols a beat later and shrugs, too thin beneath his ugly navy windbreaker. “Things are too tight. Lucky everyone’s looking for twins, yeah?”
“And can’t see the wood for the trees.” Paul gives his coffee a whirl, just to keep the waitress from giving him the eye. He’s got a feeling she does up the stuff herself, and as is the way with such shit places, makes it into some holy mission because fuck, everyone needs a little bit of a higher cause to keep them from looking at the filth beneath their feet. “I’m on shift in half an hour.”
Connor’s hair has gotten longer, shaggier, and it almost hides the gaunt bluish shadows that hang from his eyes. He flicks a finger and gives his order in a voice that might make the waitress smile, but can’t hide the emptiness from Paul. “Not much to tell. We’re going out west for a bit. Da’s got a friend in Detroit.”
“Still alive?” Never mind the shock that Il Duce has friends.
There’s something sludgy in the bottom of Paul’s coffee, making his stirrer stick fast every time he tries to swirl it away. He digs up a little bit to find that it’s the yellowed cake of too much fucking sugar, too much coating over the piss-poor liquid shit. Which is, he thinks, also a grand metaphor for Boston. Funny how so many can coexist: it’s heaven, it’s hell, it’s purgatory, it’s nine-to-five blandness.
“Fuck you,” Connor says reflexively, without any backing heat. When his coffee shows up, he takes it with a trembling hand. White spotted over with rust brown peeks from his sleeve; Paul looks a little too long at it and Connor pulls down his cuff, taking it the wrong way. “What’s eating you? Know it’s been a while, and we couldn’t get you ahead notice about—”
“Oh, fuck that.” Yeah, Paul can curse, if they’ve forgotten. Maybe their father thinks it’s offensive or undignified or something assholey like that, but Paul doesn’t give a flying fuck.
He gives up on his mug after a last swallow. There’s a plant sitting between him and the corner, and he feeds it a nice big dose because at this hour of the night, he doesn’t feel like getting in an argument with a decaying ex-prom queen, and especially not one he could shut up by fucking. From the looks of the plant, all brown-tinged with little white sugar-cube flowers smelling of dark roast, he’s not the only one to have had that idea.
Paul eventually shrugs, just to give Connor’s questioning stare something. “You know O’Banion? He had this tic, because of growing up in an orphanage. When the city cut back on Social Services, he stepped in and for five years now he’s been funding—”
“With dirty money. With money from the men he tipped into the harbor and the women he sold like pigs.” The words are full of fire but misshapen, left inside too long so they go runny once they’ve left Connor’s mouth. He pushes down his sleeve and starts picking at his bandage.
“Yeah, don’t read me the fucking riot act, okay?” And fuck the rainbow for good measure. Fuck color and shade and tint, because sometimes Paul sits down after work and holds his head in his hands and everything just hurts, every way he looks at it. “Those kids aren’t going to get shit now. Down at the office we’re bracing ourselves for a steep rise in gangs, prostitution, stepped-up recruitment by every fucking syndicate out there.”
Connor snuffles his coffee like he doesn’t want to hear, but Paul knows he does anyway. He bangs the mug down, loud enough to get a shouted bitching from the waitress, and jerks his head towards the door. “Wish that’d been a beer,” he mutters.
Outside in the alley the brick wall is rough against Paul’s palms, rough the way Connor’s tongue is on his cock. He doesn’t put his hand in Connor’s hair, but Connor holds Paul’s fly open with his hands and curls his fingers over the edges, digging in hard with his nails. His cheeks struggle hard to hollow even with their mouthful of flesh and he sucks like he’d like to suck the soul from Paul. There’s nothing romantic about that, whether it’s romantic like paperbacks with ripped bodies on the cover or Romantic like the wistful waltzes of a bygone era that’s meant. It’s bitter, it’s hard, and it’s painful like salt in the wound. No fucking wonder Paul comes harder now than he has in weeks.
He usually does with a handjob for Connor, or Murphy, whichever one of them’s up for it, but tonight he scares the shit out of Connor by dropping to his knees in the dirty alley. His aging bones can feel the concrete raping his knees right through his pants, the twisting scrape every time he jerks forward to keep Connor on the wall. He hasn’t gone down on a man in years, but fuck if it’s something people can forget how to do. How to swallow, how to let the cock round the mouth instead of fighting for the other way around, how to take the taste of come—it all falls into place, easy as little else is in life. Be a real fucking daisy drive if the world could only be seen in terms of the cocks and the cocksuckers.
“Make it a little further uptown next time and there could be whiskey,” Paul says, wiping off his mouth.
Connor is still bent over when he laughs. It shakes his shoulders and twists his mouth like it hurts. “Fuck. Fuck.”
“Yeah. Evening.” Paul pushes away Connor’s numb-cold hands and does up his fly for him. Then Paul turns and walks out the alley, not looking back, with the taste of too-sweet bitter grinds beneath his tongue.