Authors: Felice Picano
Noel Cummings’s life is about to change irrevocably. After witnessing a brutal murder, Noel is recruited to assist the police by acting as the lure for a killer who has been targeting gay men. Undercover, Noel moves deeper and deeper into the dark side of Manhattan’s gay life that stirs his own secret desires—until he forgets he is only playing a role. Reprint.
Brought to you by
eBooks from Bold Strokes Books, Inc.
eBooks are not transferable. They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.
Please respect the rights of the author and do not file share.
By the Author
A House on the Ocean, a House on the Bay
Like People in History
The New Joy of Gay Sex (with Charles Silverstein)
Men Who Loved Me
To the Seventh Power
Ambidextrous, the Secret Lives of Children
House of Cards
Slashed to Ribbons in Defense of Love and other Stories
An Asian Minor
A True Likeness: Lesbian and Gay Writing Today
The Deformity Lover and Other Poems
Smart as the Devil
© 1979 By Felice Picano. Preface
© 2002 By Felice Picano. All Rights Reserved.
ISBN 13: 978-1-60282-417-1
This Electronic Book is published by
Bold Strokes Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 249
Valley Falls, New York 12185
First Bold Strokes Printing April 2009
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Production Design: Stacia Seaman
Cover Design By Sheri ([email protected])
Thanks to Len Barot and Bold Strokes Books for keeping
available for readers old and new.
This book is dedicated to the memory of Linda Grey
Like most of my fiction,
had its origin in reality. By the mid 1970s, gay life had become so established in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village that when columnist Arthur Bell began reporting on a series of what seemed to be interrelated murders of gay entrepreneurs, many readers were aghast. The series ran for several issues of
The Village Voice,
then suddenly ceased. Some months later at a social function, I got up the nerve to ask the older, more established Bell why he had stopped publishing what seemed to me to have been the exposé of the year. He replied, “I was told that if I wrote any more, my life would be in danger.” Bell went on to say he wasn’t brave, wasn’t an investigative reporter, that he was more of a gushing fan and gossip columnist. He’d done the articles only because he’d politicked for more gay coverage in the weekly for so long that when the story arose he’d been forced to take it on. He’d never had any intention of finding out who was responsible, never mind putting his life in danger.
That’s what he said. But as one of the first out writers, Bell was unquestionably brave. And he later wrote and published a strong book of investigative reporting about a gay murder among Philadelphia’s social set,
Kings Don’t Mean A Thing.
So I had to assume he’d told me a part-truth: He’d been scared off.
Some time later, in 1977, my second novel, the mainstream psychological thriller
New York Times
paperback best-seller and was optioned by filmmakers Renee Missal and Howard Rosenberg—talented, experienced producers working out of Universal Studios. Over lunch in New York, Howard had discussed with me a concept he had for a film about crime in gay lower Manhattan. I can’t recall the exact details: He’d been to a party in the West 14th Street Meat Market area; perhaps he’d been taken to one of the gay sex clubs in the area (the Zoo, the Zodiac, the Mineshaft), and he’d been both intrigued and shocked by what we West Villagers took for granted. He was especially haunted by one particular image involving a meat-packing firm. Perhaps, while I was out in Los Angeles later that year, I might work with him on ideas for gay-themed movies? I said I’d think about it.
Months later in California, once the
project was shelved, I told Howard I did have a few gay-themed ideas, and completely on spec (i.e., unofficially, without contract and without pay) I wrote a few pages on each. One was about runaway youths becoming hustlers around Manhattan’s 42nd Street. The second was my take on the crimes Arthur Bell had written about. Rosenberg thought neither idea appropriate for a Hollywood movie, but since I’d already worked the second into a full treatment (again totally on spec) I showed that to him. After some weeks, he didn’t return my calls, which in Hollywood means that he was still not interested.
I returned to Manhattan only slightly fazed. I was planning to launch the first gay publishing house on the East Coast, The SeaHorse Press, using for its debut book my own book of poetry,
The Deformity Lover,
which I thought could garner publicity for the press. My third novel was already written and in the publishing pipeline at Delacorte Press. I had no set plan for a fourth, but during dinner with Linda Grey, my editor at Delacorte/Dell, I told her of my disappointment over the end of the
film project and how the original treatment I’d presented had also been rejected. Ever alert to a good story, Linda listened carefully to what I related of the treatment, and immediately said she thought it was a terrific idea for a novel.
As I’d been staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel while in L.A., my original treatment had been typed on hotel stationery, using a turquoise and cream electric last utilized, I swear, by Kim Novak to write thank-you notes half a decade earlier. So I rewrote the piece substantially, as a fifty-page book outline. While doing so, I eliminated Rosenberg’s one contribution, an image that while perhaps cinematic, was less effective in narrative. A month later, I was offered a book contract and set to work.
Several things you should know. Today Delacorte is considered a boutique of the Bertelsmann Empire of Knopf, Ballantine, Doubleday-Random House, et al., and exists mostly to publish the yearly Danielle Steel romance. In the mid 1970s, though, before its evisceration via corporate takeover, Delacorte was one of the premier publishers in the world, vying for top-flight authors. In 1977 when my third book,
came out, I attended a party there with Richard Yates, Jayne Anne Phillips, James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut, Howard Fast, James Clavell, Joseph Heller, and Irwin Shaw! “Class-Commerce” was the theme: Our books were well-reviewed, offered by book clubs, and consistently on one or another best-seller list. Partly this was due to the senior editors, among them Seymour Lawrence, Ross Clairborne, Bill Grose, and Linda Grey: a discriminating, hardworking, and foresighted group.
The other thing you should know is that there was no such thing as a gay novel in 1977 when I set out to write
A year later Andrew Holleran’s
Dancer From the Dance
would be published to acclaim and go into multiple printings. And there were certainly homosexual novels around, some quite good, a few best-sellers. Two of the most notable, John Rechy’s 1963
City of Night
and Christopher Isherwood’s
A Single Man,
published in 1964, with stories set only five miles apart in Los Angeles, seemed to inhabit utterly individual, utterly unconnected universes. Ditto some other gay touchstones: Burt Blechman’s
City and the Pillar,
and Terry Andrew’s
The Story of Harold.
Yet I knew there were cohesive gay communities. I lived in one—Greenwich Village—and regularly visited others—Chicago’s near north side, San Francisco’s Castro Street, and Los Angeles’s West Hollywood. But where was the literature about this community? One of my goals in writing
was to begin to detail a section of the gay community as I knew it; sort of the way Balzac detailed, piece by piece, much of early 19th-century French society.
However, I faced one immediate problem: I didn’t
know the underground after-hours club and bar sector of gay Village/Chelsea life that I intended to write about. Luckily, life came to my rescue. Bob Lowe, whom I’d recently grown very close to, had left his earlier career in the theater and ballet and, while trying to figure out what to do, had gone to work in the Cock Ring, a new gay bar that had opened at the Hudson River edge of Christopher Street. A small bar with a little dance floor, in the next two years it became
gay hangout in Manhattan.
Because he was gorgeous, smart, and friendly, Bob soon became head bartender and was taken into the interconnected world of gay bars and clubs. Soon, I was meeting him at 4 a.m. as he closed up and we’d be off to private clubs or people’s lofts and flats for after-hours parties. As Bob and I circulated, I accumulated data about New York’s gay underworld. Most of it, naturally, I’d never use. I was never privy to how much money was being made—plenty, I guessed—or who exactly owned what. Even so, I soon felt I had a solid enough foundation to write the book. By then, too, Bob had earned enough money to go to law school. Our departure from the scene was hastened when we awoke one day to horrific news: Hell, a gay bar three blocks away, had been the scene of an early-morning armed invasion and the execution-murder of four staff members. The manager was hospitalized with a bullet in his brain. I knew all of them, and Bob was supposed to have been with them that night.
Bob and I were in the dark as to what exactly had happened, despite considerable insider speculations among people we knew. It had been made to look like a robbery, but when the manager regained consciousness, he intimated to Bob that it had actually been a “hit” by some other group of bar owners. Who, exactly, was never made clear.