BAD FAIRY, Chapter One
Incoming Call: Medulla
Ariel Hooks was six months shy of fifty when his pimp called.
Only fools screened Medulla, for she had eyes everywhere. Ariel excused himself from the company of his housemates and took the call in his Costume Archive.
“Medulla Oblonganza, as I live and queef.”
Medulla chuckled on the other end. “Hey baby, whatcha dern?”
“I’m having culture hour with Tyler and Brian in my parlor.”
“What’s that mess about?”
“We’re doing poppers and watching 70’s educational films. They’re nightmare fuel.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Medulla was not bothering. “I’m glad you ain’t busy ‘cause I gotcha a last-minute client. Pays pretty good.”
“Like, how last-minute?”
“He’s a VIP. Staying at the Harlequin. Wants you there seven sharp.”
Ariel glanced at Judy, his 1931 Howard Miller grandfather clock, her arms at thirty-seven past five. “Well, isn’t this sudden.”
“The kid I booked got incapacitated.”
“You mean ‘incarcerated’?”
“Incapacititated,” Medulla clarified, puffing audibly on her cigar. “He got scabby nipples or some such foolishness. He outta commission ‘til the crust drops off.”
Ariel winced. “All right. I’ll cover. What’s he into?”
“Tit torture, I s’pose.”
“Oh. Says he’s a Dom Top.”
“Uh huh.” Ariel’s client history knew no shortage of Alpha men who liked to be in charge. “Is this guy a real Dom Top, or just an asshole with an excuse?”
“All I know is he’s a Republican.”
Likely the latter, Ariel thought, and then checked himself. He had a talent for whispering clients of a conservative bent, a gift for finding common ground with just about anybody - whilst on the clock, anyway. “I’ll brace myself.”
“Blessed be. So that makes you the sub … stitute hooker, umkay?” Medulla cackled. “Valencia’ll text ya the deets.”
And she was gone.
For three decades, Medulla Oblonganza maintained a stringent reign over the gay criminal underground in New Orleans. Her enigmatic past was a bountiful source of speculation amongst the menagerie of hustlers, sex workers and two-bit drug dealers to whom she was a maternal Fagin.
Some rumors went so far as to suggest that she had XX chromosomes.
Medulla adopted Ariel into her Krewe in 2002, at a nadir in his pillar-to-post history. He was twenty-eight and fresh meat in New Orleans, having fled an ugly scenario in New York City. Medulla recognized him immediately as he danced for tips at the Corner Pocket, a wholesomely sleazy go-go joint in the French Quarter.
She approached Ariel with the aid of her cane and tucked a five into his jockstrap. When he leaned down to say thanks she whispered into his ear:
“Did the old fag give you Absolution at least?”
They became immediate friends.
For after flying under the radar as a New York escort for years, Ariel ignited a media firestorm when a covert photographer from the New York Post caught him in flagrante delicto, doing poppers and ecstasy in Vieques with the Cardinal of New York.
The story exploded in newsstands across town as Ariel and the Cardinal settled into First Class on the return flight from San Juan, oblivious to the unfolding shitshow. By the time they touched down at La Guardia, baggage claim was infested with paparazzi. Photographers strobed the pair’s startled faces as they passed the security checkpoint, the reporters caterwauling:
“Ariel! Over here! Ariel!” Flash! Flash! “Is the Cardinal a top, bottom or switch?” Flash! “Is he kinky? How much did he pay you? Ariel, look this way! Give us a cover!” Flash! Flash! Flash!
As the press surged toward them, the Cardinal’s handlers burst forth with military precision, hustling the startled prelate into a waiting stretch Escalade. A cauliflower-eared bodyguard grabbed Ariel by the back of the neck and shoved him into the back seat, knocking his left Birkenstock from his foot onto the asphalt before slamming the door. As the SUV gunned toward the Grand Central Parkway, Ariel turned and watched his Birkenstock grew smaller and smaller until it was gone.
On the drive to the Archbishop’s Residence, Ariel went ignored, the wallflower amidst a heated sotto voce discussion of damage control and optics and news cycles. When the Cardinal burst into choking sobs in the Queens Midtown Tunnel, Ariel reflexively touched the man’s shoulder. He liked the poor guy, after all. They’d shown each another a nice time.
Cauliflower Ear firmly removed Ariel’s hand and threw it down like he carried the plague.
His Excellency was MORE than happy when I touched him last night, Ariel thought.
As the Escalade approached the Archbishop’s Residence at 452 Madison, reporters lined the entry archway three-deep. The Cardinal bolted from the car without farewell, his handlers and bodyguards forming a phalanx around him.
Except for one who remained.
“Gosh, ya know what? I can let myself out right here,” Ariel sang folksily to Cauliflower Ear. “I could use a nice, um, stretch o’ the legs. Planes, you know. I’m sure y’all got business to take care of without me getting in the way.”
“Drive,” Cauliflower Ear growled to the chauffeur. The car peeled forward.
Ariel was trapped. The goon snapped his fingers and held his palm open, eyes fixed forward. “Gimme your phone.”
Ariel’s Nokia hadn’t stopped buzzing in his pocket since he powered it on at La Guardia. As the Escalade careened west, he handed over his phone, which vanished into the sausage casing that was Cauliflower Ear’s suit jacket.
Ariel bristled with irritation, but kept it to himself. He was hardly one to sell his story to the press. Unlike the grasping, fly-by-night hookers who gave his profession a bad name, Ariel was a sex worker with ethics, a Sphinx whose discretion attracted a diverse band of regulars from all walks of life.
“You got fifteen minutes to pack,” Cauliflower Ear informed him as they approached The Vidon, Ariel’s apartment building in Chelsea.
“And I’ll be packing … for what?” Ariel asked.
“And for how long?”
He tried again. “So … should I get ready for, like, shorts weather, or …” A long pause. Where the hell were they taking him? “My suitcase is still in baggage claim, by the way.”
“Then throw your shit in a garbage bag. Make it ten minutes.”
Twenty-eight minutes later, Ariel leapt sideways through the closing doors of the Amtrak Crescent and collapsed, gasping, into an empty row. His extremities were scraped and bleeding from the tight squeeze out of his rusty bathroom window. He’d excused himself from Cauliflower Ear’s surveillance under the guise of taking a poop. His naked left foot was hamburger from the sprint from 14th Street to Penn Station.
Gasping for air, he brushed a cobweb from his hair and double-checked his hastily purchased ticket:
He glanced around as the train lurched forward. The coast … seemed clear. His eyes fell on an abandoned New York Post, face-down on a seat across the aisle. He snapped it open and hid behind it, taking a mental inventory of his worldly possessions:
A sky-blue Izod polo shirt, collar popped (the Cardinal adored the preppy look). Now pit-stained, grimy and ventilated up the left side.
A pair of Abercrombie and Fitch cargo shorts, also in tatters, the zip-off legs tucked in his luggage (perhaps still revolving on the carousel across the East River).
A white jockstrap. BIKE, of course.
A right Birkenstock.
His wallet (thank God), containing: a Florida driver’s license; a maxed-out Visa card; a Nobody Beats the Wiz credit card; a (long defunct) Sound Factory VIP card; a condom; and a generous $1K tip from the Cardinal in $50 denominations (minus $131 for the ticket to Louisiana).
By prior agreement, the Cardinal promised Ariel a $5K cashier’s check on returning from his five-day extracontinental outcall. Ariel overlooked his money-on-the-nightstand rule for the city’s most prominent religious official. What could be less Christlike than shortchanging a prostitute?
Now the $5K was a loss. Fuck. Ariel took a centering breath, held it, and exhaled as the Amtrak Crescent burst from the North River Tunnel at Weehawken. He lowered the Post and chuckled as daylight poured in.
He did it. He escaped. And he’d never been to New Orleans before. Apart from being the next destination out of Penn Station, he recalled his mother’s nostalgic tales of the former brothel north of the French Quarter where she spent her childhood summers. Once the family seat of three generations of Hookses, the place was now long-abandoned and crumbling into ruin.
The family still held the deed somewhere, his mother once mentioned.
Ariel figured that he could bust in, crash at the brothel for a night or two, and return to New York after the coast was clear.
What kind of legs could the brouhaha with the Cardinal have, really?
And then he noticed his face gazing back at him from the newspaper in his lap.
COMING UP in Chapter Two:
We meet housemates Tyler and Brian; Ariel has a run-in with Medulla’s Republican john, John.
Thanks for reading!
Peace and Love,
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