Thirty years ago, The Little Death introduced Henry Rios, a gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer who became the central figure in a celebrated seven novel series. In a brilliant reimagination of The Little Death, Lay Your Sleeping Head retains all the complexity and elegance of the plot of the original novel but deepens the themes of personal alienation and erotic obsession that both honored the traditions of the American crime novel and turned them on their head. Henry Rios, a gifted and humane lawyer driven to drink by professional failure and personal demons, meets a charming junky struggling to stay clean. He tells Rios an improbable tale of long-ago murders in his wealthy family. Rios is skeptical, but the erotic spark between them ignites an obsessive affair that ends only when the man’s body is discovered with a needle in his arm on the campus of a great California university. Rios refuses to believe his lover’s death was an accidental overdose. His hunt for the killer takes him down San Francisco’s mean streets and into Nob Hill mansions where he uncovers the secrets behind a legendary California fortune and the reason the man he loved had to die.
A movement in the shrubs outside my bedroom window woke me. I glanced at the alarm clock: 3:18. The soft shuffle of footsteps on the sidewalk was followed by a quick rap at the front door. I pulled on a pair of pants and felt my way through the darkness to the living room. I stood at the door and listened. There was another knock, louder and more urgent. I looked through the peephole. Hugh Paris stood shivering in the dark. I was startled but not surprised, maybe because I’d thought of him so often in the past few weeks, it was as if I’d finally conjured him up. A breeze blew his hair across his forehead. I opened the door.
“Don’t turn on the porch light,” he said. “I think I’m being followed.”
“Come in.” He slipped through the door and I closed it softly behind him.
Followed? Was he high? I guided him to my desk and switched on the reading lamp to get a good look at him. His eyes were clear and alert. He was wearing jeans and a black T-shirt; I scanned his arms for signs of track marks. The ones I saw were old and healed.
“I’m not high,” he said, watching me. “But I could use a drink.”
“Sure thing,” I said.
I went into the kitchen and poured a couple of shots of Jack Daniel’s. When I returned to the living room he was poking around the stack of orange crates that held my books and music. The last time I’d seen him, the oversized jail jumpsuit had concealed his body. The form fitting jeans and T-shirt revealed a slender but muscled frame; a gymnast’s physique. I was appropriately appreciative.
“Here you go,” I said.
He turned and took a glass from me. “Prost,” he said, touching his glass to mine. Smiling slightly, he openly appraised my body. “Not that I’m complaining, but when I pictured you naked, I saw a hairy chest.”
“It’s the Indian blood,” I said. “What are you doing here, Hugh?”
“You gave me your card, remember, told me to call you day or night, for whatever I needed.”
He set his glass down on the coffee table, took mine from me and set it beside his. He stepped forward into my arms, tipped his face upward and we kissed. His tongue slid lazily into my mouth and I savored his taste and the warmth of his hard, little body against mine. I licked that elegant neck and cupped his hard little butt. His fingers worked the buttons of my 501s and grazed the tip of my cock. With a last, lewd kiss, he dropped to his knees. I reached down, hooked my arms around his armpits and lifted him to his feet.
“Stop,” I said.
“You want me to stop? I’m famous for my blow jobs, baby.”
“Sit down,” I said, directing him to the couch. I buttoned up my jeans and sat down beside him. “I gave you my card weeks ago. If all you wanted was sex, you could’ve called me anytime. I would have come running. Instead, you show up at my apartment in the dead of night telling me you’re being followed. You’re not obviously high, so what’s up?”
When he picked up his drink, I caught the glint of his watch. It was very thin and silvery but not silver. Platinum. Watches like that went along with trust funds, prep schools and names ending with Roman numerals.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call. I really wanted to. I felt, you know, that we connected.”
“Me, too,” I said. “I tried to find you. Looked you up in the phone book, had a friend at DMV run your name. I even went to the Office a couple of times thinking maybe you’d show up.”
“I’m not easy to find,” he said. “Precautions.”
“I told you I came back from New York to deal with some family things and they’ve been getting pretty heavy. I got a scare tonight. I needed to find a safe place. I thought of you.”
“You need to fill in some blanks for me.”
“I don’t want to mix you up in my drama.”
“You already have. So let’s hear it.”
He picked up his glass and took a slug. “I come from money.”
“I guessed that from the watch.”
He glanced at the watch. “Good eye,” he said. “Vintage Patek Philippe. It was my dad’s. I managed to hang on to it through—everything.”
“Everything meaning junk.”
“Everything,” he said empathically. “Including junk. But like I told you at the jail, I’m clean now.”
“I’m glad you kicked, Hugh. Go on.”
“My family has a lot of money. My grandfather controls most of it through a family trust. While I was out there using, the only thing I cared about was that he give me enough to maintain. Eventually, he cut me off. I had to find other ways to take care of myself. After I got clean, I began to look into the trust. All I wanted to know was what was mine, but I discovered some things about how my grandfather got control of the money. Criminal things.”
“Like what, diverting funds? Embezzlement? ”
“Murder,” he said.
“He had people killed. That’s how he got control of the money.”
I had heard enough incredible stories from interviewing clients that I knew to keep a game face, ask leading questions and wait until they tripped themselves up.
“Who do you think he had killed?” I asked.
“My grandmother and my uncle,” he replied.
“It was my grandmother’s money. She was going to divorce him. He killed them to prevent it.”
“What does this have to do with you being followed?”
“He knows I’m on to him,” Hugh said. “I felt like someone was following me tonight. I freaked out. The city didn’t feel safe, so I came here.”
“What do you think you’re grandfather’s going to do to you?”
“If he can’t scare me off, he’ll kill me, Henry.”
I finished my drink and said, neutrally, “Your grandfather wants to kill you. Really?”
He frowned. “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
“Put yourself in my position. In the middle of the night, a guy you met once shows up at your house and tells you he’s being stalked by his grandfather who’s some kind of serial killer. What would you think?”
“See,” he said angrily. “That’s why I didn’t say anything to you at the jail.”
“How did you get out of jail?” I asked him. “Who did you call?”
“My Great-uncle John, my grandmother’s brother. He has some influence down here.”
“I’ll say he does. I heard the DA dropped all the charges,” I said. “Does your uncle know about your allegations against your grandfather?”
Hugh shrugged. “I told him. He thinks . . . He thinks I’m angry about how the old man’s treated me.”
“He doesn’t believe you,” I said.
“I have evidence,” Hugh said.
“Then you should take it to the police,” I said. “There’s no statute of limitations on murder and if your grandfather is cheating you out of money that belongs to you, I can refer you to a good civil lawyer.”
He stood up. “I’m sorry I bothered you, Henry. I’ll be leaving now.”
I grabbed his hand. “Wait. This is what I think, Hugh. You come from money but you ended up on the streets shooting junk and now you’re clean. While you were out there, your grandfather cut you off and you’re angry about that. Maybe he was practicing tough love or maybe he’s an asshole, I don’t know. I do know that depending on how long you used, it might be awhile before your head clears up completely. In the meantime, I’d be very careful about accusing people of being murderers.”
“You’ve got me all figured out, don’t you?” he said with a small smile.
“I’m just trying to make sense of what you’ve told me.”
He looked at me. “You want me to go?”
I shook my head. “I want you to take your clothes off.”
He smiled. “If you still want me to stay after what I told you, you’re as crazy as I am.”
“I haven’t stop thinking about you since we met.”
He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it to the floor, kicked his shoes off, unbuttoned his pants, pushed them to his feet and stepped out of them. He hooked his fingers into the waistband of his briefs and slipped them off. He stepped between my legs. This time when he sank to his knees, I didn’t stop him.
Check out the interview I did with Michael Nava in May 2014 below: