Setting the scene:
The narrator is Brody Norris, a small-town architect who has stepped into the role of amateur sleuth in a local murder. He and his husband, Marson Miles, have invited an attractive new acquaintance, Dahr Ahmadi, to join them for dinner at their loft, hoping to get to know him better—and to sound him out as a possible suspect—but the evening ends with an unexpected development.
This scene is taken from the middle of the novel. Mister Puss, the cat in the series subtitle, winds his way in and out of the story—as cats are wont to do—but he does not appear in the following.
Excerpt from FlabberGassed:
Some three hours after Dahr arrived at the loft, our evening together came to a close. A wonderful time, as they say, was had by all. Marson had charmed Dahr with his cooking and his small talk and his considerable skills as a gracious host. Dahr had charmed both Marson and me with his stories and his magnetism and his winks. Or were they tics? And apparently, I, Brody Norris, had all but charmed the pants off Dahr Ahmadi. It was not my intent to create an atmosphere of flirtation—I had simply tried to be amiable and welcoming—but Dahr must have tuned in to a more primal vibe.
When he arrived that night, we had greeted each other with handshakes and tentative hugs. Upon parting, however, we had cemented our friendship, so we forwent the handshakes altogether and hugged in earnest. And then, after the thank-yous and good-nights, Dahr offered kisses.
“May I, Mr. Miles?” he asked Marson outside the front door, leaning near for a smooch.
“With pleasure,” said my husband, and they exchanged a chaste peck.
“And Mr. Norris?” he said to me.
“Of course, Dahr.” We pecked.
Marson said, “Hope to see you again soon, Dahr. Good night.” And he turned inside to begin cleanup. It was not in his nature to leave things till morning.
Dahr asked me, “Walk me to my car?”
First Avenue was dead quiet—Saturday night, and our tiny town had “rolled up the sidewalks” already. A bit of evening drizzle had left the street dark and shiny. Yellow leaves glistened and dripped in the warm glow of a streetlamp. The soles of our shoes kissed the damp pavement. Then the man in black turned, and once again, he kissed me.
This was no tic. This was no ritual observation of some ancient parting custom handed down by Dahr’s Persian forebears. No, this was a kiss that meant business. This was a kiss that shot through me, that left me speechless and woozy and open to the unknown.
But then, without a word, he turned and left.
Shambling back to the loft, I wondered, What the hell was that? Was he making a statement? Was he challenging me? Daring me to fall for him?
Or was Dahr just using his wiles—buttering me up for a good report to Sheriff Simms?
When I stepped inside and closed the door, Marson looked up from the kitchen sink, merrily rinsing his way through a stack of dishes. “He’s such a sweet guy—what a great evening.”
Still a bit dazed, I confessed, “He kissed me.”
“He kissed me, too, kiddo.”
“I mean, he kissed me again, outside.”
“I’ve said it before, Brody: you’re an attractive man, desired by many.”
I took my explanation a step further. “I mean, he really kissed me.”
Marson gave a playful growl. “Yikes. Was it good?”
“Marson”—I moved toward him in the kitchen—“aren’t you … jealous?”
He set down his sponge. “Jealous? I’m complimented! Besides—” And he broke into laughter.
Marson grinned. “He’s not old enough for you.”
“Or”—I grinned—“he could be just the exception that proves the rule.”
Truth is, there were no rules, etched in stone or otherwise.
True, when I was fourteen, I had developed an abiding attraction to older, creative men. True, my first marriage had been to an older, creative man, an architect in California named Lloyd Washington. True, my current marriage was to an older, creative man, a Wisconsin architect named Marson Miles. True, this seemed to denote a pattern. But there were no rules.
True, Dahr Ahmadi was perhaps two or three years older than I was, but this did not qualify him as an “older man.” In the generational scope of things, we were contemporaries. Dahr was a certified nurse practitioner, a respected professional with a noble and humane calling, but this did not qualify him as a “creative man.” He was a man of science. So it was easy to understand Marson’s confident assumption that, in my eyes, Dahr could never measure up. But there were no rules.
True, Marson and I were married. The conventions of marriage—of conventional, heterosexual marriage—demand a lifelong commitment of body, soul, and desire, frequently sworn in vows at the altar, which can lend poignancy to a fairytale ceremony. But even the most earnest exchange of vows offers no guarantee that reality will not evolve and intervene. And the truth is, for us—for any gay couple, married or not—there were no rules, other than those we were content to define for ourselves.
True, Marson and I had written “vows” and delivered them at our tidy civil ceremony, but they were sworn to no god. They focused on an abiding love, which sprang from friendship, and a commitment to “be there” for each other in a joining of forces till death do us part. But they made no reference to carnal fidelity, which struck us both as an irrelevant hangover from some medieval obsession with procreation. So for us, in the matter of Dahr Ahmadi, there were no rules.
True, we had a shadowy understanding that indiscretion could be hurtful to each other and therefore harmful to “us.” Did such an understanding therefore imply that any contemplated indiscretion should simply be replaced by discretion, by the venerable bromide that what you don’t know can’t hurt you?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that the memory of Dahr’s kiss—the second one, out on the street, under the drizzle in the yellow lamplight—vexed me and excited me and consumed my thoughts from the moment I stepped back into the loft on Saturday night. It followed me up the winding staircase as I prepared for bed. It stirred beneath the blankets as I cuddled with my husband, who drifted off, exhausted by his efforts to stage the perfect dinner party. It staved off my own sleep, and when at last I slumbered, the memory of the kiss peppered my dreams with possibilities. This was temptation, pure and raw and simple.
Learn more about author Michael Craft:
Click on title below to access the interivew I did with Michael Craft in 2014.