Exclusive Excerpt: The Black Marble Pool By Stan Leventhal

Excerpt:

THREE

AFTER SKIP UNLOCKED THE DOOR we entered his room, a bit smaller than the others I’d seen. The four-poster bed had a gleaming brass headboard and crocheted coverlet. The weathered plank walls and circular windows gave the impression of a ship’s cabin.

AFTER SKIP UNLOCKED THE DOOR we entered his room, a bit smaller than the others I’d seen. The four-poster bed had a gleaming brass headboard and crocheted coverlet. The weathered plank walls and circular windows gave the impression of a ship’s cabin.

“Sit,” he said.

As I lowered my butt to the bed, he searched through a gym bag. He pulled out swim trunks, T-shirts, sweat socks, bandanas and jockstraps, windmilling them into the air like a crook going through a rich lady’s lingerie in a ’40s movie. Triumphantly, he produced a notebook, thin-ruled, side spiral, rather thick.

“Read this,” Skip commanded, sitting alongside me, placing the thing on my lap.

“Now?”

“Not right this second. As soon as you can.”

“What is it?” Experience told me that it was either an autobiographical novel—probably heavy with sexual couplings, or a collection of poems—long on sentiment.

“You’ll see.”

I was in no great rush to read the collected literary works of Skip Dunnock and wondered if I could turn this encounter into something memorable. I sat there on the bed, casually, waiting to see what his next move might be. Might he pounce? Should I? Whisper sweet nothings? Tentatively brush his thigh? Was he just sitting there waiting for me to do something?

I cautiously leaned toward him and was about to drape my arm around his shoulder when he stood up, cleared his throat. I almost lost my balance and fell off the bed.

“Well,” he said, “I’m meeting someone at Streets. Got to run.”

My passion—aroused and roaring, deflated and simpered, spiraling down like a pricked balloon.

“Okay,” I said, trying to peel the bits of rubber from the floor. I tried to rearrange the pieces into an airborne thing in my mind, holding it aloft like an emblem of dignity, and ambled to the door with the notebook under my arm.

“Let me know what you think,” he said earnestly.

I wanted to escape as quickly as I could. But I couldn’t pull my eyes from his tousled brown hair, innocent face, lithe, solid body. I tore myself away with a fast “g’night” and tried to grasp whatever pride I could as I descended the stairs and fit my key to the lock.

On the bed. Ceiling fan whirred above. Sweat on my face like a damp washcloth. The breeze from the fan cooled, then dried the perspiration.

Previously, I hadn’t wanted Skip. In the presence of Edward he’d appeared too young. But without the competition of maturity and wisdom, he became almost irresistible. I’d wanted him and he’d turned me down and I felt like a loser.

I tried to ascertain what lay at the heart of my desire. Was it his face, his physique, his youth, or simply the potential of a warm body? Any warm body. In those taut moments when I wanted to throw my arm around him and he moved away, was it Skip that I really wanted? Or was he merely a surrogate for what I couldn’t have?

I don’t understand the nature of attraction. Probably because there are no absolutes. If you can be disinterested in someone at ten o’clock in the morning, then crave their attention and affection several hours later, what does this say about you? Am I fickle? Or practical? Or just desperate?

There are certain faces and bodies that stimulate my gonads from ten feet away. There are certain personalities that do the same, regardless of the physical structure in which they reside. If there is a simple or reliable way of figuring out why I’m attracted to someone at a particular time, it remains a mystery. To me.

If Skip expected me to read his poems or novel, why hadn’t he completed the sales pitch and had sex with me? This is America. You suck my dick I read your manuscript. Happens all the time.

I tossed the notebook on the floor. Curled into a fetal crouch. Drifted like a jellyfish from wave to wave. My Melville fantasies kicked in. Pretty sailors cavorting below-decks while cruel captains and scheming first mates used hard bodies for their selfish pleasure; inflicting wounds, currying favor, toying with the pecking order of rank and beauty. I saw tough men being tender with each other. I saw men brutally take one another with abandon.

The images that had begun in the North Atlantic sea, like the travels of Ishmael and Redburn on their maiden voyages, gave way to the Caribbean setting of buccaneers. I saw parrots on the shoulders of pirates, smelled hot, spicy rum, heard boisterous voices in a sing-song patois, tasted salty flesh as I pressed my body to the warm solidity of a randy sea-dog.

I awoke. Stiff and sweaty. Tight neck muscles. Cramped left calf. Showering helped. I didn’t shave. Looked at Skip’s notebook on the floor; at the paperback I’d started on the plane. Left the notebook where it was and took the novel—Anne Tyler—down to the pool. With sunglasses on, lying stomach-down, I read as the sun rose over the fence. As it ascended, the house sprang to life as bodies piloted by red eyes gathered by the pool. Steaming mugs of coffee. Aurelio made breakfast. I watched him. He was adorable.

Edward sat next to me at the table beneath the awning. Skip joined us. Then Frank. Aurelio scrambled eggs, buttered muffins, patted grease from bacon, fed oranges to the juicer, fixed more coffee, seasoned home-fries. Pearl netted flotsam from the pool with a long-handled scooper. We were the average American family breakfasting by the pool.

The one topic of conversation in which we could all participate—Walter’s death—was not mentioned. At first. Skip commented on the weather. Edward lamented that he’d have to be heading home in a few days. Frank said he’d had the best time of his life the night before—playing pool at Woody’s, then dancing at Streets until it had closed.

Pearl ate slowly, small amounts, infrequently administered. With the deep lines in her tanned face and her mane of white hair, she seemed like a reservoir of mystery. Without provocation or warning, she fixed her gaze on Aurelio and said, “The police are finished in Walter’s room; you can clean it up today. Couple of guys from Japan will be checking in this evening.”

“Okay, boss,” he grinned, and having been brought back to this reality, started eating with gusto.

Pearl sipped some coffee, wiped her brow and said, “On the evidence so far, the cops can’t be certain if it’s murder, suicide or accident. Until something new turns up, the case is on hold.”

I quickly scanned all the faces before me. To whom would this be good news? Bad news? Who would be indifferent?

Skip glanced at me, then stared down at his plate.

Frank shook his head, “So unfortunate.”

“Yes,” said Edward, “unfortunate. Tragic.”

The remainder of the meal was consumed in silence. Afterward we sprawled about the deck. Sunning, reading, crossword puzzles, tanning lotion, Walkmans.

Eventually, I splashed into the pool. I’d been avoiding it. The sacrilege of playing in a makeshift tomb. But I had to overcome this fear, so, putting my reservations on hold, I plunged in. It was so cool and enveloping. Diving under, I swam to the far end. When I came up for air, Skip dove in and swam toward me. When he got to the end he propped his elbows on the deck and whispered, “Did you read it yet?”

“No, not yet. Haven’t had the time. By the way, why is it that you think writers are interested in your diary or your poems or your novel or whatever?” I guess I was still miffed that he hadn’t tried to seduce me.

“It’s not mine,” he said indignantly. “It’s Walter’s.”

“Huh?” I must have rejoined, totally confused.

“It’s Walter’s journal. I got it out of his room before the police searched it.”

I recalled that Frank had said that Skip had lied when claiming that he barely knew Walter. Why then, would he be in possession of Walter’s journal?

Just then, Frank plunged in and swam toward us.

“Why did you give it to me?” I asked, hoping to get an answer before Frank reached us.

“Read it. You’ll see.”

He swam away and left the pool.

I listened to Frank yak about his insurance company for a while, then excused myself and returned to my room.

The house was so quiet it was almost scary; the kind of silence that portends evil or disaster. I entered my room and shut the door. Picked up the journal where I’d left it on the floor. As I opened to the first page, my breath came quickly, as though I was about to discover some deep, complex secret. But before I could read the first word, I heard a knock at my door.

“Who’s there?”

“Aurelio. You want me to clean now or later?”

I opened the door. He stood in the hall looking like a doll waiting to be played with.

“You can come in now and do it if you like,” I said, returning to the bed, picking up the notebook. Aurelio came in and closed the door behind him.

“If you’re too busy now I can come back later,” he said.

I looked him up and down. Moppet curls surrounded a virginal face. Nicely-shaped, solid but graceful, mocha arms and legs. Flat stomach. In his shorts and tanktop he looked about sixteen. I found out later he was twenty-one.

“If it’s best for you now I can just…” I didn’t know what I would do or where I would go if I had to vacate the room.

“Now or later. Whatever you want whenever you want it,” he grinned. Slyly.

Was he propositioning me? Or was my imagination succumbing to the bombardment of horny enzymes?

Aurelio sat on the bed. I looked down at him with lust in my soul. I wondered what to say to someone so young. Then I recalled that once I’d been that young and back then it hadn’t been a problem. A sure sign I’m aging. Then I asked myself why I was getting crazed over a kid. Because he was adorable. But he was probably a scummy hustler who’d demand money from me and break my heart.

The warmth in my soul turned to ice. “Why don’t you come back later when I’m not so busy,” I barked, not really meaning to sound so harsh.

Aurelio, with his eyes to the floor, left the room without responding.

I closed the door and felt like shit. Sat and lamented for him and myself. And eventually reined in my self-pity and picked up the notebook.

Then the telephone rang. Most guest houses don’t have phones in every room. Pearl doesn’t miss a trick. I picked up the receiver. It was Josh, the travel editor of the News. This was Saturday. At two o’clock in the afternoon. Same time as in New York. Why was he calling me?

“How’s the weather?” he asked.

“Perfect. What’s it like up there?”

“Freezing! Colder than the proverbial witch’s tit and all that…”

“How’s your brother doing? He was going into the hospital for…”

“He’s holding in there. But it’s so depressing and scary… that’s why I called. I’m trying to get my mind off it. Figured I’d call to see how your trip was, how the article is coming along.”

I had placed the article so far from the center of my consciousness, it was shocking to be reminded.

“Oh,” I must have stammered, “fine, fine.”

“Did you speak with the Chamber of Commerce people?”

“Not yet.”

“The tourist bureau?”

“No.”

“The photographer I told you to call?”

“Urn, no.”

He lectured me about my vast responsibilities as a travel correspondent and his enormous chore to make certain that travel writers did not abuse the many privileges of their sacred task. If I didn’t turn in one fucking great article he would exact his fucking ton of flesh by reporting me to the fucking editor-in-chief.

I sat there thinking: sure I’ll write a great travel article. But there are other things going on here which are a bit more thrilling. Besides, they wouldn’t fire a music critic for an unacceptable travel piece. Or would they?

I told Josh everything he wanted to hear. Said goodbye. There, under the influence of guilt, I placed the journal on the bureau and left Captain’s House to take notes for my travel article: Key West: Sun, Sand & Sex. Then I thought: Key West: Murder, Mystery, Mayhem. And Sex.

There is one main thoroughfare—Duval Street—which runs the length of the island. By the time I came to the intersection I’d forgotten all about Aurelio and his extracurricular enterprise. And I didn’t give a thought to Walter Burgess. I’d never met him, knew nothing about him, and didn’t care about him at all.

I passed one lovely house after another. Each set back from the street, each nestled in a bouquet of tropical verdure. The styles are eclectic—like taking a film studio tour and passing from the set of Gone With The Wind to Key Largo.

But Duval Street is all-American, Anytown, USA. All retail window displays and facades are designed to attract the eyes of upwardly mobile young professionals raised on television. Everything is bold day-glo colors offset with glass and chrome; angular, sharp, bold, screaming for attention, changing rapidly, these stores would not be out of place on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. Or, on the television screen in your living room. Most of the merchandise is not utilitarian, nor is it meant to last very long, nor is there an item lacking a well-publicized designer logo. Away from Duval Street one can find an occasional small, less ostentatious, independent venue with a stock both useful and practical. But in the center of town, competitive marketing and impulse shopping prevail.

I was glad I was wearing shorts and a tanktop. But still, I was damp with perspiration in the seven or so minutes it took to get from the house to main street. I reminded myself of the pad and pen in my rear pocket. And I set off in search of something wonderful to write about.

I passed an old theater with a Hollywood deco facade, a shop with bright, hand-painted T-shirts, and an emporium that sells nothing but over-priced junk. I placed pen to pad and jotted these things down, hoping that these words would later inspire a grand aria when I switched on my word processor.

The sights beginning to bore me, I glanced at the sky. Peaceful. Clear. Quiet. Pink clouds in a cerulean setting.

Then I turned my attention to the people. The locals could be from any small, southern town. Casually dressed, slow moving, all charm and friendliness on the surface. Extremely polite to the tourists, they sometimes say nasty things about them to the other natives. America. The visitors don’t act like they’re in a small southern town. To them, it’s like San Juan, Acapulco or Bermuda. With their fashionably tortured hairstyles, expensive leisure-wear and mania for accessories, you’d think they were visiting another planet.

I perused some postcards in a tourist-trap notions outlet then glanced up to notice Officers Griffith and Simon harassing a homeless person.

The difference between New York and Key West, besides the thousand or so miles, is that at the southernmost tip of Florida you don’t have to worry about winter. I was shocked when I realized that the homeless problem isn’t restricted to the big cities. I never imagined that a classy resort town would have sidewalk residents and alley-dwellers. But after spending some time in Key West it seemed so obvious: if one is to be without shelter, better a warm, tropical place than the bitter winds and inescapable cold up north.

The guy was very young, skinny, tanned, longish hair and wild eyes. Griffith prodded him with his nightstick. Simon nudged him with his shoe. Too unsightly for main street. The kid struggled to his feet and wobbled down the sidewalk. The cops watched him moving away, then resumed their patrol.

I watched Simon’s trim, nicely-proportioned body swagger up the street. From the rear he looked appealingly sturdy: substantial calves, meaty thighs, taut butt, slim waist, broad shoulders. I turned away before anyone might notice me staring.

Then I saw the two women whom I’d overheard at the restaurant. I decided to follow them. See if “their” Walter was also “my” Walter. See if I could stay close enough to maybe catch a bit of their conversation without being detected.

Both were about the same height—a bit shorter than me—the darker-haired one more broad and bouncy. The blond, a wispy thing, looked like a starving fashion model. At the time I had no idea what their names were, but I subsequently learned that the darker, heavier one was Regina Carson and the lighter, slimmer one was Joyce Burgess. They both wore pastel shorts, white cotton blouses, sandals, broad-brimmed hats and carried shoulder bags. The newness of their apparel and accessories bespoke their status as tourists.

They touched hand-painted T-shirts, tried on outrageous sunglasses, argued about stopping in at a dress shop. Joyce was all for it. Regina claimed that they weren’t there to shop for things that could be found back home. Where was home? I didn’t know yet.

Then they went to a restaurant. A simple place without a theme or gimmick, and ordered iced-tea and English muffins. I tried to get a table in close proximity, but was unable. When they departed I followed, keeping what I believed to be a safe distance. They walked away from Duval Street, passing the house of Ernest Hemingway. After taking a few pictures, they continued walking. I couldn’t get close enough to hear anything. The next stop was the Monroe County Library. A few more snapshots. And then, to my surprise, they walked to Captain’s House. But stood on the opposing sidewalk and just looked at it. They whispered a few things to each other. I recalled that one of them had said something about entering a house. Could this be the house to which they referred? Why were they just standing there looking?

I waited until they left, then went inside. As I leapfrogged the stairs to get to the room I told myself that the answers to all of my questions were probably very neatly written out in Walter’s journal. All I had to do was read it, satisfy my curiosity, give it back to Skip and get on with my travelogue and vacation.

But when I reached my room I discovered it was gone. Nowhere in my room. I searched everywhere: under the bed, under the rug, in the closet, on the night table, on the bureau. I wondered who might have taken it? Probably whoever killed Walter Burgess. But I had no idea who that might be. And who knew I’d had it, apart from Skip?

I decided to take a nap, try to forget all of the unexpected complications I’d been confronted with. It would soon be Saturday night and I was ready to go out, party hearty, have a joyous and memorable evening.

About the Author:

STAN LEVENTHAL, author, editor, and publisher, lived in New York City. He was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award three times: “Mountain Climbing in Sheridan Square”, “Faultlines” and the current volume, “The Black Marble Pool”. He published two other novels and two collections of short stories. In addition to his previously published books, his work has appeared in several anthologies. The author was actively involved in the fight for literacy. His message to his readers: “Literature is crucial to our lives; reading is fun.” The ReQueered Tales editions mark the 25th anniversary of his death in January, 1995. This volume includes a foreword by his long-time friend, business partner and publicist, Michele Karlsberg.

Profile of Author, Stan Leventhal:
http://www.requeeredtales.com/blog/2019/08/10/stan-leventhal-a-25th-anniversary-return-to-print/

Purchase Links:
BMP (Kindle) https://amzn.to/33EYCc1 ; BMP (Kobo) https://bit.ly/2L4BJqj ; BMP (Nook) https://bit.ly/2Z7Pnhf ; BMP (iBooks) https://apple.co/2OZO8AU

Cover Design by: Dawné Dominque, www.dusktildawndesigns.com

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