Thursday, January 14, 2016
Whit Navarro, glass in hand, pursed his lips and just barely refrained from spitting, though the glare he directed at the stage remained sullen. When he’d learned Talbot’s Peak had a shapeshifter nightclub, he’d wasted no time in checking it out. His hopes for an excellent evening had fallen faster than an Alpine avalanche. The musical acts were all right, though he’d heard better at that biker bar out in the woods. But the dancers here, the staging, the costumes—tacky, tacky, tacky. This was what passed for entertainment in this town?
He sipped his drink. Pity. He’d hoped to make a home and a life here in Talbot’s Peak. He liked the American Rockies. They reminded him of his beloved Andes, although they lacked the grandeur. But if this was the best they could offer in the way of nightlife, he might as well go back to Peru.
Let’s be more specific here. Gay nightlife.
Aye, he thought, there’s the rub. He’d visited dozens of shapeshifter enclaves in his trek around the States. Most of them were straight. The gay ones tended to be pack breeds or predators, or both. Though that flock of gulls in New Jersey certainly knew how to party. If nothing better turned up on his travels, he might have to sacrifice mountains and settle for sea level.
This time he did spit, discreetly into his napkin because this sorry nightclub’s owners weren’t within range. Whit wasn’t ready to settle.
And it was all so unnecessary. The club had everything else right. The drinks were excellent, the food superb, the décor subtle, the acoustics top of the line. It was the ambiance that had his saliva aching for a target. This place reeked of testosterone. Everything about it screamed hetero sex. Though some of the performers were obviously gay—that snake, for instance; if he wasn’t flaming, Whit would spit in his own face—the tone of this club was straight as an arrow, any deviations frowned upon.
He knew he should have expected that, once he learned the owners were tigers. He’d spotted the manager earlier, a regal Bengal in a business suit, and had his worst fears confirmed. His walk said I’m the ruler here. “Ruler” as in “straight as.” Even jaguars had more give in their attitude, and they were macho down to the core.
That was the problem. Straight people just didn’t know how to do a nightclub right.
One of the wait staff—his third of the evening, Whit noted with glum amusement—undulated up to his table. She was dressed better than most of the performers; her gown only hinted at the riches available, not blatantly shouted them out. This one knew how to do subtle sexuality right, unlike most of the dancers. But then, this place was tiger-run. What else could one expect?
“Freshen your drink?” the pink-haired beauty offered. “Want some company?”
“Not from this place,” Whit muttered. “It’s not quite to my taste.”
“We’ve noticed,” the woman said drily. “It’s why you keep getting different waitresses. I told them to send you a waiter, but who listens to me?” She slid easily into a chair at his table and arranged her elbows on the surface. “You’re a llama, aren’t you?”
“How can you tell?”
“Because you look like you want to spit on everybody. I don’t blame you. This place blows, and not in a happy way. Some people like the taste of forbidden fruit, if you’ll pardon the pun. Tigers own this place. They’re not that big on fruit.”
“So I’ve gathered,” Whit said. “Well, you’ve sussed me out. Nothing wrong with your gaydar. And you’re…” He peered more closely at his new acquaintance. “You’re that snake who was dancing earlier. Weren’t you a man before?”
“More or less.” She/he made a careless shrug. “By the way, I love your look. Thin White Duke?”
Whit brightened, with his first smile of the night. “Yes, thank you. That’s exactly what I was going for. I’ve been a fan forever. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
“I know. Legends aren’t supposed to die. I’d rather believe he’s returned to his homeworld. I was always more into Ziggy Stardust.” He indicated his sparkly gown. “As if you couldn’t tell.”
“It fits you well. Excellent work with the falsies.” He extended his hand. “I’m Whit.”
“Lamar. Or Lola, when I’m dressed like this.”
They shook. Lamar gave his hand a squeeze, but he was a snake so Whit didn’t read anything else into it. He’d finally found a kindred spirit. That was all that mattered.
“Now that we know where we stand,” Whit said, “be honest with me. Is there any place around here where those of our bent can relax? Other than this?”
“’Fraid not. The Ghans work hard to keep this club the only game in town. Down at the exit’s family-friendly, so pickings are even slimmer. Unless you enjoy getting beat up. In that case, there’s a biker bar just over the town line.”
“Been there already. Good music, good beer, not much else. What about here, downstairs? I heard—”
“You’ve probably heard right.” Lamar slumped in his chair. When snakes slumped, they did it whole body. “You can get whatever you want downstairs, all above-board and legal and discretion guaranteed. But it’s pricey. The Ghans don’t have any sympathy for the common kinky working man.”
“Tigers,” they said, in stereo. They stared at each other. Both broke into smiles.
“So,” Whit continued, “if someone were to open a club that catered to, say, other interests, you think there’d be a market for it?”
“Limited market. We’re not exactly a hotbed of gay activity here. My lobo rojo and I would’ve moved to San Francisco ages ago if it wasn’t so expensive. Although … ” He leaned across the table. “You know shifters. Kinky lot. Multiples, polys, BDSM. If someone ran a club like that, at blue-collar prices, bet they’d see a lot of action. Some twink on the menu wouldn’t hurt either.”
“BDSM, eh?” Whit’s smile widened. “I wouldn’t be averse to that.”
“Then you shouldn’t be talking to me. You need to talk to Mistress Penelope. She can tell you if that flock’s looking for a place to roost. She works at the local newspaper. Tell her Lola recommended you two talk. She’ll understand.” The music changed, signaling the start of another act. Lamar got up. “Mierda. Back to the bump and grind. Nice meeting you.” He winked. “Enjoy your stay.”
“Thanks.” A future here looked suddenly brighter. “I will.”