“How’s it been today?” Warren asked.
Jack rolled his eyes. “Lousy. This contest gets bodies in the door, but they’re more interested in watching the action than buying drinks. Now what am I supposed to do with that, I ask you.”
Warren shrugged and Jack sighed dramatically, shaking his head before flitting to the other side of the bar to take an order. The Gentleman’s Agreement was starting to fill up and Warren noted that most of its patrons were starting to floating toward the center of the room. From his vantage at the slightly elevated bar he could see the master of ceremonies waving his hands about for quiet; it took a lot of hand waving and a decent amount of shouting before he got the chatter down to the point where he could be heard.
“You are going to want to get something cooling to drink, because what we’ve got for you tonight is going set your mercury bubbling, if you know what I mean.” He then gestured magnificently to a pouty-lipped blond kid walking around with a tray of drinks. “So help lighten Billy’s tray over there while we get going, would you? He’s a frail thing and we don’t want his wrist going limp. Do we, boys?”
Another round of raucous laughter. There were other speakeasies that catered to a somewhat more fey crowd and as a result many of the patrons of Gentleman’s considered themselves somehow superior. Warren found that attitude disappointing, but it was telling that he never seemed to find himself in any of those other pansy clubs.
While Warren was watching the MC work the crowd Jack floated over and set down another drink unbidden. He was a decent bartender, but it was clear that it wasn’t his gin fizz that got him the job. He had the look of an enthusiastic university student, a charmingly vague mid-western accent, and the mouth of a dockside bruiser. It helped that his sleeves were rolled up every night and his biceps on full display. Even with a quality shirt, smart vest, and tailored pants he gave the impression of a man only temporarily caged by his fineries.
“So what’s your game, baby?” Jack asked. Warren flushed at that, but it was clear the bartender didn’t mean anything by it. “You come in here at least once a week, but you never leave with anybody. You never play. You just sit around in those glad rags. You waiting for Jesus or what?”
Warren began to respond, but the roar of the bar’s patrons drowned him out. Warren, grateful for the reprieve, looked over at the beginning of the show and pointedly ignored Jack’s gaze burning a hole in his peripheral vision.
The MC was standing in the cleared out space at the center of the barroom between two men in their early twenties. Both men were dressed in plain knickers and sleeveless undershirts.They were barefoot and wore expressions of flat disdain toward each other and their surroundings. One was a lanky Negro with an immaculate haircut and a fine golden chain around his neck. The other looked to be an Irishman or something of the sort. He was stocky and his cheeks bore a riot of freckles which did little to brighten his expression.
“Now gentlemen, I don’t mean to patronize you, but I do have to recite the rules. This contest is all about endurance. At the count of five you’ll both drop your trousers and by ten you’ll start giving each other a nice Greek Handshake.” The MC winked lasciviously for the audience before continuing. “The first sap to lose his composure — if you catch my meaning — gets disqualified. The last man standing? He gets fifty dollars cash and an invitation to the preliminary to the championship round.
Do we understand to rules?”
The crowd roared in response, but the two challengers gave only terse nods. The MC wasted no time beginning the countdown. At five both men simultaneously undid their trousers and stepped out of them. Their timing was so impeccably mirrored that it was clear they had practiced it. Warren wondered how many times they’d gone over this and if that was why they seemed so irritated.
At ten they both lunged at each other. At first there was nothing erotic about the way they grasped each other’s cocks. They were like wrestlers fallen into some obscene shadow world. But their forcefulness soon gave way, almost simultaneously, to something more artful. They stroked each other with something approaching intimacy. It wasn’t affection, to be sure, there was little enough sexual chemistry between the two – but they seemed to move past that fairly quickly. The Irishman used steady, urgent strokes on his opponent’s member while staring intently at a fixed point on the floor. The dark-skinned challenger kept his breath perfectly even while working the Irishman’s shaft. He even went so far as to cup his opponent’s balls and rub them in time with his other hand’s movements.
Warren shifted in his seat to accommodate his intrusive erection. He had not come for the show, but once it had begun he found that it was difficult to look away from. Jack was off pouring drinks anyway, refreshing the pouty waiter’s empty tray, so his attention was free.
All over the barroom men were fondling themselves. Some simply massaged the front of their tented trousers while others reached into their pockets and took hold of their hardness that way. A paltry few of the patrons were bold enough however to just whip it out. Even while drunk, no one particularly liked the idea of being disinvited from the wildest boy’s club in the city. Despite their weekly showing of public debauchery, the club frowned on such frank displays among their patrons in the bar. Clandestine exchanges could, however, be more easily be overlooked in the club’s backrooms where exhausted gentlemen were allowed to cool their heels for a fee.
A man sitting at the bar a few empty seats down from Warren had taken off his coat and put it over his lap to provide a semblance of cover for his obvious masturbation. When he looked over and caught Warren’s gaze, the man – wearing the staid tan uniform of the US marine corps – raised the drink in his free hand and smiled in tacit acknowledgment. Warren smiled back and watched for a while with this stranger’s inferred blessing before returning his attention to the show.
The dark-skinned challenger’s face had become a sketch of smug pride. The Irishman’s eyelids were fluttering slightly and he was breathing out of his mouth. Though he kept his attention glued firmly to the floor, the Irishman’s technique had become fractionally sloppier. The slow steady rhythm now contained hiccups and slight pauses. It was clear that his opponent assumed he was edging toward the limit of his perseverance.
All the while the crowd shouted lewd and occasionally offensive encouragements, taunts, and putdowns. It was well-known that there was an informal pool going (at the willing sufferance of the bar, of course, for a modest percentage) and there was a small but vocal minority betting money on the supremacy of European vitality. Mostly the patrons seemed unconcerned about the skin color or the personal character of the mutually masturbating challengers as long as they performed admirably.
Warren caught a sharp intake of breath and turned just in time to watch the masturbating marine push his coat aside. His handful of prick twitched a few times as he angled it down away from his body. He unloaded with a shiver; two, three, four…seven powerful shots splashed to the ground below his stool. He groaned as the dregs of his orgasm leaked out and a few nearby patrons offered scattered applause, compliments and free drinks. The marine looked over at Warren as he caught his breath and this time Warren raised his drink. When he grinned, Warren realized the marine was a bit older than he’d initially gathered. The lines around his eyes and the dusting of gray at his temples suggested a man who had seen his fair share of hard things. They kept up eye contact while the marine pushed his cock back into his pants, but then someone else came by and struck up a conversation with the marine hand and Warren shifted his attention back to the contest.
The Irishman wasn’t looking good, his grip on the black man’s dick was tenuous and his eyes were only half open. The crowd was getting hungry for the endgame and money was already exchanging hands. When the Irishman suddenly doubled over, no one was surprised, but the bar was inflamed regardless. The freckled challenger lost it spectacularly, coating his opponent’s hands and forearms in a prodigious amount of cum. A quick look around the bar confirmed Warren’s speculation that there were other games afoot and many of the men around the bar were timing their own orgasms to be simultaneous with the loser’s. He wondered if Jack would have to be the one to mop up after the the night wound down.
The MC managed to elbow his way back into the center of the bar to make some cutting remarks on the endurance of the Irish, but Warren was looking at the winner. Even though he had just won a significant amount of money, his expression was tight and guarded. As the MC handed over the cash, the black challenger merely pulled up his pants and stuffed the bills into his pocket then turned to leave the bar. The other challenger dressed quickly as well, but headed toward the bar, presumably to get drunk enough to put his fifty dollar loss behind him.
Warren was half-listening to the last of the MC’s speech when Jack’s voice commanded his action. “Well?”
“Well, what?” Warren asked.
“You never answered my question. What is it that you’re looking for?”
“You.” Warren wanted to answer, but the bar erupted into chaos at that moment. Police flooded into the bar shouting orders and the patrons started to take off in every direction. Crackdowns were an accepted part of frequenting speakeasies, but The Gentleman’s Agreement had thus far been protected. No one knew what deals and favors bought the club’s immunity, but apparently it had abruptly run out.
Without thinking Warren bolted. It was too sudden for a plan, but he found himself heading for the backrooms. It was only afterward that he remembered there was an exit back there onto the street. There was a gunshot that sounded terribly close to Warren’s left ear which motivated him to run harder and faster for the back. He barrelled through a velvet curtain and turned a sharp corner. He had to muscle past a group of half-dressed men stumbling out of one of the club’s infamous darkrooms. He raced up the stairwell, packed with fleeing patrons, and out the back door into the cool night. It was only when he was heading down the alley alongside a half dozen other men did he think of Jack.
The feelings of disgust and self-loathing came suddenly. He had ran without checking to see if Jack was ok. He had no idea if the bartender had gotten himself out before the police could make an arrest. He wanted Jack to be alright, but he didn’t stop to check. There was too much to lose. He couldn’t get caught. Warren ran and kept running until the pain in his lungs forced him to slow down and then to stop.