Chapter 6

Scavengers, dregs, runaways, the dispossessed, rentboys, punters — these were the patrons of the Golden Lion in Soho. There were two gay pubs, the Brief Encounter and the Compton Arms, but sometimes I preferred to be around broken old queers and the parasites that preyed on them. This was a place where I was comfortable. I fitted in.

Most proper gays wouldn’t go to the Golden Lion, so it seemed like an ideal place to meet Love. I didn’t want to bump into anyone I knew, because I wanted to give him my full attention and have him all to myself. It had an upstairs area where, midweek at least, you could usually find a place to sit down and they left the windows open so that it wasn’t so smoky. Also, being from California, I thought it might interest Love culturally. The place could be a bit daunting if you weren’t familiar with it, so I arrived about ten minutes early to secure seats, get him a drink, and welcome him when he came in.

At the bar I squeezed in beside a homeless Mohawk I knew vaguely, who was working a red-faced and bloated punter known as King Charles. I’d watched Charles before and knew his routine. It was impossible to get cash out of him, although he would happily pay for drinks for as long as you spoke to him. The boys used him to get a bit drunk, then worked the pub for other, more giving “cash points,” as they called the punters. I ordered a diet cola for Love and a pint of Guinness for myself, with a large vodka chaser, and downed the vodka in one, hoping it would relax me. Love’s good looks intimidated me. I found a snug corner upstairs, got out my book, and tried to read, but soon realized how stupid it was to attempt this in a pub.

Fortunately Love was early. In such surroundings he had the look of a brand-new Ferrari in a scrap yard, not the kind of thing I’d normally go for but he wore it well. Desire instantly outweighed my insecurities. After working as a rentboy for so many years, it was surprising that testosterone still rose to the occasion enough to influence my judgment. The welcome I gave Love was warm, masculine. Americans seemed to like my Englishness, so I used words like mate and cheers. He was charmed that I had a drink waiting for him.

I sipped my Guinness. Love fiddled with his glass. The bar was noisy enough, but the worst thing was a new song called “Like a Prayer” that repeated and repeated on the jukebox.

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