CHAPTER TWO - MEN WITH NO NAMES
Cameron Blake’s night had not gone well so far. First, Jenna had called off sick meaning he had absolutely no backup at the bar or tables Cameron normally would have contacted the owner Sigurd Anderson to help serve, but Sigurd was on vacation in the Alps. So Cameron was on his own doing everything. He had to pour drinks, bus tables, and break up fights of the who-had-cheated-at-pool and the-next-one-who-played-that-damned-song-on-the-jukebox was going to be knocked out variety. Though he was slender, there was something about Cameron that stopped fights cold. People just didn’t want to go up against him. Jenna said it had to be magic. Cameron told her it was simply a force of will. He projected the idea that if they went up against him, they would lose.
But the bad luck didn’t stop with being the sole person running Fenrir. Walter, one of Fenrir’s sad sack regulars who never talked to anyone and who would only gesture rudely at Cameron to pour him more cheap scotch, had vomited in the bathroom and seemingly missed every toilet but covered the walls, the floor and stall doors with his puke. Cleaning that up had been such a joy. Cameron kept sniffing his shirt afterwards, convinced that he smelled of regurgitated scotch.
Then he’d realized that Joey, the day help, hadn’t actually restocked anything behind the bar so he was forced to run back and forth from the stockroom to get beer and liquor all night on top of everything else. He was hot, sweaty, stunk of vomit, there was a black smudge across the front of his tight, white t-shirt and dark stains on the knees of his faded jeans from where he’d had get down on his hands and knees to fish out the absolute last box of Jim Beam. Evidently, Joey hadn’t been placing orders either. He would have to tell Sigurd about it. Joey had to go, if he wasn’t gone already with the desert wind.
On what was likely his fiftieth trip back to the storeroom, he’d come back out into the main room, carrying a case of Corona on his left shoulder, hair flying everywhere and yet more black smudges on his shirt. That was when he thought he was seeing a ghost sitting at his bar.
How often had he conjured his brother’s visage in his mind, worrying that he would miss some slight nuance of it as the years passed? But seeing this man at his bar had him realizing that he had missed far more than nuances. This man -- this beautiful man -- showed him that his static memories of Liam could not compare to a living, breathing being and he felt both betrayed and innervated by the knowledge.
This Liam -- or Liam-clone -- wore a black leather motorcycle jacket with what looked like a form-fitting dark gray long underwear shirt underneath it. There was what looked to be a silver pair of wings hanging from a rawhide string around his neck. But his clothes hardly interested Cameron. It was his face. Liam’s face.
Though the lighting in the bar was dim, the planes and angles of this man’s face were clearly visible and so like Liam’s as to be seemingly impossible unless his brother had a twin. The strong jaw. The sculpted mouth. The fall of blond white hair that hit his shoulders just so. And men who looked like his brother -- normally, not even a fraction as closely as this man -- were Cameron’s catnip. Something in Cameron quivered and heated while he felt the familiar flush of shame for wanting what he never should. And this man was so close to the real thing that Cameron’s willpower was crumbling before he could even shore it up.
But was there really any shame to be felt? This man could not be the real thing nor a secret twin of Liam’s. It was some weird trick of the universe that had brought his brother’s doppelganger to Fenrir. Cameron had no doubt that his brother was dead. He’d seen it happen. He couldn’t stop seeing it happen even after eleven years had passed and he was certain that he would see it for the rest of his life whenever he closed his eyes and didn’t force the image away. So this man was a stranger. A stranger that made his brother live and breathe for a moment for Cameron and offered him a chance to have the ultimate forbidden fantasy: his brother in his bed. If he played his cards right though that might not be as difficult as it seemed. For the wondrous thing was there was a look on the Liam-clone’s face that indicated interest. Maybe more than interest. He looked almost shell-shocked as if he found whatever it was he was looking for.
My night is finally looking up.
Cameron lowered the box of Corona on the ground and dusted himself off. He really wished he could go up to the apartment Sigurd let him have above the bar to clean up, but that wasn’t going to happen. He really, really hoped that he didn’t smell of vomit. Besides the man’s utter dumbstruck look at him said he looked just fine and, hopefully, smelled fine, too. Smiling broadly, Cameron sauntered to the bar just opposite the gorgeous man, spread his arms wide on the wooden, lacquered surface of the bar and looked between him and the equally beautiful man beside him. Where the one that looked like his brother was light this other man was dark as if sculpted out of basalt.
“What can I get you, gentlemen?” Cameron asked.
The Liam-clone just stared while his friend beside him elbowed him, which caused the Liam-clone to jerk and say, “C-corona.”
That was easy enough. Cameron had just brought a bunch of cold ones up. He ripped open the top of the box and grabbed one of the icy long-necked bottles. “Lime?”
The Liam-clone shook his head. Cameron put the bottle down on the bar and, almost too fast to see, the Liam-clone’s hand had closed over it and his fingers. There was an electric zap sensation that ran between them. Cameron’s eyes widened and a trill of heat ran through him. The Liam-clone though wasn’t looking at him, but was looking at where their hands were touching as if fascinated by the connection. Cameron was rather fascinated by it, too.
“Is everything okay?” Cameron’s voice sounded a little breathless. He swallowed. “Do you not want the Corona? Maybe something else --”
“The Corona is fine, thank you.” The Liam-clone released his fingers and Cameron was able to let go of the beer bottle. “You have very … sensitive-looking hands.”
“Ah, so do you.” Cameron shivered slightly as the Liam-clone’s hands felt the same against his own as his brother’s had. Liam had worked on motorcycles and cars so his hands were always a little rough in spots. Cameron could remember Liam running them down his cheek and painting him with motor oil. Their mother would shout that Liam would now have to do the laundry, because anything that got on Cameron’s face always got on the rest of him. Liam would just laugh and chase after Cameron to get him even dirtier.
“Are you -- are you an artist?” the Liam-clone asked.
Cameron felt himself shutting down and his smile turning from friendly and warm to a pale shadow of itself. Though it was hard to hear the Liam-clone’s voice clearly over the blasting noise of the jukebox, it sounded just like what his brother would have asked him and he was prickly about it. “No, I’m not. Just a bartender. That not good enough for you? You need an artist to get you a beer?”
The Liam-clone’s eyes -- a spectacular blue, just like his brother’s, so blue, so true -- rose up to meet his. They were filled with surprise and a touch of concern. Color flooded Cameron’s face and he quickly looked away from the Liam-clone.
“Sorry just … old argument,” Cameron muttered then asked of the other man, “And you?”
The man flashed a brilliant smile at Cameron and spread his hands wide. “Though it is unlikely you will have it, I have a great taste for mead.”
“You are a lucky man.” Cameron pointed at him and then ducked down into one of the waist-high coolers and took out a bottle of amber-gold liquid that he placed on the bar in front of the other man. “The owner of this bar is a huge mead fan. He brews this himself and aficionados like yourself get to taste a brew that would make Odin himself weep.”
The two men went very still at Odin’s name. Perhaps they only knew about the Norse god from the Marvel movies, which were a ton of fun in his opinion, but had no idea about the “real” mythology.
“It’s really good mead,” he told the dark-skinned man. “Want to start a tab? Or are you two just passing through?”
He really, really hoped they would be sticking around.
“Start a tab,” the Liam-clone said.
His friend grinned, taking his mead and getting up from the barstool. “I will play a round of pool, I think, and leave you two to get better acquainted.”
He winked one dark eye, slapped his friend on the back, and headed off towards the pool tables.
“I hope your friend doesn’t mind being given the cold shoulder,” Cameron said with a tip of his head towards the retreating back of the beautiful black man.
“Nafari makes friends wherever he goes. No matter how surly the people are,” the Liam-clone said.
“Well, he hasn’t met the residents of Holten.”
But just as Cameron was fully expecting Russ and Todd Sampson to snap Nafari’s head off for even approaching them let alone asking to play a game, he saw the unbelievable. Russ was laughing. Todd was smiling. Nafari slapped both the men’s backs and they all settled into a friendly game of pool.
“Wonders never cease,” Cameron said with a blink.
“Nafari is the epitome of friendliness,” the Liam-clone said.
He spoke between one song ending and another song beginning and Cameron had the first chance to hear his voice unaltered. His head jerked towards the Liam-clone and a startling sense of unreality flowed over him.
His brother had a very particular smoky, gravelly tone that was unmistakeable.
So I must be misremembering it. Or mishearing him. Liam is dead.
A slight shudder went through Cameron. There was a momentary yawning feeling beneath his feet like the earth was opening up to swallow him. Right after Liam’s death he’d been convinced, utterly and completely, that though Liam had died he had somehow also come back. A woman with blonde hair and wings the color of crystal had appeared and lifted his brother up. She had locked eyes with him for one moment and then those wings had given a gigantic flap before she with his brother in her arms were soaring upwards into a blue sky. But when he’d looked down at the spot where his brother’s body lay, the body was still there, covered in blood, bruised and broken beyond repair. Yet there had been a sense of emptiness to Liam’s body then as if it were just a husk that had been left behind after a butterfly had taken flight.
The whole thing had been ridiculous of course. Cameron had hit his head badly during the fight with Reginald Fox, the man who had abducted him and struck the mortal blow that had killed his brother and there was no coming back from death. Their father’s death the year before had taught him that, because if there was any way for a person to come back from the dead then Kurt Blake would have accomplished it. And there was simply no such things as women with wings for that matter.
A Valkyrie coming down to the battlefield to take the worthy fallen to Valhalla, Cameron thought suddenly. It was a favorite myth his grandfather used to tell him and Liam. He had claimed to have seen one during the war once. But what Valkyrie wears modern-day leather pants and jacket? Not any. It was the head wound, the shock of -- of what had happened and wishful thinking that I hadn’t really lost Liam.
He’d worked long and hard with a therapist to conquer this little boy’s fantasy. He hadn’t thought of the woman with the wings in over seven years. Yet this seeming twin of his brother was sitting before him with the same eyes and voice.
If Liam was alive he’d be eleven years older. He wouldn’t look the same …Maybe I’ve forgotten what he looked like more than I think. Maybe I’m just filling in the details of what I’ve forgotten with this guy’s face and voice. And if he were dead, he wouldn’t be able to drink a Corona.
The last part nearly had him laughing hysterically. He bit his inner cheek until he tasted copper on his tongue. Only then when he knew he had a hold of himself did he turn back to the Liam-clone. He had to get the guy talking. Once he did, he would be sure to notice the differences more, which was both a good and bad thing. Good in the sense that he would stop feeling crazy again. Bad in that it would lessen the thrill if he managed to take the guy upstairs after his shift.
“Your friend’s name, Nafari, that sounds unusual. I take it that neither of you is from here,” Cameron as the Liam-clone.
“Nafari is from Africa. Cameroon.”
Cameron realized that the Liam-clone had only said where Nafari was from, but not himself. Further, there was actually a momentary guilty look in the man’s true blue eyes, which had Cameron pausing in putting the Coronas into the cooler.
“Are you from here?” Cameron asked pointedly.
“Holten is a small place. Wouldn’t you recognize me if I was?” the Liam-clone asked, which strangely had a flutter going through Cameron’s stomach at the man’s rather flirty, if guarded, tone.
“So what’s your name?” Cameron asked the clone.
Watch it will be Fred or George or something else innocuous. Not Liam.
With a quirked smile so like Liam’s that Cameron’s breath caught, the man said in his dusky voice, “What’s yours?”
“I asked first.” Cameron found that he didn’t want to tell the Liam-clone his name, because if the stranger said it back to him and not in that way that Liam always had … He shook himself internally. This wasn’t his brother. He had to stop mixing fantasy with reality. It was one thing to pretend the men he picked up were Liam. It was a whole other thing to believe they were his brother come back to life.
But just at that moment when the man was going to answer he was called over by Darla at the other end of the bar for refills. A scotch and soda for her latest conquest, a bleary-eyed man in his fifties, but considering that Darla was north of sixty-five -- though it was hard to tell in the dimly lit bar -- this was a conquest indeed, and another dirty martini for her, extra olives.
“Coming right up,” Cameron said to her. While he was making the drinks, he asked softly, “Darla, does the guy I was just talking to remind you of -- of anyone?”
“Like who, hon?” Darla asked.
Liam used to fix her and her sixth husband’s cars. She never forgot a face either. So surely she would see a resemblance between the Liam-clone and his brother.
“Ah, L-Liam,” Cameron said. He didn’t like asking that, because if Darla heard about him going to bed with a guy that he thought looked like his brother, she’d be scandalized and tell everybody. That was the one thing about Darla. She could not keep a secret to save her life.
She squinted her eyes as she stared at the Liam-clone. The clone actually turned his head and looked over at them, smiling at Darla’s inspection of him. He even gave a little wave at them.
“I’m sorry, hon, but he doesn’t look like Liam at all to me. Does he to you?” she asked.
“I … maybe a little,” Cameron said.
At first, Cameron’s heart sank into his feet, but then he looked into her tired gaze and suddenly he felt better. Darla was three-sheets to the wind. Even her famous memory would be touched by the amount of martinis she’d had that night. So it didn’t mean anything that she thought the clone looked nothing like Liam even when he was staring right at her, smiling just like Liam used to when she would come to him with a problem with one of her ancient Caddies.
After he had brought a half dozen more beers over to a few tables, wiped up a few others and refilled the peanuts and pretzels, he was finally able to make it back over to the Liam-clone. He grabbed a bar towel and began to clean nearly right in front of him.
“Is that a sign that you want to wipe me away, too?” The Liam-clone quirked him a grin.
“Actually, I was just thinking what could cause you to want to be a man of mystery and if I was all right with that,” Cameron said.
The Liam-clone shrugged one shoulder. “Perhaps I just don’t like to lie.”
“So you definitely are hiding things from me and the biggest one is your name!” Cameron chuckled. He actually didn’t mind the secrecy. “Since you won’t tell me your name, why don’t you let me give you one.”
Those surprisingly dark eyebrows rose. “All right. Give me a name.”
He felt rather insane doing this. It was making the fantasy a little more real. Stealing across that line where women with wings were a possibility.. But what was the harm? Cameron knew there could be some to himself, but only if he allowed this to get out of control and he wouldn’t.
“Liam,” Cameron said with a shaky smile. “I’m going to call you Liam.”
The Liam-clone’s expression went utterly blank for a moment and Cameron tensed. Had he made a mistake somehow? Did the clone not like the name Liam? Was he going to admit his name was really Hank or Josh? He didn’t look like a Hank or Josh.
He looks like a Liam. The Liam.
“Don’t like my choice?” Cameron asked lightly. “You can always tell me your real name or make one up.”
“Liam is fine,” Liam said with a strange smile on his face, but then he looked genuinely pleased. “So what is your name?”
But Cameron shook his head. He had already determined that he didn’t want Liam saying his name wrong and breaking the illusion. “I am going to be a man of mystery, too.”
“I could ask some of these fine people around us. I’m sure they know your name.” Liam grinned teasingly.
“Haven’t you noticed that they all just shout ‘barkeep’ or ‘you there’ or ‘dude’?” Cameron laughed.
“So they don’t know it?”
“A lot of them don’t care to. They keep to themselves. They just want to drink their sorrows away or at least drink enough so that they can sleep and forget everything for a few hours a night,” Cameron explained as his gaze swung over to the three at the other end of the bar from Darla. Walter would have been sitting in the midst of them, but after his spewing incident Cameron had sent him home in a cab that he had paid for. Walter lived in a flophouse and didn’t have the money to cover it himself. But he couldn’t let the poor guy wander home on his own. It wouldn’t be safe.
“That is a sad thing. Drink should be used to celebrate life’s moments, not bury them,” Liam said.
“Some people don’t have anything to celebrate. See those three at the end of the bar?” He leaned against the bar and gestured vaguely with the bar rag at the three middle-aged men who spoke to no one and drank deeply of scotch, bourbon or vodka. When Liam gave him a half nod, which was enough to tell him he saw, but not to tip the three off, Cameron continued in a low voice, “The first one’s Harry Grand. Used to have a car dealership between Holten and Santa Fe, but he lost it all because his brother-in-law embezzled all his money. The second, one with the beard and unfortunate sideburns, is David Halsey. He used to teach high school. Had an affair with one of his students.”
“Who was the girl?”
“Boy. What is that phrase? Never be caught with a dead girl or a live boy? Well, David got caught on video with one very lively boy,” Cameron said. “The kid was 18, but still it straddles the line between kinky and creepy since he was his teacher and all.”
“Indeed,” Liam breathed and while his breath had a touch of beer, it also smelled cold like snow and mint. “And the third …” His voice broke off a little and his forehead furrowed as if he recognized the third man.
“The third.” Cameron licked his suddenly dry lips. “His name is Peter Stanley. If you did come from here you might have recognized his face from the papers. His son, Barry, was killed by a serial killer named --”
“Reginald Fox,” Liam interrupted.
Cameron’s head jerked towards Liam’s face. The expression of the man was shuttered and distant.
“So you did come from here,” Cameron said and his stomach flip-flopped.
“The deaths were reported in many places. It was a terrible crime. Half a dozen boys killed in sixth months. Raped and then used for strange rituals in the desert. Hard to forget whether you lived here or not,” Liam said tonelessly.
Cameron swallowed and started cleaning the bar again. Would Liam recognize him as one of the boys that Reginald Fox had taken? Would he know about the real Liam and how his brother had given up his life to kill Fox? Again, that sense of the ground shifting beneath his feet happened.
“Yeah, well, Peter’s here just about every night. His marriage broke up. He lost his job. Sigmund pretty much lets him drink on the house,” Cameron said finally.
Suddenly, Liam’s true blue eyes were on him, fixed, unblinking. “You know all their name and their stories, but they do not even know your name?”
“They know my name,” Cameron said with a mirthless smile.
“Do they know your story?” Again, those piercing blue eyes were on his face and Cameron felt a blush heating his cheeks.
“Yes, as to surface. No, as to substance.” Cameron found himself resting his elbows on the bar and Liam did the same until they were only inches from one another. “But then again I don’t really want them to know me.”
“Do you want to be known by anyone?” Liam breathed.
“Asks the man I had to make up a name for?” Cameron’s lips curled into a smile.
“Says the man who doesn’t want to lie to you,” Liam said.
Cameron slid another inch closer to Liam. “So, mystery man, how long are you staying in town?”
Liam’s smile grew. “I have some business. I’ll be here until that’s finished. Not sure when that will be, but a week, at least.”
A trickle of heat ran through Cameron. “Would your business allow you to hang out with me after my shift? So that we have time to not lie to one another in a more … intimate way?”
Liam’s true blue eyes hooded. “I think I would like that. Very much.”