Today I am giving you a peek at my newest release, which came out November 17 from Amber Allure, “The Ghost in Number 9.” The story deals with the secrets we keep and how love is better when exposed to the light, rather than hidden in darkness (a theme that will resonate especially with many gay people who have lived through a time when life forced them to hide who they were). I drew my inspiration from living here in Seattle and driving almost daily north and south on one of the main arteries of the city: Aurora Avenue. Near the big bridge heading into downtown, there are a lot of decrepit motels, abandoned and covered by graffiti. Many of these motels were built to accommodate visitors to the World’s Fair, held in Seattle in 1962 (and the era my ghost hails from).
To one of the commenters below, I will give a copy of “The Ghost in Number 9” in the ebook format of their choice to a reader who comes up with the most imaginative answer to the question: what two male celebrities would you like to spy emerging guiltily from a No Tell Motel? Bonus points for telling us why you picked this pair. I’ll pick a winner from all entries received before November 22.
If you don’t want to wait to see if you’ve won, you can get your copy here (at a special new release discount!):
BLURBFor Tony and Carter, room number 9 in the Galaxy Gold motel on Seattle's seedy Aurora Avenue is a refuge. There, the two young lovers have found a place to hide away from a world that would condemn them for their love. Within the darkened, summer-hot confines of room number 9, Carter and Tony can explore their love and lust for one another, free of the burdens of the outside world.
But room number 9 holds a terrible and tragic secret, one that dates back to the Galaxy Gold's opening back in 1962, when Seattle was hosting its World's Fair. There's a ghost in room number 9, and he has a message for Tony and Carter, a message about the consequences of shame and hiding love behind a closed motel room door.
Will Tony and Carter listen to the ghost's message and have the courage to bring their love out into the open? Or will this long-ago story, one eerily similar to Tony and Carter's, be ignored?
The answer awaits in room number 9...
Tony sat up. “I don’t know. I walk out of here, give you up, what would happen then? Would my heart shrivel up and die? Would I forget you?”
Carter thought the sad truth was, he probably would. Maybe not next week, next month, or even next year, but he eventually Carter knew the memory of his touch, how he felt, what his smile could do, would eventually fade away. And then where would Tony find himself? Carter looked away, staring up at hairline crack that ran across the ceiling, not wanting to hear the answer to that last question, which taunted him in his own mind. He’d be back in the park, more experienced now, looking for another Carter, another young man to lure away to the motel and this whole sad, yet blissful, scenario would play itself out once more. Perhaps it would happen many times, until Tony’s wife found out, or Tony brought the wrong guy back to the motel, or who knows?
Carter sat up. “The romantic me would love to say yes, your heart would shrivel up. You’d miss me so much it’d be like a physical ache. You would just not be able to go on. But the realist in me knows the truth—you’d go on.”
“And be a faithful and loving husband?”
Carter turned to face him. He shook his head. “You’re kidding yourself if you think that. You told me once your need for a man was like a living thing and it wouldn’t leave you alone. You told me that the harder you tried to suppress it, the stronger it would come back.”
Tony stared down at his thighs, at the dick coiled between his legs. He snatched the sheet up to cover himself.
Carter leaned toward him, touching his shoulder gently. “I’m sorry. But it’s true.”
“I know it. It’s a mess.”
Carter asked again, “Do you want to end it?” He was split right down the middle. One part wanted Tony to say yes, another despaired that he would.
“Of course not. I love you.” And Tony looked over at him, catching and holding Carter’s gaze. Carter didn’t need words to know that this was the bottom line—their love. Sure, the sex was mind-blowing, the best he’d ever had, and he suspected the same was true for Tony, but it wasn’t really about the sex. If it was, Tony could go on being married and have some secret encounters on the side, perhaps for years.
But Carter knew they both wanted more. But how to get it? How to get it and not hurt so much those around them? Carter was single, but it didn’t erase the complicity he would feel in the heartbreak of a woman’s heart if her man left her to be with him.
“I love you, too.”
Carter sat back, leaning against the headboard, his shoulders touching Tony’s. “So where do we go from here?”
“Why do we have to go anywhere?” Tony asked dully. Carter thought he was referring to leaving the motel room. But his next words clarified what Tony had met. “Can’t we just keep things like this?”
The words simply came out of Carter, without forethought. “Forever? Would you be happy with that? I wouldn’t. We love each other.” Carter looked away, a stream of images parading by in his head. “What we do here is flat-out wonderful. I mean it! But the words ‘I love you’ encompass so much more.” Carter stretched his arms open wide. “I want us to get out of this motel room. I want to have dinner with you at one of the restaurants in Pike Place Market or maybe you and me at the top of the Space Needle, spinning as the sun sets behind the Olympics. I want to ride a ferry with you from Anacortes to Friday Harbor. I want to get in the car and take a weekend road trip down to Portland and end up in some little B&B on the Oregon coast. I want you to come to my place and I’ll make my mom’s meatloaf for you. I want to open presents under a Christmas tree. I want watch you blow out the candles on your birthday cake.”
Carter bit his lip, hating the big, painful ball that had formed in his throat, making it painful to swallow, as though a torrent of tears and a bunch of sobs were the only thing that could dissolve it. “I want to see your clothes hanging next to mine in the closet.”
Tony stared at him for a long time. Finally, he shook his head and rose up from the bed. He began to dress.
“You’re not gonna say anything?” Carter wondered. It was weird how the room had gone from the heights of blissful passion to the depths of despair so damn fast. “I just poured my fuckin’ heart out to you, man. And you’re gonna give me back silence?”
Tony pulled up his pants and struggled to pull his T-shirt over his head, saying nothing. At last, he said, “If I had answers, I’d give ’em to you.”
He gathered up his tool belt and then kissed Carter on the forehead. Carter looked up at him. “Same time next week? Room 9?” Carter asked. The question seemed inane, after the dreams he had just confessed. He might as well have said, “I’ll take whatever crumb you give me.”
Tony shrugged. He moved to the door, opened it, and let in a blinding block of light. He was only a silhouette as he stood there in the brilliance, the sound of traffic suddenly loud behind him. Carter barely heard him say, “I have to think.”
And then he closed the door, plunging the room back into murky darkness. Carter was alone.
He slumped back on the bed, staring down at his feet. He moved them back and forth, trying not to think. Was this the end? It sure felt like it.
Curiously, the sobbing and tears that had threatened to erupt had seemed to have left along with Tony. Right now, there was only a curious numbness. He supposed his mind and his heart were both doing what they could to protect themselves from the pain he was certain lay in wait.
He got up, crossed the room, and lifted a blind to look outside. Tony’s truck was gone and the same river of traffic flowed by, relentless, leaving Carter feeling isolated, as if he were the only one in the world with such problems. The little boy he had seen earlier, the little red-headed imp, zipped by on his bike, laughing, on Aurora itself, and Carter wanted to open the door to tell the little idiot to get off the highway, use the sidewalk, where it was safer.
But the boy was in and out of his view before he even had a chance to move to take any action.
Carter let the blind drop back into place. He went into the sad little bathroom and showered, drying off after with a towel that was so thin and rough it barely absorbed anything.
When he returned to the bedroom, a man was sitting in one of the chairs opposite the bed. His legs were crossed and he made Carter think of the TV series, Mad Men. He had that perfect Don Draper look: dark hair neatly parted at the side, a crisp white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal hairy forearms, a pair of gray slacks, creased, and a pair of black wingtips. The man was smoking a cigarette and blowing the smoke into the air in rings.
He looked over at Carter as though he had been expecting him. He smiled.
For Carter’s part, he didn’t know whether to scream, laugh, run, or question his sanity. “How did you get in here?”
The man sighed. “I’m always here. I was here when you and your boyfriend were fucking today and every time before.”
Carter cast his gaze around for an unnoticed closet where the man could have hidden himself, but there was only the freestanding wardrobe in the corner and Carter doubted he could secret himself there.
“Look, I don’t know who you are or what you want, but I’ll give you a minute to get out of here or else I’m calling the cops.” Carter edged a few steps closer, so that he could snatch his pants up from the floor. He felt in the pockets, relieved when he grasped the outlines of his wallet and phone. He struggled into the khakis, almost losing his balance. All kinds of creeps walked up and down Aurora, at all hours of the day or night and all Carter could think was that this one had gotten in when Tony left, forgetting to lock the door behind him.
Yet, didn’t the door lock automatically? And what did the man mean about always being in the room?
And while it was true there were prostitutes and thugs that regularly walked the lengthy north-south traverse of Aurora Avenue, none of them looked as neat (and neat was the best word) as this character.
Carter shivered, even though the room had no air conditioning. He grabbed his shirt off the floor and put it on, buttoning it with trembling fingers.
“You know what? Forget it. I’ll just leave and I’ll let the guy at the front desk know you’re here.” Why not? Carter had all his important belongings now. He needed only to slip into his wingtips.
“Grab a seat on the bed, bud. You know I’m not real.”
“Not real?” Carter neared the man. “You look real to me.” He reached out to place a hand on the guy’s chest and it was like his hand passed through a fog of cold air.
Carter jumped back, heart thundering.
“That’s right. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a ghost. I’d shake your hand, but you saw what happened when you tried to touch me. Damned ectoplasm. My name’s Bill Silver.”
Carter stood, simply staring. He realized his mouth hung open and he shut it.
“You gonna take a load off? I have some things to tell you.”
“Tell me? What?” Because Carter felt like if he didn’t sit down, his legs would give out, he reluctantly seated himself at the edge of the bed. You’re asleep, that’s all and this is just a dream. Play along. “So, uh, Bill, what it is you wanna tell me?”
Bill took a puff off his cigarette and snuffed it out in the ashtray. Carter wanted to giggle when he had the thought that ghosts didn’t have to worry about the health hazards of smoking. And what would a ghost cigarette taste like, anyway, menthol or regular? Carter couldn’t help it. He let out of a little titter.
“I’m glad you’re amused. Now, if I could begin.”
Carter gestured with his hand that the floor belonged to Bill. “I’m listening.”
“As I said, I’ve watched you and that colored guy have sex. Pretty racy. In my day, even here in Seattle, that kind of behavior could get a man in a lot of trouble. The queer stuff is bad enough, but throw in mixing of the races and even in the northwest here, you’ve got big trouble. Still, it looked very sexy, watching that colored dick go in that white ass.”
Carter started to get up. “Is this what you want? I’m not into it, dude.”
“Sit down, sit down. You know, because you touched me, I’m a ghost. And I was just setting the stage a bit, letting you know I know the score.
“What I really want to talk to you about is me. What happened to me right here in this room, just before the World’s Fair opened up back in 1962.
“I was twenty-nine years old, had a little Craftsman over in Wallingford, wife named Gloria and two kids, Bill Jr. and Sally. Worked as a CPA. Everyone that looked at me thought I was the perfect young man who had secured for himself the American dream.
“And I had.
“But what no one knew was what you and Tony understand—how good it feels to be with a man. See, I knew even before I had ever touched another fellow, knew because it was like a piece of me was missing. What could fill it up?” Bill grinned. “I think you know. But it’s more than that. Get your mind out of the gutter.”
“I needed a man to love me, even if I couldn’t admit it to myself, let alone anyone else. I kept thinking if I just stayed true in my marriage, concentrated on being a good dad to my two kids, worked hard, all those longings I felt in the middle of the night would eventually go away.”
Bill looked over at Carter and Carter thought the man seemed as real as Tony had, only an hour or so ago.
“But you know the end to that story, don’t you? Nothing went away. If anything, it got stronger the more I tried to hide it. I’d be out with the kids and Gloria, over at Green Lake and we’d be hanging out at the beach, and I’d see these young guys in their trunks and man—” The guy’s gaze drifted away and Carter knew he was seeing those almost-naked young men right now, robust, diving into the water, endless yards of tanned and muscled skin. Carter could see it himself in his own mind’s eye, but because of when he had been born and the life he had led, he felt no guilt at his appreciation and even arousal at the thought.
To read more, order your copy here: The Ghost in Number 9 by Rick R. Reed
In addition to the giveaway Rick is doing, any comments left today will also have a chance to win the entire pax collection. On Saturday, a winner will be picked at random from all the comments made this week on the blog. Comment on all, and that's multiple chances to win!