Authors: V. J. Banis
Tags: #gay, #camp, #parody, #man from U.N.C.L.E., #humor
The darkness lasted for
only a moment. Mathews was temporarily blinded by the brilliant light that caught him full in the face. Not until the light had dimmed did he realize that they were being examined.
“The password?” A voice from out o
Jackie was silent for a moment, and Craig began to fear the blond agent might have forgotten the password. He experienced a dismal vision of the two of them waiting for days in the darkness of this pit. Finally, to his relief, Jackie answered, “Rim queen.”
The light disappeared, and a second later a door opened in front of them, revealing a short, more comfortably-lighted hall. Jackie led the way down it, the door behind them closing.
“What's a rim queen?” Mathews asked as they walked.
“Can't be explained in words,” Jackie answered with no expression on his face. “I'd have to demonstrate it for you.”
Mathews remained curious, but discretion got the best of him. “Maybe some other time,” he answered.
The door at the other end of the hall opened for them immediately, admitting them into a spacious and luxurious waiting room of sorts. “Where are we?” Craig asked, amazed to find himself in a room that would have served any penthouse well.
“Specifically, just about the center of the park,” Jackie explained. “Or, if you didn't mean geographically, we're now at the local office of C.A.M.P.”
“Isn't this rather a dangerous place for it,” Craig asked. “Looks to me like it would be touchy to get in and out of.”
“Not at all,” Jackie assured him. “In the first place, that park is the sort of place where no one would question seeing a homosexual, or even question it if he seems to have disappeared. As you saw, the opening would be impossible to find accidentally, and if it were found, no one would get beyond the first entrance. In any case, there is even another entrance. It opens from one of the sewers under Pennsylvania Avenue, and that can be reached from a nearby building. So you see, everything is taken care of.”
Mathews had to admit it was certainly a more complex organization than he had originally imagined. “Now what?” he asked, glancing around. They were alone in the office, and so far no one had approached them.
“Oh, you'll have to have a seat. You'll find a bar behind that folding screen over there, and there should be hot coffee also. I'll take this note in and let them get started on it.”
While Craig poured himself a cup of coffee, Jackie disappeared through another door. He returned a few minutes later and poured brandy for himself, taking a seat facing Craig.
“This must be quite an outfit,” Craig said after a moment of silence. “I didn't realize it was so big an operation.”
“Few people do,” Jackie said quietly. “In fact, few know of its existenceâbut that makes our work easier, so we don't mind.”
“But you're sort of a policeman for fag...for homosexuals, aren't you? How can you do any good for them if they don't know you exist? They can't very well report things to you.”
“Oh, they do, in various ways. There are people who know of us, in the first place. The leaders in the homophile movement, agents who work undercover in strategic jobsâsome of them with police departments. And there are the regular news media, that give us information on things happening around the world, particularly anything that appears to be organized and large scale.”
“So when any homosexual runs into a problem, you're there, is what you're saying?”
“Well, we can't of course be on hand for every crime involving a homosexual, nor would I want to be. Let's face it, many homosexuals go around constantly asking for trouble. If it were only their own lives involved, then it would be only their own personal business, but they make things worse for all of us. On the other hand, homosexuals are too often the innocent victims of unscrupulous people. That's were our interests lie. And I doubt that much goes on in the world of the homosexual that is not known to High Camp. Without trying to detail the sort of information kept on file, High Camp's records include full histories of some five million homosexuals throughout the world.”
Craig was impressed. “I would never have guessed there were that many.”
Jackie grinned and shrugged. “Those are only the known ones, although the fact that they're known to us doesn't mean they're notorious. Some of them are at the absolute top of the governmental levels.”
“Well, I must say your outfit is impressive. But tell me, where did it come from? How did it get started?”
“No one really knows for sure. Legend has it that the original founder of the organization was a man who was enormously wealthy and powerful in one of the Midwestern states. Among other things, he had managed to have a friend of his put in charge of the local state police. Both of them had lovers, the sweet young thing type.”
“One night the two younger ones, who both went to evening classes, were leaving the library after doing some studying together. The park surrounding the library was quite a hangout for rough trade, and the two were accosted by a gang of young punksâdirt, we call them. They got badly beaten, and robbed. As the story goes, their two older lovers were angry, and decided together to set up a vigilante team, to watch over that park. They kept a constant string of husky young homosexuals there, to clean it up.”
“I'd never thought of young homosexuals as being huskyâor guard material, for that matter.”
“They can be. These were,” Jackie said.
“But that still doesn't explain the name of your organization.”
“Ah, yes. Well, the ones who guarded that original park were said to be camping, because they all but lived there. Anyway, it worked well, and in short order the park was cleaned up.
“Meaning, it was made safe for fairies to cruise in,” Mathews said.
“It was made safe for anyone, gay or straight, who wanted to walk there. The entire city benefited from what these two men had done. Anyway, they decided they might be happier if they devoted themselves to that sort of thing in the future. The one had the money, the other was highly trained in police work. They approached a few more friends, experts in various fieldsâthe idea caught on like wildfireâand here we are now.”
Craig shook his head. It was an incredible story and yet, sitting here in this underground hideout, only yards away from the White House itself and yet undetected by the sharpest agents who watched the area, to say nothing of the local police, he couldn't help being impressed.
“And you?” Craig asked finally. “How did you get into this?”
“Oh, that's easy,” Jackie said with a reminiscent smile. “I had a crush on someone, my idol. He became the victim of a blackmailer, and finally took his life, after losing everything. When I was approached by C.A.M.P., I wasn't much more than a child, but I jumped at the chance to become an agent.”
A red light began blinking on and off over the door to the inner offices, cutting short Jackie's dissertation. “They've got something for me,” Jackie said, standing and heading for the door. “Be back in a minute.”
He was smiling triumphantly when he returned
“How are they doing with it?” Craig asked, without much hope.
“Oh, great,” Jackie said. “They've got it all translated for us.”
Craig was unable to believe what he had heard. “You mean they decoded that damned thing already? My boys worked on it for hours, without any luck at all.”
Jackie handed him a typed sheet, with the translated message.
“The assassination will take place as scheduled, on Friday,” Craig read aloud. He glanced up, his eyes worried. “This is big,” he said. “That much is obvious. But whose assassination?”
Jackie shrugged. “That's all there was to the note. But this is Monday alreadyâcheck that, Tuesday morning, and we're going to have to get busy if we're going to do anything to prevent it.”
“There's one place we can safely start,” Craig said, standing grimly. “That poodle parlor that the note came from. I think it's safe to say that's a front for the Butterfly operation.”
“What about all those warrants and things we'll need,” Jackie asked. “Of course, if I were working on my own, I wouldn't bother with them.”
“Neither will I,” Craig said. “I'll worry about protocol later, but for now I don't want those snakes to get away from us while we're being polite.”
Jackie led the way out of the underground hideout. In the first chamber inside, he used a periscope to assure that the coast was clear above before letting them out.
Minutes later, they were once again strolling through Lafayette Park.
* * * *
The poodle parlor was not far from Aunt Lily's home. It was dark, which was to be expected at this hour of night. Jackie and Craig looked over the front, and then circled around to the back that opened into an alley. This was darker and a less conspicuous place to enter than the street.
“We'll have to force the lock,” Mathews said as he tried the door stealthily.
“That might give anyone inside a warning of our approach, if there is anyone inside.” Jackie stooped down and examined the lock. It was not a particularly difficult one, quite simple in fact in design.
He removed a small mechanism from his pocket, a collection of wires of varied sizes, twisted in various shapes. He tried first one, and then another of the “picks”. There was a telltale click, and the door opened for him.
Mathews said nothing, but as he led the way into the dark interior, he was making some revision to his opinion regarding the small, blond agent with him. Queer or not, Jackie was one hell of a sharp operator. Craig was beginning to feel that Jackie was the one person he would most like to have about in a pinch.
Mathews drew a gun from his shoulder holster. Jackie, he noticed, was not armed, and Craig discreetly led the way down a short, dark hallway. They paused when they reached the door at the end. The room beyond could be empty and harmlessâor they could be walking into a hornet's nest.
Jackie tapped Craig's shoulder and gave him a “let me” gesture. Craig was dubious, but at Jackie's insistent nod, he stepped aside. With one hand, Jackie quietly but quickly twisted the knob and shoved the door open a few inches. With the other, he tossed something inside. A second later there was a quick puff of smoke and a flash of light. Jackie closed the door quickly and grinned at Craig's puzzled face.
“Harmless, but effective in putting anyone to sleep,” he explained. “If there was anyone inside, they won't give us any trouble now.”
They waited a moment longer before Jackie nodded that it was safe now for them to go inside. “The gas dissipates rapidly,” he said, opening the door.
Their caution, however, had not been necessary. There was no one inside the room, nor in the main shop beyond it. What's more, it was evident that whoever might have been here earlier in the day was gone and would not be coming back. The place had been stripped bare.
“They must have realized that they mixed up the dogs,” Craig said, looking around in disappointment. “They bolted.”
Jackie said nothing, although he too was disappointed. He had hoped to be in on a rare arrest of Butterfly personnel. There was still another problem to be considered, however, beyond their individual chagrin.
Someone was going to be assassinated. They didn't know who, or when, or how, only that it was going to happen. And without a lead to go on, it was unlikely they could do anything to prevent it.
* * * *
It was not much before dawn by the time Craig dropped Jackie off at Aunt Lily's home in one of the older sections of the city. Mathews was obviously tired and disappointed by the evening's outcome. Jackie too was sorry that their efforts had not been more successful. Unlike Mathews, however, he was not yet showing any signs of weariness. As an agent for C.A.M.P., he was accustomed to keeping long and irregular hours. If need be, he could easily continue on at full steam for another day, or longer.
The house was dark except for a light at the front door, and another one shining dimly in the front hall. Jackie removed his shoes and carried them as he went up the gracefully curved stairway, searching his memory for the location of Honey's room. He remembered, and found it without any difficulty.
Honey was sleeping soundly, as he had expected. His bed was an elaborate, canopied affair, feminine and luxurious. In the midst of the silk sheets and brocaded coverlets, Honey had kicked the coverings from his body and was curled up invitingly. In the moonlight that filtered through the window, his gamin-like body gleamed with alabaster whiteness. He wore a pair of very scant briefs that appeared to be silk also, and, so far as Jackie could tell in the light, were pink, or maybe pale lavender.
There was nothing feminine, however, about the enormous bulge that lifted the front of the briefs ceilingward, even in its relaxed stage. Jackie eyed the tempting outline hungrily, but courtesy held him in check. It would be thoughtless to awaken Honey at this hour, when such matters could wait until morning.