EXCERPT: influential



from Chapter One


It was not the way Nathan pre­ferred to start his day.

Orlan­do Bloom wear­ing SPEEDOs and serv­ing him break­fast in bed. The boy smiled warm­ly as he imag­ined steamy hot­cakes served flaw­less­ly. Unfor­tu­nate­ly that sort of thing hap­pened only rarely.

Okay: nev­er. But he could dream.

Nathan hard­ly ever put being in a car wreck on his To Do list. Even if he list­ed it, it would nev­er be marked a “must do today” item.

Some jet-pow­ered bull­doz­er or kamikaze SUV had run a red light and plowed into the right front cor­ner of his car. The impact was so fierce that Nathan won­dered if he had missed stop­ping at a train cross­ing. He went through that inter­sec­tion every day, and he nev­er saw a train track. May­be some­body laid the tracks overnight.

Nathan wasn’t com­plete­ly sure what had hap­pened. He guessed it was seri­ous. It was closer to a train wreck than a flea bite, on a scale of one-to-ten.

Every­thing was mov­ing in slow motion, or may­be his brain was work­ing so fast it just seemed like every­thing else has slowed.

The airbag was lick­i­ty-split, explod­ing at the exact same time the oth­er car hit him. Nathan decid­ed his airbag and the what­ev­er-it-was-that-hit-him were in cahoots.

Thwapt,” went the airbag, as it knocked Nathan hard into the back of the seat. It was a secret pact that Gen­er­al Motors had made to wreck the car just as it was almost paid-off.

Damn, those things have baby pow­der in them,” he said as his car spun around in a com­plete cir­cle.

Tax audit,” Nathan said aloud as he made a quick list of things he would have pre­ferred over hav­ing his car turned into a lazy-susan.

Root canal,” he said as his car spun around again. The spin­ning car seemed like it was involved in a kind of bal­let.

After the car stopped mov­ing, he could still hear the clanks of met­al as var­i­ous car parts came to their respec­tive rest­ing places. One of the clanks was more of a thud, and Nathan was won­der­ing if he could guess what body-part-turned-pro­jec­tile would make such a noise.

Where’s Orlan­do when you real­ly need him?” Nathan thought.

Pow­der from the airbag was every­where. It was all over him and the car, or what was left of the car. Nathan decid­ed that his next car should be an 18-wheel­er or tank.

You okay, son?” came a voice through the space once occu­pied by the wind­shield of his car. It was a famil­iar-sound­ing voice, but Nathan had some kind of vague thing going on that the voice was the sound of evil.

The voice used the word “son.” If the voice was real­ly his father, Nathan reck­oned the acci­dent was fatal. Nathan’s father had been dead for a num­ber of years.


If he was hear­ing his father, then he must be dead. He briefly looked around for some white light to fol­low.

Let’s get some help over here,” shout­ed the voice that was imper­son­at­ing Nathan’s father.

In an instant, Nathan was sur­round­ed by flash­ing lights and men in uni­form. He had hoped to see white light and a tun­nel, not blink­ing stuff.

Okay, great,” Nathan laughed. “I’ve been trans­port­ed to a war zone.” He assumed there’d be cute guys in uni­forms in the group gath­er­ing around his wrecked car. Could be a divi­sion of mari­nes wear­ing sparkling shoes and shiny met­al things on their col­lars, he thought. The blink­ing lights made him think he had run smack into a Las Veg­as casi­no trans­port­ed to Tex­as. May­be it was some kind of LSD-flash­back even though he had nev­er done drugs.

Nathan start­ed pulling at his seat­belt.

No, no, sir,” a wom­an said. “We’ll take care of you. Let us get you out of the car.” The wom­an tried to open the driver’s side door. When the door wouldn’t open because of the crash, she yanked it. The door snapped off as though it were a crack­er.

I asked for Orlan­do,” Nathan said, “and get Brun­hilda.”

Just stay there,” she said, reach­ing into the car and attach­ing a tall plas­tic brace around his neck. “You’ll be fine. I’m good at this.”

I’m okay, Xena. Real­ly,” Nathan protest­ed as he turned to get out of the car.

Son, we’ll get you to a hos­pi­tal,” said the famil­iar voice. This time Nathan could see the man.

Daniel Moore was the gov­er­nor of Tex­as: Repub­li­can, self-styled con­ser­v­a­tive but actu­al­ly far to the right of being con­ser­v­a­tive. Gov. Moore was the clean-cut pro­duct of a law school in Dal­las. Dur­ing his stint as gov­er­nor, he made sure cor­po­ra­tions and rich donors were tak­en care of by the state, even if it meant that there weren’t enough funds to spend on pot­holes and rick­ety bridges.

Gov. Moore was pop­u­lar with the Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion and all the tel­e­van­ge­lists. He want­ed gay men like Nathan to go away, or at least be forced to sit in the back of the bus.

This is just ducky,” thought Nathan. “I can’t wait to tell mom. She’ll burst a gas­ket.”

Son,” said the gov­er­nor is his thick Tex­as twang, “we will get you to the hos­pi­tal pron­to.”

Nathan saw that the area was full of state troop­ers and med­ical per­son­nel. He made a note that gov­er­nors get faster ser­vice from the police than reg­u­lar folks, and that Nathan should devise a plan to become gov­er­nor in case he ever was in anoth­er car wreck or had a heart attack or some­thing.

This was not your fault, son,” said the gov­er­nor.

I’m not your son, gov­er­nor,” Nathan said, won­der­ing if the gov­er­nor was in the con­spir­a­cy between his airbag and the car that hit him.

The gov­er­nor laughed. Nathan squint­ed his eyes in the governor’s direc­tion.

We’re going to get you to the hos­pi­tal, and we are going to take care of git­tin’ your car fixed.”

I don’t need a hos­pi­tal, but I will need to be git­tin’ a car,” Nathan said, mock­ing the governor’s accent, as he tried to wipe some of the airbag pow­der from his lips. He saw blink­ing strobe lights on the car that was par­tial­ly impaled on his engine.

Oh great,” thought Nathan, “I was struck by a police car. Had to be pre­med­i­tat­ed.”

You got hit pret­ty hard,” said the Ama­zo­ni­an wom­an who hand pulled the door off his car sin­gle-hand­ed­ly. She was squat­ting beside Nathan. “Some­times head injuries don’t feel seri­ous at first.”

Nathan put up a hand in the “talk-to-the-hand” ges­ture he liked to use.

May­be I wasn’t clear,” Nathan said, “I am not going to the hos­pi­tal.”


Talk to the hand,” Nathan said, “and leave a mes­sage on my wrist. I am already late for work, and I don’t want to get fired.”

I don’t want to get fired, either,” said the wom­an. “If you get sick this after­noon, they’re going to come look­ing for me.”

I’ll call your boss and explain what hap­pened,” said Gov. Moore.

Yeah, okay,” said Nathan. “Thanks.”

It is the least I can do,” the gov­er­nor not­ed. Nathan want­ed to say that the gov­er­nor real­ly ought to resign from office over this, but he fig­ured Gov­er­nor Dufus would just smile and go on like he didn’t hear or under­stand.

This is Troop­er… Troop­er Miller,” said the gov­er­nor as he read the nametag on the shirt of a buff young man near the car. The gov­er­nor didn’t even care enough to know the names of the peo­ple on his pro­tec­tion detail.


 Brun­hilda, the para­medic, stayed in place. She was not going to let the troop­er near her patient. She saw Nathan first and got… got… what­ev­er it is that para­medics get.

State troop­er Justin Miller was wear­ing a steel-gray uni­form that looked like it was all starch and creas­es. Nathan made a note that he would nev­er like being a state troop­er, until they came up with a uni­form that was more com­fort­able and used less starch. He also not­ed that the troop­er was very pleas­ant on his eyes.

Okay, so you’re Orlando’s dunt-stub­ble,” Nathan said aloud. “I mean stunt-dou­ble.” His head was swim­ming from the wreck and the dust and the strobe lights. Nobody under­stood the remark about Orlan­do, of course, unless the airbag or the gov­er­nor had bugged car, which Nathan felt was a pos­si­bil­i­ty.

Nathan start­ed to get out of the car, and the troop­er leaned in to help.

Ah, hah,” Nathan thought, “my day is final­ly improv­ing.” As soon as Nathan got his legs out of the car, the troop­er put his arms under each arm and helped Nathan stand. Nathan was very pleased at the ten­der han­dling from such a good look­ing man.

The moment the troop­er let go, Nathan went down to the ground as though his legs were made of over­cooked pas­ta. The next thing Nathan remem­bered was being sprawled out on the asphalt. His legs weren’t work­ing as well as he thought. The troop­er was now cov­ered in airbag pow­der.

Sor­ry about the mess, troop­er,” Nathan said. “Could you give me a hand to stand back up?”

Stretcher!” hollered the para­medic, turn­ing to go to the ambu­lance that was parked a few feet away, blink­ing fever­ish­ly with white and red strobe lights, like the inside of a dance club.

Lis­ten, Won­der Wom­an, I don’t need a stretcher,” Nathan said. “and I’m not going to any hos­pi­tal. But if some­body could give me a ride home to clean up, I would appre­ci­ate it great­ly.”

The gov­er­nor asked Troop­er Studly to be Nathan’s chauf­fer and body­guard for the trip home. Nathan stood up on his own and caused a cloud of dust to land on the governor’s suit as he brushed away the airbag debris.

Man, I am so sor­ry about your uni­form,” Nathan said to the troop­er, ignor­ing the cloud of dust head­ing toward the gov­er­nor. He wasn’t real­ly sor­ry about the governor’s suit.

Not a prob­lem, Mr. Nilsson,” said the troop­er in a calm and offi­cial tone. There’s one thing almost all Tex­as state troop­ers have: good man­ners. Even when they are arrest­ing you, they call you sir. They rarely sound loud or tough.

As Troop­er Studly helped Nathan to an await­ing black-and-white car with flash­ing strobe lights, he remem­bered some­thing.

Wait,” Nathan said. “You called me Mr. Nilsson. How’d you know that? You frisk me and pull out my wal­let when I was uncon­scious?”

No, sir,” said the troop­er.

Not that frisk­ing me would be a prob­lem, of course,” Nathan added, “but I’d rather be awake so I’ll remem­ber it and may­be enjoy it. And I usu­al­ly get din­ner and drinks first.”

Troop­er Miller didn’t react at all: noth­ing pos­i­tive, noth­ing neg­a­tive, no scorn, noth­ing.

License plate on your car,” the troop­er said. “I looked it up in the com­put­er in my car.”

I’m assum­ing you know my address, too?” Nathan asked.

Yes, sir,” the troop­er said in a pol­ished and pro­fes­sion­al man­ner. Troop­ers in Tex­as are almost as unflap­pable as the guards in front of the queen’s palace in Lon­don. You can jump up and down in front of them, but they will usu­al­ly remain pro­fes­sion­al and calm.

You got some plas­tic that I can sit on?” Nathan asked. “Your car’s clean, and I’m real­ly a mess.”

It’s fine, sir,” said the troop­er. “Now, if you will tell me where you work, I will get anoth­er troop­er to con­tact them so the gov­er­nor can speak with your boss.”

Nathan told the troop­er about John­son and Elm, his employ­er.

It’s on Sag­itaw Street, but I don’t remem­ber the phone num­ber.”

Not a prob­lem, sir. We can look it up,” said the troop­er. “I will be back in just a sec.”

Troop­er?” Nathan hollered out the win­dow.

Yes, sir,” the troop­er said look­ing back.

Please don’t call me ‘sir.’ Nathan is my name, and it’s the only word you need to use.”

Yes, sir,” said Troop­er Studly with a grin as he walked back over to the oth­er troop­ers hud­dled around the gov­er­nor. Nathan admired the trooper’s well-defined body as the troop­er went to talk over things with his bud­dies. Nathan won­dered if it is a mis­de­meanor or felony to admire the butt of a state troop­er.

The endor­phins in Nathan’s body were begin­ning to wear off. He felt pain in a shoul­der for the first time since the wreck. His head felt like it had been hit by a ham­mer. Nathan tried to guess why they would put some­thing like an airbag into a car, when it did more dam­age to his head than the acci­dent.

Nathan looked out the win­dow of the trooper’s car and saw the car­nage. His poor car was a mess. It was obvi­ous that the governor’s entourage was at fault. The lead car had sped through a light and hit Nathan’s car at the right front wheel. The wheel was now firm­ly implant­ed in the engine. He knew there wasn’t enough spare room under the hood for an extra wheel, so the engine cav­i­ty itself must be a mess.

The fire depart­ment was look­ing around to see if the wrecked cars leaked any­thing flam­ma­ble or tox­ic. It was all very offi­cial and effi­cient. The fire fight­ers had done this kind of thing before, which made Nathan think the gov­er­nor must hit quite a few peo­ple.

The airbag was hang­ing from the steer­ing wheel like a limp wrist. Nathan stuck his hand out the win­dow of the trooper’s car and gave the airbag a limp wrist in return. “¡Hola!” said Nathan to the airbag.

Wreck­ers were already crowd­ing the scene of the may­hem, and one was load­ing the state car that had hit him. “Fine,” Nathan said soft­ly, “pref­er­en­tial treat­ment for the state prop­er­ty.”

Police were walk­ing around tak­ing notes. Tele­vi­sion crews were walk­ing around tak­ing pic­tures. One tele­vi­sion van with a satel­lite dish on its roof was send­ing live pic­tures to the city.

Nathan hoped that if a net­work picked up the sto­ry, it would be CNN because he would nev­er asso­ciate with peo­ple who watched Fox. Nathan had his stan­dards. He imag­ined get­ting invi­ta­tions to be on Let­ter­man or may­be the Dai­ly Show on Com­e­dy Cen­tral. There could even be book deals or a made-for-TV movie.

I know pret­ty-much where you live,” said Troop­er Studly as he got behind the wheel of the car, bring­ing Nathan out of his fan­tasies and over-active imag­i­na­tion.

Ready?” the troop­er asked, turn­ing to see Nathan sit­ting in the back seat of the car.

Nathan felt him­self melt­ing at the thought of being ‘ready’ for the troop­er. All he could see were two bed­room eyes in the rear-view mir­ror.

Ready,” said Nathan, as the troop­er put on his avi­a­tor-style sun­glass­es.

The troop­er seemed to know exact­ly where to turn to get to Nathan’s apart­ment. That would be too weird, though. Nathan’s apart­ment was on a short and obscure street in the gay area of Dal­las. What’s a troop­er on guard detail for the gov­er­nor know­ing so much about Oak Lawn?



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