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.
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?