top of page

River's Get Away

Through the crowd of the first gay bar River has ever entered, the teeth of the man’s glare sank deep into the River’s psyche. Venomous, wormlike tendrils of doubt slithered through River’s mind. Leslie “River” Riverton truly earned his nickname when he was six. Not because there are five generations of Leslie Riverton’s with that nickname. Not a shortening of his last name. No, his nickname referenced his ability to slip into and out of any situation, good or bad.

When River saw the man in the well-fitting light gray suit, he instinctively knew to fear him. This fully dressed man strolled through a crowd of half-naked dancing men. However, that is not why he stood out to River, yes this man would be noticeable in a crowded stadium. River had to admit the man wore the Armani suit well. The man stepped to the beat of the repetitive thumping music, the sleek silvery garb caressing his muscular form with every purposeful step. Once close enough, the man’s piercing winter-blue eyes raked over River and told River all he needed to know.

This was his father’s doing. Leslie Sr, had decided River’s fun time was over. Daddy couldn’t have his gay son embarrass him. God forbid some paparazzi should take a photo of me grinding on some pretty twink. So, he sends someone he thinks I can never resist. Eye candy for his little homo son. Well, not this time. I’m eighteen now, and it’s New year’s, and I plan to bring in the 80s as an adult. So, fuck him.

Bravado aside, River knew the silver tongue he inherited from his politician father would not stop this buff bodyguard from forcefully taking him home this time. So, I’ll need to be radical. When the bald, olive-skinned bodyguard gripped River’s arm and squeezed—not too tight, just tight enough, so River got the message—River tried to pull away.

“I’m not leaving,” River yelled over the music.

“You’re coming with me, Mr. Riverton,” the bodyguard yelled.

River leaned in and kissed the bodyguard on the lips. Thrusting his agile tongue deep into the man’s mouth with surprising ease. Momentarily startled, the bodyguard loosened his grip just enough for River to slip free. Living up to his name, River flowed into and through the crowd like mountain snowmelt seeking lower ground, disappearing into the swell of gyrating male bodies. Before the bodyguard could recover, the gyrating group of club kids merged and started chanting in unison: 5…4…3…2…Happy New Year. An explosion of glitter and confetti fell into the crowd, and the pound of the thumping beat ratcheted up. The crowd cheered and started dancing harder and faster, enjoying the festivities. Before the bodyguard could catch him, River ran outside. He was lucky a taxi pulled up to pick up a fare.

“Were to, hun?” The driver, a black woman with a ‘hurry time is money’ look, said.
“Take me to the Eagle,” River asked as they pulled away.

“Wait, that’s down at the docks; that’s a no-go for me, hun, sorry. I’ll take you to Summer and Waters streets.”
River said, “What? That’s like a mile away.” He heard someone yell that it was my taxi
and turned to look. The handsome bodyguard stood behind another man at the club entrance, watching as the cab drove away.

The Eagle wasn’t his go-to club. First off, it was more a bar than a nightclub. Second River always felt skeezy afterward. And I always need to shower several times to banish the ashtray smell. He settled at the end of the bar. On a stool as far away from the door as he could. Even though River wouldn’t let his father control his actions, he had no desire to be seen here. Burley, barely dressed, men strolled through the bar. Leather chaps and thongs strategically covered their unmentionable areas. River idly wondered if they traveled here like that or changed in their cars or the bathroom. Regardless, River felt safe for the time being. Father would never believe that I’d come here.

River stiffened when a firm hand rested on his shoulder and squeezed. A soothing voice cooed in his ear, “Why did you run? After a kiss like that, I thought you would at least take me out to dinner.”

River spun on the bar seat to glare at the bodyguard. “What are you doing here?”

He said, “You didn’t think I would find you. Hmm, I thought you smarter than that,” and smiled.

River found that smile both genuinely inviting and no-nonsense granite. The inviting quality weakened River’s resolve, the no-nonsense granite making River want to run again. But he had to admit that the desire to run had nothing to do with his father. This man is dangerous in so many ways.

The bartender, a tall African American drag queen wearing a red leather catsuit and matching fire red bouffant wig, said, “Your usual club soda, Matty. Maybe a Shirley Temple for your friend.”  

The bodyguard, Matty, gave River another one of his beautiful smiles and said, “You’re lucky Shirley Temple means something totally different here. Your dad won’t approve. This is our secret.” Matty gave the bar a quick once over: not a casual look but targeted like he expected an enemy in every corner. He continued, “I’ve been watching you for six months. Didn’t you wonder why Mr. Riverton let you roam?” He chuckled. “You thought you were clever. No, I’ve been watching, taking notes, and reporting to him. Not everything, of course, just the important bits.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “Not all the holes you slip into.” Matty looked around, assessing the clientele, “your father would have several coronaries if he knew about this place.”

“Here you go, Matty.” The bartender sat a sweating glass of club soda before Matty, “chilled, and here is your Shirley temple, and, word to the wise, sip. Drink that too fast, and Matty will need to carry you out of here. Although no one here would complain if he sheds his shirt and flexes those beautiful muscles.” To River’s surprised look, she smiled conspiratorially and said, “Honey, it wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Beautiful GuGu bean, always full of compliments; one day, you’ll win my heart. Keep trying.”
Pointing at River, she said, “I doubt that. I see how you look at this one.”

Incensed, River snapped, “He’s just my bodyguard, thank you.”

“Uh-huh, like workplace romance ain’t a thing. Why not lay claim to this magnificent piece of man if he’s offering?” She sauntered away to serve another customer.

River glared at his bodyguard. “Matty?”

“Matthan Elpidius Price. It’s nice to meet you finally. My orders are to stay out of sight, but they forced my hand tonight.”

“What’s that mean? It’s New Year’s. I was having fun,” River said, insulted.

Matty said, “and trouble found you. I let you have fun, but my job is keeping you safe.”

“What trouble? How was I not safe? Was the dance floor too crowded?” River asked sarcastically.
“Something like that,” Matty replied, casually looking around the bar again.

“What are you talking about?"

Matty stiffened, the jovial tone in his voice gone when he said, “River, I want you to do what you do best. Slip away, and I will meet you.”

GuGu was back. She took River by the hand and said, “baby, why don’t you escort me to the back? Matty honey, you got this?”

Matty responded stiffly, “yes.”

River asked, “Got what?”

“Don’t worry. Matthan Price knows what he’s doing. Leave him to it.” She came from behind the bar. Smiling down at him, she put her arm through his as he stood. Then guided him toward a nondescript door in the back. Once through, the din of the outer bar muted, she said, “that man that Matty saw, he’s been following you for goin’ on two months now. The only reason you haven’t noticed is we’ve been running interference. Matty believes the plans that man has for you are terrible, hun. You know, the kind that you might not survive.” She pushed him through another door that opened onto an alley where a black limo waited.

This is a setup, River thought; that car was waiting for us. River remembered his father’s warnings. People with money needed to be careful, even wealthy African Americans like them. More so than others because Leslie Sr. had made lots of enemies. But he got into the limo, anyway. River was relieved to see his usual driver, Kevin, at the wheel. Small comforts. 

GuGu leaned in at Kevin’s window and said, “Take him to Matty’s place. They won’t find him there.”
Before they could leave, Matty burst through the bar’s back door. He grabbed GuGu’s arm, opened the limo door, and pushed her. The two of them hopped in beside River. “Go, Kevin, go!”

Kevin hit the gas, the tires squealed, and the car lurched forward. Behind them, the bar’s back door opened again. Three men rushed into the alley. Matty yelled, “get down!”

Bullets hit the back window, but the glass held. Matty took River’s hand and caressed River’s cheek with the other, “are you ok?”

Stunned, he said, “yes.”

Kevin said from the front seat, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, Matty. I took your advice and replaced the windows. Bulletproof glass: Nice, huh?”


bottom of page