Panther

by Joe

graflz127@msn.com

I FELT A TINY SMILE

Things are seldom what they seem, and steel masquerades as tin

(Apologies to W.S. Gilbert)

I nearly killed a man for Mike; actually, I considered it.

I’ve known Mike forever. Well, since grade school anyway. We graduated from high school a year ago.

Mike is beautiful. Well, maybe his nose is just a trifle large and maybe his chin is just a little small, and maybe his face is kinda long. But his eyes are a rich deep brown, and they sparkle with flecks of gold. When he smiles, it lights-up the world. His hair is just absolute black and gleams. He keeps it kinda short on the sides, but longer on top, and it lies over to one side. It’s fine and silken. He doesn’t bother with a comb. He just brushes it. He doesn’t put anything on it. He should let it grow longer.

Mike thought he was a bad ass. Lots of others thought that too. He looked it, I suppose, but he was always beautiful to me. He used to wear a black leather jacket, 501 Levis, a sport shirt, and black boots. He swaggered well. He liked to pretend he smoked. He usually had a pack of Lucky Strikes on display in a shirt pocket or rolled-up in his t-shirt sleeve; but it took him a couple weeks to burn them up.

When we were sophomores, for some reason, Mike shoved me into some lockers in the hall at school and tried to start a fight.

“Get outta the way, fuckhead,” he snarled, all bad and shit, and shoved me aside. My books went flying, but I quickly regained my footing. I wasn’t too worried. I think I understood something even then. Anyway, there wasn’t much that could happen. We were in the hallway between periods, there were a jillion kids in the hall, and someone had already yelled, “Fight!” We sparred, shoved, and bounced around for maybe twenty seconds before Mr. Vorhees materialized, grabbed us both, and marched us down to the Vice Principal’s Office.

Like I said, I’ve known Mike since grade school; I’d thought he was beautiful since first he came into my dreams and I jacked-off thinking about him. He didn’t know that of course. For that matter, all I knew was that I liked him. I didn’t know there was more to it than that. We’d never done much except nod to each other as we passed in the hall, if even that. And then there was the thing in the hallway which really wasn’t a fight.

In those days, it seemed like every other one of General Eisenhower’s soldiers had come home from the war, gone to college on the G.I. Bill, and then become a teacher. This was true of Mr. Vorhees, and it was true of the Vice Principal, Mr. Titus. Mr. Titus gave us quiet hell for a few moments, we were there after all, so we must be guilty of something; finally, he asked what happened. Mike just looked at the floor like he figured that’s what a bad ass would do, glower at the floor all sullen and pouty. This didn’t strike me as very “bad.” In fact, in my opinion, he’s really cute when he pouts. But then, what the fuck? I think he’s always cute so what do I know about it?

“It was a accident, Mister Titus,” I volunteered. Mike may think it’s neat to get suspended, but I was thinking I’d better fight for detention. I could probably keep that pretty quiet, but my folks’d raise holy hell if I end-up suspended. “I wasn’t payin’ attention and ran into him. Sir. I think he thought it was me tryin’ to start a fight. But I really wasn’t. It was a accident.” Pretty much innocent goodie-goodie shit.

Mike looked up at me and you could see he was surprised.

Mr. Titus just looked at me. He looked at me for the longest time.

An accident not ‘a accident.’” He said, “Use an when the next word starts with a vowel, or the aspirate h.”

“Yessir,” I nodded eagerly though I’d no idea in the world what an ‘aspirate h’ might be.

“That’s just so much bullshit,” he said quietly and smiled. He looked at the two of us for another long moment. “Okay,” he continued, “this time I’m only going to give you each a week’s detention. But you better know that if I see either of you again for fighting, there’ll be some suspension in it for you. Agreed?”

“Yessir,” I’m relieved and was already starting to work out what to tell my parents about being on detention for a week, without, of course, mentioning anything about being on detention.

But Mike hadn’t said anything yet, and Mr. Titus was clearly waiting. I shifted my foot over real casual so that my upper body didn’t reflect the movement and tapped Mike’s ankle with my toe. He jerked up like he was surprised, or something, and says, “Yeah. Yessir. Thanks.”

“Okay, you two are out of here. And don’t come back.” We escaped into the outer office where the secretary gave us tardy slips and we returned to our classes.

After school, I started home in the normal manner. Our detention wouldn’t start until next Monday. Mike was waiting at the sidewalk and he was looking right at me. Then he looked down, then up the street, then back at me.

“Thanks,” he muttered still looking up the street, “that was pretty cool.” He looked back at me kinda sideways and his face lit-up with a smile.

Remember what I said about his smile?

“Let’s go getta coke,” I offered, trying to be all cool and not show how happy I was. I was taking this as an apology, a peace offering. I returned his smile thinking I’d better seize the moment. I already liked him, so I really wanted to get to know him better.

By the end of our week of detention, we were really close. Not as close as I’d like. What I’d like is us naked in bed. But this was way better than what I had before. To be sure, I wasn’t at all sure what we might do naked in bed; but it had to be great.

As the school year progressed, he’d eat dinner at my house two or three times a week and he frequently spent the night. I loved and hated it when he spent the night: I loved to be with him, but I wanted more and I didn’t know how to do it. He even had extra clothes at my house. Things weren’t good for him at home. His dad was often “stove up” with an unknown injury. My Mom liked Mike and she treated him as a second son. He quit carrying the Lucky Strikes around and only smoked when somebody offered him one and he thought he had to do it to look bad, like down at the pool hall, or out and about on Friday night.

Our friendship might have seemed odd to others. Mike had his rep, and he did his best to live up to it. I, on the other hand, was perceived as quiet and shy; I got good grades; mostly my teachers liked me; sometimes I even listened to my folks: I had no use for the pool hall, could care less about the game, seldom went there, and never without Mike; I didn’t have a leather jacket; I never smoked; I thought beer tasted like what piss must.

During the summer vacation, we got jobs together on two different ranches. Just short, temporary jobs, mostly bucking bales and stuff like that. One night, the foreman had left us a six pack of beer. Mike wouldn’t touch it and that’s when he told me what an asshole his dad was. “Fuckin’ drunk,” he called his dad. He went on to tell how “that fuckin’ asshole” had beaten-up on his mom until she gave up and ran away. The only thing Mike now knew of his mother was the picture he had of her. I poured the beer down the sink, but carefully left the cans crushed at the top of the trashcan so they’d think we drank them. We needed to look bad for Mike. A lot of looking bad may just be illusion, but Mike needed it.

When we were juniors, Mike suggested that we join the swim team at school. This was not difficult. Our school, like our town, was small, and we didn’t even have a pool at school. So we used the municipal pool across the street. Our coach just went through the motions. He never really gave a shit. He was built like a fireplug and almost as smart. He’d come over to the pool with us, get the practice started, and then leave. Three of us were part time lifeguards, so lots of times, one of us would have been in charge of the pool when it was open to the public. The pool was open only to the team during practice. There were only six of us.

I really liked to swim a lot. I didn’t know that Mike liked it too. I’m one of the certified lifeguards on the team. But I wouldn’t bother with this Mickey Mouse swim team if it weren’t for Mike. Watching Mike take a shower was a treat and there’d only be the two of us. Mike and I took a long shower after each practice. The other four were in and out and that’s just fine by me because they were only in the way.

In those days, Mike and I were pretty much alike. My hair was light brown and, like I said, his was coal black: my eyes are still hazel and his are a rich brown; my nipples are smaller than his. Which, I know, isn’t a lot alike. But we were both slender and wiry with “innie” belly buttons. We were both almost six feet tall and we both weighed in at 135 pounds. There was one of those fancy scales with weights and a balance arm and we’d weigh each other after every practice. I thought this was a great excuse to stay naked longer. When I’d weigh him, I’d fiddle with the weights, but I was really admiring him more than reading the scale. We had very little hair on our bodies. He looked hairier than me because his hair was darker. We had little tufts in our pits and a sparse triangle of pubic hair above our sex. We swam regularly and we worked hard during the summer. We were about the same size down there. I would have liked to measure Mike’s, but that had to wait.

You know those Greek and Italian sculptors that did those great statues of naked men? The ones in all the art books? Well, if they’d ever seen Mike in the shower, they wouldn’t be so interested in David or Zeus or any of those guys. They’d want to do Mike. First off, he’d back into the shower, so he’d present his cock to full and unobstructed view. He’d sorta lean back into the water and usually had his arms up giving the impression of massaging his own shoulders and stretching at the same time. This accented the definition of his chest. His eyes were closed. When he’d lean like this, you could really see the curve of his butt. He was stunning.

The water streamed down, around and off him. It would wet down his pubic hair and made his triangle sharp and distinct, which accented the way his dick would lay over his balls all kinda relaxed but still somehow ready. The warmth of the shower made his balls hang lower, one a little bit above the other but both clearly outlined in their silken flesh. My eyes would sweep over his elegant legs. Slender and defined. God he was beautiful.

I liked to pretend my eyes were closed and admire him through my eyelashes. Sometimes it seemed his cock was a little larger than normal. I twitched at the thought of seeing his boner. But I’m chickenshit so I’d tell mine to be quiet. I’d close my eyes to help my cock settle down. When we were almost done, Mike would turn off his shower. Next we’d be drying off and I’d see him moving the towel over his body. The best part of this was when he put his towel over his back and pulled it from side to side. He really gets into this and his motion made him sway enticingly. Enticing. What a great word. It sounds like it must taste great.

We double dated to the Junior Prom. I did most of the small talk for us, and we both relaxed after we got rid of the girls. We rode around for a while in my Dad’s Buick and then went home to my house. Mike drove. We were very comfortable with each other. Quiet. No need to talk or anything. I hoped maybe we’d park like other couples get to do; but we were not really like other couples.

Our senior year was pretty much a repeat, except that we had to swagger more because we were almost through. Mr. Titus caught me in the hall one day and congratulated me; he said he was glad we’d not been back in his office. It seemed perfectly natural the way he spoke of Mike and me as if we were a pair.

We had both registered for the draft so, of course, I began to worry about it. There actually was one in those days and kids got called-up. Even Elvis Presley got drafted.

“Gary! Gary! I got us a great job,” Mike announced. This was just before graduation. It seemed that old man Dettweiller liked us and had offered us a job for the summer and fall. We’d be running the old Henderson Ranch for him. We’d be doing all of the haying and the regular work: irrigating, fence repair, some herding. It would last until November. I agreed in a flash. We’d be a hundred miles from town, alone, together. I didn’t even ask how much we’d be paid and forgot about the draft.

We’d bucked bales for Mr. Dettweiller on this same ranch last summer. The original ranch house had burned down years ago and had been replaced by a big trailer, which was now old and the so-called bunkhouse. The shower could barely manage a trickle, so we’d swim in the river after work. We swam naked and looked at each other. I mean we really looked at each other. I hoped that something would happen, but nothing did. Why am I such a chickenshit? We’ve been practically inseparable for three years. But what if he refused. What if I lost everything?

Mr. Dettweiller dropped us off with a huge load of groceries. He told us what needed to be done and said he’d be back in a week to check on us. There was an old Studebaker pick-up and four saddle horses for us to use. There was no phone.

We put all of our groceries away. It was a beautiful day.

“Come on,” Mike said, “let’s go swimming. We’ll start work tomorrow.” He was already shucking his clothes, so I started stripping too, and we went down to the river and plunged in.

It was cool and refreshing and Mike was naked and beautiful. We climbed out and stood on this boulder by the side of the river. This boulder is the perfect size for lying on and we used it for that a lot last summer. I stood and stretched and flexed in the warmth of the sun, eyes shut, enjoying the breeze and the trickles of water on my naked body. Then I felt Mike’s fingers tips tracing over my cheek and he fondled my ear. My eyes flew open and I looked into his eyes, into the deep of his soul. Now I knew for sure that I have never not loved him. His hand slipped down onto my neck and shoulder and he gently pressed and petted me. I put one hand on his waist. The blood was surging through me.

Okay. Well. So much for chickenshit! I pulled him into me and stepped into his kiss. It was like electric only magic. It took my breath away. His tongue was pressing and stabbing and daring me. I responded with my tongue and the feel of his mouth was deep and promising. I hugged him to me and ran one hand down and over his glorious butt. It was wet and smooth and silky. I loved the feel of the crack of his butt as I ran my fingers through it. My hand ran up and down his spine. Every part of him was sexy. I felt his boner straining against mine. I decided to look at him later, after all, I’d seen it all; just then, the feeling of all the rest of him was just too great.

He broke our kiss; he started kissing and licking along my throat. He moved steadily lower. He kissed one of my nipples, sucking and swirling his tongue. I almost collapsed with the power of his kiss. I did sag a little, and Mike started to settle me down onto the rock. We were flowing together and rubbing our vibrant cocks against each other. We kissed some more. I had both hands on his butt, squeezing and trying to pull him into me. We rubbed against each other, our stomachs, our thighs. We were wet and silky against each other, warm from the sun and hot from within.

His incredible mouth started lower again. This was what heaven must be all about. I felt his fingers rolling my balls around. He was on his knees now, between my legs. He had me on my back on the rock, and was rubbing my dick with his cheek. First one cheek, then a lick or two, and then the other cheek. I could not believe it.

He took me into his mouth. I held him gently on me, rubbing and caressing his head. His mouth was too much and I felt somehow weak throughout my body, excepting only my passion for him. There was nothing soft about that. He kept me in his mouth. His tongue swirled around, while he moved up and down the length of me.

I have loved him forever. I have thought about this forever. So it didn’t take long and I came for what seemed like forever. Throbbing and spasming and surging and pulsing and he stayed right on me, licking and gulping. I was both drained and exhausted.

I was stroking his head with one hand and I looked down at him. He looked up at me. He still had the tip of my dick in his mouth, teasing me with his tongue as if there was just a little more for him. His deep brown eyes were looking into mine. He was so beautiful. It would have taken my breath away if I wasn’t already panting so hard from cuming so intensely.

“Oh God Mike. God. God.” I ran my tongue over my lips. I started to roll him over and reached for him. I gave back to him every kiss. Every sweep of the tongue. And every swallow and tender caress that he had just given to me.

We lay in the sun as our passion cooled.

“What took us so long?” Mike whispered.

For the rest of the summer we only wore clothes to work in. The rest of the time we were naked. We had sex regularly, but we also talked a lot. It was really funny. We could have been having sex since our sophomore year. But we were both too scared. We didn’t want to lose what we had. A lot of Mike’s rep was an attitude that he wore, really it was fear.

Our first night at the ranch, I had Mike fuck me. I told him it had to be slow and easy because it was my first time. It hurt a little at first, but I had dreamed about this, and practiced with a green banana, so the reality of it just swept me away. I was surprised when he then had me fuck him. I hadn’t thought about this, but if Mike wanted it, that was fine with me.

While we were working for old man Dettweiller, we decided that we were going to live together when we were finished at the ranch. When you’re young and in love, well, it’s great to be together. Problems don’t even seem possible.

When we were finished we found a cute little house in the old part of town. Mike came with me as we went to the used furniture store, checked the want ads, and got some stuff from my Mom. He let me make all the decisions, but he carried the money, paid for everything, and pretended to have a say in everything.

We bought an old pre-war International pick-up to get around in.

Mike wanted to get a job at a gas station, but I was having none of that. My dad knows everyone in town and he’d offered to get Mike a job as a brakeman on the railroad. Mike liked cars, but it wasn’t hard to convince him he wanted to be a railroad man.

“Mike,” I said, “Any kid can pump gas. But ya gotta be a man to railroad.”

There. That was easy.

We settled into a comfortable routine. The railroad was pretty much old fashioned. It was a short line, and mostly it hauled huge copper ingots from the smelter to the Southern Pacific. Mike usually made one run a week on the train. He’d be gone for two days when he made a run. Sometimes he made two runs, but he was junior man. I worked for my aunt at her jewelry store. This job had been planned for me years ago. We were doing well.

Then Mike came home one night all beat to shit. He was bleeding from a deep cut above his eye and his clothes were torn, stained and bloody. I went instantly into nursing mode. I stripped him and went over every inch of him, checking his assorted cuts and bruises. All we had in the medicine box was some hydrogen peroxide and some Fura ointment. Fura ointment, of course, is for horses, but it works just fine on people too. We’d learned that on the ranches.

I took him to the doctor next morning. He needed six stitches over his eye, but nothing was broken and he’d be okay.

I waited for him to tell me.

He’d gone to his dad’s to get the picture of his mom that was all that he had of her. His dad wanted money from him, now that he had a good job. He told his dad to “fuck off!” The money, thanks to me, was in the bank anyway. So the old bastard blind-sided him and commenced to whale on him. Mike broke free. The old man was drunk of course and Mike finally got out of there with the picture, but the frame was broken, the picture was torn, and Mike cut himself on the glass.

He was right on the brink of crying. “You’re gonna look bad with that scar,” I told him smiling. His tears started to flow, but he smiled at me, and then we kissed. Quiet and loving.

When Mike made his next run on the railroad, I looked carefully at the wreckage of his mom’s picture. Taped to the back of the photograph was a cellophane envelope with a negative. I took that down to the photography studio and had another print made, then I went to my aunt to buy a silver frame for it. When she found out what it was for, she insisted on giving the frame to me. I think my mom and my aunt understood a helluva lot more than ever I’d told them.

It has been three weeks since Mike’s dad beat the shit out of him. Mike’s dad didn’t know it, but that was the worst mistake he ever made. He’d hurt Mike and that hurt me. More importantly, it awoke some primal need for vengeance hidden deep beneath the goodie-goodie, isn’t he a sweet little jewelry store clerk veneer. I wore that veneer convincingly. I’d practiced it all my life. Now when I thought of Mike’s dad, I was cold with fury. The veneer was coming loose.

I had been watching the scumbag as he staggered out of his favorite saloon almost every night. I only watched for him on the nights when Mike was gone on a run with the railroad. Mike’s alibi had to be solid if he was ever even asked. Plus, there were some things, after all, that Mike just didn’t need to know about.

He was easy to watch because the fuck had just gotten his welfare check so he had plenty of cash; he was not trying to cadge drinks all up and down Main St. I watched from the shadows.

I was waiting for him again that night. In the usual way, he came out the rear door, and lurched up the poorly lit back street toward his apartment. This time, his apartment was a longer three blocks away than he might have thought. Quietly, on rubber soled panther’s feet, I came up behind him. Right between two streetlights where the light was the dimmest. He was oblivious until my old baseball bat smashed into the side of his right knee and he went down on the asphalt in a heap with a grunting moan. My return swing with the bat connected above his kidneys and drove him face down and he grunted again. I came down square in the middle of his back with all of my weight behind my knees. I was satisfied to hear and feel what must have been some ribs cracking and this time he gave a kind of gargled moaning scream. I felt I was smiling a tiny smile.

I pulled his head back and up using his filthy hair as a handle, and then smashed his face into the sidewalk. Then I pulled his head up again and whispered into his ear, very quiet and calm, “If you ever,” jerk and smash, “touch Michael.” Smash. “Dmitri.” Smash. “Bennigsen,” jerk, jerk, jerk, “Again. You. Are. Dead.” I stood-up; I kicked his left arm into position away from his body. I brought my foot down hard on his left wrist, and swung the bat down one more time. I brought it down from the sky with everything I had behind it, right on his elbow. There was a most excellent crunch and this time he screamed for real. Did I tell you that he was left-handed? I faded into the shadows and was gone.

Like I said. I’ve known Mike since grade school. But I’ve loved him forever.