excerpt one: The Definitive Albert J. Sterne

An excerpt from the Prologue (New Orleans, October 1971) for this novel. Albert goes looking for sex.

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“You looking to party?” the young man asked.

When Albert drew off his dark glasses, his companion politely followed suit, tucking his own into the back pocket of his jeans. Albert considered the figure before him, stepping to one side for the full effect of the late-setting sun’s illumination: male, of primarily Hispanic background; eighteen or perhaps nineteen, which was getting old to be on the game; one-seventy, an inch taller than Albert; light brown and dark brown. Further than that: undernourished, and had been for months if not years; clothes old and torn, though fairly clean and assembled with a harmony of color; eyes too bright; demeanor anxious, assessing. Some might have considered the haunted expression romantic, those who thought fey meant something more whimsical than the tragedy of ‘fated to die’. But Albert was instead drawn by the spark of intelligent curiosity.

“If party is a euphemism for having sex,” Albert said, “then, yes, I do want to. Frankly, I have no idea why else I’d be approaching you.”

“Well, I don’t do cops.” Though he continued to hold Albert’s gaze in what seemed a challenge, rather than turn away.

“I’m not a cop, I’m federal, so the petty crime of prostitution is somewhat beneath my jurisdiction. Apart from which, I’m off-duty.”

The young man laughed humorlessly. “So you’re the first cop I’ve met who didn’t take the job home with him every night.”

“Are you interested in earning your drug money or not?”

The too-bright eyes sharpened. “Is that an accusation?”

Albert heaved a sigh and feigned patience. “The Drug Enforcement Administration has jurisdiction over narcotics violations. I assure you I simply want to … party.”

After a long moment of parried stares, the younger man quirked a weary smile. “Then, G-man, I’m your boy.”

“Hardly. As opposed to most of your colleagues who would not have reached the age of consent in the most liberal of states.”

The smile turned to a frown, more deeply felt. “That a problem for you? Me being older, I mean.”

“Quite the opposite.”

“Fine. So where are we going?”

“I have a room at the Oberon.”

“Obviously a man of style.”

“Amazing,” Albert commented as he turned to walk beside the youngster. “A two-bit street brat capable of irony.”

“You think we’re all too stupid?”

“Whoring is hardly the career choice of an intelligent person.”

“Yeah, well, that goes both ways – slumming it with the likes of me is hardly the most intelligent way of getting laid. But you enjoy the dirty end of town, huh?”

“Unfortunately, that rather depends on you.”

“That so,” the kid said flatly. He paced along at Albert’s side for a few minutes, silent, arms folded and shoulders huddled. The swift twilight descended, and the city seemed to breathe easier.

Now that he had the briefest chance to reflect, Albert found himself glad this was a man he was about to have sex with. He had considered himself bisexual ever since he was old enough to think the matter through, to realize all the implications of his sometimes wayward urges – but somehow it was reassuring right now that this was someone of his own gender.

When they reached the hotel entrance, the younger man came to an abrupt halt and cast a defiant glance at Albert. “Let’s talk money, princess.”