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A Little Dab'll Do Ya

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"They're a couple of fairies," Crane says, when Pete's already out the door and buttoning his overcoat.

"What's that?"

"You heard me. The guys here for Merit Pomade are fags."

"You're kidding me," Pete Campbell says. "But they're here from corporate."

"Yeah, for Belle Jolie." Hollywood know-it-all Harry Crane harbors contempt for homosexuals and for other people's successes, what a surprise.

"Are all Belle Jolie executives homosexuals, or just the ones associated with my accounts?" It's not even Belle Jolie any more. God knows what they're calling it, but the memory sticks.

"Do you really want me to answer that?"

There are few men at this agency more deserving of a punch in the face than Harry Crane, but Peter must restrain himself. The Merit account is practically a cinch, after their work for the old Belle Jolie back in the day — but numbers are numbers and the Peggy Olsens of the world aren't going to take this one out from under him. He's not going to change his lunch plans over a reputation for sexual deviancy or he'd never be able to dine in this industry again.

At lunch, Pete lets his hand meaningfully brush Bob Benson's on the tabletop, right where the guys from Belle Jolie can see. At the same time, their knees collide beneath the table with slightly more force than necessary among friends. Turnabout is fair play. Then he keeps a keen eye out for a reaction.

Nobody throws a drink in his face. No waiters spontaneously drop an armful of plates to shatter on the floor. The Belle Jolie-Merit guy sitting across from him gives Pete a knowing look— not a nod, not a leer, but a look of mutual recognition. It would be a lot easier to know what to do with if Pete Campbell knew the first thing about exactly what was being recognized. But that's a toehold, at least.

As it happens, the topic of homosexuality comes up exactly once in conversation — homosexuals love Merit Pomade. All other demographics are falling — it's 1968 for Christ's sake, if kids aren't wearing their hair long they're shaving their heads and joining the Hare Krishnas — but the homosexuals who buy Merit Pomade aren't in the counterculture. They're only strictly speaking countercultural in that one respect. There's a really interesting CBS piece to that effect — of course, their prognosis was dire, but the facts remained the same. Drinks, chatter, bravado, and all the while the memory of that look of recognition.

"That felt wrong," Pete mutters afterward in the taxi. "Bob, you'll have to forgive me." And he'll have to not read too much into it. They're still mortal enemies in the end, even if Benson is a useful prop to maneuver with.

Bob pats the seat next to him in an abhorrent kind of way and smiles at the glass divider. "Don't worry about it."

*

The next day, Pete mulls this experience and what it might mean. It was difficult to imagine a context in which homosexuals had much buying power. Perverts, the kind of people your mother warned you about when she told you to come straight home from school and not dally, were little more than vagrants — worse than vagrants. Who wants to market to degenerates? Asking what beer they preferred or what pomade they liked was like asking what kind of dish soap did best with arsonists. Or they were like that fellow Kurt, they were European — and it was hard to say what Europeans were going to buy. They didn't have money.

But these men were men like anybody else — they had to buy aftershave and cigarettes and television sets. They had money. They were married, or they weren't. They were sophisticates. The Merit account isn't likely to be the jewel in his crown, but it'll put him where he needs to be. He can see the angles on this.

Pete strolls in at 3 o'clock with a proposition. Bob already has a fresh cup of coffee waiting for him. He won't touch it, just to spite him.

"What are you doing later?"

Bob looks up at him with appalling brightness. Pete braces himself, and narrows his eyes.

"Dropping off some shirts at the cleaner's. Nothing that can't wait until tomorrow. Why?"

"I want," Pete Campbell says, "to go to a gay bar."

*

Market research. For about a half-hour, nobody approaches either of them — they look too conspicuous, or it's too obvious that Pete's not a homosexual, that he doesn't fit in with this crowd. Bob is too busy looking back at him for some kind of approval, or discreetly explaining the fixtures of these places — indicating the regular denizens as they go,

"We're not going to be — well, raided, are we?" Sort of a fascinating anthropological study, really. Scanning the crowd he is almost subconsciously monitoring for men he knows — because all the men look like men he might know, rather than like the exotic creatures he'd expected. More sideburns and less rouge.

"At this place? Certainly not."

"What do I do?"

"Have a drink and look interested."

"That's all very well and good, but what do I do if things get out of hand?" Pete's scalp is crawling with apprehension. He's only ceding the initiative to him in this because Bob Benson is a certified homosexual. A certified knee-touching homosexual. The esoterica of this crowd can't be that hard to navigate.

Bob smiles at him, skimming Pete's sleeve with his hand. "If someone makes a pass you don't like, tell him 'no, thank you'."

They loaf around the bar for a while — Pete always thought you weren't allowed to buy liquor in these places but everything in New York has a price, and he manages to choke down a remarkably harsh cocktail complete with cherry, and then another. Bob's hanging around not far away, doing his best to look like he doesn't know Pete — which feels like a bit of a snub, considering the clear drop-off in status between them.

Before long a good-looking Italian is offering Bob a cigarette — handsome and square, looking almost like Salvatore Romano, and for a moment all the blood flees Pete's face because he thinks it is Salvatore Romano, but when he turns his head the resemblance is lost. There's no reason they'd run into Sal at a place like this. Besides, maybe he's Spanish or something. Something else that's Latin, at any rate.

Greenwich Village doesn't agree with him. Men milling around looking simultaneously aimless and highly engrossed in each other — friends meeting. Pete is on the outside here.

The first man who approaches him is good-looking in a goony kind of way — younger, respectable, receptive. Pete lights his cigarette, which seems like the right thing to do, and soon enough they're discussing what they're drinking. It doesn't seem like the done thing to ask where this fellow works —what if they know people in common? he'd have to fake his own death —

But the guy looks mildly taken aback, and answers that he's a bank manager. "Don't tell me you want my references. Are you a — you know?"

"A homosexual?" Pete says, brightly. Finally, they're on the right track.

"A police officer," the man says pointedly.

"No sir, I am not." Jesus wept, is he striking out? Is this how you strike out in a gay bar? Pete lays a hand gingerly on the man's chest, for emphasis. It feels lascivious. "I am not a police officer."

"I was kind of kidding. They don't send decoys to places like this, they're too busy rustling the lesbians. And they wear nice tight tee shirts."

He brushes a fleck of napkin off Pete's coat sleeve. This fellow sounds like he knows his way around these places, which is good. He's laughing at him already, which is bad. Pete makes frantic eye contact over his shoulder with Bob, but Bob just gives him a thumbs-up.

Pete asks the man his questions, but the answers keep slip-sliding around in his mental filing system — maybe it was the last cocktail that's having a detrimental effect on his steel-trap brain. Maybe he should have brought notecards. It would be easier if this guy wasn't looking at him that way — warmly, attentively, with a hard edge of reserve. By the end of Pete's interrogation the guy is very close indeed, and he even smells like their product, — close enough to feel the brush of his sweater against Pete's shirtfront, close enough to feel the warmth of his breath on Pete's cheek, until Pete blurts out, "How do you choose what to wear in your hair?"

*

In the street outside, Bob is practically jogging to keep up with him. Pete Campbell is walking with purpose. He doesn't dare to raise his head in case he'll make eye contact with, he doesn't know, Trudy's sainted mother on her way out of the lesbian coffeehouse across the street with a date on her arm. That would be no more than he deserves.

Bob trots alongside him, softly furrowed with concern. "Can I get you anything? An aspirin? A coffee? A cup of water?"

"He really thought I was interested in him." Pete's face feels numb.

"You were asking him questions. People love to answer questions about themselves."

"They were just questions." He should thank Bob for the rescue efforts, but they really hadn't been necessary.

"He didn't seem like such a bad guy to me. So what did you find out?"

"Well, he uses Merit pomade. He's a bank manager. He moved out here from Minneapolis. And he's very forward."

He can still smell it now — bay rum and cloves, downright dead butch. And not unpleasant, either. Love is in the air, and so's their product.

*

Their mission begins bright and early, Wednesday morning — a special conference, so to speak. Benson probed Ginsberg's interest, he says, but the poor boy took it badly. So it's just the two of them, reluctant allies cooking up their secret weapon. Like Wernher von Braun. Benson should count himself lucky that he's being taken into Pete's confidences like this.

"We need to appeal to homosexuals, without anybody else noticing we're doing it."

"How do you propose to do that? There's got to be all sorts of ways."

Benson agrees with Pete's thesis — that this is an underexploited angle — or at least he'll play along.

"Well, how do homosexuals appeal to one another?"

"Signals, I guess. Meaningful looks."

Bob is looking at him right now, with big melting eyes. He's a funny kind of sycophant — says he doesn't smoke, but he always carries a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Just in case someone else wants one. Can you beat that?

"Why can't we just slap a really good-looking guy on there and call it a day? It can't be that easy, or they'd still be using the Arrow Collar Man."

There must be a sensibility to it. A worldview. Merit could be their doorway to a whole array of gay products — they could be the first agency to find the gay Manischewitz. It's his turn to play Harry Crane, only he can't park himself in front of a television set and see what's being said about homosexuals. Or what homosexuals are saying about themselves.

*

On Thursday, it feels like he's turning over contraband — and depending on the vagaries of the US Postal Service, he might be. Pete kicks the door shut and slaps down on Benson's desk a stack of ONE Magazines as thick as a phonebook. The band of his collar is strangling him. Every minute he's carried these things around has felt like lugging the nuclear football under his arm.

"I know you're not working," Pete says. "Help me go through these. It's research."

Benson glances around circumspectly before he peels off a magazine. "This doesn't really look like our kind of periodical. I could bring you something, would you like that?"

"It was all I could find." There's no substantial ad space in this kind of thing, just socially conscious pictorials. Photojournalism. And, of course, California. The very idea of a print publication for homosexuals would have been unthinkable ten years ago, but many things would have been unthinkable then. The war, for one.

Bob straightens up in his chair. The spine of the magazine crackles as he spreads the covers. "Have you read The City And The Pillar? I've heard very good things about The City And The Pillar."

"I don't want to read The City And The Pillar. Gore Vidal is a hack."

*

Four hours later, the ashtray is full and his glass is empty. Pete tosses the last magazine over his shoulder. None of these magazines presents a plausible history in full. A thorough grounding in the psychological challenges facing the modern homosexual, yes, but precious little about what they buy and why. Aspirations, images, stories — all in fragments.

"There's no sense of who these men are."

"We're not performing psychoanalysis here. We're trying to sell hair products to men. See in your mind the kind of man we're selling to."

That's awfully bold for a full-time sycophant. Pete grimaces at him.

"Take yourself, for instance. When did you know you were a — a pervert? I'm sorry, a homo."

The correction doesn't ruffle him, but he does look mildly reflective. "That's sort of a personal question, isn't it? When did you know you were normal?"

Pete straightens his cuffs. "I was seven years old, and I had a crush on Betty Grable in Down Argentine Way. Playing at the Times Square Theater. Where did you grow up again?"

"It doesn't matter." Benson slides open a desk drawer and produces a brown paper bag from where most men at SC&P keep a bottle and a glass. "Errol Flynn, They Died With Their Boots On. I found a couple books for you on my lunch break, if you really want a window onto the experience. They're not Gore Vidal."

(How did the books get in there if Pete's been reading at the desk all day?)

Bob upends the brown paper bag and lays out a stack of paperbacks on the blotter. Pete makes a face.

"So I'm supposed to just keep these in my desk drawer?"

"I can take them when you're not reading them. You just want to read them."

One of the books is titled To Love A Boy. The next in the stack is titled, quite succinctly, Gay Whore. Down the stack of spines: The Sergeant. Boxing Camp. Good-Bye, My Lover. Homo Farm. Lurid titles and equally titillating covers. Calling them novels is generous. Where did he get these things?

"No, no, it's all right. These look like fine choices."

"There's few things in life you can't get from a good book," Benson says, and tops up his glass.

Ah, yes, like the roaring success that was the Honda project. None of these books looks like The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, exactly. But they're a way in. The kind of inspiration he desperately needs.

*

There's a surprising amount of literary merit in Gay Whore and its depiction of the gay game. The hero is a small-town boy, hungry for new experiences, whose worldly lover introduces him to a jet-set homosexual social circle in New York City after a cataclysmic diner fire and later drives him to a whirlwind of sexual degradation in a luxury bordello. Bob reads through the pages in a fever, and then reads the next book, and the next.

*

On Friday, it seems like the whole office has taken the day off — the place echoes like a church, and Bob is rosy-cheeked and rumpled, like he's just been to the tennis court, or jogged up a flight of stairs. They are alone in the elevator.

Pete averts his eyes modestly from the panel of lighted buttons. His face feels hot with liquor in a way it hasn't in years. There's something freeing about not needing to worry about where Trudy's going for the weekend, but there's something melancholy about it too.

"This isn't really about the account, is it." Benson's hand brushes against the belt of Pete's coat. He's reaching over to steady himself — or is he? He'd never have gotten fresh like this in the elevator attendant days. Not that Pete misses those.

Pete Campbell wheels on him, but he's practically in the corner already, pressed by the inexorable force of Benson's lack of personality. "I resent that! I've made an honest effort to understand you people, and to be completely frank you don't seem to appreciate that."

Benson's face flickers with an inexpressible expression, like storm clouds passing in front of a picture window. He's remarkably tall, taller than Don even. (How had that fact not impressed itself on Pete before? He straightens himself up a little stiffer.) "Are you asking me if I use Merit?"

"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not a bigot, Bob. This project is the first scrap of anything resembling intellectual stimulation I've had in months and I won't have you running it into the ground. All our clients want is grinning children, and all anyone wants to talk about is whether we'll make it to the Moon."

"What's wrong with that?"

"I hate the moon. We're killing each other down here and all anyone cares about is being the first to land on a rock. I don't give a damn what's up there. It's juvenile."

Bob is smiling down at him in that inane way he has — spreadingly handsome, with the dimple showing up in his chin. Expansive.

Pete lunges at him to shut him up, grabbing for his arm — and he's kissing him, tasting the clean no-taste of his mouth, choking on his own boozy breath.

"Sweet Jesus," Pete mutters to nobody at all. He swipes for the button to keep the doors from opening long enough to extricate Benson's arm from around his waist. But the lobby is empty anyway, and surely no one saw that, surely —

"I'll call a cab," Benson calls after him with a terrible kind of solicitousness.

*

I'm beginning to understand how the homosexual thinks, Pete Campbell thinks, and takes a deep breath through his nose.

It isn't bad — on the contrary, it seems to be going well, but when he tries to improvise a creative flourish Bob's thighs clamp around him and he emits a groan that is equally plausible as a good sign and a bad one. There's not an insubstantial amount of territory to cover, which is easier for Pete to find his way around than the alternative, but the acrobatics with his tongue are beginning to give him a cramp. It's nice to be appreciated.

The backseat of the cab smells like leather and adhesive tape, and Benson's coat is cast over both of them for a little modesty, like a dark and humid tent with a silk lining. Bob rakes a hand through Pete's hair, tugging slightly but insistently. Pete raises his head.

"You stop that."

"Well, you're biting me." Christ Almighty, how can he sound like that with a hard-on? The tip of his cock bobs against Pete's lips as he speaks.

"You want to know you're with a man, don't you?" Pete hisses in a low voice, like they're in a library and not in the back of a cab driven by a man who has almost surely seen worse things in his tenure. But still. Do homosexuals cruise one another at public libraries? Has Bob Benson been cruising him since emerging from whatever forgotten agency file cabinet spawned him? Is cruising a transitive or intransitive verb?

"I feel like you're trying to circumcise me—"

Benson's urgent hoarse whisper leaves Pete feeling chastised and somewhat turned-on. He drops his head.

"Should I start again?"

"No, I liked it. I liked it very much. It was very spirited."

No woman has done this to Pete Campbell in an awfully long time — it isn't his fault if the edges are a little rough. It's difficult to map the reverse of an experience onto another person — women always seem to know what they're doing. They never seem at a loss with what to do with all the spit, or with their teeth.

His hard work goes unappreciated in the end — Pete ends up jerking him off, which feels eerily like masturbating in front of a mirror or something except all the desirable activity is happening to someone else. It's performing some kind of sleight-of-hand trick on his own penis.

Bob Benson says, "Would you mind terribly?" and sinks down into Pete's lap. His mouth is a superheated sheath. He tugs long slow strokes

Afterward, Pete wipes his mouth on a handkerchief and thinks longingly about breath mints, or Sen-Sen, or anything that doesn't taste like an oyster. Bob Benson's head is in his lap — his knuckles brush against his hair when he goes to do up his zipper. The expression on Benson's face is inscrutable.

"You were lying about Errol Flynn."

"I didn't know I was different because of something I saw in a film. I just knew I was different."

Like a sleepwalker. In the light from the signs, passing through the window, his dark eyes look black. It's creepy.

The lights flicker. Pete has crossed some point of no return, and he very much enjoyed it. This doesn't change anything between them — Benson is still Benson, an unpleasant obstruction and an overly helpful nuisance, and still he desires him. Maybe more than ever. This wouldn't have happened on the Sunkist account, they're just playing their part — Pete is just playing a part, Bob Benson is a dyed-in-the-wool homosexual degenerate and his coat smells like Old Spice and his hair is a thick glossy curtain falling over his forehead, full and dark. Pete wonders what kind of wristwatch he wears.

Who is this man? What's inside of him?

Bob Benson slowly raises his head, like some Universal Horror monster raising slowly but inexorably from the grave.

"That's your pitch. Something about the New York Look."

"The New York Look? Where in New York? Queens? Hell's Kitchen? The Upper West Side? Where?" Pete's mouth still tastes like jism. His lips feel raw.

"Position the product as your guide to fitting in."

And it rises up in Pete's mind, fully fashioned — not the picture, someone else can come up with picture, but the image. "What do you have to do to be a homosexual in the big city? What do you wear? How will they find you? Don't show the model at home looking in the mirror with a comb in his hand, show him at a nightclub with his pals. Give it a wink and a nod. We're saying this product makes you attractive to other homosexuals. But we're saying it very quietly. Strategic advertisements in publications enjoyed by gay men. Every gay man in America wants to live in New York. At least with Merit they can smell like they do."

"Straight men won't get the wrong idea. And gay men look good."

That seems like a bridge too far. "What are you talking about? No normal man wakes up and thinks 'today, I'm going to comb my hair like a homosexual.' Unless he's trying to get around the draft, I suppose."

"You're saying you never look at other men around you to decide what you're going to wear?"

"I do, but it's men like Don Draper. Or I have a talk with my tailor."

"Are you sure your tailor's not a gay man?"

"No, he's a — oh, forget it. They'll know what we're talking about, and Harry Crane won't."

Pete throws himself on Bob Benson's mercy again that night. He's a useful sounding board, at least in some circumstances, so he's not entirely useless.

*

This is Pete Campbell's pied-a-terre, and he will bring home whomever he wishes. He has nothing to be ashamed of, no embarrassing ointments in the medicine cabinet, no emasculating liqueurs on the bar cart. Not so much as a nail clipping in the sink or a stray prophylactic on the nightstand. Is Benson secretly scrutinizing the paintings on the walls? The upholstery on his couch?

"Be kind to me," Pete says, with his back flat against the mattress.

"What would your mother say?" Bob murmurs, tracing a finger down a smudge of newspaper ink down the front of Pete's shirt. Some of the blood that is not presently churning somewhere in the vicinity of Pete Campbell's genitals — and it must be, or he wouldn't be feeling so pleasantly lightheaded, or making such questionable decisions — is prickling in his cheeks like he's been slapped. Is Benson poking fun at him? Poking fun at him by way of his ailing mother? Strange, perverse.

"I try not to think about my mother in this context," Pete says. God knows what she's doing tonight, but she's not thinking about him.

Benson loosens Pete's tie with a deft touch — he takes out his cufflinks and slips the clip off his necktie, and pretty soon he's sliding the shirt off his shoulders like this is a hospital bed and Pete is a patient. That would explain the impossible heights of obsequiousness — in theory, anyway, Pete Campbell has never had anything but brusque nurses.

He bends down over the foot of the bed to untie his shoes for him. It's like a striptease in reverse, something that slowly happens to him — Bob kneels to ease the shoes off his feet and Pete suddenly feels incredibly naked.

When he goes to slip Pete's undershirt up past his chest, Pete stops him.

"I can do that part myself, thank you."

"Of course." Bob's smiling face is so bright Pete's jaw is experiencing a sympathetic ache. Practically glows in the dark.

Pete's mouth bends into a smirk. "I'd like to kiss you now, if I may."

Has he ever said that to a woman in his entire life? Has he ever begged permission like a schoolboy? Horrible — like a knock-kneed virgin. Horrible. But Bob Benson usurps the moment from him by covering his mouth with his own. The taste of his mouth is Choward's peppermints. Like Peggy gone butch.

Pete gasps and leans back, snaking up a hand to pull Bob Benson after him — he has a big neck, and Pete's fingerprints show up white on the ruddy skin of it. Oh, he wants to bend him over the bed and have him right there, fuck the logistics. He wants to ravage him, or be ravaged by him. He wants to give him a fat lip. He wants to brutalize him.

This time it's better. Benson is breathing heavy; he muscles of his back are twisting under Pete's hands and he can rove all over him, grasping fistfuls of white undershirt into peaks and snagging the warm skin underneath with his fingertips, groping at the soft division of his hips.

When the white tee shirt comes off, Pete is briefly fascinated by Bob's chest hair — there's a thicker darker line leading up his belly from the unseen presence of his pubis. He hadn't noticed it before in the heat of the moment last time but now he is marveling. He drags a hand down it and makes some smart remark. Pete wants to touch him all over, and Bob lets him. His mouth opens under Pete's, ready for the plunge of his tongue — this is it, permission to be really raunchy

Pete's free hand that isn't carding through Bob's chest hair is squeezing at the corner of his jaw, scraping the side of his throat with his fingernails — Benson makes a surprised noise against his mouth and his stiff cock presses into Campbell's hip. Pete presses against him hard enough to hurt.

"You can touch my hair," Pete says against Benson's flushed-red mouth, "I always carry a comb."

Bob nods politely, and complies like Pete can tell he obviously wants to — though it seems rather out of touch with the point of the exercise. His kisses leave Pete's mouth smarting, and they send the last of the blood surging out of his head and directly into his crotch. Right when Pete Campbell is reasonably certain he can take no more of this, Bob tugs his boxer shorts down to his knees — Peter grinds against him hungrily, groping for him through the front of his pants.

Skin against skin, while Benson does things with his hands Trudy Campbell would never do — Pete noses against the side of Benson's throat, finding the warm shaving cream-scented place just below his ear.

"You're going to fuck me," Pete says, "so don't resist me." Just to see Bob's face flare with something other than benign recognition when he pulls away. This is the masterclass, this is Pete Campbell's most excellent idea. You're going to fuck me, in an act of unparalleled generosity like nothing Bob Benson has known since whenever it was they hired him.

Things proceed from there between them. He's not a schoolboy; he's going to grope what he likes and not stammer for any special treatment. There are God only knows how many men doing these same things to each other on a night like tonight around the world, in nightclubs and washrooms and little bachelor apartments — maybe not as nice as this one, but maybe if Pete's adamant enough about being fingered and fucked it'll keep Benson from looking too closely at the state of the furnishings. Or let him look; maybe he likes what he sees. Maybe he envies the view from here.

Benson's belt buckle jingles. Pete's eyes flutter open to the chilly graze of a tube of KY Jelly against the skin of his inner thigh.

"What is that?"

"I thought you were familiar with the basic concept," Benson says apologetically, as his slippery fingers press into Pete's asshole.

"Doctors use it," Pete says, until his voice cracks and he turns his head to avoid saying much of anything — he'd been envisioning something rough and ready, like Bob from Accounts spitting on his fingers or plunging in willy-nilly in the heat of worshipful passion, but this isn't half-bad either. This does however mean that Benson came to Pete's apartment fully prepared to make love to him, which is awfully presumptuous.

Benson has very thoughtful hands, and a very big dick. Pete shouldn't be offended by this like he is, but it seems like a personal affront. His big hand braces Pete's leg in place as the other slicks and probes.

"I want to be good to you," Bob says against Pete's chest, leaving a humid wet spot on his undershirt, and his unflagging erection is proof positive of his enthusiasm even if his kisses during the act are a little bit like being mauled by a labrador retriever. There are places inside himself that Pete didn't even know he possessed, and in the way he lifts his hips the plunge of Bob's cock can hit every one of those spots — sweet-painful places that send tremors and jolts through the core of him.

In the books it had been clouded by euphemisms — hardnesses and masculinities, pistons of ecstasy, and so on. There is nothing avoidable about this — Bob is worshipful, Pete is masterly even on his back.

Both of them pour out climaxes, one after another. It isn't like pistons or like electricity or like sensuous shudders, it's like coming completely apart. Pete is left panting, shattered, sweaty. And wet.

"Where'd you learn to do that?"

"You'll never believe me."

"Try me." Pete props himself up on an elbow — being naked next to another man is faintly reminiscent of locker rooms and prep school common rooms. Not that those recollections are unpleasant; imagining Benson in a collegiate setting already feels pornographic, with those powerful thighs in a microscopically small pair of trunks or something. "This doesn't change anything in the office, of course."

"Of course not."

Pete wants to slap that dopily evenhanded look off Benson's face, but he might enjoy it. Bob pulls him over, to lay against his stomach. This makes up for everything — for everything with Manolo, for all of it. They can begin again, begin differently.

"What are you thinking about?" Bob traces a lazy figure-eight between Pete's shoulder blades with his fingertips. Pete relishes the rise and fall of his chest, his lazy thumping heartbeat.

He's thinking about what he's going to say on Monday. He's thinking about looking in the eyes of those guys from Merit, and seeing recognition.

"I think this is the start of a really interesting collaboration."