"A Romance of the Old West"

"A Queer As Folk USA Alternative Universe FanFic"

by Gaedhal

This is Chapter Six -- "The Bath House."

Go back to "Chapter Five -- The Princeton Rub" the previous chapter in the series.

The other stories in the "Wayfarers" series.

Other recent stories in the "Queer Theories" series.

Features Brian Kinney, Justin Taylor, Sara, Tom Miller, Attendant, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian takes Justin for a bath. Pittsburgh, December 1858.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.

Pittsburgh, December 1858.

"Sara," said Brian to the squint-eyed serving woman. "What is up for breakfast this morning?"

Sara glared at the pair sitting at the table in the empty dining room of Clarke's Hotel. "I told that kid if you didn't get down by 8 o'clock then you'd get the leavings, Mr. Kinney. And I meant what I said."

But Brian only gazed at her placidly, while Justin sat in the other chair and squirmed under the servant's flinty stare. "Ham and eggs. And coffee," Brian said, calmly. "And bread."

The woman still stood, squinting.

"I'm waiting," the tall man added. And then the woman lumbered off.

"She acts mad," said Justin, uneasily. "After all, it IS almost 10 o'clock."

Brian took a gold watch from the pocket of his waistcoat and looked at it. "Four minutes past. But Sara does this every day. If I came down at five minutes after 8 o'clock, she'd still pull the same trick. She has food in there. She'll bring it. She's just contrary."

"Maybe she doesn't want to feed ME. After all, I'm not a guest at the hotel," said Justin, apprehensively. "I'm an interloper."

"You certainly are that, but no matter," Brian insisted. "If she makes a fuss I'll just slip her four bits. She'd sell her Immortal Soul to the Devil for four bits. I always tip her at the end of the week. As long as she wants that tip, she'll feed me -- and she'll keep her mouth shut, too."

"You mean about seeing me in your room?" the boy said, glancing around.

"About anything," Brian said, definitely.

And a few minutes later the woman came out with two large plates of ham and eggs, a loaf of bread, and two cups of black coffee.

"Don't forget the sugar," Brian reminded her.

"You use up more sugar than ten men," the woman griped, frowning.

"It isn't your belly, so what is the difficulty?" Brian replied. And the woman brought the sugar bowl and plunked it on the table.

Justin dug into the ham and eggs with gusto. He'd been hungry the last few days, but now he was ravenous. All the things that he had learned from Brian and all that they had put into practice had served to increase his already abundant appetite. Brian watched the boy in amusement. The man cut a slice off the loaf of bread and drank some coffee after he'd poured a goodly amount of sugar into it. But he made no move to eat anything more. "Another piece of ham?" he asked the boy. Justin nodded and Brian flipped most of his own breakfast onto the boy's plate.

"Aren't you going to eat anything?" asked the boy, wiping up the ham grease with a piece of bread and stuffing it into his mouth.

"I'm quite entertained watching you ingest so much food," Brian answered him. "In truth, I rarely eat anything in the morning. This hotel owes me quite a number of uneaten breakfasts -- so fill up."

"What are we going to do today?"

"You still don't want me to escort you home?" Brian raised his eyebrow in question.

The boy's eyes filled with tears and his lips trembled, melodramatically. "We had a deal! Tomorrow! You promised!"

Brian sat back in the chair and considered his companion. "You must teach me that trick. I could have used it many times in the past to fine effect."

Justin wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and grinned. "But you DID promise."

Brian produced a linen handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the grease off the boy's mouth and then off his fingers. Brian had a sudden urge to put one of those pink fingers into his mouth and suck off the grease, but he suppressed that urge. "That I did," Brian admitted.

"So what is OUR plan?"

"MY plan was to stop at my office and look over some copy. Saturday is no day of rest, you understand. There IS no day of rest for a writer in actuality, not even the so-called Sabbath. Then I was going to the bath house for a soak and a shave. And this evening I must cover a match at Johansen's Sparring Academy."

"A boxing match!" exclaimed Justin. "I've never attended a boxing match! How exciting!"

"I didn't say that I was taking YOU," Brian said, frowning. "I said that I was covering it for 'The Clarion.' It's work. Besides, a boxing ring is no place for a boy."

"I'm not a boy!" Justin said, indignantly. "I told you that I am 17 years old and I'm as much a man as you are, I would say!"

"Oh, you would say that, would you?" said Brian, his voice taking on a sharp edge.

"Well, I'm old enough to be a man," Justin replied, backing down. "And I'm not afraid to see a little blood. Or a man knocked out."

Brian laughed. "I do believe that you aren't afraid of anything, that IS certain. But that doesn't mean I will take you to such a low venue as Johansen's Sparring Academy! We shall have to see about THAT."

Sara came limping out of the kitchen with a white cloth in her hands. She stood by the table and surveyed the wreckage on Justin's plate. "Looks like you WAS hungry after all."

"Oh, I'm always hungry," the boy replied, brightly.

"Then here," she said, shoving the cloth at him. There was something warm inside. "Apple muffins, made fresh this morning. You'll want 'em later, because this one will never stop to get you any lunch."

Brian snorted, but Justin clutched the muffins and said, "Thank you, ma'am!" But the woman only grunted in reply.

"You know, Sara," said Brian, standing up. "If you bought a pair of boots that fit, then you wouldn't be walking around in misery all the time."

The servant glared at Brian. "I bought these from that drummer last summer and he said they was just my size. I paid almost $2 for 'em brand new and I aim to get my money's worth."

"Suit yourself," replied the man. And he took Justin's arm and escorted him out of the dining room of Clarke's Hotel.

"So, Justin, are we likely to meet your father here on the main street?" Brian asked casually as they walked together downtown. "Or your father and the authorities, who are out looking everywhere for the Prodigal Son?"

Justin hung his head. "I don't think so. Since I told my parents I was going with a schoolmate to the country until the end of the weekend."

Brian snorted. "I thought as much. Sons of the Elite rarely run away from home without a lot of hoopla. I ought to know. Such a story would have come across the newsdesk and my editor would have sent some lowly cub out to pursue it. But there has been no such story. So who are you supposed to be staying with?"

"Bobby Elton. His parents have a farm outside of town," said Justin. "They aren't farmers, of course -- it is more like an estate. I've gone there before, so my mother didn't question it. And my father doesn't give a damn, so what is the difference!"

"I'm sure that your old man WOULD give a damn if he knew just what you have been up to, Justin. And I'm certain your mother would give a damn. Why not let me take you home where you'll be safe from harm?" Brian said, quietly.

"No," Justin sniffed, for real this time. "I'm safe with YOU! And you promised. You SWORE!"

The tall Irishman sighed. "Come along then."

'The Pittsburgh Clarion,' which still prided itself as the 'Voice of the Western Frontier' even though that frontier had been receding farther and farther West with each passing year, was housed in a distinguished building in the center of town, near the First Trust Bank, the Commerce Building, and the Penn Hotel, which was the most exclusive establishment in Pittsburgh. Justin had passed 'The Clarion' many times, but had never been inside. The place seemed to be bustling with activity as he followed Brian into the main newsroom.

"Kinney! Do you have that copy yet?" barked a stout, balding man, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows.

"I told you I'd have the story on Monday morning, Tom. Not a minute before and not a minute after," said Brian, serenely, as he eased himself into his chair and tossed his hat onto the desk. He picked up a red pencil and some papers from a small pile in a wire basket and read through them swiftly, making a few marks here and there before tossing them on the desktop. Brian's desk was a model of efficiency and tidiness, in contrast to the mess his fellow reporters made of their workplaces.

"Are you certain you'll have it for me?" the man huffed. "Mr. Mitchell is counting on that story!"

"I'll have it in time, Tom," said Brian. "Besides, I have that match tonight on top of it. But I'll write that up and deliver it tomorrow. It shouldn't be too difficult, since Perkins will have his hat handed to him before the Fifth Round. I might as well write my piece before the bout begins and save myself some time."

The stout man, Brian's copy editor, Tom Miller, leaned over across the desk, gaping at Brian. "What do you know, Kinney? You got some inside stuff? Tell me! I could use some winnings to cover Christmas!"

"I know nothing more than anyone with half a mind could discern," Brian answered. "Perkins has large, cumbersome feet and a jaw made of pure glass, while Williamson, although smaller, has a left hand that can knock out a mule. You come to your own conclusion, Tom."

"Thought you might know something, Kinney. Like a sure thing?"

"There is no sure thing in this life, Tom. Or in the next one, if you believe there IS a next one," said Brian, taking out his pipe and lighting it. He took a few draws on it and winked at Justin.

"Well...." griped the stout man. And then he noticed the boy. "What are you looking at, sonny?"

"Nothing, sir," said Justin, his eyes searching all over the newsroom, taking in everything.

"This is my friend... Mister...?" began Brian.

"Justin Taylor," said Justin, shaking the copy editor's hand. And then he glanced at Brian, who did not miss the disclosure of his full name. "I'm going to the boxing match tonight!"

Miller narrowed his eyes at the boy. "You a follower of the pugilistic arts, Young Mr. Taylor?"

"I'm not, but I'm willing to learn," Justin said, looking right back at the editor.

"Well, Kinney here will teach you as no one else can. His father was one of the finest boxers in these parts back in the day. Black Jack Kinney. He had a fist like a well-cured ham."

Brian's eyes went suddenly cold. "Yes, and a brain to match. Which is why he died dead drunk in a gutter. I prefer to watch the proceedings and let other idiots beat themselves senseless." Brian stood up from his desk. "I'll deliver the report on the match tomorrow, Tom. But not TOO early. I'll want to get good and drunk and take my pleasure on a Saturday night -- as usual."

Tom Miller laughed. "You bachelors can afford to live as you please, Kinney! My old woman will have me in bed by 8 o' clock and up at the crack of dawn to listen to the damned preacher all Sunday morning!"

"You can be assured that come tomorrow morning the last thing I'll be doing is listening to a preacher," replied Brian, sliding his eyes over at Justin, who grinned broadly. The tall Irishman put on his hat and took the boy's arm, leading him out onto the main street.

"Your office is grand, Brian! And you have a fine desk, too. The others looked mighty disorderly," Justin commented as they strode down the sidewalk.

"I like orderly ways. Life is untidy enough as it is. The world is a dirty and disreputable place, Justin, but I try to make my little corner of it as clean and controlled as I can. When I can," Brian responded, puffing on his pipe as they strolled. "Which is why I'm going to the bath house." He turned down a side street and then another. Some warehouses and a saloon marked the street, but also a sign that pointed the way to 'Amos' Turkish Baths.'

"Was that man your boss, Brian?" asked the boy, as they paused in front of that building. The winter wind was whistling down the narrow street and although Brian had lent the boy a warm jacket, it was still quite cold. But plumes of steam and smoke trailed from the building that housed the baths.

"He's my copy editor," Brian told him, tapping his pipe out against the doorframe of the building. "He checks my stories for errors. There are none, of course. My copy is always perfect, so Tom's job is quite easy. He mainly lets me alone while he harasses the other reporters. My true boss is the Editor and Publisher of 'The Clarion,' Mr. Samuel Mitchell. But you won't see him soiling himself in the newsroom! He has better fish to fry with the people of Society who have money and power. Which is why he might not be too pleased with my new story. Since it is about corruption among those same people of Society." Brian looked down at the boy, thinking that his own people, the Taylor Family, were among those belonging to that Corrupt Elite.

"Are we going into the baths?" Justin asked, tentatively.

"If you don't wish to, you can wait back at the hotel."

"No, I want to go wherever you go. But I've never been to a public bath house before. I've heard they are... low places," Justin said, half excited and half wary.

"Since they are the only place where a common man can get himself clean I don't see how anyone can call them low," said Brian, pushing the door open. Justin could feel the damp warmth of the place envelop them. "The wealthy can afford hot water and servants to prepare it. But the common man must come here or else go dirty and then be cursed for his filth. So you tell me if you think the baths are low, Justin, after you experience them."

It was still early in the day and the baths were quiet. Later on Saturday afternoon and into the evening it would fill up with men for whom a chance to wash themselves was a luxury only to be indulged in once a week, if that often. Brian, the fastidious creature that he was, came to the bath house at least three times in an average week. It was something that the bath house attendants noted and always commented on among themselves. But then they knew Brian well. And they also knew his history.

The attendant on duty, an elderly Jew, handed them each a clean, white towel and pointed them to the cubicle where they could undress. The attendant eyed the boy and then glanced at Brian. Brian handed over their fees, plus a little extra. Then the attendant gave Brian a small bar of white soap. "A sheynem dank," said Brian to the man in a language that sounded like German to Justin, but he wasn't certain. But the attendant didn't reply. He only gestured to the cubicle.

Brian disrobed quickly, hanging his clothing on hooks, and Justin followed suit, mimicking all of the older man's actions. "Wrap your towel around your waist just so," Brian said, tucking the end in at the top, and Justin copied.

"But what if it falls off?" Justin said, feeling less than secure.

"Then I shall try not to look!" Brian laughed. He led the way down the hallway to where the attendant was watching over some tubs filled with warm water. Brian discarded his towel and submerged himself in one of the tubs. "Go ahead and get in. The water is quite clean. This establishment prides itself on its sanitation," Brian reassured the boy. So Justin set his towel on a chair and climbed in. The water felt very warm and soothing, especially after being outside in the cold winter wind.

Brian soaped himself all over, including his hair, and then he handed the soap to the attendant, who handed it to Justin. "I paid extra for that soap, so be certain to use it," Brian ordered.

The attendant offered the boy the choice of a sponge, a cloth, or a brush, so Justin followed Brian's lead and selected the large sponge. He rubbed himself all over with it, squeezing the water-laden sponge over his head and hair until he felt warm and clean and his pale skin was bright pink. Justin looked over and Brian was leaning back in the tub, his eyes closed. He looked almost as contented as he had after they had made love that morning. Almost, but not quite.

"Are you next to godliness yet?" Brian said, opening his eyes languidly.

"I think so, but it feels so fine that I hate to move!"

"Well, we have yet to finish here," Brian remarked, standing up in the tub. The water trailed down his long, perfect torso and once more Justin wished that he had his sketchpad at hand to capture the image on paper that was now imprinted upon his brain. Brian dried his upper body and then he stepped out onto the mat and dried the rest of him, wrapping the damp towel around his waist for modesty. "Get out," he said, reaching to help Justin from the tub.

The boy stood up and stepped out onto the mat, shaking himself like a dog. The attendant, standing by with his arms crossed, sighed and nodded his head. It felt odd to Justin to be standing there in that strange room, so openly naked. Even at school when he and the other boys played their games with each other's bodies, it was always under the cover of darkness, and even then the boys averted their eyes from what they were doing. Justin had glimpsed his father naked once or twice, but never so directly.

"Are you trying to drench the entire place?" asked Brian, smiling. He took the towel and wrapped it around the boy. "Come this way." And they followed the attendant back down the hallway. The old man opened a door and Justin could feel the intense heat radiating from it as a gust of steam escaped.

Justin drew back. "What's THAT?" he said in alarm.

"The Turkish steam," said Brian, stepping inside and pulling Justin along. "It won't hurt you." He looked at the attendant. "Ten minutes should be enough." And the old man nodded again.

The small room was as hot as blazes and the steam curled around them as thick as fog. Brian set his towel down upon the wooden bench and sat on it, motioning for Justin to do the same.

"Brian, it's too hot to breathe in here," Justin whimpered. "It takes my breath away."

"Just sit back and breathe quietly. Let the sweat break out all over you. The bath was to clean your body. This will cleanse you from the inside out," the man said, tilting his head back. Justin watched the line of Brian's unshaven throat as his head went back, his adam's apple quivering as he swallowed. And Justin had the strong desire to run his tongue along that throat. He reached over and touched Brian's chest, slick with sweat and smelling of the finely milled soap.

"Brian," the boy whispered.

"Sit back, Justin. This is not THAT kind of bath house."

Justin cocked his head. "WHAT kind of bath house do you mean?"

The man looked at the boy and smirked. "The kind where men do just what you are thinking of doing. But then you seem to be thinking of THAT at all times, Justin Taylor, so perhaps it has nothing to do with the fact that we are in this hot room, damp and naked."

"Yes, I DO want to do that again, Brian," Justin said. "And I think it is a fine thing to be hot and naked -- especially with you!"

"Then it should be no trouble at all keeping you clean in the future!"

"Brian? Those other bath houses -- are those the low, evil places that people speak of?" Justin asked, his eyes widening.

"They are," Brian replied, frowning. "There is one down by the docks, not far from where you first made my acquaintance. I'm certain that your bargeman friend is well aware of the place, too. Many men are."

Justin thought about that. About the bargeman and how Brian had liberated him from the man's lewd attentions. He stared at the beautiful man next to him. "Do YOU go there, Brian? To those low, evil places?"

The man closed his eyes. "When it is necessary. But not often. And not gladly." His eyes fluttered open. They looked cool and moist and green as spring water in the dim, steamy light. "And I would never take YOU there. Ever. It is no place for anyone who still retains a soul." Brian took the end of his towel in his hand and wiped the sweat from his brow. Then he used the same end of the towel to wipe Justin's brow. "This place is not of that ilk. It is not the best bath house in town, but it's clean and decent. I wouldn't have brought you here if it was not."

"What IS the best bath house in town, then, Brian? And why aren't we there? Not that there is anything wrong with this place, of course," Justin said.

"The best place is the Jewish bath house uptown. But I would hardly be welcome there. No, not even after all these years," Brian declared.

"But I thought THIS was a Jewish bath house!" Justin replied. "That attendant outside... isn't HE a Jew?"

"Yes, this Turkish bath is owned and run by them, which is why it is on the up and up," the man asserted. "But they have other establishments, Justin. One they save for their own people only. And another separate place for selected outsiders. But that bath house would never allow the likes of me to enter. Those who run it know too well what many others do not."

Justin stared at his companion curiously. "What is that?"

"That I am unclean, that's what," Brian said, simply. His eyes looked sad and far away.

The boy hesitated. "Is it because... of me? Because of what we've been doing?"

"No, Justin," replied the tall man, lost in thought. "It has nothing to do with you. It is something from many years back and has to do with my history in this town. And it is also about someone dead. Long dead. But men have long memories for the sins of others."

Brian suddenly stood and stretched. Then he knocked on the door of the room. The old attendant opened it and Justin felt a rush of cool air. "Come this way," Brian said, as the boy hitched his towel up around himself.

They walked through another hallway and down a flight of stairs to a tiled room containing a pool of water. A hefty man was swimming lazily up and down the length of it. Brian folded his towel and then plunged himself quickly into the water.

Justin came to the edge of the pool and poked his toe in. He was still sweating profusely, but the water felt frigid. "It's COLD!" he complained.

"Just leap in! You MUST do it quickly!" Brian insisted. But the boy hung back. "Damnation!" Brian sighed. And he grabbed the boy's ankle and dragged him into the pool, dunking Justin completely. The boy came up sputtering. "Can you swim?"

"A little," Justin gasped. The water was very cold against his steamed skin.

"Just rinse yourself then." Brian swam down to the other end of the pool. Meanwhile, the hefty man pulled himself onto the edge and reached for his towel. Justin stared at this mountain of naked flesh before him and shrank back as the man smiled at him. Justin turned and began paddling toward his companion. "Are you ready to get out now?" Brian said, catching the boy in his arms.

"I think so," said Justin. He turned and watched the fat man stroll out the door. And Brian was laughing as the boy squirmed in the water.

"Yes, I think it is time to go," said Brian. He smiled at Justin as he held him and pulled him against his wet chest.

"Go?" asked Justin. "But I thought you were going for a shave afterwards."

"I think it is time to return to my room," Brian continued as they emerged from the water and stood alone in the echoing room. "I can shave myself back there. Because we have some more research to do before you return to your home tomorrow, Mr. Taylor. If that is to your liking?" The man was drinking in the boy's damp face.

And Justin smiled, too. "It IS to my liking. Let's get going!" he replied. And Justin took hold of Brian's hand.

"When he whom I love travels with me, or sits a long while holding me by the hand,
When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that words and reason hold not, surround us and pervade us,
Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom -- I am silent -- I require nothing further,
I cannot answer the question of appearances, or that of identity beyond the grave,
But I walk or sit indifferent -- I am satisfied,
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me."

Walt Whitman, 'Calamus.'

©Gaedhal, May 2003.

Send Gaedhal any comments, critiques, suggestions. I welcome all of your comments on "Wayfarers." Without your feedback I don't know if you are enjoying this new series!

Posted May 31, 2003.