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Father Diodorus

Charlie Stella


Aristo Diodorus washed his mouth out with Scope and warm water before rigorously brushing his teeth. When he was finished, he stared at himself long and hard in the mirror. He had planned a full day with Raymond; a morning of sex followed with a late lunch on the boardwalk. They would nap into the afternoon. If they were into it, they would have goodbye sex instead of dinner, or maybe both, until they met again. Afternoon sex or not, Aristo would offer to buy Raymond dinner before dropping him off at the train station and heading back to the parish.

Of course, those were his plans before he discovered the betrayal.

Now he looked up and could see Raymondís reflection in the bathroom mirror. The Judas was sitting up in bed clipping his toenails.

Aristo frowned at the sight of Raymond grooming himself so soon after sex. Why hadn't he thought of clipping his thick, ugly toenails before? Why hadn't he cleaned his ears, while he was at it?

Raymond's ears were always dirty.

It had been a tough few hours since Aristo first discovered the tape recorder under the bed. His immediate reaction had been rage. He had chipped a tooth from clenching his teeth. It was a glance up at the crucifix that had stopped him from doing something.

As was his way, Aristo had hung the cross above the bed when he first arrived. He had blessed the room, said prayers, and burned incense to dilute the smell of marijuana. The cross was a gesture of sincerity more than religious ritual. It was Aristoís way of humbling himself before God.

He looked at the cross and wondered if it had been divine intervention that had caused him to fumble a matchbook to the floor in the first place. It was how he had spotted the recorder under the bed. The marijuana he had scored on the street before he checked into the hotel helped to mellow him. He wondered if that, too, had been a gift from God.

Instead of losing control, Aristo had quietly dropped to the floor and examined the tape recorder without moving it. He had traced the white wire up over the mattress under the top sheet. When he stood up, he realized how Raymondís pillow had covered the tiny microphone.

He closed his eyes and remembered how Raymond had moved the pillow from under his head when Aristo went down on him.

Or the recorder wouldíve been muffled?

Aristo also remembered Raymond being more vocal than usual. He remembered being prodded to speak while he performed fellatio.

Totally out of character, Raymond had said, "Suck that cock. Tell me you love to suck it."

"I do," Aristo had replied, both surprised and turned on by the exchange. "I do love it."

"What do you love?" Raymond had asked between gasps of ecstasy. "What do you love?"

"Your cock," Aristo had told him. "I love your cock."

Raymond had moaned loud and long when he came. It had excited Aristo and he had moaned along with his lover.

The more he thought about now, the more violated Aristo felt. He had never suffered fools so gladly. Raymond was beautiful, but he was also a simpleton. The sin of pride had surely visited Aristo. It unnerved him still.

He opened his eyes to examine himself in the mirror again. He squinted as he reminded himself that the subterfuge had been but a temporary victory, for it was after Raymond fell asleep when Aristo had gone to light the joint and dropped the matchbook.

He smiled at the thought.

Who was the fool now?

Aristo turned off the cold water and opened his mouth in front of the mirror. He tried to spot the remnants of Raymondís cum under his tongue. He dipped his head as he lifted his tongue. He turned his head from side to side, but there were shadows inside his mouth he couldnít see through. He closed his eyes and imagined a pool of his saliva under his tongue with spermatozoon swimming playfully, like tiny dolphins jumping for joy.

Aristo opened his eyes again. He had left the hot water running. The mirror was fogged with condensation. He could barely see Raymond through the steam. He heard the snap of a toenail being clipped and frowned at an image of the tiny shards littering the sheets.

He closed his eyes one more time, but the happier image from a moment ago was gone; the aftertaste had turned sour.

Aristo turned off the hot water and returned to the bedroom.

"You have a cigarette?" asked Raymond, without looking up from his feet.

Aristo grabbed his open pack of Marlboros from the dresser. He pulled one from the pack, lit it, and brought it to the side of the bed.

Raymond looked up. "Thank you."

Aristo held the cigarette out for Raymond to take between his lips.

"I wish youíd do that in the bathroom," he said. "Iíll wind up stabbing myself from your nails."

"Iíll clean them up in a minute," Raymond said.

Aristo sat naked in his armchair facing the bed. He glanced up at his crucifix and searched for a smile on Christís face. Aristo liked to believe it was there when the sex was especially steamy and he and Raymond were lost in their lust.

Or was the smile more of a smirk?

And what did Christ think of the tape recorder?

Aristo did his best to ignore what he had found since swallowing his loverís release. He preferred to remember how their lustful energy covered them with wanton sweat, and how it ended with Raymondís tears.

Raymond always cried after he came.

Aristo glanced at his watch on the dresser and frowned. There was little time left to ignore what had happened.

"Zillah thinks I should stop seeing you now," Raymond said. "She thinks itís unhealthy. She says itís gone on way too long."

"Our relationship or your clipping your toenails in bed?"

Raymond looked up from his feet. "Why donít you just tell me to stop if it bothers you so much?"

"Because if I do, youíll become petulant and put a puss on. You wonít let me go down on you again. You wonít let me ream you later."

Raymond put the nail clipper on the night table to his left. "Okay?"

Aristo feigned applause.

"Frankly, I didnít think you missed going down on me or reaming me. I didnít think you missed me at all. How long has it been now since the last time? Two months? Three?"

Aristo sighed.

Raymond crossed his legs on the bed. He pointed at Aristoís crotch. "Youíre still leaking."

Aristo used a tissue to wipe himself.

"Anyway, Zillah says itís time I open myself to a real relationship," Raymond said. "One I can feel outside of a hideaway like this place."

"Zillah will say whatever she needs to say to keep you paying her. I think her biblical name is paying dividends on suckers like yourself. You think itís some kind of signal from on high when she tells you to wipe your ass."

"That's disgusting," Raymond said. "And itís not true. And sheís highly recommended by fellow priests."

"Former fellow priests."

Raymond ignored the correction. "And she doesnít tell me what to do."

"Actually she does, but you can't accept that."

"She helps me make decisions."

"And why is that? Are you too stupid to make your own?"

"Donít be cruel."

Aristo smiled. "You know what, three biblical letters up front of her name and it sounds like a monster."

Raymond had to think about it. When he finally got it, he frowned. "That isn't funny."

"No, but it's popular. Look at what the Japanese did with it."

Raymond ran a fingertip across each of his toenails. "Anyway, she thinks this has to end, that I should leave you. For my benefit."

"Is that what she told you or she suggested it?"

Raymond rolled his eyes.

Aristo said, "Iím curious, does she ever tell you itís time to leave her?"

"You have to admit this is going on a long time," said Raymond, instead of answering the question.

Aristo nodded. "Ten years."

"Itís a long time."

"Itís ten years. The blink of an eye in the grand scope of things."

"Iím going to be forty-three in two years," Raymond said. "Youíre going to be sixty. We donít have many blinks of the eye left between us."

Aristo lit his own cigarette. "Now youíre being pragmatic."

It was the way Raymond sometimes became; forcing arguments he really didnít believe just to be contrary. Today, though, it was probably for the recorder.

"Zillah says you should leave the church. She said you would if you really cared about me."

"Forget it. I'm not doing that. Not for you or for her."

"It would be for me."

"It would be for you for her. Like I said, you havenít figured that out yet. Thatís not my problem."

"Except I left the church."

"For me?"

"Because of you."

"Because you were sloppy, Raymond. Donít go near blaming me for that."

It had long been a bone of contention between them. Aristo had always been the careful one. Raymond had too often yielded to carnal desires. Eventually, an affair he had been careless with cost him his priesthood.

"It isnít fair the way it is now," Raymond said.

No, Aristo was thinking, and so youíre betraying me.

"We only meet when itís convenient for you," Raymond added. "We come to places like this, remote and dumpy. And you cancel at a moment's notice. I'm the one left wanting. You're the one who's content."

Aristo sighed again.

"Well?" Raymond said.

"You won't fill the void, Raymond, Iím sorry."

"And what is that supposed to mean?"

"There's more to life than sex. There is for me. You know that. The church fulfills my life. You don't."

"Now youíre just being cruel again."

Aristo shot Raymond a hard look. "Cruel to be kind, Raymond. Don't ever forget that."

Raymond frowned. He said, "According to Zillah, Ió"

"Ah, the gospel according to your therapist. Now we'll learn something."

"Now you're being sarcastic."

"Yeah, I guess. I'm sorry."

"I don't want to be hidden anymore. I don't want to play hide and seek. I feel like something less than myself every time we leave each other. I want to be introduced to your friends in and out of the church."

And how should I feel knowing you brought a tape recorder with you, Aristo was thinking. What do you intend to do with it? What are you getting out of this betrayal? What constitutes your thirty pieces of silver?

"I have no church friends," Aristo said instead. "I have my flock, such as they are, and our relationship is none of their fucking business."

Raymond waved Aristo off. "Oh, thatís just your way of lying to yourself, saying that, that itís none of their business. Thatís like some politician who hides money heís stealing."

It was irksome to Aristo the way Raymond sometimes generalized. He was handsome and sexy and extremely good in bed, but he could also be embarrassing at times.

Aristo smiled at him now.

"You really are in denial over this," Raymond added. "You're just another politician hiding money he's stolen."

Aristo wasnít going to pursue it, but now Raymond had annoyed him. "How?" he asked. "How am I like some politician that hides money heís stealing?"


"How is it like that, our relationship. How is it like some politician hiding money that heís stealing? What the hell do you mean by that? Explain it to me."

Raymond was caught off guard. He held up a finger. "Donít be a bully."

Aristo smiled. He held up three fingers and spoke softly this time. "For the third time. How is our relationship like some politician hiding money that heís stealing? Did Zillah say something like that and now you're misquoting her? You should get it right, what she says, since you're so devoted to her."

Raymond did his best to ignore the sarcasm. "When you say itís none of their business, what you are, what we are, itís only because you donít want them to know. Youíre hiding it."

"And how is that stealing?"

"Because thatís what I feel, like youíve stolen my time and love. Because you take it whenever you want and never give back."

"Iím sorry you feel that way. And how is it illegal?"


"Us, what we do."

"In Godís eyes it is."

"Oh, really? Is that what you really think?"

"In the Churchís eyes, yes, and you know it is or you wouldnít hide it."

Aristo shook his head.

Raymond moved closer to the end of the bed. "What?" he asked. "What?"

Aristo shook his head again. He slumped in the chair and let his head lay against the back. He closed his eyes and daydreamed about happier times.


They had met nearly eleven years ago when a young Father Raymond Joseph Bruno was first transferred to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Port Washington, New York. Father Aristo Diodorus was pastor at the time. He was to train Father Bruno to take over pastoral duties the following year.

It was the middle of a steamy summer the actual day they first met. A church outing to Jones Beach included a volleyball game on the hot sand. Fathers Bruno and Diodorus played against a group of high school seniors that had just graduated from the parish school. After a long game, which they eventually lost, the two priests ran into the surf to cool off. They swam out a ways where they could tread water and talk privately.

Father Bruno commented on how much the children seemed to like Father Diodorus.

"Weíre in a position of power," the older priest explained. "Theyíll like you just as much. So long as you donít abuse your power with kids theyíll respect you. Weíre idols to many of them. Not as priests as much as adults that try and understand them without judging."

"Very well put," Father Bruno said.

Father Diodorus inched closer in the water. He asked, "How are your accommodations so far?"

"The room is great, really," Father Bruno said. "Itís much more than I expected. A television and air conditioner. Itís wonderful."

"Port Washington is a money town. Theyíll take care of you here. If you donít ruffle feathers, theyíll make your stay paradise."

"I noticed some of the homes the day I arrived. It certainly isnít a poor town."

Father Diodorus was inches away. He had been drawn in by the young priestís handsome face, tanned skin, blue eyes and wet hair. He swallowed hard when Father Bruno combed back his wet hair with both his hands.

Father Diodorus said, "If you want me to stop, just say so."

He reached under the water and placed his palm flat against Father Brunoís crotch. He felt the erection through the younger priestís trunks.

Father Bruno didnít respond. He glanced toward shore instead. Father Diodorus continued to rub the full, thick erection through the swimming trunks. Father Bruno bit his lower lip until he couldnít restrain himself. He moaned a moment before he came.

Afterward, Father Bruno tucked his head under the water, swam a few strokes, and came up splashing water on his face. He used his hands to comb back his hair again. Father Diodorus thought he was beautiful.

"Should I reciprocate?" Father Bruno asked.

"Not here, no. Not now."

"I donít know what to say."

"Your face said it all."

"How did you know?"

"I didnít."

"My God, it was wonderful."

Father Diodorus smiled.

The two priests swam back to shore where they set up a tug of war with the same seniors that had beat them in volleyball. It was a long and anxious afternoon for both of them. The week that followed was no different.

The next time they were alone together, they were on their way to a conference in the city. Father Bruno was excited at their opportunity. Father Diodorus was more hesitant.

"Can we stop somewhere?" Father Bruno asked. He had turned on the front seat so his back was flush against the passenger door.

"Iím not sure we should," Father Diodorus said.

"Iíd like to repay you."

"Repay me?"

"You know."

"I took as much pleasure as you received."

"Iíd like to do the same."

Father Diodorus chuckled. "A hand job?"

"Are you teasing me?"

"No, Iím sorry, Iím not. I donít mean to."

"Iíve thought about us in the water that day a dozen times a night since."

"I was afraid of that."

"Why afraid? It was wonderful. I canít thank you enough. I was dying for something like that."

Father Diodorus tried to joke. "Been a while?"

"Two years."

"Are you kidding?"

"I mean I masturbate all the time, but itís been two years since Iíve been with somebody."

"Another priest?"


"No children, I hope."


"Good. It isnít right. I hope you understand that."

Father Bruno crossed himself. "Never."

Father Diodorus was excited. He turned the radio on to clear his mind.

They attended the conference and returned to Long Island in the early afternoon. Father Diodorus was driving through the midtown tunnel. It was one-way traffic in the tube with cones separating the traffic.

Father Bruno said, "I can take care of you while you drive if you want."

"Not in the car, no."

"Then we should stop someplace. Itís only right."

"Iím afraid of moving too fast, to tell you the truth. That weíll become careless."

"I saw you looking at me this morning."

"Yes, I know. And I saw you. Itís what Iím most afraid of."

"Weíll make sure weíre careful. Drive someplace remote."

"Iím talking about lust. It isnít easily controlled. Iíve seen it before. Iíve seen priests touch each other inappropriately when they thought nobody was watching. I know two who were outed and eventually excommunicated. One killed himself."

"Then weíll be extra careful. I want to please you, Aristo. Please let me."

Father Diodorus lit a cigarette. "Living in the same house wonít make it easy, once weíve become intimate. Iíll want you in the middle of the night sometimes."

"And Iíll want you. Probably in the middle of the day, too."

Father Diodorus smiled. "Youíre very charming, Raymond, but Iím serious. It wonít be easy to restrain ourselves. And weíll have to, make no mistake. I donít want to lose what I have. I live for the priesthood. I canít imagine not having the church in my life. I canít imagine not being a priest."

Father Bruno turned silent. Their conversation was over until Father Diodorus turned off the Long Island Expressway onto the Cross Island Parkway. He drove to one of the exits for Belmont Race Track and parked in one of the empty lots near the stables. Horse racing was between meets up at Saratoga. The parking lots were empty.

Father Diodorus got out of the car and walked around to the other side. He opened the passenger door and unzipped his pants. He put his hands on the roof of the car and let Father Bruno take him in his mouth.


"Are you asleep?" Raymond asked.

Aristo opened his eyes. "No," he said. "I was getting a nice slow blow job from a good-looking priest almost twenty years my junior."

Raymond waved it off. "That again? You should stop living in the past."

"Is that a sermon from Zillah, too?"

"Thatís from me."

Aristo nodded.

"She says you wonít let me go because you like to be in control," Raymond said. "That you want to keep me where I am."

"Youíre where you are, Raymond, because you like it."

"I donít like it anymore."

"Then donít do it."

"Are you serious? Youíre saying you donít care if I leave you?"

Aristo reached for his cigarette and saw it had burned out. He lit a fresh one. "Iím saying I canít stop you if you do. Iím saying your therapist doesnít know her ass from her elbow. Iím saying if you really want to take charge of your life, you should start with telling Zillah to fuck off already. And, if you want to leave me, if you want to stop seeing me, then do it. I promise I wonít kill myself."

Raymond was insulted. "You know what I think, Aristo? I think youíre full of shit."

"Because you want to be needed."

"And who doesnít? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

Aristo held up a hand. "Why donít you smoke a joint and calm yourself down. I didnít mean to insult you. Youíre right, everybody wants to be needed. Even me."

"And you have Him," Raymond said with resentment. He pointed to the crucifix. "You have the Church." He nervously grabbed a joint off the night table and lit it.

Aristo wondered now if he wouldíve guessed what was going on if he hadnít spotted the recorder earlier. Raymond had been goading him to talk all along. Was there a point, Aristo wondered, when it would have become obvious that a trap had been set?

He watched Raymond take a long hit on the joint. He refused the joint when it was offered to him.

"No thanks."

"I miss the Church, Aristo," Raymond said.

"I canít get it back for you. Iím sorry, but I also warned you a long time ago about losing it."

Raymond spoke while holding the smoke in his lungs. "You warned me? You fucking introduced me to the man who ruined it for me." He let the smoke out of his lungs and coughed a few times. "You did that, Aristo. That was as much your fault as mine."

Aristo offered Raymond an ashtray. "And thatís what this is really all about, isnít it?" he asked. "You and Zillah and me. This is about you losing the Church. You need someone to blame. You need me to blame."

Raymond waved the ashtray off. "Fuck you," he said, squinting hard at Aristo. "Fuck you," he repeated, before he stormed into the bathroom. He slammed the door shut behind him.

Aristo took a long drag on the joint Raymond had left behind and looked up at the crucifix again. This time it was Christís cynical smirk staring back at him.


When Father Bruno first came to Port Washington, Father Diodorus had already been involved with a local policeman. He had met officer Ronald Jasnow at a Turkish steam bath in Coney Island during a Church outing. The two men had talked a while before masturbating one another under towels in a sauna.

The relationship slowly blossomed, but Officer Jasnow had sexual hang-ups that precluded anal sex. They maintained a clandestine affair that suited both of them. It rarely required a room or a bed. One would do the other, or vice versa, in a car, a shed, a garage, or a private bathroom. They would use their hands or their mouths, although kissing wasnít permitted.

Aristo had long assumed that he was the wrong partner for Officer Jasnow. He had tried to talk the policeman into therapy to deal with his homosexual issues at the risk of ending what little they had together. It wasnít so much a labor of love as a desire to seek someone new and more open to intercourse.

It was how Aristo eventually introduced Officer Jasnow to Father Bruno, after a particularly long and heated argument about finding someone new that might help the policeman overcome his sexual hang-ups.

"Iím not letting anything inside my asshole and thatís just the way itíll have to be," the cop had yelled at Aristo. "Let it the fuck alone already."

Aristo had just tried to bugger his partner using the middle finger of his right hand. The cop had grabbed Aristoís finger and bent it back until it was nearly broken.

"Youíre gay and youíre depriving yourself!" Aristo had yelled at him.

"You mean Iím a perverted faggot and Iím trying to keep myself from going all the way," the cop retorted.

Aristo had mocked laughing.

"Maybe if I kick some of your teeth out, you wonít think itís so funny," the cop said.

Aristo let go of his wounded finger. "Youíll suck my cock and lick my balls, and kiss them even, youíll do that sometimes, when youíre not thinking so hard, when youíre not stopping yourself, youíll kiss them, my balls, but you wonít fuck."

"Not in the ass, no, I wonít."

"Not me."

"Not you or anybody else?"

"And how do you know that?"


"About anybody else? If Iím your first male experience, how do you know you wonít let it happen with someone else?"

The cop grew frustrated and waved Aristo off. He was twenty-nine years of age and powerfully built. He had won local bodybuilding competitions throughout his police career. Most of his entire adult life had been spent denying what he was.

"I have someone I want you to meet," Aristo had said.

"Another fag? No thanks."

"Heís my lover."

The cop wheeled on him. "I hope you use a condom, heís your lover."

Aristo ignored the comment. "Heís my lover and heís really quite submissive. I think heíd be perfect for you."

"Why, so I can feel like I raped him afterward? I can feel like twice the pervert I already am."

"So you can learn to enjoy what you are, you dumb shit. So you can free yourself from this bullshit youíre choking yourself with."

"Iím a cop, padre, in case you fucking forget."

"Youíre a gay cop."

"Which means Iíll be fired if they find out."

"Which means they canít anymore, and so what if they can? Weíre talking about your sexuality, for Godís sake, what will make you happy versus a salary. How can you equate the two? How can you let the one outweigh the other?"

The cop went silent until he finally left Aristo alone. Two weeks later, he agreed to meet with Father Bruno. A week after that, Officer Jasnow finally engaged in anal sex. Father Diodorus ended his relationship with Father Bruno and left the new couple alone.

The cop and the young priest werenít careful. They saw each other too often and too carelessly to keep their affair secret. They were eventually found out when the wife of a local veterinarian discovered them while having her own affair with a man twenty years her junior. They were in cars parked at opposite ends of a local beach parking lot. It had just turned dark. The young man had just ejaculated inside the woman. She was heading for the public bathroom to clean herself when she spotted the police car and thought it odd the way the officerís head was resting. She moved closer to the car and saw a head moving over the officerís lap. She moved closer still and was just feet from the car when she heard the officer moan and saw the other man spit a mouthful of semen into his cupped hands. She saw the collar at the same time Officer Jasnow and Father Bruno saw her.

The next morning, the woman made an anonymous phone call to the police department. A secret surveillance investigation ensued. The priest and the cop were exposed.

Officer Jasnow was transferred a few months later. A detective with two boys in the catholic school where the priest taught brought surveillance pictures to the diocese. Because of recent high profile pedophilia cases involving priests, Father Bruno was convinced to resign his position with the church.

The priest and the cop would never engage in sexual relations again. Officer Jasnow eventually met a gay detective with the N.Y.P.D. who lived on Long Island. No longer a priest, Raymond Bruno turned to teaching within the New York City public school system. After a long break, he eventually resumed his secretive relationship with Father Diodorus.

Because he was afraid of Raymondís instability, Father Diodorus asked for an assignment in New Jersey. It was his token sacrifice to Raymondís loss. He would give up his quest to become Bishop someday. He would maintain a clandestine relationship with Raymond, but the two lovers would rarely see each other over the next several years.

The last year had been the toughest for Raymond. Their relationship had been reduced to a few hours of lust every few months at remote short stay hotels. Today they had met in Asbury Park, New Jersey; a forty-minute drive from the Parish Aristo had transferred to the previous year in Fords, New Jersey.

Aristo knew that his lover was reaching an emotional breaking point. Raymond had been living with his humiliation for a decade. Because Aristo hadnít encouraged him to stay or offered to help in his defense, or even come out himself to denounce the antiquated Church Policy that had caused so much emotional pain to so many, Raymond had felt abandoned.

Now he wanted revenge. Aristo wasnít sure in what form the revenge would come, but the tape recorder suggested it would be public.

If his time as a priest was running out, Aristo wanted control of it. He had earned his way to heaven. He had never seduced or lured a child into his bed. He had never even been attracted to one. His relationships had all been with consulting adults. He had performed his duties as a priest with total conviction and sacrifice. He had ministered to the poor and sick as if they were his own. He had given his life to the charity of the Church.

And so it was just that he would protect now what he had treasured all his life.

If he was to be abandoned at this late date, if Godís shelter had run its course, or if it was just Aristoís time for the most unfortunate of random coincidence; that Raymondís crisis and his had crossed wires at just the wrong moment in time, he was willing to leave a little bit of hell in his wake.

Judas Iscariot had hung himself. Raymond would need help.

Afterward, if the pain was too great, Aristo thought he might kill himself.

He guessed with pills, or he would buy a gun and shoot himself. He saw himself searching the street outside the motel for the black kid that had sold him the marijuana.

"Can you get me a gun?"

"A what?"

"A gun."

"The fuck for?"

"I want to kill myself."

"Why not drown yourself. The oceanís right across the street."

His thoughts were absurd. He chuckled at them.

There was no way Aristo would kill himself.


Raymond was still angry when he came out of the bathroom. He was stubborn and refused to talk. When he glanced at his watch and mentioned he had to leave soon, Aristo pleaded with him to sit on the bed. Raymond grudgingly did so.

Aristo kneeled behind Raymond on the bed and massaged his shoulders.

"That feels good, but Iím still angry with you," Raymond said.

Aristo smiled at Raymond in the small mirror hanging on the wall to their right. He applied more pressure and Raymond moaned. He altered the massage, switching from firm kneading to lightly touching Raymondís neck with his fingertips.

Again Raymond moaned.

Aristo grew excited watching Raymondís submission in the small mirror. He stood up on the bed and let his erection brush against Raymondís left ear. He left it there until Raymond turned on the bed and took it in his mouth.

Aristo lasted all of two minutes before he could feel his orgasm building. He had already removed the white wire from under the sheet at the head of the bed. He pulled it now from his mouth where he had hid it.

Raymondís right hand moved to Aristoís penis to help pump the ejaculation into his mouth. He moaned again when he tasted the hot semen.

Aristo began to whisper a prayer as Raymond swallowed.

Aristo stopped to moan.

Raymond swallowed again.

Aristo felt his knees buckling and grabbed Raymondís shoulders to steady himself.

Raymond moaned louder.

Aristo handed the ends of the wire off under Raymondís chin. He felt the last spasms of orgasm as Raymond looked up, his right hand still clutching Aristoís penis. Aristo coiled the wire around Raymondís neck and pulled tight in opposite directions. Raymondís eyes opened wide as he gagged. His tongue wiggled left to right as his hands flailed in front of him.

Aristo silently mouthed his prayer as he continued to pull. He bent at the knees for leverage and lifted Raymondís head up with the wire.

Raymond grabbed at the wire around his neck. Aristo tugged harder and Raymondís hands reached up over his head. Aristo continued to lift, using Raymondís weight to hang him. Gurgling sounds filled the room.

Aristo prayed in a forced whisper as Raymondís eyes rolled up and spittle drooled out one corner of his mouth.

Aristo pulled the wire as tight as he could. His arms began to shake as sweat rolled down his face. Raymondís body went limp and Aristo guided it down to the bed.

He let go of the wire and took deep breaths before finishing his prayer.

"And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man. And the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him," Aristo said aloud. "Amen."

Raymond had died with a mixture of semen and saliva in his throat.

Aristo could see the image in his head. "Amen," he repeated as he reached down and closed Raymondís eyelids.

His fingers were sore. He rubbed them a moment until he saw himself in the small mirror. He was covered in sweat.

He stepped down off the bed and took a quick shower. When he was finished, he gathered his things and packed Raymondís recorder.

There was just enough time to drive to Raymondís therapist and catch her at her office before she left for the day. He wouldnít have time to strangle her, but he wouldnít need to pray over her body either, he was thinking. He could do that now as he removed his crucifix from the wall above the bed.

"For I have slain a man to my wounding," he whispered, "and a young man to my hurt."

Charlie Stella's first two novels, Eddie's World (2001) and Jimmy Bench-Press (2002) received excellent reviews, establishing him as a new voice in the hard-boiled fiction market. His third novel, Charlie Opera, published by Carroll & Graf, is already on its way to being a classic in the genre. It has earned widespread critical acclaim including raves from Publishers Weekly (starred), Kirkus, Booklist (starred) and various media reviewers. In addition, it was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of its Best of 2003 (Mystery).

Look for his latest, Cheapskates, in March 2005.

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