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Short Stories 365/173 | N.S. Beranek

“Faithful” by Michael Thomas Ford from Men of the Mean Streets (Bold Strokes Books, 2011). Edited by Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann.

I’ve heard it said that prior to the start of a chess tournament, while waiting in the green room, Bobby Fischer became irate with his fellow competitors because they were passing the time chatting about mundane things. The way I heard the story he seethed for awhile before leaping to his feet, shouting, “What does any of that have to do with CHESS?”

I like that story because I tend to be a little bit like that, which is to say obsessive. While reading this story I kept hearing my inner voice growing more and more impatient, threatening to jump up screaming. That’s because the tale is told from the perspective of the romantic interest of a mafia hit man. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, she’s his wife.

I actually, honestly, stopped and checked the cover of the book. Surely, this wasn’t another instance like I experienced with “Handsome Devil: Stories of Sin and Seduction” (Prime Books, 2013) where the stories turned out to be mainly straight ones. I mean, I’d read the introduction by editor Greg Herren, which mentioned that originally the project was planned as a single anthology, but because so much great work was received they decided to do two volumes, and divided it up into “Men of the Mean Streets” and “Women of the Mean Streets”.

Sure enough, when I looked the subtitle was there: Gay Noir. So I wasn’t crazy, at least not in that regard. Which brought me to: What does this have to do with chess?!

I kept reading. Wise guy Jake Anthony has come home from his latest hit, but instead of making love to his wife like a raging bull, as he normally does after a job, he sits on the edge of their bed shaking like a leaf. He tells her it went wrong, they killed someone they shouldn’t have, and there is going to be hell to pay. Probably, he’s going to die. But first he has to make an appearance at the compound his victim called home. Oddly, his wife’s presence has also been requested. The two agree that in these sorts of cases, there’s no point in running.

I waited to see what the twist was going to be. Obviously, Jake was hiding a secret from his wife, some alliance he’d made that she didn’t see coming because of his ardor in their bedroom. Right?

There is a twist, and the story is certainly well written, but it doesn’t have as much to do with “chess” as I would have liked. (Partly that’s because this piece is gay noir erotica, and showing this moment got the author the most, ahem, bang for his buck.) Personally, I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if the story had started either at a point much earlier, or else after the twist, if it showed the reason why things happened the way they did, and the consequences, if there are any. But that’s just me. As I’ve said before in these reviews, your mileage may vary.