“Mr Seeley” by Melissa Scott from So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction (Lethe Press 2009). Edited by Steve Berman.
Tully Swann’s a bootlegger who does jobs for various bosses. He boards with one of his employers, Joe Farr, the owner of a local flower shop who supplements his regular business by selling liquor to some of his customers. We’re told that Tully is “more welcome (in Joe’s home) than a mere employee ought to be”. If you didn’t gather from that that there’s a relationship between the two men then the fact that Joe’s nickname is “Sister Farr” should clue you in.
So far, so good. Tully returns from a job only to find an empty house. Right after that he’s visited by an adult little person he briefly mistakes for a boy. That’s fine, but even after he realize his error, because of the other man’s stature and also the color of his skin, Tully continues to refer to him as “boy”. I appreciate the argument the author introduces with that choice. Tully would likely chafe if someone discounted his humanity because of one inherent aspect of his personality, his attraction to other men, but he fails to see that he does the same sort of thing to other people.
At any rate, the second man, Cal, reveals that he has come there to deliver a note from Joe, informing Tully that he’s up on Irish Mountain with the mysterious Mr. Seeley from the story’s title. It’s understood that he is not there of his own accord. Tully is tasked with doing a job for Mr. Seeley, who is described as a higher-level bootlegger, in order to secure Joe’s freedom.
From there the story is unabashed fun. The connection Tully meets in a foggy clearing is named Mr. Tamlin. This is not the first story in the collection to draw on that particular folktale. It does so with a knowing wink. Tully arrives at Mr. Seeley’s estate on Irish Mountain to find a party already in full swing, attended by gorgeous, well-dressed men and women. He’s offered food and drink by the host. In anyone who has paid attention up to this point in the anthology that invitation will ignite a delightful dread. The author takes full advantage of it.
I’d expected a chase scene toward the start of Tully’s mission to rescue Joe. When it finally came, I was so riveted I could not breathe. A 2012 interview with the author revealed she was expanding this story into a novel. I haven’t yet been able to determine if that happened. I hope so.