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Title: Artful Dodgers
Author: Virginia Plain
Genre/Pairing: Mike/Peter (RL, not TV)
Warnings: language, sexual situations (slash), mild drug references/use
Disclaimer: This story is purely the result of my imagination (which should probably worry me) and not at all any claim to represent real events or ownership of the persons involved.
Summary: Uncle Sam expects that every Monkee will do his duty. For healthy young men not overly keen on getting blown up in a rice paddy, options are limited… or are they?
Author's Note: This story was inspired by a post on the Naked Persimmon Tumblr about how Peter may have avoided being drafted for Vietnam, which NP co-mistress Miss Mini observed was “a Torksmith fic waiting to happen.” She was right; I couldn’t get it out of my mind and, for better or worse, this is the result. It turned out much longer than I expected, but that seems to be the way with these boys!
London, July 1967
“Unbelievable,” Mike muttered, looking out from the hotel balcony at the forest of little pink arms below. An uncountable number of English schoolgirls marching through the London streets like well-scrubbed wooden soldiers, only screaming a hell of a lot louder. The banners they carried were almost taller than they were, and with every few steps they threatened to get tangled and tripped up in their own slogan:
“If Davy goes, we go too!”
Yeah, Mike thought grumpily, yell at me, like I got any say in it.
Figures they’d just yell when he was on the balcony by himself, but they’d be shrieking with glee if the others were there. Or even if just Davy were there.
And it’s the U.S. Army, dears, doubt if they give a damn what some underage British chicks think. Hate to break it to you darlings, but if the army wants to send him to ‘Nam—well, with this kind of “help,” he’s going.
“Like they’re really gonna change anything this way,” he griped aloud. “You got to be practical to get stuff done. If Davy gets out of serving, it’ll be because of the lawyers and the doctors and the money, not because of a bunch of pie-eyed eight-year-olds.”
“Come inside if it bugs you so much,” the voice of his only audience floated through the balcony door from inside the suite.
Mike felt his shoulders stiffen, his annoyance increasing tenfold.
“They have a cause they believe in, and they’re trying to do something about it,” the voice continued, more serene than any sentient member of this species had a right to be.
Mike snorted loudly. “’Don’t draft Davy’—you’re calling that a cause?”
“Hey, they’re young like you said. Maybe in a few years, they’ll find another cause. A bigger one. And maybe by then they’ll have some ideas practical enough to make a difference.”
Practical enough even for a cuss like you, Mike Nesmith, was left unsaid, because Peter never, ever said things like that. No matter how much provocation or justification Mike served him. And Mike was finding it incredibly frustrating.
A couple of times on the show, they’d used for dialogue the insult “spineless jellyfish.” That, to Mike, was pretty much what Peter was. He was lacking in the confrontational instinct to a degree Mike considered abnormal. Life was a battle, from cradle to grave, and if you embraced that and fought back you would win. Mike himself was proof of that.
Still refusing to turn around and face Peter, Mike took off his sunglasses and polished the lenses with his shirttail. “So what about you then?” he sneered.
“What about me…” Peter no longer seemed fully engaged in the conversation. He was probably reading, something about Buddhism or the like. Mike had once told him that the only philosophy he seemed to follow with any consistency was his moral opposition to wearing a shirt. It should have riled Peter; instead he had just laughed.
“What’s your brilliant plan?” Mike put his glasses back on, warming up to his theme. “Davy’s the face of the show, so Bob and Bert’ll pull out all stops to keep him out. Mick’s safe with that childhood thing, and I already done my time in the Air Force. So that just leaves you.” And no way are you gonna fail the army physical, buddy. “Let’s face it, man, you don’t have a legion of eight-year-olds to bail you out.”
Neither do you, would have been the response of any healthy, normal man. And it would have been true. Davy was the most popular of them by far, Micky made a respectable showing, but he and Peter were neck-and-neck for the coveted spot of dead last. It wasn’t really soul-crushing—the eight-year-olds weren’t the audience he or Peter looked to for validation—but it did rankle from time to time.
Mike waited, hoped, for what should have been a snarky reply. When none was forthcoming, he finally left the balcony and returned to the suite to carry on his interrogation up close and personal…
What in holy hell did Peter have against wearing shirts? There he was, lolling in an arm chair like a cat soaking up the sun, lower half encased in those damned white button-down pants, legs stretched out and crossed over with bare feet resting on a large square footstool. And reading, of course. Mike squinted at the title of the cheap paperback—Siddhartha—and snorted again.
“I’ll tell you, Pete, if the draft board saw you now, they’d shave your head and hand you a toothbrush to clean the latrine faster than you can say Hare Krishna.”
There. That should get him going.
“Guess they would,” Peter shrugged, turning another page.
Goddammit, Peter just wouldn’t fight! Even when he’d been just as unhappy as Mike was with the Kirshner situation, his reaction had been to withdraw. It was left to Mike to oust the cruel dictator, and he’d won again. Surely with that example, Peter would be inspired to thump his chest at least a little.
Nope. It had become almost an experiment to Mike, like an alchemist seeking the fifth element, to find Peter’s breaking point. That point when all of those invigorating feelings of anger and rage would get their release and come out as they were meant to, leaving a stronger spirit behind. Everybody had a point like that, even a certain blond hippie who liked to imagine he didn’t.
Well, if Peter had it, it sure was well hidden. Or maybe just numbed by good California grass. Nothing had worked so far. He knew Peter wasn’t too crazy about the country flavor Mike was injecting into their songs, and by all the rules of logic and human behavior he should just haul off and tell Mike exactly where to stick his pedal steel guitar. Instead Peter would shrug and pull out his banjo and pick it like the pro he was, bringing something extra and invaluable to Mike’s song despite himself. It was infuriating, but only to Mike. If you don’t like it, say so! Quit smiling like you’re doing me a favor!
Sarcasm was a second language to Mike, his most trustworthy weapon in all his battles, and he had more than dialed it up a notch in his quest to make Peter lose his rag. A steady flow of snide comments about Peter’s lifestyle, morals, dress sense, musicianship, and cooking abilities had done little to dent Peter’s serenity and done a lot to make Davy and Micky look at Mike like he’d grown a second head or third eye. He had to find success soon, before he ended up a pariah in his own camp.
Once, he thought he’d nearly done it. That day when he’d “suggested” that perhaps Peter’s hippie “friends” now filling his house like The Blob in a movie theater were really little more than freeloading freaks who wouldn’t be bothered to loan Peter so much as a week-old roach to smoke if he didn’t have any money. “’Cause it’s not like you got anything else to offer,” he’d added for good measure. For just an instant he thought he’d seen a spark of … something… in Peter’s eyes. Anger? He’d hoped so. Pain? He’d… well, he’d kind of hoped not. Not that anyone would believe it, considering the stuff he’d been saying to Peter lately, but he really wasn’t out to hurt the guy. He just wanted to shake him up, to relieve that pressure that must be simmering in what he was certain must be a cauldron of festering resentments. It wasn’t healthy to hold it all in. Mike was doing it for Peter’s own damn good, that was all, and he wasn’t going to apologize for it either.
But it still wasn’t to be, not that time. Peter must have counted to ten, or said a mantra to himself, or whatever the hell he usually did, because after a minute he had just said quietly, “I guess when I don’t have any money, then we’ll know. Otherwise, anyone is my friend until they show me they’re not.”
And he’d walked away, and Mike could only stand there and think that Peter had left unsaid, And you’re not.
It wasn’t the kind of victory he was looking for.
“You need to calm down,” Peter was now saying. He sighed and laid his book aside, resting his elbows on the chair’s arms, hands clasped at his waist. He lowered his head slightly, bangs falling into his eyes. “We have to be at Wembley in four hours, and it might help when you get up in front of the audience if you don’t show on your face how much you despise them.”
“I don’t despise ‘em, bless their little cotton socks.” Mike walked over to Peter’s side, using his height to emphasize his next words, or threat, to the seated Peter. “We got a bathroom and a toothbrush here, you know. So quit avoiding my damn question about the draft, or you’ll find out I know how to make you use ‘em.”
Peter sighed again. “Whatever, Michael. If you must know, it’s the conscientious objector route for me.”
Peter looked up at him. “What? It’s nothing less than the truth. I’m a pacifist, I’m opposed to taking part in war. I can answer any questions they put to me about it. It’ll be fine.”
Mike was grateful there was no mirror in the suite’s sitting room, because he didn’t want to confirm what he suspected: that his face must be turning purple. Damn it, how did Peter always manage it? How, when Mike was trying to get Peter angry, did Peter make him almost homicidal?
“So that’s just fine, is it!” Mike roared. “I swear, you don’t know shit!”
Peter stood up, tentatively reaching out to Mike. “Hey, cool it. What’s the matter with—“
Mike shoved him back onto the chair. Peter gasped, attempted to stand once more, but a large and guitar-callused hand pressed flat against his chest and held him in place.
“Do you have any idea what it’s like for a CO?” Mike seethed. “If you think they’re just gonna give you a pat on the head and a lollipop and tell you to go back to the farm, you’re even dumber than you play on the show. Maybe, maybe, if you were actually practicing some religion instead of jerking around with that Hare Krishna baloney, they might buy it. But I’ll tell you what’s really gonna happen: they’ll make you serve in a noncombat role. Know what that means? Probably sweeping floors in some bug-infested, crappy field hospital, where your only company is gonna be guys with their legs or faces blown off. And if the VC decide they’d rather use the Geneva Code for toilet paper and bomb that hospital, well, you’ll probably still find yourself taking a napalm shower and a dirt bath. Only difference between you and the regular joes is they’ll have guns to defend themselves and you won’t. Now how does that grab ya?”
He couldn’t stop himself. The horrific images pouring out of his mouth were also flooding his brain. He was trying to scare Peter into seeing sense, sure, but he was also scaring himself. The thought of that bright hair trampled in the jungle mud, that face burned away in a firestorm… It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Surely even Peter wasn’t so misty-headed that he couldn’t see it wasn’t supposed to go down that way…
Peter was now looking up at him with wide, startled eyes. But before he could get a word in, Mike leant down, whipping off his sunglasses and tossing them aside, thrusting his face close to Peter’s.
“Know what else? The regular joes, your fellow countrymen, your comrades and pals and buddies—they fuckin’ hate COs. Far as they’re concerned, you’re one step away from a traitor and three steps over a coward. Some pampered little middle-class pretty boy with pretty hair who got to go to college and learn to say big fancy words like ‘conscientious’ with his pretty mouth while they and their dads worked in a cement factory or a coal mine. They’ll beat you up every chance they get, and laugh their asses off when you start whimpering that you won’t fight ‘em back ‘cause you’re a pacifist. They’ll try to get you in trouble, turn everyone else against you. And,” his voice dropped to a husky growl, “don’t be surprised if one of ‘em decides the only way to set you straight is to have a real man show you the error of your ways. Watch your back when you’re cleaning those latrines, Pete, ‘cause …”
At last, Mike regained his control and shut the hell up. That was the worst image of all, the one place he simply could not go. That could never happen to Peter, no matter what else happened to anyone, not so long as Michael Nesmith was around …
… But it did give him an idea.
A fucking brilliant idea.
“Jesus Christ.” Peter ran a shaking hand through his hair. “Where did all that come from?”
Mike leant back a little, sitting on the edge of the footstool. Peter shifted slightly to give him more room.
“What, all that?” Mike deliberately lengthened his drawl, feeling himself calm as the perfect solution presented itself. “Just thought you needed a good dose of reality. And that’s what I can give you, me being the ex-Air Force guy and all. And reality is, CO ain’t gonna do squat for ya. Best you could hope for is some clerical posting here in the ol’ US of A, and even that means you won’t be around to do the show or work on the albums.”
Peter himself must have felt the return to equilibrium, because he managed a smile. “I dunno, seems like the day I go off on a tour of duty would be the happiest day of your life. I’ll be out of your hair, out of your way.”
Damn him, he’s done it again. Only this time it wasn’t rage Mike felt, but … well, he wasn’t sure what it was. Not hurt, exactly, or sadness, exactly, but … well, he just didn’t like Peter saying that, especially when Peter sounded so unfazed by the idea of Mike not wanting him around.
“Too easy,” Mike replied, a little too distracted to play his usual game with his usual skill. “I’ll win ‘cause I’m better, not ‘cause the referee disqualifies you.”
Unexpectedly, Peter burst out laughing.
“Sorry,” he wheezed, rubbing his eyes. “Sorry, I think I’m just a little punchy with the show coming up. Why don’t you go rest up, you’re probably more tired than I am…”
Mike didn’t budge. “Nope, I’m not going till I tell you what you gotta do, and you agree to do it.”
Normally Mike would have hoped Peter would react to such a peremptory command by telling him to take two running jumps and go straight to hell, but not this time. This was too important; Peter had to listen to him.
Peter must have seen it in his eyes. “Okay, Michael,” he said softly.
Mike nearly faltered at that gentle acquiescence. It was… sort of… nice. Kind of. A little. Maybe this refusing-to-fight thing had one or two good points to it…
He shook himself. “Okay, so you get what I’m saying that anything that still requires you to serve, even if you don’t actually fight, just ain’t gonna cut it. You got that?” Peter nodded. “So what you gotta do instead, is make yourself out to be something they just plain don’t want. Something a military man wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot microphone stand.”
“Um… “Peter’s smile grew lopsided. He gestured to himself, half-naked and adorned with a mop of long blond hair and a string of love beads. “I think I’m already that, really.”
Mike chuckled, despite himself. “Well, yeah, you lounging around here like Cleopatra is probably halfway to where I’m going with this. But the thing is, you’re gonna have to go all the way.” He took a deep breath. “When I was still serving—this was toward the end for me, back in ’62—we heard stories about this crazy black guy. He wasn’t in our unit, though. He was with the Hundred First Airborne, but that’s army, not Air Force. Somewhere out in Kentucky, but we heard about it all the same.”
If Peter was getting impatient with this rambling introduction, he hid it well.
“Well, he wasn’t any great shakes as a soldier, and you can imagine the kind of stick a black guy gets in Kentucky anyways. He didn’t like it, any of it, so he wanted out. And what we heard is that he told the shrink on his base that he was… ya know, queer.” Mike glanced away, not wanting to see Peter’s reaction. “He said he was in love with another soldier and couldn’t stop jerkin’ off to him in his dreams, or …. or something like that.” He looked back to Peter, who remained impassive. “And they bought it. Kicked him out for ‘homosexual tendencies,’ that’s what they called it.” He moved slightly away from Peter, closer to the edge of the footstool, forcing himself to sit up straighter. “You know how hard it is to get let go when you’re already in? Damn hard. But it worked for him. So it’ll be a lot easier for you to try it before you even get in. Soon as they hear that, they won’t want anything to do with you.”
Silence. How could a person stare so intently for so long without blinking even once?
Finally: “You’ve had a pretty interesting life, Michael.”
Well… that wasn’t as bad a reaction as it could have been.
“We’re talking about you, not me,” Mike smirked. “So, you up for it?”
Uh—maybe that wasn’t the best choice of words…
“Oh, come on,” Peter laughed. “I couldn’t pull that off.”
“Sure you could. You got millions of people believing you’re an idiot on TV, don’t see why you couldn’t convince a few old guys on the draft board you’re a fag.”
Peter laughed again. There was something about the way he laughed… it was quiet, short, rhythmic… as if every joke were a private one. But what he said next wasn’t what Mike expected at all.
“This is why I wish I could work with you,” Peter smiled at him. “You’re the only one who can come up with these totally crazy ideas and sell them.”
“What’s that all about, you wish you could work with me? You already work with me, upwards of twelve hours a day.”
The smile dimmed a few watts. “I’m there, that’s all. You say what you want to do, and I do it. I say what I want to do, and we still do what you want to do. It’s okay, I don’t mean that to sound … bad, or anything. I mean, you obviously know what you’re doing, and I respect that. It’s just the way it is, but sometimes it gets me down. I’m sorry, I can’t help it.”
“If you don’t wanna do what I wanna do, then don’t do it!” Mike snapped. “What part of that is so confusing to you? Stand up to me for once! You got all this musical knowledge I don’t, you got the chops and the connections to back you up. You could wipe the fuckin’ floor with me, so why don’t you!”
Without realizing it, Mike had grabbed Peter’s arm in a tight clench. He only became aware of the force of his grip when he heard a little gasp. He instantly let go.
Peter absently rubbed at the red marks left on his arm. “Remember when we were doing ‘I’ll Spend My Life with You’? Remember working on those arrangements? I had this thing going with the celeste, and you wanted to try the pedal steel. I don’t want us to be a country band, you know that, but when you brought out the pedal steel I was all for it—because it sounded right. I guess you would say I should have fought you over it, tried to stamp out any bit of country before it took us over. But I didn’t see it that way. I still don’t. I just saw something that worked, so I went along with it. I liked it, I loved the idea of you playing it.” He looked up to Mike. “Do you remember that? Would we have got a better song out of it if I’d fought you every step of the way?”
Mike listened to this recital with something akin to horror. He did not need to relive those sessions, those moments when it seemed like Peter was the only one who spoke the same language he did. How he had tried to puncture those moments, shoot them down and bury the ashes. He remembered himself saying “You know, you’re not singing flat anymore” … and Peter looking so happy and pleased and overflowing with excitement… “Thank you, Michael”… and a perfectly timed pause … “You’re singing sharp now.” He did not need to be reminded of just what a bastard he could be, did not need to have it pointed out to him that he was only fooling himself if he really believed he was trying to get Peter mad for Peter’s own good and not for his own peace of mind because he was so damned uncomfortable with this closeness he didn’t want and couldn’t explain...
“Fuck it,” Mike jumped up from the footstool, stalking to the door. “You’ve gone way off track, pal. I just gave you the best advice to save your sorry ass from ‘Nam, that’s all. Take it or leave it. Do it your own way. See if I care.”
Hand on the doorknob, almost free…
“I think I’m seeing it now, actually.”
Don’t turn around, don’t turn back, keep going…
“So let me make sure I understand this,” that voice floated to him. “You say this black guy told the shrink he was in love with another soldier. A coworker, then. I guess I could do that. Tell the draft board I’m in love with a Monkee. You do have a point there. If I’m not rejected for homosexuality maybe they’ll turn me down for bestiality.”
Don’t laugh, it ain’t funny…
“I suppose,” the tormenting voice continued, “they’ll ask me when I first became aware of my feelings. I guess I’ll say it was shortly after we met, when he asked me to live with him.”
“Hey now!” Mike spun around. “You weren’t the only house guest I had, and I did also have my wife and kid there if you recall.”
“We’re talking about me, not you,” Peter mimicked.
Don’t look at him, don’t look at him…
Peter had laced his fingers behind his head, a position that emphasized the lean muscles of his arms and chest, the tapered waist, and the bulge in front of those damned white pants.
“Then what?” Peter continued. “Maybe they’ll ask me if I tried to deal with my urges—“
“If you even dare say you beat off to me in your dreams, I’ll—“
“I guess I’ll say that it helps playing bass on the show, because I can hold it in front of me and hide my little problem. Or not so little problem. If I need to move, I can move against the bass. Yeah, humping my bass, that’s how I’ll say I deal with it. Think they’ll buy that?”
Shut up, shut up…
Mercifully, Peter did. Almost. “Well,” he shrugged, “that’s all I’ve got. You’re the former military man, you’ll know better than me if that’ll be enough to seal it.”
The dismissive tone did not hide the challenge behind those words. And Michael Nesmith did not ever back down from a challenge.
He stood still for just a moment, taking it all in, feeling his blood rushing, willing his strength to flow where it was most needed. He took a calm, slow step toward the armchair and its smugly grinning occupant.
“Enough?” he repeated, dripping contempt. “Sounds like all you’re planning to do is a lot of talk. We military men ain’t talkers. We want action. We want evidence we can see.”
The grin did not waver. “Oh? And what exactly would they want to see?”
Two steady hands reached for the buttons of Peter’s pants.
“Well, first of all,” Mike began with deceptive calm, “they’ll wanna take a look at Little Peter here, to see if he’s been anywhere he shouldn’t.”
The last button popped free. Mike slid his hand inside and almost lost his studied cool. He knew Peter was a good size for someone with such a trim build—the white pants had made that obvious even when fully fastened—but to actually feel that length was something else altogether.
Peter squirmed a bit in his grip, no longer looking so smug. “Too bad for me,” he choked. “Micky’s the clap champion of the group, not me.”
Mike almost didn’t hear him, so lost was he in the sensation of running his hand up and down the length, gliding his thumb over the tip, and seeing the contortions his efforts were producing on Peter’s increasingly less serene face.
When Peter’s words finally registered, Mike snorted. “They won’t be looking for stuff you can catch from chicks, that’s the whole point.” He pulled his hand away and gave Peter’s stomach a little pat. “Looks like you’re okay there. But, as you said, too bad for you. So, what’ll they wanna see next?”
He ran his dark gaze over Peter’s slightly trembling form.
“Stand up.” Peter stumbled to his feet, slipping on the paperback of Siddhartha he’d left on the floor, almost tripping over the stool. “If you can,” Mike added sardonically. He kicked the abandoned book out of the way and circled round this so very interesting specimen, stopping when he stood behind Peter. “Next thing they’ll check is your prostate. Every guy hates this part, by the way. But we can’t have you facing Victor Charlie with a duff prostate, can we?”
As he spoke Mike pushed Peter’s pants down to his knees—with more than some difficulty, they were so damned tight. But he was nothing if not persistent, and he gained his second wind from the sight of the treasure now revealed to him. Damn, what an ass… Where’d you get this fine ass, Peter? It never ceased to amaze him how a guy who never really seemed to exert himself could be so fit. It wasn’t fair … but it sure was mighty fine.
“This is the part where the doctor tells you to cough.” Mike slowly, tortuously inserted one finger of his right hand, grasping Peter’s hip with his left. Peter shuddered against him. “Oh yeah,” Mike whispered in his ear, “every guy hates this.” He thrust in a second finger, slowly scissoring it with the first. “Really hate it, don’t ya?” A strangled groan answered him. Mike took his cue, pushing in further.
“Holy—what did you just do?!”
“That,” said Mike, unbearably self-satisfied and not giving a damn, “means your prostate is working too well for them to reject you. So they gotta find something else.” He turned Peter around to face him. “Probably next they’ll check your throat. Make sure you’re not blistered back there.”
Peter’s eyes, which had been squeezed shut, now popped open. “Blistered?!”
“Yeah, you know. From blowin’ and suckin’ and swallowin’ … stuff. And if your man that you’re waxing so poetic about to them is who they probably think it is, then they’ll know you’ve swallowed a lot of stuff. ‘Cause he’s a lot of man. Ain’t I right?”
“Blisters!” Peter laughed weakly, sagging against him.
Seizing his chance, Mike maneuvered them both back down onto the armchair. He straddled Peter, lifting up his chin. With one hand he squeezed at Peter’s cheeks to force his mouth open. The other tilted Peter’s head back. He peered into that mouth, noting in passing the scent of mint toothpaste.
“Well, the light’s none too good in here, is it? Looks like this is gonna require a hands-on examination.”
Lips and tongue had to serve for hands, but Mike didn’t hear any complaints. He wasn’t exactly complaining himself, not now when he had that mouth right where he wanted it. Faint moans sounded in his ears, reminding him that there was still a ways to go. Reluctantly, he withdrew and looked into Peter’s glazed eyes.
“You’re passing to fail so far, hate to tell you. No blisters. You been neglectin’ your man, then?” Peter’s eyes widened as he clearly guessed what was coming next. “Not good, Peter, they’ll doubt you’re sincere if you can’t put your mouth where your money is. So to speak. So, maybe they’ll ask you to give a little demonstration. Prove you know what you’re doing.”
Peter took a few quick breaths, but his voice still came out chokey. “But doesn’t that mean you’d have to be there in front of the board with me?”
Mike’s smile was just short of cruel. “We’re talking about you, not me.”
It wasn’t the most skilful blowjob Mike had ever received, but the enthusiasm made up for the lack of practiced craftsmanship. More than made up for it, in fact. So much that Mike realized he’d almost committed a fundamental strategic error.
“Hold up now,” he pulled Peter’s head away from his furiously pulsing length, regretting the loss of moist warmth as soon as he felt it. Be patient, he frowned down there, while trying to keep himself on a steady simmer by stroking Peter’s hair. “So,” he continued, voice slightly strained, “you’ve proven to them that you can suck your man off. Good boy. But then they’re gonna wonder why your throat ain’t blistered. They’re gonna think they’ve caught you lying, so what are you gonna say to that?”
Peter wasn’t in a state to say much of anything. He simply nuzzled his face back into Mike’s crotch, trying once again to minister to him.
“None of that now,” Mike admonished, tugging again at his hair. “Be serious. What you’re gonna say to them is, you always stop before he comes ‘cause he’s got better places to stick his dick and better things to do with it.”
Mike held his breath. Had he gone too far? Sure, up to a point this was a game, and Peter had seemed willing to play. Or was Mike only seeing what he wanted to see? No, Peter had to be willing. This was one time Mike did not want to fight. Fighting didn’t belong here, they needed to work together …
It would be better if they worked together, the best …
If only they worked together…
“Will you stop pissing around and just do it,” Peter yelled, “you impossible son of a bitch!”
Twenty minutes later, a thoroughly spent Michael Nesmith lay jammed in a tiny armchair with a dozing Peter Tork wedged at his side, face nestled in his shoulder. Their legs were entwined together on the square footstool. How two grown men could even fit in such an arrangement, let alone do what they had just done, was a mystery for the ages that Mike was content to leave unsolved.
There was another mystery at hand, a much more vital and pressing one.
The late afternoon sun was streaming through the balcony doors, throwing a patch of purest light on their little corner of debauched bliss. The sun caught Peter’s hair. Mike swallowed.
“Of course,” he said as if the last twenty minutes had never happened, “there’s one other question they’ll ask you. The money question, the clincher. It’s the one that’s gonna make or break you, so you gotta sound convincing.”
“Mmm?” Peter curled further into Mike’s shoulder.
Mike glanced down at the tousled head then looked away, back to the balcony doors.
“They’ll wanna know… uh… why you love this guy.”
He felt Peter’s head shift, probably straining up to try to see his face.
“I mean,” Mike swallowed again, “he’s kind of an asshole, isn’t he? Always snapping at you, putting you down, ordering you around. He treats you like shit ninety-nine percent of the time. So, why?”
A warm hand touched the side of his face, gently pulling him back around. He wasn’t sure what he expected to see in the eyes he’d been avoiding, but it certainly wasn’t the compassion, the acceptance and affection shining from their depths.
“I guess I’d say,” that voice floated up to him, “it’s the other one percent that keeps me hanging on. Because his one percent beats anybody else’s hundred percent any day. Because there’s no one else like him, and I keep hoping some day he’ll stop fighting to prove it and just believe it.”
Half a dozen arguments instantly sprang to Mike’s mind and nearly made it off the tip of his tongue. There was Peter being a delusional pie-eyed hippie freak again, never knew what he was talking about, knew nothing about Mike’s dark places, didn’t know the first thing about—
Wait a second here. He’s telling me I’m worth something. Why would I argue with that? What am I fighting him for now?
Instead he cleared his throat. “I wasn’t bullshitting you earlier. The idea of you having to leave, whether for combat or noncombat or whatever… Well, you just need to stay here. Or… hell, I’m no good at this stuff. What I mean is, I need you to stay. You really do help me with the music, you know.”
“I do?” Peter’s face almost outshone the afternoon sun. “You mean that?” An eager puppy all but wagging his tail. “Really?”
“Yep.” A perfectly timed pause. “Whenever you say something’s a good idea, that’s when I know to do the opposite.”
A cheap paperback of Siddhartha playfully swatted at the side of his head.
“If you really want me to drop this pacifism thing, buster, you’re sure going about it the right way.”
“Go on and drop it,” Mike grinned. “Won’t make no difference to the draft board, anyways.” He planted a kiss on Peter’s forehead. “I still got ya covered.”
New York, a week or so later…
The floor of the hotel suite was as littered as any battlefield. The weapons of choice, three guitars, now lay retired. The three warriors, or their remains, had called a truce after a very satisfactory test of skill if not necessarily of strength. Smoke floated above them, not from spent artillery but from the best grass available on the East Coast. A mournful dirge swirled around them courtesy of the room’s deluxe stereo system: not “Taps” but Ella Fitzgerald offering love for sale.
One of the corpses roused himself for another toke, which he passed on to the comrade in arms sprawled at his left.
“Jimi, man, I’m sorry,” Mike said, his drawl thickening along with the smoke. “Ain’t your fault it didn’t work out. And you’re lucky, least you’ll be free while we’re still stuck playin’ for eight-year-olds.”
“You’ll find your audience, Jimi,” Peter said, sounding more hyper the slower Mike drawled. “They’re out there, I know it. You’re too good. I mean, you know, if you played Beethoven everyone would be talking about how you played Beethoven, or, um, I mean…”
Mike smiled to himself as Peter babbled away. Grass made Peter talkative, and giggly, and a little tongue-tied, but even stoned he couldn’t help being sincere.
“What he means,” Mike stepped in, “is no hard feelings, right?”
“Nope,” Jimi said easily. “Not gonna lie, I didn’t wanna do this tour. Didn’t like you guys, without even knowing you. I busted my balls on the chitlin’ circuit backin’ the likes of Buddy and Stacy”—Mike and Peter exchanged foggy glances; neither of them had any idea who Buddy and Stacy were, but perhaps that was Jimi’s point—“never gettin’ nowhere, and it looked like you guys got everything handed to you without even tryin’. But you know what? You can really play. It turned out cool. You guys are cool.”
His voice was deep and earthy, his manner unhurried, unworried as always.
Damn, Mike thought, here’s another one who’d rather float in a cloud of cotton candy than throw a good healthy tantrum when everything’s fucked. I’m surrounded!
But he was going to miss Jimi. They all would. Having him on the U.S. tour was at once inspired and insane, but the little girls weren’t going for it, their mommas were all horrified, and playing their first shows in Florida with a black guy who liked to wear pink scarves hadn’t exactly accomplished much for race relations. So Jimi had now taken his last bow with them, here in New York. Still, at least they’d had the chance to hear him every night while they waited to follow him onstage. It was a great privilege. Even Davy, who vastly preferred Broadway to Jimi’s freak-out sonic superstorms from Saturn, still acknowledged that they had witnessed something special and probably never to be repeated. At least they’d have those memories. And Jimi had certainly left them a great deal to remember him by: he’d even thoughtfully wrecked Peter’s car for him.
Peter being Peter, the loss was waved away with a smile and a shrug. Cotton candy, Mike had thought with disgust, fully expecting Peter to offer to buy Jimi a new car for himself. Instead, Peter with twinkling eyes had offered to buy Jimi a pair of glasses. You’re learning, buddy, Mike smirked to himself.
“So what will you do?” Peter asked Jimi.
“Aw, who knows,” the earthy voice breathed. “For you guys, I guess you can replace me with Mickey Mouse.” He flashed a toothy grin to show there was no malice behind his words. “For me, well, we may have a few things goin’. Got my first album out next month, see if that goes anywhere. There’s always back to the chitlin’ run, if that’s what I gotta do.” He dragged on the joint again before handing it over to Peter. “I guess,” he laughed softly, “if nothin’ else works I could always go back to the Hundred First. It’d take a lot of talkin’ but any port in a storm, huh?”
The fog in Mike’s brain instantly evaporated. “Hundred First? You mean the Hundred First Airborne? You were in the army, man? No way!”
“Sure was. It was either that or go to jail for stealin’ cars. Not a hard choice, you know?”
“I’m hip,” Mike nodded. “When I went into the Air Force, it was down to either being nothin’ on the streets or nothin’ in a uniform. At least in a uniform I could get a discount at the local movie theater.”
Peter burst into a fit of giggles.
Jimi laughed again too. “Wasn’t a hard choice, but wasn’t a good one either. I just didn’t dig it. Wanted to be free, get out there and play my guitar.”
“Yeah,” Mike said softly, a growing suspicion forming. “Uh, where were you stationed? What years?”
“Joined up in ’61. That was in California.”
“Oh…” Well, of course. It would be too ridiculous a coincidence—
“But then I was in Kentucky in ’62, and that’s when I split…”
Mike glanced at Peter, who had no more giggles left in him. His eyes were now clear, the suspicion obviously growing in his mind as well.
“…and, man,” Jimi flashed them a huge grin, “you would not believe what I told them to get my ass booted out of there!”
“Yeah, well… we sorta… uh…” Mike mumbled, for once at a loss.
“Yeah, well,” Peter beamed, stealthily clasping Mike’s hand, “tell us anyway.”