Happy Independence Day

Published August 20, 2014

Terrence Bottom wants to change the world. Little does he know the world is already changing, and his part in it won’t be what he expects. A prelaw student at Columbia University, Terrence’s interests range from opposing the draft and the war in Vietnam, to civil rights for gays, to anything to do with Cameron McKenzie, the rugged blond hanging around the Stonewall Inn. Too bad Cameron bolts whenever Terrence looks his way.

College dropout Cameron McKenzie left tiny Paris, Kentucky with dreams of a career on Broadway. Although he claims to be straight, he prostitutes himself to survive. Now the Mafia is using him to entrap men for extortion schemes. He’s in over his head with no way out—at least not a way that doesn’t involve cement shoes and a swim in the Hudson.

Terrence finally confronts Cameron, and they return to the Stonewall Inn during another police raid. But this time the patrons aren’t going quietly. While Terrence sees his chance to stand beside his friends and stand up for his beliefs, Cameron sees the distraction of the riots an opportunity to escape—even if it means walking away from the only man he’s ever loved.

 

Reviews

Prism Book Alliance says:

Just as “After Christmas Eve” painted a vivid (and sometimes very bleak) picture of what life for gay men was like in the mid-sixties, “Happy Independence Day” offers the equally vivid, and not particularly pretty backdrop, of gay life in Manhattan in that revolutionary year of 1969.

Star Angel Reviews says:

This was definitely not like any other book I have read in this genre and it was worth stepping outside of my norm.

3 Chicks After Dark says:

I applaud Rupured for being able to transport readers back in time where they can experience all the sights and sounds of the era. Through his excellent details and imagery, the setting and characters vividly come to life page by page. Rupured has a way of challenging present day social issues with his exploration of the past. Maybe it’s because he so clearly outlines the issues and events that have shaped our current social climate, and we can’t help but be thankful for the progress we’ve made while still considering all that’s yet to come.

The Novel Approach Reviews says:

Reading this book was like traveling back through history to get an eyewitness view of the events that shaped LGBT history.

Mr. Rupured is able to take us back in time to experience all the sights and sounds of the time. His exceptional details and imagery make the characters as well as the setting come to life for the reader. It feels so real, genuine.

Joyfully Reviewed says:

An intense character study set within a volatile moment in U.S. history explodes in Happy Independence Day where lives are forever altered.

The Novel Approach says:

Michael Rupured does a tremendous job of bringing historical facts and fiction together for an excellent story—his description of the clothes, music and the events will definitely take you back in time. I do highly suggest reading No Good Deed first to learn about Terrence and Harold and how they became part of Philip Potter’s life.

Divine Magazine says:

I really enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as No Good Deed, and the only reason I can maybe pinpoint, is the crime/thriller element is not here. Its based around the Stonewall Riots of June 1969, the run up and the few days after.  So there are are murderous thoughts from some people, but none that take flight. We get how one police officer feels before and after, how two amazing women stand up to the police, how people watching nearby felt. Its very deep, in the emotions that run through it, and I did like that.

Rainbow Book Reviews says:

Michael has done a great job of bringing the characters from the first book into the present of this story. Terrance may be the focus with his love interest being Cameron, but woven in with their romance are real historic events. Michael’s writing is smooth and evenly paced. Even though I knew what would take place, I still couldn’t put the book down. When I heard about the riots back in 1969, I was appalled that it took violence to achieve change, but I remember thinking: “It’s about time to call for some respect.” Thanks, Michael, for the brilliant portrayal of Stonewall’s legacy.

TTC Books and More says:

This is another great story by Michael Rupured. With so many unique characters and so many stories going on in one book. This time, there isn’t such a mystery as a true historical event unfolds before us mixed with the lives of his fictional characters.I sat on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next. I loved the ending, and I am hoping for more Phillip Potter stories soon!

Historical Novel Society says:

This is a gritty and well-researched vision of gay life in New York City during the famous Stonewall riots of the 1960s. Multiple perspectives add color to the historical event, ranging from closeted tourists to local drag icons, mafia nightclub owners to the police personnel assigned to harass gay bars, an unfortunate fact of New York law-enforcement policy during the era.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Tuesday, June 24, 1969

Terrence Bottom tapped a sandaled foot on the linoleum-tiled floor and bit his lip. Speaking his mind at a Mattachine-New York meeting was a waste of time and energy. But watching the older members of the homophile organization nod their heads in agreement as the speaker droned on about homosexuality being a mental illness had been more than he could take. As the uptight men and women nearby glared at him, he rolled his eyes at Kelsey Ryan and whispered, “You ready to blow this joint?”

Before she could answer, the esteemed speaker concluded his remarks. After a polite round of applause, the well-dressed men and women filled the aisles and chatted as they made for the door of the Columbia University lecture hall where the meeting had been held.

Kelsey and Terrence merged into the slow-moving mass creeping toward the exit. Between reed-thin Terrence’s curly blond hair and Kelsey’s height—never mind that she was built like an offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins—the unlikely pair stood out in the crowd. Rather than the suits worn by other men in the lecture hall, Terrence had on faded bell-bottomed jeans embroidered with flowers, a tie-dyed T-shirt, and a wide white belt with a peace-sign buckle.

“The old guard just doesn’t get it,” Kelsey said, rolling up the sleeves of her oxford shirt to her elbows as she walked. “Working behind the scenes to change the world hasn’t gotten us anywhere.”

“I don’t know about that,” Terrence said, falling in beside her. “Legal challenges to alcohol regulations have helped to crack open the door here in New York.”

“How?” Kelsey shoved her hands into her pockets. “The police have raided every gay bar in town at least once in the last two weeks. Legal victories haven’t stopped them from harassing us every chance they get.”

“Philip and George—”

“Are just like the other men their age working for change.” She shook her head. “They think we should be patient, but my patience has run out. We need new tactics so the world stops seeing homosexuals as mentally ill, morally bankrupt freaks who can’t be trusted to work in the government or around children.”

Terrence nodded. She was on her soapbox now. He didn’t bother reminding her he agreed with her. She was too wound up to stop until she’d said her piece.

“The white men in power aren’t going to give us our rights. We need to stand up and fight for equality, like the Black Panthers or Students for a Democratic Society.” She punched her open palm with a fist. “They didn’t get anywhere until they stood up to the cops. What a fight!”

Despite Kelsey’s pleas, Terrence hadn’t gone uptown with the students in his sociology class last year to show support when the SDS had staged a protest over Columbia University’s backing of the war in Vietnam. Rather than protecting the students, university and law enforcement officials had beaten them with nightsticks and bombed them with tear gas. The sight of his bruised and bandaged classmates afterward had flipped the switch for Terrence. If he hadn’t learned anything else on the streets, he’d learned you fought force with force.

Terrence and Kelsey descended the steps into the subway station to wait for the next train to Greenwich Village. Businessmen, sweating in suits, loosened ties and glared at them. Terrence knew they made quite a pair. He’d toned down his flamboyance some, but next to Kelsey—sturdy, stocky, and rumbling, like a Mack truck—he was the picture of femininity. Despite her efforts to conceal them, her impressive breasts might have been attractive on another woman, but on her masculine frame, they just looked out of place.

“Want to grab a drink at the Stonewall Inn later?” Terrence asked, spotting headlights moving toward the station.

Kelsey snorted. “And would the reason you want to go have something to do with that high-class callboy you’ve been watching?”

Terrence punched her arm. “You don’t know he’s a callboy.” He tossed his hair and smiled. “And he’s watching me. I just happened to have noticed.”

“Who wouldn’t?” She paused, waiting for the noisy train to come to a stop. “The man is gorgeous, and for me to notice is saying something.” They stepped onto the car and the doors squealed shut behind them. “But he’s a hustler, trust me, and he’s working for the mob. I’ve seen him talking to Frankie Caldarone too many times, and he ain’t shining the man’s shoes.”

Terrence led the way to the back of the subway car, and they settled onto the last seats on each side of the aisle. “Frankie Caldarone? The bald-headed goon at the Stonewall Inn?” Terrence crossed his legs and adjusted the forty-inch bellbottoms to cascade in folds above the sandals he wore. “He’s just a bouncer.”

“More like the enforcer, at an unlicensed private club, owned and operated by who?” She spread her legs wide, leaned back, and wove her hands together behind her head.

“Wouldn’t that be whom?” Terrence didn’t want to admit Kelsey could be right. Trading sexual favors for money didn’t bother him so much. Hustling was a dangerous, dead-end job he’d managed to escape more than two years earlier, thanks to Philip and George. Hustling for the mob, however, was a death sentence with no chance for parole, pardon, or escape.

“Either way, the answer is the same.” She shook her head and leaned forward, dropping her hands to her knees. “You’d be smart to stay the hell away from that one.”

“Come on, Kelsey.” Terrence fluffed his hair and adjusted his headband, feeling the embroidered peace sign with his fingers and shifting the band a bit to center the emblem over his nose.

She laughed and punched his arm. “You say that like going out with him is the furthest thing from your mind.”

Terrence gazed at her, wide-eyed. “You know me better than that.”

“Oh, you are so good.” Kelsey shook her head and folded her arms. “I know you all right. Hearing you can’t have something just makes you want it that much more.”

Terrence sat up, turned to her, and put his hand on her knee. “All we have is right now, this very minute. Two minutes from now, this train could crash, killing us both.”

“Shit, Terrence.” She shuddered. “You know I hate the subway.”

His gaze shifted to the window behind her. He stared, seeing remembered faces in the passing blackness. “When you want something, you gotta go for it—before somebody snatches it away from you and it’s gone, forever.” He brushed a fist over his eye and shook his head. “Besides, I’ve never even talked to him.”

“Maybe not, but the way you two look at each other is enough to make me blush.” She chuckled. “I’m just jealous. Hell, I’d pay a year’s tuition to have a pretty girl look at me like that.”

Terrence reached over and tousled her short brown hair. “You’re a good person, Kelsey. If I was a lesbian, I’d be proud to be your girlfriend.” He leered at her and grinned. “Even without those big titties of yours!”

She laughed and reached for her top button. “Careful now, or I’ll turn ’em loose on you.”

Chapter 2

Philip Potter opened the door and smiled, delighted to see his first guest had finally arrived. He’d fussed around his Washington, DC apartment all morning to make sure everything was ready for the party. Nervous energy had collided with a dish of chocolates around noon, forcing a last-minute trip to the store to replenish a bowl that seemed to empty of its own volition.

“Lieutenant White!” Philip clasped his hands together. “I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Oh come on, Philip. Must we be so formal?” A dazzling smile lit up her face, the bright red lipstick drawing attention to the contrast between her pearly whites and ebony skin. “Call me Shirley—at least when I’m not in uniform.” She threw her arms around his shoulders and squeezed. “I wouldn’t miss Harold’s graduation party for the world, never mind the chance to see you again. Where’s George?”

“He took the guest of honor out to lunch and has strict orders not to arrive back here a moment before three o’clock.” He glanced at his watch. “There’s coffee, would you like a cup?”

“Like you read my mind….”

As they turned toward the kitchen, the apartment door burst open. A smiling redheaded boy bee-lined for Philip. “Zio!” He flung his arms around Philip’s waist and his feet left the floor.

“How about I just help myself to a cup of that coffee?” Shirley smiled. “While you greet your guests.”

Philip nodded, and then grabbed the precocious child to keep him from falling, holding him close. “My goodness, who is this young man?”

Jade-green eyes peeked out from under blond lashes and rusty bangs as an enormous smile, minus several teeth, spread across his freckled face. “I’m Thad Parker, your nephew, silly!”

Philip set Thad down and ran a hand through his silky hair. “Good grief! You’ve grown a foot since I saw you last week. Dear child, where are your glasses? I don’t suppose you’ve outgrown them too?”

“Here they are,” said Mary Parker, giving Thad his glasses as she came through the door and handing Philip a gift, wrapped in white paper and topped with a silver bow. “For the graduate.” She hugged Philip and kissed his cheek. “How’s my little brother?”

“Delighted to see you, as always.” Philip placed the package on the table with several envelopes. “Where’s your husband?”

“He’s coming.” She poked her head out the door. “Hurry up, Alex, we’re letting out the air-conditioning!”

A bespectacled man stumbled into the apartment behind her, juggling a thick brown briefcase and half a dozen short, square boxes. He glanced at Philip, and one of the boxes fell to the floor. “I brought the slides from our trip to Italy.”

“Wonderful!” Philip retrieved the fallen box. “Why don’t you set that up in Harold’s bedroom? I’ll send anyone back who wants to see.”

A disappointed Alex headed down the hall. “But I was thinking….”

“Yes, Alex, I know.” Philip frowned. “But remember how awful everything looked on that dark green living room wall?”

He gave Philip a sheepish nod.

“I think you’ll be much happier with the white walls in the bedroom,” Mary said. “Thad, run along with your father and get everything set up before Harold and George get here.” She hooked Philip’s elbow with her hand and whispered, “Well done.”

“Avoiding another grand viewing of the slides from your trip has become a priority of late,” Philip said, pulling a monogrammed handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his brow.

She laughed. “You’ve only seen them three, maybe four times. What about me?”

“I’m sure we’ll treasure them, years from now.” Philip returned the folded handkerchief to his pocket and steered her to the kitchen. “Lieutenant White, err, I mean Shirley, allow me to introduce my sister, Mary Parker.”

Shirley stood and extended her hand. “Pleasure to meet you!”

Mary grasped Shirley’s hand in both of hers and smiled. “I feel like I know you! Nice to finally meet the woman Philip wrote so much about in his letters.”

During Alex’s two-year deployment to Manila for the State Department, Philip had missed them even more than he’d imagined he would. Except for when he and George had gone to Italy for a visit, Philip had written long, chatty letters to Mary every week while they were abroad.

A series of knocks on the apartment door drew his attention. “Excuse me, ladies. That must be the Dombroskis.” Philip hurried to the living room to greet them. “Mrs. Dee! I’m so glad you could come.”

A pudgy, middle-aged woman in a homemade dress pushed past him, a Tupperware cake carrier in one hand and a well-worn shopping bag in the other. Philip clasped his hands together and smiled at a willowy teenage girl with short blonde hair plastered to her head, darkly rouged cheeks, and enormous, mascara-ringed blue eyes. She held a box wrapped in psychedelic paper with several matching bows. “And look at you, Abigail!”

“Hi, Mr. Potter.” She blushed and looked at the floor.

Mrs. Dee lifted up the shopping bag. “I brought you a few jars of the bread-and-butter pickles, green tomato relish, and blackberry jam I put up last week.” She handed the bag to him. “When the strawberries come in, I’ll bring you some preserves.” She lifted the cake holder to eye level. “And this is jam cake with boiled caramel icing. Harold’s favorite. Point me to the kitchen.”

“This way, Mom,” Abigail said, pointing down the hall. “Where’s Harold?”

Philip glanced at his watch. “He should be here soon. Come on back and say hello to everyone.”

The crowd in the little kitchen spilled over into the living room. Philip did a quick head count as his guests chatted and caught up with each other. “All right, except for Harold and George, I believe everyone is here.”

“Isn’t Terrence coming?” Shirley asked.

“No.” Philip shook his head. “He wanted to be here, but he’s taking classes this summer at Columbia University.”

“He’s come so far.” She patted Philip on the back. “You should be very proud of him.”

“I am. He’s turned into a fine young man.” He cleared his throat and waited a moment for everyone to quiet down. “Thank you all for coming today to celebrate Harold’s high school graduation.” He paused, glancing at the familiar faces around the room. “As you know, the last few years haven’t been easy for him. Holidays and special occasions have been particularly difficult—”

“But not nearly as bad for him as they would have been without you,” Shirley said. Heads around the room nodded in agreement.

“And the love and ongoing support of everyone here.” Philip glanced around the room. “Thank you, for everything you’ve done for us.”

“When do we yell surprise?” Thad asked. A sheepish look came over his face when everyone laughed. “Mommy said I couldn’t have any cake until after we yell surprise.”

Philip glanced at his watch again. “Any minute now, Thad. Okay everyone, into the living room.”

“If he hears us, he won’t be surprised.” Thad put a finger over his lips. “Shhhhhhhh!”

Chapter 3

Cameron McKenzie walked through Central Park, wondering how he’d landed in such a mess. Trading sex for money was supposed to have been a short-term solution to a temporary cash-flow problem. Now he was trapped.

Pigeons scattered out of his way as he walked. His jeans and T-shirt clung to him in the humidity and heat of high summer, and he resisted the urge to wipe the sweat from his brow with the still-dry shirt slung over his shoulder. He glanced at his watch and quickened his pace.

The cash he’d brought with him from Kentucky had run out in two days—much faster than he’d expected. His experience on the farm didn’t translate into any kind of job in the city. A chance encounter with a kind man who’d stopped to offer him a ride had launched his career. Having sex with men wasn’t so bad, and the money was good. After that, rather than starving to death, Cameron had done what he had to do to get by.

Cameron wasn’t queer. Couldn’t be. He wasn’t the least bit effeminate, had no desire to dress up like a woman, and would never touch a child of either gender. If he ever managed to find a way out of the mess he was in, he wanted a wife, children of his own, and a little dog to keep in a spacious, fenced-in yard somewhere. If women got horny enough to pay for sex, he wouldn’t even be here. But they didn’t. Sex was sex, and though some of his clients were disappointed, they accepted that kissing wasn’t part of the deal.

The point of no return came with his first arrest. The officer had talked with Cameron about his career choice and, because he liked him, had given Cameron another chance. Rather than taking him to jail, the crooked cop had introduced him to Frankie Caldarone, the man he now hurried to meet.

At first Cameron had thought he’d found the perfect gig to tide him over until he landed a breakout role in a big Broadway show. Hustling for Frankie came with a tiny room in a dilapidated boarding house, a free meal from Guiseppe’s every day, a little spending money, and protection from harassment by local police. Instead of walking the streets in all kinds of weather, he hung out in nice, dry hotels with heat in the winter and air-conditioning in summer. Unlike the self-employed hustlers he saw getting tossed out every night, nobody bothered him. Bellhops and front-desk clerks on the mob’s payroll sent johns his way.

The downside hadn’t become apparent right away. Rather than free, Frankie’s deductions for the shabby little room and free meals ended up consuming almost all the money he made. Skipping meals didn’t increase his income, either.

Handing over all the money he made was bad enough. Submitting to Frankie’s sexual demands was worse. Whatever he wanted, any time, wherever they happened to be. But even that paled in comparison to what Frankie made Cameron do to his customers.

Frankie sat alone on a bench overlooking the lake. The very sight of his bald-headed employer repulsed Cameron, a feeling that had intensified in the months since he’d tried to quit hustling for a star-making supporting role in an off-Broadway musical comedy. Frankie had laughed, saying Cameron already had a job, and the next day had sent his goons to retrieve Cameron from rehearsals.

Cameron slid onto the opposite end of the bench and waited for Frankie to speak. By the lake, two little boys pulled boats on strings. Cameron saw the way Frankie eyed them and shuddered. His sadistic employer liked them young and was likely responsible for the disappearance of more than a few missing boys.

“Whadya got for me?” Frankie said, with an accent Cameron had come to identify with the Jersey Shore.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out three wallets, sliding them across the bench with a wad of crumpled bills.

Frankie stuffed the bills into his pocket and then picked up the wallets. “Just three?” He glanced at Cameron. “You used to bring me five or six.” He flipped through the contents, stuffing any cash he found into his left pants pocket before dropping the wallets into a brown paper bag on the ground between his feet. “Getting old?”

Cameron watched the dirty old man check him out, looking for signs he’d lost value. He had an extra wrinkle or two, but he hadn’t gained any weight or lost any hair. They wouldn’t be fitting him for concrete wading boots any time soon. But Cameron knew sooner or later his day would come.

Frankie pulled a ten-dollar bill from his wad of cash with thick fingers and handed it to Cameron before shoving the rest back into his pocket. “The photos of you and that john you picked up at the Hilton Hotel last week turned out to be worth a fortune.”

Cameron wondered which unlucky bastard he was talking about. At first he’d thought stealing the wallets was a crime of opportunity, since the victims were unlikely to tell anyone. But Frankie used the information in the wallets to blackmail the men who’d paid for the privilege of being robbed. The ones who didn’t kill themselves always paid. The alternative was just too costly.

“Come around the club before dark. I need your help.” Frankie retrieved the bag at his feet and stood. Despite his girth, he was solid muscle. Cameron had heard he’d been a small-time professional wrestler known as “The Bull” before he’d hooked up with the mob. “A little birdie told me the police will be dropping by for a surprise visit tonight. I wanna make sure they don’t find anything illegal-like on the premises, capisce?”

Cameron nodded, and then watched as Frankie strolled up the sidewalk and stopped to chat with the boating boys before continuing around a curve and out of sight. He got up and, tossing his shirt over his shoulder, strolled alongside the lake in the opposite direction.

Most of the bars he’d frequented in search of clients had closed. The police often raided the few that remained open. With an election in November, the mayor wanted to call attention to his record for ridding Gotham of vile homosexuals. The police raids were never a surprise and didn’t happen without Frankie’s prior approval. He paid the local precinct captain twelve hundred dollars a month for protection that included advance notice of any plans to drop into the Stonewall Inn. On at least three occasions, Cameron had counted the money into a White Owl cigar box for Frankie, only to see Frankie hand the very same box to the captain an hour or so later, who just happened to pop into the illegal club to make sure everything was okay.

The homosexuals hadn’t gone anywhere, either. In fact, sissies from across the eastern half of the United States continued to flock to Greenwich Village in droves. They fled the isolation of small towns and cities, leaving behind the bleakness of inconspicuous obscurity. The newcomers were often surprised by the state of affairs in New York City. Various and sundry laws and regulations had pushed the gay scene underground, which, like Prohibition, created an opportunity for the mob to cash in on an unmet need. The Stonewall Inn, thanks to the jukeboxes and dance floors, was the most popular of several Mafia-owned establishments catering to homosexuals.

Although he wasn’t gay—he was sure of it—Cameron had fallen head over heels in lust the first time he’d seen the lithesome man with the curly blond hair at the Stonewall Inn. Since that first night Cameron had seen him dance, the pretty young man had become prominent in the fantasies he thought about to keep his dick hard for clients he didn’t find attractive. In his mind’s eye, he curled his fingers into the blond curls as the pretty boy sucked his dick.

He adjusted his pants, glancing up at the benches as he passed to see if anyone had noticed. An old man leered at him over his newspaper, licking his lips when Cameron caught his eye. Cameron winked, out of habit as much as anything else, and if the creep had looked like he had a good job, would have stopped to chat. Turning perverts like him over to Frankie was a pleasure.

But his victims—most of them, anyway—were nice guys who tried hard to do everything right. Most of the time, they succeeded. But once in a while—perhaps 1 percent of the time—a desire for the company of handsome young men was their undoing. Cameron would assure them he wasn’t a cop, thinking they’d probably be better off if he were.

Letting the nice guys go wasn’t an option. Cameron never knew when he was being watched. Holding out on the Mafia wasn’t an option, either. Frankie checked up on him often enough to keep him honest. Cameron knew the rules and valued life too much to risk his for a stranger’s sake.

But that didn’t keep him from hoping, one day, he’d find a way out.