Elixium

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Chapter 22 – Digital Sociopath

Josh Palmer sat alone on the terrace of Club Bootylicious, the rain pelting on the awning overhead. It was New Year’s Eve and his mind was on Dimitri, remembering the horrific discovery he made this very night, fifteen years ago. He’d been moping around Manchester all day, and after a drink in his local, plucked up the courage to visit the gay village.

In the street beside him, a boozed-up ‘fag hag’ cackled with laughter as her gay mates cavorted around in the rain, their tight shirts clinging to their brawny chests. He watched two men kiss under the streetlights: young, carefree and in love. They reminded him he was getting older, and he was still single.

As usual for a Friday night, Club Bootylicious buzzed with life. Young men dressed in short-sleeved floral shirts pranced around. Their hands clutched the waist of their tight, white three-quarter length jeans, as they gyrated their hips and wiggled their bums. A purple-haired drag queen from Sheffield, Lotta Cox, played cheesy pop on the turntables. Once in a while, she cut the music to tell innuendo-filled jokes which amused nobody.

Josh cringed, cradling his dry white wine and soda. He used to have a phobia of these tawdry places, but over the last decade and a half he’d gradually acclimatised.

“On yer lonesome, fella?” called a nasal voice from behind him. Joshua turned to see a man, early forties, ugly and chubby around the waist. He turned away, but the man was persistent. “I’m Mike,” he said, a grin smattered across his pig-like face. Josh had seen him before stalking the gay village, offering blow jobs to drunk twinks at they left the clubs at closing time. “What’s your name, fella?”

“Josh,” he replied.

“You look wet, Josh. How’s about we get you out of those clothes?”

Josh crossed his arms. He was now on the wrong side of fifty, but kept himself trim. He attended the gym three times a week and followed a low-carb diet. He’d also spent a fortune on dental veneers, hair implants, moisturiser, cologne and eyebrow threading. From the look of Mike, he hadn’t even bothered to scrape a comb through his greying hair. His oversized t-shirt read “Sorry Girls, I ♥ Boys.” It did nothing to hide his beer belly and featured a prominent tomato sauce stain.

“I’m into redheads,” said Mike in a half-whisper.

“Is that so?” Josh sighed and took another sip of his drink. He categorised Mike as an ENFP personality. Thrill-seeking and open to all offers—the sluttiest type.

“So… you fancy some fun?”

“You sucked me off last year,” said Josh. It had been his birthday, and he’d been feeling low all week. Breathing exercises and a jog around the block hadn’t given him a boost, so he’d cruised the gay scene for a shag. Only Mike’s dry lipped fellatio was on offer. Afterwards he felt cheap and dirty and cried himself to sleep, thinking of Dimi.

“Oh,” said Mike, squirming.

“That memorable, huh?”

“No, I remember,” said Mike, scratching his neck.

“You lived here long?”

“Fifteen years.” He retreated in disgrace to Manchester after the fall out from his relations with Dimitri. Barred from the medical profession, he now worked as a journalist for the local rag.

“So, how have you been?”

Josh didn’t answer and returned to his drink. He felt desperate, but not that desperate. Rejected, Mike wandered off to try his luck elsewhere.

Alone again, he asked himself why he came to these horrible places. Nobody here could quench his thirst, not even the pretty boys at the bar or the muscular Latino barman. A young blond minced into the club, dressed in a rainbow bomber jacket and pink Lycra shorts. He lowered his aviator sunglasses and scanned around for talent. One of the loud-mouths by the bar piped up, “Hey boi, gimme that ass!”

These limp-wristed sluts do nothing for me.

Still, the desire persisted. A fire Dimi lit inside of him. He took out his phone and launched Sausage Factory, the latest gay dating app. Glass in hand, he swiped through countless profiles. A meat market extraordinaire. Every lonely guy gazing into the camera phone and hoping, pleading, for someone to fuck the boredom away. He finger-cycled through profiles. Pictures of sporty guys, arty guys, pouting fags, chubs, ageing transvestites, leather bikers, kinky guys, black men, Asians, Orientals, older for younger, younger for older. Wait… Go back.

Josh’s heart pounded. Christophe: cute, blond, twenty-eight years old and posing in a jockstrap. He was toned with ripped abs, but that was not what caught Josh’s attention. There was a tattoo on his thigh, depicting a ram’s skull, with a red and black snake circling around the outside.

The tattoo could be a coincidence, but the design evoked a vivid memory of Dimi’s body in the Millennium Grove, his throat cut and a ram skull resting on his lap. He remembered the Russian describing the same image and what he told him about ‘the network’.

“What do you know, Christophe?” he asked the profile photograph.

He gave Christophe a virtual ‘wink’ and left the bar.

Christophe hadn’t responded by the time Josh got home, so he composed a more thoughtful message. He described himself and his varied music taste, mentioning he had his own place, own car and worked out at the gym three times a week. He boasted he was a doctor, but didn’t mention he’d lost his licence. He hit the send button and hoped for the best.

*

The early morning sun filled Joshua Palmer’s apartment with a warm haze. Finishing his coffee, he booted up his laptop and logged into Sausage Factory to check on progress with Christophe.

An empty message box greeted him. Heavyhearted, he checked the views on his profile and discovered Christophe had been online late last night, but hadn’t even bothered to view his profile. Although his goal was to find out information on Dimitri rather than date Christophe, the electronic silence wounded his pride.

I’m in good shape, intelligent, caring and funny. Why won’t he talk to me?

He clicked on Christophe’s profile and scanned through the text.

I’m looking for real men. No ponces with plucked eyebrows. No cabin crew types. And if you’re overweight or old enough to be my dad, jog on!

He slammed the laptop cover down.

At fifty-two, I guess I’m the gay equivalent of the walking dead.

Like so many of the Tinder generation, Christophe was a digital sociopath. A shallow, fickle narcissist who viewed people as nothing more than a collection of tags, attributes and naked pics. He should feel sorry for the young man. Unable to form a meaningful relationship, he’d spend the rest of his life on dating sites with satisfaction remaining just a few clicks out of reach.

I’m too old? We’ll soon fix that.

Time for some cat-fishing. He logged out of the site and created a new profile, setting his age as twenty-six. He typed ‘gay muscle hunk’ into an image search and soon found the perfect disguise: a straight, soccer-playing amateur porn star called Morgan from Palo Alto, California. He uploaded shots of Morgan to the new profile and contacted Christophe again. This time, Christophe replied almost instantly, enclosing naked pictures of himself.

“You really are a stud,” said Joshua, stroking the short hairs on his bottom lip with the back of his thumb. He imagined getting sweaty with him, but shame soon chilled the fantasy.

So easily distracted by youthful skin. Maybe I’m becoming a digital sociopath too.

He clicked again on the half-naked photo of Christophe and gazed at the ram’s head and ouroboros tattooed to his quadriceps muscle. His stomach turned as he remembered Dimitri’s mutilated body. Despite the warning from the police, he’d continued to search for information about Dimitri’s last days in London, but found nothing. Christophe would have been a teenager at the time, but perhaps he knew something. Josh was determined to find out. He entertained the romantic notion that bringing Dimitri’s killer to justice would allow him to move on with his life, but he knew this was unlikely. Even if he succeeded, he’d return to his lonely apartment, haunted by the ghosts of the past. Still, he had to try; he owed Dimitri that.

He exchanged numbers with Christophe and planned to meet him the following evening in Soho. Josh lived miles away, but he pretended the bar was a stone’s throw from his office.

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