Sunset Shadows – Chapter 3 Excerpts

For those of you who are new to my books, one of the key to understanding my approach to any story is the social justice component. The issues highlighted in the books and stories are very real, and each book is a call to action, awareness and prevention. Chapter 3 of Sunset Shadows introduces you to the LGBT community, and slowly draws you into the dark world of trafficking, which will unfold in more detail over the next three chapters. Here, Julian and Noel get into their undercover characters publicly.

The restaurant setting is Chef Jessie’s Restaurant in the Rockwell Club Makati, and is done so with permission. This is a long overdue collaboration with Chef Jessie Sincioco, who generously – and gamely – agreed to the idea back in 2016, and the project has metamorphosed over the years.

You could have heard a pin drop in the restaurant as everyone stared at the two Caucasian men kissing at the table. There were two audible gasps on both sides of the restaurant, and a faint wail of dismay somewhere further back. The servers stopped dead in their tracks, one of them holding a tray full of drinks trembling as the glasses clinked together precariously. The bartender dropped the cocktail shaker, completely forgetting what drink he was supposed to be mixing. The swinging door to the kitchen stood uncharacteristically still, with four sets of curious eyes peeping through the window. 

Paolo sat perfectly still, and a smile slowly crept across his face and transformed into a broad grin. He laughed out loud and began clapping slowly, drawing the attention of the captive audience towards himself. 

Julian pulled back, caressed Noel’s cheek softly, before looking around the restaurant again and shouting, “He said yes!” Polite applause ensued. Once the excitement died down and everyone returned to their own meals, the usual buzz returned to the restaurant. 

“Well, that’s one way to do it. Although a heads up would have been nice.” Noel commented while reaching for his glass of water.

“It seemed more genuine this way.” said Julian with a smile. “And you taste of green mango.” 

“Oh wow, TMI, boys, TMI!” laughed Paolo. “Congratulations! There is a good jeweller nearby. Should we drop in?” 

“Shut up Paolo!” Julian and Noel exclaimed together. 

Julian leaned back on his chair and sighed. “Well, that went well, I think. Let’s see what the first effects are. Who knows, with any luck we might even draw out the first contacts after this performance.” Turning to Paolo he continued, “We do need to re-draw our plans though and approach the assignment from a completely different perspective. If need be, I will bring in some reinforcements, especially if I have to go undercover and play a part for an extended period of time.” 

Nodding his head, Paolo said “I agree. Shall we meet back in your apartment around 9:00pm? I have to check in on a few people and hold a staff meeting with my community workers, but I should be finished around 8:00pm or so. But you know Manila traffic…” 

Noel piped up and commented, “That’s fine. We both need to hold a few meetings online and do some work anyway. We’ll order some food to be sent up.” 

“No worries. I’ll take care of it before we leave. I need to have a word with Chef Jessie anyway and check up on her special projects with the food programs. She might be offended if she finds out through the grapevine that I was here and didn’t even say hello.” 

“Thanks Paolo. Go all out and order a big meal, we have a lot to talk about. And have the bartender send up two pitchers of mojitos as well.” Grinned Julian. 

With that, Noel stood up, shook hands with Paolo and headed towards the cashier to settle the bill before anyone else did. He was well aware that Paolo would have offered to do so out of sheer kindness and hospitality, but that it would have stretched his personal budget far too thin. Julian followed a few minutes later, stopping by the bar to thank the staff for the service. 

“My compliments to Chef Jessie and all of you. An excellent dining experience, as always.” 

“It was our pleasure, sir. You certainly livened things up for us! And congratulations.” Smiled Dennis. 

“Ready Babe?” Said Noel as he sauntered towards Julian, both hands in his pockets. 

Julian scowled briefly and smiled warmly at Noel. “Yup. Time to hit the road.” Once they were out of earshot from everyone, he turned to Noel, who was already shaking with laughter. “If you ever call me ‘Babe’ again in public, friendship be damned, I swear I’ll punch that pretty little nose of yours and shove it so far up your ass! I’m going along with this hairbrained idea of yours, but I still have boundaries.”

“Awwww Sugarplum, don’t be mad. I’ve never been engaged before.” 

“Noel… ” 

“OK, OK, I got it. Just Tesoro or Cariñito from now on.” 

“Why do you even have to call me anything? What’s wrong with my name?” 

“Geez, grumpy much? What do your girlfriends call you then? Or you them?” 

Julian fell silent for a few moments before speaking up. “I’ve never had a serious one ever. A lot of one-night stands with varying degrees of disaster and drama, but nothing that I could ever call a relationship. I guess I haven’t met the right woman yet. Plus, with the amount of travelling I do, it is impossible to sustain a relationship or for anyone to put up with me. Unless she is in a similar line of work.” 

Noel looked at Julian as if he were seeing his friend for the first time. “Are you gay, Julian? Because if you are this just got 150% better!” 

“Interestingly enough, you are only the second person in the world to ask me that. And I will tell you what I told Alex back then. No, I am not gay and am very confident about my sexuality. However, just because I’m straight doesn’t mean that I haven’t indulged in a ménage à trois or have intense feelings for another man. But it has always been in a brotherly context or deep friendship. I’ve never wanted to cross the line and take things to another level. Intimacy is not and should not always be equated with sex. What about you?” 

“I’m bisexual, and have always been open about it, much to the horror of my uncles and grandparents. They want me settled down with a nice young virgin girl with an MBA to help me run the family business one day. I came out at 16 and was terrified to tell my parents, but I should have known better, and realised that they would have understood me better than anyone else. They have been very supportive from the start, and my mother even came along to a pride parade in Sienna one year. It is not something I flaunt to all and sundry, especially in countries where homosexuality is illegal, or punishable by death like in the Middle East. It is still taboo in many countries, so I am careful, but I don’t hide or deny it when asked. And before you ask, no, I don’t have a partner at the moment. The last relationship left me so scarred and scared that I am still traumatised. So I guess you could say I am holding out for my twin flame.” 

“Twin flame? Dios mio Noel, you are disgustingly romantic and sentimental, aren’t you? Why have I never known this side of you after all these years?”

“It never came up, I guess. Like I said, it is not something I flaunt, and my hook-ups are always short and sweet. There are no regulars that I go back to, in case you wonder, recurring visits are dangerous because they would give the impression of a relationship and I don’t want that. Been there, done that, messed up.” 

The two men took the elevator up to their respective apartments that they had rented for five months, uncertain of how long the assignment was going to take. It was extremely convenient that Chef Jessie’s restaurant was at the ground floor and there was a mall right across the street, so they would never go hungry. 

“See you later. I have to catch up with Alex and Max in a few minutes.”  Said Julian distractedly, as he fished out his keys from his camera backpack. 

“Greetings to both of them and I hope to see them again soon.” 

“Be careful what you wish for. If this assignment goes south and we land in deep shit, you know they are the ones who will come and bail us out.” 

“It won’t be the first time…” 

… to be continued.

Related posts:

Sunset Shadows – Chapter 2 Extract

Sunset Shadows – A Teaser

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