historical fiction · LGBT · social issues · queer fiction · 1950s
“5 Stars…a perfect, entertaining and exceptional novel." —Rabia Tanveer for Reader's Favorite
Los Angeles, 1956. Shangri-La. Palm trees, swimming pools, movie stars. And if you’re gay—persecution. In a society that demands conformity and lockstep conventionality, gay people find out quickly and the hard way, how difficult, dangerous and downright terrifying it is to be different.
So, when the constant fear of arrests, evictions, job loss and ridicule become too much, four gay friends and lovers pull together to hatch an ingenious scheme designed to allow them to live freely, without harassment.
But their secret plan is not without its flaws. Internal struggles and personality conflicts conspire to make their situation harder and more life-altering than any of them could have predicted, leading to valuable and universal lessons about the high cost of blending in—or not.
— scroll down to read book sample —
2020 Readers’ Favorite Finalist, Fiction - Social Issues
“Author Lucky Stevens has created a diverse, modern and highly engaging drama that bears all the golden hallmarks of fifties nostalgia at the same time. I loved the atmospheric touches of the time and place, including descriptions of settings and the way of life back then. This made for an immersive reading experience, as though I was living with the characters and up close to their trials and tribulations. The themes teeter between serious and amusing really well, maintaining the realism of the emotional drama, but with some really funny goings-on as they try to keep everything secret. As the plot progresses and the characters deepen, the story turns into something really heartfelt and special. Overall, I would definitely recommend The Duplex to all readers who love a good romantic and interpersonal drama, and especially those looking for diverse tales set in the recent past.” —K.C. Finn for Reader's Favorite
“The Duplex…does an excellent job of portraying the disparity of freedom and the dangers of being exposed as gay in a city that, by today's standards, was considered a liberal safe haven. Lucky Stevens is able to give readers greater insight and an engrossing experience with a first-person narrative of each of the four characters, who are fully developed and feel genuine and authentic.” —Asher Syed for Reader's Favorite
“The Duplex is whimsical, fast paced, and filled with witty banter that made me constantly smile throughout the book. The characters confront their beliefs and upbringing and what it is they really want for their lives while refusing to compromise in regards to societal expectations. It was refreshing to read about characters that were not only different in their lifestyles but courageous enough to live their lives being true to themselves.” —Hurn Publications
“…a gut-wrenching insight into those days when the biggest crime anyone could commit was to be themselves. Although the plot of The Duplex is based on an extremely sensitive topic, the story remains, for the most part, upbeat…The Duplex by Lucky Stevens is a mirror that reflects the true face of society, the inner conflicts, and sentiments of homosexuals, and offers thought-provoking debates on fascinating subjects.” —Ankita Shukla for Reader's Favorite
“The Duplex is a fantastic book that realistically captures the pain and difficulties of being gay in the fifties. The dialogue and descriptions are stellar. All four characters come alive on the page…I recommend it highly.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“Lucky Stevens has written a story that both packs a punch and needs to be told…I HIGHLY (caps intended) recommend this novel to those with close friends or family members who are LGBTQ. It’s an eye-opening look at the world they could be living in. I know it made me aware of the need for us all to be vigilant about preserving the basic human rights this group has had to fight so hard for. This novel is important food for thought for a caring community.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lucky Stevens is a talented author hailing from the exotic continent known by locals as North America. He has written three novels. He was also a finalist in a nationwide screenplay writing contest. He was inspired to write The Duplex because he wanted to tackle a subject that grappled with universal themes in a creative and exciting way.
SAMPLE FROM THE DUPLEX
Chapter 1: Cliff Lonigan
How big a deal was it? I’ll tell you, I came this close to praying to God. No fooling. And that’s a habit I generally avoid even on Sundays. That’s how big a deal it was. To be honest, in some ways I felt like my life was over right then and there. And I guess it’s just one of those dates that I’ll never forget, like Christmas or the 3rd of July, which I always remember since it comes right before the 4th of July. It was August 8th, 1954. And yes, yes, I know it’s only a year and a half or so ago, but I betcha I’ll still remember that date when I’m old and gray. It just hit me hard, and I knew there’d be no way I’d ever be able to set foot in that bar ever again. I’m talking about Eddie’s Place over on Fountain in L.A. The sad thing is, at that moment, it actually made me wonder if I’d ever want to go to any bar after that. I guess I kinda kept that stuff to myself, even though I think anybody’d feel the same way.
It was a Friday night, a couple hours after work. It was a little warm out but just one of those beautiful summer nights where you’re just so damn happy to live in L.A. So, I rounded Citrus intent on Eddie’s, which is also known as “The Spot.” I felt good and I really didn’t have a care in the world that night. So, I push on in and survey things real quick, but you know, relaxed. I got time. A beer sounded really good of course, but I’m not gonna lie, I was really there for action. Definitely. I fired up a Lucky, which is what I usually smoke. I’m in the advertising game and I guess I’m pretty brand loyal. Anyway, I have no problem doing the approaching. But that night, I don’t know, I just felt so good, so relaxed, I just looked straight ahead, ordered my beer. Let them come to me. And they did. And the chit-chat came easy. Two beers later, nature was calling, so I hit the head.
I entered the men’s room, making eye contact with some guy I’d never seen before who was using the urinal. He was a big guy, tall and beefy looking. He turned his head, gave me a quick smile which I returned with a nod. Blowing past him I made for the stall, shut the door out of habit and proceeded to drain.
“How’s your night going? Any action?” I heard him say.
“Ah, they don’t call this place ‘The Spot’ for nothing. The action’s always good here. But me, I make friends wherever I go. No complaints.” Sure I was bragging a little bit, but why not? A lot of guys go for the confidence. Besides, it’s all true anyway.
“Well, I’m new around here. I bet you could show me a pretty good time. What kind of stuff do you like to do?”
Well, he was pretty good looking from what I recalled from our quick nod and smile. So I told him exactly what I liked to do.
By now I had finished pissing and was just zipping up when I took a glance through the narrow gap between the stall door and wall. And there he was. He was looking down, putting his cock away and zipping up his pants. It hit me hard and I looked away fast not wanting him to see my eyes through the gap. I felt my heart revving up and got a bad feeling. I’d never had any problems before, but I’d heard about this kind of thing through the grapevine and I started to sweat. I’m thinking, this is it. There goes my job, my apartment, my life. I felt the blood draining from my head. I was trapped.
Ideas came pouring in. I’m pretty sure he was just zipping up because he had originally wanted me to run into him while he was exposed. He’d make sure I’d run into him. That would be a sure arrest. But when I had opened my big mouth and told him what I liked to do with guys, that sealed it. He didn’t need me to run into him anymore. Even if I hadn’t told him, it was his word against mine, and judges always buy the cop’s story.
I felt sick. I thought, I can’t go to jail. I can’t. I started looking around for something that could help me, but I needed to do something fast before he got suspicious, so I’m also making small talk and trying to think at the same time. You know, where are you from? Hobbies, anything but more incriminating evidence. Like it would make any difference at this point.
Finally, I decide to bolt out of the stall like a defensive end. Try to knock him on his ass. Take him off guard. But at the last second, I got an idea when I saw the rod for the toilet paper. It was pretty rudimentary and industrial. Basically a 3/4-inch pipe, long enough for three rolls of paper, plus a little extra slack. A good fifteen inches long.
It was connected to another pipe that stuck out about six inches perpendicularly from the wall. The two pipes were joined at an elbow. Let’s just say Eddie’s men’s room is never going to make the cover of House Beautiful. I slid the rolls off saying, “These summer colds are a killer.” I pretended to sneeze and made nose blowing sounds, buying a little more time. I unscrewed the long pipe at the elbow, which was a bitch. I did it as fast as I could and covered any squeaking sounds with harsh coughing. By now this guy probably thought he’d be arresting some kind of weak-kneed, asthmatic pansy. Finally, I unlatched the lock on the stall door—with my sleeve so I wouldn’t leave any fingerprints. That’s how spooked I felt at that moment.
I came out of the stall with my mouth open, fake yawning, my arms over my head and bent behind my back like I was stretching.
He had one of those “I gotcha” smiles plastered on his face and a pair of handcuffs dangling in front of him. He was pretty damn good looking and it all came together. “Hollywood Reject.” I’d heard about these guys. Anyway, the cuffs were the real clincher. My stretching right arm, toilet roll rod in hand, came crashing down, fast and hard, hitting him square on the top of his head. He was stunned and staggering, and I wasted no time lowering my shoulder and barreling into him, knocking him to the floor as I breezed by and out the men’s room door.
I wanted to run as fast as I could. I had no idea how long he’d be out for and I had a horrible feeling like he had recovered and was right behind me. Moving fast but not running, I hooked the arm of the first girl I saw in the bar who wasn’t sitting down.
“Come with me. I really need your help, please.”
Chapter 2: Barbara Penczecho
I had just entered Eddie’s. I had been there many times before and everything seemed normal. I was there to meet my girlfriend, Dot. I like Eddie’s neighborhood feel. It kind of reminds me of back home, Brooklyn. It is a nice place since both men and women go there, giving you a little more protection, like if there seems to be a raid about to happen, they will belt out The Star-Spangled Banner over the hi-fi. When this happens, that is the signal for the men to partner up with the girls and visa-versa. Play a little Tarzan and Jane. Two times it has happened since I started going to Eddie’s and it honestly scared the hell out of me. I mean you feel like a little kid about to get a beating from your father.
Anyways, that is how come when I saw this character moving quickly toward me from the men’s room at Eddie’s that night, I did not pause but just grabbed his arm and let him lead me out. I knew this fella must be in trouble. Oh, I’ve been around, and I know about all the entrapments that go on with the boys. So anyways, this fella, nice-looking, takes my arm and I grab back right away while he tells me he needs my help. So he spins me on my heels and out the door we go, fast, but not too fast. I sneak one last look over my shoulder before we exit—nothing.
Once we are outside, we keep up the pace and he immediately takes off his jacket, bundles it up, and holds it to his gut with one arm. He takes his other arm and puts it around my waist and pulls me close.
“Say, you’re chilled to the bone. Like a big shrimp cocktail,” he says.
“Shrimp cocktails do not have bones.”
He smirked. “Yes, and you’re not in a fancy glass soaked in cocktail sauce, either. It’s what we society characters call a metaphor.”
As we walk, I look up at him since even with my heels he is still much taller than I am. He had a nice face. Then I do that thing I always do when I am around a man like him. I always wonder—I guess I cannot help it—could I be with a fella like him if things were different?
“Thanks for helping me out,” he says, still looking straight ahead.
“S’okay, I know how it is. My name is Barbara.”
He looked at me for the first time and I could tell he was loosening up quickly; something I found appealing, I remember. “Beautiful name, Barbara. That’s my father’s name.”
That took me off guard and I snorted out a laugh. He smiled and told me his name was Cliff.
We should probably get off the streets I told him. “I live right around the corner.” He nodded and we disappeared off of Fountain, a right turn on Mansfield, a few apartments down and we were home.
When we entered, he scanned the room like he was looking for something. He noticed the phone and stepped toward it. “Do you mind?” he gestured.
I shook my head, no. He picked up the phone and dialed it as he looked at the back of a matchbook. “Hey, if you haven’t already started playing The National Anthem, que it up, Sam. There’s a vice squad goon taking a nap on your men’s room floor. Poor guy must have slipped on a bar of soap or something.” Then he hung up.
I offered him a drink and he said, rye with a little water. I looked at his hands closely as he lit a couple of cigarettes for us and drank his rye. My heart was still beating a little, but he looked perfectly fine, and no shake in his hands at all. I marveled at how fast he had recovered. Me, I cannot stop thinking about things like that. The idea of going to jail, losing my job. I know in my heart I am not a criminal and resent like hell having to live like I am—a life underground.
“So what happened exactly at Eddie’s?” I asked.
“They were all out of toilet paper in the men’s room, and I just—I just lost it.” His grin was almost imperceptible. Very deadpan. I liked him pretty close to right away.
I laughed and cocked my head, raising my eyebrow. I guess it was my way of letting him know that I could take a joke, but it was not going to take the place of a real answer. That is how I play it in court. Let them know you’re human but not necessarily easy.
Then he got serious and told me the whole story, about the men’s room, the conversation and how he had cracked that cop’s head. He explained how the whole thing had blindsided him. It was almost like he had heard about things like this, but somehow had never believed it could ever happen to him. He was kind of matter of fact about the whole thing and did not act too fazed by any of it.
Having grown up in the neighborhood I did, you would think I would be used to violence, but I have to say I never ever did get used to it. I still had a little shake in me over the whole incident as we discussed it. But given the situation, I’m sure part of those nerves were due to my excitement. After all, it was the first time I had ever heard of a gay man physically fighting back against one of these entrapment racketeers—and winning. And, I was even a part of it.
He was probably a Hollywood Reject. You know, one of those corn-fed, square-jawed, wonderboys who come from somewhere in the Midwest, think they are going to make it big in Hollywood, wind up laying an egg, so they decide to join the Los Angeles P.D. and sign up for vice—as bait. And they can be pretty tricky, too. They are trained to be. They are basically actors, so they are pretty well suited to play a different role for the vice squad. They teach these fellas how to act gay, what to say, how to dress, how to gain some poor schnook’s confidence, the whole shot. Yeah, it is fun and games for these guys. In the meantime, my friends are living in fear of their whole lives being upended, job-wise, reputation-wise, apartment-wise. These gorillas can ruin your whole life. I wondered at the time if Cliff understood all this. I really was not sure if he was brave or just naïve.
Chapter 3: Jerry Ripley
I guess I didn’t have the guts to move to Los Angeles until about two years ago. I’m from Independence, Kansas, which is William Inge’s hometown, too. Inge, you might know, is the writer of the play Picnic. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll have a general idea of what Independence looks and feels like (even though it wasn’t actually filmed there). And knowing that might possibly give you some insight into why moving to L.A. was such a huge step for me. It’s a whole other world.
Stepping off the train at Union Station, I thought my eyes were going to fall out of my head. The immensity, the cosmopolitanism of it all, took all the breath I could breathe. That’s around the time I also discovered its world-famous smog. But I didn’t care about that. There was too much to see. I wish I had had more time to just wander around and explore. I could have done that for weeks but instead I was forced to do that a little at a time. You see, when I arrived, I was just about to start a new job over in the Hollywood area at the law firm of Saxby, Jackson and Williams. I write up trusts and wills which I guess might seem a little dull to some people, but I like it, probably because I tend to pay pretty close attention to detail by nature.
I work hard, and the people I work with are generally okay, though some are a little pushy. One guy, for example, Dick Helmsworth, is always pointing out the well-endowed women to me, expecting, of course, my appropriate, excited response. “Hey Ripley, check out the hood ornaments on that one,” is one of his favorites. Sometimes he gets too clever though, and he ends up throwing me off. Like the time he said, “Here come the Bobbsey Twins” referring to Maxine, one of the secretaries. I was so deep in thought and taken off guard, he just gave me a perturbed look and said, “Gee Jerry, what’s the matter with you? Don’t you get it?”
The other side of the coin are my coworkers who are trying to be nice. “When are you going to settle down?” “When are you going to meet a nice girl?” “You have to meet my niece, Caroline. You two would be perfect for each other.” Long story short, I did meet Caroline—and several other nieces. We were not perfect for each other. But I guess you have to do those kinds of things sometimes. It’s better than being in Independence at least. There, the whole town would know about Caroline and me. In L.A. who’s going to care other than my coworkers?
Anyway, I’m still enjoying the touristy stuff. The Brown Derby, Hollywood and Vine, Grauman’s Chinese Theater—all that stuff you read about. But, confession time, where I’ve really felt like a kid in the proverbial candy store is when it comes to the nightlife. As far as I know there is nothing like this in all of Kansas. In Downtown L.A., near Pershing Square, gay bars flourish like nothing I’ve ever seen. And they all seem to cater to different tastes, so there’s something for everyone. Like Numbers is a bar that’s known for its drag queens. And then there’s Crown Jewel over on 8th and Olive, which has a strict dress code and is pretty fancy. And, of course, there is everything in between.
There’s even a place where all these different sectors congregate together. Cooper Do-nut’s on Main. That’s where all these sub-groups go after the bars shut down. The hub of it all is Pershing Square itself, with its thick, dense plants and trees providing cover for gay cruising and secluded sexual activity. That’s one that’s open 24 hours.
Me, I’ve pretty much tried all these places. Like I said, I feel like some kid running free in a candy store. And I’m sampling everything to see what I like and to completely know my way around this crazy town. The only thing I haven’t tried yet is cruising in Pershing Square. It’s exciting, but too scary for me, for some reason.
Overall, it’s been an amazing experience navigating my way around these gathering spots. It’s also been full of surprises. One of the biggest surprises came one night after the bars all closed and I was hanging out at Cooper Do-nuts eating a sprinkled donut and having some coffee. I looked across the shop and saw someone who looked familiar, but something was off. As I strained to look, he noticed me, turned white, and looked away. And that’s when I knew who it was. It was Dennis. Dennis Saxby, to be specific, from work. My boss. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was wearing rouge, lipstick, earrings, and a dress. No wonder I couldn’t place him off the bat. Well, I wasn’t quite sure what to do, and he looked like he wanted to die so I let it go.
That was a Saturday night, and two days later, on Monday, I showed up at work as usual. Dennis, who never missed work, had called in sick. The next day he called in sick again. I had a feeling he was sick with worry—over seeing me. I wanted to call him, reassure him. I wanted to say, “Please don’t worry. I was at Cooper, too and I have no intention of opening my mouth.” Honestly, the whole thing threw me. Even if I was some jerk who wanted to give him a hard time, well, again, I’m not exactly what most people would call normal. For God’s sake, what did he think I was doing there? Reading the Bible? If anything, it would’ve been nice for me to know that I wasn’t alone out there—even if Mr. Saxby is more of a deviant than I am. At least there would be one person at work who kind of understood how I felt. At least someone who wouldn’t try to introduce me to his niece.