Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 28

Spring 1993

The nineteenth of May was a Wednesday. Greg decided that would be a good day for the introduction of Pelican 2.0 because that would give customers two business days to get it installed and call with any questions before the weekend. It was also his mother’s birthday.

The previous month had been almost as hectic as the roll-out of the original Pelican. Eric, Sky and the boys (as they were now universally known, including Eleanor) had been working twelve hours a day including weekends basically re-writing the program from the ground up and making it bullet-proof. The beta testing had gone well, and they were actually ready for the roll-out the Friday before. Donny spent most of his days running back-up for Eric, leaving the day-to-day operations of purchasing to Lily. In spite of the success of Pelican, the majority of the income for McKay-Gemini was still the parts-and-pieces business – it had taken three trips with a 24-foot Ryder truck to move the inventory from the old office to the new warehouse.

It was quiet in the office that afternoon; Bryce and Greg were over in production thanking the crew and Eric had taken Sky and the boys out to celebrate. Lily buzzed him. “Paul Jeffries,” she told him.

“Hi,” said Donny, feeling his heart rate pick up slightly. Maybe he was bringing news of Mike.

“Well, Donny, I hear great things about you and your company.”

“It’s not me, really. We’re doing pretty well, though.”



“Say, I know it’s short notice, but I’d like you to be our guest at the Villa Castelfranco di Sopra this weekend if you don’t have any plans.”

The only plans Donny had were for washing the car and doing the Times crossword puzzle. “Uh, sure, that’d be great. Thanks.”

“My pleasure. I’m looking forward to seeing you.”

“Um... you know it will be ... uh... just me.”

“Yes,” said Paul calmly.


“I’d like your fax number so we can send over the directions and your guest pass.”

Donny gave him his personal fax number.

“Very good,” said Paul. “And this is my treat. See you Friday evening for dinner?”

“I’ll be there.”

He left straight from the office, stopping for gas before he got on the freeway. He put the top down and put on his Ray-Bans. He had packed lightly; shorts, a couple of t-shirts and tank tops, his swim suit, and a pair of slacks and a couple of dress shirts for dinner. Since Paul’s call he had no doubt that the invitation was for the benefit of the other guests; he wasn’t a business mogul or Hollywood playmaker, but he looked good in a swim suit. He had decided that if the opportunity to get laid presented itself he would take it. He felt no loyalty to Mike any more; five months without a word made it very obvious that that part of his life was over, and if he could spend a weekend as someone else’s guest, have some fun, and maybe even meet someone, that was fine with him. He found a radio station that was having a Beach Boys weekend and cranked up Fun, Fun, Fun.

He arrived just after seven, handing over his keys to a valet who murmured, “Sweet,” when he got behind the wheel of the Mustang. He had the same room, Number 5, as he and Mike had had the last time. The bellboy turned on the lights, opened the windows, and said, “Mr. Jeffries would like you to join him for dinner at eight.” Donny tipped him a ten.

He went out on the balcony. It was about a half-hour before sunset and it was still bright, the light slanting sharply across the pool below. There were one or two people still down there catching the last moments of sunlight. Donny got a Coke out of the fridge and lit a cigarette. He watched the sun set behind the San Jacintos, washed his face, changed his shirt, brushed his teeth and went down to the dining room.

Paul was at a corner table away from the rest of the room. He was dressed casually in a short-sleeved shirt and khakis, and he looked like he’d just come off the golf course. Paul smiled and they shook hands. The maitre d’ seated Donny and a waiter appeared to take his drink order.

“It’s good to see you, Donny,” Paul said.

“You too. Thank you very much for inviting me.”

“My pleasure. You’re looking good. Success agrees with you.”

“Well,” Donny shrugged, “the guys seemed to have hit it out of the park.”

“I understand you had something to do with it.”

“A little.”

“Well, Jim was very impressed. And I don’t mean just by your appearance.”

Donny felt himself blush a little and he grinned. The waiter brought his drink.

They chatted for a few minutes about how things were going at McKay-Gemini and Paul told him about spending the last six weeks in Australia. When the waiter brought their salad a silence settled over them. All Donny could hear was the murmur of the other guests and faint piano music from the bar. He glanced around the room and spotted several familiar faces from the party and from the newspaper. The lead anchorman on one of the network affiliates in Los Angeles was at the table he and Mike had shared last year. He was sitting with another man who caught Donny looking at him, and he smiled back. Donny went back to his salad.

“When was the last time you heard from Mike?” Paul asked casually as he tasted his wine.

“Christmas. He stopped by my house. That was it.”

Paul put the glass down. “He’s in New York. He’s got a recurring role in a soap.”

“That’s great,” said Donny.

“It all happened rather quickly. He was still in Santa Fe when it came through. He finished Silver Star and was on the next plane to New York.”

“That’s great,” Donny said again, realizing too late that it sounded like he didn’t know what to say. The truth was he didn’t. He sipped some water; his mouth had suddenly gone dry. Finally Donny said, “I wish I’d known.”

“The nature of the beast, Donny. Here today, off to somewhere else for who-knows-how-long tomorrow. It’s one of the reasons relationships and marriages have a short shelf life here; there’s not a lot of stability.”

“Well, it would have been nice to hear from him,” Donny said and immediately wished he hadn’t; it sounded petty and whiney. “What I mean is... like...”

“I know what you meant,” said Paul gently. “And there’s also something else to consider.”

“Yeah, what’s that?”

“He doesn’t really have that much control over his life. He can’t....” A guest passed by the table and said hello and Paul greeted him. Donny recognized him as Ira Somebody from the party, but if the recognition was returned, he gave no sign. After a few pleasantries, Paul turned back to Donny. “There are people who are making a lot of decisions for Mike now, Donny, and there simply isn’t always the time to consider things that don’t really bear on his career.”

This sounded a lot like the same thing Donny had heard from Marty last summer when the living-together experiment crashed on the rocks. “Yeah,” replied Donny. “So I’ve been told.”

Paul got the meaning. “Marty is just one element. Studios, publicists, producers, directors, they’re all pulling on him. If Mike’s career is going to go anywhere – and from all indications, it is – he’s going to have to make some sacrifices.”

Their steaks arrived. Paul finished half of his before he said, “I do think you should know that I was in Santa Fe when the soap came through. He wanted to get in touch with you before he left. But he needed to make a clean break.”

Donny put down his knife. “A clean break would have been in person,” he said. “A dinner or something where you say what you have to say and let the other guy know what’s happened. Finding out by getting a recording saying the number you have reached is no longer in service doesn’t cut it.” He glanced around the room, wondering if his voice had gotten as loud as he thought it had.

“Poor choice of words,” Paul said. “I apologize. Of course you’re right. Frankly, I think if he’d had to tell you in person, he couldn’t have done it. You mean a lot to him. This last year would have been a lot harder for him if he hadn’t had a friend who was completely detached from the business to be there for him.”

Donny chewed a piece of steak for a moment before he asked the question that had been in the back of his mind for the last couple of weeks. “Has he met someone?”

Paul shook his head. “He doesn’t have time for that. He barely has time to get a decent night’s sleep, and when he was in Santa Fe, he didn’t have time to do even that. No, there’s no one else.”

“Think he’ll ever have time again?”

“I hope so, but for now....” Paul smiled at Donny. “Listen, I didn’t invite you out here so we could talk about the past – although I’m glad we did. I want you to thoroughly enjoy yourself, relax, meet some of the other members, and consider applying for membership.”

“Me?” said Donny.

“Certainly. We’d be honored to have you join us.”

“Well, I’m really flattered, but I don’t make enough money.”

“I have no doubt that it won’t be long before your financial situation will not be an issue,” Paul said with a slight grin. “And we’re looking to bring in some younger members. But we’ll deal with that in due course. Shall we look at the dessert menu?”

After dinner Paul excused himself to work the room and pointed Donny in the direction of the piano bar. Donny found the room nearly empty except for some couples at the far end, and he recognized Ben and Julian. They waved him over and he sat with them, talking about a variety of subjects; the weather, sports, a touch of politics. Neither of them said anything about Mike, and Donny didn’t mention him either.

The room began to fill up with after-dinner people and some new arrivals. It looked like almost everybody knew each other and they ranged in age from their twenties – or so they seemed from a distance and in the dim light – to in their seventies. All of them were dressed very nicely, very well-groomed, and all having a quiet good time. If he didn’t know better, Donny would have said this looked like any regular country club bar or upscale meeting of the Chamber of Commerce that he’d gone to with his dad. The difference, of course, was that there were no women.

“So,” Ben said, “I heard that your company has taken off like a rocket.”

“We’re doing pretty well,” Donny agreed.

“Word has it that you’re also looking for investors?”

“Well, I’m not in that part of the company, but if you know someone who’s interested, I can put you in touch with Greg McKay; he’s the CEO.”

Julian took out a small notepad and gold Cross pen. “Is that McKay as in the sportscaster for ABC?” he murmured.

“Right,” nodded Donny, “except they’re not related.”

“Phone number?”

Donny gave it to him. Julian nodded and put away the note pad. Donny trembled a little. Donny had already sized up Julian as someone who was very careful with his money, and if he was interested in McKay-Gemini, that meant something.

A young man entered the bar. He was wearing a light summer shirt and slacks. It was Marc, the waiter from the Mexican restaurant last seen splashing around in Paul’s pool at the party. He had gotten a haircut; the blond highlights were replaced by a close trim that was a borderline brush-cut, and he carried himself with a professional manner. He greeted the guests at the bar, then saw Donny and smiled. He came over to the table.

“Good evening, gentleman,” he said with his best waiter’s manners. “How is everything this evening?”

“Fine, thank you,” said Ben with a smile. “Everything’s just perfect.”

Marc looked at Donny and smiled. “Welcome back, Mr. Hollenbeck. Good to see you again.” All traces of the surfer dude and struggling actor were polished away by the conservative clothes and neatly trimmed hair.

“Thank you,” replied Donny with a touch of wonder. Marc smiled and moved on to the next table, then left the bar.

“What a nice young man,” Ben said.

By eleven Donny was tired enough to excuse himself from the table, promising to join Ben and Julian in the morning at the pool. He was crossing the lobby to the stairs when he saw Marc at the front desk chatting with the clerk. They exchanged nods, then Marc came over.

“Good to see you again,” he said in the same professional manner. “Glad you could join us.”

“Yeah, thanks.... Are you working here?” Donny asked, realizing that it was a rather direct question.

“I help Paul keep an eye on things in the office and other things, such as customer service. He can’t be everywhere, so he likes me to make sure everyone’s having a good time.”

“Sounds good,” said Donny.

“Yeah, beats waiting tables.” Marc looked around the empty lobby. “Say, we should get together sometime for a drink or something while you’re here.”

“Sure,” replied Donny. He felt a flutter in his chest and a warmth in his groin.

“Great,” Marc said. “I’ll see you later.” They shook hands and Donny went upstairs to his room. As he was undressing and wondering if Marc meant what he thought he meant when he said they should “get together,” he heard a soft knocking on the door.

Marc did not waste any time or words. He was unbuttoning his shirt before Donny got the door closed. He rubbed a knuckle against Donny’s left nipple and finished taking off his shirt. He had the build of a gymnast with sculpted chest muscles and veined arms. His tanned skin was practically hairless except for a fine drizzle of blond that started at the navel and led down to his belt. Marc kicked off his loafers, pulled off his pants, and tossed them on the chair. Donny did the same.

Thirty minutes later Donny toweled off from his shower and pulled his underwear back on. The bed was a rumpled mess; one of the pillows had been knocked off the bed and was lodged between it and the wall, and the sheets still had a whiff of Marc’s cologne. Donny’s pants were in a heap on the floor. He folded them neatly, smoothing out the wrinkles, pulled the covers back onto the bed, picked up Marc’s business card from the nightstand, put it in his wallet, and turned out the lights. As he drifted off he was trying to decide if it was the five months he’d gone without sex or the man he’d shared it with that had made it the most intensely pleasurable half-hour he’d spent in a very long time.

He spent the next day by the pool except for an hour getting a massage from a strong young Brazilian – Donny thought it would be fun to be the H.R. person for Castelfranco di Sopra – and had dinner that night with Ben and Julian. He had seen Marc in the lobby after breakfast; he nodded and gave him the same smile he gave all the guests. Donny knew that the sex the night before had been just for fun and nothing more. It may not have been part of Marc’s job description; it was one of the perks.

A jazz trio was playing a corner of the garden that was set up like a little dance area under a pavilion with lights and a few tables. Donny wandered out there after dinner and listened to them playing for a while. He nodded a polite hello to the other guests – all of them couples – and sat outside the pavilion so he could smoke. The music reminded him of what he’d heard at Paul’s party, as did the guests; all nice-looking men and all of them enjoying themselves with their companions. He thought for a second that it would have been nice to have been there with Mike, but dismissed the idea; that part of his life was over, and if last night with Marc proved anything, he was ready to move on. “So long, Mike,” he whispered to himself. The trio started in on Dave Brubeck’s Take Five.

Two weeks later Donny joined his parents in Colorado Springs for Danny’s graduation. The ceremony in the football stadium was elaborate and the dazzling sun made it even more impressive. The final moment when the cadets flung their caps in the air was like watching fireworks.

Second Lieutenant Daniel Edward Hollenbeck had his picture taken with his twin brother in front of the chapel, then, after some long goodbyes with friends and instructors, they drove out the North Gate to the hotel for a family dinner.

In the back seat of the rental car, Danny, still in his ceremonial uniform, grinned at his brother until Donny, unable to guess what he up to, said, “What’s with the shit-eating grin?”

“Guess where I’m going to be stationed.”

“Buttfuck, Alaska.”



“The SMC at the LAAFB.”

“The who at the what?”

“The Space and Missile Center at the Los Angeles Air Force Base.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“I shit you not, sir.”

Mom turned around from the front seat. “You’re going to be in Los Angeles?”

“Yep. Orders came through a while back.”

“So why didn’t you tell me, you big dumb jerk?” said Donny with a huge grin.

“’Cause I wanted to see the look on your big dumb face, twin.”

“Hot damn. Do you have to live on base?” Donny asked.

“Don’t think so. I was gonna ask you if you minded sharing your room with me for a while until I get a place of my own.”

“The hell with that. It just so happens that Rob – remember Rob? – Rob is getting back together with Marcy and they’re going to get a place of their own near the hospital. So you can have a room of your own for once in your life.”

Dad said, “You’re going to be working with missiles?”

“Well, I’m not sure exactly what my duties will be, Dad, but I guess it might have something to do with them. The base is basically research, development, and acquisition of equipment for missile defense and systems like that.”

“’Star Wars?’” said Donny.

“We don’t call it that.”

“Use the force, Luke.”

“Bite me.”

On the first of July Rob officially moved out and Danny, who had been bunking in with Donny since reporting for duty in mid-June, moved into his room. Greg came over and they had a barbecue to celebrate.

“Well, here we are – four guys with only two sets of DNA between them,” said Greg.

Eric snorted. “That’s a weird way of looking at it.”

“It’s true,” Greg retorted.

“Still weird.”

“Do you realize,” Greg went on, “that if Danny and I married a set of identical twins, the kids from each marriage would not only be cousins, but genetically, they’d be the same as brothers or sisters.”

“Not to mention the cast from the road company of The Boys from Brazil,” said Eric.

“Is this what you spend your time thinking about in that big office of yours?” said Donny.

“What would happen if Donny and I got married?” said Eric, throwing his arm around Donny’s shoulder. “What would our kids be?”

“In the Guinness Book,” replied Greg flatly.

“I can see how this is going to be an interesting place to live,” said Danny.

“Yeah,” said Greg. “An Air Force officer shacked up with a couple of queers. I bet I could sell that to a network for a sitcom.”

“Get Mike to star in it,” said Donny. That brought a moment of silence while Greg and Eric glanced at each other, then Donny chuckled. “He’d never do it, though. Skating a little too close to reality.”

“He just took off,” said Danny, shaking his head.

“Yep. Hightailed it to New York.”

“That’s cold.”

“That’s show biz.”

As they sat down to the salad, steak and potatoes, Greg raised his beer bottle in a toast. “Well, here’s to the four of us being together, just like back on the junior high football field.” They clinked the bottles. “And here’s to a new life for Dan, and here’s to Donny and Eric and hoping they both get a life for themselves outside of the office.”

“Hey,” protested Eric, “if you want us to be millionaires by the time we’re thirty....”

“Hey, I’m just sayin’ there’s more to it than working twelve hours a day,” said Greg.

“So we’ll cut back to just ten like you, not counting the hustling you’re doing with Bryce.”

“You guys have a staff. Get out and enjoy life a little.”

“If you say so,” said Eric, “but that goes for you, too.”

“Donny,” Greg added, “it looks like your friends from Palm Springs are coming on board. Maybe we ought to have the company pay for your membership at this resort.”

Donny smiled. The application for membership to Castelfranco di Sopra had arrived two weeks ago and was sitting unopened on his desk. “Fine with me,” Donny said.

Chapter Guide



Post a Comment

<< Home