Small Town Boys - Chapter 36
Justin was waiting for him when he got to the office a little before eight. Marc was already at his desk, his door closed. Donny helped the lawyer take the boxes back into Greg’s office and left him as he had the day before.
“Come in,” said Marc when Donny knocked. He was at his computer going through the on-screen checkbook. Donny closed the door behind him.
“When does Greg get back?” Marc asked, not looking up from the monitor.
“Sometime around noon.”
Marc nodded, leaned back, and finally looked at Donny. He looked like he hadn’t slept much.
“You look like crap,” Donny said.
“Gee, thanks, loverboy.”
“Did you sleep?”
Marc shook his head. “Between about five and five-fifteen, when the trash truck showed up, I think I dozed a little.” He took a gulp of coffee.
“So when you weren’t sleeping, what were you doing?”
“Life. The universe. Everything.”
“You still want to resign?”
Marc motioned for Donny to lower his voice, even though Donny had spoken softly. “I dunno,” he whispered. “I....” He picked up his mechanical pencil and examined it closely. “I’m gonna talk to Greg when he gets here, tell him what’s goin’ on, let him make the call.”
“He’ll tell that if you need to take some time off to deal with it, your job will be waiting for you when you get back.”
Marc scowled. “You didn’t tell him, did you?”
“No. I’ve worked with the guy long enough to know that that’s what he’d say. And that’s what I’d tell him if he asks his vice president of human resources.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what I was thinking about.”
Donny thought back to what Danny had said. “Why does it matter what happened seven years ago?”
Marc softly rapped his pencil on the desk. “It’s not just that.”
“Well, then what?”
Marc shook his head. “Let’s wait until Greg gets back.”
“Fine,” Donny said with a tinge of impatience. He got up and went to the door. “But I’m not gonna let you go that easily. It was hell finding you in the first place.”
For the first time Marc cracked a genuine smile. “Yeah, but it was worth it.”
Donny was in the warehouse arguing with the delivery driver over a lost bill of lading so he missed Eric and Greg’s return after lunch. Eric came out to the warehouse.
“So how was it?” Donny asked.
“Verrrry interesting,” replied Eric. “Come on up to my office.”
“What’s with the lawyer?” Donny asked as they walked.
“I’m about to show you.”
In his office, Eric closed the doors to both the outside office and the war room. He pulled a book-sized box out of the shopping bag he’d gotten at the expo. It was bright red with FAStrak emblazoned in gold lettering across the front. Beneath it was stylized drawing of a sprinter breaking a tape. Eric flipped open the box and pulled out some floppy discs and a manual. “Take a look,” he said, handing the manual to Donny. He popped the disc into his computer and started loading it.
Donny flipped through the book. It was a basic software package with pictures and instructions much like the one that went out with Pelican. Even the chapters followed the same table of contents. “Jesus,” Donny said, “this looks familiar.”
Eric snorted as he loaded the second disc. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” He waited until the discs were finished, then booted up the program. He opened the application to the main entry point, leaned back, and gestured at the screen. “How about that?”
It was done with different colors and font sizes and the buttons had different names and shapes, but for all intents and purposes, it was Pelican. The pages for data entry were in the same pattern, the print-out screen for invoicing and accounting had the same features, and even the print menu was similar to Pelican.
“Holy shit,” said Donny.
“No kidding,” said Eric. “I guess we can take it as a compliment that somebody thought we had something worth ripping off, but still.... And get this; they’re selling it for one-third less than we are. They’re saying it’s faster, more adaptable, and takes up less space on the computer that Pelican.”
Eric sat Donny in his chair. “Here, play with it and see what you think. The thing is, they’re probably right – it is faster and smaller. The problem with it is that it doesn’t do everything we do. It’s like our old version with a couple of more bells and whistles.”
Donny clicked through some of the screens, then looked at Eric. “Who’s making it?”
Eric said, “That’s the best part. Take a wild fucking guess. Take a guess what the F.A.S. in ‘FAStrak’ stands for.”
Donny shrugged. “Fat And Sassy?”
“Ferguson, Abercrombie, and Schultz. I don’t know who Abercrombie and Schultz are, but...”
“That pigfucker,” Donny said.
“You got it. When Bryce walked outta here he took his copy of Pelican with him. Didn’t bother to buy one, the cheap bastard, then gave it to one of his pals who reverse-engineered it, slapped some new graphics and buttons on it, put it in a box, and hit the street with it. They had the balls to show up at expo with their own little booth and calling themselves the ‘Software of the New Millennium’ or some lame-ass slogan. Bryce didn’t have the guts to show up, but those two snakes Abercrombie and Schultz were there looking like they’d just gotten laid.”
“So that’s what...” Donny said, gesturing at Greg’s office.
“Bet your ass,” said Eric tersely. “Sky and the boys are dissecting Greg’s copy of the program and when they get to the source code they’re going to print it out and compare it to ours. I’m willing to bet you any amount of money that it’s identical to the stuff we worked on for hours in that sweatshop of an office over the dry-cleaners.” Eric tossed the box on his desk. “Then we’re gonna sue the bastards until the only thing they have left is their socks, and we’ll probably go for those, too. We’ll get ‘em on copyright infringement, piracy, theft, you name it. That guy Dad sent over is an expert in copyright law. He’s gonna fry their bony asses and bankrupt them before we even get into court. Wait ‘til you see the cease-and-desist letter Dad’s writing.”
Greg knocked on the door and came in. “You showed him?” he asked his twin.
Before Donny could reply, Eric said, “I think the term he used was ‘pigfucker.’”
“Yeah, that just about says it all,” said Donny.
Greg shook his head more in wonder than anything else. “I suppose it’s a compliment, but it’s still a rip-off. Shit, I shoulda run Bryce over in the parking lot when I had the chance.”
“So Allen writes a letter to them,” Donny said. “But that’s not gonna stop them, is it?”
“Probably not. Dad says all we can do is make their lives miserable for a while or make them spend so much money on lawyers that they go broke. Chances are it’ll never get to court, and he’s not a hundred percent sure that we could win in court, and even if we did that we could get them to cough up anything.”
“What?” Eric said, his mouth dropping open.
“He’s coming over this afternoon,” Greg said. “I’ll let him and Justin explain it.”
“Shit,” said Eric.
They sat around Greg’s conference table, the boxes pushed down to the end. Justin leafed through his notes and said that while everything was in order in terms of the copyright filing, it would be problematic to prove in court that F.A.S. had stolen the software.
“I’m not an expert in software,” said Justin, “but from what I understand, what you created in your product isn’t something that couldn’t have been thought up by someone else independently without knowing what you were doing. You just happened to get it out there first.”
“Well, that’s grounds for something, isn’t it?” said Eric.
His father shook his head. “Not really. Back when Henry Ford was coming up with the idea of putting a motor on a carriage and driving it through Detroit, he wasn’t the first one doing it. In fact, there were some lawsuits that came out of the early auto industry over patent infringement, but it was pretty much blown away by the fact that it didn’t require genius to put a car together. Now if you boys had something unique that clearly indicated you were the inventor of something – like a new operating system – then you might have a case. But what you did was just use existing technology and fashion it in a way that works in a particular application. It’s not like you invented the Polaroid camera. That was truly new technology, and when Kodak came out with an instant camera, Polaroid sued and won.”
There was silence for a moment, then Donny said, “So what do we do? Just let them sell it?”
“Oh, I’m going to send them the letter,” said Allen. “We’ll make them hire an expensive lawyer to send us letters back and forth, and at some point they’re going to get tired of paying four hundred dollars an hour for their attorney’s secretarial services. The trouble is that if it ever gets to court – which I don’t think it will – the burden is on us, not them, to prove that they stole it, and all Bryce has to do is get on the stand and say he doesn’t know anything about software and that he’s just a simple salesman.”
“Fuck,” said Eric, clenching his jaw. “I want to nail him. And not in a good way.”
Allen chuckled and nodded. “If it’s any comfort, the publicity alone will make things tough for them. No one likes to be portrayed in the papers as a thief, even if it’s only of software. If these guys are smart, they’ll make a settlement offer that will just about cover our court costs and fees and we’ll be right back where we started from.”
Greg sighed. “Okay. Well, I guess that’s the best we can do for now.” He looked at Eric. “Guess we’d better push up the date on the web browser.”
“Something new?” Allen said.
“I’ve been messing around with an idea for a program to search the internet,” said Eric. “Right now Microsoft has pretty much cornered the market with theirs, but I think we can come up with something that doesn’t rip them off too much. Calling it ‘Gemini Control’ for now.”
His father grinned. “It’s a good idea to diversify,” he said, “but be careful with Microsoft. Those guys play for keeps.”
The meeting broke up. Greg and Eric thanked Justin for his time, and the lawyer told them to keep the files handy just in case. After he left, Greg said, “Stick around, Dad,” and glanced at Donny. “Get the door, will you?”
When the door was closed, Greg passed Donny a folded note. “Any idea what that’s about?”
The note read, Need to see you ASAP. M.G.
“Yeah,” Donny said, “I do.”
“I take it you didn’t know anything about this when you met him,” Eric said.
“Hell no,” said Donny.
They were sitting on the patio that evening after dinner. Donny was lighting a cigarette, and Eric was rolling a joint. It was the first chance they’d had to relax all day, it seemed.
Greg and Allen had gone into Marc’s office and closed the door. They were there for almost an hour, finally coming out and going back to Greg’s office, where they summoned Donny and Eric and filled them in. Marc told them about the reason he’d gone to Colorado and at the end of the tale had offered to resign. Greg said it was too early to talk about it. Allen got the names of the attorneys on the case and said he’d make some phone calls, purely informal. Donny had said nothing during the entire meeting, but his mind kept going back to the night before and how Marc had held him and trembled as he wept.
“Jesus,” muttered Eric. “I can’t believe it.”
Eric tweaked the end of the joint, lit it, and took a quick hit. “Marc. I mean, isn’t that every horny teenaged boy’s fantasy – hot sex with a teacher? It’s the stuff of every wet dream there ever was.”
“That’s one way of looking at it,” said Donny.
“Come on. Didn’t you ever have the hots for one of your teachers? Ever?”
Donny thought back to high school. Most of his teachers had been men or women in their thirties or forties, most of them were married, and none of them fit into his imagination as being sexy. “Nope. I guess I missed out on that.”
Eric nodded and took another hit before offering it to Donny. “I had one. Soccer coach. Red hair, green eyes, built like a brick shithouse, and always wore soccer shorts even in winter. Straight as a stick and dumb as a post. Cute, though. The girls all thought he was fuckin’ awesome, and I’m sure there were some guys who went out for soccer just to see him change in the locker room.”
“So, did you fantasize about him?” asked Donny.
“Hell yes,” said Eric with a snort, and little puffs of smoke shot out his nose. “Never mind that I was like fifteen and a scrawny little geek with glasses and that even if the guy was gay there was no way he’d even notice me... But to actually have it happen.... Damn. I woulda fucked his brains out if I’d had the chance.”
Danny came out with a bottle of beer. He was still in uniform, so he sat upwind and off to the side under the bug light. “Fucked whose brains out?” he asked.
“Soccer coach. We’re talking about hot sex with teachers.”
“Oh,” replied Danny nonchalantly. “You wish, eh?”
“Yeah.” Eric leaned back. “So what about you, Danny? Ever fantasize about forbidden sex?”
“Like with a teacher or coach or in your case, a superior officer?”
Danny laughed softly. “No officers, thanks. But back in high school...or was it junior high...”
“Had to be junior high,” interjected Donny. “You were at the academy in high school, so unless you had women teachers there...”
“We did,” said Danny. “Several. No, it had to be junior high. Ms. Henderson.”
“Oh my God,” said Donny. “Science class.”
“Earth science,” said Danny.
Donny remembered her as a petite woman with short brown hair, rosy cheeks, and teeth that seemed just a little too big for her mouth, but she was attractive in the conservative Midwestern way; she wore slightly fashionable dresses that suggested she read but didn’t emulate Vogue. Her hairstyle was correct for her age, which Donny now realized was in her early twenties. She was soft-spoken and prim when necessary in class. Perhaps it was his lack of interest in women in general that Donny hadn’t noticed her as anyone special, but Danny seemed to have a different recollection. “I had the biggest crush on her,” he said, sipping his beer. “She wore this perfume – I forget the name of it – but I loved it, and she would always lean over my desk when I was doing an experiment and I would catch a whiff of it. Man, I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Eric fanned some smoke away. “Yeah, but we’re talking about hot sex. Could you see yourself doin’ it with her? Y’know, like hours of sweatin’ up the sheets and humping naked and all that?”
“With her? Hell, no. I was what, thirteen, maybe fourteen? I didn’t know what humping was. She was just...”
“That doesn’t count,” said Eric, sounding disappointed. “I wanna know if you ever had a fantasy about screwing the lights out of someone you couldn’t have.”
“Other than you, Eric, no,” said Danny flatly. They burst into giggles. The front door slammed and a moment later Mike came out onto the patio. “Evening, guys,” he said. “What’s so funny?”
“Forbidden sex with high school teachers,” said Danny, still chuckling.
Mike raised his eyebrows. “Okay.”
“C’mon, Mike,” Eric said, “your turn. Truth or dare.”
Mike pulled a chair around from the table and sat down. He glanced at Donny, then grinned. “Well, it wasn’t exactly that.”
“Before high school? Geez, you were an early bloomer.”
“No, it was in high school, but it wasn’t a teacher.”
“Yeah. It was another kid.”
“That Craker guy?” asked Donny.
“Quaker?” said Eric. “You had sex with a Quaker?”
“Craker,” said Mike emphatically. “And no, not Jed Craker. Never did anything with him except watch him pull his pud at the beach.”
“Yeah,” continued Eric, “’cause sex with a Quaker’d be weird. Whatta do with the hat?”
Danny snorted, and they all giggled some more. Eric stubbed out the joint and leaned back. He was pleasantly stoned.
“This was a kid when I was a senior and he was a freshman, I think.”
“Whoa,” said Eric, “you were a chicken hawk?”
“The other way around,” said Mike. “He was hot for me.”
“But you didn’t....y’know,” said Eric.
Mike shook his head. “Didn’t even know about it until a couple of years after I graduated.”
“How’d you find out?” asked Danny.
“I was home on break or something and sitting at the Maple City Tavern on Friday night having a beer with a bunch of guys and he’s there with us. We’re all sitting around the table pouring pitchers and listening to the juke box and having a great old time.” Mike paused to light a cigarette. “So anyway, we’re all getting trashed, and at some point he leans over and says to me, ‘Y’know what, Mike, I don’t care if you kick the shit outta me for saying this, but I’ve wanted to suck your cock since I was in the ninth grade. So whadda say we go someplace and get it on, eh?’”
“Crude but candidly put,” said Eric. “Was he hot?”
Mike wiggled his hand. “Enh. Nice build, but more like a big goofy kid than anything.”
“He blurted that out in front of everybody?” said Donny.
“Yeah, well, none of the other guys heard it or paid any attention; they were all talking and laughing.”
“So, I thought about it for a little while and then figured what the fuck; a quick blowjob and that’s it. I told him okay and we went out to the parking lot to his mom’s Ford Granada; it had reclining seats. But before we could get there, he tripped over one of the railroad ties they used to mark the edge of the parking lot, he did a face-plant and then puked up all his beer. Kinda took the romance out of it, and...”
“Nothing happened,” said Danny.
Eric sighed with disappointment. “Man, I hate it when that happens.”
“So, what was my dare?” asked Mike.
“This was truth or dare. What was my dare?”
“Oh.” Eric smirked. “I was gonna make you French kiss Danny.”
“Whoa,” said Danny. “Try asking me first.”
They all laughed, then subsided into silence. Eric got up slowly and toddled off to bed. Mike yawned and soon followed. When they were alone, Danny asked his brother, “So how’s Marc? Did he quit?”
“No. At least not yet. He told Eric and Greg, but something else has come up.”
Donny outlined the software story, and Danny shook his head. “What a fucking business you’re in, twin.”
Donny said, “Well, it’s business. Shit happens like that. We kinda figured it’d happen sooner or later. It forces us to make the program better.”
“Or at least copy-proof.” Danny grinned. “Speaking of making things better....”
“You’re getting your promotion?” Danny was up for first lieutenant.
Danny shook his head. “Not exactly, but it might be coming. I’ve put in for new duty.”
“Can’t tell you. Classified.”
Donny raised his eyebrows. “Really?”
“Well, if I get it, in a couple of months. The application deadline is the end of the month, then there are interviews, background checks, the usual bullshit plus whatever else they need to know.”
“So you’d be moving out?”
“You know where to?”
Danny shook his head. “Nope, and even if I did....”
“It’s classified,” Donny said.
Donny smiled. “Well, you’ll get it.”
“Everything is theory until it happens.”
Donny looked at his brother and smiled again. He knew that it was merely a formality; Danny never let on to anything unless he was sure it was a done deal. He’d always been like that. “Well,” he said, “good luck.”
“All I’m hoping for is make colonel before I retire,” said Danny.
By the first week of March the lawyers from McKay-Gemini and F.A.S. had met twice but nothing had been resolved. Greg said that lawyers always drag things out by a factor of ten. “If it were up to me,” he said one day, “Bryce and his buddies would be out of business by now, but unfortunately arson is still illegal.”
Marc went on with his work as if nothing was going on either in his own life or at the office. Allen had diplomatically suggested that he and Donny should keep their relationship on a purely business level until the case was resolved. “It’s all about appearances.” Marc said when he told Donny. “Like it makes a lot of difference now,” he added as an afterthought.
Mike kept working on Return to Sender and Donny kept helping him with the scripts. By the time the show was ready to premiere they had done ten episodes. Previews to selected audiences had been come back with good reviews; the TV critic of the Times had said the show was “surprisingly fresh for a mid-season replacement.”
The Saturday before the premiere Paul had a small party at his house, ostensibly for the cast and friends, but he ended up inviting “the usual suspects,” as he called them. He also told Mike to bring along Donny, Danny, Marc, and Eric. Danny said, “Why do I get the feeling I’ll be the only straight guy there?”
“Look at it this way,” said Eric. “If Heather Locklear shows up, you’ve got a real chance.”
“Jeremy Dixon’s supposed to be there,” said Mike. “He’s straight.”
Jeremy Dixon had been one of the runners-up in People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue since 1985. He had a youthful, wholesome look to him that got him parts playing teenagers in TV and film until he was in his mid-twenties. His big break had come when he took a role in a feature that played against type; instead of the virtuous hero he played a Strindberg-quoting drug-addicted lawyer who held a family hostage during a heat wave in Chicago. He was nominated for an Academy award. His wedding two summers ago to Miriam Webster, the star of the number-three sitcom, had been the subject of every tabloid front page for two weeks, and when their daughter Emily was born, bidding for her baby pictures topped a hundred thousand dollars. Paul had known Jeremy since he did his first commercial for Carl’s Carpets in 1979.
It was a cool evening, so cocktails were served in the living room with the patio doors open. Donny recognized many of the guests, including Ira, Milo, most of the cast of the show – Rita was playing Cole Porter tunes on the piano – and several new faces whom Mike said were prospective producers for a new feature Paul was working on. They got drinks and mingled for a while, and then Marc took Danny and Eric on a tour of the house, including the indoor theatre and a peek inside the master bedroom. Donny tagged along.
“Wow,” Eric said as they came back down the stairs, “this is what I call a house.”
Paul was standing in the front hall. He smiled when he heard Eric’s comment. “Thanks. It’s available if you’re interested.”
“Available? Like for sale?”
Paul shrugged. “Not officially, but I’ve been thinking about it. I really don’t need a place this big, and I hardly spend that much time here. Marc can tell you that.”
“How much?” said Danny.
Paul smiled. “To the point, Lieutenant. I like that. Well, I bought it twenty years ago from a songwriter exactly one week before he filed for divorce from wife number three; he practically gave it to me so she wouldn’t get it in the settlement. Since then I’ve made a few improvements, but I think I can let it go for a reasonable amount of money.”
“In this part of town that means for under a million,” Marc said.
Eric looked at Donny, his eyebrow cocked, a small grin starting. Before Donny could say anything Paul said, “You boys think it over. As I said, it’s not officially on the market, but I’d like to see it in the hands of people I know. Then again, there are other ways of investing your money rather than in real estate. Excuse me for a moment.” Paul crossed the foyer to greet one of the new arrivals. “Good evening, Marty; thanks for coming.”
Donny shot a look at Marty. He hadn’t spoken to him since that afternoon at Mike’s house almost two years ago. They traded nods; Marty saying a quick “Howyadoin.” Donny nodded and said, “Good,” trying hard to repress a smirk.
Eric looked around the formal entrance and slid the toe of his loafer across the marble floor. “Can you imagine living in a place like this?” he said wistfully. “A million bucks. Under a million.” He looked at Marc. “So, could the company buy it as, like, a live-in conference center or something?”
Marc shook his head. “You don’t want to go there. It gets really tricky tax-wise. You’d be better off buying the place outright and taking the tax deduction on the mortgage.”
They went back into the living room, past several knots of people chatting quietly. Rita had switched to Gershwin. At the patio door Eric said, “Think I could afford it?”
“I’m not your personal accountant,” Marc said. “I know how much money you make, but I don’t know what you do with it. But based on your salary and bonus and stock options, I’d say you probably could.” He smiled a little. “Not bad for a guy who’s not even twenty-five.”
Eric looked at Donny eagerly. “Want to go halfsies on it with me?”
“What, like partners?”
“Sure. Same deal as we have at the house now, except,” he spread his arms as if to encompass the whole place, “we’d own the place. Three-car garage, a pool, big yard...”
“And all that shit to take care of,” interjected Danny. “Look, if you guys buy this place, then I guess I’ll stay in the old place ‘cause I sure can’t put in a third of a mortgage payment on a million-dollar house; not even a quarter if Mike’s still in the picture. Uncle Sam doesn’t pay his junior officers a whole lot, y’know.”
Eric smiled. “You can be the houseboy.” Danny snorted and went for another drink.
“You’re not serious,” said Donny.
“It’s worth a look,” Eric replied, looking out over the lawn. “Do you really want to stay in the house? We’re like a bunch of college kids in that place.”
“Yeah, and this would be just a bigger version of it. ‘Sides, just ‘cause we can afford something doesn’t mean we should do it. We could be driving Ferraris but you’re still pushing that Malibu wagon.”
“Cars don’t mean anything,” Eric said. “At least let’s think about it.”
“Sure, okay,” replied Donny as he headed for the guacamole dip. Eric occasionally had these flights of fancy and soon forgot about them, and Donny figured this was just another one of those.
Mike was in one of the knots of people. He glanced at Donny and privately winked, which was his signal that he was in the middle of networking. Donny got the hint and wandered out to the patio. Danny was out there by himself.
“He’s not serious,” said Danny.
“Eric? I don’t think so.”
“Even if you could afford it.”
“Ever thought about getting a place of your own?”
“Every so often,” said Donny. “I like Eric and all that, and it’s great having you around, but every so often...”
“You want your privacy.” Danny sat on the low concrete wall that surrounded the patio. “I know that. I’m used to sharing a room with another guy so it’s okay having Mike bunk in with me, but....” He sipped his drink and rattled the ice cubes.
“So, any word on the application?”
Danny shook his head. “They got it, that’s all I know. The next thing would be orders to show up at such and such a place at such and such a time in Class A’s for an interview. Until then... just hurry up and wait while they do the usual bullshit.”
“Then you’d go.”
“If I got it. Yeah, then I’d go.”
“Then maybe I’d look for my own place.”
“Yeah. You’re a big boy now.” Danny grinned. “Maybe you should buy this place on your own and leave Eric and Mike at the other place.” He looked into the living room. Mike was still in the knot and Eric had joined them. Marc was leaning on the piano talking to someone who had his back to them.
“So, we, uh, meet again,” someone said. A short man dressed in a dark suit approaching them. He looked to be about forty, thin, with long hair that had a few strands of grey in them. “Aaron White,” he said, putting out his hand.
“Hi,” said Donny, and they shook hands.
“The, uh, Hollister twins, right?”
“Right, I’m sorry. Don and...”
“Dan,” said Danny, offering his hand.
Aaron looked into his wine glass for a second. “Uh, wasn’t that confusing growing up with practically the same name? I mean, Don, Dan...”
Danny smirked. “You tell him, twin. It’s your turn.”
Donny said, “Okay. Our folks didn’t know we’d be twins until about three months before we were born. If it was a boy they were planning on naming him either Frederick Donald after our father Fred and our mom’s father Donald, or Edward Daniel after my dad’s middle name and my dad’s father Daniel. Well, when we both showed up, they reworked it. I’m Donald Frederick and he’s Daniel Edward. So even if we’d gone with our middle names we’d be Fred and Ed. Or Freddie and Eddie.”
“Uh, I see,” said Aaron. “What if it had been a girl?”
“Eva Marie,” said Danny, “after our grandmas. Dodged the bullet on that one.”
“I’d say so. So, Dan, you’re in the Air Force, right?”
Aaron shook his head. “I remember.”
“So, what do you do?” Danny asked.
“Uh, well, I’m a lawyer by trade,” replied Aaron, gazing into his wine glass again, “but recently I’ve been doing a little writing here and there.” He glanced at Donny as if he knew Donny had seen his script for Back Home Again.
Donny smiled a little. “So I’ve heard,” he said.
Aaron smiled sheepishly. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind what?” Danny said.
“Oh, uh, after I met you two here last I got an idea for a story, that’s all. I’m showing it to some people.”
Aaron tugged nervously at his ear for a moment. “Uh, yeah, it’s, uh, called, um, Back Home Again. It’s about, uh, twin brothers who go different ways when they’re teens and reunite.” He stammered through a synopsis of the story. Donny noticed that his fingernails were chewed to the quick and he shifted his weight from side to side as if he felt uncomfortable standing still. If this was what he was like as a lawyer, Donny wondered what he was like in court; probably a nervous wreck.
“That’s it,” Aaron said, wrapping it up. “Two brothers from two different worlds. One in the military, the other a peacenik music teacher. How do they get along?”
“I read it,” said Donny.
Aaron looked a little surprised. “Oh, uh, you did?”
“Well, part of it. Lance showed it to me. It’s good.”
Aaron bobbed his head. “Uh, thanks.... That’s right, you and ... Lance, you’re....”
“Housemates,” said Donny.
“Yeah,” added Danny. “He moved into our place after the earthquake.”
“Oh,” replied Aaron, then looked owlishly at Donny. “Oh... okay.” He nodded quickly, then added, “I see.” He cleared his throat and grinned for a second. “So, uh...you mind my asking, what’s it like to be twins?”
They both smiled and Donny said, “Okay, Danny, your turn.”
Danny said, “It’s hard to tell you because I don’t know what it’s like not to have a twin. It’s kinda like asking someone who’s black what being black is like; how can they tell you in terms you’d understand unless you’re black yourself?’
“Or what it’s like to be gay,” added Donny, “which I am, by the way, but Danny’s not.”
“Yeah, so there’s a part of him that I don’t know,” said Danny. “But in a way I sorta do,” he added.
“Wait a second,” said Aaron, looking back and forth between the two of them. “You mean, you’re gay and you’re...?”
“Straight as a stick,” said Danny.
“How’d that happen?”
“Nobody’s perfect,” said Donny.
After dinner they settled into the theatre for a showing of an episode of the show. It was the one that Donny and Danny had seen being taped, and Danny found it very weird to see the finished product; it was like déjà vu. When the final credits rolled Paul called the cast up to the front and made then take bows, which they did laughing and joking. Henry said, “Well, it’s one more attempt to keep me off unemployment!”
The party thinned out after that; as if on cue most of the cast and production people left, so there were no more than ten or so people in the living room being served dessert and coffee. Donny noticed Aaron sitting by himself near the door, nervously sipping his coffee, his eyes darting around the room. Donny tried to piece together the images from the script; a quiet farm community, the laconic characters, the terse and overlapping dialogue, and this shy little man who seemed to be full of nervous energy. Perhaps, Donny thought, the only way he can express himself is through his writing, and when he’s not at his typewriter, this is what he’s like bottled up. It must be part of the creative process, he thought.
Marc sat down at the piano and began to play some tunes. When he finished one and before he could start another, Donny went over and stood next to the keyboard.
“Is there anything else you can do that I don’t know about?” Donny said.
Marc chuckled, “Oh, I’m full of surprises. You should know that by now.” He started playing something that sounded familiar, but Donny couldn’t place it.
“What’s that?” Donny asked.
“Oh, a little something from Stephen Sondheim called ‘Send In the Clowns.’ From a show called A Little Night Music. It was a big hit for Judy Collins a while back.” He played it through to the end. No one else seemed to notice he was playing, and he started another. “So,” Marc said, barely audible over the music, “you’re thinking about buying this place?”
Donny looked around the living room at the fine furniture, the art work, and the polished marble floor. “Nah,” he replied just as quietly. “It’s not my style.”
“Someplace not as fancy and doesn’t require a lot of upkeep, y’know? I’m just not into that. Maybe something like what Mike has up in Idyllwild.”
Marc nodded and kept playing. “You like it up there?”
“Yeah, it’s nice.”
“I’d like to see it sometime.”
Donny nodded. “Well, Mike said I could use it any time. Maybe some weekend you and I could, y’know...”
Marc nodded again and missed a note. “Yeah,” he said, “maybe when all of this is over and....” He finished the song and got up from the piano. Several people clapped softly. Paul nodded his thanks to Marc, then beckoned everyone to sit down. Eric gave Donny a puzzled look, but he found a place on the couch. Several new arrivals stood in the back of the room, including Jeremy Dixon.
“Listen,” Marc whispered to Donny, “I’m gonna take off; I know what’s coming and I really don’t need to hang around. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”
“Sure,” said Donny, somewhat surprised. He watched Marc slip out of the room and wondered what that was all about.
“First,” said Paul, “thanks for coming on such short notice; I realize most of you have busy schedules, and three weeks is cutting it close.”
One of the older men said, “Anything for you, Paul, but I am cutting short my weekend at the Villa...”
“I’ll try to make it up to you, George. I’ll put in a call to Mario and apologize for you.”
That got a knowing chuckle from some of the other guests. Paul smiled a little and went on. “I’m glad you could all make it. I just wanted to take a moment and introduce you to someone who’s already made quite an impression on some of us in the creative community. I’m sure we’re all going to be hearing a lot more from him in the future, but tonight I wanted to give you the chance to get to meet him and hear about his newest project that I hope will be getting underway in the next few months.”
Donny looked around the room to see who Paul was talking about, and blinked when Paul nodded at Aaron, who stood up and shakily put his coffee cup on the table. He opened his briefcase and pulled out a stack of what looked like magazines and passed them out. When he got to Donny he smiled self-consciously as he handed him one.
It was a slick treatment like the one for Black Ops except this one had a picture of dog tags laid over a peace symbol necklace against a background of a pastoral farm setting at sunset. The title, in flowing script, was Back Home Again.
Inside was a detailed synopsis and cast list, complete with character sketches of the Granger family. Donny saw with amazement that the drawings of Pete and Dave, the twin brothers, looked eerily like him and Danny, right down to the military haircut on Dave that looked like the one Danny had when he came back from his first summer at the Academy. The parents looked like typical Midwesterners right down to the father wearing overalls and the mother wearing a gingham apron. Donny shot a glance at his brother, who returned the look and nodded.
Aaron stood in front of the piano. All of his nervous tics and stammering vanished in an instant, and he sounded confident, his voice strong and smooth.
“Some of the deepest wounds of the war in Vietnam weren’t caused by bullets or bombs. They were caused by the deep divisions in this country over whether or not that war – or any war – was worth fighting. The rift wasn’t just between liberals or conservatives, hawks or doves, Democrats or Republicans. Sometimes it was in families, between fathers who had fought in the Second World War and believed that theirs had been a noble war against a terrible enemy, and sons who saw war only as a waste of lives and fortunes for no good reason other than political advantage. And sometimes the divide was between two people who could not be any closer than if they were just one person who was torn between doing what he thought was right for his country, and doing what he thought was right for his beliefs in his faith and his own self-respect.
“Back Home Again is that story told through the eyes of two brothers; twins, actually.” Aaron glanced at Donny and Danny. “Two people who share so many things and are so close that they almost know what the other is thinking. And yet they parted ways – one into a life of military service, one into a life of self-exile in pursuit of his art and betterment. And when they reconnect, there is much to say that has not been said, much time to make up, so many things to reconcile and so many wrongs to be put right. And they’re not alone. They have friends and family, old sweethearts and new loves, old ties and new connections.”
Aaron looked around the room and smiled. “Gentlemen, for years we’ve had programs that show us cardboard cutouts of characters; sitcoms where we all know the plotlines by heart, or cop shows that treat the legal system as if it was a thrill ride at Magic Mountain. People watch them because they’re comfortable; they’re the meatloaf and mashed potatoes of entertainment, or, as Frank Lloyd Wright once said, ‘chewing gum for the eyes.’ It’s very rare that something comes along on television that challenges the viewer; challenges them to think or to care about the people whose lives they’re watching, and does it without blowing up a building or shooting someone in the first five seconds.
“I think it’s time we brought family drama back to television. Not the soft fuzzies like The Waltons, but the real-life drama of a family struggling with their own human flaws and failings, doubts and depressions. It’s been the stuff of real drama from the ancient Greeks to Arthur Miller, and I believe – I know – that if it’s presented in the right way, the audience will be there.” He tapped the cover of the treatment. “Gentlemen, Back Home Again will be that drama.” He paused, then added, “Thank you very much.” He went back to his seat and picked up his coffee cup, the spoon rattling in the saucer from the trembling of his hands. He looked ghostly pale as he gulped down the rest of his now-cold coffee.
There was some affirmative murmuring from the audience as they thumbed through the treatment. Mike was grinning from ear to ear as he got up and went over to Aaron, who stood up. Mike said something and patted him on the shoulder. Aaron looked at him gratefully and murmured his thanks. Paul came over to Aaron and shook his hand and said, “That was exactly right. Good job.” He turned to Mike and said, “Okay, you’re on.” Mike nodded.
For the next twenty minutes Donny watched Mike as he made his way around the room and talked to everyone person to person, and he caught snippets of the conversation: “We really look forward to finally doing some quality work, and we know it can attract the kind of people who value this kind of entertainment.” “I’d really love to have you be a part of it.” “Top notch people. The best.” “I hear he’s great; do you think he’d do it? Fantastic.” “Really? You think so? I’ll have Marty call him. It’d be great to work with him.” “Glad we can count on you.” He’d shaken hands with Jeremy, who smiled, said something, and then left.
Donny went outside to smoke a cigarette and found Aaron sitting alone in the dim light.
“Didn’t know you were going to get a sales pitch, uh, did you,” said Aaron.
Donny said, “Not exactly.”
“With Paul, you can count on it. He won’t hit you over the head with it, but, uh, that’s pretty much the way he does things.”
“I see.” Donny lit the cigarette and added, “That was a really good presentation you gave, though.”
“Yeah, it was good,” said Danny, who had followed his brother and was leafing through the treatment.
Aaron nodded quickly, his glasses slipping down his nose a little. “Thanks. Uh, my wife says it’s a miracle anyone will listen to me because I guess I come across as nervous.”
“Not to me,” Donny said. “I really liked it.”
Aaron laughed nervously, almost a cackle. “Well, when you’re talking about something that could make a big change in your life, I, uh, guess you put it in there.” He cleared his throat several times. “Look, um, I know you’re not in the business, but, um, I’d like to talk to you two some more about, y’know, what it’s like to be a twin. I’d really like to get a feel for the bond there is between them – you, I mean. If that’s okay....”
“Sure,” Donny replied, pulling out his wallet and handing him a card. “Call me and we’ll set something up.” Eric came outside. “He’s got a twin brother, too,” Donny added.
Aaron looked startled. “Really?”
“Yep,” replied Eric.
Eric chuckled. “Thanks.” He said to Donny, “Mike says he’s ready to go, so...”
“Okay.” He shook Aaron’s hand again, noticing it was moist with sweat. “Give me a call.”
“I, uh, I’ll do that.”
The living room was empty except for the caterers cleaning up the dessert plates. Paul and Mike were in the hallway. As they said goodnight, Paul looked at Eric and said, “Think about it,” and Eric replied, “I will. I promise.”
They were silent as they drove back home until Mike, who was sitting in the front seat next to Eric, said casually, “Well, whaddaya think of the first proposal for Cherry Bend Productions?”
“So that’s what this was,” Danny said. “A sales pitch.”
“Yep,” said Mike confidently. “Paul’s already lined up some preliminary investors, and if we can get some of the people that were there tonight interested, we might be able start shooting this summer. Get the pilot in the can and make a pitch for the ’95 season.”
“Cool,” said Eric. “So is Jeremy Dixon thinking about investing in it?”
“Nope,” said Mike.
“So why was he there?” asked Danny.
“He’s thinking about starring in it,” Mike said.
“No fucking way.”
“Way,” said Mike. “And if he does, guaranteed a slot on prime time TV.” Mike looked back at Donny. “So,” Mike continued, “if you guys would consider....” He let the rest of the sentence hang, the meaning clear.
Nobody said anything for a few more blocks, then Eric said, “Worth thinking about.”
Mike grinned. His left arm was draped across the back of the seat, so it didn’t take much effort for him to reach over and gently, subtly tickle the back of Eric’s neck. Danny saw this and nudged Donny. Donny closed his eyes.
Labels: "Small Town Boys"