“Thanks,” Paul murmured to the waiter. He stirred his iced tea then took a small sip. He looked at Donny and raised an eyebrow. “So, you want to be a producer.”
They were sitting on the patio of the Mexican restaurant where Paul had first had dinner with Donny. It was lunchtime but there wasn’t a large crowd; perhaps the regulars had extended the Labor Day weekend until Tuesday.
“Well, I don’t know about being a producer like you,” replied Donny, “but I want to know what I can do to help with Mike’s film.”
“They’re running over budget,” Paul said simply.
“How much does he need?”
Paul inclined his head. “Donny, it’s not that simple. Financing in the film business isn’t like it is in your business. Nothing is like it is in the real business world. Sometimes even I don’t understand it, and it’s how I make my living.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard how a movie can make a billion dollars and still not show a profit,” Donny said.
Paul smiled. “From what I’ve been able to figure out in my years as a producer is that you get other people to pay a lot of money to back a very risky venture for a chance at a very small return just so you can get your name on the screen.” He sipped more iced tea.
“I thought it was going to be a TV series.”
Paul shook his head. “No network was going to take a chance on a series without a pilot, and I told Mike that he had a better shot of doing it as a feature first, then turn it into a series. And it was the only way to get Jeremy Dixon on board.” Paul looked at Donny. “The networks like the idea of getting a name star, too.”
Donny thought for a moment. “Mike’s not a name.”
“Think he’ll ever be?”
Paul stirred his tea again. “You mean like Dustin Hoffman or Paul Newman or Robert Redford or James McGruder? No.”
“Why do I back him and get other people to back him?”
“Because this business doesn’t run on just names, any more than yours does. Do you think McKay-Gemini will ever be a household word like Microsoft or IBM?”
“No, I guess not.”
“But people still buy your software, and, more importantly, people still invest in your company. Mike’s going to have a very respectable career as a journeyman actor with occasional flashes of brilliance. He’ll never be a huge star. He’s going to have his ups and downs, but he’ll always find work. That’s really what makes this business work. Everybody pays attention to the stars, but it’s the regular people – the ones who do the work and crank out the product and never get the cover of People
– that are the lifeblood of this business.”
Donny looked around the patio, thinking, then said, “So why won’t Mike ever be a name?”
Paul sighed. “A lot of it is just plain luck. For example, this sitcom he’s got. It’s doing respectably and it’s bringing him some notice. Unfortunately, the network has just decided to move it to Thursday nights this season, and that will be the end of it.”
“Why? What difference will that make?”
“Because it’s going to be up against some very powerful competition. NBC has this new show coming up on Thursday nights in the same time slot; a sitcom called Friends
. The buzz is that it has hit written all over it, and Return to Sender
will probably be the first casualty. A year from now every network will be screaming for a sitcom with hip young singles in it. As Fred Allen once said, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of television.’” The waiter brought their entrees; fish tacos and salad. “So the best position to be in today would be as an executive producer.”
“An executive producer is the person who comes up with the idea for the show. Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek
. Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone
. It’s their idea, then they hire the people who make it happen. They usually don’t have to put up much money and they get a lot of credit, not to mention a nice check.” Paul shot Donny a look. “So if you want to help Mike, maybe you could do that.”
“Back Home Again
was Aaron’s idea.”
“But Aaron got it from you.” Paul signaled the waiter to refill his glass. “It’s something to consider. Tell you what. This weekend I’m having some friends out to the Villa for a little get-together; nothing fancy, but there might be some people who would be interested in discussing that idea, among others. Why don’t you come along?”
“Good, I’ll put you down. In the meantime, how’s the house working out?”
“Oh, I really like it.”
“Good. Judy said you were a very good client.”
“Well, she did all the work.”
“For which she will always take credit. And you’re living there alone.”
“For the time being.”
Paul smiled. “Thinking about a roommate.”
“I asked Mike to move in. Or at least stay there when he’s in town.”
“And he said...?”
“He’s thinking about it.”
Paul patted his lips with his napkin. “That’s a nice gesture.”
“Well, the last time we tried it, Marty got upset, but...”
Paul shook his head. “I wouldn’t worry about what Marty thinks.”
“I think Marty and Mike have agreed that they both want to move in different directions.”
Donny smirked. “Who fired who?”
Paul smirked back. “Mike did. He’s been talking to CAA for a couple of weeks now; they represent Aaron, Jeremy and most of the people who can make things happen for him. Anyway, I think it would be nice if you and Mike got back together. I think he needs a... friend.”
Donny looked at Paul. “Does he get it? That he’s not a name?”
Paul took a long drink of tea. “Maybe I should invite him out to the Villa this weekend, too.”
Donny arrived at the Villa on Friday evening in time for cocktails on the glass-enclosed patio – it was still too hot to have it open to the outside air – and the bellboy led him up to the same room he’d had that last two times. He changed out of his work clothes into slacks and a blazer.
Paul greeted him as he came into the lounge and told him that Mike would be arriving later that night; he had a taping session for the series. “I’ve given him the room next to yours,” he said quietly. “I didn’t want to presume.”
There was a small crowd in the lounge. Donny recognized many of the guests from gatherings at Paul’s and from the entertainment section of the paper, but there were also some younger men as well. Paul introduced Donny to several of them and the names sounded vaguely familiar, including Keith Terrance, whom Donny knew had just been named to a high position at one of the bigger banks in town, and Myron Bryer, the CFO of one of the electronics companies that McKay-Gemini bought parts from.
“So you’re the Donald Hollenbeck I’ve been hearing about all these years,” said Myron.
“Yeah, ‘fraid so,” said Donny. A waiter came by and offered him a drink.
“Didn’t Bryce Ferguson work for you?”
“He used to,” said Donny guardedly. “You know him?”
“Only by reputation.” Myron replied. The way he said it implied that he knew all about Bryce, FAStrak, and the lawsuit. He sipped his Scotch and water. “So, you’re a writer as well.”
“Uh, yeah,” he said, figuring that Paul had laid the groundwork for him.
“Well, good. I’ll be interested in seeing what you’ve got.”
Donny was about to say he didn’t have anything when he felt a hand on his elbow. It was Aaron White. He was dressed casually and his hair was a little longer. He nodded nervously at Keith and Myron and shook Donny’s hand.
“Good...good to see you again.”
“Thanks, you too. Do you know these...?”
“Oh, yes,” Aaron replied. “We’re old friends. Our kids all go to the same school, I think, isn’t that right?”
Myron and Keith nodded, and Donny noticed they were both wearing wedding rings. So, he thought, this isn’t an all-gay weekend unless there’s something about Keith, Myron, and Aaron that their wives don’t know about. Donny decided to just make polite conversation. “So, how’s the ... project coming?”
“You mean Back Home Again
?” Aaron asked. He nodded, his head bouncing a little. “Oh, we’ve had our moments, I guess, but you know how it is with things like that. Or so I hear. You know how it is with us writers. We don’t matter much. But... we’re ... we’re back on track.”
Keith said, “Happy to help,” and he raised his glass a little to Aaron.
“That’s right,” Myron added. “You’ve never let us down.”
Aaron smiled quickly and glanced at Donny as if he was expecting approval, and Donny just nodded as if he knew what they were talking about.
Dinner was served buffet style in the dining room since the full staff hadn’t reported yet. Donny sat with Aaron, who picked fretfully at his food and ended up eating only about half of his meal. Keith and Myron joined them, but they talked very little except to ask Donny how the new operation in Silicon Valley was going.
Paul, as the host, went from table to table and murmured greetings to everyone. Donny half expected him to make some kind of speech to the group, but he simply took a plate and sat down with a small group of men at a separate table. Aaron glanced at the group and looked at Donny. “Jack Magahee is here,” he said quietly but urgently.
“The biggest unknown known in the business,” said Keith. “He’s more powerful than Eisner.”
“But outside of about twenty people,” Myron added, “including the people in this room, nobody knows him from Adam.”
Donny looked at the group again. He recognized everyone, including James McGruder, except for a nondescript middle aged man in a casual golf shirt, khaki pants, and a light sport coat. He had thinning red hair, wire-framed glasses that reminded Donny of his dentist back in Bowling Green, and a prominent nose. He was seated next to Paul, and he ate slowly and deliberately, never looking up from his food as the others around him talked, and only once did he say anything, which resulted in someone handing him the pepper grinder.
“What is he,” Donny asked. “A studio head?”
“No,” replied Myron. “He’s the Warren Buffet of Hollywood.”
“Exactly,” said Keith. “He has an uncanny knack for knowing what’s going to be a hit. He has some kind of ability to read a script or even a treatment in less than ten minutes and know with absolute accuracy whether or not it will work and how much money it will make. You know how it took ten years for someone to make Schindler’s List
? No one would do it – too depressing, too long, too Jewish, whatever. Jack read the script and said ‘Steven Spielberg.’ That’s it, and Spielberg gets it and gets the Oscar.”
“I thought it was Lustig and Molen that were the producers,” said Myron.
“They were. But who do you think told them to get Spielberg?” As if on cue, they all turned and looked at the table where Paul and Jack were sitting.
Coffee and dessert were in the lounge, and Donny met a few more people who had arrived late and had a chat with James McGruder who patted him on the shoulder and told him to keep up the good work. Donny wondered if the whole weekend would be like this, but Keith shook his head.
“No business tonight; not everyone’s here yet. Tomorrow after breakfast is when the cattle call begins.”
Donny went up to his room around eleven; most of the guests had retired already, but he sat and listened as Aaron and Keith talked about everything from pre-school to the Hubble telescope. Keith grilled Donny on his Mustang; he was a huge
fan of Lee Iacocca.
He was getting ready for bed when someone tapped on his door. It was Mike. He was still in jeans and the faded red polo shirt he wore for luck on shooting days. “Hey,” he said, “just thought I’d say goodnight.”
“Sure,” Donny replied. “Come on in.”
They sat on the balcony and smoked. Mike looked tired as he rubbed his eyes. “Traffic was a bitch getting out of town tonight. So, who’s here?”
Donny ran down the names he could remember, including Keith and Myron, and threw out Jack Magahee at the end. Mike sat up.
“Jack Magahee? No shit?”
“Yeah. He was having dinner with Paul.”
“You talk to him?”
“I hear he’s important.”
“Uh, yeah,” said Mike. “He is very
“But nobody’s ever heard of him.”
“Nope. Very behind the scenes.”
“Sounds like Howard Hughes.”
“Oh, no...” said Mike, shaking his head. “He’s incredibly normal. He drives a ten-year-old Buick, shops at Von’s like everybody else, and the only reason he has cable TV is because he owns about half the stock in the company.” Mike leaned back, rested his feet on the railing, and blew out a long stream of smoke. “If Jack Magahee is here, this is going to be a big cattle call.”
“Everybody calls it that. What the hell does that mean?”
“Yeah, everybody says that, too.
Mike chuckled. “Don’t worry. It’s not like you have to strip down to your jockeys and walk the runway. Not that it would matter to this crowd.” He yawned. “Anyway, it’s gonna be fun.” He put out his cigarette. “Jeremy here yet?”
“No, didn’t see him.”
“Hmm.” Mike stood up. “Well, anyway, we’ll see. I’m gonna head off to bed.” They walked through the bedroom and Donny had a brief flashback to the first weekend they’d spent here making love several times on that bed, and then the quick but passionate one-time with Marc. Mike opened the door, grinned at Donny, said, “G’night,” and closed it behind him before Donny could say “G’night” himself.
Breakfast was served the same way as dinner, so Donny helped himself to scrambled eggs and bacon. It was a little before eight and the dining room was nearly empty. Donny assumed that most of the other guests were still asleep.
The waiter was pouring him a cup of coffee when Aaron came in. He was carrying his briefcase. He headed directly for Donny’s table and sat down, signaling the waiter for some coffee.
“Is Mike here?” Aaron asked, glancing around the room.
“Yeah, he got in late last night.”
“But he’s not up yet?”
“Haven’t seen him. He’s in another room than me.”
“Oh.” Aaron dumped three spoonfuls of sugar in the coffee and stirred it noisily. “Listen, did you bring a copy of that treatment with you?”
“That treatment you wrote up.”
Donny stared at Aaron. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Aaron stared back. “The one you wrote. The one you gave to Mike. Last winter. You know. The one about the four gay guys sharing a house.”
“Small Town Boys
“Yes. Did you bring it?”
“Well, no. I mean, I forgot all about it.”
“Damn,” muttered Aaron. He opened his briefcase and pulled out the report cover that Donny had last seen last winter. He laid it on the table. “Well, all right. I can have the office run off some copies, but mine’s got notes all over it.”
“Mike gave it to you?” Donny asked, picking it up and now remembering it.
“Yeah, a long time ago. He wanted to see if I could do anything with it once we got Back Home Again
done. Well, now... it looks like ....” He slurped his coffee and grinned at Donny. “It looks like Small Town Boys
is in.” Aaron started to get up, but Donny put his hand on Aaron’s arm.
“Wait a minute. What about Back Home Again
“Look, I have to go get ready for a meeting with some people. Can you sign an affidavit to the effect that you’re the original author of this treatment and that you haven’t transferred the rights to anyone else?”
“Uh, sure,” stammered Donny.
“And you can prove it.”
“Yeah, it’s still on my hard drive at work.”
“Excellent. I’ll find you when it’s time to meet with Jack.”
Aaron broke out into a toothy grin. “Jack Magahee wants to read your treatment.” He got up again, took another large slurp of coffee, looked around the room again, and almost ran out of the dining room.
A small invitation-sized envelope had been slipped beneath Donny’s door while he was at breakfast. He opened it.
You are cordially invited to lunch with Jack Magahee at twelve-fifteen in the Gazebo.
He stuffed the envelope in his pocket just as Mike knocked on the door. “Hey, you want to get some breakfast?”
“I already went.”
“But I’ll have another cup of coffee.”
The dining room was still quiet. Mike heaped up a plate of eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns, and poured a large glass of tomato juice. “Mm, I love a big breakfast.” He tucked into it and finished off the potatoes before he said, “So, what are you going to do today?”
Donny shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do; just hang out?”
“Pretty much,” Mike said. “It’s really casual on the surface, but if there’s someone you want to meet and talk to – or if there’s someone who wants to talk to you – they’ll let you know. Like sit down out at the pool bar or drop by for lunch or something. Not a lot of stuff is pre-planned...at least not for guys like us that are down the food chain.” He munched some toast. “The bigwigs will all have these little meetings and lunches with the money guys, then they talk to guys like us...” Mike put down his fork. “Y’know, this is gonna sound weird, but how did you wangle an invite to this? I mean, no offense, Donny, but is he sniffing you out as a producer or what?”
“Yeah,” Donny replied cautiously, not wanting to say anything about the lunch invitation on the chance that Mike didn’t get one, “or maybe he just thought I’d be nice eye candy.”
Mike laughed. “Yeah, well, this crowd is pretty straight, but you might get lucky.” Donny started to say something, but Mike interrupted him. “Oh, good, Jeremy’s here.”
Jeremy Dixon strode into the dining room. He was dressed sharply in designer jeans and an open-necked shirt, and he had a few days’ growth of neatly trimmed stubble. Even though Donny had seen him at Paul’s party last spring, he hadn’t really paid attention to him. Now he looked him over.
He looked shorter than he did in the movies, and was of average size, even though in the movies he’d done several scenes without a shirt and Donny remembered he had a good build; he had been a baseball player at Iowa State and had played two seasons in the minors before he’d caught the attention of an agent. But what he lacked in outright physical size he more than made up for with his air of confidence and his handsome features. His face was almost cherubic, and he had dimples when he smiled. Mike had once said that people took classes in how to look like a star; how to smile, how to carry yourself, even what to do with your hands when you were walking across the room. If that was the case, then Jeremy Dixon had been at the top of his class.
Mike waved to him, and he came over. “When’d you get here?” Jeremy said.
“Last night. Came out after we wrapped.”
“Well, damn, if I knew you were gonna be here, I’d’ve hitched a ride with you instead of dragging my ass outta bed at four-thirty this morning to make it here.” Jeremy grinned, his dimples showing, and he nodded at Donny. “Who’s your friend here?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Jeremy, this is Don Hollenbeck. Donny, this is Jeremy Dixon.”
Donny stood up and they shook hands. “Nice to meet you,” he said.
“Same here,” replied Jeremy, and Donny got the definite impression that Jeremy was checking him out; he could see his eyes go over him and for an instant check out his crotch. “Say, mind if I join you? I’ve had nothing but a really bad cup of McDonald’s coffee.”
“No, sure,” said Mike, “that’d be great.”
Jeremy returned with an identical plateful to Mike’s breakfast, and the two of them talked shop, basically ignoring Donny until Jeremy asked who was here. When Mike mentioned Jack Magahee, Jeremy nodded and shot a quick grin at Donny.
The dining room started to fill up and several of the guests stopped by to say hi to Jeremy and Mike. Donny waited until there was a gap between the greetings, told Mike quietly that he was going back to his room, and Mike said, “Hey, catch you later.” Donny trotted up the stairs, wondering what he could do for the next three hours.
He went out onto the balcony to smoke a cigarette and looked down at the pool. Some of the guests had gathered there, some in swimsuits, some in beach clothes, some in golf wear. They were standing around chatting, and Mike was there too, talking to Keith. So, Donny thought, I guess we all gather at the pool. He changed into a swimsuit – not the red Speedo but the blue jams he’d bought to inaugurate the pool – and grabbed a towel and his sunscreen.
At eleven-thirty he came back to his room to change for the lunch. Other than sit by the pool and swim some laps, the morning had passed by quietly. Several of the guests who seemed very familiar with McKay-Gemini introduced themselves, but other than that, it had been a quiet morning and he had even dozed off until someone across the way had laughed out loud and woke him up. He took a quick shower, pulled on chinos and a polo shirt, stuffed the invitation in his back pocket and was halfway across the lobby when he realized he had no idea where the Gazebo was.
The desk clerk pointed him across the formal garden to a small structure under a tall willow. The Gazebo was actually a small glassed-in octagonal hut on a raised platform with a thatched roof, just large enough for a round table and chairs. During the season the glass walls came off and it served as a bandstand.
He was early – waiters were still setting the table – so he wandered over to a small bench and sat in the shade. He wondered if he could smoke here, but he didn’t see any of the little hanging ashtrays like the ones by the pool, so he just waited to see who else was going to show up.
He didn’t have long to wait. Paul, followed by one of the waiters, came down the path. He smiled at Donny went into the Gazebo and closed the door behind him. A moment later Aaron arrived carrying his briefcase.
“H-Hullo,” he stammered. “Been here long?”
“Just got here.”
He nodded quickly, then sat on the bench next to him. He flicked open the catches on the briefcase and pulled out a folder. “Here, I made you a copy and tried to white-out the notes.”
Donny looked it over, remembering how quickly he’d batted it out at the office that afternoon. He’d almost forgotten the names of the characters; Bobby, Greg, Eric, and Scott, and he smiled a little as he re-read the description of the house he used to live in; the one Mike now lived in all by himself.
“Is Mike coming?” said Donny.
Aaron shook his head. “No. You didn’t say anything to him about this, did you?”
“Okay. Here comes Jack.” Aaron stood up as Jack Magahee, followed by James McGruder, came down the walk. They were talking quietly but stopped when they got to where Donny and Aaron were standing.
“This is the young man I was telling you about, Jack,” said James, inclining his head towards Donny and smiling.
“Ah,” said Jack, his voice thin and reedy. “How’d you do?” They shook hands. “I’ve heard good things,” he added.
“Thank you,” Donny replied.
Jack smiled. “Shall we...?” He gestured toward the Gazebo and one of the waiters held open the door.
As they went up the steps Jeremy trotted up. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Just in time,” said Jack.
There was just enough room for the five of them to sit comfortably around the table. The waiters set out small salads and offered iced tea, water, or something from the bar. Donny, sitting next to Paul, followed Jack’s lead and had iced tea.
As they ate their salad, James and Jack talked between themselves about horses and racing. It wasn’t until the plates had been cleared away and the entrees – club sandwiches and chips – that Jack look at Paul and nodded.
“Well, Aaron,” said Paul, “tell us about this new project.”
Aaron wiped his hands on his napkin and glanced around the table. “It’s Don’s idea.” He nodded at Donny, who was sitting across from him. “He calls it Small Town Boys
. It’s about four men who share a house in suburban Los Angeles. Four men who happen to be gay.” He passed around folders. “There’s no gimmick – no genies in a bottle, no nosey landlord, no keeping lovers secret. They’re just guys and their lives.”
“Four men who happen to be gay,” repeated Jack.
“Yes,” said Aaron.
Jack nodded. “Interesting. Is it a sitcom?”
“More like thirtysomething,
right, Don?” said Aaron, looking at Donny.
“Uh, yeah,” replied Donny hesitantly. He had never seen the show, but he knew what it was about.
Jack nodded and said, “Go on.”
Aaron sipped his water and looked around the table. “I see it as a chance to counteract the stereotypes of gays that have been on TV for so long; the prissy queens, the funny uncles, the Paul Lyndes of the world, and especially with AIDS, I see it as a chance to show that gay people are your sons, your friends, your neighbors.” He took another sip of water. “Up ‘til now, stories about gays have been about coming out to their families, gay-bashing, AIDS, or some traumatic experience, the subtext being that their lives are miserable because they’re gay. We’ve never had just regular people who happen to be gay on TV before. Or in the movies, for that matter.”
“What about Boys in the Band”
Jack said. “That was a groundbreaking play, then movie.”
“Oh, please,” interjected James. “Every stereotyped queer in the Western world was trotted out, and the money quote from it is that you’re sad and pathetic because you’re gay and you don’t want to be. Depressing as hell.” James looked at Aaron and nodded.
“As I was saying,” Aaron continued, but Jack held up his hand.
“I’d like to hear what ... Don, is it? Don has to say.”
They all looked at him, and he felt sweat prickling on his forehead. “Well, like Aaron was saying, these guys are just guys. They have jobs, they go to work, they have friends, they meet people, they go out. Y’know – stuff that people go through.”
“But they’re gay,” said Jack.
“Yeah.” He looked around the table. “Like me.”
That elicited chuckles from everyone, and Donny found that Jeremy, who was sitting next to Jack, was staring at him. Their eyes caught and Jeremy gave him a quick, almost imperceptible smile before looking away.
“So which one of these boys is you?” Jack asked him.
Jack indicated the folder. “I’m assuming this is based on your own life, isn’t it?”
“So, which one of these is you?”
Jack interrupted. “Wait, let me guess.” He picked up the treatment and read it for a second. “You’re ‘Bobby,’ the strong, silent one.”
Donny felt himself blushing. “Well, yeah, I guess. A little.”
Jack laughed; it was almost a giggle. “The writer always comes out as the silent observer type.” He looked at Jeremy. “So, is that the one you want to play?”
Jeremy shook his head. “My interest is strictly producing,” he said, but he looked back at Donny and gazed at him. “But if I had to, yeah, I could do it. Why not?”
“Because you don’t want to end up on the front page of the National Enquirer’s
annual ‘Who’s Gay and Who’s Not?’ issue, that’s why not,” said James flatly.
“Not to worry,” said Jeremy. “Miriam’s pregnant. Due in May.” He shot Donny another look and smiled.
“Congratulations,” said Paul.
Jack was looking at the treatment again. “You know that it will be a tough sell to a network. They’re skittish about the fundamentalists and the South. Look what they did to Tony Randall’s show.”
“It’ll be a challenge,” said Paul. “But even if we can’t get a network to buy it, there’s always cable. Showtime’s already done some series, and there’s always the overseas market.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. “Good thinking. When do you want to start?”
Jeremy said, “I’m free now.” He glanced at Paul. “We’re done, right?”
Paul said, “Finishing touches. A couple of more days. We’ll wrap it up.”
Donny looked at Paul. What did that mean, he wondered.
Jack nodded. “All right.” He started to get up from the table, his sandwich half-eaten. “Congratulations, Don. You’re an executive producer. I’ll show you the secret handshake later. Jeremy, let’s talk.”
Everyone’s chair scraped the floor as they stood up, and Jack and Jeremy left the Gazebo, Jeremy giving Donny a final nod and smile. When they were gone, James sat down and munched a few chips.
Donny whispered to Aaron, “What did he mean, ‘We’re done.’ I thought he was still working on Back Home Again
Aaron nearly spilled his tea. “He is. It’s...”
“Is it the money?”
“No. Well, yes. Look, talk to Paul. He’s taking care of it.” Aaron pushed his glasses up with his thumb. “Look, can we get together later, like after dinner maybe? There are some things we need to talk about if this is going to happen.”
“Sure, sure,” said Donny somewhat tersely. He was trying to catch Paul’s attention, but he had his back turned as he talked to James. “But what about Mike?”
Aaron gulped. “It’s done. Jack’s going to buy up the rest of it so we can get Jeremy started on this.”
“So it’s going to go as a movie?”
“No, we’re talking about a cable series,” said Aaron with tone of exasperation.
“I don’t mean Small Town Boys
,” said Donny. “I mean Mike’s story. Your story. Back Home Again
Aaron sighed. “No.” He opened his briefcase. “It’ll wrap. It’ll make the rounds as a pilot or maybe go to video. It might make it as a movie of the week. But...” Aaron looked up at Donny and managed a smile. “That’s...the way it goes.”
Donny felt a little dizzy, and he grabbed the back of his chair. “So, has anyone told Mike yet?” he whispered.
“Paul said he’d talk to him tonight. Offer him something else, get him another project, make sure he’s cool, get him settled with CAA.” Aaron looked at Paul’s back. “He’s good at that sort of thing. Let him take care of it.”
The waiters began to clear the table, and Paul and James walked out of the Gazebo, their feet crunching on the gravel.
The housekeepers had closed the balcony doors and pulled the drapes so his room was dark and cool. Donny tugged off his shirt and flopped on the bed. The ceiling fan revolved lazily.
“That’s ... the way it goes” buzzed in his ears. Now he knew why he was invited. “Has anyone told Mike yet?” No. No one had told Mike.
He closed his eyes and dozed off. A moment later he was awakened by someone tapping on his door. “Just a sec,” he said sleepily, grabbing his shirt and pulling it on. The clock said 4:15. He’d been asleep for three hours.
It was Mike. “Hey, sorry to wake you,” he said when he saw Donny blinking awake.
“No, that’s okay. I was just...”
“Yeah. Say, I just thought, y’know, we might... I dunno.... you wanna go for a drive or something? Nothing’s doing until cocktails at seven.”
They took Donny’s Mustang and put the top down. It was still hot, but with the breeze it was comfortable. “Where to?” Donny asked.
“Head up 74. Let’s cool off.”
The traffic was light and it didn’t take long to find the highway that led out of town and up into the San Jacinto mountains. The road snaked up the foothills and switchbacked between the sheer rock walls. Mike told him, over the rush of the wind, that this road was the steepest escarpment in the United States; it went from almost below sea level in Palm Springs to over a mile high in Idyllwild in less than fifty miles. As if to prove it, Donny swallowed and his ears popped from the change in altitude.
The air began to get cooler, and after a while they came upon a scenic overlook. Donny pulled in and they got out.
There was no wind and it was very quiet. The valley spread out below them, a layer of haze turning the sky grey at the edge of the horizon. Mike stood by the guardrail and lit a cigarette.
“You ever see that movie It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
“Yeah, I think so, when I was a kid,” said Donny.
“They shot the opening car chase scene on this road. In fact, there’s a scene where they’re arguing about how to split up the money; I think they shot it right here.”
“Hmm.” Donny lit his own cigarette and joined Mike next to the guardrail. The cliff went down sharply below the road, and there were huge boulders and dead trees scattered below. The sun glinted off some broken glass. “Wow, I’d hate to go off this road in the middle of the night.”
“It’s happened,” said Mike. “You can get a real good collection of car parts from down there if you don’t mind them slightly dented.” He watched a hawk off in the distance for a full minute, then said, “Looked for you at lunch today.”
“Oh yeah?” said Donny. “I just grabbed a sandwich with some people.” It wasn’t a lie, he told himself. It also wasn’t the full truth. “So, what’d you do today?”
Mike shrugged and stepped on his cigarette butt, grinding it into the dirt. “Hung out. Talked to that Keith guy. He might be a backer for the next project at Cherry Bend.”
“Oh, yeah, what’s that?”
“Not sure yet. Oh, did I tell you...I’m leaving Marty.” He chuckled. “That didn’t sound right; sounds like we’re lovers breaking up. Although I’m sure that crossed his mind. Anyway, yeah, I’m just not... Well, he doesn’t seem to think that Cherry Bend is the way to go, and I think that doing soaps and cheap-ass filler sitcoms for no-name networks isn’t going to get me a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Not that I’m in the business for that.”
“I thought Return to Sender
was doing well. I mean, you got another season out of it, right?”
Mike shook his head. “They’re moving us to Thursday night. We’re gonna get creamed by the big three. We might as well be on Home Shopping Network; hell, they probably draw bigger during prime time than we do.” Mike scowled. “So once this turkey hits the road, I’ll have enough money in the bank – and the income from the rental house – that I can start concentrating on my own stuff. Back Home Again
could be the ticket out, Donny. With someone like Jeremy Dixon on board, there’s no telling what could happen. I’m not saying Lucasfilm, but hey, who knows. Maybe American Zoetrope. That’s Francis Ford Coppola’s company.”
A large semi roared by, heading down the hill, its Jake brake making the exhaust pipes rattle. The echo followed it down the hill, and Donny watched the truck as it went down the road until it finally disappeared beyond the foothills. Its faint sound carried long after it was gone.
Donny looked at his watch. “Hey, we’d better start heading back so we can be ready for the happy hour.”
Mike put out his second cigarette. “You know, we’re halfway to Idyllwild. We could keep on going, pick up some steaks, and spend the evening in the hot tub. Be a lot more fun than hanging out with a bunch of straight geezers in golf pants.”
Donny remembered his after-dinner date with Aaron. “C’mon, Mike; those straight geezers have all the money.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” He got in the car and slammed the door. “Back to the heat and humility, driver.”
Donny had dinner again with Keith and Myron. This time the waiters served them at the table; prime rib or salmon. Donny had the salmon.
He had seen Mike at the cocktail reception in the lobby talking to Paul, but when dinner was announced they didn’t come in. Several of the guests from the night before were gone, including Jack and James, but they had been replaced by some new arrivals, including some women who were apparently wives of some of the new arrivals; they were all middle aged or older and were fashionably dressed in late summer Palm Springs attire. Donny overheard one of the guests say something about Bruce Paltrow.
Aaron was not in the dining room, either, and Donny wondered how he’d get together with him. The question was answered when he left the dining room and found him waiting for him in the lobby, his ubiquitous briefcase at on his knees.
“Did you eat?” asked Donny.
“I ordered room service.”
“Missed a great meal.”
“I had some work to do. And my wife called.”
“Let’s go someplace quiet,” said Aaron. He led him down a hall under the stairway that Donny had never really noticed before. It went past some offices and small conference rooms, then into the old wing of the villa that had been the old back entrance when it was still a private home. The carpet was thicker and the walls were covered in what looked like dark red silk. The paintings on the wall were landscapes, not unlike the ones that hung in Paul’s house in Los Angeles; in fact, Donny recognized one from the upstairs hall, and he remembered that Paul was living here full time now.
Aaron opened a heavy wooden door into a paneled library. It reminded Donny of those old dens in the rich man’s house in the movies; the furniture was heavy and dark, the carpet was very thick, and there were shelves of books going up to the ceiling. A large globe rested in a wooden stand in the corner next to a large Georgian-style desk and chair, and there was a wide couch facing the door.
“This was Walter Lockhart’s study,” Aaron explained. “Paul kept it pretty much as it was when he was alive, although he uses it for small gatherings during the season.” He gestured toward the couch. “Have a seat.” He set his briefcase on the coffee table and sat in the large chair by the desk. He pulled out a sheaf of papers, reviewing them as he talked. “Well, I just wanted to sit down with you and, y’know, kinda brainstorm where we think we should go from here. I mean, you’re the executive producer and it’s your show, but based on the treatment I’m ready to outline a pilot, but I’d like your take on where you think the series should go and...” he shrugged a little, “y’know, go from there.” He handed Donny a legal form. “Here’s the affidavit that says you’re the author of the treatment. Just sign it down there.”
“Okay,” Donny said, “but...”
Aaron interrupted. “I’m sorry, I just thought I’d tell you a couple of things. First, I think Jeremy and I need to get together with you once we’re back in town and really lay this whole thing out. My initial idea was to not have the episodes be separate entities, but have stories that arc through several episodes or maybe even through the entire season. That way we keep the audience following along – and it makes it tougher for the network to cancel it. It won’t be like a soap opera – one or two continuous story lines – but more like what they did on Hill Street Blues
; did you ever see that?” Aaron was getting more rapid-fire in his delivery, his knees bouncing up and down almost in time with the rhythm of his voice.
“Yeah, I remember that,” said Donny, “but what I don’t understand is what Jeremy’s role in all of this is. And what about Mike?”
“What about him?”
“Is he in on this?”
Aaron shook his head. “No, Jeremy’s going to produce it. He’s too old to star in it. These guys are your age – early twenties.”
“But Mike’s the one who asked me to write the treatment. It was gonna be something he was gonna try to do.”
Aaron put the papers on his briefcase and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth. He got very still as if he was lost in thought. Finally he said calmly. “Mike showed me the treatment last spring. In fact, it was right after I met you and your brother at Paul’s house. He said you’d written it and he said – I believe his exact words were – ‘It’s all yours.’ I was going to call you but things got crazy with my job – my real job – and then there was the shooting of Back Home Again
. One day Jeremy asked me if I had anything else I was thinking about, anything a little more cutting edge than this – how did he put it – ‘Norman Rockwell’ story. I said, ‘how about four gay guys sharing a house in L.A.’” He indicated the pile of papers. “Jeremy wants to be a producer, and he thinks that this is the way to go. Some people have told him that starting off by being the producer of a show about homosexuals isn’t the best way, but his response is that he heard the same thing about playing the psycho in Hot Town
and that got him an Academy Award nomination.”
“Well, maybe Mike can help produce it, too; y’know, co-executive producer. They have those, right.”
Aaron shook his head. “Yeah. But....” He sighed. “Look, I’ll be as honest as I can be about this. Jeremy wants to do your treatment. He wants me to write it. It will be produced, and it will get on the air. There’s no doubt whatsoever about that. Jack Magahee is behind it. But that’s only as long as Mike has nothing to do with it. The deal is that it’s Jeremy’s project all alone or no deal.”
Donny stared at Aaron. He could hear a clock ticking somewhere in the room, and far away, almost subliminally, he could hear piano music. Finally Donny breathed, “Why?”
Aaron bit his lip. “Jeremy’s been working with Mike for the last four months. He ... he ... they ... Jeremy just doesn’t think he can work with him, as an actor or even behind the scenes.”
“Is Mike that bad an actor?” Donny said quietly.
“No. He’s that good.”
Donny blinked. “What?”
“He’s amazing. When they’re on camera together, Mike blows Jeremy away; it’s like he’s not even there, and Jeremy knows it. It’s just sheer luck that Jeremy’s the guy on the cover of People
magazine and not Mike; that he got the breaks and Mike didn’t. If Mike landed a part working for a director like Scorsese or Pollack there’s no telling how far he’d go. He could be the next Costner.”
“So why don’t they hire him? Don’t they know about him?”
“It doesn’t work like that, Donny. It’s the producers and the casting directors who call the shots. It also didn’t hurt that Jeremy’s married to a bona-fide star and Mike....” Aaron managed a small grin. “Well, you know. And Jeremy has the passion. He does what he has to do to make it. Mike keeps getting these catch-as-catch-can parts; series, movies, a soap, another series... it’s like he’s drifting, and working for these crappy directors like Milo Secor and Stuart Friedman doesn’t help.”
“Does Paul know this?” Donny interrupted.
Aaron shrugged. “Sure he does. But Paul’s a money man. He doesn’t care about talent, he cares about what will make money – or what won’t lose it.” He shrugged again.
“He says Mike will never be a name.”
“Paul would know that.”
“But if he’s so good....”
Aaron let out a toneless laugh. “Talent is the last thing that matters in this town. It’s who ya know and who ya blow.” Aaron leaned back in the chair. “Look, Don, I ... I appreciate what you’re saying about Mike. I really do. But...” Aaron waved his hand at the papers, “but you can’t let that get in your way. You’ve got a good story idea here and Jack Magahee is ready to make it happen. I gotta tell you, there are hundreds – thousands – of writers out there who would kill to be sitting where you are. This is your first story idea, right? And here you are, literally in the inner sanctum of Hollywood.” Aaron leaned forward and looked at Donny intently. “You know how many treatments I went through before I even got a meeting with a producer? Forty-six; everything from sitcoms about talking dogs to a rip-off of Upstairs Downstairs
. I think I spent more time writing treatments and pilot scripts than I did studying for the bar exam. But I finally got through.” He looked at Donny with a little grin. “So don’t blow it, kid,” he said with a tinge of harshness. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. And you gotta ask yourself; is it worth giving it up because your boyfriend won’t be in it?”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” said Donny. “At least not any more.”
“Then what are you worried about?”
Donny stared at the paper for so long that Aaron shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. “By the way,” Aaron said, “do you have any idea how much money you’ll make on this?”
“No,” said Donny. “I’ve never really even thought about it.”
Aaron smiled. “If this goes through and makes it through a season, you can plan on paying off your house. When I sold my first story and got ‘Executive Producer’ on the screen, I was able to pay off my student loans, and it wasn’t cheap to go to Harvard Law.”
“And if it doesn’t....”
“You still get paid. Just not as much.”
Donny tugged on his ear. “What about my job at McKay?”
“That’s the best part. You don’t have to quit. As far as the day-to-day stuff, you leave that up to Jeremy and me and whoever we get to actually do the work.”
Donny looked up at Aaron. “So why are you still working your day job?”
Aaron shook his head. “Sometimes I wonder. But I actually love it. This Hollywood thing is a very lucrative hobby, but I still love going to court. Steve Bochco and I were separated at birth.” He looked at his watch. “So...do we have a deal?”
Donny looked at the plain blue folder again. He could still see the erasure mark on the cover where he had rubbed out “Pelican Test 2.2.”
They were crossing the lobby to the lounge when Aaron stopped. “By the way, I was thinking maybe we’d better come up with a better title. Small Town Boys
might give people the wrong idea, y’know; it almost sounds a little like a teen porn flick, I guess.”
Donny thought for a moment. “How about Just Us Guys
Aaron nodded. “I like it. It sounds casual but also ... exclusive. Like they’re together, but separate from the rest.... Good. We’ll try that.” He patted Donny on the shoulder. “Y’see....? You’re a natural at this.”
Donny had been asleep for almost an hour when someone pounded on his door. He jumped out of bed, banging his shin against the chair. Cursing, he stumbled to the door, not bothering to look through the peephole.
It was Mike, and from his glassy stare and flushed face it was clear he was drunk. Donny blinked and squinted from the light in the hallway.
“Mike...what’s ... what’d you want?”
Mike stared at him for a moment, his mouth working to form the words until he finally said, “When were you gonna tell me?”
“What? Tell you what?”
“You bastard.” He swayed a little. Donny reached out to steady him, but Mike batted his hand away, throwing him off balance, and he fell against the door jamb.
“Jesus, Mike,” Donny muttered, “get in here.”
“Oh, right,” Mike mumbled, “you’d like that.” But he staggered into the room. Donny closed the door and turned on a light.
Mike scowled at Donny. “You knew,” he said.
“Knew that it was gonna be canned. You knew this afternoon. You knew at your little secret lunch.” He smirked. “Thought I din’t know about that, din’tcha? Ha.” He tried to take a step but swayed and steadied himself instead by leaning against the wall. “My Back Home Again
is screwed. Canned. Into the crapper. All because that fucking cocksucker Jeremy wansa do your little pissy fairy story about the four faggots in L.A. Oh, you don’t think I don’t know. And you weren’t gonna tell me, either. Were you?”
“Look, Mike,” Donny began, but Mike held up his hand.
“Don’t tell me none o’ your innocent bullshit, Donny. You can’t pull off that big musclebound goof shit with me. I know you.” Mike glared at him. “I fuckin’ made you. And I don’t mean just in bed. If it wasn’t for me you’d still be some nobody selling computer shit or pounding nails.” He looked around the room, the motion making him sway a little. “Lookit you...standin’ here in your shorts in the middle of this classy place acting like you’re one of the hot players now, but who the fuck do you think brought you here in the first place?” Mike trembled a little and then let out a small burp. “Me. Lance Michaels. The next Costner. And you....” Mike moved towards Donny menacingly. “I oughta...”
For a drunk, Mike could swing a surprisingly quick right cross, and it just missed Donny’s left cheek and whistled by his nose. Donny jumped back, catching his heel on the rug, and he fell back against the bed. Mike swung at him again, and this time Donny rolled out of the way. The effort made Mike fall forward and he landed on the bed with a groan. He lay there for a moment, then started to make a gagging sound. Donny recognized it as an impending hurl. He jumped up, grabbed Mike under the arms from behind, and dragged him into the bathroom, barely making it in time before he spewed a power-barf into the bathtub.
He heaved for what seemed like forever, the air now thick with the sickly-sweet stench of booze, food, and whatever else was in his stomach. Donny felt like retching himself. He left Mike in the bathroom and opened the balcony doors, letting in the cool night air. Without knowing really why, he pulled on his swim trunks and a t-shirt, lit a cigarette, and waited for Mike to stop puking.
He was halfway through the cigarette when he heard water running in the bathtub. He went inside. Mike was still kneeling next to the tub, but he had turned on the faucets to flush it out. Donny switched to the Shower Massage, rinsed out the rest of the vomit, and handed Mike a wet washcloth. “Here. You’ve got some on your chin.”
Mike sat on the floor, his legs splayed out in front of him. He still looked drunk, but the fight had gone out of him. “Thanks,” he whispered. He tried to stand up, and after a false start Donny helped him up. He guided him to the door and after a quick check to see if anyone else was in the hall, escorted Mike to his room next door. Mike pulled out his key and handed it to Donny, and let him in.
“C’mon,” Donny said, “let’s get you to bed.”
Mike nodded but just stood there until Donny started to help him get undressed. Mike batted his hand away. “Can do it myself.”
He was able to get himself undressed without assistance, even pulling off his shoes, socks, and pants in the right order. It wasn’t until he was in his briefs that he looked at Donny. “My life is over in this town, y’know that?”
“No, it’s not,” said Donny.
“Hell if it isn’t,” retorted Mike, going to the bathroom. He didn’t bother to turn on the light but was able to find his toothbrush and Crest in the dark. “Thas’ fine,” he said, “I’ll show ‘em. I’m gonna show ‘em all. Paul, Jack, Marty, Jeremy – who, I hear, likes to take it up the ass – and even you, Donny Hollenbeck. Even you.”
Donny pulled back the light comforter and helped Mike into bed. “Get some sleep, Mike,” he said.
“Yeah, sleep,” he mumbled.
He turned out the light and was about to leave when Mike said, “Oh, hey, Donny?”
“You can forget about me moving in with you.”
The next morning there was just a light Continental breakfast served since most of the guests were leaving for home early. Donny got a cup of coffee and a croissant and wondered if Mike would make it down in time.
He knocked on Mike’s door, but there was no answer. A bellboy passing by said that Mr. Michaels had checked out about an hour ago.
Donny packed quickly and went down to the lobby to turn in his room key. Paul came out of his office, shook his hand, and when Donny mentioned that he’d seen Mike the night before Paul nodded briskly and said he would call him later in the week. “Let’s get this going first, shall we?”
Aaron came trotting down the stairs as Donny was waiting for the valet to bring his car. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said. He handed Donny his card. “Jeremy is ready to do this.”
“He was ready to do Back Home Again
, too,” noted Donny.
“That was as an actor. This time it’s his.”
The valet pulled up in the Mustang and put Donny’s duffel in the trunk. For an instant Donny debated telling Aaron about his late-night visit from Mike, but the moment passed. He gave the valet a five and took the keys. “Okay, if you say so, Aaron.”
Aaron nodded confidently. “Have a safe trip home, Don.” He mimed putting a phone to his ear. “Tomorrow.”
He was working on a budget projection the next morning when Lily brought in his mail. It looked like mostly resumes; they were advertising for another sales rep. He got to the fifth envelope. It was addressed to him personally and at the street address, not the P.O. box that they used when advertising for personnel. There was no return address, and inside was just one piece of paper with one sentence on it.
Ask your CFO where he spent Labor Day weekend, and who with.Chapter Guide
Labels: "Small Town Boys"