Sunday, April 19, 2009

Small Town Boys - Chapter 53

Chapter Guide

These Are the Voyages…

“Are you coming in to the office tomorrow morning, or are you going straight to the airport?” Eric wanted to know.

It was a three weeks later and they were finalizing their plans for their trip to Fairview, Colorado. They, Rudy, and Vinnie and Jordan, two of the code talkers, were going to spend a week at the school district familiarizing themselves with the current setup and meeting the people who were going to determine what was needed to get the program running in order to begin to write the company’s response to the formal Request for Proposal. He had not heard from Danny, and he had almost forgotten about Tyler until he spotted a small item in the Times, picked up from the wire services from the Traverse City Record-Eagle, about the Herlingers asking for any information about their missing son.

“Well, since the flight’s at noon, there’s not a lot of point to coming in here just to turn around and go back,” Donny replied. “Matter of fact, why don’t you come over to my place and pick me up in the morning and we’ll go from there?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Trish and Wanda were going to look after the house. Donny had had a meeting with them about Small Town Boys the week after New Year’s and looked at the resumes of some of the screenwriters that Aaron and Jack were “suggesting” he consider. Donny had the distinct impression that he had already been chosen and that this was just a formality. All of them had impressive credits, including one that had been nominated for an Emmy two years before. Samples of their writing were included, and Donny flipped through them. “So, which one does Gina want me to choose?” he said to Trish.

She laughed. “You learn quick.” She handed him the portfolio of Evan Gilmour. He was in his early thirties but already had been the head writer on several prime time series and had worked with Aaron on two projects. “And,” Trish added, “he’s also got a couple of off-Broadway credits. Plus he knows the subject matter.”

“He’s gay, then.”

“Um hm. Best part is he lives in Boulder when he’s not here or in New York, and so you can meet him when you’re in Colorado.”

“Like I’ll have time,” said Donny. “We’re going up there to work, not ‘take a meeting.’”

“Well, at least call him and maybe have dinner.”

“No promises,” said Donny curtly. He was already beginning to think that Small Town Boys was going to be shoved to the back burner as far as he was concerned. Trish and Jack were still working on rounding up investors, and that meant they were pushing back the start date for the pilot to May or June. Meanwhile, Starship Enterprise was beginning to grow almost exponentially. They had already decided to hire an outside consulting firm to handle the training of the school staff and merger with the old system, and the initial proposal had grown from a collection of file folders on Donny’s desk to a row of thick binders labeled Purchasing, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Grants, Budget, HR, Grades, and the thickest one that Eric had titled Everything Else. The binders spilled off the table and on to the floor, and as they grew, file folders and boxes were added.

“We’re gonna need a U-Haul to get all this stuff up to there,” Eric said as he looked over the pile of paper.

Donny held up a box of floppy discs. “We’ll only need these and a laptop for the RFP.”

“Yeah, okay.” Eric said. “You might as well plan on moving there if we get the job. Not permanently, but…”

“Fine with me,” replied Donny.

Eric looked at him. “Really? Had it with L.A.?”

Donny twiddled the pen he was writing notes with. “Nah, just…”

“Getting burned out,” said Eric, finishing his thought. “Yeah, I know. But hey, we’ll have a good time in Colorado. Do some skiing, maybe, see if there are any hot guys in Boulder…” He grinned mischievously. “Some of those mountain-climber and jogger types can be pretty hot.”

“Thought we were going there to work,” snorted Donny.

“Uh huh.”

Marc came in and dropped a large binder on Donny’s desk. “Here’s the projections you were asking for,” he said, and then caught Eric’s grin. “What’s up?”

“Oh, just teasing Donny about getting a little Rocky Mountain high, that’s all.”

Marc laughed. “Yeah a little motel sex is always fun,” he said. “I should know.” His demeanor had improved markedly since Christmas, and everyone in the office had noticed it. Eric had asked Donny if he knew what was making Marc so happy, not that he had any objections. Donny had shrugged and said it was probably because they’d had a thirty-seven percent increase in sales the last two quarters and Business Week had featured them in a story about business integration software. Eric had agreed, then added, “If you ask me, he also looks like he’s in love. You guys back together?”

“Nope,” Donny had replied.

“Well, whoever it is, maybe we should give him a bonus.”

It was snowing lightly the next afternoon when they arrived in Denver. It was a tight fit getting the five of them and their luggage into the Mitsubishi Galant, but with a little creative cramming, they got the trunk closed. The snow followed them all the way to the Marriott in Fairview. They checked in, and since the hotel was almost full because of a cross-country race, Rudy, Vinnie, and Jordan were in one room, and Donny and Eric were in another. Eric called Gordie Harwell. They were to meet him for dinner that evening at the Elkhorn, a well-known steak place in the middle of town.

Fairview was nestled in a valley in the Front Range of the Rockies, nearly seven thousand feet above sea level. The thin air was noticeable, and Vinnie, the code talker from New Jersey, got a nosebleed. He and his cohort, Jordan, decided to stay in the motel, order in a pizza, and put the finishing touches on the preliminary presentation.

Gordie was a tall, balding man with owl-like eyes and a bushy mustache, the color of which matched his sandy hair. Donny found it hard to believe that he and Eric had been in the same classes in college until Eric explained that Gordie had been in the Army for ten years before coming back to finish his degree and go on to get his Masters in education. Rudy nodded silently as he was introduced, and when they ordered drinks, he ordered iced tea. The waitress wasn’t sure if they had any, it being the end of January, but she said she’d look.

After some small talk, mainly catching up between Eric and Gordie, the conversation turned to the project, and Rudy, who had been silent up to then, started asking Gordie a number of intricate technical questions that left even Eric slightly breathless. But Gordie was able to answer most of them, and Rudy took extensive notes in his pocket notebook. When it came time to order dinner, Gordie recommended the New York cut, and Donny and Eric concurred. Rudy ordered a side salad and a baked potato.

The food was good and Donny had a glass and a half of wine. He was feeling pleasantly light-headed at the end of the meal, and walking out into the cold night air was a nice sharp contrast to the stuffy and smoky air of the restaurant. He took several deep gulps of air before lighting a cigarette. The smoke made him feel even more dizzy.

Eric noticed him swaying a little. “You okay?” he said with a grin.

“Yeah,” Donny muttered. “The altitude, I guess.” He took another drag on the cigarette then tossed it in the gutter.

Eric was a little glassy-eyed, too. He handed the car keys to Rudy. “Here you go; you’re driving.”

Donny felt a little better in the car, and by the time they got back to the hotel, he didn’t object when Eric stopped in front of the lounge and suggested a nightcap.

The bar was quiet except for some tinny piped-in Billy Joel instrumentals. They each ordered Scotch on the rocks and sat at a table under a large print of Longs Peak.

“So,” Eric said, “this is kind of cool.”

“What?”

“Here we are, nailing down a contract to basically re-write an entire government entity’s software system. This could be huge.”

“All we’re doing is plugging a whole lot of patches and modules into an already existing system using our software,” Donny said. “It’s not like we’re reinventing the wheel or coming up with a whole new language like those guys at FoxPro.”

“Yeah, but they don’t know that. ‘Sides, once we’ve got this going, a lot of other places will want to try it.” He smiled at the waitress who brought their drinks. “Thanks.”

“Yeah,” replied Donny, “unless we fuck it up.”

“We won’t. You won’t.” He raised his glass. “Here’s to Starship Enterprise…or whatever we call it.”

They clinked glasses and sipped their drinks. Eric smiled at Donny, and Donny felt warmth spreading through him, a pleasant tickle of horniness, made all the more immediate by Eric’s proximity and the faint scent of wool coming off his sweater. Donny gazed at Eric, the dim light from the bar making him look even more attractive, and he had to look away, over to where the bartender, a globular man in his mid-fifties was wiping down the bar and humming along flatly with the music, to try to take his mind off the tightness growing in his crotch.

Eric said something and Donny blinked. “Another?” Eric repeated.

Donny looked down at the empty glass, the ice cubes making little rainbows, and he shook his head. “Nah,” he muttered.

“’Kay, we’d better hit the rack; ‘morrow’s gonna be a long day.” He put a ten on the table, waved off Donny’s offer of cash, and they made their way to the elevator.

The room was dark, and Donny fumbled around until he found the light next to his bed. They wordlessly got undressed, each taking off their sweaters, shirts, and pants at the same time until they were both standing at the end of their beds facing each other in nothing but their underwear.

Eric caught Donny’s eyes and held them, a small smile making his lips part just a little, and Donny felt a roaring surge of passion, nearly making him groan, the thud of blood pounding in his ears and his cock. Eric leaned in a little and put out his hand for a moment, and said, “Man, I gotta take a gnarly piss.”

Donny nodded silently, and Eric brushed by him and went into the bathroom, closing the door. Donny got into bed and was asleep before Eric came back to his own bed.

*

They had an early breakfast and arrived at the school before 8:30, joining in the wave of students who were making their way to their lockers and first classes. Donny had a moment of flashback as the universal scent of high school – a combination of floor wax, pencil shavings, bathroom disinfectant, and the scent of teenagers: hairspray, gym sweat, bubble gum, and sneakers.

There was a large conference room behind the principal’s office and someone had put a large white power strip on the floor next to the movie screen. Donny set up the projector and the laptop while Eric, wearing a sports coat and tie, was introduced to the members of the school administration and two of the school board members. The locals all reminded Donny of people back home; middle-aged, very Republican-looking, the clothes all very business-like with faint hints of western wear: a turquoise brooch here, piping on the shoulder seams there, and all of them looking like they spent a lot of time outdoors. Everyone was very polite as the team was introduced, and then Eric went to the end of the table and flicked on the projector. A picture of a smiling little girl, her hands plastered with red, blue and orange finger-paints framing her face filled the screen. The title at the bottom said, “Making It Work for Her.” One of the ladies let out and audible “aw…”

Eric’s pitch was gentle and off-the-cuff even though Donny knew he had written it, revised it, and rehearsed it for a week. He took the approach that everything that the school system did in the office, be it ordering supplies, reconciling the budget, running the payroll, or even printing out the labels for file folders, was geared towards the kids. “The only reason you and your teachers and everyone else comes to work every day,” he said, “is for her and all the other kids in this school district. That’s it. Anything we can do to make it easier for her to learn and grow up is our goal.”

Donny was watching both Eric and the audience around the table, and he could see some heads nodding, some more vigorously than others, and several people taking notes. Eric paused, then started to go through the slides that outlined very simply what ERP was and how it could accomplish that goal. “In the first place, it would simplify things. That means less confusion, and making the process easier makes things go smoother. You are already using Pelican for some of the work, so all we would be doing is making it available to everyone: teachers, accountants, food service, and maintenance, all under one umbrella that many on your staff already know how to use. There would be very little change in what is already being done. Or,” Eric grinned, “there wouldn’t be much moving of the food dish.” That got a laugh from everyone, and Eric went through the rest of the introductory slides, showing the connections between offices and procedures, until he came back to the little girl. “And,” he said as he put down the remote, “I’d be glad to answer any questions you might have.”

The chairman of the school board, Walt Lyle, raised his hand. He was a solidly built man in his early seventies, his full head of silver hair combed neatly into a small pompadour, his expression and bearing that of a solid Ronald Reagan Republican. He cleared his throat with a deep rumble and said, “It all looks very good, and God knows anything we can do to cut down on the red tape is a good idea. But I would like to know how much this is going to cost.”

Eric grinned slightly and shot Donny a quick look and nod. The week before as they were putting together the presentation, they had both agreed that this would be the first question asked, and so they had come up with an answer, which Eric had honed and practiced as he had the rest of the presentation. He put his hands in his pockets and said, “Mr. Lyle, it will cost as much or as little as you want it to. We’re not proposing to do sell you anything you don’t want or need.” Mr. Lyle nodded but still looked a tad skeptical, which meant he was thinking something along the lines of “But we don’t know what we need, and therefore we don’t know what you’re proposing will be what we need…or just a waste of money.” He looked as if he was on the verge of saying that, so Eric jumped in before he spoke again and answered the question before it was asked. “The reason we are here this week – at no cost to you or the school district – is to find out exactly what it is you want and what you need.” That seemed to mollify Mr. Lyle, and after a few more questions, Gordie stepped in and said he had set up meetings for Vince, Jordan, and Rudy to meet with the people who were currently using Pelican, and Donny and Eric would be meeting with the IT staff. The members of the school board, including Mr. Lyle, smiled and shook hands all around, and when they had left, Eric let out a big sigh and said, “Okay, we made it past the first hurdle: they didn’t throw us out on our ass.”

At 11:30 they broke for lunch and Gordie took them to the school cafeteria where they stood in line with the rest of the faculty and students to get trays and plates of meatloaf, carrots, and mashed potatoes. Donny grinned inwardly at the sense of déjà vu; the cafeteria at this high school was not much different than the one he’d spent his countless lunch periods in back in high school, right down to the elderly ladies in white smocks and hats that ladled out the food. The kids didn’t seem that much different, either; all shapes and sizes – tall, short, big, small, most of them wearing the current fashions of t-shirts and loose pants under hooded sweatshirts or letter jackets. He wondered what they thought this group of strangers were doing in their midst, but if they did, they gave no sign; they probably thought they were new teachers or administrators and therefore not worthy of attention. Donny caught a girl looking at him for an instant. She was wearing a letter jacket that was a few sizes too large for her with “95” on the sleeve, so it must have been her boyfriend’s jacket; the boyfriend, a tall, gangly but athletic-looking kid with longish sideburns and curly hair stood behind her in just a CU Boulder football t-shirt and grey cargo pants. She cast an appraising eye over Donny’s button-down shirt, wool sweater, and khaki pants, then looked right through him as if he wasn’t there. Ten years ago, as a freshman, Donny had gotten the same look from the senior girls.

Gordie led them to a separate part of the dining room set aside for teachers and he introduced them to some of the faculty that were already there. If he didn’t remember the names, Donny remembered the types: the matronly English teacher, the frazzled-looking science teacher, the calm but stern-looking math master, and the art teacher who looked as if she had just gotten back from Woodstock, complete with the peasant blouse, granny glasses, and breathy voice that sounded as if she was always reading poetry. They ate quietly, and Donny looked across the cafeteria, seeing more proof that no matter where or when, the dynamics of the caste system of high school society were alive and well. The tables were clearly designated by groups: the Jocks, the Nerds, the Goths, the Heathers, the Snobs, the Hipsters, the Preps, even the Drama Queens, which consisted of both boys and girls. Donny wondered what it must be like to be gay in a small mountain community surrounded by big trucks, guns, and all the other symbols of masculinity that seemed as natural and as old as the mountains and glaciers that towered over the school. It was probably not much different than what it was like when he was in school, he thought. Anyone suspected of being gay or who did not conform to the stereotype of the average teenage boy was either invisible or preyed on by the bullies like Stan Tasker who lived by the axiom that any boy who didn’t demonstrate full heterosexuality was a threat to them and their way of life. Donny knew that no one questioned his apparent straightness; his years of football and his larger than average build, plus the fact that he had sat at the Jocks table during football season and never said anything was his own acknowledgment of his obeisance to the strict and inviolate culture of being a teenager in high school.

The impression was reinforced an hour or so later when Donny took a bathroom break. The nearest men’s room was down the hall from the administration office where he and Eric were discussing network capacity with Gordie. There was no door; just a tiled entrance that turned sharply to the left and led into an open space lined with sinks on one side, a row of urinals on the other, and two stalls. He didn’t hear anything as he approached, but when he walked into the room he saw three boys by the sinks. A skinny boy with long blond hair parted in the middle, thick dark eyebrows, and a “Les Miserables” t-shirt, was backed into the corner. The other two boys, one whom Donny recognized from the cafeteria by the CU Boulder shirt, towered over him menacingly. They all looked to see who was coming in, and when Donny returned the look, the bigger boys backed away casually, and one went to run water in the sink to wash his hands. Donny went to the urinal, and by the time he had finished, the two had gone, but not before one had hissed, “Such a fag, Whitzler.”

The boy was now at the sink washing his hands, making as much lather as he could with the thin liquid green soap that spurted out of the little plastic globe mounted on the wall. Donny glanced at him for a second and suppressed a desire to say something such as, “You okay?” because he knew what the answer would be: a terse nod of the head and silence. But the boy had a look of defiance on his face, and when they traded glances, he nodded at him as if nothing was wrong. He dried his hands quickly and scurried out of the room, leaving Donny rinsing his hands under the tepid water and thinking how much the boy reminded him of kids he knew in high school, and of Tyler.

*

Donny spent the rest of the afternoon with Bev, the school treasurer, a plump middle-aged woman with tinted hair and a wheezy giggle. She was an expert at Pelican, but when Donny admitted that he had been one of the people who had designed it, she beamed appreciatively and glanced at the pictures of her family that were lined up on her wall, including an Olan Mills glamour portrait of a girl in her early twenties. Donny smiled inwardly, knowing that Bev was sizing him up as husband material for her daughter Kim. Donny didn’t tell her that he was more interested in the picture of her son Will, a well-built redhead about his age, in a cowboy hat and tight jeans leaning against a split-rail fence.

He took pages of notes as Bev went through her routines of record keeping, including accounting and purchasing, and he saw how she used other programs to complement the database. He gently made some suggestions and showed her some built-in tools that she wasn’t aware of – “Well, I’ll be darned!” she said several times – and he wrote down all of her complaints about the program. By the time they had worked through all of his questions and seen the scope of the work she did, the office was empty and it was already dusk. Donny thanked Bev, and she grinned widely. “Come back any time,” she said.

He found Eric in Gordie’s office. “Oh, good,” he said. “Gordie has an idea he’d like to run by you.” Donny sat down, and Gordie steepled his fingers.

“The committee was very impressed with your presentation, and they wanted to know how soon you could start.”

Donny looked at Eric, then back at Gordie. “Start, as in design, build, and go live?”

“Yeah, pretty much. We were going to put off the decision until June, but there’s a huge technology grant out there that we’re up for, and if we can tell the funder that we’ve got a design ready to go, that will go a long way towards us getting the grant and start spending it in July. The grant’s for a year, so go-live would have to be by July of ’96.”

“A year and a half,” said Eric, “to basically build and implement an entire system. I’ve already talked to Rudy and the boys. What do you think?”

Donny flipped through a couple of pages of notes as he gathered his thoughts. Finally he said, “Think I need a beer and something to eat.”

Gordie laughed. “If you say yes, I’ll buy both.”

They went to a small Mexican restaurant on the edge of town. The food was good and the conversation between Eric and Gordie was lively, but Donny paid little attention to any of it. The thousands of details started running through his head, everything from using Pelican to redesigning most of it to finding out how to connect all the systems and upgrading the computers. If any of these thoughts were running through Eric’s mind, he didn’t say anything, and when Gordie dropped them off at the hotel, Eric said, “We’ll give you the answer in the morning, but right now it looks good, doesn’t it, Donny?” Donny nodded silently.

He was heading for the elevator when the desk clerk waved him down and handed him a pink message slip. It said, Please call Evan Gilmour before 8. It took him a few moments to remember who he was, then it came to him: the screenwriter Trish was recommending to take over the writing on Small Town Boys. He had completely put that part of his life out of his head.

Donny looked at his watch. It was 7:35, so he shrugged, found an outside line phone and dialed the number.

A woman answered, but when Donny asked for Evan Gilmour she said “Just a sec,” and put the phone down. He could hear distant water running into a sink, then a voice said “Thanks,” and the phone was picked up. “Hello?” said the baritone voice.”

“Hi, it’s Don Hollenbeck, returning your call?”

“Oh, hi! Hey, sorry to bother you while you’re working, but I’m here in Fairview visiting my sister – she and her husband just got back from a trip – and I wondered if we might, y’know, get together and just, y’know, chat?”

“Sure,” said Donny, thinking that a little chat about the fantasy world of TV shows might take his mind off the spinning universe of functional specs and conversion tables.

“Great. I can be at the hotel in about fifteen minutes; is that okay?”

“Sure. I’ll be there.”

Donny went up to the room to drop off his briefcase and put on a sweater. Eric was standing in the hall carrying on a quiet but intense conversation with Rudy, who responded by barely nodding his head. They didn’t even notice Donny as he went by.

He found a copy of the local newspaper on one of the tables in the lobby and was reading about the local high school sports team when a tall man wearing a well-worn Carhart coat came into the lobby. He looked at Donny, smiled, and strode over to him.

“Hi, I’m Evan,” he said. His grip was firm, and Donny was reminded of the actor Treat Williams. He was clean-shaven with a ruddy, wind-burned face, bright eyes, and thick brown hair over heavy eyebrows. He shrugged off the coat to reveal a grey flannel shirt over faded jeans and work-boots. He had a solid build, and as he sat down, Donny caught a faint whiff of a barnyard. Evan seemed to know he was giving off the scent and he chuckled ruefully. “Sorry about that; I spent most of this morning repairing the fence in the corral, and goats can be odiferous.”

“You raise goats?”

“Yeah, my partner and I have about fifteen or so. We sell them for their wool, and occasionally for other things. Once you get the smell in your clothes, though, nothing gets it out.”

“No problem,” said Donny. “I’m from Ohio and I know all about farms.”

“Good.” Evan smiled. “Well, it’s nice to meet you. He pulled a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket. “Look, I took the liberty of jotting down a few notes…y’know, some questions I had about the script. You mind if we go over them?”

Donny glanced around the lobby. Other than the desk clerk, it was empty. “Sure, no problem.

“Okay.” Evan smoothed the paper out and then put on some glasses. “Yeah, in the scene where Bobby is in the kitchen….”

It turned out that Evan’s questions were more about the interaction of the characters rather than Donny’s script-writing abilities, and Donny had to think back to what he was thinking about as he wrote them. There were a few questions he couldn’t answer, so he just shook his head and said, “I don’t remember what I was thinking about then,” to which Evan nodded solemnly and went on to the next one. He offered no suggestions as to how he would have written it, nor did he make any kind of indication as to whether or not he agreed with Donny’s answers. Finally he slowly folded the paper, took off his glasses, and looked at Donny with a sober expression.

“Well, I think you’ve a workable idea here, Don.” He paused and Donny wondered if he was supposed to say something, but as he was getting ready to reply with a simple “thanks,” Evan said, “I’m sure you’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people like your agent and stuff, but I gotta tell ya, as one writer to another, I think you’ve given us something to work with. Your dialogue’s great, the characters are believable and likable, and you don’t get into a lot of soap opera drama.”

Now Donny said “Thanks.”

Evan shrugged. “That may be your biggest problem, though. Aaron’s instinct – write what will sell – has proven to be true. People want edge-of-the-seat drama; they want to know what choices the character will make and make them tough enough to stick it out through the commercial break. I think it’s a great idea, treating gay guys as just guys, y’know, with all the usual stuff that people go through every day – work, friends, family – just normal people, that’s all, with all the usual dramas. Get rid of the stereotypes, the flamers, the queens, the disco babies….” Evan shrugged. “Hell, do we really know anyone who really fits into that category?” He stopped himself and grinned. “Well, yeah, actually, I do. But do you want to see them on TV?”

Donny nodded. “No, and that’s why I wrote it instead of Aaron.”

Evan shook his head. “Aaron wrote what he did because he thought he was writing what Jeremy Dixon would do. I hear that’s all over, though. Your deal with getting Jeremy to do the pilot, I mean.” Evan glanced at him. “I hear you had something to do with that.”

“Yep,” Donny said softly, flashing back to the afternoon in the conference room overlooking downtown Los Angeles.

Evan smiled a little. “Good. I hate that prick,” he said, meaning Jeremy. “But the tough part is turning this” – he tapped the paper – “into something that people will watch without turning it into that,” and he pointed to the large TV in the other part of the lobby that was silently showing a car chase from a rerun of The Rockford Files.

“Yeah,” Donny said, “so I’ve been told.”

“So, tell me where you went to school.”

“You mean college? Bowling Green.”

“In Kentucky?”

“Ohio. Bowling Green State University.”

“Huh. Didn’t know they had a film school there.”

Donny shook his head. “They don’t, as far as I know. I took a couple of English and computer classes a few years ago.”

Evan looked puzzled. “So where’d you learn to write film scripts?”

Donny told him about helping Mike out with the scripts for Return to Sender and writing Small Town Boys by following Silver Star from the shooting script. Evan listened silently, then shook his head. “Jesus,” he muttered, “if word ever got out….”

“What?”

Evan looked at him with bemused wonder. “Well, here are all these people who spend all these years in college and grad school learning about how to write the perfect film, and then hustle their ass off just to get a synopsis read at a studio, and you bat out a script in a weekend and are about to start shooting with Jack Magahee’s money.”

Donny replied, “I’ve heard that,” thinking back to the evening in Paul’s office with Aaron in Palm Springs.

“Well, I was all set to give you a hard time as to why – at least according to my agent – I shouldn’t be considering working for a low-budget pilot that’s going to end up on the ass-end of cable TV. But now that I’ve actually read the script….” Evan leaned back a little. “So when do you actually think you’ll get going on this?”

“I’m leaving that all up to Trish,” Donny replied. “I’ve got something a little more involved going on.” He gave Evan a brief outline of what he was doing for the school system and what the future looked like for him as far as Small Town Boys was concerned. “So,” Donny concluded, “for the next year or so, I’m going to be up to my neck in work doing my real job.” He glanced at Evan and added apologetically, “Not that what you do isn’t a real job. It’s just that…”

“No, I get it,” said Evan. “No offense taken. Frankly, I’m a little envious; I could use a steady paycheck rather than what this business pays you. The last steady gig I had got cancelled halfway through the third season because the co-star needed to go into rehab. Not what you call job security. Fortunately I still get royalty checks and I have a partner who comes from a rich family.” He stood up and started to pull on his coat. “Well, if you’re still interested, I’d like to give it a shot.”

Donny stood up and nodded. “Yeah, I’ll let Trish know. She kinda had decided anyway, but….”

Evan grinned a little. “My people will call your people, right?”

“Something like that.”

Evan handed him a business card. “Keep in touch.” He gave Donny an appreciative look. “I gotta say, you’re not exactly what I pictured when I heard about what you do for a living. I had this whole computer nerd thing going; y’know, skinny, geeky, glasses….”

“Yeah, I guess I’m sorta the exception that proves the rule,” Donny replied. He thought of Rudy, Vince, and Jordan. “But hey, we’ve got a couple of them with us….”

Evan laughed. “No, thanks. Listen, if you’re going to be in the area, maybe you could come down to my place for dinner or something.”

"Yeah, sure," he said. "Thanks.

Evan shook his hand, patted him on the shoulder, and said, "Talk to you soon." Donny watched him stride out of the lobby, and a moment later a rather battered Chevy pick-up truck pulled out of the parking lot. He was pretty sure he had just been hit on.

Donny watched him stride out of the lobby, and a moment later a rather battered Chevy pick-up truck pulled out of the parking lot. He was pretty sure he had just been hit on.

Eric was lying on his bed, talking on the phone. The TV was on, but the sound was muted. He had taken off his shirt and pants and was wearing only a t-shirt and boxers. He laughed as Donny came into the room, and said, “Oh, I think they’ll go for that. We can write it into the contract as part of the conversion.” He looked at Donny, pointed at the receiver, and mouthed “Greg.” “Oh, here’s F. Scott McStudly now. Yeah, he spent all day charming the staff. Yeah, sure,” Eric continued, then handed the receiver to Donny. “He wants to know when you can move up here.”

Donny took the phone and told Greg about his day with the administrative staff. Meanwhile, Eric took off the rest of his clothes and went to the bathroom to take a shower.

“So,” said Greg, “it’s up to you, Donny. The boys think we can do it and make the deadline. What say you?”

Donny heard the shower start up and Eric started humming, a little off-key. He sat on the bed, still fingering Evan’s card, glanced at the TV with the same episode of The Rockford Files, and said, “Sure.”

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