Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Small Town Boys - Chapter 23

The Hit – 1992

The reviews of Capitol Hill were not great. “Another prime time soap,” said USA Today, “and while it’s fast-paced, don’t expect to pick up any lessons on the inner workings of our democracy – unless you want to know how your tax dollars go to pay for staffers to spend their time off.” “Tries for L.A. Law but doesn’t have the writing chops,” said a wire service review. The New York Times compared it unfavorably to a 1960’s series called The Bold Ones – The Senator starring Hal Holbrook, saying that while Rory Donovan had the same depth and ability “as Mr. Holbrook, the supporting cast is a collection of cardboard cutouts, making it Mr. Donovan’s burden to carry the show instead of relying on the ensemble company for the depth needed in a program of this genre.” The Detroit Free Press gave it a good review, noting that “Maple City native Lance Michaels fulfills both the beefcake and the intellectual quotient as the dashing deputy chief of staff Jarrod Chase.”

Donny read these while sitting on Mike’s patio. It was Sunday morning and the studio’s publicity office had dropped off the package of clippings the night before. Mike had read them silently after they got back from dinner, snorted, tossed the package on the kitchen counter, and went to take a shower alone.

“The overnights weren’t bad,” Mike said, tossing a bagel crust on his plate. “We won the time slot by a couple of points.”

“The ratings?”


“That’s good.”

Mike shrugged. “Maybe. A new show with a big star is supposed to kill everyone else. We didn’t.” He went inside to make another mimosa. His third.

For the second episode the ratings held, but on the third week they were off, the show coming in second, ahead of third place by only a few tenths of a point in spite of a big promo push by the network, citing selective positive clips from the reviews, such as “’Fast-paced’ raves USA Today!” Mike said Marty said it was because everyone was caught up in the election and there was more excitement in watching Clinton versus Bush versus Perot than there was in fictional politics. Mike said the mood on the set was tense; Rory Donovan had blown up at an A.D. over a smudged page in the script. He later apologized and sent her a dozen roses, but people were now tiptoeing around as if they were in a hospital. Marty was pacing the halls wondering when the word would come through on Silver Star, since that now seemed like the next big thing for Mike.

The mood at the office was just as tense for Eric, Donny, Greg, and now Bryce (that was what the closed-door meeting was about), but since no one else except Cathy had a hint of what was going on, it was confined to them. There had been nothing from Bart Blumberg since the meeting except one phone call to Cathy to get the name of the loan officer at Bank of America, and that had come the day after the meeting. Eric seemed to take a fatalistic approach; hey, if it happens, it happens. Greg was a little more on edge and showed it by tightening up the ordering process and making the sales staff get deposits for orders of more than ten copies. “The last thing we need to do,” he said to Bryce, “is show that we’re sloppy in our business.” He also said that no orders were to be placed without Donny’s approval. That earned a scowl from Bryce, who seemed to regard Donny with some suspicion as being a favorite of the twins without much to show for it.

After three weeks Donny settled into a dull resignation that neither Bart Blumberg nor James McGruder were really interested in McKay-Gemini. He had let himself get caught up in the excitement of thinking that perhaps he had made a contribution to the company instead of just occupying a desk and processing orders, and while neither Eric nor Greg said anything, Donny felt that he’d somehow let them down. At one point he thought about going to Greg and Eric to tell them he was sorry about getting their hopes up only to have it come to nothing. He mulled it over at the gym, taking it out rather viciously on the bench press, and on the way home he decided to bounce it off Danny. He figured a senior cadet would know how to tell a superior officer he fucked up without making it sound like he was a wuss. He was in the kitchen boiling water for spaghetti when his phone rang.

“Hey twin.”

“Hey. I was gonna call you.”

“I know.”


“So what’s up? You heard from McGruder yet?” Donny had told Danny about the meeting the night after it had happened. He knew that Eric would understand.



“Yeah, no shit.”

“How’re the guys taking it?”

Donny shrugged. “Okay, I guess. I mean, we haven’t heard from him that he’s not gonna do it. But it’s been three weeks and so far...”

“Not even a popcorn fart, huh?”


“Well, there’s still time.”

“Yeah, I dunno. I kinda feel like...”


“I do.”

“All you did was go to a party and talk to a guy. He asked for your card. You gave it to him. It’s not like it’s your company.”

“I know.”

“So, don’t do it.”

“Do what?”

“Act like it’s your fault. Shit like this happens all the time.”

“You know this from your many years of business experience.”

Danny chuckled. “Yeah, right. No, I know this ‘cause that’s just the way things go. Hey, if it’s not James McGruder, then maybe it’ll be someone else, like... I dunno, name some other rich Hollywood actor who’s willing to invest a ton of money in a little no-name hi-tech start-up.”

“If you’re trying to cheer me up, you suck at it.”

“Okay, twin, but just don’t beat your ass up over it."

“All right."

“Hey, I caught Mike’s show.”


Silence for a moment. “It’s not bad.”

A hissing sound from the kitchen told Donny the spaghetti pot was boiling. “Hold on a sec.” He dragged the phone out to the kitchen, the extension cord barely reaching. He dumped the pasta in and turned down the gas. “Not bad, huh.”

“Yeah, it’s okay. I mean, it’s cool knowing someone in it, I guess.”

“Not your kind of show, though.”

“It’s not MacGuyver.”


“What does Mike say?”

“He’s... okay with it, I guess. He’s mostly worried about Silver Star.”

“What’s that?”

“A western he’s supposed to be in. He’s thinking if this show doesn’t make it he’ll lose that.”

“Jesus, what a business. So...you talk to the ‘rents recently?”

“Last week. Why?”

“Did they say anything about Christmas?”

“No. Why?”

“Guess what.”

“They’re not.”

“Yeah. Dad’s taking the two weeks. Driving out, staying with Ron and Barbara for a couple of days, then gonna check out the sights and sounds and maybe go down to Tijuana.”



“Think it might be time to have a little talk with them?” Donny mused.


Donny stirred the pasta. “They’ll be cool, don’tcha think?”

Danny chuckled. “Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad; guess what? Yeah, we can handle ‘em. I’ll be there. And don’t go batshit on this business deal. It’s not your company.”

The front door closed. Donny peered around the corner. It was Eric coming home from the gym. Donny did a slight double-take; Eric was wearing a Gold’s Gym t-shirt just like the one he’d seen stuffed in the daypack at Paul’s. Eric went into his room and turned on the stereo. “Yeah, okay,” Donny said absently.

“Listen, gotta trot, but let me know what happens, ‘kay?”


“Love you, twin.”

“You too.”

The Wednesday after the election Capitol Hill came in fourth for its timeslot. Mike said the network was going to try to promote it heavily during the sweeps, but they were also going to move it to Sunday nights after Murder She Wrote in an attempt to catch the draft from that highly popular series. Mike told this to Donny as he was slouched on the plastic chaise in Donny’s back yard on the following Saturday afternoon. Eric had suggested that they have a cookout and Mike, grateful to spend time with people outside of the business, had shown up in the middle of the afternoon while Donny was cleaning the house.

They went to the neighborhood Ralph’s and picked up chicken, ribs, coleslaw and potato salad. Mike bought two six packs of Olympia and one of Tecate for good measure. They started cooking around six. Mike opened a beer as he lit the grille and followed it with another. He got more genial as he drank, and by the time they sat down to eat he was positively cheerful; the show was going to be picked up, Rory Donovan could start working on his Emmy speech, and Silver Star would be the best western since True Grit.

“This was great,” he sighed, settling into the chaise after helping clean up. The night was cool but not chilly and the sky was clear – even a few stars were visible overhead. For dessert Eric brought out a pan of Sara Lee brownies and lit a joint. “Better than coffee,” he grinned.

“Mmm,” murmured Mike. “Just like the old days back in college. Except this isn’t the dorm and I’ve got more than eighteen bucks in my checking account.” He let out a little giggle. “Y’know, I could live like this.”

“I thought you Hollywood stars did live like this,” said Eric.

“Nah. The real Hollywood stars snort coke.”

“You’ve never done that.”

“Tried it once. I hated it.” He held up the doobie. “This is the extent of my illicit drug activity.”

“You’re kidding,” snorted Eric.

“Nah, I’m a real clean-cut guy, just like they say in the papers,” Mike smirked. “What it means is that I’ve got enough trouble being a fag without having to be one of the brat pack doing shit like them. Part of the deal. I can either be queer and sober or straight and a party animal.” He wiggled his hand in the air. “I kinda prefer the queer and slightly sober, but that’s okay, I guess.” He slowly turned his head and looked at Eric. “I’ll bet you were a pothead in high school.”

Eric shrugged. “No more than your average 1980’s SoCal teenage faggot athlete. Greg, on the other hand....”

Donny sat up and took notice. “Greg?”

Eric was fitting the end of the joint into one of Rob’s forceps that he’d adapted for the purpose of being used as a roach clip. “Yeah, Greg. Well, I don’t mean he was smuggling shit in from Tijuana. But have you ever wondered where we got the start-up money for McKay-Gemini?”

Donny shrugged. “Your folks?”

Eric giggled. “In a way. Greg set up ten plastic garbage cans in the basement with some greenhouse grow-lights and cultivated some of the finest cannabis in the Southland. We made enough money in the first year that we were able to set up the shop, and by the time we were done with college we were on our own. We sold off the stock, buried the dirt in the landfill, and sold the equipment to a landscaping company in Whittier.”

Donny was stunned. “Did your folks know?”

“Oh yeah – they just said to be careful and don’t get mixed up with any of the gangs.”

“What about the cops?”

Eric shrugged. “Dad knew enough people in law enforcement to know that they had enough on their hands with heroin and the real shit in the real war on drugs that they weren’t worried about some kids in Pasadena. Hell, one of our best customers was a deputy sheriff in the county.”

There was a long silence. Finally Donny said, “So this entire company got started on ten pot plants in your parents’ basement.”

“Yep. The American Dream for the twenty-first century.”

Mike spent the night, falling asleep instantly on Donny’s spare bed. The next morning over coffee he said to Donny, “Got any plans for Thanksgiving weekend?”

“Probably go to my aunt and uncle’s place in Whittier.”

“I have a better idea,” Mike replied.

“Yeah, what?”

He got up from the table and took his cup to the kitchen. “I’ll call you later.”

That afternoon Mike called. “See if you can get off work the week of Thanksgiving.”

“What’s up?”

“You’ll see. Just let Eric know you’ll be out of town that week.”


For the next ten days Mike was silent, and after a few prodding questions that brought no response, Donny decided to let Mike have his fun. He figured that this was his planned “get away from it all” trip and that they were probably going to spend the week in Idyllwild or, at the most, out at the Villa.

The Friday before Thanksgiving Donny went to Mike’s house, ostensibly for dinner, but they ended up in the bedroom within ten minutes of his arrival; it had been a while. Afterwards, Donny pulled on his shorts and padded out to the kitchen for his cigarettes. When he came back Mike had pulled a small suitcase out of the closet.

“So, now are you going to tell me where we’re going?”

Mike shook his head. “Just pack enough stuff for a week. Nothing fancy...jeans, t-shirts, that red Speedo I like so much. And be ready to go first thing Sunday morning. I’ll pick you up around seven.”

“I should let Eric know where I’ll be.”

“Call him when you get there.”

“Okay, fine, I’ll let you play your little mystery out. How much is this gonna cost me?”

“Not a dime. This is my treat. Don’t forget sunscreen.”

On Sunday morning at seven on the dot a black Lincoln Town Car pulled up in front of Donny’s house. A liveried chauffer rang the doorbell and took Donny’s duffel bag out to the car. Eric, standing at the door in his faded UCLA t-shirt and Joe Boxers, grinned at Donny and told him to have a good time.

“You know where we’re going, don’t you?” Donny asked him. “Mike told you.”

Eric shook his head. “Not a clue. So call me when you get there.”

“Yes, mother. Hey, if you hear anything from....”

“I’ll let you know. Have a good time.”

Mike was in the back seat. He poured Donny some coffee from a silver thermos and pecked him on the cheek.

“Well,” Donny said, “I didn’t know the Villa supplied a car service, but I’m not surprised.”

“Yeah, they do. But this isn’t one of theirs.”

“So who’s is it?”

Mike shrugged.

When they got to the freeway, the car turned west instead of east. Oh, Donny thought, we’re going to San Diego or Santa Barbara. But the car turned off at the exit to LAX. “We’re flying somewhere?”

Mike grinned. “That’s the fastest way to get there.”

The limousine pulled up to the terminal for American Airlines. Skycaps took the luggage and Mike handed the tickets to the curbside check-in agent. They were processed quickly, and he handed them back with a courteous nod. “You’re all checked through to Key West.”

Mike turned to Donny. “Ever flown in first class?”



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