Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 29

Summer 1993

On a Friday afternoon in late July, Donny was catching up with a week’s worth of invoices. He had spent most of the week with Greg and Cathy preparing the quarterly taxes and it was clear that with the growth in the business, things were getting more complicated. “Dammit,” Greg had said that morning, “I should have paid more attention in that stupid Accounting III course.”

“I’ll find someone, Greg,” Donny had replied, “but so far everyone Brickner has sent over is either under-qualified according to Cathy or wants to make more money than you and me combined.”

“I know,” Greg sighed. “Promise me you’ll have someone by the middle of September so we can be ready for the next quarter.”

“I promise.”

Line four buzzed and for a moment Donny wondered who would be calling on his private line. He picked up.

“Hey, Donny, it’s Marc.”

Donny felt a flash of adrenalin and remembered scribbling the line four number on a business card that night at the Villa. “Hey, how’re you?”

“Good. You got the application?”

“Oh, yeah; yeah I did.”

“Great. Any questions?”

“No, I really haven’t had a chance to get to it.”

“That’s all right. Hey, I’m in town for the weekend checking up on stuff at Paul’s house while he’s in Europe. Why don’tcha stop by this afternoon?”

“Sure,” Donny replied, the tingle settling in his groin.

“Great. You remember how to get here?”

“I think I can find it.”

“Great. See you later.”


It had started to rain by the time Donny got out of the office, so he drove slowly, making it easier to find Paul’s house. Marc opened the door and greeted him with a grin and a handshake. He was wearing a Castelfranco di Sopra polo shirt and tennis shorts and still had the short hair, but he was back to his casual self now that he was off the property. “You want a beer or something?”

“Beer sounds great.”

The house was quiet as Marc led him into the living room. There was no sign of a housekeeper or anyone else. The room was dim with the curtains drawn to keep the sunlight from fading the carpet and furniture, and the whole place had the calm air of a museum.

Marc handed him a bottle of Beck’s and they sat on the wide leather couch.

“So, how’s it going?” Marc asked.

“Good. Good,” replied Donny. “Busy as hell. You?”

Marc shook his head. “Off-season for us; it’s too hot out there for visitors so we’re basically shut down in July and August except for the dining room which is open for lunch and dinner. But the guest rooms are closed and we’re doing the upkeep now.” Marc sipped his beer and smiled. “Not much to do except stay out of the way.”

“Yeah, I hear that,” said Donny, realizing that he didn’t have much in the way of small talk going for him; he was wondering when they would get to the real reason for the visit, and his cock, which had been at semi-attention since the phone call, twitched with the same question. But Marc didn’t seem to be in any hurry, and so Donny tried to relax a little. He leaned back, the couch cushion sighing softly.

“Well, it’s good that you’re keeping busy,” said Marc.

“Yeah, it is.”

“Keeps you focused on things.”

“Yeah, it does.”

“Although every so often you need a little distraction.” Marc smiled again and sipped his beer.

“Yeah, you do,” agreed Donny, nodding.

At last Marc stood up and said quietly, “C’mon. Bring your beer.” He led him up the stairs, Donny following, his eyes firmly fixed on Marc’s firm ass as they climbed the stairs. The master bedroom door was closed. Marc opened the door to the last guest room on the left.

The room was nearly dark with the shades drawn down on the open window. The ceiling fan was turning slowly. Marc undressed slowly, folding his clothes neatly and putting them on the chair. In the dim light his body looked as if he was sculpted in smooth bronze.

This time there was no rush. They began slowly; touching fingers, tracing lines on each other’s muscles, sharing a glance now and then, and finally making full contact with a gentle embrace. By the time they were on the bed they had already spent more time exploring each other than they had in their first romp at the Villa. Donny felt himself lulled into the soft nether land of being completely unaware of anything else except himself, Marc’s touch, and the warmth between them.

Afterward he dozed, his head in the crook of Marc’s arm, the pounding of his heart slowly subsiding. Marc whispered, “Hey,” and Donny opened his eyes. “Sleepyhead.”


They dressed, Donny carefully tucking in his shirt as if he was going back to the office. The beers were now warm. “Want a fresh one?” Marc offered.

The rain had stopped so they sat on the patio in the twilight, the lights on in the pool and the garden. This time the conversation was a little easier, and Donny began to learn a little more about Marc. For one thing, his last name was Griffin, he was from Ojai, near Santa Barbara, and he was a graduate of Stanford; his t-shirt bore the school’s seal.

Donny tried to frame his next question carefully. “So how did you...?” He indicated the house, hoping to discretely ask how he went from being a waiter at a Mexican restaurant to having a key to Paul Jeffries’ house. Marc nodded as if he knew what he was asking.

“Yeah, I guess a lot of people think I’m some kind of hustler. Marc looked at Donny seriously. “When I gave you my card in the restaurant last year, did you look at it?”

“Well, not really, no,” admitted Donny. But I’m not in show business.”

Marc smiled wanly. “Neither am I. I mean, I’m not an actor. If you’d looked at the resume, you’d have seen that.”

Donny started to apologize, but Marc shook his head. “Not a problem. It was a dumb thing to do. I was trying to get to meet Paul because I was one semester shy of my MBA. And I handed you one because...well, I overheard you talking about your computer company.”

“Oh,” said Donny, the pieces falling into place.

“Paul called me the next week, he interviewed me, and offered me a job as his accounting assistant.” Marc scowled a little. “I know what everybody thinks. Fuck ‘em. Truth is, I’ve never slept with Paul; he’s not my type, and even if I was into older guys, I sure as hell wouldn’t do it to get a job. The people who know me know the truth, and the people who don’t, well, they don’t matter.”

They sat in silence for a while. Suddenly Donny was starving. “Say,” he said, “you want to go get something to eat?”

Marc shook his head. “I’d love to, but I have to stick around. Paul’s office in Sydney is gonna be faxing in some numbers for a production down there and I have to get them crunched for him before he calls in the morning. I’ll just grab a sandwich. But thanks; let’s do this again, okay?”

“Hey, any time,” said Donny.

“And maybe we can actually go out on like a real date or something?”

“Sure. I’d like that.”

When he got home Danny was in the kitchen making a grilled cheese sandwich. He was still in his work uniform. He took one look at Donny and grinned. “You got laid.”

“How’d you guess?”

“Guess, hell. You’re sweaty and your hair isn’t combed. If you’d been to the gym you would have taken a shower. And you smell like someone who just had sex.”

“Okay,” admitted Donny.

“Anyone I know?”

“Nope. Just a guy I met out at the Villa in May. He’s in town, he called me at work.”

Danny flipped his sandwich onto a plate. “Here, have this one. You look hungry.” He started to make another one. “Gonna see him again, or was this just a hook-up?”

Donny got some milk out of the fridge and poured a glass, then sat at the kitchen table. “I’m gonna call him tomorrow and see about going out for dinner.”

Danny nodded his approval. “So you’re over Mike.”

“Oh yeah. Long time ago.”

“Good for you. It’s good to get back in the saddle, so to speak.”

Donny and Marc went out for dinner Saturday night to a little Thai restaurant near Paul’s house. Donny learned a little more about Marc; he was twenty-five, he was left-handed (he ate the same way Danny did), and he’d gone to a prep school in Colorado before going to college. But Marc seemed more interested in finding out about Donny, and Donny surprised himself with how much he told Marc about growing up in Ohio, growing up with a twin, and then suddenly deciding to move out to California.

“You had no idea what you were gonna do when you moved out here?” Marc asked with genuine wonder.

“Not really. Just get the hell out of the cold of Ohio for a while, then go back and finish college.”

“Then what?”

“You mean after college?” Donny shrugged. “Never really thought about it. Get a job....”

“And settle down.”

“Yeah, pretty much like everyone else I knew back there.” Donny thought about his friends from high school and what they were probably doing. Derek Welles, Scott’s little brother, was probably in the family banking business. Craig was married with a kid and working in the lumber business with his uncle like he’d done every summer since senior year. Stan Tasker was probably working at the Jeep plant just like his dad. If it hadn’t been for that ice storm....

“What’s so funny?” Marc said.

“Huh?” Donny said, suddenly realizing he was laughing softly for no outward reason. “Oh, I was just thinking; if it hadn’t been for a really nasty ice storm a couple of winters ago, I’d probably be foreman on a construction crew, living with my folks, and glad to be making twenty grand a year.”

Marc nodded. “Sometimes it’s the little things that make the big changes.”

“What about you?” Donny asked.

Marc smiled. “What about me?”

“Yeah – what little things made the big changes for you?”

He poked at a piece of curried duck with his fork. “I walked into the wrong classroom.”

“When was that?”

“Freshman year of high school. Someone put the wrong room number on my schedule, so instead of going into Algebra Two I went into Advanced Calculus. It was almost a week before the teacher noticed. I’ve always been good with numbers and math. I could always figure out the algebra problems in my head – drove my teachers nuts who always said ‘show your work!’” He took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. “I know this sounds really weird, but ever since I was a kid I wanted to have a job where I could spend all day solving math problems or making them work. I’m not a savant or anything like that, but it was fun, and so when I went to college I majored in business and finance and last spring I finished my MBA. Next step is to get my CPA.” Donny stared until Marc said, with a laugh, “What?”

“You don’t exactly look like a CPA,” Donny said.

Marc smiled shyly. “Can’t help it if I don’t look the part. But I also like things like working out, playing football, and I can’t help it that I’m gay, either. Not exactly the stereotype, but then you don’t exactly look like the vice president of a company, either.”

“I guess not.” Donny thought for a second. “And you know I’m a VP at a computer company because Paul’s already done the background check for my application, right?”

“He had me pull the Dunn & Bradstreet file on you last fall. It was one of the first things I did for him after he hired me. We know all about you and the company – well, not everything, like your blood type – but just about everything else.” Marc put down his fork. “Your full name is Donald Frederick Hollenbeck; you were born on September 16, 1970 in Toledo, Ohio; you went to Bowling Green State University for two years; you don’t have a criminal record; you have a checking account at Bank of America and a savings account at Huntington National Bank back in Ohio and you’re carrying a small balance on a Visa card account that you opened in March of last year. You’re not married, never have been, and you don’t have any children. You were appointed as vice president of HR and personnel at McKay-Gemini in January 1993 and serve on the company’s executive board along with Gregory Allen McKay, Eric Logan McKay, Bryce T. Ferguson, and Allen Rodney McKay who serves as of counsel. You don’t own any real estate, and you paid cash for your car. Nice wheels, by the way. You have never been sued, you’ve never sued anyone, nor have you been named in any legal matters as a defendant, codefendant or plaintiff. You’re in good health; at least you’ve never filed any medical claims against your company’s insurance carrier, and you have a clean driving record except for a speeding ticket that you got in 1986 for going seventy in a fifty-five.” Marc grinned. “How’d I do?”

Donny stared at him for a full ten seconds, then said, “Eric’s middle name is Logan?”

“Yeah. I also have a photographic memory.”

“Yeah, I got that. You got all of that from Dunn & Bradstreet?”

“No, but it’s not to hard to find out stuff when you know who to call and where to look. Don’t you guys do background checks on the people you hire? Isn’t that part of your job?”

“Yeah, but not to that degree,” Donny admitted. “We do check references and Allen does a criminal background check, but we don’t go to the length you do.”

“I barely scratched the surface with you,” Marc said. “When Paul gets an applicant at the Villa, though, we find out everything we can about him, all the way back to their first day in school if possible. Every address, every job, practically everybody he’s come in contact with. It’s all part of the process. I know it sounds like Big Brother, but when you sign that application, you specifically agree to it.”

The waiter took away their plates.

“So, do you like doing it?” asked Donny.

Marc shrugged noncommittally. “It’s not exactly what I had in mind when I went for my masters, but it beats waiting tables, even if it was one of the best restaurants in Beverly Hills.”

“What would you rather do?”

“Be on a fast track to being a CFO somewhere, preferably in a company that doesn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.”

“Yeah? Why there?”

“Because it’s gonna be the place where I can do the most good. Working someplace safe would be boring as hell; same old reports, same old numbers, same old...same old. I want to be someplace that’s fun and where not everyone knows what’s gonna happen next but isn’t afraid to take a chance, either.” Marc looked around and lowered his voice a little. “Not that I don’t like working for Paul Jeffries; the man is a huge player in this town and everyone returns his phone calls, and...” he grinned slyly “it’s fun going out to the Villa and having some very rich men chase after you, but...that’s not what I got into the business for. But for now...it’s pretty good.”

They went back to Paul’s house and sat on the patio, talking until it dwindled down to the long silences filled by drone of the night insects. Finally Marc said casually, “You wanna spend the night?” Afterwards, and after Marc fell asleep, Donny stared up at the ceiling for a few minutes, mulling over a thought that had germinated during dinner and was now beginning to grow into a full-fledged idea.

The next day Marc drove back to Palm Springs. He was coming back the following Friday. By then, Donny decided, he would be ready to tell Greg he’d found the guy.

“Well, what do you think?” said Eric.

Greg flipped the folder with Marc’s application closed and passed it over to his father. He leaned back in his chair in the conference room, laced his fingers together, and placed them behind his head. It was late on the Friday before Labor Day and the rest of the offices were empty; the only people still working were Sky and Eleanor who were trying to finish up a job for a window company in Oregon. The stereo in Eric’s office blasted out the Beach Boys for Sky’s benefit; Eleanor preferred the Eagles, but Sky won the coin toss.

“Think he’ll leave all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to be a bean counter?” Greg asked. “He seems pretty high-powered for a guy in his twenties. I’d hate to see him put in a year here then take off when Microsoft or IBM grabs him.” Greg looked across the table at Donny. “Donny? Your thoughts?”

Donny shifted in his chair uncomfortably. “Look, I just mentioned him as a possibility. I don’t think I should say anything.”

Eric scowled at him. “Why? Because you’ve been dating him? So what?”

Allen said, “Well, Donny does have a point; he might not be considered to be objective.”

“Yeah,” agreed Donny.

Greg snorted. “You didn’t write his résumé, did you, or his letters of reference. You did what the HR guy does; you recruited a qualified candidate for a position.” He chuckled. “Well, there’s recruiting, and then there’s recruiting, but still. Companies hire people they know all the time and have prior relationships with.”

“Yeah, but....”

Eric said, “You’re thinking if we hire him you’d have to stop going out with him, aren’t you?”

Donny nodded. “That crossed my mind. I know we haven’t got it written in stone like that consultant manual said we should, but I’m not sure it’s a great idea for executives to have – to be – y’know – dating their employees.”

“Well,” Allen said, clearing his throat a little, “in some companies they do have policies about that, but in a lot of places, especially small companies, friends work together, and romance happens. For the first two years of my law practice, the boys’ mother was my secretary.”

Eric snickered. “You had no idea our dad was a horn dog who chased his help, did you?”

“Lucky for you I did,” replied Allen, “or where would you be?”

Greg said, “Look, if it’ll make you feel any better, Eric, Dad, Bryce and I will do the interview and leave you out of it; if we hire him, it’s our decision, not yours. And if we make him the VP of finance, he won’t be an underling; he’ll be on the same level as you.”

“Well,” Donny said, “I guess.”

Eric leaned across the table. “Is this the guy who you hooked up with in Palm Springs last May?” Donny nodded, blushing a little. “Woof,” said Eric with a leer.

“On second thought,” said Greg, “maybe Dad and I will do the interview and leave you two stiffies out of it.”

Donny took the afternoon off the following Wednesday. Marc’s interview was scheduled for that afternoon and he wanted to make sure that there was no possibility that anyone would think he was having an undue influence on the process.

He went to the gym. It was nearly empty except for a couple of women doing yoga stretches and some high school boys. He was between sets on the bench press when he noticed the TV set over the cardio area was showing a soap opera. With a shock he recognized Mike.

His hair was styled in latest casual fashion and he was wearing an open-neck shirt that complimented his build; tight but not too tight. When the camera pulled back, it revealed that he was wearing boot-cut jeans that were very complimentary, and Donny grinned in spite of himself. He was talking earnestly to a young woman who was looking as if Mike had just given her some very bad news. Donny got closer to the TV, and after checking to see if anyone else was watching, turned up the volume. The girl was talking, fighting back tears. “Oh, Dusty... how could you?

Mike strode toward her and held out his hands in a pleading gesture. He was trying to be strong, but it was clear he was feeling her pain. “I didn’t mean for it to happen,” he said earnestly, the music beginning to build in the background. “It just did. And there are some things that – well, they defy explanation. But the one thing I do know is that you still mean a lot to me, Chanel, and if there was any way I could make it up to you, I’ll do my damnedest.” The woman burst into tears, they embraced, and Mike slyly grinned over her shoulder into the camera as the scene faded out to a commercial.

Donny finished his workout then went home and washed and waxed the Mustang; anything to keep his mind off Mike and the chance that Marc might soon be working in the vacant office next to his. Eric came home as Danny was putting away the hose and bucket. He didn’t say anything but looked at Eric expectantly. Eric picked a piece of towel lint off the right rear quarter panel. “We made him an offer, and if he accepts – and I’m pretty sure he will – he’ll start the first Monday in October.”

Donny tried to suppress a grin by nodding solemnly and wringing out the chamois until it was dry, but Eric saw through it. “You slut. Just promise me this; no fucking in the supply closet.”

“Hell no; we’ll do it in the conference room.”

They went out to the patio and had a beer. Eric slouched on the chaise. “Y’know what, we should buy this place. I’m tired of renting. Whaddaya think?”

“Buy it together?”

“Sure. It’d be a great investment and it’s not like either of us are gonna move in with the man of our dreams any time soon.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“And if we do, we just buy the other one out. Whaddaya think?” Eric looked at him expectantly.

Donny nodded. “Worth thinking about. So how’d the interview go?” he asked.

“He was great; thoroughly professional, knew all the right things to say, including saying that there was stuff he still had to learn. He’s clearly not a bullshitter, and he knows his stuff. He’s a little thin on the experience, but that internship at Ernst & Young kinda took care of that. Dad was impressed; the guy can even cite IRS rules like from memory.”

“Yeah,” replied Donny, remembering the dinner. “He has a photographic memory.”

“I don’t think Bryce was too impressed, though.”

“Yeah? How come?”

Eric shrugged. “He kept posing these stupid hypotheticals and supposedly trick questions that were meant to catch him, but Marc was real smooth and pretty much took care of him. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Bryce was trying to submarine Marc just because he doesn’t like him.”

“Could be another reason,” ventured Donny.


“Jealousy, maybe.”

Eric thought for a second. “Bryce jealous of Marc? How come?”

“Who knows? Some people don’t feel comfortable around people that are smarter than they are.”

“Yeah, I guess...or better-looking.” Eric pondered for a moment. “Or there could be another reason, too.” He looked at Donny and raised an eyebrow.

“Like what?”

“You ever read Billy Budd by Herman Melville?”

“No; what is it, another whale story?”

“No, a hunky sailor is picked on by a superior officer just because he’s good-looking and everybody else on the ship likes him. Ends up having Billy executed on a trumped-up charge of insubordination because he can’t deal with his innermost feelings... like he’s probably hot for Billy.”

Donny looked at Eric. “Damn, why didn’t I get stuff like that in my high school English class? All I got was The Great Gatsby. So you think maybe Bryce is....?” Donny flipped his wrist in a fey manner.

Eric shuddered. “Eww, thanks for that vision. No, I just think he’s not happy that there’s another dog at the food dish. And one of Marc’s jobs will be to crack down on some of the financial practices we have here – that was Dad’s big point – and Marc said the first thing he’d do was review our business procedures with us. There’s gonna be some changes made, and I’m guessing that’s gonna piss off Bryce. He’s been kinda free with the company money and promising things – well, you saw that thing with Sky last spring – and that may rub him the wrong way. So far he’s been lucky, but one of the things Marc can do is back it up with good solid business rules; something a lot of places don’t do....”

Eric was interrupted by Donny’s phone ringing. It was Marc.

“Hey,” Donny said, “I hear it went well.”

“Yeah, it did. Looks like it’s gonna work out. I’ll give them my formal acceptance tomorrow and then give Paul my notice.”

“Great. Glad to have you on board.”

“Yeah. So...can we get together again now?”

“Well,” Donny replied cautiously, “I guess so.”

Marc chuckled. “I respect your ethics, Donny; this self-imposed exile has been, uh, admirable, but now that the waiting is over....” He left the sentence dangling and chuckled again.

In the four weeks since Donny had asked Marc to apply for the job, they’d kept their friendship on a strictly vertical level. It had been Donny’s idea and Marc had agreed. They stayed in touch by phone and kept it professional. Marc submitted his application and his letters of reference, and Donny had referred it through the normal channels, meaning he had Lily type a letter acknowledging receipt of the materials, signing it “Sincerely, Donald F. Hollenbeck, Vice President of Human Resources, McKay-Gemini Inc.” He passed the application on to Greg, Eric, and Bryce along with four other packets he’d received from Brickner & Associates, they reviewed all of them at the week-ahead meeting, and scheduled interviews with each during August. Besides Marc, only one other candidate showed the background that they thought would work with the company; a woman with five year’s experience in the computer industry and an MBA from the University of Miami. Donny agreed to bring her in for an interview, knowing that it was the right thing to do; if Marc got the job, no one could say that he’d gotten special treatment, and if he didn’t, he still had his job with Paul. It turned out that he need not have worried. The Miami MBA seemed to think she was being interviewed by a bunch of punks and barely cracked a smile during the hour-long interview. Cathy, who normally said nothing that could ever be considered to be rude or intolerant, waited until after she was gone before she shook her head and told Donny that if they hired her she’d put rat poison in her coffee.

“Okay,” Donny said, grinning at the phone. “Come on over.”

The office threw Donny a birthday party on the afternoon of the sixteenth. They brought in pizza, Cokes, and a chocolate cake, and everyone gathered in the war room. The only surprise was that Eric had called Danny at the base and he showed up in time to share in the toasts. There were the usual jokes about twins, especially with Eric and Greg standing there. After they had cut the cake and given Donny his gifts (the office had taken up a collection and gotten him fancy floor mats for the Mustang), Donny introduced Danny to the people whom he hadn’t met, and they sat around and chatted, letting the rest of the afternoon go by.

“I remember twenty-three,” said Cathy, who was ten years older.

“Me too,” said Irene. “That was five years ago and I got married.” She sighed. “Seems like a lifetime ago.”

Lily, who had gone back to her desk, poked her head in the war room and said, “Mr. Hollenbeck, can you take a phone call? He said it was important.”

“Who is it?”

“He wouldn’t say.”

Donny went back to his office and picked up the phone.

“This is Donny.”

“Happy birthday.” said Mike. “This year I remembered.”

Chapter Guide


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 28

Spring 1993

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

“Yes,” said Paul calmly.


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

Donny gave him his personal fax number.

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

“I’ll be there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A little.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s great,” said Donny.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, what’s that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Think he’ll ever have time again?”

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

“Me?” said Donny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Phone number?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What a nice young man,” Ben said.

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

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

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

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

“Sounds good,” said Donny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Buttfuck, Alaska.”



“The SMC at the LAAFB.”

“The who at the what?”

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

“You’re shitting me.”

“I shit you not, sir.”

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

“Yep. Orders came through a while back.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“’Star Wars?’” said Donny.

“We don’t call it that.”

“Use the force, Luke.”

“Bite me.”

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

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

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

“It’s true,” Greg retorted.

“Still weird.”

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

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

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

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

“In the Guinness Book,” replied Greg flatly.

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

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

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

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

“Yep. Hightailed it to New York.”

“That’s cold.”

“That’s show biz.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Guide