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.”

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