Friday, June 16, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 34

Clear Air

Donny was glad he brought a jacket. He had gone from using the air conditioning while driving out of town to turning on the heater once they topped out the switchbacks climbing out of Banning off I-10, and when they leveled off at the top of the ridge and drove past the Lake Fulmer rest area and Pine Cove, there were still clumps of dirty snow under the trees.

The house looked the same from the outside except the yard had been cleaned up and the driveway was covered with a new layer of gravel. Mike twirled the key ring on his finger, whistled as he crossed the porch, and flung open the front door.

The scent of varnish, furniture polish, and new carpeting greeted them. The log walls had been shined and the floor buffed to a warm glow. The furniture – mission style chairs and couch in dark wood with light brown cushions and matching coffee table – was arranged neatly in the great room, and the fireplace had been cleaned and logs placed on the andirons ready to be lit. The area rug with a bright red and yellow Navajo pattern set the tone for the wall décor, which were tasteful prints of mountain and desert scenery in rough-hewn frames. There were even magazines on the coffee table and placemats on the six-place dining table between the great room and the kitchen area.

The kitchen had been cleaned to a surgical shine, utensils neatly hung on the wall, and the cupboards stocked. Mike kept whistling as he led Donny back to the guest rooms where the mission style theme continued with matching beds and dressers in each. Upstairs the master bedroom had a large bed that rivaled that of the one in Paul Jeffries’ home. The thick pile carpet, the heavy block dresser, and the subtle light trim on the rest of the furniture gave the room a comfortable masculine feel. Across the hall the guest suite had a large double bed, a matching dresser and desk. The bathrooms were all equipped with fresh towels and the beds were all made with new linens and quilted bedspreads.

“Well, whaddaya think?” said Mike as they went down the curving stair and out to the back deck. The planks had been sanded and varnished, but the strong scent of the pine trees overwhelmed the chemical smell, and the sun bounced off the shining wood to the point that Donny squinted for a moment until his eyes adjusted.

“Jesus,” said Donny, “when did you do all of this?”

Mike chuckled. “Brucie has a decorator on speed-dial. Most of it came with the place and the rest she picked up at Pier One.” He pointed at the hot tub. “That’s all set up and ready to go, too. The best part is that Brucie’s got it on the rental list so when I’m not here she rents it out to rich high class tourists by the week for enough money to cover everything – mortgage, utilities, the whole shootin’ match – for a month. All she’s gotta do is rent it out for eight weeks every year and the place pays for itself.”

“So what if you want to come up here and it’s rented out?” Donny asked.

“I just give her a couple of days’ notice and she moves the renters to the house down the road. Pretty much the same deal.” Mike grinned shyly. “Although Brucie says there’s something to renting out the house of a ‘star.’” He leaned on the deck rail and took a deep breath of the cold dry air. He fumbled for a cigarette, thought better of it, and inhaled again. “Damn, smell that pine. Jesus, this is a beautiful place. I could stay here forever.”

They brought in their luggage, Donny tossing his duffel in the guest room upstairs, and then went into town to the little supermarket to pick up groceries, including bread, fresh produce, a couple of steaks for dinner, and some wine. As he was picking through the lettuce, Donny noticed Julian standing at the meat counter. They exchanged greetings, Julian nodding at him and murmuring a soft “How are you?”

“Good,” replied Donny. “You?”

Julian cocked an eyebrow. “Good health, good spirits,” but he said it as if it was an automatic response. “Are you here with...?”

“Yeah, Mike’s over there,” Donny said, indicating the liquor aisle. “Just up for the long weekend.”

“Hmm,” he said, sounding a bit surprised, but didn’t elaborate.

“How’s Ben?” Donny asked.

Julian shook his head slightly. “Well, actually, he’s in the hospital in Palm Springs. Nothing serious,” he added, seeing Donny’s shocked expression. “Just a flare-up of an old complaint and they’re running a couple of tests. He should be coming home tomorrow or the next day.”

“Still,” said Donny, “I’m sorry. Give him my best.”

“Will do.”

“Say, would you like to come to dinner tonight?” Donny said, realizing as he said it that he probably should check with Mike. “We owe you for that time at the Chart House.”

Julian smiled genially. “You’re sweet, but I’m heading down the hill this afternoon to see Ben and won’t be back until late. I wouldn’t want to impose,” he added, glancing over as Mike came back to the shopping cart with two bottles of wine and a six pack of Olympia. They exchanged greetings and Donny filled him in on Ben.

“Wow, sorry to hear that,” said Mike. “Nothing serious, I hope.”

“Oh, no,” said Julian, repeating the line about the ‘old complaint.’ The butcher put his order on the top of the counter and Julian picked it up. “Well, good to see you boys again.” He smiled quickly and went to the check-out line.

“Damn,” said Mike as they were driving home.

“Forget something?” said Donny, taking his foot off the gas.

“No, nothing like that. Ben. I’ll bet I know what the ‘old complaint’ is.”


Mike shook his head. “AIDS.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t. But....”

“But what?”

“How many guys do you know that age that have to go into the hospital? He’s what, forty-five? Maybe if he was sixty or something.”

“It could be anything,” Donny countered. “An ulcer. His heart. Or it could be something like a trick knee. ‘Sides, the last time I saw him, he looked okay.”

“When was that?”

“’Bout a year ago,” Donny conceded, remembering the weekend at the Villa when he had sat with Ben and Julian after dinner.

“Things can happen in a year.”

After lunch they went for a walk up the road beyond the house and up the hillside. They went by several more homes, all large, all set back from the road, some behind high fences. The road narrowed and became less traveled, and after a half-mile there were no more houses; just trees, the hillside, and the narrow ditch along the road that collected the run-off. The manzanitas and pines thinned out so there was more bare ground and wider patches of snow. They came to a turnaround and hopped over a brown Forest Service gate with a sign that said “No Unauthorized Vehicles Beyond This Point.” The road became a dusty two-track.

After another half-mile the road ended at another turnaround that overlooked the valley below. A row of large boulders were lined up in a semi-circle at the edge of the lookout. Apparently some people had recently made the hike up the road; there were a couple of empty bottles and a crumpled Marlboro pack next to one of the boulders. Mike leaned up against one of the rocks, shoved his hands in his pockets and looked out over the vista. Donny unzipped his jacket. It was warmer now and the sun felt good.

A large jay squawked and chattered across the valley. It got a response further down the hill. It flapped noisily out of the tree and soared down the hill.

After a few minutes of silence, Mike said, “You know that idea you had?”

Donny thought for a couple of seconds, then shook his head. “No.”

“The one last week when we were working on the script. About the sitcom.”

“You mean about making Josh gay?”


“What about it?”

Mike leaned against the rock and pulled out his cigarettes. “I’ve been thinking about it.”

“You said it wouldn’t work.”

“No, not for this show. But for another series. Something different.”

“Like what?”

Mike lit a cigarette and offered one to Donny. “What kind of show would you watch if it had gay characters?” he asked.

Donny smoked half his cigarette and listened to the jays chattering down the hill. “Well,” he finally said, picking up a beer bottle and flicking the ash into it, “Not a sitcom, but something like thirtysomething, maybe. Y’know, something where the characters aren’t just stereotypes. People with lives, jobs, friends, relationships. The only thing is that they’re gay, that’s all.”

“Yeah? Go on.”

Donny shrugged. “That’s it. Just... that. They have all the same problems and shit that everybody has except that they’re gay. I wouldn’t do all the shit about wild parties and disco and crap like that; I’d make ‘em real. And it wouldn’t all be about them being gay. I mean, they know they’re gay, so there’s none of the big whoop about them coming out and stuff. They’d just have normal lives. And they all wouldn’t be perfect hunks, either.” Donny grinned for a second. “Well, maybe one or two, but not everyone’s buff or beautiful.” Mike looked at him for a moment, and Donny shrugged. “Sounds boring, eh?”

“No,” Mike replied, slowly starting to grin. “I think it’s a great idea. The lives of average people have been the stuff of drama forever. It’s what happens to them and how they deal with it that makes it interesting.” He finished his cigarette and dropped the butt in the bottle. “Think you could write up a treatment?”

“A what?”

“A treatment. An outline.”

“I don’t know anything about scriptwriting.”

“You don’t have to. Just crank out a one-page outline with a list of characters and a description of them and what they’re like and a basic plot premise. Hell, I’ve got a couple of treatments back at the house; I brought ‘em with me for some series that Marty wants me to look over if Return to Sender bombs. Use them as models.”

“Why don’t you do it?”

“’Cause it’s your idea, Donny. I’ll help you.”

“Then what?”

“I’ll show it to some people and see if anyone’s interested.”

Donny bent down, picked up a small rock, and tossed it down the hill. It banged against a tree trunk. “I get it,” he said. “If I do it, your name’s not on it. You can say that you got this treatment from somebody and it’s about a bunch of gay guys and.... Right? Keep your distance in case they all hate it.”

Mike looked at Donny and grinned sheepishly. “Yeah. But still, one of the things I’ve been wanting to do is get into producing and development. Paul’s been telling me that if I can get out there with something, I can do more than just be an actor waiting for the next thing to come along, living from series to series or movie to movie, or whatever.” He picked up a stone and tossed it idly after Donny’s. “But I’m serious. I think it’s a good idea.”

“You think TV is ready for it?”

Mike shook his head. “Network TV. Are you kidding? They’re still freaked out over Murphy Brown’s baby. But cable; HBO, Showtime... that’s where it’s gonna happen. You remember a series a while back called Brothers?”


“It was a sitcom about a guy who owned a bar in Philadelphia, and he had a gay brother. There were some other gay characters, all very normal; well, there was one flamer, but what did you expect in a sitcom? It was on for about four seasons back in the eighties.”

Donny shrugged. “Missed it. Never even heard of it.”

“It was on Showtime. It was like the first real TV show that didn’t show gays as prissy little queens or that hated themselves for being gay, or have a devastated mommy and daddy because their precious little boy was a faggot.” Mike paused for a second. “It also was one of the first shows to talk about AIDS.”

“We didn’t have cable then,” Donny said. “So you want to develop this for cable?”

“Whatever. Whoever will go for it. But I mean it. I’ll show you some of the treatments and you take a shot at it.”

Donny nodded noncommittally. “What the hell,” he said.

Mike dropped a manila envelope on the dining table. “Check ‘em out. There’s four treatments and a pilot script in there. Marty is always on the prowl.”

Donny slid the scripts out of the envelope. Two of them were bound in report covers, much like a high school term paper, one in red, the other in blue. One was done in an elaborate binding like a corporate annual report complete with coated stock paper and color drawings of characters and scenery. The last one was just three pages stapled together like a memo, paper-clipped to the script in standard studio binding like the ones from Return to Sender.

“Meanwhile,” Mike said, “I’m going out to the garage to assemble the grille that was delivered today. Don’t want to grille steaks in the broiler.”

Donny settled into one of the chairs by the fireplace and skimmed through the treatments. The elaborate one was for an action series called Black Ops and read like a combination of Mission: Impossible, The A-Team, and Delta Force. The premise was that the government had a small band of super-secret agents known only to the president and the head of the CIA who would go into a trouble spot and rescue hostages, overthrow evil governments, or take down corrupt officials. The cast was diverse with geeks, hunks, women, and a smart-ass child prodigy, and they all had high-tech equipment that boggled the mind. The pictures and plot outlines read like the show was a done deal and was going to be a huge hit, but Donny wondered who wouldn’t see this as just another warmed-over secret agent script from a 007 movie or a hundred other shows like it. He tossed it on the coffee table.

The next treatment was the one in blue. It was a romantic comedy called Keeping In Touch about a guy and a girl who lived in adjacent apartments in San Francisco. She was deaf and he was blind. That went on the coffee table, too. The red one was apparently by the same author, except it was about life in a retirement home and the hijinks that went on there. It was called Silver Threads and Donny recognized it as a rip-off of the Golden Girls, even down to the insult-spouting granny.

The three-page treatment on the script was called Back Home Again. It was a family drama set in the Midwest. It told the story of twin brothers Pete and Dave Granger. They were seniors in high school in 1968 and facing the draft. Dave goes, but Pete runs off to Canada. Fast-forward to the 1980’s after President Carter grants amnesty and Pete, now a music teacher in Toronto, returns home to reconcile with his family and make up with Dave, whom he hasn’t seen since they were eighteen.

Donny started reading the script. He was about half-way through it when he heard a loud clatter, followed by an exasperated “Shit!” from the garage. “Need a hand?” he shouted.


He helped Mike assemble the grille, which took most of the rest of the afternoon. They fired it up and christened it with the T-bones they’d bought that morning. Donny made a salad and baked some potatoes. Mike uncorked a bottle of red wine and they ate at the table with the fireplace going and George Winston piano music on the stereo.

As Mike was wiping off the counter after washing the dishes, he said, “Why don’t we hop in the hot tub for a little after-dinner soak?”

The night air was cold out on the deck. They got the new large towels out of the linen closet and Mike folded back the cover, releasing a huge cloud of steam.

Mike dipped his in the water. “Whoa, it’s perfect. Hot, but not too hot.” He went back into the house, grabbed the wine glasses and the half-full bottle off the table, and turned off the lights in the kitchen and over the dining table, leaving just the fireplace casting an orange glow. “Shall we?” said Mike.

Donny pulled off his shirt and kicked off his shoes, piling his clothes on the redwood bench. Mike did the same, then they slowly immersed themselves into the bubbling water. Mike poured a little wine into their glasses and let out a sigh of utter contentment.

Donny leaned back and closed his eyes, letting the warmth relax him almost to the point of sleep. He’d been tense all week from the preparations for the expo and he’d taken it out on his arms and chest at the gym. The walk that afternoon had provoked some soreness in his calves, but now they were letting go.

Mike nudged his foot with his big toe and said quietly, “So, what did you think of the treatments?”

“Hmm,” replied Donny just as quietly.

“Figure out how to do one?”

“Yeah, it’s like writing a book report for English class.”

“Any thoughts as to which one I should take seriously?”

Donny opened his eyes and sat up a little. He took a swallow of wine, which added to the warmth. “Well, not the one in the rest home. That’s stupid.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

“And the one about the blind guy and the deaf girl is also pretty lame.”

“It’s a rip-off with a twist from Butterflies Are Free.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not even funny. It’s kinda sick in a way.”

“They’re both from the same guy. He cranks ‘em out like a Xerox machine and hopes that someone will buy them.”

“Good luck, fella,” muttered Donny.

“Well, he managed to get someone to buy at least one. He’s the brains behind Return to Sender.”

“No shit? Well, you can see how good that’s going if some kid from Ohio can make it better.”

Mike snorted. “Well, what about Black Ops?”

“Enh. Another action series. There’s too many out there already.”

“What’d you think of the presentation? Pretty slick.”

Donny shook his head. “Big deal. Someone spent a lot of money at Kinko’s to make it look good, but it’s still the same old stuff.”

“You’re right. What about the one about the twin brothers?”

Donny chuckled. “I liked that one.”

“I thought you might.”

“Well, not just because of the twin thing. It’s a good story and there’s not a lot of clichés. Not too many shows out there are talking about things like that.”

“Like what?”

“The war. How it divided families and what happened after it. What it’s like when brothers go in different directions.”

“That’s right.” Mike leaned back, letting his body float in the water. Donny looked admiringly at his strong arms and shoulders and felt a slight twinge of desire. But just a slight one, and it didn’t manifest itself in any other way. He sipped his wine. “Well,” Mike continued, “I’m glad you like it because I think that’s the one I’m gonna tell Marty to take. And besides, you’re partly responsible for it.”


“Remember meeting a guy at Paul’s party last Christmas named Aaron White?”

Donny tried to recall the party where he and Danny and Marc and Mike had milled around the back yard nodding and smiling at people and nibbling on guacamole dip with green and red chips. He’d met a lot of people, but the name of Aaron White didn’t come back from the many people he’d been introduced to. “I guess.”

“Yeah, well, he remembered meeting you and Danny. He asked Paul all about you two, wanting to know your story, et cetera. I guess he got the idea for it from meeting twins who had gone in different directions; one into the military, the other who didn’t.”

A flickering memory of a short wiry man in his mid-thirties and longish hair came back. He’d stood next to the twins as they’d waited for the caterer to replace the empty chicken server and asked the usual “are you twins?” Donny sipped his wine again. “Short guy, glasses, long hair?”

“That’s him.”

“Wow. So which one do you want to play, the soldier or the music teacher?”

“That’s the problem,” said Mike. “I need a twin, unless they plan on making them fraternal or do trick photography and I play both parts.” Mike chuckled softly. “Or better yet, get you and Danny to do it.”

“Forget it,” said Donny. “I’m not an actor and Danny isn’t either and he wouldn’t do it anyway.”

Mike chuckled again. “Didn’t think so.” He touched Donny’s ankle again with his toe and left it there. “I’ll probably do both parts. It’s pretty amazing what they can do with photography today. So, think you’ll give it a shot?”

“What, writing something?”


Donny nodded. “Yeah, I said I’d try. Doesn’t seem too hard.”


Donny leaned back again and looked up at the sky. The fire inside had settled down to coals so the only light that was on now the one at the top of the stairs.

The sky was almost aglow from the stars. The air was cold and clear, and there were no lights from any of the surrounding houses, and the only other intrusion to the complete darkness was an almost imperceptible glow in the west where the mountains dipped down to the desert between there and Los Angeles, a hundred miles away. “Jesus,” Donny whispered, “it’s so clear.”

“That’s what I love about it up here,” said Mike. He slid over so he was sitting closer to Donny and looking up at the sky, too. Donny hardly noticed. A moment later a small meteor went by, and they both said “Cool” at the same time, and then laughed. Donny leaned over a little and rested against Mike’s shoulder. It felt warm and comfortable and familiar, and so it didn’t seem at all strange when, after a moment, he turned and kissed him.

Donny woke up the next morning in his own bed. He felt a touch of a hangover from the wine, and the pillow smelled a little of chlorine from the hot tub. His clothes were in a heap on the floor by the bathroom door and the large towel from the hot tub was draped over the shower curtain rod. It was almost nine.

He remembered kissing Mike and Mike returning it. After a few more Mike whispered, “This is so seventies; making out in a hot tub. You wanna take it inside?” Donny had said, “Sure,” and they went silently up to Mike’s room. Afterwards he had collected his clothes, took a quick shower, and fell into bed.

He took another shower, this time washing his hair, and pulled on fresh jeans and his Sam’s Gym sweatshirt. Mike’s door was open but his bed was empty. The smell of coffee came up the stairs.

“G’morning,” Mike said. He was leaning against the counter stirring sugar into his mug. “Sleep well?”

“Yeah.” Donny poured coffee and dosed it with milk.

“So, you wanna go get some breakfast?”

They picked up a newspaper at the store and went to the crowded little café for French toast and bacon. Mike out of habit handed Donny the section with the crossword puzzle.

“Whoa,” said Mike, scanning an article in the business section.


“You guys got a write-up.”

“What guys?”

Mike read out loud, “’Little guys make big inroads. The usual rags-to-riches story about software companies hitting the big time seems to be working for brothers Greg and Eric McKay of Pasadena. Their little start-up, McKay-Gemini, so named because they’re identical twins, is garnering praise from both the technical and business community for their innovative jobs management software, Pelican, now in its second version. At the national computer expo taking place this week in Las Vegas, an event that draws the large and the small – from Microsoft to high-school classes – McKay-Gemini is showing little companies how it’s done with a small staff, and big companies how it’s done with efficiency and a rock-solid business plan that has attracted investors, including some of the biggest names in both the computer and entertainment industry.’” Mike put the paper down. “Wow. Front page of the business section.”

Donny sipped his coffee. “It’s an old story,” he said. “It sounds like the one they ran when we launched Pelican last year and just updated it. They needed something to fill in on Sunday morning.”

“Well, maybe, but what about this?” He read again, “’One of the company’s admirers is Melanie Tischler, vice president for product development at Microsoft, the world’s leader in software. Said Tischler, “McKay-Gemini is one to watch. Unlike a lot of the new companies in the dot com business, they actually have a product to sell, not just a website.”’” Mike looked at Donny. “That’s not bad. Microsoft likes you.”

“That’s because we’re no competition to them,” replied Donny, eating a forkful of toast. “If we were, believe me, she wouldn’t be saying nice things about us.”

“Still,” said Mike, “it’s better than nothing.”

As they were paying at the register, Ben and Julian were parking the car. Ben looked pale and a little thinner than before, but he was energetic in his greeting, and he didn’t sound like someone who’d just left the hospital. They shook hands all around, and Mike asked Ben how he was doing.

“Oh, I’m fine,” he replied dismissively. “My heart doctor is a little overcautious, that’s all. It was nothing but two days of sheer boredom. Even the male nurses weren’t worth looking at,” he added with a chuckle. “It’s great to see you, though,” he said. “We’d invite you over for drinks tonight but the place is a mess; we’re having the floors done and there’s sawdust everywhere.”

“Well, come to my place then,” said Mike, getting a surprised look from Donny. “Around six? And maybe the Chart House after?”

Ben looked at Julian, who nodded yes. “Six it is. We’ll bring some cheese.”

“You know where the house is?”

“Oh, yes. We have friends just up from there. Been by it many a time.”

“Great. See you then.”

As they were driving back to the house, Donny said, “I didn’t think you were in an entertaining mood.”

Mike shrugged. “Just for a drink. Besides, aren’t they investors in your company?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Donny.

“So, chalk it up to investor relations.”

They picked up another bottle of wine and a box of gourmet crackers. They spent the afternoon cleaning up the back yard, which wasn’t much more than an open field sloping down the hill to a row of scrub trees. Donny dragged fallen limbs and branches into a pile behind the garage while Mike hacked at the largest weeds with a shovel and hoe that had been left by the previous owner.

After about an hour, Mike leaned on his shovel and looked at Donny, who was kicking the last of the small branches into the pile. “So anyway....” he said, raising an eyebrow.

Donny looked at him. “Yeah?”

Mike glanced at him guiltily. “Look, about last night....”

Donny pulled off his gloves and slapped them against his thigh. “Not a problem. If I remember, I started it.”


“We’re cool.”

“Okay.” Mike poked the ground with his shovel. “It was fun.”


They went back to work.

Mike opened a bottle of red and a bottle of white, set four glasses on the bar, and got out the crackers. He had showered and changed into a chamois shirt and grey slacks. Donny ran his newest jeans through the wash and put on one of Mike’s cable knit sweaters over a t-shirt. Mike said that was fine for Idyllwild casual. They lit the fireplace, tidied up the kitchen, and promptly at six Ben and Julian arrived carrying a large basket full of cheese, crackers, and other gourmet snacks. Mike gave them a tour of the house, poured the wine, sliced some cheese, and then they settled into the chairs around the fireplace. They clinked glasses in a casual toast, and Mike said, “Here’s to your health, Ben.”

That got an appreciative chuckle and Ben explained that he had little episodes of what his doctor called premature ventricular contractions – an extra heart beat – and his doctor wanted to monitor him for a period of time. “So I got to sit in a hospital room at God knows how much per day, watch TV, read, all the while with these little monitors leads taped to my chest.” He laughed. “I think the only thing reason I ran the risk of was skipping a heartbeat because it was breathtakingly boring. Other than that,” he rapped his knuckles on the coffee table, “I’m as healthy as a horse. All tests normal.”

Donny glanced at Mike, remembering his gloomy diagnosis, but Mike just nodded and said, “That’s great.”

“So, what have you boys been up to?” Ben looked at Donny and raised an eyebrow. “I saw that article in the paper this morning. That’s wonderful for you.”

“And you,” replied Donny.

“Well, yes,” said Julian, smiling slightly. “Mike, Paul says you’re in a new series starting next month.”

“It’s a sitcom called Return to Sender. Just a little mid-season thing; ten episodes if we’re lucky,” Mike said modestly.

“We’ll look for it.”

“And,” said Mike, munching a cracker, “I’m looking at doing a little producing myself.”


“Well, just seeing what’s out there, y’know, looking for projects that I could make on my own and see if... well, if there’s more to this than just being an actor.”

Julian nodded. “Always wise to have a back-up plan. Found anything yet?”

“There’re some things out there that I’ve seen that could be worth while,” Mike said, setting his glass on the coffee table. It wasn’t until then that Donny noticed the proposal for Black Ops was next to the cheese tray. “F’r instance, Marty sent over this treatment for a new action series. It looks like it could be worth looking into.” He handed the treatment to Ben, who thumbed through it, stopping, Donny noticed, on the centerpiece that displayed renderings of the cast members, some of whom were impossibly well-muscled men in tight military t-shirts and butch-cut hairstyles. He nodded approvingly and handed it to Julian. He glanced through it and smiled a little.

“That’s ambitious,” he said. “I’d be surprised if you could find backing for something like that as your first project.”

“Well,” said Mike, spreading his hands, “I’d start out small; doing something for cable TV or a movie of the week. Just to get my feet wet, y’know. I’d like to go with small but unique; something that will get me noticed and go from there.”

Julian nodded and said, “That’s the way to get started. Small things lead to bigger things. If you’re going to get into it, it’s better to get known for a little quality than a lot of noise.” Mike leaned back, sipped his wine, glanced at Donny, and gave him a little smile.

The conversation turned to life in town and Ben made suggestions for places to shop and where to go for dry cleaning. They offered to introduce Mike to other locals and some fellow denizens of the business who lived there. Mike said that would be great.

After about an hour of pleasant conversation, Mike said, “I’ve made reservations at the Chart House for us, but we’d love to have you join us.” Julian nodded and Ben said, “We’d be delighted. We’ll follow you in our car.”

They got a table near the windows. Julian recommended the blackened fish and he ordered a bottle of white wine, and the waiter hurried away. Mike led off the conversation by asking Ben what he was working on, and Ben launched into a long and involved story about consulting for a new performing arts center in Miami. Donny remembered the last time they’d been to dinner with Ben and Julian and noted the change; Mike had barely spoken and seemed bored with the whole thing. This time, Mike listened attentively and asked good questions.

When the check came Mike took it and paid for the entire meal with his American Express Gold card, shaking off the mild protestations of Ben. “My turn,” Mike said as he handed back the little folder to the waiter.

They shook hands in the parking lot and got a promise from Mike to call them when he came back “up the hill,” as Ben called Idyllwild. “Will do,” said Mike with genuine charm, and Ben smiled. “And Donny,” Ben added, “we’d love to see you again, too.”

Mike was smiling all the way back to the house, and he whistled softly between his teeth as he and Donny cleaned up the cocktail mess. It was after ten.

“You’re in a good mood,” Donny said.

“I had a good time. To be honest, I used to think they were kinda boring when we first met them, but now....”

Donny dumped the uneaten crackers back in the box, wiped down the counter, and went upstairs to bed.

They left the next day around noon, early enough to beat the holiday traffic coming back into town. Mike had dropped off an extra key at Brucie’s office so the housekeeping service could get in and change the sheets; the first rentals were due the next afternoon. They stopped in Hemet for a burger, slogged their way through the early rush hour, and were back at the house before Danny got home. Donny took his laundry out to the garage.

Mike had a phone message to call Marty, and after returning it, told Donny he was going to have a drink with him and catch up with him. “I’ll be back before too late; can you help me run lines?”


“And don’t forget...I meant it about writing up that treatment.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

It wasn’t until after Mike was gone that Donny noticed his own phone machine. “You have three new messages,” it told him.

The first was from Eric on Saturday morning, calling from a payphone in a hotel lobby in Las Vegas – there were crowd noises and slot machine music in the background – reporting in to say that they were having a great time, they’d met a lot of interesting people, and he’d give him a full report when they got back.

The second was from Marc on Sunday afternoon. It was very short, and he sounded very matter-of-fact, but also tired. “Hey, Donny, it’s me; I’m still in Colorado, but I should be back in L.A. Tuesday night. I’ll call you when I get home. Bye.”

The third call had come in about ten minutes before he and Mike had gotten home. It was from Greg. “Donny, first thing in the morning I need you to pull all the files we have on the Pelican start-up. Everything we’ve got. Get Margaret or Cathy to help you, and go through the stuff in storage in the warehouse. I’ll call you in the morning at the office and let you know what’s going on. See ya.”

Donny played the last message back again. Greg sounded very businesslike, and there was no background noise, so he assumed he was calling from the hotel room. But why did he need all the files on Pelican? Finding them wasn’t a problem; when they had moved from the old office to the new one, Donny and Eric had spent an afternoon sorting through all the materials, test runs, first drafts, and code printouts and putting them in clearly marked boxes in case they needed them as backup for the copyright filing. They were all on the top shelf of the store room. But why did Greg suddenly need them? Oh well, Donny thought, he’d know in the morning.

“So, have a good time?” Danny asked as he walked into Donny’s room. Donny jumped a little; he had not heard him come in.

“Oh.... yeah, we did. Nice place he’s got there.”

His twin looked him over carefully. “Yeah, okay. So...?”

“Just once. We got a little drunk in the hot tub.”

Danny scowled. “You didn’t do it right there, did you?”

“Nah. In his room.”

“Good. Screwing in hot tubs is strictly frat boy shit. Want to go get some Chinese? I haven’t eaten since reveille.”

They went to the Great Wall. Donny told him about reading the scripts and Mike’s encouraging him to write a treatment.

“Gonna do it?”

Donny shrugged.

“What the hell, twin. Whaddaya got to lose? How long does it have to be?”

“Couple pages, I guess.”

“You could crank that out in an hour. Remember how you used to write all that crap for Mr. Bartley? He ate it up.”

“That was in seventh grade,” Donny said.

“So what? He put it in the literary magazine.”

“That was ten years ago. I haven’t written anything since then.”

“Probably like riding a bike. What the hell. Give it a shot. What would you write about?”

Donny told him about the idea of four guys – at least two or three of them gay – sharing a house. Danny nodded approvingly. “Sounds like it could be interesting if you had the right characters. None of them too flitty or flamey.”

“That’s the idea. Just normal guys and not make a big deal out of the fact that some or all of them are gay.”

“Yeah. You might have a problem, though, with Middle America. Some of the enlisted men I work with are from the heartland and they’re pretty hardcore gay bashers; it’s ‘fag’ this and ‘faggot’ that and they really get all bugged out over ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’”

“Mike’s talking about selling it to cable.”

“That might work. Thought about what you’d call it?”

“Yeah,” Donny replied. “Small Town Boys.”

“Good title. I like it.”

Chapter Guide



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