Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Small Town Boys - Chapter 37

Now What?

Return to Sender premiered on Wednesday, March 30. It finished first in its time slot and the network put on a full press promoting it. Mike did another whirlwind tour of morning shows, an interview on Entertainment Tonight, and People gave it a rave. The second week brought in another first place. Eric told Mike he was in and Paul Jeffries said Cherry Bend Productions now had enough interested investors that they could actually start planning to shoot Back Home Again.


One Saturday morning a traffic accident forced Donny to take side streets on the way back from the gym, and he found himself a block away from the house Mike used to rent. He turned down the street just for old times’ sake and saw a “For Sale” sign in the yard. He pulled over.

The house looked like it had been maintained; the lawn was cut and the bushes had been trimmed. The curtains were drawn so he couldn’t see inside. There was a tube with information sheets for the taking. He glanced through it, smiling at the descriptions like the "spacious kitchen," "luxury pool," "huge garage," "lots of closet space," and stuffed it in his pocket.


Danny came home early on Monday afternoon, packed a small carry-on bag, brushed off his Class A uniform, polished his shoes, and called Donny at the office. “I’ll call you when I get back.”

“Okay,” Donny replied, knowing not to ask where he was going.

Danny returned late Tuesday night. He said nothing about where he’d been, but Donny could tell that he was pleased with the trip; he was whistling softly through his teeth as he hung up his uniform, and he only did that when he was happy.


Marc told Donny that barring a last-minute plea deal, Barry Kessler’s case was scheduled to go to trial on Thursday, April 14. “I’m supposed to be there from the git-go,” he said.

“So when would you leave, Wednesday?”

“Yeah, I got a flight out that afternoon. The trial’s been moved to Boulder since that’s where he actually committed the crime.”

“When do you think you’ll be back?”

Marc shook his head. “Who knows? Barry’s lawyer says he’ll try to call me first thing and hopes that I can be done in one day. Depends on how long I’m on the stand.”

“Need anything from me?” Donny asked.

“Nah, I’m good.” Marc smiled wanly. “Just go and get it done and get back to work.”

Donny looked at Marc’s somber expression. “I could go along...y’know, just for moral support.” He reached for the phone. “Lily could get me on the same flight, I’m sure.”

For a moment Marc looked like he wanted Donny to come with him, but then he shook his head. “Thanks, but... I’ll be okay.”

“Well, let me know.”

“I will.”

“Hey,” Donny said as an afterthought, “you know a good realtor?”

Marc thought for a moment then nodded. “Yeah, I do. I’ll get you her number.”


“Mike’s house?” said Eric, sounding mildly surprised.

“Well, the one he rented a couple of years ago.”

“Wow. How much they asking?”

“Half a million, but Marc got me the name of a realtor.”

“Wow,” Eric said again. He dried his hands over the kitchen sink and closed the dishwasher. “So, you’d move out of here?”

“Well, yeah.”

“What about Danny?”

“It’s up to him. He can stay here if he wants—he can have my room—or he can move in with me. Or the BOQ on base.”

“What about Mike?”

“He can have Danny’s room.”

Donny went into the living room and picked up the remote. He found something on HBO and settled unto the couch. It was a moment before he noticed Eric standing in the doorway from the kitchen. Donny looked at him quizzically.

“It was just that one time,” Eric said. “The night we played truth-or-dare about the ‘forbidden lover,’ or whatever the hell it was.”

“It’s cool, Eric. I don’t care.”

“I’m sorry. I was gonna tell you.”

“Mike and I are just friends.”

“You’re sure?”


Eric went back into the kitchen.


Judy Moran seemed to know all about Donny, the house, and what he could afford when he called her. They agreed to meet at lunch at her office, which just happened to be a few blocks from McKay-Gemini.

She was in her early forties, short, with a broad face and a wide smile. She was dressed in a loose-fitting suit that seemed a little large for her, but, as she confided, she had just marked her one-year anniversary after a gastric bypass, which explained why her wardrobe was going through, as she put it, “a major overhaul.” She had a thick Boston accent and her office was decorated with Red Sox memorabilia. Donny liked her right away; she was the polar opposite of Brucie.

“So, you wanna buy this place or what?” she said as she pulled out the listing sheet. “Nice place; pool, big yard,” (which came out as “yahd”). “Got kids?”

“No, I’m single”

“So I see,” Judy said, waving Donny’s credit report. “But that doesn’t mean you might not have them at some point.”

“I don’t think so.”

Judy peered over her glasses and smiled. “I know. Marc told me all about you. He was right, y’know.”

“Right about what?”

“You are cute.” Before Donny could reply, Judy tapped the listing. “They’re asking five hundred thousand. On what you make and with a decent down – say twenty percent – you could afford that, no problem. But you don’t want to pay that much, and if you really want this place, I can get it for you for a lot less.”


“Okay what? Do you want this place? Frankly, I could show you a lot of other properties for the same money – or less – that are bigger, closer to your office, maybe have a few more amenities.” She looked at him expectantly.

“No, I want this house,” Donny said firmly.

Judy looked at him for a moment, and then she smiled. “Okay. I get it.” She plucked off her glasses and tossed them on her cluttered desk. “I’ll give the listing agent a call and set up a showing. This being L.A. and all, chances are he’ll show up and want to give you the tour just to make sure you don’t steal something. I gotta warn you, I work alone. The best way to get the price you want is for you to say nothing; just stand there, look gorgeous, and let me do the talking, okay?”

Donny grinned. “Okay.”

“They don’t call me the Boston strangler for nothing. Say, anybody ever tell you that you’re a dead ringer for Treat Williams?”

“The actor?”

“Yeah. He did Streetcar Named Desire on TV a while back with Ann-Margret. He was Stanley...y’know, the Brando role – ‘hey STELLA!’ Uh-mazing. Also was in that movie Prince of the City.”

“No, nobody’s ever told me that.”

“Well, you do. I mean, when he was younger, though. He’s in his forties now.”

“I’m not,” replied Donny.

“No kidding. Okay, I’ll call you when I have the appointment; probably this afternoon.” Judy got up from her desk and escorted Donny to the door. “You’re gonna get that house.”

Judy set it up for 5:30, but she told Donny to be at the house at 5:15. “That way, even if he shows up on time, he’ll think he’s late. Throw him off his game a little.”

She was waiting for him. She was driving a tan Chrysler New Yorker, which seemed like a modest choice for a realtor from a high-end company. “Never trust a realtor who drives a fancy car,” she said as she got out. She opened her briefcase on the hood and pulled out a clipboard, a small pocket calculator, and a Polaroid camera.

The realtor arrived a few minutes later. He introduced himself as Ignacio Stevenson. He was short and fat, had a spade-like goatee, a touch too much cologne, and a gold pinkie ring with a chunky diamond. He was all smiles as he shook hands and headed for the door. But Judy stood on the sidewalk, and looked critically at the roof, the exterior walls, even the lighting fixtures, and starting jotting down some notes.

The house looked much the same as it had the last time Donny was there. The furniture was still there, right down to the Navajo rugs and Santa Fe pottery, and the pool was clean. Ignacio explained that the owners had been renting it out – including, Ignacio confided, to several celebrities – but now they were willing to sell the place completely furnished. He went on about how the house was a great place and what nice features it had as they did the walk-through, but Judy was silent except for an occasional “Hmm.”

Donny wasn’t really paying attention. He was taking his own tour, remembering the first time he’d been in the house; how he and Mike had sat on the couch in the living room, sipped beers out by the pool, and then went silently into the bedroom and had sex for the first time. He remembered the Sunday mornings by the pool, the evenings in the kitchen, and the last time that he’d been in the house and the sound of the front door slamming as he left.

“And, of course, it’s in perfect structural shape,” Ignacio was saying. He produced a certificate of inspection that proved the house had suffered no discernible damage from the earthquake.

Judy glanced at the certificate without a word, then went out to the pool area and produced a small pill bottle from her purse. She pried the cap off, took a small sample of the water, and put the bottle in a plastic bag. She then went over to the corner of the patio by the bedroom door, brushed aside some leaves, and took a Polaroid of the door sill. She took several more shots of the foundation, then went back in the house and went room to room, opening doors and windows, running faucets, trying light switches, turning on the appliances, opening each cupboard in the kitchen, pulling out drawers, running the garage door opener, even looking into the crawlspace over the garage with a penlight she produced from her purse. She took water samples from the kitchen sink and the master bath, used up two rolls of Polaroid film, and all the while wrote copious notes in a tight and small script on the clipboard. Donny caught a look at it; it all seemed to be initials and numbers.

Ignacio watched this with a mixture of puzzlement and unease which he tried to hide by smiling awkwardly and twiddling his pinkie ring. He tried several times to provoke a response from Judy, but he had no luck, and the one time he turned to Donny and said, “Well, what do you think? Quite a place, isn’t it?” Donny just smiled a little and said nothing.

Finally Judy turned to Ignacio, smiled, and said, “All right; I’ll be in touch with you tomorrow afternoon.” They shook hands and she headed out the front door, stopping for a moment to inspect the frame of the door one last time before striding down the sidewalk to her car. Donny followed, and Ignacio, who was locking the door and setting the alarm, practically trotted after them.

“Well, fine,” he said, fumbling to hand out business cards, “if you have any more questions, just, uh, call me.”

“Will do,” said Judy as she packed up her briefcase. She gave Donny a look that said “Stick around,” and he did. Ignacio waved, got in his bronze Cadillac, and drove off.

“Amateur,” Judy snorted as she watched him go. “Don’t worry, kiddo, it’s a done deal. I’m gonna offer him three fifty, he’ll try to come back with four seventy or so, and I’ll beat him down. The place is yours.”

“What if someone offers him more?”

“They won’t,” said Judy flatly. “You’ve got yourself a house.”

“Oh, say,” Donny said as he pulled out his keys. “What were all those notes? Is the place really in that bad a shape? And what’s with the water samples?”

Judy grinned. “Thanks for reminding me.” She opened her purse and emptied the samples onto the ground. “Strictly for show. I wanted him to think I was going to check to see if the pool was polluted and if the water was too hard in the kitchen and bath.”

“What if it is?”

“Don’t worry; the pre-sale inspection will check all of that. I just did it to make him think I was going to test them myself.”

“Ah. And all those notes?”

Judy laughed. “More psyching. Just to make him think I was finding all sorts of problems. But for all he knew, I was writing down the starting lineup of tonight’s Red Sox game. Think I should leave Canseco in the outfield?”


Marc called Thursday night from the Clarion hotel in Boulder. “I’ll be back in the office tomorrow afternoon,” he said. He sounded tired, and Donny could hear tinny TV noise in the background.

“How’d it go?”

“Tell you all about it when I get there,” said Marc tersely.


“Did you call Judy?”

Donny told him about the house and the tour. Marc chuckled softly when he heard about the water samples. “That sounds like her.”

“How do you know her?”

“She’s Paul’s realtor. And she’s his sister.”


Greg buzzed Donny’s intercom line the next morning. “Stop by my office for a moment.”

Sky was lounging on the couch next to the conference table. Greg motioned to Donny to take a seat, and a few second later Eric came in and closed the door. “Dad’ll be here in about ten minutes,” he said. “Stupid traffic.”

“We can talk to Donny before he gets here.”


“What’s up?” Donny asked.

Greg said to Sky, “Go on, tell him; it’s your idea.”

Sky sat up and looked at Donny. “One of the reasons that asshole got ahold of Pelican and ripped it off is because we’re not paying attention to what’s really going on out there. We just bop along writing our stuff and putting it out there like there’s nobody else who’s gonna see it or rip it off. Meanwhile fucksticks like Bryce and his buddies take us to the cleaners.”

“And by the time we get wind of it, it’s too late to do anything about it,” said Eric.

“Right,” said Sky. “We need to be right there where all the real stuff is being done.”

“Where’s that?”

Sky glanced at Greg before looking back at Donny and grinning. “Silicon Valley.”

There was a noticeable silence as Donny looked first at Greg, then at Eric, then Sky, then back to Eric. Finally Donny said, almost inaudibly, “Move to Silicon Valley.”

“That’s where it’s happening,” said Sky.

Donny looked around the room again but not really seeing things; images of the house he was about to buy flashed before him, memories of the Herculean effort it took to move the company across town the year before, thousands of little details, including leaving Los Angeles, leaving Mike... as if that mattered....

“Hey,” someone was saying, “Donny....we’re talking R and D here, not the whole thing.”


Eric laughed. “Oh, shit, you thought we were talking about moving the whole business there?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Jesus, I’m sorry,” said Greg, “we just meant move the software boys and some of the sales staff and open a branch office up there, not the whole shebang. Christ, we can’t afford that.”

“Oh...” said Donny, a wave of relief washing over him.

“Just me and Sky and Steve and Diego. Brany’ll stay here; his wife’s in grad school and he’s got a kid about to start kindergarten, and Ellie... we’re not sure, but we’re thinking she’ll probably stay here, too.”

“The thing is,” Sky went on, “is that if we want to be in the game, we gotta be where the game is being played, man. And I know that town, too. I know the people there, I know the games that go on, and I know that being down here, four hundred miles away, means we are way out of the game.”

Donny stared at Eric. “You’d go?”

“Well, yeah, as head of R and D,” Eric replied. “’Sides, you’re about to close on the house, the lease is almost up, and...” he shrugged, “it’ll be fun. Never lived anyplace else.”

“What do you think, Donny?” asked Greg.

“Sure,” Donny whispered, and then said it again a little louder. “Sounds great.”


Marc got into the office around two. Donny went into his office and closed the door. “So? Was it like Matlock?”

Marc shook his head as he paced around his office for a moment, his hands shoved in his pockets. “Not exactly. This was real life.”

“Okay, well, I meant...”

“He was acquitted. Not guilty. On. All. Counts,” Marc said, biting the words as he said them. His jaw was clenched and he was blushing splotches of red on his cheeks. “And I helped. I got him off.” He laughed hollowly at the joke.

“Sounds like you were what they call a ‘hostile witness.’”

Marc shook his head. “I guess. His lawyer asked the questions, I answered. ‘Did you ever engage in sexual relations with the defendant while you were a student?’ ‘No.’ ‘Did the defendant ever make sexual advances towards you when you were a student?’ ‘No.’ ‘To your knowledge, did the defendant make any sexual advances to any other student at the school?’ ‘No.’ ‘Were you aware of the diaries that the defendant kept?’ ‘No.’ ‘Did you ever make any sexual advances toward the defendant when you were a student?’ ‘No.’ On and on, stuff like that. Then the D.A. got up and tried to ask about my sex life, but Kessler’s lawyer objected because I wasn’t the one on trial and he hadn’t brought up my sex life in his questions, so all the D.A. could do was try to punch holes in my story, and he couldn’t. It lasted about ten minutes and I was done.” Marc spun his chair around and sat down heavily.

“Did you talk to him?”

“Who, Kessler?”

“Yeah, did you say anything to him?”

“No, not really.” Marc looked at Donny. “You know what pisses me off about this whole damn thing? Kessler’s probably as gay as you or me, Donny, but he’s spent so much of his life hiding it that it’s become like this obsession; it’s outta control with him. If he’d just ... let it be. Be normal. Find someone to love and let them love you back and not get all freaked out by the social pressures and bullshit. Hell, we had gay teachers at that school; at least two that I knew of. They didn’t make a big deal out of it, and they never fooled around with any of the kids, either. But Kessler...he makes being gay sound like it’s something to be ashamed of, to hide. Now he’s gone and ruined his marriage and he’s....” Marc shook his head again. “Anyway.... So, what’s going on here?”

“Silicon Valley,” said Donny.

“Yeah, I heard about that. Greg asked me to run some numbers on it last week. Strictly hypothetical.”

“Well, it sounds like it’s gonna happen.”

Marc nodded, lost in thought, then said, “Hey, you want to come over tonight?”

“Yeah, I’d like that.”

“Yeah, so would I.”


“I will, Dad.... Yeah, as soon as I get them.... Okay. Sure, put her on.”

Donny looked at Danny with a smirk and covered the mouthpiece of the cordless phone. “He wants to see the mortgage papers before I sign anything. He wants to be sure I’m not getting screwed.”

Danny grinned. “He’s probably wondering why you didn’t get it from him.”

“Oh sure, get a mortgage for a house in L.A. from a bank in Perrysburg, Ohio..... Hi Mom.... Yeah, the closing’s in thirty days. I’ll send you pictures.... Oh, yeah, a pool and everything. And a huge guest room for you and Dad.” He slid open the patio door and went outside to light a cigarette. Danny followed him.

“I will. Yeah, I’m all set. Okay. You want to talk to Danny again? Okay, I’ll tell the new First Lieutenant you’re very proud of him again. Okay. Love you too.” He clicked the “off” button. “Well, they’re kinda surprised that their little boy’s first house is bigger than the one they live in now.”

“You’re also making about ten times what Dad makes.”

“On paper.”

“So, have you told Mike?”

“What, that your promotion came through?” Donny pointed to the new silver bars on Danny’s uniform collar that replaced the gold Second Lieutenant butterbars.

“No, dipshit, about the house.”

“I will when he gets back from wherever he is.”

Mike got back an hour later and did a classic double take when Donny told him he was buying the house. “You mean, my house?”

“Well, the one you were renting. Yeah, that place.”

“Holy shit.” He slid open the patio door and went outside to light a cigarette. “When did it go on the market?”

“I dunno, last week or sometime. Anyway, I got Judy Moran – Paul’s realtor – and she worked up an offer, they accepted it, and we close next month.”

“Holy shit,” Mike said again.

“I think it’s great,” said Danny.

“Yeah, me too,” said Mike a little hollowly. He stared at Donny for a second, then seemed to snap out of it when Eric came outside. “So,” he said to Danny and Eric, “have you seen it?”

“What, the house?”


“No, not yet,” said Danny.

Mike gave them a mischievous look. “You want to? I still have a key, and provided they haven’t changed the alarm code....”

The alarm code had not been changed, and there was now a “Contract Pending” sign on the “For Sale” sign. They turned on the lights in the living room and Donny took them through the house.

“Wow,” said Eric, “gotta love the Santa Fe look. You gonna keep it?”

“I think so. I don’t know shit about decorating.”

“And you call yourself a faggot,” said Danny.

Mike went out to the sun porch and picked up a magazine on the coffee table. “Shit, this place has been empty since I moved out.” He showed them the magazine. It was a copy of Entertainment Weekly with the cast picture of Silver Star on the cover.

“Maybe the last tenant was a fan of yours,” said Eric.

Danny smiled at his twin. “Nice place.”

“Which room do you want?”

“I’ll probably get my new assignment before you close.”

“You’ve always got a place here.”

“I know.”

After Mike locked the house he handed the key to Donny. “Might as well keep it. It’s yours now.” He hugged him tightly.


The closing was on the Friday before Memorial Day. It was just Donny, Judy, and the notary from the title company. Donny signed what seemed like several hundred pages, handed over a cashier’s check for the down payment and closing costs, and the notary unceremoniously slid a vinyl folder across the table with copies of the documents and the keys. Judy escorted Donny out to his car, shook his hand, and drove off.

He drove back to the house. It was a little before six. He pulled into the driveway and got out. The “Sold” sign was still on the lawn, so he yanked it up and leaned it against the garage door – the opener was still in the house.

He unlocked the door and shut off the alarm. He went from room to room and finally ended up in the master bedroom. The bed was stripped and he made a mental note to stop at some store and pick up some sheets. There was no toilet paper, either, he noticed, and he made another mental note. He pulled up the shades on the front windows to let the last of the daylight in, then went out and opened the sun porch doors to the pool. Some leaves were drifting on the surface, and he dipped them out. He took another look around, put the real estate sign in the garage, dumped the junk mail into the trash, and locked the door. Don’t forget to go to the post office and fill out a change-of-address form, he thought.

No one else was home. Eric was in Palo Alto looking for both an apartment and office space. Danny had received his orders and was out of town for training until he got his permanent assignment at his new base. He couldn’t say where it was, but Donny figured it was overseas since Danny had sent home for his birth certificate in order to get a passport. Mike was spending his weekends in Idyllwild.

He called Marc. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Not much.”

“Want to come over? Last night in the old place.”

“Okay. Original recipe or extra crispy?”

“Surprise me.”

They ate on the patio; Donny had stacked some boxes of books and clothing on the dining room table in preparation for his move out the next morning. Tommy from the warehouse was bringing over the medium delivery van for the move the next morning.

“So what’s gonna happen here?” said Marc.

“I think Mike’s gonna stay, and once Eric gets settled in P.A. he’s gonna move into the master bedroom and have the place all to himself. Funny how that works out.”

“You taking any of the furniture?”

“Don’t need to, but I do have to stop at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, though. They stripped the beds and the bathrooms.”

Marc wiped his hands on a paper napkin. “So how do you think you’ll like living alone?”

Donny smiled. “I’ll find out.”


“Of course, I don’t have to live alone. There’s plenty of room for someone else,” Donny said. He looked at Marc, catching his eyes, trying to make it clear what he had in mind. Marc smiled a little, and Donny smiled back.

“Donny,” Marc finally said, “I really like you a lot, and you’re, well, you’re great in bed, but....”

“But what?”

Marc looked at him for a moment before answering. “I’m not the one you should be asking.”

Chapter Guide