Monday, January 22, 2007

Small Town Boys - Chapter 40


Marc was not in his office.

“He and Greg are at Allen’s office getting the paperwork ready for the annual meeting,” Lily told Donny when he asked. “It was on your calendar,” she said.

“Right. I forgot,” he said and went back to his office. The annual meeting was on Friday. He folded up the letter, stuffed it back in the envelope, debated for a moment what to do with it, then stuck it in his top drawer. His phone rang. It was Eric.

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Good,” Donny said, feeling relieved to be talking to a familiar voice.

“Great. I’ll be on a flight getting into LAX around eleven thirty. Pick me up and I’ll buy you lunch.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Can I ask a huge favor?”


“I was gonna stay with Greg, but his guest room is full of stuff, and it’s just too damn far to commute from Pasadena, so can I bunk in with you? I’ll clean up after myself.”

“Christ, you don’t even have to ask,” replied Donny.

“Yeah, well, I thought I’d check.”

“See you at the airport.”

Eric was waiting on the curb when Donny pulled up. He looked much the same as he had the last time Donny had seen him, which had been in July, except he had let his hair grow a little longer and he had new glasses. He gave Donny a clap on the shoulder as he hopped in the car.

“First thing, how’s the wonderful world of show biz?”

“It’s very strange,” Donny replied as he maneuvered through the airport traffic. “They pay you a shitload of money for doing nothing.”

“Heh,” Eric snorted. “I coulda told you that.” He pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket. “Say, we need to make a little side trip before we go to lunch.”

“Where to?”

“Albertson Chevrolet. It’s on Sepulveda.”

“Okay...” Donny replied with a smirk. “Need something for the Malibu?”

“You’ll see,” Eric grinned.

They parked in the customer parking lot. A salesman greeted them, complimented the Mustang as if he was sizing it up for a trade-in, and asked how he could help.

“Need to see your sales manager,” Eric replied, and the salesman pointed them in the direction of the showroom.

“Sales manager?” said Donny as they went inside. Eric grinned broadly.

The sales manager was a middle-aged guy in a fashionable suit but not too overdressed. Eric introduced himself, and the man had a flash of recognition.

“Of course, Mr. McKay. Right this way,” he smiled and led them out to the back lot. “It came in last Thursday and we’ve gotten it all ready for you.”

“It” was a brand new coppertone Chevrolet Suburban. Eric walked around it slowly, examining it while the sales manager stood by. Finally Eric got in, sat behind the wheel, and seemed barely able to contain his joy. He motioned for Donny to get in the other side. He did. It smelled of new car and fine leather.

“I decided that if I’m gonna drive a station wagon, I’m gonna drive the biggest, baddest station wagon out there,” Eric said. “And up in Silicon Valley, all the dot-com guys are driving Ferraris and Maseratis. Thought I’d be practical. Hey, look, it’s even got a CD player. Now all I need are some CD’s.”

“Cool,” said Donny, admiring the dizzying array of instruments and comfortable seats.

“You should get one,” Eric said.


“Hey, look, your Mustang is a classic. You shouldn’t be using it for a daily driver. You should take care of it. Get one of these to beat around in.”

Donny nodded. “Something to think about.”

They went back into the dealership, Eric signed some papers, handed over a check, and the sales manager handed him the keys. “Thank you very much, Mr. McKay,” he said, glancing at Donny as if he was trying figure out a way to reel him in, too.

They stopped at a McDonald’s down the street, and Eric found a table where he could look out into the parking lot at his new toy.

“First time I’ve ever owned a new car,” he mused.

“What’re you gonna do with the Malibu?”

“Huh? Oh, leave it up in P.A. as a company run-around car. I got a guy who’s gonna detail it up and do some work on the engine. It still runs...just....” He gazed out into the parking lot at the truck. Donny grinned. “You know,” he said, “the worst part is waiting until you get that first scratch. You want me to ding it with my door and get it over with?”

“I’ll kill you with my bare hands,” Eric replied. “Actually, it’ll probably happen when I’m at Von’s and I won’t even notice it for a month.” He sipped his Coke. “Oh, hey...did you get your invitation from Rob and Marcy?”

Donny nodded. “Last week.” Rob and Marcy were finally getting married in a beachfront ceremony in Malibu the first weekend in October. The invitation was properly New Age – it said “shoes optional.” “So you’ll be back down for the weekend then?”

“Actually, I’m staying down here while we get Gemini Control launched,” Eric said, glancing at Donny. “If that’s okay with you.”

“Sure. Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Well, I was gonna ask if I could stay with you. Don’t want to horn in on ... uh... you and ....” He looked at Donny expectantly.

“Who, me and Mike?”

“Well, yeah.”

Donny shook his head. “No. That’s not gonna be a problem. So, how’s the new guy working out?”

“Pretty good. Kind of a geek, but that goes with the territory.”

“Uh, yeah,” said Donny. “If anything, we’re the exceptions. This whole industry is run by geeks.”

The “new guy” was Rudy Gabel, hired in August to replace Steve who was shifting to part-time so he could finish grad school at Cal Tech. Donny had done the initial paper screenings, narrowed the choices down to a reasonable number, and sent the files up to Eric who, after a series of interviews, chose Rudy from the final five. He was twenty-nine, tall, rail-thin, and ponderously serious, but he came with amazing credentials including a doctorate in computer science from MIT. As far as anyone could tell, he had no social life whatsoever. Eric had been to his apartment once; it was bare except for a kitchen table, a workstation, and a single bed that looked like a left-over from a college dorm. “The guy eats over the sink,” Eric had said.

“You got him working on Gemini Control?” Donny asked.

“Yeah; he and Diego are doing some final tweaks to G.C. and Sky’s training tech support. I brought a copy for you to smoke-test. Oh, and speaking of smoke-testing...” He grinned slyly. “Sky has some good friends with secret gardens.”

That night after dinner – take-out from the Great Wall – they were sitting on the patio. Eric rolled a joint as Donny told Eric about the weekend at the Villa, including Mike’s drunken rant. “I haven’t heard from him since,” Donny said as Eric flicked the lighter and took a toke.

“So he thinks you and Aaron and Jack Magahee screwed him over.”

“Pretty much, I guess so.”

Eric snorted and handed Donny the joint. “But you didn’t know anything about it. The show based on your idea, I mean.”

“Nope.” The pot tasted good and Donny let it trickle out slowly.

“So...” Eric shrugged. “That’s show business.”


They passed the joint back and forth until it was down to the roach. Eric looked at Donny. “So, are we cool?”


“You and me. We cool?”


“Me and Mike.”

“You and Mike...?”

“You know.”

Donny thought for a moment. “Oh, yeah. Shit. I forgot all about that.”

“Okay. That’s cool.”

After what seemed like a very long time Donny looked at Eric. “So how was it?”

“How was what?”

“You and Mike.”

Eric nodded thoughtfully. “Actually.... it was ... he was... he... um... Pretty damn good,” he finally said.

“Yeah,” agreed Donny.

Eric thought some more. “I mean, it wasn’t like a porno flick. But... he.... There was only that one time, y’know.”

“Yeah.” Donny found himself staring at Eric. In the dimness of the twilight and the lights hidden in the bushes, his face took on a peaceful, almost angelic countenance. His long blond hair, swept back behind his ears, had a golden hue. His eyebrows arched as if they were delicately painted with a fine brush. Donny was in awe of the beauty of his perfect nose, his ruddy cheeks barely dusted with light whiskers, and when his hand moved to brush away an intruding mosquito, the gentility of the movement was like that of a ballet dancer. A pounding sound distracted Donny for a moment until he realized it was the blood in his ears, accompanied by a dull throbbing in his groin that was becoming painful. He shifted slightly in his chair, the plastic creaking like a cricket-chirp, and gently, furtively, put his hand over the bulge in his pants to both hide it and move it to a more comfortable position. The touch made it jump a little and he gasped. Eric did not seem to notice; his eyes were closed, a small grin spreading across his face. No wonder Mike had slept with him, Donny thought; he’s beautiful. In the dim haze he envisioned what it had been like, the two of them in the dark of Eric’s room. His cock throbbed again and he felt a tingle of warm wetness emerge from the tip.

Eventually the bulge subsided and they sat in muffled silence until the high had passed, then went inside and finished off the rest of the Sara Lee cheesecake they’d picked up for dessert. It was close to eleven. Donny led Eric to the guest room – the one next to Danny’s – and turned on the lights. Eric pulled off his shirt. “G’night,” he said.


“Oh. Hey,” said Eric as he stepped out of his pants and tossed them on the chair.


“Um, if Mike’s movie is going down the crapper, am I screwed out of the money I invested in it?” Eric asked.

Donny shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Eric nodded. “Well, it was only fifty grand. I can probably write it off.”

“Fifty grand?”

Eric nodded. “I’ll ask Marc.”

That reminded Donny of the anonymous letter. “Yeah.... Hey, I got something to show you.”

Eric smirked. “Donny, Donny.... Not that I wouldn’t, but I’m really tired.”

For an instant Donny remembered his poolside high fantasy, but it vanished as quickly as it came. “No. Not that. At the office.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Donny said, “Fifty grand?”

Eric shrugged. “It wasn’t about the sex. I mean, it was good, but...”

“Didn’t think it was. G’night.”


The next morning Donny went into Eric’s office, closed the door, and showed him the letter.

“Huh,” Eric said after reading it. “You show it to him?”

“Nope. He was out of the office all day yesterday.”

Eric read the letter again and tossed it on his desk. “Do you care?”

“What, where he spent Labor Day weekend and who with? No, not really.”

The door to the war room was open, and though the only one in there was Ellie and she had her headphones on, Eric shut the door.

“You and Marc still...?”

“Not since April.”

Eric grimaced. “Long time to go without getting your beans ground.”

“There’s always Rosie,” replied Donny flatly, vaguely remembering the night before and what he’d done after he’d gone to bed.

“Don’t I know it,” said Eric. He sat in his desk chair and swiveled a little. The top of his desk was bare except for the phone and desk pad. “Who do you think sent it?”

“No idea,” replied Donny. “Like I said, I don’t care and I don’t think it matters. But since it came here...”

“Unless it has something to do with the company,” Eric interrupted. “They sent it here. If they’d wanted to let you know personally, they’d have sent it to your house, and they wouldn’t have said ‘Ask your CFO.’ It’d have been ‘Ask Marc.’”

“Unless whoever it was doesn’t know where I live.”

“You’re in the phone book.”

Donny picked up the letter and looked at it again. “You think he’s talking to another company?”

“How should I know? I’ve been up in Palo Alto for the last two months. You’re the one who’s seen him every day. Everything cool here?”

“Yeah; I mean, nothing other than the usual bullshit and stuff.”

“Yeah, Greg’s told me about that. But Marc’s been here the whole time? Showing up for work and everything?”


Eric picked up his phone punched Marc’s extension. “Hey, Marc. Can you come in here for a sec? Thanks.” He raised his eyebrows. “Might as well try the direct approach.”

Marc came in and Eric said, “Hey, Marc, good to see you. How was your summer?”

“Pretty good,” he replied. “We’ll be ready for Friday.”

“Great.” He slid the letter across the desk. “Donny got this in the mail yesterday.”

Marc picked it up and read it, then put it back on the desk. He glanced at Donny, then looked at Eric. “Sorry about that,” he said, nodding at the letter. “I should have said something before, I guess.”

“Like what?”

Marc hesitated for just a second. “I was being recruited. By another company. I didn’t have any intention of accepting their offer.”

“Did they make you one?” Eric asked.

“Yeah, a long time ago. I turned them down then, too, but they came back and offered me an all-expenses paid weekend at their company retreat, so I figured what the hell.” He smiled wanly. “Don’t worry. They didn’t get me drunk and try to take advantage of me.”

“You weren’t interested and you still went?”

“They were very persuasive, but I’m happy here.” Marc shrugged. “And besides, I’d just be another bean-counter there.”

“They offered you more money?”

Marc nodded. “Yeah. Look, I didn’t go just to try and leverage you guys. That’s why I didn’t bring it up.”

Eric smiled. “Didn’t think you did. So, you have any idea who sent this, or why they sent it to Donny?”

“Not a clue, unless they wanted to let the VP of personnel know that I might be leaving...which I’m not,” Marc replied, glancing again at Donny. “I’d have told you if there was anything going on.”

Eric smiled. “I know. So, who was headhunting you?”

“Microsoft,” said Marc simply.

Eric blinked. “Wow. You turned down Bill Gates?”

“Well, it wasn’t Bill personally, but...”

“Christ,” said Eric. “You’re crazy.”

Marc shook his head. “I could never get used to all that rain in Seattle.”

“Well, thank God for the Puget Sound Convergence Zone, right?” Eric grinned. “So, are we ready for Friday?”

“Yeah, Cathy and I have just finished up the final figures. I’ll have them on Greg’s desk in an hour.”

“Okay,” said Eric. “I’ll see you later.”

Marc left. Eric looked at Donny. “So, whaddaya think of that?”

“Sounds like we dodged the bullet.”

Eric cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah, except for one thing.”


“Microsoft doesn’t have a corporate retreat.”


“Why would he lie?” asked Greg. He and Eric and Donny were in his office. It was after five and everyone except Ellie had gone for the day. He looked at the letter, then at the envelope. “Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with the business. Otherwise, why make up a story about being recruited if he is being recruited? Why cook up a story about Microsoft?” He leaned back in his chair. “Oh, and how do you know Microsoft doesn’t have a corporate retreat where they take prospective employees to win them over?”

“They don’t do it like that,” said Eric. “Remember Joel Rubin...the guy from that scholastic software company we met at the convention last winter?”

“If you say so,” said Greg. “That was like eight months ago.”

“Well, anyway, he’s now with some flash-in-the-pan search engine company in P.A. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and we got to talking. He likes to brag and he said he was being recruited by Microsoft as some assistant VP of programming development or some such bullshit. Anyway, he said that when he went up there, they paid his airfare, put him up at the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland, and gave him the big show. He said he got to meet Gates and Balmer and a bunch of the high-ups, but he didn’t say anything about some corporate retreat. Just a couple of days on ‘campus,’ as they call it.”

“Maybe Marc’s a bigger fish than this Joel guy.”

Eric shook his head. “He makes a buck a year. Marc makes half that. If they’re not gonna roll out the red carpet for Joel, they’re not gonna do it for Marc. ‘Sides, who’s gonna recruit someone over a holiday weekend?”

“Yeah,” said Greg. “So what else could it be? Who would give a shit what Marc did over Labor Day weekend?”

“Well, whoever it was,” said Donny, looking at the letter, “he or she isn’t an English major.”

“You find a typo?” said Greg.

“No. It says, ‘Ask your CFO where he spent Labor Day weekend, and who with.’ That should be ‘with whom.’ It’s also typed on a typewriter, not printed out from a printer.”

Greg smirked, “You’re a regular Columbo, Donny. Can you tell what kind of typewriter they used?”

“Probably an IBM Selectric II with the Pica twelve-pitch,” said Donny, playing along. “No, seriously, guys. This was written by somebody who probably isn’t in our business or else they’d have done it on a laser printer, and probably not by someone who does a lot of writing. Recruiters write a lot.”

“Which narrows it down to just about everybody in the known English-speaking universe,” said Greg. “Judging from the postmark, it was mailed last Friday from somewhere here in Southern California.” Greg flicked the envelope across the table to Donny. “But y’know what, guys...unless Marc’s been selling us out to Bryce or Bill Gates, and I don’t think that’s what’s going on, there’s no there there.”

“Yeah, so I figured,” replied Donny.

“Let it go,” said Eric. “Shred it. Obviously the person that wrote it thinks you and Marc are still, y’know, buddies.”

“You mean you’re not?” said Greg in mock surprise. “Well, that’s what I get for missing staff meetings.”

Donny and Eric drove home together in Donny’s Mustang; they had tossed a coin that morning to see who drove and Eric lost. “Y’know,” said Eric, “somebody – maybe Bryce, maybe not... hell, maybe it was that teacher of his from Colorado, for all we know – is trying to yank your chain, Donny. Frankly, I think it doesn’t have anything to do with us. It’s you they wanted to provoke.”

“No shit,” said Donny. “If it was Marc they were after they would have written it to you or Greg.”

“Right. So...why you?”

“My name’s on all the personnel stuff.”

“My guess is that Marc probably spent the weekend home alone and whoever did this is just being an asshole. My money’s on Bryce.”

“Why him?”

“Why not him? You know he can barely write a coherent sentence, and you can’t blame everything on Clinton.”

At a stoplight Donny said, “Marc’s annual is coming up. Think we oughta give him a raise? Y’know, just in case?”

“Just in case he decides to move to Pearl Jam country?” Eric mused.

“Well, yeah, but he’s also done a hell of a job. I think paying him fifty grand isn’t the way to show him our appreciation. I make a hell of a lot more than he does, but without him, we’d be up Shit Creek.”

“You’re also a partner. You have a lot more at stake if we go tits up.”

“Maybe we oughta offer him that, too. That’d be one way to keep him around.”

Eric stared out the window. The light changed. “Sure, why not. Come up with some numbers and I’ll run it by Greg.”

They pulled into the garage. “Hey,” he said, “you smell anti-freeze?” Eric said as he got out of the car.

Donny popped the hood. A small puddle of bright green liquid was forming on the garage floor. “Great,” he muttered.

“There it is,” said Eric, pointing at the radiator. Small bubbles had formed along the seam and a thin stream of Prestone was running down to the bottom, collecting, and dripping.

“I know a guy,” said Eric. “Jay can fix it in a day.”

“Yeah,” said Donny, “meanwhile I guess I can drive Danny’s Jeep.”

“We’ll carpool, like the old days. Then Saturday we’ll go see my pal at Albertson Chevy. Fix you right up with a brand new one.”

“Nah,” replied Donny, slamming the hood shut.

“What’s your problem? You’ve got a classic car that now needs to be taken care of. It’s not a daily driver anymore. You’ve got a big enough garage for it and something else, even with Danny’s Jeep; just shove it in the corner. And you can afford it.”

“Mmph,” replied Donny, but he admitted to himself that he liked the smell and the gleam of Eric’s new Suburban as they drove to a nearby auto parts store for a bottle of Bar’s Leak and a gallon of Prestone.

The next morning Donny followed Eric to a small shop in an industrial park. There were several late model cars inside and out, including several vintage Austin-Healeys and one Jaguar XKE. The quality of the cars were in stark contrast to the shop itself; the walls were grimy, the floor was stained with years of oil and grease, and the office, visible through an open door, was tiny and cluttered. An aged dog that looked to be a combination of retriever and setter was lying under the rear of one of the cars. He raised his head and thumped his tail as Donny parked next to a 1957 Ford Skyliner.

Jay was a short, skinny man with a bristling mustache and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He wiped his hands on his well-worn coveralls, raised the hood, nodded, and squinted at Donny. “Yep. I’ll have it for you by the end of the day.”

“How much?”

“One-fifty tops, but I can probably get it in for less.”

Donny shrugged. “Yeah, okay.”

Jay looked over the engine. “She’s in good shape. You do the work on her?”

“No, bought it this way.”

Jay closed the hood carefully. “She’s a beauty.” He grinned at Eric. “So you finally get rid of the piece of shit?”

Eric chuckled. “Nope. Still got it. I just don’t drive it every day now.”

Jay pointed his cigarette at the Suburban. “Saw that ‘n I figured you’d finally come to your senses. Guess not.”

“We’ll see you later, Jay,” Eric laughed.

“I’ll call you when she’s ready,” he shouted over the air compressor that had just kicked in.

“What’s the story on that guy?” Donny asked as they drove away.

“He works on all cars, but he prefers the classics; stuff you can really work on. And he’s got A-list clients, too,” Eric said. “Some of those cars are the cars of the stars,” he added, sounding like a DJ. “They come to him because he’s good and he won’t rip you off. At the dealer that radiator would run two hundred just to take a look at it and it’d take a week.

“How’d you find him?”

“He’s the only guy who’ll work on the Malibu.”

As promised, the Mustang was ready at the end of the day, and Jay’s guesstimate had been right on the money. “This your daily driver?” he asked Donny as he handed him back the keys.


Jay shook his head. “She’s too nice a car to do that to. Git yourself something to tool around in and leave this ‘un for the weekend or shows.”

“That’s what I’ve been telling him,” Eric insisted.

Jay smirked. “Yeah, you whose been pushing around a car that’s pert-near older ‘n you are.” He handed Donny his receipt. “Anyway, she’s a beauty; take care o’ her, eh?”

“You guys are in cahoots, right?” said Donny.

“Naw,” said Jay. “Just be a shame to see that car get more miles on her than necessary, ‘s all.”

“You want to stop at Albertson on the way home?” Eric prompted.

“What, you get a cut?”

“Yeah, right.”

Donny shrugged off-handedly. “Yeah, okay. This weekend. But you gotta do the talking.”

Eric grinned.


The annual meeting was held in a meeting room of a nearby hotel. They had sent out notices of the meeting in late July to all of the stockholders plus a list of potential investors, and most of them had responded in the affirmative. They told the hotel caterer to plan a buffet lunch for seventy-five.

Greg arrived two hours before the ten o’clock start time to make sure the room was ready and the food service and lunch was set up. When Donny, Eric, Marc, and Allen arrived at nine-thirty with Eric’s laptop and projector, he was pacing in the hall outside the room.

“Jesus,” Eric said, “relax. You want me to see if I can find you a Valium or something?”

“Is it too early for a double Scotch?” Greg replied.

“Just a little,” said his father.

Greg laughed a little, but Donny had never seen him this nervous before. “They got the phone line set up like I asked them. You got the Power Point ready to go?”

“All set, Gruggie. Relax. I’m the one with my ass on the line. All you have to worry about is if the slide show doesn’t work, and you’ve got the hard copies for that. If Gemini Control doesn’t work, we’re screwed.”

“Thanks for cheering me up, Airy,” said Greg. He suddenly looked at Donny. “Happy birthday, by the way.”


“Your twenty-fourth, right?”


Eric shook his head. “How many twenty-four-year old millionaires are there?”

“Hell if I know,” Donny replied.

“You heard from Danny yet?”

“Got the card,” he said. “He’ll call tonight.”

Eric and Donny set up the laptop and the projector. There was a moment’s panic when Eric found out that he had forgotten an extension cord, but the front desk was able to get them one from the housekeeper. The phone line worked, and the dial-up connection speed to the internet was acceptable. Eric ran through the slides, then booted up Gemini Control. “Look out Netscape. Here we come.”

Marc opened the box of annual reports he was carrying and thumbed through the top copy. He had been working since early July getting ready for this day, and other than on work-related topics, he and Donny had hardly spoken all summer. He had been so quiet that there were days when Donny hardly saw him outside his office, and he kept his door closed. He sat silently through staff meetings, speaking only when spoken to, and he never left the office for lunch anymore; he kept a stack of Budget Gourmet microwave meals in the office freezer with “MG” penciled on them. Every so often, usually on Fridays, Donny would stop by Marc’s office and ask if he wanted to have dinner or something. Marc would smile wanly, point at the stack of paperwork on his desk and say, “Hey, I’d love to, but....” After a while he stopped asking.

He chalked it up to the stress of preparing the annual report; the future of the company, it seemed, was laid out in the slick book full of facts and numbers. Marc had delivered his Excel spreadsheets in full color, edited the drafts with faint notes on Post-Its, and wrote the financial report in a dry corporate style that would have done a Fortune 500 company proud. Donny and Greg had edited the final draft to the point that they were arguing over comma placements and font sizes, then turned it over to Cathy and Irene for proofreading. They finally handed it over to Allen’s staff for the final legal review before delivering it to Kinko’s.

The first of the stockholders started trickling in and Greg went into full corporate mode. His voice dropped into a lower register and he started using words like “capitalization” and “maximizing” that sounded like he’d just walked out of business school. Eric whispered to Donny, “I bet the chicks love it when he gets all corporate.”

Bart Blumberg arrived carrying an expensive brief case. He was dressed impeccably and his hair was now cut fashionably short; short enough to remove the curls and give him an almost boyish look. He shook hands with everyone, got a cup of coffee from the buffet table, then motioned to Donny to follow him back out into the hall. Bart looked around, then said, almost whispering, “Tell me about this deal you’re working on with Jack Magahee. That is, if you’re at liberty to discuss it.”

“We haven’t put anything on paper yet,” Donny said.

Bart nodded. “So it’s true.”

“Well, I...”

“Look,” Bart said, sipping his coffee and glancing around again, “I’d like to be kept in the loop on this...if that’s okay with you.”

“Well, sure but let me talk to Aaron, too.”

Bart nodded vigorously. “Aaron and I are like this,” he said, holding up his crossed fingers. “That’s how I heard.”

“Okay, well...”

Bart leaned in, put his hand on Donny’s shoulder and whispered, “Anything with Jack Magahee and Jeremy Dixon is going to go all the way. Big time. You will have network people camped outside your office waiting to sign you up.”

Donny looked back into the meeting room. Eric was talking to another stockholder – the director who had three Oscar nominations – and Allen was listening with apparent interest to a tall, thin woman with bright red hair who was explaining something by drawing pictures in the air. “Mr. Blumberg...” he began, but Bart cut him off.

“Jesus, kid, you’re worth more money than I am. Call me Bart.”

“Okay, Bart. I really haven’t gotten farther than just signing the Writer’s Guild thing, and I don’t exactly know what an executive producer does, but...sure, whatever you say.”

“Aaron will be in touch with you. In fact, I told him to be here today but he’s gotta go to New York. Something with Dick Wolf, I think.”

“Who’s that?”

Bart smiled. “Another executive producer. Law & Order.” He made an attempt to make the “ka-chung” sound that was the signature of the series.

“Oh, yeah.”

“Dick and Jim are old friends. Next time he’s out here we’ll see if we can introduce you.”

“That’d be great.” Donny glanced into the meeting room. More stockholders were arriving and Eric beckoned to him to come in and mingle. He started to move away, but Bart grabbed him by the elbow and whispered, “Oh, by the way, Jim is very glad that you’re starting out on your own.” Bart nodded vigorously and continued, “he was concerned that you were getting too much...wrapped up with Lance Michaels.”

Donny looked sharply at Bart. “What’s...what does he mean?”

“Oh, well,” whispered Bart conspiratorially, “you know....” He made a drinking motion. “People are starting to notice. Oh, he’s fine when he’s on set, but... it’s only a matter of time....”

Eric came to the door. “Excuse me, uh, oh, hello, Mr. Blumberg.”

“Bart, please.”

Eric shook his hand. “Is Mr. McGruder going to join us?”

“He’s on location today. He sends his compliments.”

“He’s missing a great party,” Eric said with a dazzling smile and Donny smirked privately. Eric turned to him. “Excuse me, Donny, but...we’re on. See you at lunch, Bart?”

“Count on it.”

The presentations went off without a hitch, and the stockholders applauded when the slide for Gemini Control, with its stylized NASA script and graphics were splashed across the screen. There were considerable oohs and aahs when Eric ran through an on-line demonstration, including the unveiling of the McKay-Gemini website.

Someone asked how much it was going to be sold for, Greg bit his lip and said, “Well, following the lead of our competitors, we’re planning on giving it away as well as include it as part of the Pelican 3 bundle. We’re also hoping...” he checked himself, “we’re working with several computer companies to make it OEM with their new systems. We’ll be working with them on that in the next few months.”

The director raised his hand. “What about Windows 95?”

Greg shot a look at Eric, who stood up and grinned. “Near as we can figure, Gemini Control will work with whatever they come up with. It already works on the current Windows, and the earliest they’re going to release 95 is in June of ’95, so we’ve got...” he counted out nine months on his fingers, which got a laugh, “nine months to get ready. Kinda like having a baby.” That got another laugh.

“What about Apple?” the director asked.

Eric cleared his throat. “Um, we’re working on that,” he replied, but Donny saw him shoot a private glance at Greg, and he knew the twin communing signal. Greg said, “Lunch is ready to be served, ladies and gentleman, so if you’ll step this way, you’ll see what a part of your investment has paid for in the ‘entertainment’ category.”

As they took their place at the back of the buffet line, Donny whispered to Eric, “Why’d you punt the Apple question.”

Eric nodded and smiled, replying through his grin, “That’s what we hired Rudy for. He’s supposed to be able to decipher Apple and OS2. Otherwise...” He broke off, leaned forward, and accepted the thanks of one of the stockholders who came over to shake their hands.

“Otherwise?” muttered Donny.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Eric murmured. “Here, have a dinner roll.”


“Dinner’s on me,” said Greg when they got back to the office around five thirty. Eric told Marc to join them. To Donny’s surprise, Marc said, “Sure, that’d be great.”

They piled into Eric’s Suburban and went to a small steakhouse. It was still early and the bar was crowded with happy hour customers on a Friday night; lots of junior exec types, both men and women, in suits and business wear. But they were able to get a table for three after a short wait.

Donny ordered a Dewar’s on the rocks and when the drinks arrived Greg raised his glass in a toast: “To us, to our stockholders, and to Donny on his birthday.”

“So Marc,” Eric said as he looked over the menu, “you did a hell of a job on that report. I think we just earned back your salary and then some today.”

Marc grinned quickly and sipped his drink. “Thanks. All I did was crunch the numbers and print them out nice.”

Greg shook his head. “Quit being so modest. Nobody here could have put it all together the way you did. McKay-Gemini would be just another dot-com start up losing its ass if it wasn’t for you. We owe you.”

Marc shrugged. “Well, okay.”

Greg looked at Eric quickly and Eric nodded. Greg said, “So how about we make you a partner?”

Marc’s eyes widened. “In the company?”

“Well, yeah,” laughed Eric. “Unless you think one of us is proposing marriage.”

Marc looked at Donny. “Well, no, I know what you mean...”

“So, how about it?” said Greg. “We’ll work something out on the buy-in; hell, you better than anyone else can figure out how to do it, but I’ve already got Dad working on the letter and all the documents. Wouldn’t want that to go to waste.” Greg raised his glass again. “Partners?”

Marc looked at Donny again, and Donny smiled and raised his glass. Finally Marc nodded, smiled, and raised his glass. “Partners.”

The steaks had just arrived when a cell phone chirped. Donny barely looked up; cell phones had become part of the landscape in Los Angeles, although he had never seen much for one. He found it annoying to be sitting in a restaurant and eavesdropping on someone two tables over who was explaining the details of his date the night before. He was surprised to see Eric pull out the offending instrument and answer it.

“Hello? Oh, yeah, hi,” he said into it. “No, timing’s perfect.” He handed Donny the little flip-phone that looked more like a communicator from Star Trek than the Trimline in his bedroom. “It’s for you.”

“Hello?” Donny said, mystified.

“Hey, twin, happy birthday,” said Danny, his voice echoing and slightly distorted.

“Hey, same to you,” replied Donny, looking around to see if anyone was looking at him. He wasn’t sure how loud you had to talk on one of those things to be heard. But Danny seemed to hear him fine.

“Eric told me to call you. You guys having dinner or something?”

“Yeah, he and Greg and Marc and me...”

“Well, I won’t keep you. Have a good one. Present’s on the way.”

“Yeah, yours too.” Donny had sent off a package the week before to the APO in New York that Danny had given him.

“Nothing perishable, I hope.”

“Nope.” Donny had found a hardcover edition of The Right Stuff.

“Okay. Hey, it looks like I’ll be back there at Christmas. So, I’ll be in touch. Say hi to the gang.”

“I will.”

“Love you, twin.”

“You too,” said Donny, his throat tightening and eyes prickling.

He didn’t know how to hang up the phone, so he handed it back to Eric. He flipped it shut and handed it back to Donny. “It’s yours. Happy birthday.”

Donny took the phone. “Wow...”

“The charger and instructions are back at the office. Now we’re all wired,” said Eric. He pulled out his own, as did Greg.

“Oh, great,” said Donny. “We’ll never eat in peace again.”

They went back to the office to pick up their cars from the parking garage, but first Eric went up to his office to give Donny the box for his cell phone including the charger. “Oh, yeah,” Eric added, handing him a slip of paper. “Here’s the number for it. Might come in handy.” He yawned. “Well, I’m beat. I’ll see you back at the house.”

“Okay,” Donny said, “right behind you.”

Eric left and Donny, after examining his new toy, turned out his office light and closed the door.

Marc’s light was still on, and Marc was at his desk reading e-mails.

“Go home,” said Donny. “The show’s over and you’re a partner. You’ve earned a night off.”

Marc smiled. “You guys didn’t have to do that.”

“We want to keep you around. Other than tying you to the chair, that was the only thing we could think of.”

Marc raised an eyebrow. “Tying me to a chair, huh? Your idea, right?”


“You had nothing to worry about,” Marc said. “I wasn’t planning on leaving. That ... interview...”

“Was bullshit,” said Donny. “We know.”


Donny shrugged. “No matter. And as far as what you do on your time off.... Look, as far as we care, you spent the Labor Day weekend at home pulling your pud.”

“Just about,” said Marc. “But I really appreciate it. Going from waiting tables to being a partner in a company in like a year...”

“You earned it.”

“Thanks.” Marc looked at him for a moment. “So, I heard you got something going in the movie business.”

Donny rolled his eyes. “It’s just talk.”

“Jack Magahee,” countered Marc. “Pretty good talk.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll see. I’m keeping my day job. For one thing, it’s kinda screwed things up with me and Mike.”

“How so?”

“He thinks somehow that I screwed him out of the movie deal and that the only reason I slept with him was so that I could break into the business.”

Marc shook his head sadly. “Sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah, he thinks I’m fucking Jeremy Dixon or something.”

Marc smirked. “Yeah, well, wouldn’t that be nice.”

Donny shrugged. “It’s just Hollywood bullshit. I don’t even know why I’m doing it.”

“Too bad about Mike,” Marc said quietly.

“Yeah,” Donny replied. “But...” He couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Marc shut off his computer, grabbed his suit coat, and turned out the desk lamp, leaving the only light in the room coming through the open door from the nightlight over the secretarial area. He came out from behind the desk and for a split second Donny had the most powerful urge to embrace Marc and kiss him deeply. But Marc just walked past him, shrugging on his jacket as he went, digging his keys out of his pocket. “You coming?” he said.

“Yeah,” Donny replied. He closed the door behind him and followed Marc down to the garage.

The next morning Donny let Eric take him over to Albertson Chevrolet “just to look.” Once again Eric did all the talking and by noon Donny had written a check for a new silver Tahoe, passing over a blue and white Suburban for the smaller behemoth. While he felt a tad guilty about such a large purchase without sleeping on it, he couldn’t help smiling as he followed Eric back to the house. With a little maneuvering of Danny’s Jeep and moving the lawn mower, he was able to squeeze the truck and the Mustang into the garage.

“I don’t mind parking in the driveway,” said Eric.

“Damn right,” said Donny.


Allen drew up the partnership papers for Marc, and when Gemini Control was announced the next week, the tech editor of the Los Angeles Times did a nice write-up about it and the company. Included was a mention of Marc making partner.

The following Monday Donny got another letter:
Did you ask your new partner about that weekend? Enquiring minds want to know.
Donny crumpled it up and tossed it in the trash.

Chapter Guide