Saturday, May 12, 2007

Small Town Boys - Chapter 44

Mr. Perfect

A rhythmic sound filled the room making the air almost shake until Donny realized it was his heart pounding. He gripped the banister so tightly the wood creaked. Finally he was able to take a breath. “Why?”

Marc did not move. After what seemed like an eternity Donny came over to the couch and sat at the end, close to Marc. They both stared into the fire until Donny said, “Why, Marc?”

At last Marc turned his head a little, glancing at Donny for a second. “Did you ever wonder how I got through grad school?”

“No, not really. But...”

Marc held up his hand. “I need to tell you the whole story, Donny. Then you’ll...then you’ll understand.”

“All right.”

Marc gazed back at the fire and said quietly, “It’s not cheap, y’know.”

“Your folks helped you out?”

Marc shook his head. “It was all they could do to get me through undergrad. Stanford isn’t cheap, and the deal was that they’d pay for four years and that’s it.”

“Student loans?”

“Yeah. Fifty grand worth.”

“That’s a lot,” said Donny.

“Yeah. And the way they’ve got it structured, the repayment period can take up to twenty years...unless, of course, you pay them all off at once.” Another long pause. “I finished paying them all off last summer.”

The way Marc said that made the hair on the back of Donny’s neck prickle. “That’s ... fast,” he said. “How’d you do it?”

“You know one of the reasons I was interested in applying for a job with McKay-Gemini? It’s because you didn’t do extensive background checks, Donny.” Marc turned and gazed at Donny, his expression almost sorrowful.

The prickle became a full-fledged adrenalin rush. “Is there some reason we should have?” he said with a tremor, his mind racing to all sorts of conclusions about Marc, the finances of the company, and fifty thousand dollars plus interest.

“No,” Marc said, “at least not as far as the company’s finances are concerned. We’ve been through two independent audits since I started working there and you’ve seen the reports. Everything is where it should be.”

This gave Donny a small wave of relief, but Marc was still looking at him, his expression unchanged. “”

Marc turned back and stared at the fire for so long that Donny wondered if he was going to answer him at all. Finally Marc said calmly, “I was a hustler.”

“A hustler?”

“Yeah. Escort, rent boy, hooker, whatever you want to call it.” He looked at Donny for a second, then back at the flames. “I gave it up long before we met. In fact, I quit before I went to grad school. But for a little while I was in the trade. Nothing weird, kinky, or unsafe, and I’ve been tested. I’m clean.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I should have told you from the beginning.”

“So....” Donny began to ask, but Marc cut him off.

“You want to know how I got into it.”

“Yeah. I mean, I think....”

“You have a right to know. Not just as my business partner but as someone who’s spent a fair amount of time having sex with me.”


Marc rocked back and forth a little on the ottoman, the leather creaking. “Well, I never took a survey, but I don’t think guys get into it because that’s what they plan as their career choice. For me at least it was just something that...happened.”

When he arrived in Los Angeles the summer after graduating and a thin resume, he started working temp jobs as a bookkeeper, then got a job working for a storefront tax preparation company and finally, after a year, got an entry-level job at a financial management office for a talent agency. The pay was lousy with very few fringe benefits, and the chances for advancement were zilch unless he had an MBA, and that would take a few years and a lot of money. Then one day he was working on the finances for a guy named Chance who needed to shelter some income from taxes, and when he asked him about the source, he said admitted that he made it as an escort.

Chance was not an especially handsome young man; he was thin, of average height, but he had a boyish charm about him and, as he told Marc without any apparent sense of bragging, he had an above-average cock. He looked at Marc appraisingly and told him that if he ever wanted to try it out, he would probably do all right. Marc looked at Chance’s income and thought about the paycheck that barely paid his part of the rent on the two room apartment he was sharing with two other guys, the upkeep on his twelve year old Toyota with the oil leak and the bald tires, and the supply of Top Ramen and Cheerios that was his staple diet. An hour after he got off work that night Chance took him along to meet one of his clients, a middle-aged married man from Tucson who couldn’t believe his good fortune in finding that a handsome blond muscle boy would spend an evening with him in his suite at the Courtyard by Marriott. He told the man his name was Rusty and after an hour he came back to his apartment with two crisp fifty dollar bills. “That’s how it started. Chance got me a couple of other introductions, and....” He shrugged and looked at Donny. “Another career in Hollywood is launched.”

Donny had been staring at Marc the entire time, barely hearing what was being said. Instead he imagined Marc with strangers, going to their hotel rooms or homes or wherever, having sex, remembering what it was like the first, second and how many ever times after that he had slept with Marc, made love to him, never imagining or even wondering who had been there before him. Finally Donny snapped out of it. “But you said you stopped doing it before grad school.”

“Yeah. One of my regulars was a guy – named Guy, as a matter of fact – who was also in the financial business, and one night we got to talking about my future – not something you normally do with a trick – and he told me that if I ever expected to make it beyond H &R Block, I’d have to get out of the business; you can’t get a CPA with a criminal record, and it was only a matter of time before I’d get busted. He said he could get me a job working for a client of his that paid pretty well and I didn’t have to drop my pants. He said he’d be happy to write me a letter of recommendation to the admissions office for grad school. So he got me the job waiting tables at the Cantina, I got into grad school, took out the loans, know the rest.” Marc snorted a little. “But he still got me off that night and gave me a big tip, saying it was a going-out-of-business bonus.”

In spite of himself, Donny smiled a little, and Marc did too. They continued to sit in silence until Donny said, “But what about the letters?”

Marc nodded. “I’m coming to that.” He looked around the room. “Whataya say we crack open that bottle of wine in the fridge?”

They opened the wine and found a jar of Planter’s in the cupboard. Marc’s mood lightened a little after half a glass or so. “To tell you the honest truth, Donny, I was planning on quitting before Guy got me the job. I wasn’t very good at it.”

“What do you mean?” said Donny. He had never had any complaints about Marc in bed.

“Well, I was kinda picky about what I’d let my tricks do. No penetration ever, me or him. No water sports. Nothing involving leather or toys or shit like that. Just your basic vanilla j/o, b/j romp, and for that I’d get a hundred bucks and a tip. One guy had me do nothing but put on a tight red Speedo and flex for him. That seemed to be the only way he could get off.” He poured more wine. “There’re a lot of weird people out there,” he added, “and some guys want it all. I walked out on a few, and after a while the word got around that Rusty doesn’t play well with others.” He shrugged and took a handful of nuts. “Too bad.”

They went back to the living room, this time sitting on the couch. There was a folded afghan on one end and Marc wrapped it around his shoulders. “So anyway, I’m in grad school, I’m working at the tax place on weekends, and I’m hanging tray at the Cantina, making enough money to keep a roof over my head and get some tires on the car. The loans paid for the tuition and books and whatever else I didn’t make at my jobs.” He sipped the wine. “Anyway, about a month before I met you and Paul, I was waiting tables and who should come into the restaurant but one of my old clients.”


“It’s not really a big deal. It’s happened before; it’s gonna happen again.” Marc took a deep breath. “What was interesting was who was with him.” Marc looked at Donny, and he got that dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Who?” Donny said, bracing himself for Marc to tell him it was Mike. He held his breath and stared at the fire.

“Jeremy Dixon.”

Donny blinked. “Jeremy?”

Marc nodded.

“You mean he and Jeremy were...?”

“Oh, no. My old client is a casting director. He’s well-known in town, and he’s too cheap to buy his ‘date’ dinner,” Marc said with a tinge of scorn. “So his dinner with Jeremy was strictly business. But it was pretty clear when he saw me he recognized me, and he dropped a couple of hints that he was glad to see me again. He even called me by my real name.”

“How’d he know it?”

“We wore nametags, remember?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Anyway, I have a feeling that he told Jeremy about my previous career because when I brought them the check, Jeremy was staring at me, and he had this little grin like he knew exactly what I had done to earn the fifty bucks my former client added to the bill.”

Donny knew that look that Jeremy had given him. He had seen it across the table in the gazebo out at the Villa. “So what, did your client try to hook up with you?”

Marc shook his head. “No. I never heard from him again, and a couple of months later I went to work for Paul. But I did see Jeremy; he came over to the house a couple of times and once he was out at the Villa during one of those ‘straight’ weekends we have...y’know, like the cattle call. And he always looked like he knew. It began to creep me out.” Marc filled his glass again. The bottle was half-empty now. “I thought I was in the clear when I came to work for you guys. But then...” Marc let that hang out there for a while. “Along came Barry Kessler.”

“Your teacher.”

“Yeah, my teacher and one-time-only fuck-buddy. Jeremy was in Colorado – Aspen, I think – when the trial was going on last spring. He picked up the paper and read this little story in the back of the Rocky Mountain News about this teacher accused of having sex with his students, and he happens to read it the day after Marc Griffin of Los Angeles testified in Kessler’s defense, saying that he and the defendant had never engaged in any activity while Griffin was a student, blah, blah, blah. There’s nothing in the article that said that I was currently the CFO of McKay-Gemini, a software firm in Culver City, California, but Jeremy found that out, and he also found out that I had been known to spend the night with you, and that you had had a previous relationship with one Michael Lankowski, known better by his screen name of Lance Michaels, who was in negotiations with Jeremy Dixon to star in an upcoming film called Back Home Again written by Aaron White and directed by Milo Secor.” Marc took a long drink from his wineglass, hugged the afghan closer, and stared at the fire.

“How did he find out...?” Donny began, but Marc cut him off.

“I don’t know,” he said sharply. “He just did. This is a small town, Donny.”

“So then what?”

“He got in touch with me. He called me at the office. He invited me out to lunch. I didn’t know what it was about, but this was just about the time that Mike started putting together his company and Eric was investing in it and I figured he wanted to know some more about McKay-Gemini, or maybe he wanted to invest.” Marc suddenly got up from the couch, the blanket still wrapped around his shoulders. He paced in front of the fireplace. “So we went to lunch. At Spago, in fact. We had a table all to ourselves, away from the crowd. It started out all business, but it didn’t take him too long to get down to what he really wanted.” He stood in front of Donny, his back to the fireplace, and held open the blanket, striking a Chippendales pose that showed off the bulging pouch in his briefs. “He wanted me.”

“Jesus,” Donny whispered. He remembered that Mike had made a couple of allusions to Jeremy’s sex life, but he thought that was just adolescent grousing because he didn’t particularly like Jeremy and they’d had ego-clashes on the set. “So, Jeremy...”

“Yeah,” said Marc, closing the blanket around him and continuing to pace. “He’s a switch hitter. Probably something he picked up playing baseball,” he snorted. “Anyway, he said he knew about me, my background, my ‘previous occupation,’ as he called it, and he knew about you and me. He knew you and Mike had lived together for a while, had gone to Key West together, and that he had lived in your house after the earthquake. He knew everything, Donny.”

“So he was going to blackmail you?”

Marc chuckled hollowly. “Nothing so dramatic, Donny. This is reality, not Murder She Wrote. But yeah...he was just telling me that he wanted to have sex with me. He said it would be totally discreet; not just because he was seen as a straight sex symbol, but also for my sake; there were people – you, Greg, Eric, not to mention the board of directors – who would not like to find out that their CFO had once charged guys a hundred bucks for sex. I could lose my CPA. The California Board of Accountancy takes a real dim view of moral turpitude.”


“So I said no,” Marc replied with a tinge of exasperation. “I told him that you and Eric and Greg knew about my past and that I didn’t have sex with married men. At least not any more. Hope you don’t mind that I said you knew.”

“No, it's cool. I understand.”

“Yeah. So, anyway, he kinda shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Well, if you change your mind, we could have a great time.’ But I knew he wouldn’t let it go, and I just kept waiting for him to drop the bomb on someone. Every time I got a phone call from the auditors or got something from the state board, I’d get freaked out a little. When you asked me to move in with you...”

“That’s why you said no.”

“Yeah. I couldn’t chance it.” He looked at Donny ruefully. “It’s also why I’ve been...avoiding you other than at the office. It’s not that I didn’t want to, it’s just...”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Donny said. “Glad to know it wasn’t me.”

“No,” Marc said with a little grin that lasted only a second before getting serious again. “Then he started calling me at home; just to say hi, y’know. Once in a while he’d drop a little hint that he still wanted to fuck around, but he’d always end it by asking how business was. Just to remind me that he knew.”

“He really scared you,” said Donny.

“No shit. Then around the middle of July he started hinting that he was getting bored with making the movie; he wasn’t crazy about Milo’s directing and he and Aaron were having ‘issues’ about the script. I guess he figured that by screwing me he'd be happy, which would make Mike happy, which would keep you happy, yada yada.... Trying to get to me that way; the guilt trip. That went on for a while, then he started bitching about how long the days were and how nice it would be just to get away and relax – he knew a place in Tahoe where he could just hang out with all kinds of privacy. He invited me to go away with him for a weekend up there, but I told him I was slammed with work. He said, ‘You ought to tell that slave driver you work for that all work and no play makes Marc a horny dude,’ or something like that.”

“Real subtle.”

“Yeah, well, when that didn’t work he changed his tune. He tried to make it sound like I was his best friend. He told me that he didn’t have any ‘real friends’ out here; everyone just wanted a piece of him and he knew I was just a regular guy who, y’know, wasn’t caught up in all the Hollywood bullshit. Like what you and Mike had.”

“He knows Mike and I aren’t lovers any more, right?”

“Yeah,’re still friends. Anyway, he asked me out to lunch and apologized for all the sexual innuendo shit and said he was an asshole for acting like that, but he was under a lot of stress.” Marc took a deep breath. “And then...he asked me if I was happy working at McKay-Gemini.”

“He offered you a job?”

Marc nodded. “As his business manager. He said he’d double what you were paying me, free travel to a lot of good places, the usual Hollywood perks...”

“And you told him...”

Marc got a sly grin. “Well, I told him I’d consider it.”

Donny knew that was Marc’s polite way of putting someone off, but he had to make sure. “So you told him no, right?”

Marc’s grin vanished. “Well, Donny, I said I’d think about it. He said he was serious; he’d put together an offer and we’d talk.”

“Did you really consider it?”

“I’m getting to that.” He got up and started pacing again. “He invited me up to Tahoe for Labor Day. He was having a house party with his entourage; his agent D’Angelo, Christy the publicist and her husband, some kid – I forget his name – who was his gopher, and Neal, his business manager, and he wanted me to get to know them. I figured what the hell; it’s like one of those condo offers where you get to spend a weekend at some resort if you sit through their two-hour sales pitch. There wasn’t much going on; you and Danny were spending your last weekend together before he shipped out, so...”

“What the hell,” said Donny.

“Yeah. He flew us up there in this chartered Gulfstream, really laid it on thick with the chauffeured Suburbans and a chef on call at this huge log house right on the edge of the lake. The place was like a hotel, Donny; pool, hot tub, putting green, tennis court, sauna, fishing boat, in-home theatre, staff waiting on us hand and foot, food and booze all over the place. It was like a rustic version of the Villa.”

“So what’d you do there?”

“Just hung out. Took some hikes around the lake, went fishing, sat by the pool...”

“Was Miriam there?”

“His wife? No, she was on location. So anyway, everything was great, and then Sunday afternoon suddenly everybody else left. Jeremy sent them all back to L.A. He said he wanted to talk to me without all the distractions.” Marc continued pacing. “So....I waited for him to make the final job offer, whatever it was, so I could say no thanks, and that would be that. But he just said, ‘Y’know, we’ve got the whole place to ourselves; let’s just enjoy the peace and quiet, and when it come time to talk business, we’ll talk. Why don’t we go for a swim in the lake?’ So, we just kicked back and did nothing special. Went to the lake, came back, had a drink, talked about people we both knew from Paul’s place, and had a nice dinner by the pool. It was actually really relaxing, and frankly, Donny, he was just a regular guy when there weren’t all the other people hovering around. Then, after dinner, he says ‘Why don’t we take a dip in the hot tub?’ And I figured what the hell, y’know...? I mean, you gotta admit the guy’s good-looking, and...” he shrugged, “I was kinda curious. So...” Marc stopped pacing. He was standing in front of the fireplace again. “We got into the hot tub and... one thing led to another.” He shook his head wistfully. “The guy’s good. And I could tell that this was not the first time he’d done it; not by a long shot. For one thing, he shaves his balls.”

Donny winced. “Yeowch.”

“A lot of guys do it. They say it heightens the experience.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“So, anyway...” Marc was still staring into the fire. “The next day – Monday, Labor Day – it was back to business. He said that whatever my current salary was with the company, he’d double it. He said I’d have complete control over everything, including investments and properties, and as a signing bonus he’d pay off whatever I still owed on my student loans and lawyers from the Kessler case because – and he actually said this – most people would probably steal it from him in order to pay them off, so what the hell. Finally, he said, ‘I’m counting on your complete discretion on everything we’ve discussed this weekend,’ and he was making it very clear that he didn’t just mean the business offer.”

“So what did you tell him?”

“I told him that I was overwhelmed by his generous offer and that I’d really have to think seriously about it. After all, it wouldn’t be a sound business practice to jump at an offer without examining it thoroughly. He kept pressing me for an answer – for me to say yes – but somehow I managed to convince him that I needed to really think it over. So... we came back to L.A., he said he was looking forward to hearing from me, gave me a squeeze on the thigh, and ... after three nights of not being able to sleep, not to mention his occasional phone call including one where he said he was going out to Palm Springs and looked forward to meeting you, I wrote that first letter.”

There was a long silence except for the hiss of the flames in the fireplace. Then Donny leaned back and said softly, “Jesus, Marc.”

Marc looked at him sternly. “’Jesus, Marc’ what, Donny? That I went to Tahoe with him? That I slept with him? That I might have exposed me and you and the entire company to extortion by one of the biggest names in Hollywood?”

Donny shook his head in disbelief. “All of it, Marc. I mean...”

Marc cut him off, chopping the air with his hand. “Well, no shit, Donny. Don’t you think I don’t know that? I’m real sorry that I’m not Mr. Perfect, Donny. I’m real sorry that I never made a fucking mistake, and I’m real sorry that when a good-looking guy who’s been on the cover of People magazine as one of the sexiest men in America gets naked with me in a hot tub that I responded like any red-blooded horny twenty-something gay man would do.”

“I never said I was Mr. Perfect,” Donny replied quietly, “And I’m not judging you. I just don’t understand why you wrote the letters.”

“It’s very simple. The idea was that if you were getting ‘anonymous’ letters about me, that means that someone other than me and Jeremy knows what happened at Tahoe. I can tell him that you got the letter and that would kill the deal.”

“But he didn’t buy it.”

“No. He said that he gets that shit all the time. Some paparazzi were probably camped out across the lake with a telephoto lens and saw the whole gang at the house. But the hot tub’s behind a huge fence; they’d have to had a helicopter to see us. And he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Even after I made partner he was still raising the offer, which is why I wrote the second letter so that maybe this time it was from someone in his own circle. That didn’t work, either.”

Donny remembered the second letter. He’d thrown it out.

“So now...” Marc stopped, swallowed hard, and took a deep breath. “So now, he says that if I don’t accept the offer and come to work for him by the first of November, he’s going to start making calls.” Marc’s shoulders sagged. “That’s Tuesday.” He got up from the ottoman and sat on the couch next to Donny.

“What are you going to tell him?” said Donny.

“I don’t know. I was hoping...that you would tell me.”

Donny didn’t reply. He put his arm around Marc’s shoulder, and he leaned against him. Donny felt him start to tremble as if he was cold until he realized that Marc was silently crying, taking short gasps of air between the sobs.


Donny woke up slowly, the grey light coming in through the windows, replacing the darkness. The fireplace was still on, but the room was a little chilly. Marc was asleep, still leaning against him.

He slowly got up from the couch, letting Marc, still asleep, lie down, his head on the little side cushion. He covered him with the afghan and went upstairs to put on his pants. He desperately wanted a cigarette.

The morning was grey and cold, almost like a late fall morning in Ohio, his breath mingling with the smoke. He replayed the night before, trying to remember all that Marc had told him and not pass it off as some dream.

When he went back inside, Marc was sitting up. “Coffee?” Donny offered, and Marc nodded. He shrugged off the afghan and trudged upstairs. He came back down a few minutes later wearing sweatpants and a UCLA sweatshirt but still looking sleepy and hung over. They drank the coffee in silence.

They showered and dressed and drove into town for breakfast at the café. Marc was silent. Donny, for lack of anything better to do while waiting for their food to arrive, idly read through the business section of the Los Angeles Times that the previous customer had left behind.

He was halfway through a story about Universal Pictures in negotiation with an English company about distribution rights when he put the paper down.

“How long has Jeremy been in the business out here?” he asked.

“Ten, twelve years, I guess,” Marc said. “He started a couple of years out of college.”

“And he’s what, thirty now?”

“Something like that. So what?”

“So,” Donny said, “Chances are you’re not the first guy he’s played with in the hot tub.”

“Probably not.”


Marc sipped his coffee and made a face. “So what? Even if he has, he’s either bought them off or they’re too smart to say anything, knowing that Jeremy could ruin them, just like he’s about to ruin us.”

“Yeah, that’s if he knows who’s talking. But if it gets out there that Jeremy Dixon is gay and he can’t trace it back to you or me, he’s the one that’s gotta answer the questions on Entertainment Tonight, not you.”

The waitress stopped by to top off their coffee and bring the syrup pitcher for Donny’s pancakes.

“So how do we find out?” Marc asked. “If you start asking questions, he’s gonna know where it came from. And if you tell him that you know, he’s gonna put the bite on you by saying that he’s gonna out me as a former hustler. It has to come from someone that has no connection to you, me, McKay-Gemini, or even Mike. Do you know anyone like that? And even if you get some dirt on him, how are you going to let him know that in such a way that he knows that if he outs me, all the shit’s gonna fall on him, not me – or you?”

Donny thought for a moment, then grinned slowly. “The first part,” he said, “I think I can handle. And if that works, the second part will take care of itself.”

The waitress brought their food.

Marc had never been to Idyllwild before, so after breakfast they did a little sightseeing, driving up Saunders Meadow Road past the boarding school and then up to the trailhead that led to the top of Tahquitz Peak. The sun was out and the air was warm. Marc still looked dazed, but he gamely hiked along the trail until they decided they’d gone far enough and headed back to the house. Marc went upstairs and stretched out on his bed, barely kicking off his Nikes before falling asleep. Donny went out to the deck, sat on the wooden loveseat, and found out that the cell phone service in Idyllwild was pretty good.

After three rings Trish answered, sounding a little sleepy, but she was happy to hear from him, and she was surprised to hear where he was calling from. “Is Lance up there with you?”

“No,” Donny said. “Um, let me tell you why I’m calling....”

Twenty minutes later Donny hung up, his ear a little sore from the small earpiece on the cell phone. He watched as a couple of scrub jays fought over a pine cone, swooping and diving at each other. Then he pulled out his wallet, found the card Mike had left in one of the boxes of books, and made another call. He got no answer and no machine. He hung up, then dialed another number. This time the phone was answered on the first ring.

“Lieutenant Hollenbeck speaking.”

“Hey, twin.”


Trish called back later that afternoon. “When are you coming back to L.A.?”


“What time?”

“I dunno. Late afternoon, I guess.”

“Okay. Call me when you’re an hour away from your house and I’ll meet you there. Will Marc be with you?”

Donny glanced over at Marc, who was idly flipping through an old copy of Architectural Digest that a previous renter had left behind. “Uh, yeah, sure.”

“Even better.”

“What’ve you got?”

Trish chuckled. “You’ll see. ‘Bye.”

Marc glanced up. “She’s got something?”

Donny shrugged. “I guess.”

Marc stood up and stretched. “What could she find out about Jeremy that the National Enquirer hasn’t already dug up?”

“We’ll find out, I guess.”

Marc shook his head. “Gossip is one thing. It’s like saying that Tom Cruise is gay, but no one’s ever come up with the proof that he actually is. Just a lot of guys who want to bang him, but there’s no smoking to speak.”

Ten minutes later Gina called. “Where are you?”

“Up in Idyllwild.”

“Idyll-weird we used to call it. Anyway, wanted to let you know that the meeting on Monday’s off. Jeremy’s people have a conflict but they still want to meet, so we’re pushing it to Tuesday. That okay with you?”

“Sure, no problem.”

“Good. Oh, and they liked the script, but if you can outline the next three or four episodes, that’d be great. Nothing fancy; just a paragraph or two so they can get an idea of what’s coming up.”

“Uh, okay,” Donny replied, trying not to sound hesitant. He hadn’t really thought much about the following episodes, figuring that if it actually got on the air, they’d hire a real writer to do them.

“Bring them with you to the meeting. I’ll call you on Monday with the time and place.”

“Okay,” said Donny, and the line went dead. “Goodbye,” he said, after she hung up. He smirked at Marc. “The meeting with Jeremy’s postponed until Tuesday and they want outlines of the following episodes.”

“Kinda funny, isn’t it,” said Marc. “You’re about to go into business with him...and I’m trying to get out of doing just that.”

“It’s a little different,” said Donny.

“Yeah. You’re not gonna have to let him suck your dick.”

They went for a walk up the road, the same road Donny and Mike had hiked last winter. They went on in silence, finally arriving at the semi-circle of boulders that overlooked the valley. The road had been graded earlier in the summer and the tire tracks were smoothed over. It hadn’t rained in a while.

Marc stood at the edge of the overlook. The light breeze ruffled his hair and he smoothed it down absently. “So, what should I tell Eric and Greg?”

“The same thing you told me. Greg will understand, and Eric will be jealous.” Donny said.

Marc smiled a little, but said, “I’m not kidding.”

“Neither am I. I’m not convinced anything’s going to happen that will make you have to quit, and even if Jeremy Dixon does get the word out about your past, I can’t imagine that anyone in the company would care. I sure don’t. Shit, you know Eric and Greg started the business with drug money.”

Marc had heard the story about Greg’s basement hydroponics. “A couple of teenagers selling weed out of their basement. Not exactly the Cali Cartel.”

“Still. The papers could make it sound like they were the biggest pot dealers in the Southland, and that’s saying a lot. ‘Sides, what matters is now, Marc. How long has it been since you turned a trick?”

Marc shook his head ruefully. “I forget. It doesn’t matter. Jeremy will make it sound like I’m still doing it.”

Donny pulled out his cigarettes but then remembered the warning about wildfires, so he stuck the pack back in his pocket. “You got all freaked out last spring about the trial, too,” he reminded Marc. “You talked about quitting then.”

“Yeah, and look what happened. That’s how Jeremy came up with this.”

“Shit happens, Marc.”

He shook his head and kicked a small rock off the road. “Look, I know. And maybe your friend, whatshername, will come up with something. But still....”

They stood in silence for a while, listening to the wind in the trees. Then they heard a deep, loud crack like a thunderclap that echoed up the valley. There were no clouds, and they looked at each other puzzled until Marc suddenly grinned. “Earthquake,” he said. “We’re right on the De Anza Fault.”

They walked back down the road, kicking up little puffs of dust, Donny lost in thought, until a germ of an idea formed in his mind and grew slowly until they stepped up onto the porch. He must have been smiling because as he opened the door Marc looked at him quizzically and said, “What?”

“Nothing,” Donny said. “ did you pay off your student loans?”

It was Marc’s turn to smile. “I invested every dollar I made hustling in some good stocks and paid them off with the proceeds.”


“Well, I am an accountant.”


After dinner Marc went out to the deck and took the cover off the hot tub. He dipped his hand in the water. “Nice,” he said, pulling off his sneakers.

Donny got the towels from the upstairs linen closet, and they stripped and got in, settling in slowly, letting the warm water soak in. Donny wondered if Marc was using this as a prelude to sex, but he decided that if it was, he would let him take the lead. He sat on the other side of the tub, facing Marc.

“Perfect,” Marc sighed, closing his eyes and sliding down until the water came up to his chin. Donny agreed; the warm water felt good on his back, which was still sore from sleeping upright on the couch. He too closed his eyes and drifted, remembering the last time he had been here and what had happened with Mike, and he felt a tingle in his cock. He banished the thought by thinking back to his phone call to Danny and his twin’s concise advice.

Donny opened his eyes and looked at Marc, who was now sitting up, his arms resting on the edge of the tub, his skin now a light pink from the warm water.

“I’m not Mr. Perfect,” Donny said.

Marc looked at him with a quizzical smile. “Who said you were?”

“You did. Last night.”

Marc nodded. “Oh, that.” He waved one hand dismissively. “Forget it.”

“I smoke.”

“Not that much; what, a couple of packs a week? By the way, why do you smoke?”

“Picked it up when I was working construction.” Donny tried to remember back to when he started smoking for real; not just the times after playing with Craig. It was the summer after high school, building a garage. One of the other guys on the job offered him a Camel while they were having lunch and he bought a pack on the way home. His parents didn’t say much; his father still smoked a pipe.

“It makes working out kind of pointless, don’t you think?”

“I suppose,” Donny replied, glancing down at his sizable arms and chest, “ you said, I don’t smoke that much. But I still have my flaws.”

“You’ve never charged guys for sex, Donny. No one’s ever gonna blackmail you. That’s what I meant. And I’m sorry; I didn’t mean it to sound like it’s a bad thing to be a nice guy.” Marc gazed up at the stars. “Wow,” he whispered, barely audible over the bubbles, “I could stay here forever.” He was silent for a moment. “Well, not in the hot tub, but you get the idea.”


“Ever think about that?” Marc said. “You’ve got enough money that you wouldn’t have to work for a while.”

“We both do, now.”

“Yeah. But did you ever think about just...quitting? Doing nothing for the rest of your life, or just doing what you want?”

Donny shook his head. “I couldn’t,” he said. “I can’t imagine not...doing something.”

“The work ethic, huh?”

“I’d be bored,” Donny said. “Hell, I’m not even twenty-five years old. I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life just...I dunno, being ‘retired.’”

After a moment, Marc said, “Yeah, me neither. But this place...the trees, the mountains, the quiet.... I could see myself living here or some place like this, y’know, maybe setting up a little private practice, doing taxes and estate planning, a little bookkeeping just to keep me occupied.”

“Jesus, Marc,” Donny said lightly, “we just made you a partner and you’re already thinking about retirement.”

“Planning ahead.”

“By yourself or with someone?”

Marc smiled a little. “Well, we’ll see. What about you?”

Donny shrugged. “Same here.”

Marc smiled wistfully. “Yeah.”

After a half-hour or so, they went upstairs to take showers. Later, dressed in sweats and t-shirts, they drank the last of the wine sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace. “I needed this,” Marc said. “Thanks for inviting me.”

“Hey, any time.”

Marc leaned against him and Donny put his arm around his shoulder. A moment later Marc whispered something in Donny’s ear.

“A whole box,” Donny whispered back, and they went upstairs to the master suite.


They left early the next afternoon, dropping off the key at the real estate office, and then taking the road down the mountain through Hemet and Riverside. When they got to Ontario they stopped for gas and Donny called Trish.

“I’m at a Shell station in Ontario,” he told her.

“See you at your house,” she said.

“What did you find out?”

“You’ll see.”

“That’s what you said yesterday.”

“I know. Drive carefully.”

Marc hung up the gas hose. “What’d she say?”

“’You’ll see.’ Again.”

“That’s it?”


Marc paid the clerk for the gas. “What have you come up with?”

Donny smiled. “You read Hamlet in high school?”

“Sure,” replied Marc.

“Good,” said Donny, and then nodded at the clerk. “Pack of Camel filters and a Snickers, please.”

Chapter Guide



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