Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Small Town Boys - Chapter 46

So Popera

Instead of meeting in the CAA offices in Century City, the meeting was in a suite on the fortieth floor of a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles. Gina called and told him to meet her in the lobby at 2:45. Donny crossed the lobby at 2:44. He saw Gina in the atrium standing next to a towering ficus tree in a large white pot. She was dressed in a black suit with a white blouse that reminded Donny of the Susan Dey character in L.A. Law; all business but still attractive. She was talking on a cell phone. She nodded when she saw him and held up her hand. Donny stood a few feet away and waited. He had borrowed Marc’s attaché case for the script and the abstracts, and he absently tapped his fingers on the leather handle.

Gina finished the call and gave him a quick smile. “You look good,” she said.

“Thanks,” he replied. The jacket was comfortable, but the shirt still had a touch of starch in the collar, and he felt the prickle of a few errant hairs from the trim he’d gotten that morning when Marc mentioned that he was looking a little shaggy around the ears and sideburns.

“Here’s how it’s going to go,” Gina said. “It’s going to be us against Jeremy and his entourage. Count on D’Angelo to do all the talking. Let him; it’s what he gets paid for. There will be some other people there, including Jack Magahee, but he won’t say much, if anything. I’ll do all our talking. Even if they ask you something, just smile and be charming, but let me talk. That’s what I get paid for. Besides, they’re not expecting you to talk. Understand?”


“Now, they’ve all gotten copies of your script. Even Aaron.”

“Will he be there?”

“Yes. They will all say they love it. They will all indulge you, they’ll stroke your ego and make it sound like you’re the next David Mamet. Then they’ll ask you for your overall view of how you see the project and where it will go; what kind of legs will it have and so on. Did you draft up something for the next few episodes?”

“Uh, yeah,” Donny replied, hoping she wouldn’t ask to see them.

“Good,” she replied. “Then when that’s over they’ll proceed to rip it to shreds. Each person will have their issues. Don’t take it personally. This is the way it works. It’s all designed to get you to go along with what they want, and frankly, they’re going to get it, so you might as well play along.”

Donny smiled to himself. If things went the way he planned, they weren’t going to get that far.

“Then I’ll take over,” Gina continued, “and I’ll tell them that we’re prepared to take this project to someone else who’s ready to do it the way you’ve written it and that I’ve already had inquiries from three producers who are looking for projects for cable or indie films. Then we’ll shake hands and walk out.”


“Yeah. They’ll call me before the end of the day and we’ll work something out.”

“Okay. Do you really have three other producers lined up?”

Gina smiled.

They signed in at the security checkpoint, then took the express elevator. They were alone. His ears popped as they ascended. “How come we’re meeting them here?” Donny asked as the car came to a stop.

“Neutral territory,” she said. “This is Jack’s office.”

The elevator doors opened onto a reception area with a smooth grey marble floor and a softly-lit center area with a mahogany desk. On either side of the desk was a waiting area with identical wingback chairs in soft mauve and a low coffee table with magazines and a flower vase in the exact center. At each end of the reception area were tall wooden double doors. A series of abstract paintings hung on the wall behind the desk, and the walls themselves were a cream white with a subtle plastered surface trimmed in dark wood and wainscoting. A receptionist was seated at the desk behind a small computer screen. He was a young man dressed in GQ casual style, his hair cut fashionably short, and a single small diamond earring glittered from his left earlobe.

“Gina Roscoe,” Gina said softly as she approached the desk, as if the room itself made her lower her voice.

The receptionist nodded, and without acknowledging Donny, pushed a button on the large telephone console and repeated her name. He nodded, and then said, “Just a moment.” He went back to looking at the screen, and Gina led Donny to one of the waiting areas.

Donny looked around again. This was clearly the top of the hill in terms of the offices he’d seen, including those at some of the larger banks and stock firms he’d gone to with Greg when they were making presentations to potential investors. It was also very quiet. Except for the occasional purr of the phone and the soft “Magahee Associates...thank you,” when the receptionist answered, it was silent. Even the passing elevators and the “ping” of the bell were hushed. Compared to his own office, which, compared to the old place above the dry cleaners, was fairly quiet, this was like a tomb. Donny thought he’d go nuts if he worked here. Someone needed to turn on a radio or something.

The door at the other end opened and a woman stepped out. “Ms. Roscoe,” she said just above a whisper, and Gina and Donny followed her through the doors and down a long hallway. The silence continued as they passed open doors to offices where people were working as if they were in a monastery; even the office machines and printers were sedate. The carpet was plush and thick as if it was chosen for its ability to absorb the sound.

It occurred to Donny that the office reflected the man; in the two times he had met Jack Magahee he had barely spoken above a whisper, and it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that the most known unknown name in the film business had earned that reputation because he never raised his voice.

They came to another set of doors at the end of the hall. These opened into a conference room with a large expanse of glass overlooking downtown and west all the way to the ocean. The glass was tinted enough to keep the glare of the sun to a minimum and give the room soft but rich lighting, enhanced by the track lights in the ceiling. An assistant wheeled in a small bar cart with bottled water, glasses, and an ice bucket.

There were already several people seated around the large wooden rectangular conference table. Donny did not recognize any of them. They were all white men ranging in age from late twenties to mid-thirties; all dressed in very expensive, very conservative blue and grey business suits, reminding Donny of the auditing team from Ernst & Young that had paid several visits to McKay-Gemini last summer. They all stood up as Gina entered, and she went around the room shaking hands and murmuring soft greetings. She seemed to know them all. They ignored Donny until Gina said, “And this is Donald Hollenbeck.”

They all shook hands and murmured greetings. One of them whose name was Tom looked at Donny curiously and said, “Are you by chance any relation to the newsman from CBS who committed suicide in 1954?”

This was not the first time that someone had mentioned that there was another Donald Hollenbeck; it had come up in high school during a unit on the history of broadcasting in Social Studies class when they read about Edward R. Murrow and his battle with Senator Joseph McCarthy. That Donald Hollenbeck had the misfortune to say on the air that he supported Murrow, and had been hounded for it. Mr. Peters, the teacher, had asked Donny the same question. “No,” Donny replied now as he had then, “just a coincidence.”

“Oh,” said Tom with a tinge of disappointment.

They all sat down again and Gina indicated to Donny where he should sit; on the side of the table looking out over the city. As they were sitting down, Donny whispered to Gina, “Who are those guys?”

“They work for Jack.” she whispered back.

The door opened and five more people came in; two women wearing nearly identical business suits except one was tall with nearly white blonde hair. Her counterpart was shorter, full-figured, and wearing her hair in a tight bun. The tall one wore a touch of lipstick and was all business; the shorter one looked stern. The two men who followed were both dressed like all the other men in expensive suits, and in spite of his new clothes and haircut, Donny felt like he was the scruffy farm boy.

They were followed by another man who looked as if he was directly out of the pages of the Armani catalogue. He was compact and trim with handsome Latin features and perfectly coiffed hair that came to a slight pompadour. On any other man it might have looked overdone or even gay, but on him it looked good, and he strode into the room with an air that radiated confidence.

Gina smiled and said, “Hello, D’Angelo.”

Everyone stood up, and the introductions were made again, but before Donny could say anything, D’Angelo turned to him and clasped his hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Hollenbeck; it’s an honor to meet you in person.” Before Donny could reply he was on to the next person. His voice was louder than everyone else’s but not alarmingly so, and as he went around the table shaking hands and greeting the men from Jack’s office, the mood lightened a little.

Out of the corner of his eye Donny noticed two other men slip into the conference room; Jack Magahee followed by Aaron. They stood off to one side, Aaron nervously picking at his suit coat. After a moment Jack said quietly, “Why don’t we all have a seat, shall we?” and everyone immediately sat down, leaving one chair vacant directly across from Donny. An expectant silence settled over the room and a moment later Jeremy entered, and his entourage immediately leapt up, followed by the rest, and finally Donny. He thought, “Well, you gotta hand it to him. He knows how to make an entrance.”

Even though he was wearing Hollywood casual – an open-necked shirt, a light tan jacket, pressed jeans and moccasins without socks – he made it look like he was still the sharpest-dressed person in the room. He greeted everyone warmly, remembered names, patted the men on the shoulder as if he was their closest friend and was politely flirtatious to the ladies, saving his dimpled grin for them that made even the stern one crack a smile. But he saved his warmest greeting for Donny, clasping his hand with both of his and giving him a wink that suggested they were on equal terms. “Great to see you again,” he said, then took his chair, knowing the one in the middle was meant for him. D’Angelo passed him a leather portfolio, and he flipped it open, revealing the title page of Donny’s script. He steepled his fingers and looked directly at Donny.

“Well, I have to say I’m very impressed, Don. You rose to the challenge admirably. This is a terrific script, and I see where your ideas really pan out.” He shrugged a little. “There are a couple of little rough spots, but I don’t see anything that a little touch-up by Aaron couldn’t smooth over, am I right?” he said, glancing over at Aaron, who was seated on the far end of the table by the corner.

“Uh, no,” coughed Aaron, shaking his head. “Just a little here and there.”

“Right,” continued Jeremy. He pulled out a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and put them on, flipping through the pages of the script. “Like here, on page twenty-one where you introduce Bobby; he’s the last one we meet, but...”

“Excuse me,” said Jack, his voice barely above a whisper, but loud enough that everyone heard it, and they all froze. Jeremy looked at him and smiled expectantly. “I don’t mean to interrupt you, Jeremy, but this meeting is for the purposes of getting acquainted.” He chuckled a little; it was almost silent. “So before we get too far into this, let’s introduce ourselves.”

Jeremy’s smiled became fixed. “Oh, yeah, I’m sorry.” He waved his hand diffidently. “Of course.”

“Good. I’m Jack Magahee,” he said, nodding at the woman sitting next to him, and they went around the room and came back to Jack. “Now, I also wanted to make sure of where we all stand here.” He glanced at Donny, gave off a tiny grin that lasted a split-second, then fixed his gaze on Jeremy. “We’re here to discuss the project that Don has come up with and that we’re all looking forward to having this pilot into production very soon. I’m sure we all agree that it’s a worthwhile effort and that it has our full support.” Heads nodded, some more vigorously than others. Jack tapped his copy of the script. “There will be plenty of time between now and the beginning of production to discuss the little things. Am I right?” More head nodding, and someone said, “Right.” Jack was still looking at Jeremy. “So,” he continued, “let’s have Don review his concept and then if there are any questions, we can discuss them. All right?” That got a murmur of consensus. Jack looked at Donny and gestured slightly. “Don?”

Gina whispered, “Okay, you’re on. Make it short and sweet.”

Donny had a sudden flashback to the night at Paul’s house where Aaron had presented his concept for Back Home Again and how this mousey, hesitant, and stammering little man had suddenly switched on the confident charm in front of the audience of Hollywood moguls and investors. Maybe it was the lawyer in him, or maybe it was because it was the film was something he believed in. He took a quick look around the room, down at the script in front of him, and then at Jeremy, who was gazing at him with that mixture of charm and veiled contempt that he’d seen before...in people like Bryce, who had stared him down over lunch and told him that he was a nobody, or Marty, who had fished three hundred dollars out of his wallet to get him to go to a motel and get out of Mike’s life, or Stan Tasker, who bullied him until the summer of sophomore year when Donny’s suddenly-muscular physique and tackling abilities took the air out of him at the two-a-day practices for varsity football. He remembered holding Marc in front of the fireplace in the house in Idyllwild, and he remembered what Danny had said, his voice coming through the cell phone loud and clear: “You can take him, twin.” A calmness spread over him as he looked around the table, like the feeling that comes when a fever breaks. “Well, all right,” he said, and began.

There was a short silence when he finished, then Jack nodded and said, “Thank you, Don,” and everyone else except Jeremy took their cue and nodded and murmured. Gina whispered, “Good job.”

D’Angelo was the first one to speak. He cleared his throat and gave Donny a dazzling smile. “I think it’s a great idea and I’m sure we all agree that it has great potential.” He paused as everyone in his entourage nodded and murmured agreement. “But don’t you think, Don, that this idea is more suited for something like cable – HBO or Showtime, perhaps? Doing a show about four gay men living together might be a little too edgy for the networks. I’m just saying that perhaps the country isn’t quite ready for this on the same networks that have Touched by an Angel.”

Gina rested her hand on Donny’s arm, her signal for him to just nod, smile, and let her answer. Donny took the hint and he bobbed his head in a sign of tacit agreement and then glanced at Gina. She nodded and was about to speak when Jack said, “Well, D’Angelo, to quote Lanford Wilson, ‘anything’s possible with a little taste and charm.’”

Everyone nodded and murmured assertively, and Donny whispered to Gina, “Who’s Landford Wilson?”

She shook her head almost imperceptibly and whispered back, “I don’t know. Just listen.”

D’Angelo continued, “I agree, Jack, but look what happened when PBS ran Tales of the City. The Jesus-freaks went nuts and they threatened to cut off federal funding for PBS. Rumor has it that they’re going to finish out the series on cable. So unless you want S and P jumping up your ass every time one of these characters has a date, you’re better off shopping this to cable, am I right?”

Donny whispered to Gina, “S and P?”

“Standards and Practices. The network censors.”


“And what about advertisers?” D’Angelo asked. “Who’s going to want to associate their cars or soup or deodorant with a program about gay people? Might be a hard sell. That’s why Aaron’s approach as a sitcom would be an easier sell.” He looked at Donny and cocked an eyebrow. “You’ll also make a lot more money on the networks then on cable. A lot more exposure, too.”

Everyone nodded and murmured assertively and Donny wondered if that was part of their job description.

“I also wonder,” Jeremy said, looking around the table, then fixing his gaze with the dazzling smile on Donny, “if there’s enough conflict here to sustain a weekly series. There’s gotta be more to it than just the gimmick of four gay guys sharing a house in Santa Monica. It’ll need something that will grab the viewer’s attention every week. That’s what makes soap operas like this work, y’know.” He shrugged. “So I’d like to know what’s next. What happens once we get through the gimmick?” He sat back and looked around the room. Everyone nodded.

Donny looked back at Jeremy; the smile was almost a smirk, and he tried hard not to respond in kind. He looked down at the abstracts that he’d typed up, then at Jack, who nodded, and Gina, who whispered, “Go for it.”

“I’ve thought about that,” he said, “and I’ve come up with some ideas.” His throat suddenly went dry and he took a sip of water, then another. Everyone was waiting expectantly, and he caught a glimpse of Aaron, far away at the end of the table, wiping his glasses with a cocktail napkin. “I thought we might focus on one character at a time in each of the first few episodes so we got to see them through their eyes and get to know them better.” He paused, and some people, including Jack, nodded their assent. He took another sip of water. “So I thought we might have an episode where Bobby gets a job working at a film studio as an assistant or as a, y’know, clerk or something working in finances. While he’s there he meets a well-known celebrity named Stan Towers who takes an interest in him, and asks him to go out to dinner...all very above-board and, y’know, normal, but pretty soon it becomes obvious that Stan, who’s about Bobby’s age but has a reputation as a straight heartthrob, is interested in more than just being friends, and he puts the make on Bobby.” Donny was now staring down at the papers in front of him. “At first Bobby resists because he doesn’t want to get involved with a married man who’s in the closet, but Stan tells Bobby that unless he sleeps with him, he’s going to tell the studio that Bobby was stalking him and he’ll get fired and maybe arrested. Bobby is about to go to sleep with Stan when he finds out from a friend at the studio that Stan once made a gay porno movie and he has the film to prove it. He tells Stan that if he’ll leave him alone, he’ll promise never to reveal his secret. The last scene is where Stan is on the red carpet at the Oscars with his lovely wife on his arm and People magazine has voted him the sexiest man alive for another year, and we cut to Bobby being interviewed for a new job somewhere else.”

Donny closed the folder and looked up, sweat prickling under his arms, his throat still dry. The entire room was stonily silent, even more so than ever. No one was moving or even, it seemed, breathing. The only sound was the faint stir of air through the ventilation vent in the ceiling and far, far away, the burr-burr of a muffled telephone ringing in another office. Jeremy was staring at him, his expression fixed in a narrow glare, his lips almost gone, his jaw clenched to the point that small red spots were appearing where the dimples normally were. His hands were on top of the table, drawn tight into fists, the knuckles almost white. Donny took a sip of water, the sound of the ice clinking in the glass loudly enough to rattle the windows. He looked down at the folder, opened it, and said, “Then there’s an episode where Eric’s twin brother, a lieutenant in the Air Force, comes to visit....”

Jeremy interrupted, his voice barely above a whisper, “Jack, may I speak to you in your office? Alone.”

“Certainly,” said Jack calmly. He rose from the table and opened the side door. Jeremy got up, glared at Donny, and almost said something until D’Angelo touched his sleeve. He followed Jack out the door, and the door latch clicked behind them.

The room suddenly breathed again, and the little noises – the creak of a chair, the rustle of paper, the drumming of fingers – came back. Everyone was trying hard not to look at anyone else. Donny heard Aaron cough once, then again, and he slurped half a glass of water.

“Jesus,” whispered Gina so that only Donny could hear her.

A full five minutes went by. Donny found himself staring out the window and saw that if he looked past Jeremy’s empty chair he could see the tall buildings in Century City, and over D’Angleo’s shoulder he could see airliners lining up to land at LAX, their anti-collision lights twinkling through the heat and smog. But no one else moved, and they remained so until the side door opened and Jeremy came in, followed by Jack.

“I’d like a few moments alone with Don, please,” Jeremy said, inclining his head to D’Angelo in a signal to get everyone out. D’Angelo herded his group out the main door, followed by the others. The door closed behind them, leaving just Donny, Gina, Jack, and Jeremy.

“Everyone,” said Jeremy tightly.

“Oh, no you don’t,” began Gina, but Jack held up a hand. “It’s all right, Gina. I promise,” he said. He held open the side door for her and she turned to Donny. She started to say something, thought better of it, then got up and left the room. Jack followed her and they were alone.

Jeremy went to the window and turned his back on Donny, who was still sitting. Finally he let out a long sigh of exasperation and turned around. His expression had relaxed; his eyes were wide open now and almost sparkling. “I just told Jack that I’m not going to work on your little project, Don.”

“Yeah, I kinda figured that out.”

Jeremy nodded and stood behind a chair, drumming his fingers on the top of the back, making a staccato sound. “Yeah. So.” He paused, glanced up at the ceiling, and then said, “So what do you want?”

Donny took his time standing up, letting Jeremy watch as he picked up the folders and script and put them back in Marc’s attaché case. “What do I want?” he replied.

“Yeah. I’ve been down this road a lot, Don. You guys always want something. They never get it, but they always ask.”

Donny shook his head. “Very simple. Leave Marc alone.”

Jeremy raised his eyebrows. “Oh, so he told you. I guessed as much.” He shrugged. “Yeah, okay. No big deal. That’s it?”

“Pretty much,” said Donny, closing the attaché. “Oh, yeah,” he said, almost as an afterthought, “one more thing.”

Jeremy shook his head. “Yeah, there’s always ‘one more thing.’ Okay, what is it?”

“Mike’s movie. Get it released or at least get it out there so that it doesn’t go straight to video. Let him earn something back from it; him and his backers,” Donny said, remembering Eric’s investment as well.

Jeremy spread his hands. “Hey, I have no control over it. I’m not in charge of who releases what out there.”

“Bullshit,” replied Donny simply. “You can do it.”

“And if I can’t?”

Donny smiled grimly. “Let’s not think about that, because we both know you can.”

Donny watched Jeremy, and for the first time there was a glimmer of what Donny took to be respect in his expression, as if he was on equal terms. But if vanished quickly, and Jeremy pursed his lips. “Yeah, right,” he said skeptically, and turned to look out the window. Donny took that to mean the meeting was over. He picked up the attaché and started for the doors.

“Where is it?” Jeremy said quietly without turning around. Donny knew what he meant.

“Locked away in a safe place where no one can find it, and that’s where it’s going to stay.”

Donny was about to open the door when Jeremy said, “You’ve seen it or just heard about it?”

“Seen it. Someday you’ll have to tell me about ‘Rubythroat.’”

Jeremy chuckled tonelessly. “How do I know you won’t sell it to the highest bidder?”

“Because you know I’m not that kind of guy, Jeremy.”

Jeremy turned around. “Yeah, I guess so.” He smiled wanly. “That’s why you’ll never make it in this town, Donny.”

It was Donny’s turn to smile. He looked out the window at the distant glass towers in Century City, knowing exactly where his office was and the work that was piled up waiting for him when he got back, including the meeting later in the week with three bidders for the new subcontract to take over tech support and the review of the backorders for Gemini Control. He laughed softly.

“I already have,” he said and opened the door.

Gina was waiting for him in the reception area next to the elevator. She looked at him and deadpanned, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

“He’s off the project,” Donny said simply.

Gina pursed her lips and pushed the button. A moment later the doors slid open silently. She waited until they closed and they began their descent before she spoke. “That was either the ballsiest thing I’ve ever seen or the stupidest. I haven’t decided which.”

Donny didn’t reply. He watched the numbers counting down to “L” on the little LED display over the door.

“You’re not going to tell me what that was all about, are you,” Gina said as the doors opened.

Donny shook his head. “No, I’m not.” He started across the lobby to the door to the parking garage. Gina caught up with him.

“Look,” she said, “do you have any idea how many people there who have been literally working themselves to death to get what you just had? How many guys are slaving away in their little tiny apartments off Hollywood and Vine writing some script that they hope with their last dime from Mom and Dad back in Buttfuck, Montana will get them into see someone like me, to say nothing of someone like Jeremy Dixon or Jack Magahee? You just had their biggest wet dream come true, Don, and you used it... to what? Embarrass one of the biggest stars in Hollywood in front of his manager, his agent, and all those other people? What the hell for?”

“Look,” Donny said, trying to keep his voice low, “I did what you asked. I came up with some ideas for the following episodes. Jeremy didn’t like them.”

At that moment Jeremy and his entourage crossed the lobby and went out the front door. If he saw Gina and Donny he didn’t acknowledge them. Donny looked back at Gina. “As for your guilt trip about all those poor guys slaving away over their scripts, I’m sorry, but that’s their problem, not mine. I never planned on this in the first place, and as far as I’m concerned, I really don’t give a shit what happens.”

Gina glared at him. “So what do you need me for?”

Donny shrugged. “You tell me. You want to fire me or whatever, that’s fine. If you find someone who wants to make Small Town Boys, that’s fine, too.” He looked at his watch. It was almost four. “I have a real job to get back to, Gina; I’ve already spent too much time working on something that so far hasn’t earned me a dime.”

“Me too,” she said. “Look, I’ll see what I can do about smoothing things over with D’Angelo.”

Donny spread his arms, the attaché case dangling from his right hand like an apple on a tree branch. “Whatever, Gina. I did....” He almost said “I did what I had to do,” but thought better of it. “I did what you asked me to,” he said. He looked at his watch again. “I need to get back to work.”

“Well, I need to get back to clients that actually earn me a living,” Gina said as she pulled out her cell phone. Donny gave her a wan smile then turned and went through the door into the garage.

He was at a stoplight on Wilshire re-running the meeting in his head and remembering the look on Jeremy’s face when he noticed the pick-up truck in the lane next to him. It looked familiar, and he realized with a jolt that it was his old truck, the one he’d bought off the used car lot from Kistler Ford in Toledo. It looked much the same as it had when he’d last seen it at the dealership where he’d bought the Mustang, including the little dent in top of the left front wheel where he’d misjudged the turning radius and caught a little bit of a phone pole on a job site. The back was filled with pool cleaning equipment: brushes, hoses, and buckets of chemicals. The driver was a young Mexican guy, his ethnicity made apparent by the Mexican flag dangling from the rear view mirror. He was listening to the radio, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, watching the light. He glanced over and saw Donny looking at him. He nodded, smiled a little, and looked back at the light, which then changed. Donny let the truck pull ahead of him and he followed it for a couple of blocks before it turned onto a side street. At the next stoplight Donny pulled out his cell phone and called Danny.

He made it back to the office by four-thirty. The end-of-year evaluation folders for staff and administration were stacked neatly in his in-box, and he smiled at the reminder that he did have a real job. He pulled off his jacket and tie and draped them over a chair.

Marc tapped on the door, came in, and closed it behind him. “How’d it go?” he asked casually, but his expression was tense.

Donny emptied the attaché case, and handed it back to him. “Come on over to my place for dinner tonight and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Marc scowled. “C’mon, Donny.”

“Okay. It’s over.”

“It is?”

“Yeah, all of it; Jeremy, Small Town Boys, and probably my career as an executive producer along with it.” He picked up the folder on top of the stack and grinned at Marc.

“What about...?”

Donny looked at Marc and smiled. “Like I said. It’s over. So, we’re on for dinner?”


It was a warm night for November. Donny swam ten laps before climbing out of the pool and toweling off. He pulled on his sweats and tank-top and answered the phone on the second ring. It was Trish.

“How’d it go?” she asked, sounding like she already knew.

“Good,” said Donny. “Jeremy’s off the project, but he’s going to leave Marc alone.”

“Fair trade,” she said.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“What did Marc say when you told him?”

“He was relieved.” He looked into the house through the open door to the kitchen where Marc was slicing up some cheese to make nachos.

“I’ll bet. Hey, I’m in town,” said Trish. “Can I stop by for just a moment?”

Donny shrugged. “Sure.”

“Okay. Oh, I’ve got a friend with me. That okay?”

“Fine. Should I open up the wine?”

Trish laughed. “We’ll bring our own.”

“Even better.”

He told Marc, then went and changed into jeans and a polo shirt. Ten minutes later the doorbell rang. It was Trish, holding up a bottle of champagne. Behind her stood Jack Magahee.

Donny showed them into the living room, staring open-mouthed at Trish. She just smiled back, handed him the champagne, and said, “Here put this in fridge.”

“How do you...” he started, but she put her fingers to his lips. “Just chill, Donny. I’ll explain everything.” She sniffed. “Mmm, I smell nachos.”

They sat on the patio. Jack had introduced himself to Marc by saying that he was happy to finally meet him. “I’ve heard a lot about you,” he said, “and all of it very good.”

Marc blushed a little. “Thanks. That’s nice to hear, finally.”

“I trust Don,” Jack said. “Or may I call you Donny?”

“Sure,” said Donny. He watched as Jack settled into the chair by the table. He seemed as quiet and reserved as he had that afternoon, but there was now brightness in his eyes, and although his voice was still soft, it had lost the somber tone that forced everyone else to be respectfully quiet as well.

“Actually, maybe I should call you Will...as in Shakespeare,” Jack said sagely. “‘The play’s the thing...’”

“‘Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,’” said Donny with a little smirk.

Trish looked puzzled. “I don’t get it.”

Jack chuckled softly. “You should have paid more attention in high school English, Trish. Hamlet, Act Two. Donny used that little trick today on Jeremy. Worked, too.”

“So start from the beginning,” Trish said. “I want to hear all the gory details.”

Donny let Jack tell the story about the meeting and then Donny told them about his own meeting with Jeremy afterwards.

“So your idea for the upcoming episode about the celebrity in the closet with the notorious past was a little too close to home for Jeremy,” Trish said with a smile of satisfaction.

“Oh, yeah,” said Donny, grinning. “He knew that I knew. I even asked him what ‘Rubythroat’ meant.”

“You didn’t,” gaped Trish.

“You betcha. Hey, if I’m gonna to take him down, I’m gonna go all the way,” he said.

“More than that,” said Jack. “Jeremy knows that if that tape ever gets out, he’ll be selling real estate in Tarzana.”

“So how many people really know about it?” asked Marc.

“Well,” said Jack, “a lot of people have heard rumors, but very few people have actually seen it. You belong to a very select group of people who know about it.” He looked at Marc and Donny. “It took a lot of guts to take him on. If it had gone the other way, he could have made your lives miserable.”

Donny thought back to the night in front of the fireplace, holding Marc as he wept uncontrollably. “He already had.”

“Mmm,” Jack said pensively, nodding at Marc. “You’re not the first person he’s done that to, and I daresay he had it coming.” He smiled a little at his own joke, and then said, “I think you went about it in the right way, Donny. Very few people in the room knew exactly what you were talking about, so when the word gets out that Jeremy’s not going to be in it, the story will be ‘creative differences.’ That was a wise move not to out Jeremy in public, and if you’re as smart as I think you are you’ll keep it to that way. Sometimes it’s a good idea not to tell people everything that you know. Knowledge is power, and in this case, nothing is gained by spreading it around. Jeremy will respect you a lot more if he knows you’ve got that power, and he can still swing pretty big bat in this town.”

“So to speak,” Marc said dryly.

“I take it you knew,” Donny said. “About the movie.”

Jack nodded. “Who do you think told Trish and Duncan where to find it?”

Trish lit a cigarette. “So popera,” she said.


“It’s all a big soap opera,” she said, “this whole Hollywood scene. If you put it in your show no one would believe it.”

“Well, you can forget about it,” Donny said. He slouched in his chair and lit a cigarette. “It was sorta fun while it lasted. I don’t know why I ever thought it would work.”

“D’Angelo did have a good point, Donny,” said Jack. “Doing the show your way means that a network like NBC won’t touch it. Doing it as a sitcom takes the danger out of it; if you can laugh at the stereotypes, they’re not a threat. Seeing limp-wristed fairies doesn’t make people nervous. The show would have been a hit if you’d gone along with Aaron’s approach.” Jack took a chip and munched it thoughtfully. “Or should I say Jeremy’s approach. He was the one who told Aaron to turn it into Designing Gays.”

Donny shook his head. “Damn,” he said disappointedly, “I thought Aaron was on my side.”

Jack held up his hand. “Don’t be too hard on Aaron. He was only doing what he thought was right and what he thought would get the show on the air. You can’t blame him for wanting it to succeed, and since Jeremy was going to be the star, it made sense to him.” Jack leaned forward a little. “Look, Donny, I agree with you. It’s long past time that the networks stopped treating gays like they did blacks fifty years ago; as tokens or as the butt of jokes. But these things take time, and it’s not easy to be a groundbreaker.” Jack smiled; it was a crooked little grin. “But if you’re still willing to try, I’m with you.”

“Gina’s pissed at me. I think she’s gonna fire me.”

“I’ll talk to her.”

“Without a star,” Trish said, “what chance has it got?”

“There are plenty of other actors who would be happy to take it on,” Jack said.

“Name one,” said Donny.

“How about Lance Michaels?”

Donny sat up straight in his chair. “You’re kidding.”

“I spoke to his agent about an hour ago. He’s sending Lance your script, and unless there’s some reason that he doesn’t want the part, he’s going to play Bobby. I also spoke to the agents for...” Jack reeled off the names of five or six well-known young actors, “and they’ll be coming in for readings next week. Now that Jeremy’s out, Aaron will work with you; I guarantee it. We’ll shoot the pilot after Christmas, and this time next year it will be on one of the cable channels. A major one, not some little rinky-dink start-up.” Jack looked at Trish. “So what did you do with that bottle of champagne? I’d say it’s time to drink a toast to Small Town Boys.”

Trish and Jack left about an hour later. As Trish was picking up her purse Donny took her aside and said, “Okay, so how do you know Jack Magahee? Are you two...?”

Trish said innocently. “You mean you don’t know? He’s my mom’s brother.”

“So he’s your...?”

“My uncle Jack.”

Jack smiled. “Like I said, Donny; you don’t tell everything you know. C’mon, Trish; I’m driving.” Jack had not touched the champagne.

Later that night in the dark in Donny’s bedroom, Marc said quietly, “You think it’s really over?”

“You mean all this shit with Jeremy?”


“I sure hope so,” Donny replied, getting out of bed to find his boxers. “But I’m still not gonna shave my balls.”

Marc laughed, and it was a good, strong laugh from him; the first one Donny had heard in months.

Chapter Guide