Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Small Town Boys - Chapter 49

Chapter Guide

The Next Big Thing

Eleven and a half hours after leaving the Gateway, Donny pulled into his driveway. He had driven all the way from Needles and Mike had been asleep since Barstow. Donny nudged him. “We’re home.”

Art, the neighbor from across the street, had collected his mail and put it in a bundle inside the screen door; it was mostly bills and grocery coupons. The light on the phone machine was blinking. There were four messages; three hang-ups and one from Trish. “Donny, it’s Trish. Call me when you get back. Bye.” He dialed her number, got her machine, and said, “It’s Donny. Phone tag, and you’re it.”

They ordered a pizza and went to bed, Mike taking the guest room. The next morning he left before seven to meet with Jason. “I’ll call you this afternoon,” he said as he gave Donny a quick hug. “Thanks for everything.”

“No problem.”

“I mean it. It was… really sweet of you.”

“Any time. You spending tonight here?”

“If I can. The condo might not be ready yet.”

“Sure. See you after work, then.”

“Just like old times.”


Donny got to the office before anyone else. Lily had piled the mail on his desk; mostly applications for the warehouse job. He went through them quickly, sorting the possibilities from the no-chances until he heard a knock on the door. It was Marc.

“Hey,” he said, “how was it?”

“Had a good time.”

“How’s Mike?”

“Fine. Meeting with his agent as we speak.”

They went to the break room and waited for the coffee maker to finish. Marc looked like he’d gotten some sun and he’d gotten his hair cut practically down to a crew cut. He looked preoccupied, so Donny asked, “So how was your holiday?”

“Nothing special,” Marc said as he rinsed out his mug. “Mom had some friends over, I hung out with some of them, and…oh, yeah, I took Monday as a personal day ‘cause I decided not to fight the Sunday night traffic. Slip’s on your desk.”

“Okay,” Donny replied, catching a hint of something forced in Marc’s voice. “I’ll find it under all the rest of the crap that’s piled up.” He sipped his coffee. “So, I got a call from Eric the other night. What’s goin’ on?”

Marc put a finger over his lips. “I’m sworn to secrecy, and even what he’s told me doesn’t tell me a lot. We’ll find out soon enough, I guess, at the pep rally.”

That was what Greg was calling this year’s annual staff get-together. Eric had driven down with the staff from Palo Alto on Monday and put them up at a nearby hotel. The annual party for the whole company, including wives and children, was going to be held there, and then the board meeting would be held on Friday.

Marc poured his coffee slowly, then looked at Donny. “Look, um…” he said, but before he could say anything more, Margaret came in with a watering can. She said good morning, asked Donny about his trip and told them about her weekend with relatives, all while she bustled around filling the watering can with plant food and pouring a cup of coffee. Donny looked at Marc at one point during all of this; he was grinning tightly and sipping his coffee. The rest of the office staff drifted in and Donny went back to his office where Lily presented him with a stack of phone slips. Two were from Gina, and one was from Trish.

A moment later Eric and Greg came in together. Eric strode into Donny’s office, full of energy and grinning like he’d just won the lottery. He clapped him on the shoulder. “Donny! Great to see you! How was Michigan?”

“Good,” Donny, almost laughing himself.

“Great. Listen, we gotta talk. I’ll call you in a few.”

“Talk about what?”

Eric grinned broadly. “You’ll see.”

“Sure…” He was going to ask more, but Eric was already gone. He could hear him talking excitedly to someone in the hall, then his door closed.

He spent the next twenty minutes returning phone calls. He put the notes from Gina and Trish aside, deciding that he would call them back over lunch or after work. He was down to the last three when the intercom buzzed. “C’mon in,” said Eric, hanging up before Donny could reply. He went into Eric’s office. “Close the door,” Eric said.

Fifteen minutes later Eric opened the door and Donny went back to his desk. He stared out the window for a good five minutes before Lily buzzed him and said the meeting was starting.

The whole software development team was gathered in the war room. Sky, in his trademark Hawaiian shirt, looked a little greyer, but the life in Palo Alto obviously agreed with him; he’d lost some weight and even added a little muscle. Brany, who was in the last weeks of his doctoral program, looked like he hadn’t slept for a while, but he was smiling and sipping coffee as if coming into the office actually was a break for him. Steve and Diego were hunched over a notepad and discussing something in geekspeak, and Ellie, who had just returned from two weeks of training in Seattle, came over to Donny and asked him if Danny was coming to L.A. for Christmas. “Last I heard, yeah,” he told her, and wondered to himself why she cared.

Eric rapped on the table. “Where’s Rudy?”

Diego looked puzzled. “Last I saw he was having breakfast at the hotel. He said he’d get a cab and come by himself.”

Sky chuckled. “Good luck. You know how directionally challenged he is.”

Eric shook his head. “I shoulda picked him up myself.” He grabbed a phone and dialed a number but before it rang through the door opened and Rudy came in, looking a little flustered but trying not to look it.

It was the first time Donny had seen him, but Eric’s one-time description wasn’t far off: “Spock – the Teenage Years.” He was tall and thin with a bowl-like haircut, wispy pointed sideburns, a sharp nose, and prominent ears. He was dressed in a plain black suit with a plain white shirt underneath and a grey tie. His fingers were long and thin, and he moved slowly and deliberately, taking a seat at the end of the table. He opened a portfolio and took a pen out of his coat pocket, examining it carefully before setting it down on the pad and folding his hands in front of him. His face was expressionless as he looked around the room, his dark eyes taking everyone in as Eric introduced him. His eyes rested on Donny for a moment, and he returned the look with a nod. Rudy nodded back, and looked away.

Eric grinned a little and said, “Okay, so…here’s the plan.”


“Three months,” repeated Donny, sipping his beer.

“That’s the plan,” said Eric. “First week of April we finish it up here, smoke test it, and then on June 1 we make the presentation, seal the deal and….” he shrugged blithely, “we’re off on a whole new adventure.”

They were sitting on his patio, the remains of take-out from the Great Wall scattered about. “You sound so fucking sure of yourself,” Donny muttered. He ran his eyes over the thick binder that was on the table. Inside it was the specifications, schematics, and overview of what had been tentatively dubbed the Starship Enterprise. It was, as Rudy had so calmly pronounced it, perhaps the most ambitious undertaking that a software company could propose. Or, as Greg had called it, the biggest gamble since Lady Godiva put everything she had on one horse.

Starship Enterprise was McKay-Gemini’s first attempt at enterprise resource planning. It meant that all aspects of a customer’s operations would be channeled through one software package, combining everything from personnel, inventory, finances and accounting, supply chain, sales, customer service, even building operations and maintenance.

“This is everything we’ve been working for, Donny, for the last three years. This is what we do. And you can do it. I have no doubts at all.”

Donny snorted genially. He thought back to the meeting in Eric’s office that morning. After the door had closed, Eric had uncharacteristically come right to the point. He had tossed the binder on his desk and said, “Did I ever tell you about Gordie Harwell?”

“No, who’s he?”

“Guy I went to college with. He was a grad student, actually. Smart as hell. He’s now the head of the computer systems for a school district in Colorado. He’s been using Pelican since the day we launched it to run their business office, and now he wants us to come up with an ERP system to run the entire school district.”

Donny had picked up the binder and leafed through it. “How big is it?”

“Around a thousand students in three schools and a central administration, plus the usual stuff like food service, transportation, and maintenance. Not a lot bigger than some of the companies we’ve set up and linked up over the last year or so. But this will be everything, not just inventory or finance. Everything, Donny. We’re gonna integrate it all.” He paused for a moment. “And we need someone to run it.”

“Okay,” Donny had said, “I’ll get on the horn to Brickner and see if they can head-hunt us someone with that kind of experience.”

Eric had laughed. “Forget it. We’ve already got the guy.”



It was at that point that Eric’s phone rang and Donny had gone back to his office to stare out the window until the meeting began.

It had lasted all day. Lily had ordered in sandwiches and they never left except for quick trips to the bathroom. Marc had come in for a couple of hours of intense discussion about the financial program. Donny had glanced at him occasionally, wondering what his “look, um” that morning in the break room was leading up to, but Marc was all business, and when he was done he left the room without any extraneous comments or looks to anyone else in the room. The meeting broke up after the secretaries had left and the cleaning crew was going around picking up the trash. Eric had come by Donny’s office. It was already dark outside.

“So, you wanna grab a bite and…?”

“And…see what my answer is?”

“Well, no, but…yeah.”

Donny flipped through the new phone messages that had piled up during the day. “I was thinking about going to the gym; I haven’t been in like a week and I’m feeling like I’m getting outta shape. ‘Sides, aren’t you supposed to go with the gang and have dinner at the hotel?”

Eric laughed scornfully. “I’ve spent the last six month with them, plus last night and all day today. I haven’t seen you since Santa Barbara. So how about I pick up some Great Wall and meet you at your place when you’re done slammin’ the grams?”

“Sure,” he had replied, and looked at the three new messages from Gina. He did not return them.

Donny finished his beer. The soreness from working out was beginning to creep into his arms and legs and he grunted slightly as he got up to clear the table. He had gone straight to the gym from the office and mercilessly piled on the weights as if the sweat and the strain could block out the dizzying array of flowcharts and pages of code that he and the rest of the team had spent all afternoon deciphering and sometimes arguing over.

Eric followed him in to the kitchen. “Y’know, we’re gonna need to hire some more people, including someone to replace you in HR. And fast; we need to get this going like yesterday.”

“Do you want me to move to Palo Alto?”

“Nah. In fact, I’m thinking about coming back here and leaving just the sales people up there. Sky doesn’t care where he lives and Rudy wouldn’t know the difference.” Eric sat on the edge of the kitchen table. “Y’know, you still haven’t answered the question.”

Donny noisily dumped the cartons and beer bottles into the trash. “You mean, will I do it?”


“Do you have to ask?”

“Apparently,” Eric replied with a note of frustration. “So far all you’ve done is ask if you’d have to move and stuff like that. I haven’t heard you say, ‘Wow, this is a really great chance for my company to make a name for itself among the big boys and – oh by the way – I’m gonna get a huge promotion and make a shitload of money doing it.’”

“Do you really think that’s gonna happen?”

Eric looked at him intently. “Yeah, Donny, I do. I believe in what we’re doing and I believe in the people I work with. I really think that if we make this work, this is it. We’re gonna be the ones. And you’re the natural choice to run it, too.” Eric counted off on his fingers. “You’ve worked in every department, you know how the company works, you know how to write the code, and most of all, we all trust you.”

A car pulled into the driveway. It was Mike. Donny let him in the back door, and he smiled when he saw Eric. They gave each other quick hugs, and Donny noticed that both of them looked at him as they exchanged greetings.

“So, you got the place?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Mike. “Jason’s got me this really nice place, completely furnished right down to the cereal in the cupboard in the kitchen. All I gotta do is hang up my clothes. Except there was a screw-up on the timing and the people in there won’t be out until the end of the month, so….” He raised his eyebrows, and Donny knew what he was asking.

“Oh, yeah, sure, that’s cool. You can stay here,” he said, and Mike grinned. “Thanks. And Jason’s meeting with Jack’s people tomorrow to talk about your script, and apparently they’ve lined up some people…but you know all that, right?”

“Well, actually, I haven’t had the chance to talk to anyone about it since I got back…we’ve been pretty busy at the office.”

“Well, it looks like they’re ready to get things rolling. So, what’s going on down at McKay-Gemini?”

Eric gave him a brief synopsis, ending it by saying that Donny was the new captain of the Starship Enterprise. “Except we’re not gonna call it that when we come out with it. Paramount Pictures probably has that under trademark, so we’ll get some marketing guru to come up with something appropriately catchy.”

Mike looked at Donny with interest. “So you’re really moving up in the world? Well, great.” He nodded his head vigorously. “Cool. Well, listen, it’s been a long day for me, so I’m gonna crash, okay?”


Mike gave Donny a quick kiss on the cheek – he caught a whiff of Scotch on his breath – and said, “G’night. Good to see you, Eric.”

“You too,” Eric said.

Mike went down the hall to the guest room and closed the door. Eric looked at Donny. “So, you guys…?”

“Just friends,” said Donny. The last time they had slept together had been the motel in Joplin.

They went back out to the patio. The lights were on, but it was dark enough that when Donny clicked his lighter, the brightness made him blink. Eric waited until Donny had smoked most of the cigarette before he spoke. “That’s it, isn’t it,” he said quietly.


Small Town Boys. That’s what’s bugging you.”

Donny snubbed out the cigarette and leaned back in the chair, making the plastic creak.

“Y’know,” Eric said quietly, “it’s your choice, but you’re a partner in the company, Donny. You can’t just decide for yourself now. This is the big league and a lot of people are counting on you to be a part of this venture. What you do affects all of us.” He leaned forward and looked at Donny intently. “So we need to know.”

Donny found himself looking deeply into Eric’s eyes, holding his gaze, remembering the first time they met, the long nights working on Pelican and getting dizzy from the dry-cleaning fumes that seeped up from downstairs, the days working in the cramped offices and the hundreds of little daily crises that came across their desks every day; the little victories and the jokes, the lunches and the nights like this at the old house when it was just them before Danny moved in or the earthquake or Marc spent the night or Mike came back; he thought of all the times he’d walked past Eric’s empty office since last summer, and how he leaped to grab the phone when the direct line from the Palo Alto office rang to his desk and he knew it was him calling; the weekend in Santa Barbara when they shared the room and Eric had stumbled into his bed and the warmth of him lying next to him. His cock tingled, and Donny snapped out of it. He blinked, grinned a little, then looked around for a second. “Yeah, I’m in.”

Eric leaned back and let out a sigh and a chuckle at the same time. “You had me going there for a second.”

He left a few minutes later, giving Donny a tight hug as he left. Donny picked up the phone. It was a little before nine, which meant it was just before midnight in Florida, but he knew Danny was still awake.


Donny called Gina the next morning.

“So I hear you’re busy,” she said.


“Well, while you were gone, things have taken off. That’s why I need to talk to you.”

“Taken off how?”

“Jack Magahee’s word is gold in this town, and don’t ask me why or how, but word about your little kerfuffle with Jeremy Dixon has gotten out and people are saying that this Don Hollenbeck guy is not to be fucked with. Jack has put together enough money and technical support to get this script into the hands of some very important people, and I got a call yesterday morning from HBO. Even network hacks are starting to talk about this as being the gay version of Beverly Hills 90210.

“Gina…” Donny started to say.

“Listen, doll,” Gina interrupted, “that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that people are talking about it at all. Look, have a drink with me after work and we’ll go over all of this. What time is good for you?”

Donny shuffled through the papers on his desk looking for the Enterprise calendar that Lily had handed him when he walked in. It was buried under the resumes for the interviews he had scheduled. He finally found it and saw that he had a sketch-out meeting with Sky at four, followed by another with Greg at five. “Six, six thirty, maybe,” he said, wondering if he could get to the gym after.

“I’ll pick you up at six.” As was customary, she hung up without saying goodbye.

She took him to the Cantina. It was still warm enough that they could sit on the back patio. She ordered a scotch rocks. Donny asked for a draft. Gina had asked him about his trip on the ride over, but once their drinks arrived, the small talk was over.

People were lining up around the block to get in on this project. Big names, too. So the most important thing was to get the backing lined up, get the production people signed up, get the cast signed, and get the script into shape. “This all has to happen in the next six weeks,” Gina said as she stirred her drink. “So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Donny was about to speak, but Gina’s cell phone chirped, and she held up her hand. “Just a sec. Yeah,” she said the phone. The caller went on for a few seconds, the voice barely audible, before Gina cut him off. “Doll, it sounds great, but I gotta call you back.” She ended the call. “So anyway….” She took a sizeable gulp of her drink.

Donny took a deep breath. He’d been dreading this since he’d hung up the phone with her earlier, and it had been in the back of his mind all day, including the first team meeting that morning in the war room, through the screening of the new applicants, and even through the crisis in the office when the copier ran out of toner and the guy from the supply company showed up with the wrong replacement cartridge. “Look, Gina, I have a job at McKay-Gemini. In fact, I just got handed a huge project that’s gonna take over my life for the next six months, maybe even longer.”

“So what are you telling me?”

“What I’m saying is that I have a commitment to my partners and the job I have that is paying me. I can’t just drop everything for the next six weeks.” He felt a shiver run through him and he stared at the dark ring of condensation that was spreading out from his beer glass onto the little green cocktail napkin.

Gina blinked twice, then slowly lifted her glass and took a sip. When she spoke her voice was calm but almost brittle. “So what you’re saying is that you don’t want to do the project anymore.”

Donny tried to reply as calmly. “No, I’m saying I can’t spend the next six weeks doing all those things you just told me I have to do. And besides, I don’t know how to do any of that stuff. I don’t even know where to begin.”

Gina took another sip. “Don, I’m not sure you understand what is happening here. Small Town Boys has become the buzz of this town. There are people who are turning down parts in other projects because they are hoping to get a shot at it. Directors, writers, everybody. Gay is very hot now, and you’ve got the property. It’s all yours. You just can’t walk away from it because of some…computer project.”

“It’s not ‘some computer project,’ Gina, it’s the future of the company that I helped start. I’ve got a lot invested in it, not just because they pay me. I really believe in it. I wrote that script on a bet from Jeremy Dixon. But I’m just a …”

Gina stared at him. “Who said you had to? You’re the executive producer. You don’t have to do any of that. You have a producer that does that.”

He was about to reply when Val Kilmer walked by, saw Gina, and nodded at her. “Hello, Val,” she said, and he stopped. He asked her how she was doing and glanced and nodded at Donny. Gina said she was never better, then turned to Donny. “Val, this is Don Hollenbeck.” Donny stood up and they shook hands.

“Don Hollenbeck,” said Val as if he was remembering a name. “You’re the guy with Small Town Boys?”

“That’s right.”

Val nodded. “Good luck with that. Sounds like a winner.” He smiled a little. “Good to see you, Gina. Nice meeting you,” he said to Donny, and left.

“He’s just wrapping up that new Batman,” said Gina. “See, the buzz is out there, Don. Val Kilmer.”

“You think he’d…?” Donny asked.

Gina shrugged a little. “He’s not a TV kinda guy, but…you never know. He’s not too old, either, and he’s still got it.”

It was a little after seven when Gina dropped him off back at the office. “I’ll be in touch tomorrow,” she said as he got out. “This is just the beginning.” The car started moving before he even got the door closed.

He went back up to his office. The nightlights were on, but Eric’s office door was open and music was playing – Jethro Tull’s Aqualung.

“Hey,” Eric said looking up over his glasses from the laptop. “How was it?”

Donny leaned on the door frame. “Great,” he said, “I just have to decide if I want to shit or go blind.”

Eric grinned and closed the laptop. He leaned back, stretching his arms. “Wish you were back in Ohio pounding nails?”

“Never realized what it was like to have people fighting over me.”

“Did you tell her that you’ve got something else going on?”

“Seems like it’s going forward whether I like it or not. I don’t know how to get out of it.”

Eric got up and turned off the desk lamp, leaving the nightlights in the hall as the only illumination. “Well, you’re gonna have to do something about it,” he replied seriously. For a moment they looked at each other in the dim light. Eric finally said, “C’mon, let’s go grab something to eat.”

“Thanks, but I’m going to the gym.”

Eric smiled wanly. “That’s one thing I gotta do when I move back here. See you in the morning.”

Mike was already home, sitting in the living room reading a script. “What’s that?” Donny asked.

“Some sci-fi thing about invaders from space that Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin are working on. Sounds like remake of War of the Worlds.” Mike closed the script. “So, how’d it go with Gina?”

“Does everybody in town know what I’m doing?”

“She called Jason this morning and said she was gonna meet with you, that’s all.”

“She told me there’s a shitload of things that need to get done in the next six weeks.” He went outside to the pool. The air was chilly, but steam was rising off the water, and he dipped his hand in. It was warm and inviting, so he stripped and swam ten laps to loosen up from the gym. When he stopped Mike was sitting at the table smoking a cigarette. He handed him a towel.

“What are you going to do?”

Donny dried off, shivering a little as he pulled on his boxers and shirt. “Make a sandwich.”