“Milpitas … God, the depths to which I have sunk ...” Andrew waited for the phone to complete its ring cycle so he could leave a message.
“Hello,” Craig Grantland answered.
Andrew stumbled. “Uh … Craig … I expected a machine.”
“They used to call me a machine in my college days. I was always good for five - six yards per carry.”
“Yes … this is Andrew calling. I wanted to give you a little update on your modeling career.”
Craig laughed. “I only did that for laughs.”
“Well, we got a lot more than laughs out of it. The company sold more catalogs than clothes. And some guys recognized you. Got some very nice feedback about you. The ambiguous nature of your interest in Z got a lot of comment. Anyway … there is a thought that you would appeal very much to a certain market segment.”
“What segment? Closeted gays?”
“No, guys who are too old for Old Navy and too poor for Abercrombies.”
“Like guys who shop at Target?”
“Or H and M, maybe … that range. I thought maybe you'd like to do another ad campaign. This time we'd use your name.”
“Hmm, well, I'm kind of busy. And the money isn't killer.”
Andrew baited the hook. “Z will be in it. You guys worked well together.”
“Uh, so, when is it?” Craig's level of interest changed radically.
“We're going to try the concept a week from Friday at a local store. See what the reaction is.”
“Just a sec ...” Andrew heard a muffled discussion before Craig came back on the line. “Sure, when exactly would I need to be there?”
“Rehearsal on Thursday, Show at seven on Friday. You want to stay in San Jose? I got a couple of rooms at the Doubletree on the 101.” Seth watched Andrew with interest, hearing only half the phonecall. “Ok, then. Good deal. Remember George Foreman started out this way.”
Seth's eyebrows went up as Andrew ended the call. “Z knows about this?”
“Of course not. The talent never know what's good for them.”
“So you're pairing up Z, the almost famous model of a few years ago, Craig, the almost famous football player of a few years ago, and that stunt dick? What was his name? Asher?”
Andrew looked quizzical. “Can you pair up three people? I thought a pair was just two.”
“Details … you know how touchy Z gets when you mess with his personal life.”
“Sweetie … you know I love you, but you have to trust me on this.”
“I trust you. It's Z I'm thinking about.”
“And It's Z I'm thinking about. I've never seen anybody so miserable. I don't think he's eating. And he works at a restaurant. He's looking gaunt. Plus Darren will be in it.”
“Yeah, but 'gaunt' photographs well.”
“I didn't get Darren a room. He said he'd rather commute. I don't think he trusts Nicky alone.”
“He does, too. Nicky's the one who should worry. Darren's the hot number in that pair.”
“Such a strange couple,” Andrew shook his head in wonder.
“What do you think they say about us?” Seth laughed.
“I told Z the rehearsal might run late. Talked him into staying overnight. And hunky Mr. Grantland will be right next door. Plus Doubletree gave me a deal on two rooms.” Andrew was pleased with himself.
Lem entered the office and announced, “Homework's done.”
“Let me see,” Seth.
“Sweetie … you know I love you, but math isn't your best subject.”
Seth did his best not to laugh; he tried really his best to sound stern. “You don't get to call me Sweetie, Lem.”
Lemuel looked abashed. “I like it when Andrew calls you Sweetie.”
“So do I, but you're not allowed. Ok?”
“Ok. Here's the homework.” Lemuel sat next to Seth and looked on as Seth scrutinized his work. Seth pondered the page.
“What's a Fourier transform?” asked the bewildered new parent. “Isn't this a little advanced for the fifth grade?”
“Sweetie, you're the one who insisted on a new school for him,” Andrew noted.
“Would you mind driving?” Walden asked Brian as they walked toward the closed van. Alladin's Carpets – Tracy's Finest. The faded sign on the side was barely readable.
“Where is Arthur going to be?”
“In the back seat with me,” Walden shrugged. “It's how I got us the ride.”
“You don't need to do that. We're not in prison anymore. We can take another bus.”
“It'll save time. He probably just wants a b.j.”
“Jeez, Walden. I'm supposed to listen to that?”
“Open a window. Turn the radio up. It'll be ok.”
Arthur, who looked a lot older in the daylight than he had under the red glow of the Stardust sign, opened the sliding door to the van. There were no seats, just a carpeted floor. The thick shag of the unappealing green carpet looked as if it had never been vacuumed since it left the loom.
Brian looked at it in disgust. “You'll get crabs,” he said to Walden.
Misgivings aside, they headed south with Brian at the wheel and were on the 205 almost at the 580 junction when the trouble started. Arthur had eased Walden's jeans down to his knees and was sucking his cock. Brian was glad the interior of the windowless commercial van was dark. He got only hints of the action looking in the mirror. The radio was turned up loud enough to mask the sounds of sucking, but not loud enough to cover up everything. Still, Walden seemed to be managing what was going on. It was right after Brian saw the sign saying “Livermore 30 miles” that he heard Walden object to something. There were briefly sounds of a tussle but then things got quiet again; a couple of miles later a yelp of pain sounded like it came from Walden.
Brian jammed on the brakes and pulled to the side of the road. He spun around and took in the scene. Two semi-naked bodies in the doggie position. “What the ...” Brian couldn't tell exactly what was happening. “You said sucking! You said all he wanted was a little sucking!”
Arthur recoiled and Walden quietly said, “What the hell Brian? It's no big deal.”
“You!” Brian pointed threateningly at Arthur. “You know we just got out of prison?” Arthur had his hand on the side door to the van but it didn't open. He frantically wiggled the handle. “You touch him again, I'll fuckin' kill you!” Brian's threat was very convincing.
The handle worked and the door popped open. Arthur flew out of the truck and landed sprawling on the ground. He tugged at his clothes, trying to cover himself. “Take it easy. I ain't hurting the kid.”
The trouble was over almost as quickly as it had started. They resumed the trip with Arthur driving. Brian and Walden sat in the back on opposite sides of the van.
“Nobody ever saved me before,” Walden said in wonder.
“Pull up your pants, Walden,” Brian said in exasperation. He was still breathing heavily and felt shaky from his adrenalin rush.
“Why'd you do that?” Walden asked while he fiddled with his jeans.
“I don't know.” Brian leaned back and zoned out until he felt the van stop. He got out of the van, stretched and stared at Arthur. “I don't want to see you again.” The van spun a wheel in some gravel and Arthur left immediately.
“My fuckin' hero,” Walden said admiringly.
“Where are we? This isn't Alameda.”
“No. I don't live in Alameda. It's Oakland. We're going to my house. It's a short walk. I didn't want Arthur knowing where I live.”
The house was a comfortable-looking one story in the lower part of the hills on a generous lot. The size of the lot said a bunch about the value of the house. They entered the kitchen through the garage and surprised a woman sipping something in a coffee cup.
“Wallie P! My baby! What...? How …?” She flung her arms around Walden and hugged him desperately.
“They threw me out, Mom. The warden didn't like me.”
“Baby!” she continued to hold him in her arms until she spied Brian. She let go of her son and said a wary ”Hello.”
“Mom, this is Brian. We got out together. He needs a ride to Alameda. Can I borrow your keys?”
“Don't you want something to eat first? Something to drink? You look like a prisoner of war.”
“Just a prisoner, Mom. No war. I'll be right back.” Walden took a set of keys off a hook near the door and motioned to Brian to follow. The walked out to the street where Walden pushed a button on the keys. The lights of an silver Escalade flashed and they heard the reassuringly solid sound of door locks opening.
“Nice ride ...” Brian marveled as he entered.
Walden fiddled with the dash. “You want some privacy to call your wife? Just tell it a number,” he said and left Brian alone in the front seat.
“No answer,” Brian called out a few seconds later. Once they were rolling, Brian said, “You don't need to take me all the way. I can walk from the Webster Tubes.”
“Buena Vista near Park is nowhere near the Webster Tubes. I'm taking you all the way. Besides, I don't want to say good-bye yet.”
“It's amazing. I met you at breakfast yesterday and it already seems like years ago. You sure can pack a lot into ...” He looked at his watch. “... thirty hours. Man, is it just thirty hours ago?”
“What are you gonna do?” Walden asked. “Your turn to talk.”
“I don't know. I'm barred from working in the financial industry for five years and that's all I know. Maybe I can do real estate, like my wife. She didn't know anything when she started.”
“You want to do something together? Something to do with a social site for gambling. I think we could trust each other. We got no secrets!”
“What kind of site?”
“I was thinking no real gambling, but a place to talk about it. Tips, systems, that kind of stuff. It wouldn't take much investment and we could start up instantly. Almost instantly. You could be the public face of it. You look honest, like somebody people would want to confide in.”
“But what exactly would I do?”
“Be yourself. Talk to people. You can do gambling analysis – isn't it just like investing, except you get the results quicker?”
“And you would …?”
“Be in the background. I can do the webmaster stuff and some of the gambling stuff. Solicit ads. But I gotta warn you. I'm not going back into the closet. I gotta be me. And maybe 'being me' isn't such a big seller if I'm the front man.”
“I'd need to talk to my wife ...” Brian speculated. “It's right there.” He pointed to his house.
“It would fit in your garage,” Brian answered.
“Not my garage. My parents' garage.”
The house was locked and Brian had no key. He checked their old hiding place, under a flower pot that used to have a geranium vine in it. The vine was dead and the key was gone. “Ann should be home in a couple of hours,” Brian told Walden to go home..
“I'll wait with you on the porch,” Walden said.
They sat and talked about Walden's website concept. The possibilities were there if not a visible income stream. They would need day jobs. Nothing remarkable about that. Half of the Bay Area had day jobs while they worked on their dreams. The slightly noisy engine of Ann's aging Benz interrupted them. Brian stood as Ann approached.
“Bri?” she gasped and ran to his arms. They hugged and kissed and hugged again. It was a while until they separated.
“Ann, I want you to meet ...” Brian stopped. Walden was gone.
“There he is!” The taller guy said excitedly to his friend. “It's him!” Three young men mini-mobbed Ty as he got back to school. “Dude, your scenes are SOOOO hot.” The taller guy was a little shy and trying to be polite. His friend? Not so much.
“I like the way your fuck scenes go. You just spread 'em and wait for that big schlong! Your asshole must be huge! Do you date fans?”
“I don't have any fans,” Ty said.
“You do. You have a ton of fans. Don't you read the porn sites? There's a huge debate about whether you'll ever top again or are you a bottom slut forever? It's so obvious you love a big one up your ass. But you could still top, I guess. You stay hard all the time. By the way, are you such a cum-guzzler in real life?”
“He could top me,” a third guy said. “Suck a sweet cock.” The kid rolled his eyes in delight and batted his lashes at Ty. “I'll fuck for you. Show you what a real girl can do.”
“But you're a guy,” Rocky said.
“Who the fuck is this? The boy friend?”
“No, he's my work out partner,” Ty explained.
“No shit? Where do you work out? I'm joining that gym.”
Ty grew wary. “It's private.”
“Speaking of privates,” the tall guy waved a Sharpie at Ty. “Would you sign my dick?”
“Hey, guys, back off a little, huh?” Rocky stepped protectively alongside Ty.
“Alright, not my dick. My ass. Would that be ok?”
Ty looked at the three of them in wonder. The effeminate one was putting his head on Ty's shoulder and trying to take a cuddly phone picture of the two of them.
“I got a cute ass,” the autograph hound insisted, unbuckling his trousers.
“What would I sign it?” Ty asked, ready to play along if it got rid of them.
“Whatever you want.”
Ty signed 'World's Biggest Asshole'. The ass's owner didn't see the humor. “You're the fuckin' asshole!” he exclaimed rubbing vainly at the quick drying ink. “I'm never buying your scenes again.”
“Dude,” admonished the effeminate one, “You are kinda huge. A real gaper. I couldn't even get off that time we ...” The offended asshole decked him.
“It's your fault,” the crude one pointed at Ty. “What happened to all the sweet kisses and cocksucking? You're a jerk like all of them.” His voice was shaky from tears.
“I've lost an eyelash! It was mink!” The effeminate one was groveling in the dust looking for his missing enhancement.
“Run,” Rocky said to Ty. They sprinted onto the campus leaving Ty's fans by the roadside. They continued running all the way to Ty's dorm. Seeing no one following, Ty halted and laughed. “You want to come in?” Rocky just nodded, out of breath.
They got to Ty's room and told the story to Jeff. “Not all that funny, guys. They'll rat you out on the Internet. Any pictures they got will be posted and tweeted forever.”
Jeff searched for the hashtag #tysonsaint a name Chris had made up from Ty's name and school. “See! I warned you.” There was a photo of Ty signing the guy's ass and about twenty comments.
“But it just happened about ten minutes ago ...” Ty moaned.
Jeff looked for #istanbulla and showed Rocky pictures of him dancing. “Looking good, Rocky,” he editorialized.
“What about you?” Ty asked.
“Oh, hell yes. There a whole site with me featured. Nothing's private any more. Somebody even posted a picture of me and Dormeyer.” Jeff pulled up a picture of himself and the middle-aged professor. The picture appeared have been innocent enough until Ty read the comments that said the pictured couple was a real couple. “Learn to live with it, guys.”
Nash and Nicky returned from a day of driving feeling tired and dirty. “Couldn't we find customers closer together?” Nash groaned. They had been to independent stores in San Francisco, Portola, Palo Alto, San Jose, and Hayward.
“Until we snag a chain account, we gotta a lot of traveling,” Nicky warned. “And we're won't get a chain account without some buzz. And there won't be any buzz until we get some new stock and sales. So meanwhile, we make contacts and hope something comes of it.”
“Something other than explosions, you mean. That store in Portola knew about us.”
“But she didn't mind. It all counts. All publicity is good publicity in retail. Well, almost all.” Nicky opened a couple of beers. “You and Steve … you're doing ok?”
“”How do you mean?”
“I don't know … Financially? Sexually? Any way you want to talk about. Not that I'm a genius with relationships, but I'm interested in how you're doing.”
Nash smiled. “No regrets yet. We're still having to buy something for the house every day. If you want to sit down, you need to buy a chair. That kind of thing. Suddenly I understand what being poor is like.”
“No you don't. You have some money. That is infinitely better than having no money. Wait 'til that day comes.” Nicky took a swig. “I hope it never does. No-money sucks more than you can believe.”
Nash waited for Nicky to say more, but he didn't. It sounded to Nash as if Nicky knew what he was talking about. Despite Morrie's financial ups and downs as well as his sporadic inattention, Nash had never known real poverty. Nicky on the other hand was in a new venture with Morrie and the outcome was very uncertain.
“My problem,” Nicky said, “is Darren. He's got the world in his hands and I'm holding him back.”
“He doesn't see it that way,” Nash answered.
“But he will. Ten years from now, when I'm groveling for scraps from Morrie's latest scheme, he'll look back and say, 'I could have gone to college' or 'I could have been a supermodel' or 'I could have been a computer genius' or 'I could have picked somebody younger' or ...”
“Nicky, how many beers have you had? He doesn't think like that at all.”
“Just a crappy day, Nash. All that driving. All those assholes.” Nicky drained the bottle. “You want another?”
“Come on, Nicky. Tsien-tsien owes us. He'll come through with new sources. Great designs. Terrific prices.”
“You want another?” Nicky repeated from the kitchen.
“No thanks. I'm good. And I'm sure this is gonna work out. I'm gonna head home.” Nicky appeared at the door of the kitchen to say good-bye. “Nicky, Darren loves you.”
“Maybe that's his mistake.”