The lure, p.12

The Lure, page 12


The Lure

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  He pulled the sheets over the warm young body, feeling more like a parent or elder brother than like someone who had sexually used the boy in a flurry of unexpected, drug-induced passion only a few hours before.

  He hadn’t been disgusted by it then. More than anything, he had felt the same experimental, scientific detachment that he felt observing pickups and overhearing conversations at the Grip. Now, he thought, only a month and I’m already going native. The degenerating jungle rot has begun. Better slow down.

  Loomis! He hadn’t called Loomis last night to report in. That’s what was still undone.

  There was a telephone next to the bed. Too close to Larry. Better do it downstairs.

  The living room was empty, the door to the opposite balcony room closed. The others had gotten in after 5:00 a.m., just before he and Larry had finally fallen asleep.

  Noel closed the bedroom door and crept downstairs. The kitchen phone seemed the safest: it was underneath Larry’s bedroom, far from the other rooms. Cupping one hand over the voice box, he began to dial the loops.

  And stopped. He couldn’t remember any of the numbers beyond the three of the exchange.

  The silence of the undialed call reproached him. He clicked the receiver and began again. First the exchange, then—what was it? A six? A nine? All four numbers Loomis had given him had the same first digit. Which one? He dialed the exchange again, almost expecting the numbers to follow of themselves. Once more he stopped at the fourth. Six? Or nine? Hell! The drugs he’d used last night must have blown a few circuits. A little grass? Some cocaine? That’s ridiculous. Nine or six? Loomis was expecting him. But what if he thought Noel had been hurt or…what if operatives were out looking for him? At school? At his apartment? Nine or six, damn it! Which one. Six, he decided, and dialed.

  “Nine, eight, nine, zero.”

  He spun around. Larry was standing naked at the kitchen doorway. Noel froze, the receiver in his hand.

  “Or nine, eight, four, seven,” Larry said, coming into the room. “Go on. Dial.”

  Noel put the receiver in its cradle.

  “Why did you do that? The Fisherman is waiting.”

  “The Fisherman?” It sounded numbly out of Noel.

  “Loomis. Go on. Dial.”

  Noel was inert—churning with questions, fears, panic.

  Larry came over to him. Involuntarily, Noel flinched away. The boy didn’t notice; instead he picked up the receiver and dialed. Noel watched, fascinated, as though he were seeing his own execution.

  “Shut the door,” Larry said. Then, into the phone, “Peter Pan reporting in. I have the Lure with me.”

  Noel had just closed the door. He looked around in disbelief.

  “Then you were the cover!”

  Little Larry smiled his mischevious smile.




  May, 1976

  “Yes, yes,” Wilbur Boyle said, glancing at a page or two of the manuscript Noel had handed in a few days before. “Excellent. An excellent beginning. The glossary is an especially good idea. I’m more than satisfied.”

  Good, Noel thought. If Boyle were satisfied with a mere fifty pages—most of which were index, glossary, and charts—he’d be knocked out by the rest.

  “These semantic progression charts are fine. Very clear. Likewise these artificial kinship tables you prepared. Very professional.”

  Noel had not seen Boyle this oily, this enthusiastic, since the day he’d joined the teaching staff, over three years ago.

  “Now let’s talk about next term,” Boyle went on.

  “If you want, I’ll take the same classes as this year.”

  “You won’t be taking any classes.”

  “I won’t?”

  “No. Do this project right, Noel. Work all summer and take a sabbatical next term. You’re due for one, anyway. You’re already funded, I know. Clever of you to go through that upstate group. I would never have thought of them. If you need more money—we’ll do something about it from the press. But you are employed at this bar, aren’t you?”

  “Not take any classes next term?” Noel repeated, astonished.

  “None at all. Work on this.” Boyle held up the manuscript and shook it, as if for emphasis. “Students can do without for a term. But this…this has got to be completed now. It will do more for your career in the department than you can imagine. Believe me, Noel, big things! Bigger than you imagined when you took on the assignment.”

  His rhetoric ended, the department chairman stood up and handed the papers to Noel.

  “Keep it. That’s your copy,” Noel said.

  “Yes. Of course. I assume your grading is completed?”

  Noel felt brushed off by Boyle’s vague promises, and uncomfortable about not having the security of classes the following term. “I handed the last grades in today, before coming in to see you. It was a lot of work, with the bar job and all…”

  “That’s why I want you to devote all next term to only this.”

  The buzzer on his desk rang.

  “I’ll have all summer,” Noel protested. “Three months.”

  “That won’t be enough. You’ll see that I’m right.”

  Boyle took the call. In the midst of it he seemed to realize that Noel was still in his office.

  “Good luck. Keep in touch,” he said in dismissal.

  Outside the department chairman’s office, Mirella Trent was sitting on Alison’s vacated desk, one long leg crossed over the other, her skirt pulled up high, filing her fingernails.

  “He’s all yours,” Noel said to her.

  She looked up in surprise, then looked at him again in a more critical manner. God, but she was heavily made up these days, Noel thought as their eyes met, so much kohl around her eyes she could have stepped out of an Egyptian mural.

  “Exactly what are you up to?” She nodded toward Boyle’s office.

  “Wouldn’t you love to know?”

  “You’re in cahoots,” she said.

  “You bet we are. See you later.”

  “Noel,” she called after him, “close the door.”

  He did, but not behind him. He went back to where she perched on the desk. She hadn’t moved.

  “I thought you were going,” she said in what he recognized as her seductive voice.

  “I am.” Instead he ran his index finger over her crossed leg, from her kneecap slowly up to the hem of her skirt.

  “You never used to stop there,” she said. “Don’t you like me anymore, Noel?”

  It was an understated question given their relationship. After Monica had died and Noel had come to work at the university, he’d been immediately attracted to Mirella. Even then she’d been the brightest young thing in the department. She was intelligent, witty, worldly, knowing about everything and seeming to know everybody. Most important, she’d been wonderful to go to bed with. Irresistible, in fact.

  But it wasn’t long before her less attractive qualities were revealed. Mirella was unabashedly ambitious, unscrupulous, self-centered, inconsiderate of him or his feelings—and invulnerable. He found sexual gratification with her, but never affection, and certainly no consolation. He’d get fed up with her demands and arrogance, they’d argue, tell each other nasty things about each other, and break up. Only to argue, to reveal their basic dislike of each other, and to break off again. It was like the worst relationships Noel had ever heard about from friends—and so far from what he’d had with Monica or what he wanted—that he vowed to keep away from Mirella for good. Their last breakup had been this past November. They’d barely spoken to each other since. And now she was starting up again.

  “Well? Don’t you like me!”

  “I like to fuck you, Mirella. But beyond that, I don’t think so.”

  He’d meant to be ruthless with her. But she didn’t seem the least bit affronted She simply laughed low, held his hand on her thigh, until her warmth began seeping up to his fingers, and he pulled away.
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  “That’s honest enough,” she said flatly. “But you’ve always been honest, haven’t you, Noel? Even when it was against your best interests. And I am seeing someone. But I’ll be in town all summer. You know where to reach me.”

  He began to tell her not to hold her breath waiting for him to come to her, but merely said, “Have a good summer.”

  As he walked out of the office, he heard her humming behind him.

  The senior class placement chart had been posted on the bulletin board outside the department office. Noel edged past the dozen or more students gathered around the list, nodding to several from his classes, congratulating Gretchen Strauss on her honors, saying good-bye to them, and exulting in the last day of the school term, as though he were a student himself. For a moment he forgot there would be no next term for him. Only the bar, the shadow world, the dangerous games with Mr. X.

  At the bicycle rack outside the building he saw Paul Warshaw just unchaining his Peugeot. For the past two months, Paul had seen Noel behind the bar at the Grip, but had never approached him—always going to Buddy or Chaffee or another bartender—never saying a word to him there or in class.

  “That was a fine paper you handed in,” Noel said, unchaining his Atala. “Have you thought about expanding it for possible publication?”

  Paul seemed tongue-tied. He muttered his thanks; no, he didn’t think it was a good enough point to be amplified.

  “What classes are you taking next term?” Noel asked. Now that he had him, he wasn’t going to let Paul off so easily, especially in this academic context where he had a natural advantage.

  Paul gave a succinct account of his schedule.

  “I didn’t see your name next to any classes next term,” the boy suddenly said.



  Noel found himself appraising Paul. The lad was good-looking, with a fresh young complexion, a light, brand-new mustache just coming in—young, but older than Larry Vitale. Not streetwise like Larry, of course, but then who was, at any age? Cute, though. Large dark eyes. Long straight hair that fell across his forehead and had to be brushed back by hand. He must do well at the Grip.

  “I thought…I thought maybe you were thinking of giving up all this,” Paul said.

  Noel supposed he owed Paul some sort of explanation. But he couldn’t be too careful what he said, and to whom.

  “School isn’t everything, you know.”

  Paul also realized it wasn’t an answer. “I really admire you,” he said. It sounded sincere.

  “What for?”

  “For not giving a fuck what other people think of you.”

  “What do they think?”

  “You mean you don’t know?” And, as Noel didn’t, Paul asked, “Have you been in the library john, stall number three?”

  “Can’t say I have,” Noel admitted.

  “There’s some graffiti there about you,” Paul said, and began to blush. “I…it’s not there anymore. I wrote over it.”

  “What did it say?”

  The boy looked pained. Then the words came in a torrent. “It said ‘Professor Cummings is a class-A cockteaser.’ I didn’t write it.”

  “I didn’t think you would.”

  “Don’t you care?”

  At the moment, Noel didn’t care. Paul’s anguish, his anger about the graffiti seemed to be enough. Last year, three months ago perhaps, Noel knew he would have fallen apart. Perhaps he would again, sometime in the future. Not today. Not with larger issues at stake.

  “You don’t care,” Paul said triumphantly. “That’s why I admire you. You don’t care who knows. You flaunt it. Others on campus admire you, too. I know they do.”

  “Don’t take it so hard, Paul. Okay?” Noel said, playing out the big brother role the boy had established for him in the last few minutes. “Relax a little.”

  “You’re making it easier for the rest of us guys on campus, you know. Thanks.”

  “Don’t mention it,” Noel said, and swung onto the Atala. Paul mounted his bike, too. They rode up University Place together and separated with a wave at Fourteenth Street.

  Christ, Noel thought, life got stranger every day. Not only had he just lost all job security here at the school, but he was also becoming a positive homosexual role model for young college men. Everything seemed to be getting more topsy-turvy every day.


  Yes I’ll wine and dine you

  Take you anywhere you wanna go

  And when the night is over

  I don’t wanna see you no more.

  All I want is a one night affair,

  I’ve got to have a one night affair,

  Oh I’ll hit and run son-of-a-gun

  I’ll hit and run.

  Jerry Butler sang out the words, the organ trashing the rhythm line in the background, the violins taking off again. Noel listened and sang along to the infectious melody, the honest words, tapping on the edge of the bar. He’d come to know most of the songs on a new four-hour mixed tape in the weeks he’d worked at the Grip, even better in the last week and a half since he’d been made assistant manager of the bar. Butler’s song was one of his favorites: a favorite of other patrons, too, even if it was several years old, probably for its sentiments, Noel thought.

  Well you see I’ve been a lonely man

  And I want you to understand

  Oh, I’ll never let you under my skin

  ’cause I don’t want to see you again.

  “Can I help you?” Noel said. The guy was obviously new to the place, looking around and keeping his distance from the bar itself. He looked scared to hell. In a timid voice he ordered a Bud and, holding on to the can for dear life, went to hide in a corner. He needn’t have bothered, Noel thought. No one else really noticed him; the Grip was having one of its rare, absolutely hot-looking crowds tonight. The newcomer was outclassed by miles.

  “New kid in town,” a patron named Cody who’d watched it all said to Noel.

  “I’m always kind to the handicapped,” Noel replied, enjoying the sense of shared superiority. He must have looked that frightened the first time, too.

  Not anymore. It was almost his place, he was so comfortable. From behind the bar, slightly elevated by the platform, he gazed over the crowd securely. Especially after two months, with the semester over. Especially with Chaffee away from the Grip so much, readying a new club in Chelsea. One more business to add to the Grip, Billy’s, Le Pissoir, Window Wall, Clouds, and—from what Noel had heard rumored—a dozen other bars and discos outside Manhattan. Mr. X’s conglomerate.

  Noel sang out the words, performing for Cody and whoever else was nearby.

  “Don’t give me that shit,” Cody muttered. “You’re the heartbreaker.”

  “Get over it,” Noel told him.

  “Call for you, Noel. It’s Chaffee.”

  “Cover me for a minute,” Noel told Bob Seltzer, and went to the phone.

  He and Rick had a short conversation about the following week’s schedule, an almost unnecessary talk, since both knew it might go haywire any minute, their staff was so out to lunch. Noel sometimes wondered if he hadn’t been promoted because of his steadiness, compared to the irresponsible behavior of so many other bartenders.

  “I’ll have Bob and Jimmy DiNadio cover you tomorrow night,” Rick concluded. “Buddy will keep an eye on things.”

  “I’m working tomorrow.”

  “Not there. We have a company dinner to attend.”

  “A company dinner?”

  “Dorrance wants to meet you. A few other guys will be there. Cal Goldberg from Window Wall, Geoff Malchuck, Nerone, I don’t know who else. Come down to my loft and we’ll go up together.”


  “Uptown. The East Side. Some fancy town house off Park Avenue in the Sixties.”

  “Dorrance is the head of…of all the places?” Noel had to ask, barely able to get the words out for the brainstorm he was having. No one had ever mentioned
Dorrance except as the man who got the receipts.

  “To all intents and purposes,” Rick said. “I don’t know. I’ve only met him a few times myself.”

  “X,” Noel breathed out.


  He caught himself. “Nothing, Rick. I was just talking to someone here.”

  Chaffee was busy apparently; he bought the lie, and repeated they were to meet the following evening at eight o’clock, his place.

  Finally! He was finally going to meet Mr. X. Loomis would utterly freak when he heard. Noel would let the Fisherman bullshit him as usual when they spoke that night on the loops, then when he was done, very casually, of course, say, “By the way, I’ll be calling in late tomorrow night. I’m having dinner with X.” The old cop would bust a gut when he heard.

  “Well, man, you look happy,” Cody said, when Noel returned to his spot at the bar, snapping his fingers. “Just get laid?”

  “Better than that,” Noel said. “I just got paid.”

  “On a Wednesday?”


  Loomis wasn’t all that surprised.

  “Dorrance?” he asked again, as though he knew the name well.

  “William Ernest Dorrance,” Noel said. “You know him?”

  “He’s not listed as owning any of the places.”

  “He’s the silent partner,” Noel reasoned.

  Loomis didn’t answer directly. Instead he asked, “You’re having dinner with him tomorrow night?”

  “Not just him. All the company managers will be there. From Le Pissoir and Window Wall and Clouds, too. All of them.” Noel was a little hurt by Loomis’s lack of enthusiasm. “Dorrance especially asked to see me. I’m only an assistant manager, remember? He didn’t have to.”

  “So this powwow may all be just a ploy for him to get a look at you?” Loomis offered. “All right. As long as others will be there. Where is it?”

  “Some town house in the upper Sixties, Rick said. I don’t have the address. Aren’t you even a little pleased that I’m finally making contact with him? That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?”


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