The Lure, page 14
“What for?” Eric asked.
“For not being cruel.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Eric said tonelessly, without rancor. “Let’s go eat.”
Dorrance wasn’t in the dining room.
They seated themselves haphazardly around the large, circular, white-topped table, leaving two seats empty, one next to Eric and one next to Alana. She was playing hostess, easy, almost childlike, in her element. Eric was quiet, brooding again. Noel wondered what Alana’s relationship to Dorrance was. What it was to Eric. His mistress? His nursemaid? His plaything? What was Eric to Dorrance? Could he have been in that warehouse, keeping the cigarette lighter flame high? Or had he slashed at Kansas? If the past five minutes were any indication, that role would fit Eric’s taste. Noel’s right thumb still felt odd, as though some subtle venom was in Eric’s saliva.
“I chose the wines tonight,” Alana declared. “This one, for the appetizer, is from California. If I didn’t tell, you would never guess.”
Conversation centered on the decor of this room. Only Cal and his lover had been there before.
It was the most unusual dining room Noel had ever been in, a half circle, cantilevered over the terrace and glass enclosed. A circular skylight five feet in diameter had been cut into the ceiling.
On a clear night like tonight, one could look up and see the constellations. Pale, diaphanous curtains uncovered enough glass to show trees swaying slightly close by. Serving bars had been built in. The table was built in, too, its center a two-foot hollow containing chromium hot plates and food warmers. There were deep, firm-cushioned armchairs, fine bone china, and more silver utensils than Noel could imagine would be needed for one meal, all bathed in pale amber from recessed lights on the ceiling and under the edge of the table.
Dorrance’s taste? Or Alana’s? Everyone seemed to be giving her the credit.
“You’re French, Alana,” Tim began a question, “how do you find the Parisian discotheques?”
“She’s Belgian,” Eric corrected: his first words since they had sat down.
“They are not like here, Tim,” she said, pronouncing his name “Teem.”
“They are all so chic. Everyone is afraid to move too fast, afraid they will blur when a photograph is taken. They are not funky at all.”
Dorrance had just stepped onto the balcony.
“There you are,” Alana said. “We were waiting.”
“You needn’t have,” he said in a thin, reedy voice.
Behind him was a large, very handsome young man wearing the usual macho gay getup: vest, plaid shirt, faded denims. Neither he nor Dorrance seemed in a good mood. The young man was introduced to Noel as Randy Nerone, manager of Le Pissoir. He looked especially white-faced, tense, as though they had just completed, to neither’s satisfaction, an intense altercation.
Dorrance sat between Alana and Tim. The only other empty seat was between Eric and Geoff. Hesitating, Randy took that one.
Dorrance was in his fifties, slender with a fine-boned New England face. His silver hair was cropped close to his head, his temples indented, as though crushed by a pair of giant pincers. His eyes were large, a watercolor blue, his lips thin. He was evidently concerned about his appearance. Dressed in an openneck fine sports shirt, seersucker jacket, and dark trousers, he gave the immediate impression of a Catholic priest out of uniform: a cool, even-tempered demeanor, slightly world-weary, possibly cynical and witty.
The pale blue eyes surveyed the table and came to rest on Noel.
“You’re the new one. Neal, is it?”
“Noel. Noel Cummings. I’m helping Rick.”
“That’s right. Doing rather well, too. Keep it up. Geoff. Tim. Burt, Cal. I see every nook and cranny are represented tonight. Nice to see you all under one roof and not in any apparent mischief.” He took Alana’s hand. “Thank you. This was a good idea, all of us together.”
And that was all. Not five words more of conversation throughout the remaining five courses of dinner, and those only to ask for the salt or how someone was enjoying some dish.
Business was casually done—Rick’s problems at the new club, minor annoynaces at Clouds or Window Wall. Not a word more to Noel.
Despite his disappointment, Noel observed Dorrance, trying to understand him without benefit of intimacy. Not a hint, not a clue to his personality or methods of operation.
Except one, a tenuous one. Malchuck offered in passing that a new gay women’s discotheque was opening.
“Did you hear that?” Dorrance asked Eric.
“It’s been checked out,” Eric reported. “I don’t think it’s anything important. Alana and I are going to the opening night. I’m going to fix her up with a nice hot dyke.”
“I’ve tried it,” she said, “it isn’t really me.”
“Once you’ve had a really hot lesbian you’ll never go near a man again. Tongues of steel with rotary motors,” Eric said.
“You always make conversation about sex,” she said without a hint of annoyance. “Always.”
“He’s just horny,” Cal said. Then, to Dorrance, “You should have seen the thumb job he gave Noel before.”
“Eric’s always horny,” Dorrance said.
“Just like my father,” Eric was quick to reply. “Go on, say it.”
The challenge wasn’t picked up. Evidently a long and complex relationship existed between these two. Dorrance’s attitude was almost paternal toward Eric, the younger man’s spoiled and rebellious. Noel couldn’t figure out whether Eric was Dorrance’s right-hand man or heir apparent.
Even more confusing was how Eric seemed to go out of his way to be pleasant to Randy, who arrived at the table in a foul mood but was slowly charmed by Eric’s whispered conversation to him. Something had upset him before. What kind of threat had Dorrance made?
A minute later Randy’s and Noel’s eyes locked across the table, and Noel felt as though he were looking into a slightly distorted mirror. Nerone’s hair was curlier, his features more Latinate. But everything else was the same: coloring, eyes, even the symmetrical good looks. No wonder Dorrance hadn’t even glanced at Noel; he was already busy with Randy.
Who in turn was no longer paying attention to Eric, but instead managing to keep a steady, interested eye on Noel, playing a dangerous game, flirting right in front of Mr. X.
Dorrance didn’t seem to notice. Or if he did, didn’t seem to care. Studied indifference? Or was he through with Randy? That could be fatal. But Randy seemed oblivious to Dorrance’s reaction. He was interested in Noel. That was plain.
For a minute Noel wondered what it would be like with Randy. Different than with small, lithe Larry. Randy was large, muscled. The same face. Like masturbating while looking in a mirror, classic narcissism. Why am I thinking this? he wondered. The conversation? Alana? Eric’s mouth around his thumb?
The manservant appeared to clear the table, inserting the used dishes into a built-in dumbwaiter which Noel guessed must go downstairs to a ktichen.
At that moment, Dorrance stood up.
“I’ll pass on dessert.”
“You have to go?” Alana sounded disappointed. She, too, stood up. “But I have that movie you were asking about. Viva Maria. We are going to show it tonight.”
“Tomorrow night,” he said.
“Is that the one with Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau?” Tim asked.
Alana took Dorrance’s arm. Noel kept expecting the older man to make some sort of sign as he left the room. But nothing passed between them. Then Dorrance was gone, and Alana was back at the table where the talk had gone from movies to the real versus the publicized love lives of film stars.
At least he’s made contact, Noel said to himself. Dorrance would be cool. It would be a while before he would show any interest in Noel. At least until Randy was out of the house.
And Loomis would be satisfied.
After dessert, Alana stood up and led the others downstairs where one wall,
Behind the elevators another sliding wall was ajar, revealing the library where Chaffee had called his lover.
Noel’s first impulse was to look at the books. What Dorrance read would tell a great deal about the man his interests, how he thought. The others were occupied, so he slipped in. Three walls of shelving, but only one—admittedly the longest—contained books.
The others were filled with reel-to-reel tapes and film cans. Noel was trying to find the organizing factor for the arrangement of the books when he became aware of someone else in the room with him.
“Some collection, huh?” It was Randy Nerone, who walked directly to the film shelf. “Look at this. Ben-Hur, Bringing Up Baby, Broken Blossoms, and that’s only part of the Bs.”
“Nice what money can do,” Noel said.
“There’s a swimming pool upstairs. I’m going up. Care to join me?” It was said casually enough, but Noel got the feeling the invitation was for more than a swim.
“I thought I’d watch the movie.”
“I’ve seen it,” Randy said, obviously disappointed, but shrugging it off. “You can always see a movie.”
“Marge” looked in. “Get your popcorn and chewing gum. Main feature’s about to begin.”
“I’m going upstairs,” Randy said. “Top floor. If you change your mind.”
Everyone but Randy and Eric was in the screening room; even the manservant—his work done for the moment, Noel supposed—had taken a seat in the last row.
Alana was in the front, swiveling around to talk to Cal Goldberg and his lover. The seat next to her was empty: probably saved for Eric, Noel thought.
She half turned when Noel took the seat, but finished what she was saying to Cal and Burt before turning forward again.
“I hope I’m not taking anyone’s seat,” he said
“There are plenty of seats left.”
He couldn’t resist looking at her. This close, he verified that the lilac perfume was hers. Her tanned, almost uncosmeticized skin glowed in the half lighting so that her high, model’s cheekbones, something he’d never liked in a woman before, seemed to take on extra highlights. Her eyelashes were long; they looked real. Her eyes dark and soft. Her hair like a thick curtain of night sky.
“You have seen me before?” she asked. “That is why you ogle me?”
He loved her use of the word “ogle.”
“At the Window Wall,” he said.
She looked puzzled now.
“You are either a very stupid or a very courageous boy.”
“I’m neither. I’m not a boy.”
“Man, then. But you are ignorant of what it is to provoke Eric.” She pronounced his name with a soft—almost Viennese—“ch.” “Yet you’ve done it twice already.”
“Is he your lover?” Noel asked, deliberately ignoring what she was saying.
“Why do you need a definition for what we are? We simply are. Isn’t that enough?”
“Does he cheat on you only with men? Or with other women, too?”
“You are very curious,” she said, but she didn’t seem angry or annoyed. “Listen,” she leaned very close to him so he could feel several strands of her hair sweeping lightly over his cheek, “this I know for certain. Eric wants you. Don’t even think of me. Go with him.”
“What if I don’t want to go with him?”
“Then you are stupid. Eric always gets what he wants. Always!”
“Is that how he got you?”
“Ssssh,” someone said behind them.
The lights dimmed and the screen in front of them displayed the opening credits.
Noel settled back and became absorbed in the film. He felt placated for everything that had happened with Eric this evening by the exchange of those few private words with Alana. Even though their content was disturbing enough. Eric was someone he’d have to deal with, someone dangerous, unpredictable, someone close to Dorrance.
He scarcely noticed when Alana left her seat. Then he began to wait for her to return, his attention divided. Twice he turned around to see if she’d come back and sat in the rear. No. After a while, he, too, left the room.
The manservant followed him out to the living room. “There,” he said, pointing to a door next to the elevators.
How did he know whom Noel was looking for? The man had turned around and gone back into the screening room.
Noel went to the door and looked in: a lavatory.
She hadn’t returned when he peeped into the viewing room and wasn’t in the living room, or the library, or up in the dining room. Already upstairs, Noel decided to see if she were on this floor. There was a balconied living room, with sectionals and plants similar to the ones downstairs, then a short corridor, the two elevators, and a door on either side of the hallway. He tried the right one. Locked. The left one was open, though. He looked in, then stepped inside.
It was a sitting room and a bedroom half hidden by a folding screen, the platform bed strewn with gowns and blouses. Beyond the bed was a half-open door to a dressing room: racks of clothing. A soft, variegated clash of colognes surrounded him. It must be her room.
He was exiting when the corridor door was suddenly pulled open. Noel stepped back: Eric.
“Looking for something?”
“Or maybe you were trying on one of those?” he said, nodding toward the dresses on the bed. “I didn’t really picture you as the drag type.”
“See. I thought not. What are you doing here, then?”
“Looking for the bathroom.”
“There’s one downstairs.”
“I got lost.”
Eric moved aside to allow Noel past him, then stepped out into the corridor, leaning against the wall in an exaggeratedly casual manner as Noel pushed for the elevator. He unexpectedly joined Noel inside. When Noel punched the button for five, he said, “The film is one flight down.”
“I thought I’d see the pool. Randy said it’s on the top.”
“What exactly do you do at the Grip?”
“Tend bar.” Noel didn’t like Eric’s attitude, or being in this enclosed space with him. “I’m assistant manager at the moment.”
“You like the job?”
“It’s all right.”
The elevator opened on a glass enclosure with sliding walls opening onto a planked sun deck set with trees, bushes, benches, and lawn chaises. Noel turned left, stopping at a brick wall inset with a metal door: a head-sized oval window showed the pool inside.
“You seem to know where you’re going now,” Eric said.
The pool was roofed in by a polyhedron solarized glass, tinted pale gray. Two diving boards, a few more chaise lounges—on one farthest from the door was Randy Nerone, lying as if asleep, naked, on his stomach. There was no sign of Alana.
“There he is,” Eric said behind Noel, “the boy with the golden buns. Go on.”
“Aren’t you coming?” Noel asked.
Eric hung outside the doorway. “There, before you, lies a hundred and seventy-five pounds of New York’s hottest stud, just waiting. Don’t think I didn’t notice you two at dinner. Or were you expecting someone else to be here? You seem disappointed.”
“Like who?” Every danger sign flashed on in Noel’s mind.
Eric half smiled; his eyes seemed to flicker from pale to deep purple with reflections off the pool water.
“I just left her. She’s downstairs. Watching the movie,” Eric said.
Careful, Noel told himself. He’s seen you looking at Alana. He knows you’re interested. He’s no fool. He’d expose you in a minute. Get you into real hot water with X.
“Alana?” Noel asked. “’Fraid not, man. I’m not into fag hags. No matter how nice. She’s all yours.”
Randy heard them. He looked up a
“Alana’s not my style,” Noel said.
“Is he your style?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“He’s waiting,” was all Eric said.
Noel shut the door behind him. Eric remained outside but the threat of him was still with Noel. Damn! Eric didn’t believe him. Noel was getting so close to Dorrance, and this creep was going to screw everything up!
“Who were you talking to?” Randy asked, looking up, not moving from his prone position on the lounge.
“No one.” Noel knew that Eric was still there, watching them through the little window in the door. “How’s the water?”
Noel peeled off his shirt and sat down at the edge of the chaise lounge to remove his shoes. As he was untying the laces, he felt a hand at his waist: Randy unbuckling his belt, opening his zipper, trying to pull down his pants. Christ, Noel thought, out of the frying pan into the fire!
“What’s the hurry?” he asked. He strained to see if Eric was still at the window.
Randy dropped his head back down onto his outstretched right arm, making a loud moan. “Oh, shit!” he suddenly said.
Noel had gotten up, taken off his pants and undershorts, ready to dive into the pool. He was certain now Eric was watching them. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Tension.” Randy looked back at Noel. “How about giving me a rubdown? My back and shoulders feel really knotted up.”
“I’ve never done it before.”
“Begin at my neck and work down,” Randy said. “Do you mind? I’m real tight. I had this big argument with Dorrance.”
This might be a way to get information and give Eric something to look at, Noel thought, so he leaned over Randy’s back and began to massage the thick, tanned neck, imitating a masseur.
“Better straddle me,” Randy said. “It’ll be easier.”
Noel got up and knelt on either side of the massive body. Randy put his head down into his folded arms again and arched his back, Flexing the spine right down to his thighs. He was enormous, Noel thought, like some huge, sensuous statue come to life—a Rodin, a Michelangelo.
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