The Lure, page 19
When he flipped on the light they were on a balcony overlooking a room the width of the house and about one third its length. When the foundations had been put in, this floor had been dug one story lower. Rows of high windows opposite where they stood provided good light and some ventilation.
The gym was completely equipped. One section had barbells, rods, weights, and several pulley systems for back, shoulder, and leg exercises built into the wall and floor. Here were four press benches, a series of wall-height mirrors, and caramel-colored carpeting underfoot. Elsewhere the floor was wood parquet for resilience. Perhaps a half dozen ropes hung from the ceiling, bound in twos and threes. Another pair had rings and coils on sliding loops for aerial gymnastics. There were also padded horses, parallel bars, and a pile of heavy mats for tumbling. An open door at ground level led behind them to the pale blue tile of a large bathroom.
“I’ve never seen such a well-equipped gym, not a private one, anyway,” Noel said, surprised.
“Everything but a track, if you’ll accept the pool for lap swimming,” Eric replied. “We all use these facilities. Okku, Alana. I work out every day,” he said, leading Noel to the ground level. “I’m here at least an hour. Usually before noon. I’ll want you here then to spot me with the weights. You’re free to use the gym whenever you care to.”
Noel peeked into the bathroom. It was huge with urinal, sinks, toilet, bidet, a large stall shower, a steam room, and smaller sauna. Two doors—closets? Noel opened one—shelves full of towels. The second was locked.
“What’s in there?”
“That’s not important,” Eric said.
Noel kept looking at the door. “Evidently it is important.”
“Strip down,” Eric said; he’d already discarded his clothing. “Let’s work out now.”
“I didn’t bring any shorts.”
“There are several pairs in the closets. One ought to fit you.”
Noel sorted through them until he found a worn blue pair that seemed likely to fit.
“I’m going to warm up,” Eric said and went out to the gym.
Noel undressed, dropping his clothing on the bench as Eric had done. He had just turned the blue shorts around, preparatory to pulling them on, when he saw a faded name tag sewn in. He held the shorts and read, R. Landau. The dead disco-owner! Could Landau have been the murdered man Eric had spoken about?
“Jesus!” he said, dropping the shorts as though they were on fire.
“I thought you were wearing the blue ones?” Eric said when Noel emerged from the dressing area.
“Changed my mind.”
“Those look better anyway. Spot me on this bench press.”
Noel stood behind the bench. Eric lay down, his head directly in front of Noel. Built into the bench were two abdomen-high metal bars with semicircular grips for resting both ends of the barbell rod. Noel lifted the weight—a considerable two hundred and fifty pounds—onto the rests and stood watching Eric’s hands reach up to lift the weight, hold it parallel to his chest, then drop it slowly so that the bar brushed his nipples, then up again, a dozen times.
As Eric worked out, the muscles of his abdomen bulged until they looked as though they’d burst the skin. His breath came briefer, harder with every press, filled with little grunts that got louder toward the end of his set.
Noel’s job was to be there to take the weights off Eric in case he became suddenly exhausted and couldn’t reach the barbell rest with the great weight, or in case his arms locked with the barbells in midair, always a frightening possibility.
There was a real trust implied in spotting for Eric, Noel thought, watching him begin his second set of presses. A fallen barbell with this weight could smash a skull like a boulder cracking a robin’s egg.
“Your turn,” Eric said, sitting up and exhaling forcefully.
“I’m not into weights,” Noel said. “I’ll use some other equipment when we’re done here.”
“Suit yourself. But you’ll never get the sheer strength you get from weights, you know.”
Eric only required Noel’s aid three times more during the next half hour. Most of the excercises didn’t require spotting.
Noel couldn’t help but notice how diligent, orderly, Eric was. Evidently he’d set up a system. From the looks of his tightly knit body, he’d been using the weights for several years. Had Robby Landau once spotted for Eric? That seemed likely given the gym shorts in the closet. Had he been the only other man whom Eric had trusted? It gave Noel the creeps.
Noel was turning and swooping on the rope rings, thinking about Landau, and it made him dizzy. He executed a twirl and jumped down. Feeling better, he hoisted himself onto the parallel bars and tried to recall the routine he’d used years before. Most of the figures came back, and he did them not gracefully, but at least without knocking the poles down.
Why was Eric so obsessed with the weights? He had a good enough body not to need a daily workout, a good enough physique to attract even the most physically oriented gay sex partners. Was it for strength, as he had said? He was incredibly strong for his size and weight. But that too must be compensation. For what? For being grotesquely undeveloped as an adolescent? Had Eric been a skinny mama’s boy: or a fat one? Or did it have to do with his father. That had come up twice so far—once with Dorrance, and again when he and Eric had fought in the garage.
Eric had stopped watching Noel and gone into the bathroom. Noel waited until the shower stopped before entering. Eric was dripping wet, a small, damp towel wrapped around his middle.
“You aren’t taking any chances, are you?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” Noel asked, all feigned innocence.
“Afraid I’ll jump you in the shower? Go on, take off your shorts. For what I’m paying I figure I’m at least entitled to take a look at what I can’t touch.”
He watched Noel undress, and continued watching until Noel had showered and was drying off.
“I’ll need another towel,” Noel said; “this one’s too wet.” As though unaware of what he was doing, he reached for the handle of the locked door. “Oooops! Forgot. Wrong door.”
Eric was dressed, leaning against the tile wall, arms across his chest, his eyes narrowing in a way that Noel now knew meant anger, irritation. displeasure.
“You don’t stop, do you?”
“Because I tried to get in here? What’s behind this door anyway, the family crypt or something?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Of course I want to know. You’ve opened every goddamn door on this floor and purposely kept this one locked. What is this, a replay of Bluebeard’s castle?”
“You’re not ready.”
“I know what it is anyway,” Noel said. “I’ve heard all about it at the Grip. It’s Eric the Red’s Red Room. Right?”
“So? What’s the big secret, since I already know what it is? Open up.”
“I only open it when I’m going to use it.”
Noel was dressed now, too, except for his shoes.
“Well,” Eric prompted, “are you ready?”
“Forget it,” Noel said, tying his Adidas. “I’ll never be ready if that’s the case.”
They went upstairs. In the elevator Eric said, “Someday I’ll tell you all about pain and pleasure.”
“What’s wrong with right now?”
“You’re not really interested.”
It was true. Noel was repelled by even the possibility of what he might find behind the locked door in the big, blue-tiled bathroom: masks, tools, thongs, racks, instruments of torture: who knew what?
“I didn’t say I wasn’t interested. I said I wasn’t into it.”
“Everyone thinks it’s just being jaded. Isn’t that what you think? That I’ve done everything else—everything!—and I’m just bored with sex, that I play with all this, because it’s different, kinky? Isn’t that what you think?”
“Something like that.”
“And what about you?” Noel asked. “Do you come out altered, too?” As he said the words, he knew he had made a mistake.
Eric stopped, looked at him, and his upper lip curled slightly. The moment of confidence, coming that much closer to trust, had been burst, stupidly, unthinkingly. No way to mend it.
“You always have to put me down, don’t you?”
Without waiting for an answer or apology, Eric stalked onto the terrace. Abashed by his mistake, Noel followed.
Alana was in a lounge chair, clad only in the bottom of a scanty bikini with a print scarf around her head. She was surrounded by glossy foreign magazines and sun lotions.
“Come look here, my darling,” she greeted Eric. “There’s a wonderful new place we must visit. In the Andes!”
Noel was in his bedroom reading a Castaneda book Eric had insisted he try, when the phone console buzzed and lit up green: the call was for him. In the two weeks he’d lived in the town house, Noel still hadn’t gotten used to the system. Outside calls were automatically answered, whatever name was requested was color-coded, relayed to each floor, where the console would buzz and flash, until someone answered.
This call was from Alana.
“I thought you were at a shooting?” Noel said.
“I am. But there is something we need here in the studio. A manila envelope with some male head shots I forgot. Would you be an angel and bring it to me?”
“I guess. Let me check with Eric. He’s been with someone from the Coast all day. I doubt if he’ll need me.”
Noel knew a messenger could as easily be used to deliver the envelope to her. But perhaps she was feeling neglectful of Noel. They hadn’t had much contact since he’d moved in. A few times he even thought she was avoiding him to lessen any tension between him and Eric. This might be her way of making it up to Noel.
“Okku will give you the address. The envelope ought to be on the lamp table of my sitting room. Can you bring it soon?”
“As soon as I tell Eric.”
He transferred her call to Okku, who answered from the kitchen. Then Noel buzzed the intercom red, for Eric. No response. He buzzed again. No answer. Maybe he and his visitor had gone out.
Noel easily found the envelope Alana had wanted. It held a dozen or so data sheets on male models: photos and specifications.
Dressed for outdoors, he was on his way out when he saw Okku.
“If Eric comes back, will you tell him where I’ve gone?”
“Mr. Redfern is not out,” the manservant said and pointed down with one finger, before turning on his heels and going toward the back of the house.
Noel’s first impulse was just to leave and assume the message would be conveyed. But who could tell what Okku would do? He’d had no signs from the stolid Scandinavian that could be construed as anything remotely like friendliness. He’d better check out with Eric himself. Capricious as Redfern was, he might decide to lose his temper over a triviality like this.
Okku had pointed downstairs, but the gymnasium was empty. There were signs that the two men had worked out earlier—a towel draped on a press bench, some barbells off their racks, on the floor. But there was no sound of showers running. The big bathroom was lighted—also as though recently in use—but also empty.
Noel was turning to go back out when he noticed something amiss in the room—the second door, the door to Eric’s Red Room, the door he had never seen open before, was ajar.
Eric said that door was only open when the room was in use. Could that have been the purpose of Henry Steele’s visit from San Francisco?
Noel tried to picture the man—a long-legged, slim-hipped, cowboy type, over six feet tall. Then he tried to picture the long body clamped to a marble-topped table in the room, crisscrossed with leather straps, his head perhaps masked, his eyes blinded, his flesh arching and twisting with pain/pleasure—like the photos in the S and M magazine someone had brought to the Grip, that everyone had pored over a few weeks before. Noel could imagine Eric’s role easily enough. He expected to hear a shriek of excruciating pain issue from the room at any second.
He’d leave a note upstairs, hoping Eric would find it. That’s what he would do. But wait. If Eric had left the Red Room door open it couldn’t have been accidental. Noel was supposed to look in. It was all set up to show him what Eric would never tell him. Or was it? Maybe it was a trap. He’d step in, and together, Eric and Steele would jump him and…
He heard voices talking. Neither loud enough nor clear enough to be understood. One was Eric’s, the other probably Steele’s. It didn’t sound like either sex or torture.
Leave a note upstairs. Or call out Eric’s name. Do something!
The mirrored walls opposite the room allowed Noel to see inside the two inches of open doorway. The “Red Room” wasn’t red—neither painted nor lighted red. All he could make out was some metal shelving. More like a storeroom or office.
Holding his breath, Noel backed over to the door, all the while checking the mirror in front of him. Feeling clammy with trepidation, he slowly pushed the door open another inch, poised to leap out of the room in an instant. Nothing. No sign he had been noticed from within. No change in the voices.
But he could see inside better. It was shelving. Filled with envelopes and accordion folders. An office. Steele passed by, pacing, moved out of sight again, then finally sat down on a chair. He was still dressed in gym shorts; he was leaning forward. Noel could now hear him more clearly.
“It’s not the same out West, Redfern. The police are different.”
“The police are the same all over,” Eric said.
“But you don’t have any trouble here.”
“Who doesn’t?” he asked defiantly.
“They don’t bust bars or clubs or anything,” Steele said. “Do they?”
“What’s the difference; let’s get back to the point, Steele. Can you deliver from your district? That’s all we want to know.”
“Deliver what? Money? Or clout?”
Noel never heard the answer. The phone began to buzz again. This time it was cut off in midring. Eric picked it up. Silence. Then, “Thanks, Okku. He’s probably looking for me. I’ll take a look in the gym.”
Certain he’d overheard plans he wasn’t supposed to hear, Noel slipped out of the bathroom, and Indian quiet, leaped up the stairs of the gym to the entrance platform. He stopped, took a deep breath, then called out Eric’s name.
The two men sauntered out of the bathroom. Steele winked a greeting at Noel then went over to the ceiling rings and leaped up on them. Eric came over to the stairs. Had he noticed the door was opened?
“Alana asked me to bring these to the studio,” Noel said casually.
“Take the Benz if you want.”
“Thanks.” If Eric had noticed he wasn’t telling. “Any time you want me to be back?”
“See you.” He hadn’t noticed. Good.
Noel opened the door, but Eric called him back. “Yeah?”
“You like my visitor?” Eric asked in a manner that made Noel unsure of how he was supposed to respond.
Noel looked over to where Steele had just completed a roll in midair, and was hanging gracefully suspended from the rings. His long torso rippled like a washboard. He would
“He’s all right. Why? You pimping for me? Or were you thinking of something a little more elaborate?” Noel asked, trying to keep their talk on the flirtation level Eric seemed to prefer.
“I’m thinking of throwing a party for him,” Eric said. “Sort of a surprise. About twenty very hot guys, and an ounce of some golden MDA I just got.”
Noel knew the drug’s reputation as a semihallucinogenic superaphrodisiac.
“Sounds more like an orgy to me.”
As Noel reached for the door again, Eric added:
“Give Alana a kiss for me.”
The photography studio was on the fifth floor of an ancient building on the northern edge of the theater district, one of two apartments on the floor. It must cover half a block, Noel thought, following the thin, frizzy-haired young blonde who’d met him at the door through corridor after corridor lined with mural-sized blowups of Anthony Brickoff’s most noted celebrity portraits and advertisements. After passing a half dozen studios—some in use, some empty—and a few rooms that seemed to be living quarters, they arrived at the studio where Brickoff was shooting.
It was almost the size of Redfern’s living room—although by no means as high-ceilinged or elegant.
Most of it in fact was bare, the wooden floors littered with screens, cabinets, and various artifacts the uses of which Noel could only guess. One area seemed to be for dressing and makeup. Large folding screens only half hid a portable wardrobe and a tri-mirrored vanity table.
Opposite this area—lighted by floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides—was the set. A pale gray sheet of paper, perhaps fifteen feet long, pulled down from a ceiling roller, was draped onto the floor. On the paper were four aluminum tripod umbrellas reflecting the bright lights within at different heights and angles. Two other tripods held cameras. More cameras, light meters, and other photographic equipment were scattered on the floor.
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