The lure, p.21

The Lure, page 21

 

The Lure
 



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  “You know, Loomis, I’m getting a little fed up with these phone calls. Why don’t I just write you a letter?”

  “Don’t be funny. What’s Redfern up to tonight?”

  “He and Alana are going to a charity ball at the St. Regis.”

  “And you?”

  “It’s my night off.”

  “Did they invite you?”

  “They invite me everywhere.”

  “Why aren’t you going?”

  “I said: it’s my night off.”

  “Next time ask me before making that kind of decision!”

  “I had a previous engagement.”

  “I said, next time ask me!”

  19

  That conversation spoiled the rest of Noel’s morning.

  He decided to call Alana, persuade her to join him for lunch, an afternoon movie, perhaps even a walk in the park. He was sure she’d make him believe again that all he was doing for Whisper was worthwhile, even though she didn’t, couldn’t, know his part in it. She’d soften him up again, fill up the empty day.

  She wasn’t at home when he called. Okku said she was at the studio. Noel dialed there. After a long wait she came to the phone, sounding breathless.

  “The proofs of you are marvelous, Noel! Just marvelous! It looks as though you have been posing all your life! You will have a wonderful career! You’ll be earning your own money and won’t have to feel hostile to Eric because you are dependent on him.”

  “How about lunch?”

  “I ate. Don’t you care about the photos?”

  “A drink, then, when you’re finished. I’ll come meet you.”

  “I don’t know when I’ll be done here. Brickoff has gotten some insane idea in his head and has locked me and three other women in the studio all day, until he is done. Lunch was sent up. I don’t know when we’ll be done. He is completely crazy today.” She waited long enough for Noel to realize she meant it. “I’m sorry, Noel. Really. Maybe tomorrow.”

  “All right, tomorrow.” But he couldn’t hide his disappointment. Interrupting her apologies, he hung up.

  An hour later he decided to smoke some grass Randy had left at the apartment. It only took half the joint to get him pleasantly high. He put the remainder in his wallet, thinking it was too beautifully sunny a day to stay inside moping. Downstairs, he got the Atala out of the storeroom, dusted it off, took it to a nearby gas station to refill the tires, and then rode down to the Village.

  Here the streets were filled with strollers, shoppers, people on errands, or just loitering about enjoying the sun. It seemed on afternoons like this that the entire Village population was either unemployed, or worked at night, or only on rainy, cloudy days. Christopher Street was as crowded as any Friday or Saturday night, and as he rode along the curb, Noel slowed down, took off his T-shirt, and began to say hello to people he knew, flirting with strangers, riding around in large, aimless circles in the middle of the road, playing catch me with trucks and buses, then zooming over to greet some guys smoking on the corner—in general acting to perfection the persona of the hot-looking number, naked-torsoed on a sunny day, riding a ten-speed bike.

  After a while he rode over to the concrete-covered waterfront park, and from there, up a few steps to the Morton Street Pier. From the end of the pier he could see up and down the Hudson River, north to the Palisades and the George Washington Bridge, down to New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty to the Verrazano Bridge. Elegant ocean liners, vast, seagoing freight carriers, tugboats, speedboats, fireboats on patrol, the flow of the river below. Above, airplanes of all sizes, from superjets to Cessnas, police and airport transportation helicopters, innumerable kites.

  Noel put his bike down, bunched up his shirt for a pillow, and lay down on the pier’s wooden protecting ledge, thinking that he would never have seen this place if he hadn’t become a part of gay life. He was enjoying the cool breezes that played on his naked chest, the hot, steady June sun striking down on him, the subtle lap of water against the pilings of the jetty. In minutes he felt relaxed.

  “You sleeping?”

  Noel looked up-his vision swimming with the Hudson’s reflections brightly spotting the figure in front of him—Vega. What did he want?

  “Sit down.”

  Vega sat close enough so that his pants leg brushed the tips of Noel’s hair.

  “You look comfortable,” he said.

  “Why not. It’s a fabulous sunny day!”

  “It’s okay.”

  Noel looked up. It had been weeks since Noel had last seen Vega. Since he’d left the Grip, he’d deliberately avoided him. Out of the lighting of the bar Buddy looked—thinner, his features harsh, sunken.

  “Don’t drag me down to where you are, man. Here,” he handed Vega the roach of grass from his wallet, “get high. It’ll cheer you up. It did me.”

  “You smoking now?” Buddy asked, taking the joint and lighting it.

  Where’s your slimy pal, Miguel, your henchman? Noel wanted to ask. Instead he said, “Keep it. Finish it.”

  “This Redfern’s weed?”

  “No. Randy gave it to me.”

  Buddy sucked on the roach, finishing it and throwing it up in the air, catching it in his mouth like a trained seal with a herring. “It is good. You like it uptown?”

  “It’s all right. Today’s my day off.”

  “What are you doing there? Watching Dorrance?”

  Noel didn’t know how much he ought to say. “Who knows what I’m doing there? Redfern offered me a half-assed, high-paying job, so he can be around if I ever decide to let him into my pants. And Loomis said to take the job.”

  “Oh!” It came out of Vega sounding like a lowtoned bass drum, filled with inexplicable resonances.

  Buddy became more talkative. He was pretty much manager of the Grip, now that Chaffee was at Bar Sinister all the time, and Noel uptown, he said. He liked working at the Grip; it paid well enough.

  Noel suddenly wondered if he didn’t have Buddy all wrong. Maybe Vega didn’t know that Little Larry was also a Whisper agent. If not, that would justify why he and Miguel had followed them home from the Window Wall that night. Of course it didn’t explain Miguel’s animosity, but that could have been just a bad drug trip that one night.

  “Are you sorry you joined up?” Buddy asked.

  Noel’s previous distrust returned. “I don’t know. Why?”

  “You don’t sound too happy.”

  “I’m not happy about Loomis,” Noel hazarded. “We argued again this morning. Sometimes he really pisses me off.”

  “On purpose.”

  “I don’t think so. We just can’t get along.”

  “You did before. I say he does it on purpose.”

  Buddy’s certainty made Noel wonder. “Spill it,” he said.

  “I don’t know if I should,” Buddy began to say. Both of them sat up and looked at each other. “I used to think you were a real schmuck,” Vega said. “When I said he does it on purpose, you didn’t disbelieve me, why?”

  Noel evaded it. “I don’t know why.” Then as Buddy began to stand up: “He lies to me. Tries to make me believe certain things, hides other, important things from me, that’s why.”

  Vega sat down again. “You like Randy?”

  “What’s that have to do with anything? Oh, all right. Yes, I like Randy.”

  “I know you’re balling with him. I want to know what you think of Randy.”

  “I’m not in love with him or anything like that. I couldn’t be…with another guy. But I like him, I like being with him. We have fun.” Noel enumerated Randy’s qualities ending with, “And he’s never asked me to do anything I didn’t want to.”

  “Like blow him?”

  Noel answered, looking away at the river. “I guess you know.”

  “He likes you, too. He’s helping you, Noel.”

  “So he is working for Whisper?”

  “If you don’t already know, I can’t tell you.”

  Noel di
dn’t even try to press for an answer. He thought about Randy, whom he’d seen last night for the first time in a week: his handsome face and smooth-as-silk skin, his happy-go-lucky attitude, that found a joke in almost anything. Jesus! Loomis must have placed Randy in the town house before Noel. He must have been the in-house agent, before Noel replaced him, but he hadn’t worked out to Loomis’s satisfaction.

  To cover up his silence, Noel asked, “Has he complained to you about that?” How much did Randy tell Vega?

  “Randy? No. He never complains. He thinks you’re a little uptight, that’s all. He can get blown fifteen times a day, if he wants.”

  “I guess you’re right. But before this whole business began I never had sex with another guy.”

  “Bullshit!”

  “Oh, well, with my second cousin when I was thirteen years old. But that doesn’t count. Most preadolescents fool around.”

  “You had sex with two guys when you were in college. In your senior year. You were part of an initiation ceremony. You and some other frat members got shitfaced drunk and carried away and you gang-raped two pledges.”

  Noel was flabbergasted. No one knew that. No one but he and the dean of schools. Not Monica. Not even his parents.

  “The kids brought charges against seven of you, but it was all hushed up somehow, and everything worked out.” Vega seemed to take pleasure saying it. “So don’t give me that crap!”

  Noel felt he was suddenly treading the very beginning of a path that had opened unexpectedly—perilously—in his life.

  Vega seemed more of a danger than ever before. “How do you know that?”

  “You don’t deny it?”

  “Don’t game with me. I ask how do you know it?”

  “I read it. Page fourteen. A psychosexual history of the subject with special reference to sexual identity and violence. Your dossier, if you haven’t figured it out by now. Compiled by Whisper.”

  Noel was stunned. “My dossier?”

  “We all have one. You. I. All of us. It’s some fancy reading. Better than a paperback novel. Filled with hushed-up scandals, sex, violence. Real dirt. Mine came up in the Navy. Loomis got all of it right, gotta hand it to him. But I’d always fucked around with guys. When I was a kid in P.R. I used to be a real macho hustler. Fourteen years old.”

  “Does Randy know?”

  “You don’t believe me, I can tell. Come take a look for yourself. I have them up at my apartment.”

  “What else do you know about me?”

  Vega was gloomy. “I didn’t read everything. It’s all in the dossier. Come take a look for yourself.”

  “How did you get hold of them?”

  “I’m not going to answer that,” Vega said. “And no, Randy doesn’t know.” Their eyes met. “I wouldn’t do that to him. He’s too nice a kid. And he trusts Loomis.”

  That implied Buddy didn’t.

  Vega stood up. “Well? You coming?”

  Noel felt as though the path that had veered off a few minutes before was becoming more definable. He knew if he stood up and went with Vega now he’d never retrace his steps again. But he had to see the dossiers to believe: he had to know what Vega was up to.

  Vega cabbed uptown to a largish building in the West Eighties where he had a good-sized, sunny, railroad apartment with a tiny backyard. Noel followed on his Atala.

  Buddy introduced a small, thin, pretty, dark-haired girl feeding three children in the big kitchen as his wife, Priscilla. The smallest child was still in a high chair; the others, four and six. All of them were healthy, good-looking, bright.

  As was the apartment. Next to Redfern’s place it looked middle class, but it was clean, well furnished, well kept, with a stereo, color TV, children’s toys strewn about, and picture books open where they had left them to go have lunch, even a child’s record player.

  “This is Noel Cummings,” Vega told his wife. “He works for Whisper, too. I told him about what I found.”

  “Buddy! Why?”

  “He’s all right. Someone else has to know, that’s why.”

  She stared at Vega in disbelief then came over to Noel, facing him squarely. “If you are a good man, then listen to my husband. If not, then leave this apartment right now and be content that I don’t tear your eyes out.”

  “Stop that, Pris,” Buddy said, angrily pushing her away.

  “I mean it,” she said to Noel, ignoring Vega.

  “Stay with the kids,” Buddy said, leading Noel into the living room. He went into another room, then returned with a series of accordion folders containing manila envelopes. He went through them, found one, and gave it to Noel.

  “This is a copy?”

  “A copy of a copy. Have a beer, make yourself comfortable.”

  Aside from many pages of information Noel already suspected Whisper had on him were bank statements, credit union reports, employment records since he was a teenager, his driver’s license, and school reports dating from kindergarten.

  And two other startling documents.

  The first was titled “First Encounter with the Subject: Use of Plan J-23 for total instant psychological breakdown.” It was dated March 2 of the current year, the day after Noel had witnessed Kansas’s murder. It began:

  Although certain the subject was unallied to the perpetrator ( s), we nevertheless decided to implement plan J-23, an instant total breakdown test. The subject was incarcerated over an hour in a dark freezing cell, threatened, ignored, and finally assaulted under controlled conditions by four operatives (18, 301, 75, 111) to ensure the total release of any remaining defensive devices. I then interfered, as previously planned, and setting myself up as savior for the moment, immediately gained his full trust for the preliminary interview.

  Which was detailed with exact fidelity to what Noel could recall of the first meeting, interspersed with various comments by Loomis.

  The second document that Vega had starred for Noel’s notice was a full psychological profile of Noel, beginning with his earliest school and doctor’s reports, evidently compiled and interpreted by Loomis—who, it appeared, was Dr. Loomis, M.D., Ph.D. Diplomate in Psychiatry. This portrait gave the history Vega had talked about, including the fraternity hazing incident. As he read, Noel saw his character, his personality, over more than two decades, his psyche itself laid bare. The final paragraph was shattering:

  The above information, in conjunction with many taped conversations with the subject, displays a case of arrested infantile psychosexual development characterized by impulsive behavior alternating with overcaution, both at the most inopportune and even self-destructive times. His easy dominance by members of the opposite sex, well documented above, is still not as total as his susceptibility to control by an older, parental male—as illustrated in clauses 15, 76, 119, 234, etc. above. He is vain, conceited, easily flattered, believes without much proof that he is mentally and emotionally superior, is lazy, and must constantly be prodded into action, is occasionally rebellious, only to fall even more deeply into submission—all arising from a deep belief that he lacks ability, importance, and worth, and by the very realistic fear that he is and always was a homosexual. These factors make the subject an exceptionally high class rating: 1.

  When Noel looked up from the page several minutes later, he felt as though his heart had been surgically removed from his body without him ever feeling the stroke of a scalpel.

  Priscilla had joined them, sitting on the arm of Buddy’s chair. “I’m sorry I yelled at you before,” she said. “You ought to read the terrible things they say about Buddy.”

  “Well?” Vega asked.

  Noel didn’t know what the question was. “I feel like when I was eight years old, and I hurt a friend, put a stick in his eye or something like that. My father spanked me for the first and last time in my life, but I’ll never forget that spanking. How angry he was.”

  “Now you see what Loomis thinks of you.”

  “I didn’t know he was a psychiatrist.”

>   “Class-A operative. Number one rating he gave you. Right next to Mr. X. Aren’t you?”

  “Loomis thinks so.”

  “Then it will get a lot worse,” Buddy said darkly.

  Noel didn’t understand that. He was still trying to accept what he’d spent the last hour reading. Given that everything written about him was true, how in hell could Loomis conclude he was homosexual? All those years with Monica! His affair with Mirella. And one little drunken incident to unbalance it, to tip it. It was unjust! Unfair! Unfair!

  Vega was talking again, saying vague things in enigmatic phrases: the dossiers were not the worst of it; something else was behind it, something far worse; he wasn’t sure what, but he was going to find out.

  “I’m sorry,” Noel said, finally stopping Vega. “I’m not following you. I need time to think about this. You won’t show this to anyone?”

  “Don’t worry. It’s locked up. But even if nothing comes of it, remember! You read it. You held it in your hands and read it! Remember that!”

  “What do you expect to come of it?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Buddy!” his wife warned. “Shut up, until you know.”

  20

  After all that, the stupidest thing Noel could have done that night was to attempt to make love to Mirella Trent. That’s what he told himself several times that evening with her.

  The first time was when he picked her up in her large, spacious Upper West Side apartment. She offered him a seat and a drink. He took the first, refused the second. That was when she—still standing—asked him whether he liked the sweater she was wearing—a forest-green turtleneck that clung revealingly and gracefully. Or, she asked, should she wear this?—holding up a Chinese silk blouse. Of course it was a come-on. Noel saw that as it was happening. Why else would she draw attention to her body, especially her beautiful breasts, unless she had more ideas than merely dinner?

 

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