The Lure, page 25
“It’s still exploiting a weakness,” Noel said.
“Or fulfilling a need,” Eric came back. “There are two sides to it. If you add Clouds and Window Wall, it all changes. You know how special their clientele is. Movie stars call up for memberships. And the Window Wall has the best party crowd in the country. You’ve been there. You’ve seen. That’s exploiting, too, according to your theory. And I’m in business, I admit it, even though I feed all the income from the clubs right back into them, or into new ones. But in my places people get what they pay for—and a little more: quality. That’s not the way the mobs run their places. All they’re interested in is skimming the cream off the top and letting the place go to pieces in a year or two. My clubs have reputations. Each is unique. They endure.”
“But why have them at all?”
“The discos? There’s a need for great entertainment places where people will party. It’s the same with the fuck bars.”
“But why is it all so back street, so seedy, so sleazy?”
“At first it had to be that way. People didn’t want to see gays congregating for any reason. They still don’t. You’re aware of that, aren’t you, Noel, despite your ivory tower existence?”
“It’s become a ghetto.”
“Maybe so. But now it’s a voluntary ghetto. A place where teenagers can’t gang up on one drunken queen; if they do, a vigilante group forms and keeps the kids in line. The kind of place that just doesn’t exist except in a few spots: Fire Island, parts of San Francisco, Manhattan’s West Side.”
“But it’s all so underground. And the connections with crime, why that?”
Eric smiled. “Everything I do is a crime in this state. I live with a woman I’m not married to. I sleep with men and can be busted for sodomy. I take drugs, most of which are illegal. Everything I do is considered a crime, and I am a criminal. You, too. All of us. You tell me why gays have traditionally allied themselves with organized crime even when they knew they were getting ripped off. How were you treated by the police a few days ago?”
Noel didn’t have to be reminded of that.
“You see,” Eric said, taking Noel’s silence for assent. “And you’re a valued member of society: a university professor. You have to begin there, with the oppression, to understand why the gay subculture is the way it is, otherwise your book is going to be another crock of academic shit.”
“If that’s so, then change it, don’t reinforce it.”
“We’re trying to do that. What we are reinforcing is a common identity and shared interests so that gays don’t see themselves as abnormal criminals but as a justifiable minority. Through laws and politics we’ll move on. We’re only at these first steps, baby. The Mattachine Society is only twenty years old, you know.” Eric looked up sharply as Noel was about to speak. “Hold on. Looks like we have company.”
Noel followed his glance across the pool where Okku had led a burly, suntanned young stranger out onto the terrace.
Before Noel could get a good look at him, Eric shouted: “You’re one hour late, McWhitter.”
“You don’t look like you’re going anywhere.” The stranger walked alongside the rim of the pool toward them, Okku following.
As he advanced, Noel recognized him as the bouncer at a private discotheque in Southampton he and Eric and Alana had gone to the night before. Eric had talked to McWhitter at one point, buying him a drink during the bouncer’s break. At first, Noel had thought it was merely a pickup. The overmuscled, baby-faced, big-bodied McWhitter definitely looked as though he liked his action rough. But Eric had come home alone.
“That’s the second mistake you made so far, McWhitter,” Eric said in his most menacing manner, without moving an inch from his position on the float. “Care to try for number three?”
For a second, Noel thought McWhitter was going to jump into the pool and attack Eric. His features settled into a tight, prognathic grimness; his clear green eyes darkened suddenly, as though some protective opaque membrane had come instinctively down over them. His hands tensed at his sides. He said nothing, made no move for what seemed a long while, a looming presence at the poolside, until Eric broke the silence.
“I see you’re sulking. That’s mistake number three, McWhitter. Get lost.”
“You said you had a job for me.”
“I said to come at eleven o’clock to talk to me about a job. It’s past noon now. Get out.”
“You said you had a job.”
“Okku, throw him out,” Eric said, and began to turn over onto his stomach, at the same time paddling the water on one side to face the float toward the two men.
“What about my job?” McWhitter complained.
“Try sitting on it,” Eric suggested.
McWhitter looked back and forth between Eric and Okku, as though trying to make up his mind which to tear apart. Then, raising one fist high in the air, he charged right into the manservant.
The rest was very fast. Okku sidestepped him, spun around, grabbed McWhitter’s arm and shoulder, and threw him forward. McWhitter fell hard, but leaped up again as Okku came crashing down on him, feet first. McWhitter siderolled, rose, and catching Okku off balance, spun him off the ground like a corkscrew, punctuating it with a probing karate chop to Okku’s lower abdomen. Okku seemed to fall back in great pain, then suddenly jumped forward with two open-handed blows, one to McWhitter’s head, the other to his body. The bigger man dropped to his knees and seemed to grip Okku at the hips while the blows rained down on his neck and head and back. But in a second, Okku was up in the air, lifted by McWhitter and swung by his calves over the railing.
Noel jumped off his float and swam to the edge of the pool.
“Don’t move or I drop him!”
McWhitter swung Okku in a wide arc, then looked back at Eric, who hadn’t moved an inch from his prostrate position, chin in his hands as though he were lying on the living room carpet watching a wrestling match on television.
“Well?” McWhitter shouted. “Do I get the job, or do I drop him?”
“Can you cook?” Eric asked.
“That’s what I asked. Can you cook?”
“I don’t know. Hamburgers, things like that.”
“The man you want to drop is one of the best cooks in the state. French, Chinese, Italian, and American regional dishes are his specialties. If you let go of him, you can still have the job. But you’ll have to do all the cooking.”
McWhitter looked at Okku’s outstretched body. “He’s a good cook?” he shouted back at Eric.
“That’s what I said.”
“I’m no cook. I’m a masseur. Isn’t that what I told you last night?”
“You’re hired,” Eric said, and rolled over on his back again.
McWhitter swung Okku back onto the terrace side of the railing, setting him down gently enough. He said, “I hope you’re okay, mister. Didn’t mean anything personal by all this, you understand?”
Okku got up and away to a safe distance. He seemed unhurt, only slightly shaken.
“When do I start?” McWhitter asked.
“Right now,” Eric said casually. “You can go now, Okku. Thanks. Come on, big boy. You can swim, can’t you?”
McWhitter stripped off his clothing, revealing a spectacularly muscled body. Raising his hands as though about to pray, he arched and dove into the water, sliding under to the other side and coming up smoothly right at the head of Eric’s rubber raft. Lightly touching it as he dog-paddled, McWhitter shook the water off his face and immediately kissed Eric’s lips.
“Do you mind?” Noel heard him ask in a small voice, husky with some emotion. “Working out always gets me a little excited.” Then he turned to face Noel, a look of assessment. Not friendly.
“How excited?” Noel heard Eric ask.
“Then let’s get the hell out of this pool,” Eric said.
A minute later Eric was leading McWhitter in through the glass d
Then the curtains were pulled.
Left alone, Noel felt at loose ends, with nothing to do, yet with an itch to do something, anything.
He checked in on Alana. She was napping, blissfully curled in her pale blue silk sheets. He decided not to wake her.
The kitchen was empty. As he poured himself a drink, Noel heard the familiar sound of the washing machine downstairs in the laundry attached to the garage. Wasn’t that just like the phlegmatic Okku—one minute hanging a hairbreadth away from death, the next doing the wash.
Then it flashed on him: now was the perfect time to call Loomis. It had been four days since he’d checked in.
The first loop number he dialed from the living room pavilion was picked up immediately. Noel was about to identify himself when he beard a young-sounding woman say a bright, “Hello!”
It was the first time such a thing had happened to him. The number must have been assigned. He made an awkward excuse about a wrong number, and hung up, hoping one of the other three numbers was still unassigned.
The second call was picked up on the third ring.
The familiar silence that followed told him he’d struck an open loop. He waited a minute or so to be sure, then said, “Lure here.”
“Hold on, Lure,” a vaguely familiar voice said, and left him hanging another minute.
“Where the hell have you been?”
It was Loomis—pissed off.
Noel wasn’t fazed. “I couldn’t call until now.”
“Where are you?”
“Redfern’s place in Amagansett. Everyone is busy for the minute. It’s the first I could get away.”
Which wasn’t exactly true. The reasons he hadn’t tried to call until now were more complicated. He was still resentful that Whisper hadn’t extricated him from the humiliations of the precinct house. He had found himself enjoying his new status—not as sex object, but as friend, confidant to a minor extent of Eric. He had been enjoying Alana’s company—limited as that was. Enjoying the lazy, hot, sunny weather and the lazy, comfortable life at the villa.
“You’re calling from inside? What are you, crazy? He’ll trace it. I’ll call back. Hang up.”
“No! Okku would be sure to pick it up,” Noel reasoned. “Besides, I don’t have anything to report. Just one thing. A new person just appeared. A bodyguard, I think. His name is McWhitter. He used to be the bouncer at a small disco out here called Blue Trousers. That’s all I know of him.”
“How much longer are you staying there?”
“Don’t know. A week. Two weeks. All summer.”
“Isn’t there a pay phone nearby?”
“Fifteen minutes by car.”
“Shit! Don’t call then. We can’t take chances.”
“Of course if anything should happen—” Noel began but left it hanging.
“Doesn’t he have to go into the city at all?” Loomis asked.
“He did yesterday. Okku drove him to the East Hampton Airport. He flew in, and was back out at the house a few hours later.”
“I don’t like having you out there by yourself,” Loomis said.
“I’m not by myself.”
“He doesn’t suspect anything?” Loomis asked.
“Why should he?”
“Remember how angry you were?”
“I remember. It’s no problem now. Mainly because I don’t think he did it.”
“Of course he didn’t. It was one of his…”
But Noel had thought it out over the past few days. “No,” he said, “I’m sure he isn’t responsible for it.”
“Come on, now. You certainly don’t believe that crap about it being some creeping homophobe?”
“I don’t know what to believe. But I’m pretty sure Eric didn’t do it. What was his motive?”
Loomis was silent, thinking. “To have you to himself.”
“Then revenge. For Randy leaving his employ.”
“He got over it. He was financing Randy’s return to school.”
Loomis’s voice was pinched when he answered. “Look, he must have known both of you were there that night. He might have done it just to have the police on your back.”
“He promised to get me a lawyer,” Noel said. “I can’t find a motive. Neither can you. Admit it.”
“Then who did it?” Loomis asked, piqued now.
“You’re the detective. You tell me.”
There was a pause, then, “All right. I’ll get some people on it. By the way, watch out for Vega. He knew you were there, didn’t he? That both of you would be there?”
“I thought he was on our side,” Noel said.
“Maybe,” Loomis said ominously. “All right, Lure. Call again when you can. But not from the house. Do you hear?”
The old cop was becoming more bizarrely suspicious every time they talked. Vega responsible for Randy’s death? It was ludicrous! It would be a long while before Noel would subject himself to Loomis’s idiocy again. Being out here was a perfect excuse.
He hung up the phone and was unconsciously playing with a candlestick on the mirrored phone table when he noticed unexpected colors reflected and looked for the source.
Alana—in a blue bathrobe, standing arms akimbo, at the glass doors leading from the living room to the pool terrace. She had a look on her face Noel had never seen before and couldn’t decipher. How long had she been standing there? What had she heard? He’d been talking in a low voice.
“Hi! Have a good nap?” he asked brightly.
“Pas mal. It was very hot. Who were you talking to, Noel?”
Christ, she had heard something. But what? How much?
“A friend. In the city.”
“A friend?” Her odd look hadn’t changed. She kept her pose, and that menaced him with all sorts of awful possibilities.
“Some guy I know,” he said, as nonchalantly as possible. “He told me he sometimes came out to the Hamptons. I thought I’d see if he was coming out this week.”
Despite the glibness with which he lied, he was sure she didn’t believe him. She couldn’t have heard any of the conversation from the doorway. Could she? He got off the sofa and went over to her.
“Are you angry with me?” he asked. “Because I’m not following your good advice?”
“I’m not angry,” she said, but avoided his touch.
“I was a little lonely. Eric had a visitor. You were asleep. Okku was busy. It’s all right. He’s not coming out here. I’m safe.”
She looked at him as though she were about to tell him she knew everything and why was he lying to her? But all she said was, “I hope so, Noel. I hope you are safe. For all our sakes.”
Now he interpreted her look as one of concern, and he felt treacherous, rotten.
But before he could give in, she had turned and gone out onto the terrace. She pulled off the blue robe, and naked and gleaming tan, plunged into the pool.
If Alana had told Eric of the phone call, there was no evidence of it during the following week. Life at the villa continued its usual leisurely pace. With the addition of Bill McWhitter, of course.
Eric and Bill were together all the time now, going for jogs lasting hours, driving out together in the Mercedes, disappearing at what seemed prearranged moments from the few dinners where outsiders—friends of Eric and Alana’s from nearby—were invited.
“Young love,” Noel said, following one such disappearance.
“Young lust, I’d say,” Dorrance commented. He’d been at the house all day, on business. He would fly back to Manhattan in the morning.
“And I’d say you are both jealous!” Alana put in.
“Of whom?” both asked.
“Of…of everyone,” she replied, laughing.
It was a little bit true of himself, Noel had to admit. To have Eric’s constant attention and interest and
Working it out one night when the paperback he’d been reading had begun to bore him, Noel decided he didn’t fully trust Eric or Loomis, or Vega, or—worst of all—Alana; not now, with that phone call hanging between them. She had never referred to it, hadn’t done or said anything at all to indicate she even recalled it.
But Noel could not forget the look on her face as he’d turned to see her standing there. It had to be settled between them. So, with the intention of finding out exactly what she had overheard, Noel chose the Tuesday after the loops call to request a day off.
They were at breakfast, on the pool terrace: Eric, Alana, McWhitter, and Noel. The bodyguard had relaxed since his rather aggressive arrival, although he, too, was working, teaching Eric jujitsu and karate every afternoon.
“You want a vacation from this? ” McWhitter asked in disbelief.
“He’s entitled,” Eric said. “Go right ahead, Noel. Take the day, if you want.” Then, to Bill, “He hasn’t been getting laid as regularly as you have, you know.” Back to Noel: “What are your plans?”
“I don’t know. I thought I’d go over to the Tiana boys’ camp and rape a few six-year-olds.”
“Man! That’s weird!” McWhitter said.
“Don’t listen to him,” Eric said. “He’s got a date, don’t you, Noel?”
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