The Lure, page 34
It took Noel a moment or so to realize he was being asked to look at something concerning the party. More. He was being publicly asked to contribute: following his ouster from this very group not long ago, he was now reinstated, asked to evaluate something that concerned all of them. He took the drawing, held it, aware he was blushing.
“What’s wrong?” Eric asked, baffled. “Don’t you like it?”
“I like everything but the mirrors,” Cal said.
“I don’t know,” Noel said. “I’m not even sure I know what it’s supposed to represent.” He knew this minute of acceptance, no matter how momentary, was a gift from Eric.
“It’s the main part of Window Wall, decorated for the reopening party,”
“Marge” said, “Put on your glasses, honey. You’re among sisters here; we won’t tell on you.”
“The mirrors are all angled twice, on hinges,” Eric said, leaning over the rendering. He continued to point out the features they had already agreed upon, with comments from the others, until Noel fell by degrees out of embarrassment and into a more useful frame of mind.
The party was going to be the largest and wildest ever held at the Window Wall. During the summer the membership had been culled: laggards weeded out, newcomers who’d been frequent guests invited to join. For this party only, a celebrity list was made up; and enough talk had already gone around in society columns for it to be chic to be invited. Movie stars, top fashion designers, performing artists, various younger society figures all had been calling the club for invitations. They would all converge there on Labor Day Weekend, because socially they couldn’t afford not to come.
“But there’ll be twenty members for every one of them,” Eric said “Everyone will be a star. The professionals will just melt in with the rest. They’ll talk about it for months afterward,” he went on, “because it will have been the most intense, interesting, the brightest moment of their careers.”
It was Eric’s ideal made manifest in a single party. No wonder the planning was so complex.
There were to be multiple, silent film screens, projecting five different films around the main ballroom. Hanging from above on chain pulleys would be small, hexagonal mirrored rooms, which could be opened or closed. Performers—including some of the club’s more outrageously dressed members—would use those lifts. Plants were out. But Jimmy DiNadio knew where they could get a few dozen tube-metal sculptures that looked like strange trees. Cal’s lover, who was to do the lighting, had already shown how he was going to light the club—noncomplementary, contrasting colors. He gave Noel a fast demonstration from a portable light unit in the living room.
“Too bad we don’t have a pool in there,” Cal’s lover said. “On water this would be the only weirdness.”
It was then that Noel noticed Alana wasn’t present.
“She and Veena are doing a shooting together tomorrow for Vogue, ” Eric explained. “They have to be up early, so she decided to stay at Veena’s tonight.”
That might be so, but it wasn’t the whole reason, Noel knew. She hadn’t wanted to see him. Damn! Just when they could have…could have what? Gotten closer? Made love? Pipe dreams. Bullshit! Not included in Loomis’s programming. He was supposed to be chaste, solitary. But he wasn’t solitary now. Far from it; he felt a useful member of this very special, very elite group. That proved nothing. Only that the programming was imperfect. As he knew already. The split was happening again.
He realized he was being stared at by Geoff Malchuck. Not for the first time tonight. Not for the first time any day. He’d known Geoff had the hots for him since they’d first met. Geoff had never hidden it. Maybe they could get something on tonight. That would prove the programming was just a damn lying piece of paper.
Noel had just decided that, yes, he would leave with Geoff or get Geoff to stay over, when Malchuck stood up, looked at his watch, and said it was time for him to go to Clouds, the club he managed. They’d had some trouble a few nights before.
Without asking, Noel knew that he’d remain at the club until morning. That eliminated Geoff.
The others decided they had things to do also. There was a general getting up, a finishing of drinks and conversations.
“Anyone staying for dinner?” Eric asked. Usually someone said yes. Tonight everyone had plans. Everyone but Noel.
Noel was at the elevators, where they all seemed to be, talking to Rick and Cal about some details of traffic patterns for the coming party, when he saw Geoff take Eric’s arm and gesture for him to move away from the others. They discussed something Noel couldn’t hear, speaking low, rapidly. Then Geoff and the others left.
During dinner, Dorrance called from California, and Eric spent most of his mealtime talking nonstop, long distance. Noel leafed through some magazines as he ate, trying politely to ignore the conversation; it was pretty much of a rehash of what the group had discussed all evening.
The split came again while he was reading an article on sex therapy in a gay-oriented glossy. At first he wondered if sex therapy would help him. Then he read on and concluded these advanced methods were only effective for specific problems: physical problems. Not for his problem. His programming-induced problem. If that were true.
He looked up from the magazine in instant, total despair. At the same moment Eric hung up the phone and suggested they go down to the living room for coffee, the late news on TV, and some grass.
It was there that Noel came together again with a sudden inspiration. What if he made love to Eric? That would beat the shit out of any possibility of being programmed, controlled. Wouldn’t it?
He looked at Eric, who seemed engrossed in the weatherman’s predictions. Objectively speaking, Eric Redfern was a handsome man, a very handsome man, especially if you liked that fair-skinned, fair-haired, but tough WASPy type. He’d allowed his hair to grow a little longer during the summer. This long, it had a real wave. His mustache was less neatly trimmed than before: more casual, softer looking. He was certainly charismatic, strong, well-built, masculine…and most important he was infatuated with Noel. It was a brilliant idea, Noel decided.
“Are you listening to that?” Noel asked, taking hold of the remote control panel.
“Not really.” Eric kicked off his shoes and leaned back into the sofa cushions. Noel switched the TV off and turned the tape deck on, then cut the volume to make background music.
“Penny for your thoughts,” he said.
It took Eric by surprise. He stared at Noel for a second, then answered, “I was wondering if the party will really work. Celebrities can be such assholes if they don’t think they’re being treated right. On the other hand they’re being told they won’t get special treatment. Which they also like.”
“It’ll work. Don’t worry about it. Now ask me.”
“Ask you what?”
“You know, a penny for my thoughts.”
Eric reached into his pants pocket. “I don’t have any change.”
“Forget it. Go ahead, ask.”
“All right. A penny for your thoughts.”
“I was thinking how much you remind me of one of my students. Paul’s his name.” That wasn’t true, literally, but in a sense it was.
And Eric bit. “Is he cute?”
“Did you make it with him?”
“No. Not yet.”
“Well,” Eric said, “no wonder I remind you of him.” He moved to pick up the phone, but Noel moved first. Before Eric could dial, he depressed the tone button.
“No,” he said, “I think you’re much better looking. Of course he’s younger. His is only a beginner’s mustache.”
Eric stared at him, half-amused, half-baffled. “What’s gotten into you?”
“You’re much better looking,” Noel declared.
“Thanks!” Eric said ironically.
“No wonder guys come from all over the country to ball with you,” Noel went on. As he spoke, he lifted a finger and ran it slowly acro
“Why? I didn’t do anything this afternoon.” Eric moved back slightly.
“Sure, you did. You made me feel at home, like one of the gang.”
“What nice skin you have,” Noel said.
“What are you on, Noel?”
“Don’t you like being touched?”
For the briefest moment, Noel asked himself what in hell he was doing. Breaking the prediction, of course, by going to bed with Eric. Yes, but with Eric? Mr. X? One of the world’s foremost sadomasochists! But not always. Not with most of those Jims or Bobs or Bills out at Fire Island.
“Noel,” Eric said with some alarm, “what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to kiss you.” Noel had lowered them into an awkward position on the sofa; he seemed to be trying to get Eric into a half nelson.
“Because I want to. All of a sudden I realized how very much I want you, Eric. Now just relax, close your eyes, now.”
“You are high on something, aren’t you?”
Noel tried to kiss Eric again, but Eric jerked his head away and Noel only brushed the nape of his neck.
“You’re crazy. Come on. Stop. This is getting bonkers.”
“No, it’s not,” Noel said, unfazed. He’d gotten both hands into play now; one was slipping under Eric’s shirt up his smooth chest. The other grasped the back of the wavy blond head. Oddly, the more Eric resisted, the more excited Noel found himself.
“But why now? Why all of a sudden?”
“I don’t know. Just relax, will you? You’ve been waiting, jerking off, waiting for this moment for months. It’s here.”
“But this isn’t the way I thought it would happen.”
“So what? Relax a little.”
Eric did relax, long enough for Noel to begin to kiss him, which Eric barely allowed. His resistance excited Noel even more. By now he had forced open Eric’s lips with his tongue and was kissing him, getting more excited every moment at the brush of Eric’s mustache, the feel of his body underneath him, as he maneuvered them so that Eric was flatdown on the sofa, and Noel on top of him, feeling more exultant with every tiny barrier of resistance he broke down, more excited, knowing that Loomis and his prediction were wrong, all wrong, the son of a bitch!
When he felt Eric was returning his passion, he left his face, and opening the shirt buttons, said, “Mmm. Very nice.” He went directly for the jutting left nipple of the flat chest.
“Hey! You’re not playing around,” Eric said, as if coming to his senses.
“Who said I was?” Noel reached his hand past the flat, muscular stomach and into Eric’s pants, groping there.
“Come on, Noel. Enough’s enough.”
“Don’t tell me you aren’t turned on, Eric. I can feel that you are. And I know you have conventional sex, too. You don’t have chains and stuff out at the island. Or am I doing something wrong?”
“No.” Eric was trying to sit up. Noel held him down firmly.
“Well, am I?” Noel demanded. “Is there something you’d like me to do?”
“Yes. Get off me.”
“Why? Here we are all alone. Let’s make love. What’s stopping us?”
“I don’t know. I’m just not…I don’t understand.”
Eric still tried to get up, and Noel continued to try to keep him down. The more Eric struggled, the more determined Noel became to possess him, and the more Eric resisted, until they were rolling all over the sofa, sweating and groaning. Eric finally managed to free himself, falling over the back of the sofa. As it began to tip over, Noel had to jump clear of it, only inches away from where Eric was slowly getting up from his fall to the floor. Suddenly they were both on their feet, facing off with each other, and Noel was so angry at Eric for spoiling it that he wanted suddenly, almost uncontrollably, to smash him, hard.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Noel panted. “All I’m trying to do is make love to you, for Chrissakes!” He took a small step forward, and Eric backed up, on his guard, in jujitsu stance.
Noel’s frustration was becoming unbearable. “Why not?”
“I don’t know why not.”
But Noel was looking at Eric’s eyes just then, those multifaceted, hard-as-ice eyes, and what Eric couldn’t say, Noel could read all too clearly behind the shattered gaze of those eyes: Eric was terrified of him.
Noel sobered up immediately. Somehow, whether by intuition or sixth sense, Eric knew what Noel was supposed to do to him. And it wasn’t lovemaking. Once more the prediction was working. It was useless to fight it. Useless.
As Noel pulled open the door to the stairway in his hurry to get the hell out of there, he heard Eric’s confused and relieved voice saying words he’d never expected to hear, now that they did no good:
“I’m sorry, Noel. I’m sorry.”
“I brought this, too,” Mrs. Vega said. “Do you want it?”
Noel looked at the paper she held. It was the psychological weapon programming for his next two weeks.
“I should burn it,” he said. “Keep it with the rest of the things. We’ll need it later for the commissioner.”
They were sitting on either end of a large bench, no one near them but an occasional stroller along the sun-dappled path. It was a hot, windless August day.
They had met to rehearse details of the next day’s surveillance of Loomis and the mysterious Gee. For half an hour they had done just that. To a passerby it wouldn’t seem so: the petite Hispanic woman playing with the child in the stroller at her feet, reading her Spanish-language photonovel; the young man, face tilted back to catch the sun, apparently meditating. But both of them had been to the Horn and Hardart on Fifty-seventh Street, reconnoitering. It seemed an excellent possibility for taping.
Noel would place himself out of sight on the balcony, overlooking the three-story-high open area below where he was certain Loomis would arrange to meet Gee. From his balcony spot he could see all of them, and signal to her. He’d even taken the recorder and tested it. It seemed to be fine: it would pick up nearby conversation even over the noise.
“What if they don’t show up?” she asked.
“We begin monitoring the loops again, until they do,” he said. He had thought of the same question. “Here’s the new cassette. It’s an hour long on each side. I don’t think that you’ll need more than that. You know how to load it?”
A tall youth with two Afghans passed them. Priscilla studied her photonovel. The young man looked like a dancer. Tall, with jutting buttocks, turned-out feet. He stared at Noel—a cruise. Noel half smiled in return. The boy went on without looking back.
Maybe he’d like a toss in the grass, Noel thought. Funny, how after last night’s fiasco, all he could think about was sex. He ought to try Paul Warshaw’s number again, when he got home. Or maybe try the Tubs. Almost anyone could get laid quickly, efficiently, even superbly at the Baths, according to talk.
He realized Priscilla was speaking and had to ask her to repeat it.
“I said someone you know was at the funeral. He asked after you. He was surprised not to see you there.”
She was cleaning the baby’s face with a crumpled piece of pink tissue. It couldn’t have been Loomis.
“He said his name was Larry. I didn’t know him.”
“Code name Peter Pan,” Noel said.
She stood up to go, the stroller turned around. “He never used the loops while we were listening.”
“You’re very brave,” Noel said, “to do this.”
“After this I think I’ll stay in P.R.,” she said quietly. “There the men laugh, call gays mariposa, maricón. But they don’t kill because the gays are that way. You know? Why is that?”
An answer—long, complicated, many-faceted—sprang
Then he tilted his head back again, until the squeaking wheels of the stroller she was pushing could no longer be heard.
The vantage point Noel chose was a table at the edge of the balcony overlooking the main floor of the Automat. Only a few tables were directly beneath him. That was the serving area—food dispensed out of the two side rows of little windows and from a hot-food counter along the rear wall. Because of the noise, the heat, and cooking smells, few customers would choose to sit there, especially at this hour—after the noon rush—when there were far fewer people eating. He ought to have a clear view of Loomis and his companion.
Noel had dressed in sloppy, ill-fitting clothing and hidden his eyes with a pair of large, mirrored sunglasses. He carried a canvas bag filled with dirty laundry and held a New York Times open in front of him against the balcony railing, artfully arranged so he could not be seen from below. As most of the Automat’s patrons were too old or tired to climb this high, only two other people were on the balcony with him: two girlfriends it seemed, having an intense discussion about a man.
He had taken a Valium at noon and had brought another with him in case the waiting got to his nerves.
He was feeling quite pleasant now, taking minute bites out of his tuna salad sandwich and reading every article and advertisement in the paper. He had begun at page one. He was already past the sports page.
Mentally, he was reviewing every possibility of a screw-up. Loomis might not show. Or his friend might not. Priscilla was already here—Noel had seen her pass by the front of the Automat twice already, as though wondering whether to come in or not. She had looked up to him, and not receiving his signal, passed by again. What if she couldn’t get close enough? Or what if the cassette recorder didn’t work? What if…?
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