The houses in rossford, part two of chapter three
“ARE YOU READY to go?”
“I’m ready, but I’m gonna get out of this wheelchair.”
“Bup bup bup!” said the nurse who was pushing him.
“You better stay, Noah,” Paul said. “It’s hospital orders.”
“Where are we going, anyway?” Noah asked him.
“Well, Todd leant me his Land Rover. And then, well, we’re actually going to stay at Todd and Fenn’s house.
“God, Noah, this day has been really amazing.”
The elevator door swung open, and Noah said, “Amazing, but not in that good way.”
“I don’t know, Noah. Amazing in that really, really interesting way. There’s so much, and I don’t know how much to tell you.”
Noah frowned. He was really a very pretty boy. It was always easy to shoot scenes with him. The elevator was sucked down to the mezzanine.
“Is it something bad?” Noah demanded.
“No, Noah. It’s absolutely good. It’s really some of the best news in the world.”
“A’right?” Noah said, suspiciously. “Well… can you tell me a little?”
“No. I absolutely can’t,” Paul told him.
“What are we gonna do on Monday? Is Guy getting out of jail or what?”
The elevator doors opened, and as the nurse bumped Noah out of the elevator and began rolling toward the door Paul said, “I’ll tell you everything. I just need to get the car.”
He ran off, feeling stupid for not getting it earlier, and Noah murmured, “I might have to go back to California.”
“California,” the nurse said. “I always wanted to go. My brother says it’s wonderful. What’s it like?”
“Hot,” Noah said, feeling ungracious. “Hot and full of earthquakes, Mexicans and gullible Midwesterners. Stay in Indiana.”
The nurse said, “Um.”
She stayed with Noah, waiting for the approach of the Land Rover, and then when it came, Paul hopped out, a very handsome man in cargo shorts and a striped Polo shirt. Innocent looking.
“Is he your brother?”
“No,” Noah said. “He’s a… co-worker.”
“Oh, really?” she said.
“All right,” Paul said. “Get up carefully.”
“I’m not a china doll. I was just a little screwed up. I can get up,” Noah said.
Paul laughed and said, “Well, get up, then.”
The nurse said to Noah, “He must be a really good friend, too.”
“Yes,” Noah said, suddenly feeling a little ashamed of his attitude. “Yes, he is.”
“Look at that sunset,” Paul said. “Look at that. It’s like… I know this sounds silly, but it reminds me of this lollipop I had once, where all the red from the strawberry was swirled in with the yellow from the lemon. It’s just really deep color. You know? It’s like you could put your hand out into the sky and take some out and eat it.”
“A delicious sunset?” said Noah.
“Exactly,” Paul said. “Now that’s just what it is. A sunset so… wonderful you could eat it.”
They sped southeast down Route Two, a large unoccupied road with stretches of farmland, and the occasional barn in the distance. Now and again a bridge crossed overhead, stretching out to road in either direction.
“When I was a little kid,” said Paul, “And I was in the backseat of the car traveling with Mom and Dad, I used to imagine all of these towns that the bridges went off to. What were the people like? Would they be my friends? Did they… Did they think like me? I was so curious about all that.”
“You talk a lot,” Noah said.
“I know,” Paul said. “It’s a fault.”
“Actually, it’s kind of a comfort,” Noah said. “It sort of takes away the pressure of me having to say anything.”
Noah sat back in his seat and yawned.
“Did you and your parents used to travel, Noah?”
“Only my Dad. He was a trucker who fucked my mom and left. She never went anywhere. That’s why I got as far from home as I could. That’s why I travel.”
“Do you ever visit her?”
“No.” Noah’s mouth snapped shut like a lid. Then he said, “Well, I guess that tells you just how I feel about my family.”
Paul didn’t say anything. He gave a hooked smile to the road and continued driving.
“Rossford. Ten miles.”
“Good,” Noah said, putting the back of his hand over his forehead. “I hate to impose on these people but… I really want this trip to be over. Only… I don’t know that it will be over. You know? I feel like I keep on waiting for the trip to be over, but I really don’t know the destination. Or, for that matter, even where the fuck it started.
“I read this article…” But he stopped talking. He was quiet a while, and then when Paul made a turn south, suddenly Noah continued his sentence.
“On the Net. About this porn guy. Like famous. Even more famous than you, Mr. Mellow.”
“All right,” Paul said, making a face and laughing.
“And he said that he loved his work, and that this is what he always wanted to do. So, I looked for some of his shit.”
“It’s nowhere as good as mine.”
Paul burst out laughing.
“No. It’s not. It’s… sloppy. And he’s either stupid as fuck or high as fuck.”
“Or both,” Noah agreed. “No matter what we were off screen, when Guy shot us we were never fucked up. I was never fucked up in a scene. But when this asshole wrote he’d always wanted to do porn I knew he was full of shit.”
“But Noah, isn’t that the party line? I mean we’re all here because we all really want to make great porn movies. No one ever asks anyone else… how the fuck did you end up here… Doing this? But… we’ve all gotta wonder it about each other.”
“Well, look,” said Noah. “I was pretty much out on the streets and thought doing some JO shots for some lonely closet pervs was a better way of making money than other shit. And Burt honestly told me that he was curious. He had to find out. I’m not saying I’m ashamed of what I do. Or that I feel abused or… whatever. But in this article this guy acted like it was a dream job and he was proud of himself. I’ve never walked away from a filming and felt… proud,” Noah made a face and laughed. “Can you imagine feeling like dressing up as a milkman, knocking on all the doors in the neighborhood and blowing my customers in a cheap movie is just like… Gandhi freeing India? Another proud moment in history.”
“Yeah,” Paul murmured after a moment. “I get what you mean. Not really ashamed. Not the way some people act like you should be. But I’m damn sure not proud about it. But… That’s just it. When I was younger if someone had said, ‘You do porn!’ I would have been really ashamed. I think at the beginning I was. But now if someone says it, I think—”
“You think he’s a hypocritical fuck because he’s going right back home to download it.”
“Right!” Paul said. “That’s just how I feel. But… I don’t want to feel that way. Jaded and cynical. Superior. What do I do to make me feel superior?”
“You don’t kid yourself about what you are.”
“I don’t kid myself about what I do,” Paul said. “I don’t even know what I am.
“But you know how you said… you’re not ashamed, but you’re not proud?”
“I want to be proud. I want to… do something that… doesn’t make that little, cynical person inside of me smirk.”
“Well, who is the kid?”
“I can’t tell you who he is,” Dan said, “It was a confession. And stop blowing smoke in my face.”
Turning away from Dan Malloy, Fenn exhaled.
“It was not a confession,” Fenn argued. “Not exactly. It was a conversation in your office.”
“It was the same thing."
“And did you even offer a penance? Did you? Because it seems to me like it was just a chat, in which case you can tell me.”
“I’m pretty sure the boy did not expect me to be sitting at a kitchen table with you, telling his deepest secrets.”
“Then I know the boy?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But I do know the boy?”
“Fenn, in a town this small, at our parish, of course you know him.”
“Is it Brendan Miller?”
“Fenn! I don’t know what you’re talk…”
But through the cigarette smoke, Fenn gave a fierce and triumphant smile, and the priest kept trying to dissemble, but finally said, “How did you know?”
“Well, see, that’s my secret, and unlike you, I don’t give my secrets away.
“So what are you gonna do?”
“What do you mean, do?”
“Unless the word changed its meaning in the last twenty-four hours, I mean just what I said. He’s dating Todd’s niece, Dan. I mean, you can’t just let him go on being gay and dating Dena.”
“Says the man who stole a million dollars.”
“I don’t know how much is in that bag,” Fenn said. “And I didn’t steal it. It sort of disappeared off the gird, and I’m capitalizing on it’s… non gridness.
“I should count it. We really ought to count it right now and decide who’s in and who’s out.”
“Who’s in and who’s out?”
“Of our money plan,” Fenn said.
“We don’t have a money plan.”
“Oh, Dan, of course we do. I have a money plan, and the moment you looked in that bag was the moment you became a we.”
“I don’t think—”
“So it would be you. Me, Todd, Paul. The four of us. It won’t be split equally. You have a poverty vow and I was the one who found it and kept it when everyone said give it back. Tom will have to know, and that’s too bad. I’m going to take us out of the red, and he’s going to want to know where the hell the money came from. And then Tara. Can’t leave her out. Adele… I would like to leave out, but—”
“I can’t believe you’re—”
“Dan, if you say I can’t believe you’re going through with this one more time—”
Todd came down the stairs in his boxers, and acknowledged Dan with a nod.
“I’ll say it to you, then,” the priest turned to Todd.
“Hey,” Todd threw up his hands. “I’m in with Fenn now. I already agreed not to stop him. I was just wondering if you ever planned on coming to bed.”
“Eventually. I wonder,” Fenn turned to the whirring air conditioner in the kitchen window, “Would central air be a cheaper move, or not?”
“I think the cheapest unit is five thousand dollars. If you want something good.”
“Well,” Fenn shrugged with a little smile. “We can probably handle it.”
Todd chuckled and rubbed his unshaven face when he heard the Land Rover coming into the driveway.
“That must be Noah.”
“The other pornstar,” Dan said.
“You said that with a touch of excitement. You’ve always been excited by badness.”
Dan shrugged and Todd said, “I think I’ll throw some clothes on to welcome our guest.”
When the phone rang, Fenn said, “Hello.”
“You do know people like to sleep.”
“Oh, please. It’s not even ten o’clock. Plus… I hear a party going on.”
“It’s just a little gathering. We’ve got indefinite house guests. It’s very… Gone with the Wind.”
“Are you picking cotton?”
“Bitch, shut your mouth. What’s going on?”
“I had decided, and then decided that you should make the decision too… since you’re co owner—”
“We’re just going to have a rehearsal to get a new lead roll since Chris isn’t coming back. We won’t practice tomorrow.”
Fenn turned from the phone to Paul and said, “You still wanna act?”
“Scratch that, Tom.”
“Practice is at eleven a.m. as usual.”
Fenn hung up and said, “Things are going to change from now on. This is going to be the playhouse I wanted. This will be like… the Royal Shakespeare Company of the Midwest.”
“You do Shakespeare?” Paul said.
“We will do Shakespeare,” Fenn said. Then he said to Noah, “What are you doing? Are you going back to Port Ridge?”
Noah looked at a loss. He turned to Paul, who had no answers, and then said, “At the moment… I guess not.”
“Well, we’ll find something for you too. What are you good at?”
“Having sex with other men on camera.”
Dan coughed on his water, and Noah said, “Scuse me, Father. Just… I’m not good at anything else.”
“I’m sure you are.”
“I’m sure you’re just saying that because you’re sort of obliged too. No offence.”
Dan didn’t say anything because, in fact, Noah was right enough. But Paul said, “Whaddit I tell you? Everything’s gonna be all right.”
“You said that already. In the car. But I don’t know how you know that.”
Paul looked at Fenn, his eyes questioning, and Fenn nodded then said, “All right.”
“What?” Noah looked from Paul to Fenn.
“Well, he’ll be the fifth person in on it.” Fenn announced.
“Keep this up and all Northwest Indiana will be in on it.”
“I found what looks like about a million dollars,” Fenn said flatly. “Actually, I don’t know how much it is. But I do know we’re all going to have a really good time with it.”
Noah looked amazed.
Paul ran upstairs, came back a few moments later and said, “Here,” tossing a pile on his lap, “have ten thousand dollars.”
“WELL, I DON'T KNOW,” Noah said when they were all sitting in the living room and Father Dan had left. “We were all… you know… Getting messed up. I was getting messed up really badly. And I remember being in the room, and I remember some of the Chicago folks were making large transaction, but…. “
“Fenn, we should count that money.”
“That’s a good idea.”
He got up, but Todd raised a hand and jogged up the stairs himself. He came back a few seconds later, and they spilled it on the floor.
“God!” Noah marveled.
“Amen,” said Fenn, gazing at the piles of money.
“Each pile is about…” Todd murmured.
“Ten thousand,” Fenn said.
Paul took his piles and Noah’s to add to the stash and began counting, stacking them up in rows, murmuring to himself.
“My God,” he murmured, counting softly as the pile grew.
“Forty times ten-thousand is…”
“Four hundred thousand dollars,” Todd said.
“How much is that?” Noah turned to Fenn.
Fenn, who was an English major and not a mathematician, furrowed his brow. But Todd and Paul murmured, “A little shy of half a million dollars.”
“A million dollars must be a lot,” Noah murmured, and Fenn nodded his head.
“Well, it’s no doubt, guys,” Fenn said, still entranced, “if we don’t screw up we’ve fallen on our feet.”
“But we can’t just leave it a pile on the floor,” Todd said. “We’ve gotta do something with it.”
“Well, we can’t very well just drop it off at First National either,” Fenn noted.
“We could put it in a private account in the Caymans,” Noah said.
They all looked at him.
“That’s what they do on TV,” he elaborated. “Whenever the government takes some bad guy’s money away, he always smiles because he has a private account in the Caymans.”
Fenn shrugged, and piling the money back into the valise said, “All right, so first thing in the morning I guess we find out how to get to the Caymans.”
“Where the hell are the Caymans,” Todd wondered.
“I’ve never heard of the Caymans said Paul.”
“I only watched Dallas when I was growing up,” Fenn said. “I doubt the Ewings ever had anything to do with the Caymans.”
What might have been the guest bedroom was usually the trash room or what Fenn called the “Clean Up” Room. When things became cluttered around the second floor and he didn’t feel like folding clothes or opening envelopes, Fenn just tossed them in there and shut the door. To Todd this was a bad habit and one he’d tried to break Fenn of before, one day, in the middle of a very long explanation about why this was a bad thing, he’d caught a look in Fenn’s eyes that warned him to shut up. There was a large closet downstairs that served the same purpose as the Clean Up Room.
When it was clear that they would end up having two houseguests, Fenn and Todd spent the afternoon emptying out the Clean Up Room and they’d taken a futon mattress and a few cushions from the outdoor furniture to make something like two beds. Todd set a lamp up and said, “Well, now that just makes it look a lot cozier than an overhead light.”
“I agree,” said Fenn, looking around. He wasn’t completely satisfied with the result, but he was satisfied enough.
Now, in the darkness of midnight it hardly mattered, and Noah on his bedpile was so bone tired that he could have slept on a trash heap.
“How are you feeling?” he heard Paul’s voice.
After actually thinking about it awhile, Noah said, “Overwhelmed.”
Then he said, again, “Overwhelmed! I mean… My God… That’s… a couple of days ago I was doing porn for Guy McClintock and now…. We’re all sitting on top of four hundred thousand dollars.”
“What about me?” Paul said.
“I always… I always thought your name was Johnny.”
Paul burst out laughing.
“I mean, my name is Noah. It really is. But… I never ask questions. You’re not really supposed to, I don’t guess. I mean, I don’t know you at all. And you’ve been a really, really good friend. I actually didn’t think I had any friends. Not any real ones. Everything’s so changed.”
“Well…” Paul said, at a loss. “Yes, I guess it has. You know… I actually forgot my name was Paul. Well, not forgot, but I had stopped using it. Johnny Mellow’s a lot more popular than Paul Anderson ever was.”
“I need a new name,” Noah said, “if I’m going to go back and really be a pornstar.”
“You’re gonna go back?”
“I don’t know,” Paul said. “I was thinking that part of my life might be over.”
“What’s that?” Noah sat up. He’d heard noise downstairs.
“I don’t…” Paul got up, and pulling his tee shirt on went out of the room to look down the stairs.
In the living room, Adele Lawden was standing in a panic with Tara Veems beside her, and Fenn was putting on shoes while Todd ran up the stairs and Paul leapt out of his way.
“What’s going on? Can I help?”
By now, Noah was out of the room too, half dressed, hair wild.
“Uh…” Todd tried to decide. “Right now just sit tight. That's Fenn’s sister, down there. I have to go with them to the hospital.”
Paul and Noah waited for an explanation while Todd came out of his room with a pair of crocs hanging from one hand, and a shirt in the other.
“It’s their grandmother,” Todd explained. “She had a heart attack.”