The houses in rossford, part one of chapter three
LIFE IN THE CAYMANS
“THAT’S FINE! THAT’S FINE!” He shouted coming down the stairwell. “See if I don’t show you!”
Fenn, who had been sitting on the couch with Paul, looked up and saw a young man with thick dark hair in a tight black dress shirt and white pants marching down the steps, and up on the balcony were Guy McClintock and Todd. Todd looked down at Fenn and shrugged.
“That’s Bobby Frey,” Paul said.
“Does he do movies?” Fenn looked after him doubtfully. He was very handsome, but he didn’t seem the movie type.
“Go home and cry to your mama, Bobby!” Guy shouted down.
“No,” Paul said as Bobby passed. “He’s one of Guy’s Chicago friends from his other business.”
“Other business…” Fenn began.
“Yeah,” Paul said. “Guy multitasks. It took awhile to get the porn thing up so he used to run drugs to support himself. Still does. Everyone from that end of his business we call Chicago Friends. Cause that’s where they used to come from. I don’t know that much about Bobby. He might be a Cleveland friend. Or a Detroit one.”
“Not a New Yorker, though.”
“No,” Paul said, sagely. “He walks like a Midwesterner.”
They were in the bedroom they’d made love in that afternoon when Fenn said, “If there’s going to be one of those parties tonight—”
“I was going to say, I didn’t come dressed for a party. I don’t even know what to wear to a party like this.”
“I’m sure Johnny will show you something,” Todd said.
“Who…? Oh, Paul.”
“His name is Paul, Todd.”
“Oh,” Todd said, and smiled. “That’s the thing about you, Fenn. You always get inside of people. You always know so much so quickly.
“Well, anyway, this little ugly standard outfit of jeans and army green shirt is what I’ll be wearing. Cause I’m the filmmaker. But I know you’ll want to be dressed.”
Fenn looked at Todd, smiling, waiting for an answer.
“Cause you’re you,” he said.
“Truthfully,” Fenn said, “I don’t greatly want to go to the party.”
“Do you know?” said Todd, “We could just go back home for a bit, and then drive back here later on.”
“But with the price of gas. Do you really want to?”
“It’s about five-thirty now. If we leave we’ll be back home by seven. Eat a little. Relax. Shower. We can head back here at around ten or nine-thirty. The Party will be at its dirtiest. In fact, it’ll be at the place I stopped filming last night.”
“All right,” Fenn stood up. “We’ll go. I’m going to go say goodbye to Paul and tell him to take care of himself.”
“That is such a you thing to do,” Todd said.
Fenn cocked his head.
“I think that was a compliment.”
“You bet your pretty round ass it was,” Todd said, grabbing that pretty round ass.
“GOD, MY HEAD IS hurting,” Todd yawned as he leaned ahead.
Red taillights floated by in the night.
“Why don’t you switch seats and let me drive. You need rest,” Fenn said.
“Fenn, I love you, but you’re legally blind, and I was the one that taught you to drive so, if you don’t mind I think I’ll get a lot more rest if I’m at the wheel.”
“Suit yourself,” Fenn said and reaching into his breast pocket, he pulled out a cigarette.
“I guess it’ll be about…. Almost midnight by the time we get to the party.”
“What’s it gonna be like?”
“Oh, Fenn, it won’t be like anything you’d call a party. It’ll be…”
“Like an orgy?”
“Well, actually it will be an orgy,” Todd said. “At least it was last night.”
“Wow,” Fenn sat back. “I thought I’d be excited.”
“You’re bored? About going to an orgy?”
“No. I’m mildly terrified is what I am.”
“Well, just hold onto my shirttail. You know,” Todd told him, “you didn’t have to come. I would have been all right if you’d stayed home.”
“And I would have thought for the rest of my life, damn, I missed an orgy. I could have seen an orgy.”
“Do you know Guy offered to do a porno of us?”
“Yes. It was going to be something we could watch in the privacy of our own home,” Todd grinned, making quote marks.
“You know, I just think that’s weird. I think this whole thing is weird. Ehhh…..” Fenn craned his neck and yawned.
“Whaddit the sign say, babe?”
“You’re asking me? The legally blind one? It said we’ve just entered Port Ridge.”
“Only ten minutes to the land of Sodom.”
“That’s a good title for a play.”
“Or an autobiography.”
“Speak for yourself. Say,” Fenn interrupted himself. “What about for the documentary?”
Todd cackled, “That’s actually a pretty great idea.”
It wasn’t ten minutes. Port Ridge was a small town, and on Saturday night, this late, there was no traffic. They went through blinking red lights, and soon they were on the familiar dead in street, no traffic, only the shadow of Guy’s house on the hill growing larger as they approached.
“Ah, here we are.”
“Up and up the winding path,” Fenn sang. “Todd, this has to be the strangest movie you’ve ever made.”
“We’ll park right here,” Todd said, settling on the street, half a block before the house.
“There’ll be so many cars here, and between getting the valet to park it and getting it back… It’ll just be shorter if we park right here.”
But for the bass thump of music pounding from the house and the occasional raucous scream, the walk up was quiet and still. They were halfway toward the house when, suddenly, whirring sirens tore apart the night and lights were flashing.
“What the…?” Todd began.
Fenn pulled him into the trees and said, “Take out your camera and start filming. I’ll set up the lights.”
Patrol car after patrol car was whirring up to the house and Todd was shaking. But Fenn was cool and calm about the whole business, setting up a small light for Todd to shoot by.
“You got most of the party,” Fenn said. “Now you can shoot its aftermath.”
Fenn stepped out of the trees.
“What are you doing?” Todd hissed.
Fenn shrugged, “Getting a better view.
There were five patrol cars now, with lights flashing in the circle driveway, and cops in blue were jumping out of them and entering the house. Soon the music died down, but the screaming began. Fenn came back to the clump of trees and told Todd, “I’ll bet these people have been looking for a way to close down Guy for a long time.”
“Whaddo you think they found?”
“A bunch of folks fucking and snorting coke and all sorts of shit. That’s what they found,” Fenn said. He walked back to the edge of the street, watching. Another siren whirred and he went back into the bushes.
“Okay,” Fenn whispered, “All you need to know is everyone is getting arrested. It’s a good thing we came late as we did.”
“It’s a good thing we parked the car right here.”
After a while Todd said, “Whaddo we do?”
“We wait the whole thing out.”
“I think they’re gone,” Todd said. “I think it’s all over.”
Fenn started taking apart the lights, and Todd was shutting off his camera.
“Not at all what I expected.”
“No,” Fenn shook his head. “And don’t think about it too much now, but there goes your seventy-five-thousand dollars.”
“Oh, hell,” Todd muttered. “How’s he gonna pay from jail?”
“He may not stay in jail,” Fenn said.
“Yeah, but somehow it’s doubtful this’ll translate into me getting paid anytime soon.”
“Well,” Fenn said, “now that I’ve brought it up, I say let’s forget about it.”
They were coming onto the sidewalk when a figure came staggering toward them and as Fenn stepped out of the way, the swaying figure crashed into Todd.
“Johnny?” Todd began.
Paul Anderson, turned Johnny Mellow turned from one of them to the other and said, “It was… awful. The police. They were everywhere. I had to hide with Noah.”
“Wha?” Todd began.
“Noah had gotten pretty fucked up when the police came. So I lugged him around with me to hide. We hid in a closet. Well, I hid him. And now, I was going to get help.”
“Well, I guess we better go,” said Fenn..
“Go?” Todd said. “Into a house that just got raided by the cops? A house the cops could come back to at any moment?”
“Well then I guess we better be quick about it,” Fenn said.
TODD LOOKED AROUND the large door as if he expected a cop to be hiding inside of the foyer. But Fenn simply walked in.
“Goddamn,” he muttered.
The leftovers of the party were still there. A wide screen TV played a porno. Over and over again someone was being fucked in the ass, and under that was a litter of clothing, cups, and what Fenn thought was a bong.
“You do know the police will come back pretty soon,” Fenn said. “I mean, they’ve got too. Nothing’s cleaned up.
“Well, then let’s find Noah,” Todd was already in the living room, his foot poised on the stair.
Paul danced ahead of him. “He’s in the bedroom you all had. He was there with one of the Chicago Friends.”
“The one we saw today?”
“No,” said Paul, hopping up and down on one foot like he had to pee as he waited for Fenn and Todd to come up the steps.
“No,” Paul repeated, leading them down the large hall. “That’s the one I think turned Guy into the police. I don’t know all what went on there, though. I think Guy might of cheated him, or he thought he was cheated.”
Paul entered the room Fenn and Todd remembered, and then he went into the closet and was gone along time. Briefly Fenn remembered Narnia. Then Paul was tugging Noah out whispering:
“Oh, Noah! Noah, be all right.”
Noah was passed out on the floor, twitching a little. and Todd got down on the floor beside him and murmured, “It’s alright, Noah. We’re gonna go now, all right?”
Todd clapped his hands and pleaded: “Open your eyes, Noah. Co’mon! Noah.”
“We need to call the hospital,” Fenn said. “We need to call the hospital, and drag his ass out of this house.”
“You got a cellphone?” Paul turned to Todd.
Todd shook his head, and Fenn said, “I don’t believe in cell phones. Let me check this bag here. Hell, maybe it’s got medicine. It looks like a doctor’s—”
“What?” Paul said.
Fenn had stopped in the middle of talking, opening up the large black, doctor’s bag.
“Oh…” he murmured, “shit.”
Todd moved away from Noah and looking into the bag, gasped.
“What is it?”
Fenn reached his hand out and pulled up a stack of bills.
“That’s got to be…” Paul began.
“Ten thousand dollars,” Fenn finished. “I was always good at practical math. Now,” he continued, trance like, “Paul, go find a phone while I collect some of this.”
“You can’t take that,” Todd began as Paul left the room.
“One, two, three, four,” Fenn stuffed his pockets, methodically. “That’s for the house.”
“Five,” he stuffed his breast pocket. “And these three more should cover the theatre.”
“Fenn,” Todd said, snatching the bills out of Fenn Houghton’s hands.
“You can’t do that.”
Fenn snapped to. He shook his head. “You’re right. Of course, you’re right.”
He took the bill stacks out of his pockets, and put them back into the leather bag, and then said, hefting it: “This is much more sensible. If you’re going to do something,” he lugged the bag in both hands, “Do it all the goddamn way!”
“Fenn!” Todd said.
“Look,” Fenn said, sharply. “You can be the Boy Scout and say No, No, No. But that’s only because you know I’m gonna keep saying Yes, Yes, Yes. Now you know me. I can’t turn away from this. I can’t have this fall in my hands and walk away from it. So either help. Or get the fuck out of the way. Lover.”
Todd opened his mouth, shut it, and then helped Fenn lift the bag. Paul was running back in.
“The ambulance will be here in a moment,” he said.
“All right,” said Fenn. “First thing’s first. You two carry Noah, and I’ll go ahead with this.”
Fenn marched ahead of them, heading down the steps, imagining the blue-white and red of ambulance sirens, or the return of the police and determined to be ahead of them.
“Fenn!” Todd shouted after him. “Aren’t you even a little terrified.”
Fenn set the bag down. Kissed the crucifix around his neck and the then crossed himself before grinning idiotically.
“Terrified,” he said, and continued lugging the bag down the stairs.
“So I was hired to tape this party,” Todd said, and that was true enough, “and I was coming back with my partner and—”
“This is your partner?” the police officer, who had arrived after the ambulance said, pointing to Paul.
“Yes,” Paul said, at the prompting of Fenn, who was behind the officer. “We came, and that’s when we found our friend Noah at the door. Mr. Houghton pointed him out to us.”
“A friend,” Fenn said. The less important they were the less it mattered that they were lying.
The ambulance was already going away with Noah, and Fenn said, “I’ll follow it. Where’s it going?”
“Good Samaritan Hospital.”
“Meet me there. Or can they come with me, officer?”
“Uh,” the policeman said, absently. “I guess. You all can’t tell us anything more. Thanks for being good citizens.”
Paul and Todd nodded dumbly, and Fenn was already at the Land Rover.
“Time to get the fuck out of here,” he said, crawling into the back and hovering over the bag.
“Follow that ambulance,” Paul sang in a slightly weary voice.
The Land Rover jumped with the pull of the stick shift and Todd, turning the car around, said, “You can’t seriously be thinking of keeping that money.”
“I’m more than seriously thinking about it,” Fenn said. “But the point is we couldn’t even think about it if we’d just left it in the house. Or all we could do was think about it. Think about… If only we’d taken the money. If only…”
“That’s called imagination, Fenn,” Todd said. “That’s what people all over the world do to stay out of jail. If only I’d killed my mother-in-law. If only I’d slapped that cop. If only I’d bombed my high school class reunion. We imagine. We don’t act.”
“And that’s why people have nothing,” Fenn said. Fenn reached into the bag and handed two stacks of bills to Paul. “And now you have twenty thousand dollars.”
“Fuck…” Paul murmured.
“And see,” Fenn said. “If I reach into this bag then… Here! You have ten thousand more.”
“But you have to act,” Fenn continued over Todd. “If you don’t act, then you ain’t got shit.
“Now,” Fenn began from the backseat. “We have to decide if we want to keep all of this, or if we only want about half. Half sounded right to begin with, but really I think I was just being skittish. If you’re going to take. Take.”
“Take?” Todd said. “You mean steal.”
“Steal from who? A drug lord?”
“That’s right!” Todd said. “A drug lord. Probably. We don’t even know whose money it is. A drug lord might come after us.”
“A drug lord, whatever that is,” Fenn said, “might somehow believe that his bag of money he brought to a pornographer’s house to get drugs or for drugs he’d given along with, probably a little sex and a little porn, was taken by Fenn Houghton and Todd Meraden?”
“And me?” Paul added.
“And Paul Anderson, of East Carmel, Indiana? He’d think that, Todd? Instead of thinking the police took it along with everything else, and the money went back to the government? And you think it was the only money taken?”
“You’re right, Fenn,” Paul said. “It wasn’t. This was the money you found. But they found other stuff. Not as much as in your bag—”
“It’s not his bag!” Todd cried.
“But, baby,” Fenn leaned over the seat to kiss his irritated lover, “it’s not anybody else’s either. When a major drug bust goes down the money is pretty much up for grabs. That’s where dirty cops come from.”
“And you think…” Todd said, shaking his head as they turned into the hospital behind the whirring ambulance, “that we can just… take this money and not…”
“What?” said Fenn. “Be punished. Be punished by God who is some white man in the sky that says good little boys turn in bags of money to the cops. Hell no!
“Todd, haven’t you read the Bible? Abraham passed off Sarah as his sister to get into Egypt without being punished. God was cool with it. Jacob lied to his own daddy to get Esau’s blessing and later on Joseph fucked his brothers over just because they deserved it. ”
Todd stopped the car and turned around on Fenn.
“You’re saying… this is a sign from God? This is a gift from God. You get on your knees and pray for enough money to pay your rent and God sends you a job. That’s a sign from God. God does not drop bagfuls of drug money.”
“Apparently he does,” Fenn said, hoisting the back. “Because apparently he did. What I’m saying is you think the universe works because some stingy hardworking God tells you keep your nose to the grindstone and I’ll give you just enough to squeak by whereas I believe in luck. And I believe in lots and lots of good and not just crumbs and I believe if you reach out your hand to take, good things will be there. And, I am sure,” Fenn laughed, running his hands over the stacks of bills, “That God is one beautiful, crooked ass motherfucker, and he has given us this money to do with as we please!”
“You’ll be all right. Noah. You’ll be all right.”
“Won’t he, doctor?” Paul looked up.
The doctor was an aging man with a paunch, and gray hair at his temples.
“He’ll be just fine,” he told Paul. “But we need to get him hydrated. I’d recommend he stay the night.”
He almost laughed thinking that the last doctor he’d seen was Doctor Stiffrod in Johnny’s Deep Check Up, and he hadn’t looked anything like this old man. He’d been dark haired and deep chested like Brad Carlton from Young in the Restless, in the old days when he’d been eye candy instead of a middle aged business man. Guy had been directing this movie. This was how he’d met Guy, and he said, “We want to keep this as real as possible. Age the doctor up a little bit.”
The doctor, who was wearing a thong under his white coat with the stethoscope hanging around it had submitted to having his temples artfully silvered.
“Just a touch of daddy bear,” Guy had said.
“Not too much daddy bear,” Brad Carlton told him. They all chuckled.
Paul bent down. Noah was opening his mouth to say something. He looked like a baby bird.
“Noah,” Paul said.
Noah blinked. He croaked.
“Here,” Paul reached for the cup of water on the table. “Drink this.”
Noah nodded, and the water ran down his chin as he tried to drink.
“You remember Todd and his… Fenn? Well, they were coming after the cops had left, and they helped me bring you here. They’re in the waiting room.”
Noah nodded for a long time before he croaked:
“What happened…? To everyone?”
“Arrested,” Paul said. “We were the lucky ones.”
Fenn came into the room now, and propped himself against the frame. Todd entered now, standing beside him.
“What do we do now?” Noah said.
Paul looked up at Fenn and Todd.
“Noah had come out here for a few weeks to do movies for Guy. But Guy probably won’t be making movies anytime soon.”
“Not on Monday he won’t be,” Fenn said.
“And whaddo I do?” said Paul. “I was working there. I was staying there.
“Well, you’ll just have to stay with us,” Fenn said.
Todd looked at him, surprised, and then said, “Well, that would make sense. If you wanted to.”
“Where else is he going to go?” said Fenn. “Especially at this time of night.”
“What about Noah?” said Paul.
“Tonight Noah is in the hospital,” Todd took over the thinking. “And tomorrow we can worry about tomorrow.”
“But,” Fenn said, looking at Paul and Noah, “We’re not going to leave him all homeless and shit.”
On the way back home, Fenn asked, “What the hell time is it?”
Todd looked out of the window at the lightening sky, then on the radio clock and said, “Crap, it’s almost five in the morning.”
“Well in that case just drop me in front of Saint Barbara’s for the six a.m. and Dan’ll bring me home.”
“Are you serious?”
“It’s Sunday. I’m up. Might as well get church out of the way. Otherwise I’ll spend the whole day thinking about how I should have gone.
Fenn yawned and turned on his side to take a nap.
“You all go to church?” Paul said.
“Fenn goes to church. Fenn is very… Catholic. The old style drinking, smoking, cursing—”
“And don’t forget fucking—”
“Yes,” Todd looked at him and sighed. “That kind of Catholic.”
“That’s right,” said Fenn. “Bring that suitcase into the house and if either one of you even thinks about… doing anything to that money... I’ll kill you. Flat out kill you.”
“He will,” Todd said, dolefully.
“I don’t doubt it.”
And whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill,
we’ll triumph through our sorrows
And rise to bless you still
To marvel in your beauty
And glory in your ways
And make a joyful duty
Our sacrifice of praise!
The six o clock mass was always short and a capella because the organist was not awake yet, or rather, the organist was just waking up now to get ready for the ten o’clock.
Everyone was filing out of the church, crossing themselves, murmuring to each other, and Barbara Affren seized Fenn’s hand while demanding: “What are you doing up at the crack of dawn?”
Her husband, with a wink, said, “I’ve know Fenn since he was knee high, and I’ll bet it’s no good.”
“Well, now,” Fenn considered, “You’d be right.”
They laughed and then Barb Affren stopped laughing at the holy water font, because she knew Fenn wasn’t joking.
“Well, as usual, we have no intentions of asking what you’re up to now,” she said. “But just try to stay out of jail.”
“Father,” she shook the young priest’s hand as they came to the vestibule.
Dan Malloy was a sleepy looking early thirty-something with sandy hair, and he grasped Barb Affren’s hand and then asked, as he held Bob Affren’s, “Fenn, what’s this I hear about jail?”
“I’ll tell you on the way to my house.”
“Your house! No, Fenn. I was going to sleep…”
“Father Dan, now, you’re a priest,” Barb told him. “Sunday’s my day off. Not yours.”
Dan sighed, yawned and rolled his eyes dolefully.
“You can sleep at the house, Dan. And Todd’ll make you coffee. Besides, when you see what I have to show you it’ll wake you up.”
“Oh, Lord, Fenn!”
“You better go, Father,” Barbara Affren said.
“And if it’s too much…” said Bob.
“I’ll leave you out.”
“This is Paul. Paul, this is my friend and priest, Father Dan Malloy.”
“It’s good to meet you,” Dan said cautiously, and turned to Fenn, “Is Paul what you had to show me?”
“Paul is a who, not a what,” Fenn said, moving through the darkened living room in the early morning house.
“Should I turn a light on?” Paul had been sleeping on the sofa.
“That’s not necessary,” Fenn said. “Just tell me where the bag is?”
“Oh, Todd left it in the Land Rover—”
“Left it in the Land Rover! Is he stupid? Are you stupid? Todd!”
“I’ll get the bag, Fenn,” Dan said in a soothing tone,
“NO ONE TOUCHES THAT BAG!”
Todd came down the steps, his hair sticking up.
“Did you leave the bag in the car?”
“Give me your fucking keys. Now!”
Todd didn’t argue. He just ran up the stairs and came back, Fenn meeting him on the landing.
“Are you trying to get that bag stolen from us?”
“Fenn, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if it was, really—”
“We are NOT of the same opinion,” Fenn said, snatching the keys away.
“And incidentally, if it did get nabbed from the car, the police could be involved and then there would be real trouble, Sherlock.”
“The police—” Dan began.
“Com’on, priest!” Fenn went out of the house, and into the driveway hidden by the bushes, by the side of the house.
“I,” Fenn said, opening the Land Rover and climbing into it, going behind the back seat and lugging it, “could not keep this from you. You are my priest and just about my oldest friend.”
“All right,” Dan said, suddenly serious.
Dan climbed into the driver’s seat, and Fenn put the bag between them.
Fenn opened it.
“Holy—” Dan cut himself off.
“Say it,” Fenn said.
“Holy Jesus!” Dan hissed. “My… Gosh… My gosh… My God!” Dan crossed himself. “Where did you get this? How did you?”
“To make a long story short, Todd went to go shoot a documentary up in Port Ridge for this porn director. Ever heard of Guy McClintock?”
Dan looked at Fenn severely.
“Of course not. You’re a man of the cloth. A real man of the cloth. Well, anyway, Todd was doing a documentary of him. But last night, when we went up to shoot the party, there had been a drug bust and Paul, who you just met came out from the party—”
“He sells drugs?”
“He does porn. Anyway, he told us this other pornstar had passed out from drugs and needed our help. So we went to help him and call an ambulance, but I thought medicine or something might be in the bag beside him. Only it wasn’t. It was this money, see? “
Dan, whose eyes had been rolling in his head, suddenly sharpened when they looked at Fenn.
“Fenn… you’re going to keep this money. Aren’t you?”
“You can’t do that.”
“No…” Fenn shook his head. “I have to do that. You know that. You know me. I can’t turn away.”
“It’s dangerous. Turn this in. Forget about it. Just…”
“No, Dan!” Fenn said sharply. “That’s the difference between us. It’s why I’m me and you’re you. You were always, always afraid.”
“That’s not fair.”
“It is fair. You live your life stepping around imaginary bits of glass. You’re just… so careful. Too goddamn careful.”
“And you think the way you jump into everything, heedlessly, is so damn great.” Dan whispered. “Well, you’re wrong, Fenn. You’re reckless. You’re not careful enough.”
“THIS WAS REALLY just the best date of my life,” Will said then amended, “Actually it was the only date of my life. But you get what I mean, right?”
Brendan nodded. By the grin on Will Klasko’s face he understood what he meant.
“And we didn’t get the movie at all. And Layla was all like, ‘I don’t get this, but I’ll watch it anyway,’ and then I was like, ‘I don’t get half of the movies I see.’ And you know what? I don’t. I just, I think… I don’t think I’m pretentious. I think I’m just curious. Like, if I KNOW that I’m going to get it, right off the bat, then what’s the point? Right? I’d rather take my chances on something and see where it goes. Like, have you ever seen Caligula?”
“No,” Brendan said.
“I’m sorry,” Will stopped. “Am I talking too much? I don’t mean to. I just… I do that sometimes. I ramble. But I don’t mean to.”
“No, no,” Brendan shook his head. “You weren’t talking too much. It’s just… I’m like you. I mean I do things I don’t mean to do. Like drift off. Or frown. It wasn’t you. I really do want to hear about your date. I’ve just got a lot on my mind. You know, it’s not like I have a lot of friends. You said I do, but…” Brendan spread his hands out. “You see you’re the only one here.”
“Oh,” said Will. “Then… Well, if we’re friends, and you have something on your mind, then you could tell me. Right?”
Brendan shook his head.
“It’s nothing big. Not really? I mean… I don’t even know how to say it,” Brendan lay back on his couch, playing with his key ring. “It’s just… Are you religious?”
“Not really,” Will said. “I mean, my parents are Methodist. Or were Methodist. My mom’s a Jew. She doesn’t practice or anything.”
“I was just going to say I could probably talk about it, you know, my troubles, to a priest.”
“You go to confession?”
“Not a lot.”
“What’s it like? Do you really go into a little closet and talk to him through that…. Wicker thing? I mean, the screen?”
“Well, sometimes,” Brendan said. “And then sometimes it’s just a room where you shoot the sh—shoot the breeze with him. I don’t really like that. I’d prefer the little closet.”
“I don’t think I’d prefer it at all,” Will said. “I think I’m too private for it. What happens?”
“Well, you go in, you tell him your problems. All the bad things you’ve done. He gives you some advice—if he knows what he’s doing. And he gives you a little penance. Like… say a rosary or something. And then he forgives you.”
“On God’s behalf.”
“Oh,” Will shrugged. He’d been about to say, “So it’s like going to a shrink,” when he instantly realized that would be the wrong thing to say and then, following this, realized that it couldn’t really be like going to a shrink at all. He’d been to one. You talked about all your problems as much as you wanted to and you paid a bill. You never said, “This is the wrong thing I’ve done,” and there was never a cure for it. Will doubted very much that any of priests at Saint Barbara’s could cure anything. But at least they knew a cure was necessary. At least they offered the hope of one. Now that had to count for something. Didn’t it?
The door slammed shut and Dan Malloy snapped to. He opened the screen and, on the other side, the voice he knew to be Brendan Miller’s rapidly fired:
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”
“Oh,” Dan’s large blue eyes blinked on the other side of the screen, “you want this the old fashioned way?”
“All right, already,” Dan sat down in the chair, so only his profile was vaguely showing through the screen. “I just think the old way is so impersonal and so… furtive…”
“Look, Father, I need to be furtive right now.”
Brendan sighed loudly. “We’re just going to start this whole thing over again.”
“Brendan—” the priest began, but Brendan was gone. Apparently someone was outside because he heard Brendan Miller say, “No. Not yet. I’m not finished.”
And then Brendan came back in, crossed himself and said, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”
“I bless you in the Name of the Father, the Son and he Holy Spirit. Actually, I like to say Holy Ghost, but that’s more of an Anglican thi—”
“How long has it been since your last confession, my son?”
“It has been six days.”
“Six days. What could you have done in the last six days?”
“Father, I have impure thoughts.”
“Of course you do. You’re sixteen—”
“Well, there you go! Seventeen. All the thoughts that seventeen year old Catholic boys have are supposed to be impure. It’s not impure to think about… physical love. It’s natural, all right? So you need to stop stoning yourself. You need to stop thinking that God hates your… ” Dan whispered, “sexuality.”
“Don’t Father me, Bren. Stop being a hypocrite. You came here for advice, right?”
“And for forgiveness.”
“But if there’s nothing to be forgiven for—”
“Father,” Brendan whispered, “I watch dirty movies!”
“Well,” Dan whispered back, “stop watching them.”
“If I don’t watch them they just play in my head all the time. And, Father, I’m also afraid that if I stop watching I’ll start doing. I don’t want to do bad things.”
Dan looked at his watch and said, “Look, Bren. I’ve got a good forty-five minutes before the evening Mass. So if this is going to be a real discussion, how about we take this to the office? Or the rectory?
“I know how much you hate this, but I feel silly giving advice here.”
“You’ve got someone outside the curtain.”
“Mr. Pavone. He’ll be quick. Let me do him, and then I’ll get right back to you. All right. Go sit down and I’ll be with you in a moment.”
“ALL RIGHT,” Dan said in the parish house. “How about you tell me, why you want to see dirty movies? I mean, what’s in them for you?”
“You know, Father! I mean... You know what’s in them?” Then a new thought occurred to him. “You do know, don’t you, Father Dan?”
“Of course I don’t,” Dan muttered, deadpan, as he circled the large dining room table. “I’ve been a priest my whole life. I came out of my mother’s womb with a Roman collar and I was never a teenager.”
Brendan sniggered and said, “Well, then you do know… Sex.”
Dan, who was restless, and like to walk around a lot, finally sat down across from the boy.
“But there’s usually something else. Like, if it’s violent you like the violence or the force and then that’s what appeals to you. Or if it’s soft then you want affection and love, and that’s what’s appealing to you. Every porn is a fantasy and there is something in the fantasy that you like. I mean, you probably don’t like every dirty movie you’ve seen. So, you should figure out what it is in the dirty movies that appeals to you.”
“You know a lot about porn,” Brendan said.
Dan went red and said, “I know a lot about people. I know a lot about fantasy. I know a lot about me.”
Brendan nodded and shrugged.
“I guess it’s the affection. I guess it’s the touching. I’ve seen… the mean stuff. I don’t like that. I’ve seen the rough stuff and I sort of… I guess the whole idea of just letting go and feeling that intensely… That excites me. The whole… wait till you’re married thing. My mother waited till she was married and my dad was horrible to her. Then he left her. I mean, what makes marriage different than anything else? If she’d just… done it with him, then I think that might have been better.”
Dan rolled his eyes and laughed.
“You’re supposed to tell me I’m wrong, Father.”
“If I was a liberal, progressive, hell raising priest I would tell you how right you were. If I was naïve and afraid, I’d tell you I was scandalized. But… I’m me, and me can only listen.”
“And then… I don’t think I want to be married.”
“Not even to Dena?”
“Oh, Father, I like Dena. I mean… I love Dena. But… I… When I think about… making love, I don’t think about her. I don’t want to.”
“Maybe you just have a hard time putting your love for Dena with physical desire. I mean, maybe it just embarrasses you?”
“No. I mean. It doesn’t add up. It doesn’t match.”
“Maybe it does but you don’t—”
“Father,” Brendan said sharply.
“I think I’m gay.”
“Okay, so did you kiss him?”
“None of your business,” Layla told her.
“How long have I been your best friend?” Dena said, pulling her legs up on the bed.
“Since we were infants,” Layla said, poetically.
“And you’re not going to tell me if you kissed him or not?”
“I didn’t kiss him,” Layla said.
“He kissed me.”
“Listen to you, all ‘Layla!’ Are you gonna ask me if it was “Dreamy” now?”
“Was it dreamy?”
“It was wet,” Layla told her. “He did it right as I was getting out of the car. Just slammed one right on me. I almost punched him.”
“Just…. On principle.”
“I don’t get that.”
“You just don’t take advantage of a woman like that,” Layla said. “You just don’t invite yourself to kiss someone.”
“What was he supposed to do? Ask?”
“Is there something wrong with asking? Yes. He damn well could have asked.
“But then,” Layla admitted, “I realized I wanted to be kissed, and I was just getting worked up for no reason. Then I wanted to kiss him back.”
“You kissed him back.”
“No. I’m a lady,” Layla told her. “I said I wanted to kiss him back. And I will.”
“Oh, yes,” Layla said, sagely. “On our next date.”
“So there’s love!”
“No,” Layla said. “There’s a second date.
“Why did I give Will such a hard time? Why didn’t I just go out with him when he asked? I mean, he’s a really nice guy. A bad kisser. But a really nice guy. Why did I give him such a hard time?”
“Cause you’re a cantankerous old bitch.”
“Well, yeah,” Layla allowed. “And he is white,” she added.
“Well, you know that factored into it,” Layla said. “I had to look around and see if there were any Black folks around before I settled on some white boy who was not going to understand me.”
“You think that?”
Dena was silent for a moment. She took a breath and said, “Well… You have a point. But you think Will won’t get you?”
“No,” Layla said. “But I thought Will wouldn’t get me.”
“IT’S HOT AS HELL in this house,” Todd said.
“That’s right,” Fenn took a puff from his cigarette, and exhaled a gush of smoke. “And one of the first things we can do with that money is get central air. Get central air,” he added, “after we’ve paid for the house out right. And then…”
“And then what?” Todd reached for Fenn’s cigarette pack and his lighter.
“And then we can do whatever the fuck we want to. We can you know,” Fenn added, taking another drag.
“Fenn,” Todd said.
“What if I said… What if I said it was the money or me? That you’d have to choose between us?”
“I would say that you’re a fool. And I’d ignore you. Cause you know me too well. And, I think I know you.”
“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”
“You know I am.”
“I really, really, can’t get you to turn this in to the police?”
“Todd, I have a question for you now.”
“If… in your heart of hearts, you really, really believed that I was thinking of turning this into the police, would you fight me so hard? Or is it the fact that you know I’m not going to do it that gives you the ability to feel… better about yourself by casting yourself as the innocent party?”
` “Don’t Fenn me. Be honest with me. I’ve known you since we were kids. Or at least since you were a kid.”
Fenn sucked on his cigarette until the cherry glowed bright orange, and through the smoke his gaze was unrelenting.
“I don’t know,” Todd said, at last. “I’m really not sure. But… if you’re in I’m in. That’s what being partners means, right?”
“When I fell in with you,” Todd told him, “I knew what I’d signed on for. I knew I didn’t want to be married. I knew I didn’t want a wife. And there were those really lame gay couples, you know the ones who hide out at church or a social club and they’re so pretty and dull. Maybe they adopt a Chinese kid and give back something to the world. You see them on Oprah. Or those trailer trash folks that have threesomes and get high all the time and think they’re exciting but… they’re just trash. They’re just pathetic.
“I mean, when I knew what I was I started to think my options were pretty limited, that there really wasn’t a guy I could do anything with beyond… you know, screwing occasionally. I actually almost thought regular marriage would be better. And then there you were, like you are now, with that… cigarette in your hand, and the devil in your eye—”
“Devil in my eye!”
“Looking so… bad! Like you would get me into all sorts of trouble, like we would never, ever be bored.”
Fenn grinned and said, his foot reaching out to tap the bag, “You’re in?”
Todd nodded his head and smiled, grimly. He threw up tired hands and, walking toward the kitchen said: “Fuck, yeah, babe. I’m in.”