Danny gave me what I needed and wanted, and when he was done with me, the frustration from being denied by Charles Tilton had left me. But replacing it was the horror of what I had wanted Tilton to do and my willingness and eagerness to sink into the degradation that Tilton's world represented to me.
When Danny released me from the handcuffs, I sank to the floor of the bathroom, went into a fetal position, and just rocked back and forth in half sobs.
I must have really concerned Danny, because after coming down on the floor next to me and enveloping me in his arms and whispering to me without response, he got up and left for several minutes.
"I've called home," he said when he came back. "I told her I had to work all night. Come on with me. We're going to the motel. No sex or nothing--unless you want it. But I can't leave you like this. You're clearly exhausted. What I can do is make sure you get some sleep."
So, that night I spent in the motel room. We did fuck, but not until near dawn and then gently, as if we had all the time in the world. From the time we reached the room until then, we lay on the bed, me cuddled into Danny like we were two spoons, and he rocked me to sleep.
In the early-morning light, after he'd made languid love to me, Danny put his lips to my ear and whispered, "You need to get a transfer out here, Clint. You need to settle down from what you've been doing. And we need to be together. You need to stop burning the candle at both ends. I can settle you down. I can be good for you--all you need. Let me take care of you."
He didn't know about Hank--and how I'd been working at it pretty well before coming out here and being knocked off my pins. But at that moment, that sounded so comforting, the answer to what I needed maybe. It wasn't the men around me--not even Charles Tilton. He was just being vintage Charles, and he'd never made a secret of being aroused only by young guys. It was all on me. I needed to grow up, to find stability. I was pushing forty hard--not in years; in mere months. It was time I got control of myself.
"We'll think about it, Danny," was all I could think of saying. I didn't want to tell him that I was three-quarters of the way to saying yes. At the moment I wasn't giving thoughts of Hank much of a chance. Hank wasn't here. Later I'd realize that not thinking about Hank was just more evidence of how fucked up I was in my sex life and desires--especially here in hedonist California.
"Now we've got a case to wrap up," I continued. "Take me back to the department. I left my ride there. I need to talk to this Eugene Shelton. Andrew Dix seemed to think he would lead us to some answers."
"Then you'll go to the ranch and get your things and come back to the motel room? You'll be here, close to me, then?"
"You want me to go with you to see this Eugene?"
Again, like Tilton, I thought it best to see Shelton alone. Like Tilton, I'd almost let Gene fuck me back in the old days. I didn't see any need for Danny to know just how widely my net had been cast.
* * * *
I took the highway out of L.A. toward San Bernardino, past the turnoff to the ranch, and then south toward Hemet. I knew Eugene Shelton would be home, and I had an address and directions, all thanks to the Hemet police, who had been keeping tabs on him for the LA police since the previous afternoon.
I clutched up as I passed the turnoff to the ranch. I had wanted to say yes to Danny's question about whether I would move to the motel. But before I said it, the image of Gordon Field and the thunderous look he'd given when he saw Dave in my bed, fucking me, the night before last had given me pause. How would Gordon react if I moved out on him? And did I care? More concern, I thought. I had forgotten how jealous Gordon could be. He certainly hadn't shown that when we'd been together in Key West a few months ago.
How did I feel about Gordon? Would I deny him if I went with Danny as he asked me too? Could I do that if we both were in L.A.? Would I ask him to leave the ranch? How would he react? Was I afraid of how Gordon would react? If so, why?
This was giving me a headache, and I'd almost lost track of where I was. Once past the turnoff to the ranch, I was in unfamiliar territory. I decided I needed to concentrate on the task at hand, and to the extent possible, I tried to put my sex-life problems out of my mind. That was easier said than done, however. For the rest of the drive, images of Danny and Hank and Gordon floated through my brain--with Charles Tilton ever there as well, intruding. As I drew nearer to Hemet, I tried to remember what Gene--known as Eugene Shelton now--looked like. He'd just been one of several young hunks floating around the ranch those last few months before my eighteenth birthday and immediately thereafter. And I knew that we'd almost fucked--before my father had shown up and pulled me away. But there had been so many studs around--and I'd been solicited by--and given out to--a good many of them after I'd turned eighteen. I just couldn't remember what he looked like.
Whatever Shelton had been doing since he was willing to do almost anything to break into movies, he had been a success at it. He lived in what must be the nicest residential section of Hemet, on a Palm tree-lined street weaving around the edges of a well-cared-for golf course. The Shelton house was a Spanish hacienda-style rambling villa, complete with ocher-stuccoed walls and red tile roof, set back from the street. It was abutted by a three-car garage, and a red Corvette was sitting out on the drive.
I parked out front, and as I was getting out of the Mustang, I realized that the Hemet police had been working both angles on this surveillance service. A man had come out of the front door of the house and was walking down the driveway toward me. He'd obviously been told he'd be visited and wanted whatever he was wanted for to be discussed well away from the house. He was the right age--early forties now--to be the Gene I'd known, and he was still a fine figure of a man, holding himself with confidence and with the knowledge that he was a hunk--still. A gym was obviously still very much in his life. And he did look sort of familiar. I wouldn't have picked him out of a lineup of men who'd fucked or almost fucked me, but he looked like I wouldn't have said no to him twenty years ago, even at the age he was today.
I met him at the top of the driveway.
"Do I know you? You look like . . . Clint, is that you? Scott Sloan's son?"
"Yes. You Eugene Shelton?"
"Yes. Now, I am. I was told someone was coming down from the LAPD. But . . . is that you? You're the one who I was expecting?"
"Yes. I'm not with the LAPD, but I am a cop. I've come from New York. They're taking another look at the deaths--the pool boy's, my tutor. Even my parents. Andrew Dix--you remember him? He's said they weren't what they seemed--how they were written up at the time. He said to talk to you about it."
"He did, did he?" I wasn't sure whether he was going to turn and sprint for the house or not. And I didn't know what I'd do if he did.
"He's not saying you did anything, Gene. He just said to talk to you."
He relaxed--but only a bit. "Can we talk in your car? The kids are home, and I don't want . . . I have a whole new life now, Clint. The ranch was a long, long time ago. I was young and on the make. So were you. And I'm not sure you really want to know more about what happened back then."
"I remember. Yeah, let's sit in the car. Anything you can do to help me, I'd be grateful for."
"I don't know what I can do--what Dix thinks I might know." We'd settled in the Mustang, me in the driver's seat and he in the passenger seat. He was giving me "that" look. Assessing, maybe deciding whether he wanted something to happen between us. I was a little surprised he still had that in him after all these years--and the new, straight life he'd said he had established.
From the way he said it, I thought his mind was moving rapidly, reviewing, trying to remember, but not wanting to surface anything. Then, as I watched, a look of concern--almost fear--came across his face.
"You've remembered something, haven't you, Gene?"
"It's nothing, I'm sure."
"Maybe. But Dix seemed to think you knew something. You were at Charles Tilton's house when my parents drove away and died on their way back to L.A., weren't you? Both Magda Nadar and Charles Tilton said you were."
"I . . . uh."
"I don't care about the conspiracy of silence, Gene. I'm not after anyone for saying they left from Klein's house rather than Tilton's and that there were more people there than they told the police. In any case, the police know about that now. If you help me, and you did nothing wrong, your presence there--and keeping mum about it--can just be forgotten. That's not what we're after. And I know there was a big free-for-all there, with my parents having a falling out with each other and with many of their group of friends. What I want to know now is whether my parents left alone or whether someone drove away with them."
Shelton looked scared. He started to say something, but then he closed his mouth.
"Don't think I don't have a name. I wouldn't be asking if I didn't know there was someone else driving them away. Don't fuck with me here, Gene. We can go in and do this in the house, if you want to make it hard."
"OK, OK. I remember now. Gustav, the physical trainer, drove them away. Your mother's chauffeur was in the hospital, so she'd hired Gustav to drive her."
"Yeah, that matches what I've been told. Why was it so hard to tell me that, Gene?"
He was hanging his head, and he looked away, at the house, but then he turned back and looked directly at me. "I didn't want to say anything if I didn't have to, because Gustav and I were . . . involved."
"You and Gustav were fucking?"
"Yeah. Pretty regularly."
"As I remember it, you were screwing my tutor, Robert Sinclair. I saw you at it one afternoon. Broke my heart. I wanted Robert to fuck me; I didn't understand then about two confirmed bottoms not being good together. I think I would have let you fuck me later when you wanted to out of vengeance--but my father intervened."
"Yes, I was spreading it around then--it was all pretty new to me. L.A. and the movies overwhelmed me. I came out from Indiana thinking that I had it made because I was such a big cheese in Terra Haute. Didn't mean shit in L.A., though. Just another pretty face on a good body."
"A very good body. Nice dick too, as I remember," I murmured.
He flashed me a smile.
"I was mainly with Gustav then, though. He didn't like finding out I'd been with Sinclair. Said he'd mess him up. I was worried about that--for Sinclair, because Gustav was a mean one. But before we knew it, Sinclair had committed suicide."
"Maybe," I said. "Dix indicated maybe not. It's part of what I'm trying to find out."
Gene gave me a funny, slightly worried look.
"You don't think I--"
"I have no reason to think so. But where were you the night the pool boy, Emilio, died?" I wanted him to confirm it again--that he was with my dad.
"I was with Gustav."
"With Gustav? All night? He couldn't have left you in your sleep?"
"Not likely. As I said, he was angry about Sinclair--and he was taking it out on me. There was no sleep that whole night. He was still fucking me when the alarm was raised on the pool boy floating face down."
"And you were reluctant to tell me this, weren't you, because you told the police at the time that you were in my father's bed that night."
"Yes." It came out reluctantly. "Listen, I didn't think your dad killed Emilio. He just needed an alibi. He and Gordon Fields kept saying we needed to keep it simple. The police didn't want it to get blown up into a case where your father was under suspicion. It was just a Hispanic pool boy. Nobody wanted a box office movie star caught up in such a scandal. Not just a murder--but the revelation that your father went with men."
"Emilio was just a pool boy? But what were you, Gene? You weren't even 'just a pool boy' back then, were you? You were just a hustler wanting to break into movies."
He turned from me and wouldn't look at me then.
But he'd done no more than dredge up my own old fears--I'd always wondered and worried. I'd heard things that night. I knew that my father was with Emilio that night. I'd been scared stiff in those weeks--not that my father would be blamed, but that, maybe, he had done it.
I sat there, looking at him, my mind racing. What Gene had said sounded bad for my father. But what else he had said actually assured me that it had been what it seemed--that even the story behind the story was what it seemed. Another explanation had formed in my mind. Suddenly the puzzle pieces were beginning to fit into place. I didn't like it, but it was more palatable than I had long feared. And I don't know why I didn't consider it before. I'd need to check the case files--which I hadn't brought with me. I hoped that I was wrong, but somehow I didn't think I was.
"And what about the couple of days after that? You and Gustav hip to hip then?"
"No. Gustav packed some clothes in a duffel and told me he had a job to do, and he left. The next time I saw him, he was at the beach house of that director and was playing chauffeur."
"And after that?"
"I never saw him again. Not after he drove off with your parents. When we were getting our statements in synch--I didn't have much to do with that--Gordon Fields and that Nadar dame more or less took over and told us all what we should say. Well, when Gustav didn't show up, we decided he either went over the side with them and his body washed away in the ocean, or he survived, got scared, and took off."
"OK, thanks. That helps put it in perspective for me. You probably won't be bothered by me again--you'll likely have to make a statement to the police, but it's looking like that won't need to be played in public. I'm happy you've made a good life for yourself."
"You sure you don't want to see me again?" He'd turned toward me and laid his hand on my crotch. He was giving me "that look." "As I remember, you liked it back then. Couldn't get enough of it. And we never had the chance to get down to it. Still looking good, Clint. The spitting image of your father in his prime. I know of someplace we--"
"It's not worth it, Gene. Trust me. What you have here is too precious to back away from. If you really want it, I'll go with you. But think about it. We're not what we were twenty years ago anymore. What do you have to lose now that you didn't have to lose back then?"
He took his hand away. He was wearing a hurt expression, but that changed to resignation, and then he was opening the passenger door, got out of the car, and walking away--up the drive to his Spanish hacienda on the golf course, passing his nifty red Corvette in the driveway.
As I pulled away from the curb, I wondered if it had been a bluff that I knew would work the way it did. Would I really have gone "someplace" with Gene if he had decided he needed it bad enough to risk everything he'd worked to build? Was it a lie when I told him that we weren't the same randy men we were twenty years ago. Despite all of my failed attempts to have it otherwise, wasn't I basically the same satyriasis I was when I was eighteen?
Maybe not. Because, despite what I'd said to Gene, I had no intention of going with him. I needed to trim my entanglements, not add to them. And, if I was right about my hunch about the keystone to all of these twenty-year-old cases, I had already started trimming.
As I drove, I thought about the reasoning I'd heard on Gustav's ultimate disappearance--now from at least two sources, Charles and Gene. I couldn't remember if Magda had said it too. She was so incoherent, I couldn't expect to remember all that she said that might have meaning. But it was clear that they all had gotten their story down pat. And it was a good story--that either Gustav had died in the wreck too, his body washed away in the ocean, or he had pulled a powder because he knew he'd be blamed for the accident.
The only problem was that it didn't happen that way. It was murder. Danny was right to flag the case and call me in. Everything had been well orchestrated. They'd only made one mistake. I used the term "they," because I now was quite sure it wasn't just Gustav. Someone was behind Gustav, somebody who only made one mistake--probably because of being a slave to Hollywood, going for the dramatic, the overkill. Or maybe it was just from not knowing my mother well enough. Magda had said they did what they did in the aftermath to keep it simple. If the actual "accident" had been kept simple, it might have worked.
But my mother's body had been put behind the wheel of the car. The police report said she was so wedged in there that she'd surely been in that position when the car went over the railing. But they had a chauffeur. And, more significant, my mother didn't know how to drive a car.
When I arrived back at police headquarters in L.A., I found Danny's desk unoccupied.
"Where's the man?" I asked one of the detectives at another desk.
"He and the clerk went off to lunch about a half hour ago."
The clerk. "Sandy? That the clerk he left with?"
"Yeah, it was Sandy."
I looked at the calendar. It was a Wednesday. I sank into the chair at his desk, fuming inside and disillusioned. All of this shit about what I needed to do and how we needed to be together and later that very day he was taking a nooner with Sandy.
The case files I'd come back to look at were on the top of Danny's desk, and I flipped the one on the pool boy, Emilio, open. It was exactly as I remembered.
I sat there, looking at the damning evidence in front of my eyes. It all fit. So sad. I felt like my whole youth was ending. Ridiculous to think at the age of thirty-nine, pushing forty hard, I know. But in many respects I never had grown up. In some respects I never had wanted to.
This was all I wanted to check out here. I'd come because Danny was here too. But Danny wasn't here. And it was stupid, but I felt betrayed.
When I got out to the Mustang, I laughed at that. I didn't have any right to feel betrayed--not by Danny, at least.
Before I started up the car, I fished out my cell phone and punched in his number.
"Yeah, what d'ya need?" Danny sounded a bit perturbed. Good. I hoped I'd interrupted his rhythm.
"Get your dick out of Sandy and call up some troops, Danny. Pronto, please."
"Clint? That you? What's this shit about Sandy?"
"Having a nooner, is what I heard."
"Shit, no. Sandy might be at lunch, but I went home to pack some clothes to keep at the motel. You're still planning on movin' your things in there, aren't you?"
"Fuck," I said, wanting to club myself in the head.
"Never mind. I need some muscle. I need you and your guys to meet me somewhere."
Then I told him where and why