I shouldn't have been surprised to see Gordon Fields standing next to the vintage Bentley when our plane floated down onto the tarmac at the Key West International Airport, but I was. It hit me then that I hadn't really given any thought to Theo Kline's invitation to visit him in Key West or to where life had taken him in the nearly two decades since that summer of my eighteenth year when he and Gordon had methodically and fully initiated me into a life of loving to take men's cocks. Of course Gordon was still with Theo. Gordon had been in nearly every one of the films I'd seen that Theo had produced. Theo told me he was in Florida to film; if I'd been thinking, I would have assumed Gordon was here too. I guess I was just amazed that their relationship had lasted this long--but then maybe it had just turned into strictly a business relationship.
Gordon still looked good--but now more "good" in the dapper leading man image that had been my father's roles when I first met Gordon. Gone was his "take me as I am" rebel persona with the curled lip and wicked, demanding cock. And I couldn't help but wonder as the plane rolled up to its arrival pad what he would be like in bed now. I briefly hoped that I would find out, but it wasn't long before I learned that wasn't to be.
As we deplaned and I promised once more to maybe hook up with the hunky college athlete who had been my seatmate from Miami, I saw that Gordon had walked out onto the tarmac and was standing close to the plane along with several others near a pile of suitcases Customs was individually matching a last time to passengers on the return flight to Miami.
"Hello, chum," Gordon said in a breezy tone as I hit the bottom of the stairs from the plane. "You're certainly looking good."
"And you too, Gordon," I answered. "What is this, though? Are you leaving as I'm arriving?"
"Yes, Theo is sending me away--and no, I don't think it's because he wants you all to himself. He's sending me back to the West Coast to check up on a few things on the current film."
"I'm sorry to hear that," I responded. "I would have--"
"I would have too," Gordon broke in, and then he laughed. The other outgoing passengers were all within earshot and were taking guarded looks at both of us--no doubt recognizing Gordon as a film star, and, from looks I was used to receiving, trying to place me in memories of films as well. "But I have no idea why I need to go. Such matters can be handled by phone--and always have been before. Clint, could you watch out for Theo, please? I feel like I'm in a Julius Caesar play--I don't know what's going on, but I'm afraid for him."
I started to pursue this point, remembering that Theo had said he had a concern to share with me--which I now thought maybe was the real reason for the invitation he had extended--but Customs was seeking Gordon's attention in pointing out his bag. And the flight attendants were also obviously anxious to be loaded quickly and back up in the air for the return flight to Miami.
Still, I would have kept Gordon aside long enough to ask him what he meant by the fear he had expressed--he certainly looked a lot more worried than I'd ever seen him appear in that summer of my sexual awakening--but I was being hailed as well by the oversized black hunk in a chauffeur's costume I'd seen standing next to Theo's Bentley.
"Mr. Folsom? Clint Folsom?" he was calling out as he marched toward us, and I felt Gordon slipping away from me, as if the chauffeur was some sort of dark cloud scuttling across the sky toward us.
"Yes, that's me." I answered, half turning toward the approaching man. I turned back, but Gordon was already being hustled up the stairs and into the plane.
"I'm Mr. Kline's man," the chauffeur said. And my first wicked thought was, yes, of course you are. Theo always liked to have exotic and masterful men around him. And I had sensed some tension between Gordon and this chauffeur, which could be explained if Gordon had to share Theo's attentions with someone else Gordon couldn't dominate.
"Could you point out your bags for me, please?" he asked. "I'll put them in the car with the others and have you out to Final Curtain in no time."
The others? I hadn't noticed any others on the flight who I'd think were headed for Theo's for the weekend. But then I laughed. Theo loved to gather a hodge-podge of people around him; I shouldn't be surprised to see any of the people on the flight--including my forward seatmate or maybe even the elderly couple--among the guests on the Final Curtain this week.
And the thought of the Final Curtain made me smile. I had fallen in love with Theo's huge 1920s fantail yacht from the first cruise I'd taken in it as a child off San Diego's Hotel Coronado when my parents were filming there. Everything about the ship spoke of gentility and sophisticated money. And Theo made no bones about it being his most precious possession--his highest achievement, the Final Curtain on the life he had carved for himself in movies.
Theo had been full of wisdom to pass on to me in those days. I only later realized that most of it had been a bunch of crap designed to impress and part of a long-running campaign to make me. I do remember one afternoon on the fantail of the Final Curtain as we cruised off Catalina Island, he told me to always look for the connections.
"Most everything is connected to everything else, Clint," he said as he stooped down to the deck to see what I was engaged in. I was still young enough to be doing the connect-the-dots puzzles in the Ellery Queen magazine I avidly read because of my love for sleuthing. "Always look for the connections. If there's a mystery there, you can usually solve it by looking for the connections between the known points."
This was a bunch of barf, I know--and even thought so at the time. But Theo was paying attention to me when my parents didn't have the time and patience for me, so I nodded my head as if I'd been given the secret to life.
As I grew up and my love for sleuthing and need to put as much distance between me and the Hollywood life as possible led me to become a New York homicide detective, though, whenever I went out to a crime scene, I had those words of Theo's at the back of my mind. And damned if I didn't find it easier solving cases by doing just what he advised--taking a good look at the known points in the case and looking for the connections. If and where connections were found, they invariably led me not only to the killer but to the motive as well.
These flashes of thoughts shooting from my mind upon encountering Gordon and hearing the familiar name of Theo's yacht occupied me while I was walking across the heat-steamed tarmac to the parking area, four steps behind the oversized chauffeur, who was handling my heavy suitcase like it was a lunchbox. When I got to the front seat of the Bentley, I was surprised yet again to see the small Chinese young man from the flight sitting in the backseat. I had little time to feed this surprise, though, because, more surprising, sitting next to him was his near identical reflection in female form--and my eyes went directly to her elaborate pile of hair and to what were sticking out of it: two long, metallic blue knitting needle type pins. My thoughts raced back to the last time I had seen anything like them, which was on the table in the security room of the Miami airport--being identified as the weapon in the murder of my DEA acquaintance, Gary Meltzer.
The unexpected connection flipped my detective antenna on, and I felt myself tensing up and constructing a wary shield of heightened awareness.
* * * *
"Hello, I am The Rose," the porcelain doll with the questionable hairpins said in a sultry voice, as she extended a tiny hand with cobalt-blue-lacquered three-inch nails across the seat back.
And, of course, she was. Now that I could see her overly painted mask of a face up close, I recognized her as the star by that name of the vastly popular medieval and mystical Chinese Kung Fu movies that were all the rage in the States a few years earlier.
"I am appearing in Joe Blum's movie we are filming here," she said in further explanation. "And so is my brother, Tung Chun-fai, here. We just call him Sam."
The young Chinese guy who had been on the flight from Miami with me and who now seemed to be withdrawing into the shadows of the Bentley's backseat in stark contrast his sister's leaning in toward me just grunted quietly in acknowledgment of the introduction.
"And you are--?" The Rose continued as she gave my face a searching look and allowed one of her heavily penciled and finely shaped eyebrows to raise. "You do look familiar. Are you in films too?"
"No, but I'm from a film family. That's how I know Theo," I said, all of my senses on overdrive. There was no reason for me not to go this extra mile in explanation. These were movie folks, and it wouldn't take her long to make the connections to who I resembled. If she didn't figure it out, there would be plenty of people on the film set who would be happy to tell her. Above all, however, I felt I needed to establish a reason for being here other than that I was a cop. My first thought here was to self-preservation--and not just protecting myself. Who knew what might happen to Theo if he was bringing a policeman into a pit of vipers.
"Ah, yes, now I see the strong resemblance," The Rose said, and, apparently satisfied, she sank back into her seat and started a low conversation with her brother in Mandarin. I'd never before wished I'd taken that language, but I sure was sorry I couldn't understand what they were saying now without them realizing I understood.
As the chauffeur, Jerome, drove in light traffic in a snaking pattern from the airport, on one end of the key, to the marina off Mallory Square, at the other end of the key, I caught him turning his head occasionally and giving me "that" look. So, it was as I supposed. He was more to Theo than just his "fetch and carry." And he knew what I had been to Theo as well. I felt myself warm to the possibilities and it wasn't all caused by the perpetual sun at the southernmost point of the United States.
"Don't worry, I'll have you there in a jiff," he said as we swung right onto the cross-island First Street.
"I know; I've been here before," I answered. I well knew that it didn't take long to get from one place to another on Key West. Those connections again. I momentarily worried about The Rose and her blue metallic knitting needles lurking behind me in the Bentley's passenger compartment.
"I usually take it very slow," he said, and he was grinning. My thought for my safety made me comprehend only the grin, though.
"Excuse me?" I asked.
"I said I usually take it very slow . . . in case you wondered. Mr. Kline, he told me you--"
"Yes, yes, I bet you do," I interrupted. My cheeks were burning, and I felt a stirring below my belt. In that summer with Theo and Gordon, I'd learned that I melted at a slow and deep fuck--and Theo and Gordon had caught on to my extra arousal to that as well. "I see we're here," I continued. "But I don't see the Final Curtain."
"She's there, out over by that cruise ship," Jerome answered. "She's too big to bring into the dock."
"Where? Where?" I asked. I was anxious to see the polished-wood fantail yacht I had so loved as a child. Half the reason I had come when invited was for the chance to sail on her again. It wasn't all because of Theo and his magnificent cock. And right now I needed the connection with something solid, something I could believe it--some place I'd felt safe.
"There, that sleek white cruiser just over there," Jerome said. "See, it's written on her stern. Her name: Final Curtain II. We'll have to go out there by water taxi."
"Oh," I said, deflated now. Theo had replaced the boat. I should have known he wouldn't keep a yacht as old as the original Final Curtain as his fortunes progressed. He always was more flash than sentimentality.
I groused all the way out to the sleek and admittedly gorgeous Final Curtain II, as upset with myself that I was being so childish at the disappointment I wouldn't be on the vessel of my childhood as in being denied cruising on the yacht of my dreams again.
The water taxi's second mate was all thumbs in getting us lashed up to the side of the ship, and the Final Curtain II's crew wasn't much better at getting the ladder to us. In fact, they seemed pretty clumsy for crew members of a multimillion-dollar yacht. I wondered where Theo had gotten them. The two I could see looked like South Americans--mean ones. For several minutes we were nudged up against the side of the ship, and I was staring into a porthole of the Final Curtain II's below decks and getting yet another surprise for the day.
I was looking into the interior of a plush stateroom as if through a television tube, where, on a queen-sized bed, two naked, well-muscled men were furiously fucking. The top was being rough and was slapping the bottom around as he pistoned the bottom with his cock. The bottom was struggling, trying to get out from underneath the onslaught--almost as if he wasn't a bottom by choice--but the top was too strong and brutal for him. I had no idea who the bottom might be, but I clearly recognized the top. It was Derek Dominick. The movie guy on the flight from Atlanta to Miami, the guy who said he was en route to Lakeland, which was a long way north of here, in the center of the Florida mainland. The guy who had kept me occupied with a hand job in business class while my DEA friend, Gary Meltzer, was being murdered back in tourist. He'd really had to move out to get to Key West before I did. But then he wasn't held up by airport security in Miami for a couple of hours like I was.
Connections. There were coincidences, yes, but here I sat in a water taxi with a woman who very well might have been the murderess of an old acquaintance I'd just happened upon in the Atlanta airport, while I watched a man being fucked hard by someone who I'd seen in company with that murderess and who told me he was headed a few hundred miles away from here. Connections, yes. Coincidence, I didn't think so.
I barely made it to my assigned stateroom, having received directions to "get comfortable" and attend Theo and his other guests for drinks and a buffet on the fantail, when I flipped open my cell phone and called Miami.
"Sylvia, it's Clint Folsom down in Key West," I said as soon as I got through all of the gates to Sylvia Browne, the Miami homicide detective who was investigating Gary Meltzer's murder. "Hey, I'm on Theo Kline's yacht off Mallory Square, and I've found the two suspicious people I saw in the Atlanta airport and Meltzer pointed out to me are aboard. He'd told me he was pursuing a case down here. I believe in connections more than coincidences. I had no idea there was a connection to Theo Kline, but there must be. Can you come down here?"
"You are where?" Sylvia almost screamed down the line. "On Theo Kline's yacht? Theo Kline, the movie producer? The yacht named Final Curtain II? And you really had no idea what was going down?"
"Yes . . . no. Yes, I'm on Theo's boat. He's an old family friend. He invited me down here. But no, I have no fuckin' idea what's happening in relation to Meltzer down here. That's why I called you. That's--"
"Get off the boat," Browne yelled down the line. "Just get off the damn boat. Yes, I'm coming down. Check in with the police department down there and tell them where I can find you. But get off that boat now!"
"OK," I said and flipped off the phone. But I knew it was too late even before I went over and looked out the picture window in my first-deck stateroom. We were under way. The only place I seemed to be going was out to sea.