Castle Roland

On The Web

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 9

Posted: N/A

Day Decending

by Jack Scribe

Monday, late afternoon

Feeling every day of his 38 years, Oleg leaned back in his leather desk chair and closed his eyes for a moment to analyze the day's events. 'Crap, this all happened in just the last few hours,' he reminded himself, 'and the business day isn't over yet?' In the CD player - he was not yet part of the iPod generation - Mahler's 5th by Solti's Chicago Symphony Orchestra was playing. 'This is definitely a time to unwind with Gustav, Sir George and the mighty CSO.' He wanted to make sure all loose ends were identified and handled as he tidied up the latest elements of this complex case. It reached from the West Coast to Europe - and perhaps beyond - with local stops in Colorado and the Nation's Capitol.

Seldom had so many pieces of a puzzle come together at one time with such velocity and rapidity. He would send a 'thank you' wreath to Harvey Fine, but the corpse was still at the morgue; to his knowledge, no one had yet surfaced to claim the body. That Lamanna and he had tapped a rich vein of evidence connected to the illegal kiddy porn activity was confirmed when more Russian mob 'foot soldiers' had returned to raid Harvey Fine's office. He assumed the characters he had watched on his office monitor via the surveillance cameras were sent to investigate when their confederates had failed to report in.

The disposition of 'Tweedle-dee' and 'Tweedle-dum', as he mentally referred to the two men who were caught with the kids - and still in the hospital - had not yet been disclosed to the outside world. 'That will change in a couple of hours,' Oleg thought, 'when the patient-prisoners start whining for a lawyer.' He made a mental note to check out the status of the children they had rescued that morning. 'Wonder how many other kids the cops will discover?'

While he regretted inadvertently putting Andy in a dangerous position, the assignment of Gordy Bostwick's team for security had proved to be prudent and had saved the day. Oleg had anticipated that any attempt to enter the office to retrieve mob-incriminating material would occur that night at the earliest. That was why the cameras were equipped with infrared day-night capabilities. 'Big mistake to assume they'll wait until the night to break in,' he thought, 'but I lucked out having Gordy there.' He would make sure Gordy and his partner received commendation awards and bonuses for their stellar performance. 'I wonder if Andy might also give Gordy some sort of 'thanks' after things settle down?' he thought with a smile.

He had asked Gordy to tell the investigating detective - after the crime scene had been secured - that a video copy of the confrontation in the office would be emailed to the LAPD Valley Bureau. Further, that his junior associate should suggest to the police that Harvey Fine's computer be impounded as evidence. One final precaution was discussed between Oleg and Gordy - both men were concerned that the vehicle hanging around after the office assault with the passenger taking pictures might be part of a hit squad. It was agreed that Andy should be shadowed by additional detail and watched on a 24-hour basis until Oleg was sure the Russians wouldn't try to intimidate, or do worse, to the office manager. The mob was violent, vicious and unpredictable; assigning a few more security specialists was a prudent move.

On the International front, the Germans and Brits had moved quickly once the depth of incrimination was confirmed. The only regret was not having time to build a better case to immediately arrest the higher echelons of the crime organization. However, with search warrants containing a very broad base, Oleg knew that the authorities would snare more characters in other countries - with the exception of Russia. He was sure that the mob in the motherland would be protected by the Putin-backed 'pols'. FSB, the internal successor to the KGB, did the bidding of a select group of powerful citizens - a combination of politicians, mobsters and instant millionaires that Russia's oil economy had produced. These arrests would inflict serious damage to that brutal criminal organization, but it was like cutting off the heads of a Hydra in Greek mythology. He needed a burning firebrand to scorch the neck stumps after decapitation or the heads would grow back again. However, he wasn't sure into what he should dip his sword to achieve lasting effects.

It had been an even longer day for Dex Tate. The final satellite telephone conversation ended at 0200 London time. He had mentioned to Oleg that he was going back to the company flat and crash for a well-deserved rest before returning to his office later in the day. Dex's evaluation brief had been direct and to the point - the various authorities' criminal bureaus had been set in motion and his work was finished. The plan was to compile his case-closing file, cruise through Harrods for a little shopping, see the Billy Elliot musical at the Victoria Palace theater and get back to his 'other half' in Washington, D.C. before the week's end. As usual, Oleg extended an invitation for Dex and his partner to visit the West Coast when the District's weather became unbearable later in the summer.

For AOI's headquarters operations, the case was successfully completed and much earlier than anticipated - by several months. Sometime tomorrow, the affairs of the religious broadcaster and the congressman would be leaked to friends in the media via a third party. By the time a few chosen popular blogs got additional salacious details of the scandal, attempts to whitewash the evidence by political interests in Colorado Springs and Washington would be hopeless. These horrific incidents, with a damning video and paper trail, would make a minister hiring a callboy or a congressman emailing teenage pages seem like amateur night. Alpha, the unseen organization behind AOI, took special pleasure in exposing hypocritical politicians and anti-gay religious groups.

Oleg decided to check his phone messages. They had been filtered through the receptionist because he didn't want to be distracted until he'd finished his tasks. He brought up the message screen and scrolled through the 17 calls that had been taken. Most were 'Not Urgent' callbacks. One message from Detective Lamanna was brief: "Thanks, big time, for everything. Let's meet tomorrow, 9:00 a.m., at Harvey Fine's house. Will fill you in on the arrests while we check out the original crime scene. Under the circumstances, there is a police detail guarding the house. No return call needed unless you can't make it." He had every intention of meeting Joe in the morning and typed into the electronic master schedule calendar where he would be on Tuesday. He allotted himself enough time to buy Joe some lunch. Later, he planned on visiting Andy and Gordy at the Frat Loft studio.

A second message brought a smile to his face. "When are we getting together to go over lawyer's briefs? More work required. Call soon. GVC." In this case, the lawyer's briefs were either Emperio Armani or 2(x)ist...and the lawyer was Giorgio Como. 'Wonder what the V stands for?' he thought, 'Maybe Valentino or even better - Versatile.'

The first horn had just announced Part V of Mahler's 5th when Oleg hit the 'pause' button and looked at his watch. '5:30 p.m.,' he thought, 'and I imagine Giorgio is still in the office cranking out billable hours.' He moved his hand over to the desk speakerphone and dialed the law offices of Korshak, Hoberman and Williams from memory. He listened to the first ring and tried to remember the name of one of the long-dead founders of the old legal firm whose name had been dropped in favor of adding Brad Williams. 'Basic marketing,' he thought, 'Brad's star power name has more than enough value to make him one of the firm's top rainmakers.'

Just after the third ring, a friendly, live receptionist's voice greeted Oleg. He announced himself and waited for the call to be put through.

"Mr. Petrov, you're a hard man to track down. I've left a few messages on your cell."

" offense. I haven't had a chance to check my cell phone all day." Oleg was pleased that Giorgio had taken the initiative to call him more than once. "I'm into decompression mode right now."

"Sounds like you've been a busy man."

"Ya really don't wanna know. I'm sure it'll be the lead story on the eleven-o'clock news and tomorrow's Times top-of-the-fold right side column. Just say it's been a successful but crap day. I trust you to not mention that I was involved to anyone."

"That bad. Damn...I thought we might be able to grab a bite over at my place tonight."

"Normally, I'd say 'yes' and bring a bottle of wine with me. However, tonight I'm going over to the club, get a long massage, some steam and veg out at home. Today's been a ball buster and I wouldn't be good company. How about Wednesday night?"

"I don't know if I can keep up my hardon that long...but getting together in 48 hours sounds like a good compromise," Giorgio replied with a laugh. "Let's touch base Wednesday morning and firm up plans?"

"Look forward to it...and I really mean that. Thanks for being understanding."

"We'll make up for lost time. Ciao."


Oleg chuckled to himself as he turned off the speakerphone. Right now all he wanted was to get a massage, pick up a pizza, go home and unwind with a few glasses of old vines zinfandel. By Wednesday night, he'd be up - in several ways - for an evening of intellectual and physical challenges with his new friend. His thoughts were interrupted by a call on his cell. 'Lamanna again,' he thought as he looked at the screen, 'like there hasn't already been enough activity for one day.'

Joe Lamanna called to brief Oleg on developments concerning the Fine murder case - which were now secondary in the scheme of things. Joe's team had reviewed the security tapes from The Abbey's front door throughout the day and had decided that Rory Reed and the mysterious "Ed", who had left the bar with Thad Brooks, might be the same person. They had compared freeze-frame after freeze-frame of the video and concluded that the similarity in nose structure, jaw line and hands was close enough to seek a search warrant for Rory's car and condo. It was a thin lead...but it was all they had.

'Maybe things are looking up,' Oleg thought after the call ended, 'but right now, I'm soooo ready for a sausage and pepperoni pie.'

Thad took a quick shower and watched the early Fox News while he dressed in his basic black ensemble. He then wrote a note to his roommate and posted it on the fridge door. After recent events, Thad now let his buddy know where he'd be. He was out the door by 6:15 p.m. 'Don't want to be late for dinner with Doug,' he decided as he drove his rental car away from the curb, 'or he'll think I'm a slacker.' Rush hour traffic turned out to be lighter than usual and he arrived early enough to seek out street parking in the vicinity of TJ's - his budget didn't allow for valet service and the free parking lots charged a fee in the evenings. Thad needed to eat up 15 minutes before he arrived at the restaurant, so he window-shopped along the way. 'Although I can't buy things in Beverly Hills right now,' he thought, 'there's no harm in making a wishing list.'

While strolling past the stores he thought about the abrupt changes in his rather ordinary life. 'Was it only last Friday night when all this shit happened...and I ended up in the hospital? Plus the shock of being told by the detective that I was a suspect in Fine's murder?' As Thad continued to the restaurant, he shuddered at the idea of being thought of as a killer. 'Thank God, Doug had faith in me and provided help.' He paused for a moment and studied the displays inside the large Banana Republic. 'Gotta call tomorrow and find out when I can have my car towed for repairs.'

It was just before seven when he approached the front of the off-white, two-story structure. 'Might as well be unfashionably early rather than make one more lap around the block.' The building of stucco, stone and metal - washed with pools of indirect lighting - was stepped back far enough from the sidewalk for several well-placed plants. Aside from the canopied entrance and a small brass plaque engraved with "TJ's", nothing else announced what was behind the double, ebony wood doors. Nothing else, that is, if one ignored the gridlock of automobiles and hot-looking valet attendants scurrying about in their red polo shirts and khakis. Bentley coupes seemed to be the flavor du jour. However, Thad had to smile at the unseemly sight of a Toyota Prius wedged into the center of the valet parking lane. 'Maybe Leo is here tonight?' It was well publicized that Leo DiCaprio drove the hybrid to emphasize his concern about global warming.

Entering this restaurant was almost surreal for the guy who considered dining at Marix Tex-Mex or Hamburger Mary's in West Hollywood a treat. Thad chuckled to himself as the image of Alice walking through the Looking Glass fleeted through his mind. 'I hope I don't meet up with the crazy Red Queen or the Mad Hatter,' he thought as he glanced about. TJ's was busy and he noticed the dining room to the right had only a few unoccupied tables. To the left was the bar with several guests standing and talking in an animated fashion. 'They must be agents,' he thought, 'with killer package deals.' Others were seated in small groupings.

He walked straight ahead to the reception podium and waited for a young woman to finish her telephone conversation. Another woman, attractive enough to be on one of the soaps, was leading a party of guests to a table. From what he overheard, there were no reservations available. 'This busy on a Monday night in May?' he thought as he studied the massive painting directly behind the podium, 'This is definitely the place to be seen.' When the woman hung up the phone receiver, Thad announced himself and mentioned that he was joining Doug DiMarco. The receptionist, who was properly friendly at first, became effusive in welcoming him and invited him to go into the bar. Apparently Doug was running a few minutes late and had recommended that Thad order a cocktail in the bar. She added that he should tell the bartender that he was Doug's guest.

The bar was a room of contrasts. The back bar was a simple architectural design with a softly lighted frosted glass wall and asymmetrical black shadow box framing that held clusters of bottles. The different color hues of the liquors were repeated in an intricate glass sculpture hanging from the ceiling. Thad walked up to the corner of the bar and waited for the bartender. He noticed a plaque on the wall that credited Dale Chihuly as the artist responsible for the ceiling art. 'Same guy who did the ceilings at the Bellagio in Vegas,' he recalled from his school days. Film majors at USC were encouraged to take art appreciation courses as part of their creative learning process. As he slowly moved his eyes around the room, he noticed the large oil paintings that literally floated in front of the dark upholstered walls. Two easily identifiable LeRoy Neiman serigraphs flanked a large abstract that dominated the room. 'Looks like a Paul Klee. But if it is a Klee, that's a lot of bucks for a painting just to hang in a restaurant.' Thad looked closer and verified that the bold abstract painting was not a print. 'Yep, big bucks.'

He decided to be adventuresome and ordered an apple martini rather than his usual choice of a shaken margarita after the bartender greeted him. The handsome man, with a neatly trimmed mustache, behind the bar didn't comment further when Thad mentioned he was Mr. DiMarco's guest - just a warm smile and a subtle nod as he reached for a glass and prepared the cocktail. He watched the bartender mix his drink and thought the slice of Granny Smith apple was a pretty neat garnish. 'Class place,' he thought as he took a tentative sip. The drink had the right combination of apple schnapps and vodka...with just a touch of apple juice and Cointreau. Thad sipped again and glanced at the other guests without actually staring.

The crowd was almost two-thirds men and it was easy to pick out who was at the top of the pecking order in each party. The favor currying was being served in large portions and the people in the power positions were lapping it up. Thad smiled when he saw Leo in the corner, surrounded by 'his peeps', wearing almost the same black ensemble as himself. 'The only dif is that Leo bought his threads at Fred Segal.' He admired the actor who, at the age of 35, had already been nominated for an Oscar three times.

"Hi. Are you Thad...waiting for Doug DiMarco?"

Thad turned and was greeted by one of the hottest thirty-something guys he had recently seen up close - and he would throw Leo and Matt Damon into that mix. The lean, blond-ish man was wearing slacks and an open jacket with a collarless knitted shirt. There was no doubt that his body fat was minimal - the ripples of a defined six-pack were obvious beneath his shirt. Thad smiled and replied, "I am. And I assume you're Dave Swenson? Doug said you might be joining us."

"Guilty as charged." Dave grabbed Thad's free hand and said, "Nice to meet you...Doug's new find. As you're probably aware, Brent and I work together. And Mike Cole - my partner of 12 years - runs this restaurant."

"Doug gave me a brief rundown about you all, including Jim Weiss, knowing each other from the Navy. My roommate works for Jim at CAM." Thad felt the gentle strength in Dave's handshake and squeezed back with a smile before they released the grip.

"Then you have the big picture. We're a tight group." Dave nodded to the bartender and raised his index finger. "Those guys helped me through a difficult time...and I found a husband in the process. Really lucked out."

"I'd just like to find a boyfriend." Thad decided not to push the issue about finding out more about Dave's 'difficult time' and pursued a lighter topic. "That's a beautiful painting between the two Niemans. Is it a Klee?"

"Yep. Good eye, Mr. Brooks. My contribution to the a permanent loan, that is." Dave reached over and picked up the cocktail glass, filled with an amber-colored liquid, that the bartender placed in front of him. "It's part of an incredible collection of art my mom put together back in the sixties in Minneapolis. I inherited the collection after folks passed away." He took a sip of the cocktail and continued, "When Mike and I moved from San Diego, the house we bought up here was smaller and there wasn't enough space for some of the art. It was either the Klee or a large flat screen TV. So I guess you can tell where our priorities lie at home."

"Plus the painting can be seen by more people here," Thad replied.

"Mike's already been approached by LACMA to donate it. Who knows, maybe I'll do the very distant honor of my folks."

"In the meantime I hope the guests appreciate it. I studied art in school and it blows me away."

"I doubt if most even recognize the artist - it's just a backdrop to the deals being hatched. Plus, most of these people are too self-absorbed and concerned about how they relate in the 'industry'." Dave shrugged and looked around the bar. "But I shouldn't bite the hand that feeds us - between my law practice and this restaurant, life's pretty good."

"Your specialty is entertainment law?"

"No, Brent and Tom Feldman - TJ's son - handle that business at the firm. I specialize in corporate - taxes, contracts, litigation...stuff like that." Dave took a longer drink from his glass. "At one point during college I was interested in politics...but most politicians' aspirations are very close to this crowd: living in the glamour of being a public person and enjoying the power that comes as part of the package. When you throw in control and management by fear into the picture - here and back east - it isn't pretty. I decided, all things being equal, to go with the corporate world."

"Someone said that Hollywood and Washington, D.C., are very similar in that aspect of celebrity status." Thad bit on his apple slice and sipped his drink.

"Except that our celebrities are attractive to look at, and they make their own money rather than having to beg for it as the politicians do. I quickly got politics out of my system except for financially supporting the few I think might be worthwhile. Sorry if I sound cynical."

"I understand where you're coming from." Thad decided to mind the old adage of not discussing religion or politics as he looked back at the opposite wall and changed the subject. "How about the other art on the walls?" In addition to the paintings in the bar, he had noticed several pieces of interest in the dining room, as well as the large abstract behind the reception podium.

"The Leroy Nieman serigraphs are from TJ Feldman's collection, as well as the Kandinsky in the foyer. He also owns some of the paintings in the dining room. TJ is the major money behind this place and Mike's ownership is strictly through sweat equity."

"Ergo, the name of the restaurant."

"Correcto," Dave said with a wink.

"From the crowds in this place, it looks like Mr. Feldman's investment and Mike's know-how have paid off." Thad was happily impressed with Dave Swenson's friendly low-key, no B.S. approach and filed the other information away as points of reference. He decided not to comment on knowing that TJ Feldman's day job was being studio head at Warner Brothers - like the sun coming up every day, TJ's status was a given.

"After a rocky series of no-go opening dates right around 9/11, the place took off and has maintained its momentum in the community. There's trendier food in some of the hot, new restaurants like Foxtail or Ritual, but TJ's is still the place to be seen by those who make a difference in this town. The 'suits' and established stars mingle here very well."

"Must require lots of work and time to keep TJ's on top of the heap. The industry crowd can be a pretty fickle group...always looking for the next 'in' spot."

"Keeps my buddy busy, but not 24/7. Mike is able to take a few evenings I'm not a restaurant widow all the time. Like Doug and Brent with Bryan, we also became dads to a young teen in need almost ten years ago. Our son, Justin, is studying medicine. So we've got the family doctor-lawyer thing well covered." Dave grinned and rolled his eyes. "But enough about us - give me a little background about you," Dave said.

Thad normally didn't enjoy talking about himself to someone he had just met but decided to give it a special effort. However, the way Dave interacted and constantly maintained eye contact made Thad feel like he was the only person in the room. He skipped over his Phoenix childhood years with just a few highlights and focused on the USC film school. Dave shared a few stories about his experiences while at USC's law school and the social ice was completely broken. A rather humorous accounting of his Frat Loft experience - somewhat sanitized to an R-rating - finished Thad's summary of his brief career. He decided not to mention Harvey Fine's demise or the aftermath in which he was involved. 'Dave probably is aware of what happened anyway.'

"You must be a man of principle," Dave replied in a lower voice, "to take a pass on the collateral job of fluffing. Having seen some of Frat Loft's productions, I don't know if I could have turned it down." He laughed, turned his head towards the lobby and briefly pointed with a jab in the air. "But enough about fantasy. Here's my other-half."

A handsome man with dark brown hair, who Thad realized was Mike Cole, slowly approached them. He was dressed in a black double-breasted jacket, with an open-collar black shirt and tan pants. Thad guessed that Mike, with an athletic build that couldn't be hidden by the jacket, was a man in his mid-30's. The smile lines and a few gray hairs gave him a casual-distinguished look that elevated him from hot-looking dude category to very-hot executive. Mike stopped a couple of times to greet people at the bar and waved at a few others before joining the men.

He smiled at Dave before he looked at Thad. "I hope Dave hasn't been too boring while you've been waiting for Doug." Mike lightly grabbed Dave's arm and squeezed it just for a moment. "I'm Mike Cole and I know you're Thad Brooks. Welcome to TJ's." He extended his right hand and ratcheted up his smile one more level.

Thad could sense the caring mutual adoration in the relationship between the two men as he took Mike's hand. 'Theirs is the real deal,' he thought as he shook hands and returned the smile. "I feel I know you from all the various times I've seen you on TV hosting various charity events." He tried not to gush but couldn't help it. "It's nice to meet you in person."

"I'm just the innkeeper of this joint...being involved in the press relations effort is part of doing business. Speaking of which, I've been sent to fetch you two. Doug has arrived, but needed to talk with someone who's having dinner in the dining room. If you'll follow me, I'll show you to your table. He'll join you in a moment." Mike turned and slowly led them through the bar, past the reception foyer and into the crowded dining room. Upholstered booths flanked each wall and tables were scattered throughout the middle of the room.

"The man in the first booth on the right is TJ Feldman," Dave said quietly as they walked by. He nodded and received a friendly return-nod from TJ, dressed in a blue blazer and yellow power tie. "Booth two is Mr. Murdoch and booth three is Mr. Grey."

Thad knew that Rupert Murdoch owned Fox and Brad Grey was Paramount's studio head - and both wore dark suits. Thad was relieved to see several other men in the dining room wearing shirt and pants combinations - similar to his. 'However, they probably don't buy their clothes at TJMaxx,' he thought as he remembered that the pants he was wearing had been snatched up on a clearance rack a few months back. He recognized Charlize Theron at a center table talking with Doug as they continued to walk further into the room.

"Here's your table," Mike said as he pulled out a chair that faced the main dining area and gestured for Thad to be seated. "This is a good vantage point for you to see the action. I'll bring over menus after Doug joins you."

"Any chance you can sit down for dessert later?" Dave asked as he seated himself.

"If we can split a crme brle, sounds great." Mike turned to Thad and added, "Ole Dave is approaching middle age and I don't want him getting a big butt or gut."

"Hey, I just hit 31 and you've got four years on me. Anyway, we'll both be doing extra laps in the pool tomorrow." Dave grinned and added, "I'd give you the finger, Babe, but this is a pretty nice joint and I don't want to shock the patrons."

"If you haven't noticed, Paris Hilton is in the booth over in the corner and I doubt if you can shock her. I'll send a couple more drinks over, plus Doug's usual." Mike winked, patted Thad on the back and walked away.

Thad nodded as Mike left and smiled at the encounter. 'After 12 years, I guess they've got everything worked out between them,' he thought. "Mike's a neat guy and I appreciate that he took the time to talk with me."

"He wanted to accomplish three things," Dave replied with pride. "First was meeting this guy that Doug's been raving about. Second is more selfish. With our schedules as such where I'm working days and he spends a lot of time at the restaurant at night, we squeeze in quality moments together whenever the opportunity arises. In all this time we've been together, we still amuse each other and love to be in each other's company."

"That's pretty cool." Thad hoped he'd find Mr. Right at some point. "By the way, what's the third thing?"

"I probably shouldn't be letting the cat out of the bag but you've aroused everyone's curiosity...and I'm not talking about your recent difficulties." Dave took another sip of his Manhattan. "Justin got a call last night from Bryan DiMarco. They are great friends and had a thing for each other when they were teens. It appears that Bryan is very interested in seeing you when he returns. Justin told me and I decided to meet you."

"To see if I pass inspection?" Thad replied with a chuckle. "Just joking." But he really wasn't.

"Aside from the green cocktail?" Dave kept a straight face for a moment and then turned on a big grin. "I'm joking. In fact, I enjoy a martini with peach schnapps and cranberry juice once in a while. How gay is that?"

"I'm more of a macho margarita man - salt on the rocks." Thad rolled his eyes as he finished his drink.

"Seriously, you're an engaging and bright guy. Doug thinks you've got great potential in that crazy moviemaking business and that's a pretty good endorsement. I'm just being a nosy friend who'd like to know you better. I probably shouldn't have blabbered what Justin told me about Bryan, so please don't mention it. That was just the 'interested uncle' in me coming out."

"It won't go any further." It was more than enough that Thad had been clued into Bryan's interest in him again. 'First he mentions me to his dad, and then to his buddy.'

"Mike and I are planning a pool party this coming Saturday. Justin and his friend are taking a break from school and Bryan will be back. You're invited to join us."

"Gee. Thanks, Dave," Thad replied with energetic enthusiasm, "That would be way cool." He figured he must have passed scrutiny to be asked to Dave and Mike's home.

"Then I'll get back to you with the time, address and...well, hello, Mr. Movie Guy." Dave turned and greeted Doug with a hand-swipe wave.

"Thanks for keeping my associate entertained," Doug replied as he shook hands with both men and sat down. "Sorry to be late." He turned to Thad and shrugged with a smile.

"Dave told me a little about this restaurant and I met Mike." Thad appreciated that Doug was dressed in similar dark shirt and pants fashion.

"Charlize's agent arranged for us to meet. There's a project in the pipeline that's been greenlighted. Apparently Ms. Theron has signed on and wants me to direct."

"And it's moved into a 'your people see my people' scenario?" Dave asked.

"You got it. We're talking a minimum of eighteen months out so her agent will touch base with CAM this week. Might be interesting...I know the writer and he's good. They're sending me a script." Doug looked up when the server arrived with a tray holding three filled cocktail glasses. After each man had his drink - and the empties were removed - Doug raised his glass and added, "Here's to 'nothing in particular'."

"I'll drink to 'nothing in particular'," Dave replied. "By the way, I invited Thad to the pool party," he added as he gave Thad a business card. "Send me your contact info in an email and I'll do the same."

"You'll get it tomorrow." Thad felt honored to be included - both tonight and for the party. Behind the bonhomie atmosphere, he had the feeling that Dave was some sort of unofficial keeper of the gate for this close circle of friends. Almost like Thad was being rushed by this small fraternity and being considered to be a pledge. 'Hope I don't get paddled, that is,' he thought with a smile as the menus were presented, 'too much.' The fantasy of participating in an initiation with these guys was stimulating - mentally and physically. Thad was fortunate a draped tablecloth hid his lap and crotch.

Over steaks and red wine, each of the older men made an effort to make their younger guest feel part of the crowd. Later, when the dining room atmosphere mellowed, Mike did join them to share a dessert. The evening had been a personal success for Thad. He felt more connected with his boss - but not in a suck-up way - and had an opportunity to observe three mature men who thrived in a special friendship that had endured. On more than a couple of occasions Brent had been mentioned. This was a group who still thought of their buddy by his original name, rather than Brad, and without acknowledging any of the manufactured glamour and tinsel town glitter.

The black Solstice rumbled out of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel parking garage and stopped before Rory, who was more subdued in mood and dress than normal. He walked around and gave the valet a five-dollar bill and eased into the roadster. He nodded after the door was closed and thanked the valet. He was doing everything in his power to maintain a calculated cool.

Earlier in the day, as he was driving back from the Valley, Rory had answered his cell after verifying on caller I.D. that it was someone important. The 'someone' was a 45-year-old auto executive who was visiting from Detroit. The man had become a gracious benefactor to the porn star and Rory couldn't resist taking the call as he drove through Coldwater Canyon. He agreed to meet the man at Numbers for a cocktail and determine where they went from there. They both knew that the type of gift the executive offered would be the deciding factor. Numbers, located in West Hollywood, was the legendary restaurant for older gentlemen who indulged in younger men. 'At least I'm not selling my ass for money,' Rory thought as he looked at his Rolex. The watch had been a gift from the executive's last visit.

They originally met at a cocktail party a couple of years ago at the home of a Hollywood agent, someone Rory had briefly dated. Now he was on the invitation list of several moneyed older gay men who liked to paper their social events with studly eye candy. Some of the young actors who attended the parties either worked on a television series or acted in supporting roles in feature films. However, everyone knew the score: every young hunk had a price and it was just a matter of negotiation. For Rory, it had been a weekend 'date' in San Francisco. Tonight would be a less-complicated affair.

Rory replayed the surprise visit to his home earlier in the afternoon. He had heard knocking at the front door. 'Surprised' because whoever was outside hadn't buzzed from the gate. He zipped up his camo shorts and decided whoever it was wouldn't be offended if he answered the door without a shirt. 'They might even get their rocks off.' His upbeat mood changed when he opened the door and saw two very official-looking men dressed in shapeless suits looking at him with serious expressions on their faces.

"Gentlemen, what can I do for you?" Rory asked with a little smirk. "I'm off-duty." He was pretty sure that they were police, but decided a little flirting was still in order. 'The short one is kinda cute,' he thought as he studied the visitors, 'and could be fun for a quickie sometime.'

"Well, we aren't off-duty, Mr. Wiedermeier. May we come in?" the taller man replied as he flipped out his badge. The two detectives didn't wait for permission and moved forward.

And so the cat and mouse game began. Rory's pretense and confidence quickly eroded when the other man produced his police shield and a warrant. For the next two hours, the two detectives disassembled Rory's room and snooped around the rest of the condo. Although he feigned innocence and confusion as to why his property was being searched, Rory was deeply troubled by the time the LAPD was finished. They had told him not to leave the area as they walked out the door.

He was thankful they hadn't found a small lock box hidden in the kitchen; the contents would have revealed more about him than he desired. 'The last thing I need to happen is to have my personal papers and other items examined by those clowns,' he thought while straightening up his room. By the time Rory was finished with his housework, he barely had time to groom himself - everywhere - and dress for the evening. But he was always punctual for a rendezvous and tonight's date would not be an exception. He put on his 'game face' and departed on schedule.

"What a nice bracelet," Rory had gushed when Mr. Dee-troit placed the Tiffany silver and titanium bracelet around his wrist. He had rested his hand under the table so the stylish bling wouldn't be noticed right away. 'This is worth a fast fuck,' he decided, as they ate a few appetizers in a coveted corner booth. The booths were raised a couple of steps so the diners could watch the action of the bar patrons - and vice versa. Everyone knew why they were at Numbers and how to play the different roles. There were some younger guys who were into older men - and that was enough. However, most of the handsome guys - just out of twink-hood - were performing a valuable commercial service, albeit in a better social arena and with a more genteel clientele. The older men knew what was expected in return, and management made sure the rules of propriety were followed.

Just before 7:30 p.m., they left the restaurant, in separate cars, to go back to the man's suite at the Beverly Wilshire. At 8:30, both men were down to their birthday suits and on the king size bed with Rory's legs spread wide so the older guy could enter him. By 9:00, he was dressed and out the door. Rory had been able to earn his gift and yet not cum. After the rigorous afternoon on the cam session, he needed to save his energy and spunk to finish the video in the morning. But the man was pleased, and they tentatively made arrangements to meet in Paris in a couple of months. Rory knew the trip would be confirmed when he received the round-trip Air France ticket.

He shifted the car into gear and slowly pulled away from the curb of the hotel's courtyard entrance. Rory approached Wilshire Boulevard and thought about this liaison, along with others, while he waited for the light to turn green. He rationalized such activities as providing a service to men of means who were in need of relieving their natural urges. Rory even considered his arrangement with Harvey to be mutually beneficial. He had a well-paying porn career, and Harvey had a stud-on-call - until 'recent events' had ended their relationship.

'Harvey, that shit,' he thought, 'got what was coming to him and I have no regrets.' Rory was curious, however, about the status of the investigation. Since the small news article in the Times, nothing else had been mentioned. And except for common gossip about who might be involved in Harvey's death, things at the studio seemed fairly normal. He was a little puzzled about the office manager's attitude, however, just before he left.

'Might as well work at the studio until I can make other plans,' he decided as he gunned the accelerator and drove away from the hotel to Wilshire Boulevard. 'Probably will have to suck up to that Andy dude in the meantime to make sure I get my special money deal. Is that his name?' A couple blocks later he turned left on Canon Drive. Spago was on this street - as well as TJ's - and Rory always liked to see what the big bucks crowd was up to. Between the two restaurants, he usually managed to identify a number of celebrities as he drove by.

That night, however, Spago seemed fairly quiet, whereas, TJ's seemed to be active. He looked over just in time to see Leonardo DiCaprio walk out of the restaurant. Rory considered that sighting a success - and then noticed another young man a little behind Leo. "Damn," he said to himself, "is that Brooks? What the hell is he doing here?" He scooted down a little and accelerated his car. He noticed his 'fall guy' victim was laughing and talking with a couple of older, good-looking dudes. 'I'm not sure how he wiggled out of that little mess, but I'm not going to try and find out.' Rory knew it was best to distance himself from Thad and not stray from his story.

The rest of the way home, he tried to figure out what might have happened to his plan to pin the 'murder tail' on 'Thad the donkey'. 'The best course of action is to mind my own business,' he thought pretentiously as he turned onto his street, 'those two detectives didn't find anything today. Never will.' However, behind the thin faade of bravado, Rory Reed was becoming extremely worried.

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