Author's Introductory Notes:
As usual, I retain all rights, but am more than glad for anyone wishing to offer this story to others at no charge to do so with my gratitude and permission. Josh.
CHAPTER 12a — NBase
My world had become pretty dark over the previous year. But light was at last beginning to roll back that darkness, and at the center of that light was Davey; my refuge, my brother, my friend. Being with Davey was like living in a sunrise, and loving him was how I lived.
Wizened by age and hard experience, we look back on the loves of our teenage years as crushes — naïve, intense, emotional. And yet, few people can love as purely or as deeply as a sixteen year-old boy, especially one who has fallen in love with his life-long, best friend. And when that friend is as deeply in love with him, there is an incredible joy; a joy that can push all the menaces of life back into nearly forgotten recesses of the mind.
And when the intense love of sixteen year old hearts is constantly consummated by sixteen year old bodies, the lovemaking is full of wonder, innocence, fire, and familiarity. Despite all the challenges and pressures of that summer, I will always remember that June and July as idyllic and beautiful. And in spite of the events that would follow, I'm convinced that all along, Davey loved me as deeply as I loved him.
Wednesday, the morning of my birthday, Davey borrowed Maggie's car and drove me over to the local DPS office to take my driving test. Being fully licensed, he was already legal — something he'd been rubbing my nose in for close to two weeks. So, just to help him keep perspective, I commented on the 'slowness' of his driving.
When I passed my test and received my temporary license, I insisted on driving us back.
"You need to move over… to the right… more," Davey said from the passenger seat, pointing out the windshield.
I drifted more to the right.
"The speed limit… is thirty," he said. "Thirty!"
I scowled, and then slowed down.
"You gotta leave more space… behind that car ahead."
I frowned at him. "Cheap revenge!" I said. "You're just trying to get back at me because I said you drove like an old lady."
Davey gave me an innocent 'who-me?' look.
"You turkey," I muttered.
"You need both hands… on the… steering wheel," he said simply.
"That's it!" I yelled. I turned sharply into the next parking lot, slammed the car in park, unbuckled, let out a rebel yell, and leapt at Davey. I grabbed his crotch with one hand and his ribs with the other.
Davey's voice broke as he cried out with laughter, sliding down and out of the seat onto the floor. When I finally let him back up, an old lady in a straw hat was curiously watching our car from a few feet away. I giggled, trying to imagine what she must have thought, seeing a bouncing car and hearing our yells.
That night, when we arrived at The Barn Door restaurant, Ed was already there with his family. Chase greeted me loudly, clapping my back and congratulating me while Hunter did the same to Davey.
"I had to tell the kids what was up," Ed explained, with an apologetic smile. "But I've sworn them to secrecy on pain of death."
Ed's wife, Debbie, greeted my Mom and Maggie while Kim, Chase's little sister, hung around Davey.
"Let's go on in," Ed said, shooing us ahead. "Dr. Meyers and his wife will be here shortly and he told me what to order for them.
As the others headed inside, I held Ed back and reached into my pocket to pull out a wad of bills. Trying to be inconspicuous, I held it out for him. "Some of my lawn mowing money," I said. "I robbed the bank. Would it be OK if I just give it to you out here and let you pay for things inside?"
He smiled and pushed my hand back. "Keep your money, Michael," he said. "I've opened a bank account for C-B, and secured some up front 'good faith' money from NBase."
My eyebrows shot up. "We already have money?"
He grinned and patted me on the back. "Yep."
"Enough for a car yet?"
Ed laughed. "Yeah — definitely enough for a car."
Once we sat down at the table, Ed took his place at the head, with Davey and me on either side. Hunter sat by Davey and Chase sat by me. I enjoyed watching Davey from across the table. He was lively and happy. If we make much money, I decided, I'll take Davey out to eat — a lot.
Just before our meals were served, Dr. Meyers and his wife arrived. "I'm sorry we're late, everybody," Dr. Meyers began, "but I had to wrap up a last minute staff meeting. I finally just left and told them that I had something too important to miss."
From down the table, Maggie caught my eye and winked before she addressed the table at large. "I think we should toast our two young executives!" she said. Then she looked at Davey and smiled. "Of whom, we're very proud."
Davey beamed back at his mom.
"Here, here!" Ed said, raising his glass of red wine. Everyone lifted their glasses.
I wasn't sure what we were supposed to do and leaned towards Ed. "How does this work?" I asked quietly. "Do Davey and I toast too?"
Ed bent his head between ours, "If you want, you can just hold your glasses and wait to drink until after you offer a return toast."
Ed lifted his glass higher. "To Carlson and Bentolli."
The other adults repeated the toast.
"Do you have a toast?" I whispered across the table to Davey.
He shook his head.
I thought for a second, and then motioned for Davey to lift his glass as I lifted mine. "To all the people at this table," I said, "who make our lives rich every day – without money."
"Here, here!" said Ed and Dr. Meyers.
Chase echoed them, and then leaned over the table. "Enough of this business stuff," he announced, as the waitress set down plates of steak and prime rib. "Less talk and more eatin'!"
The meat was done perfectly, and was absolutely delicious. I savored every bite. Ed was right — The Barn Door was definitely the best steak house in San Antonio.
During desert, Dr. Meyers gave us another reason to keep our success a secret. "I've told everybody, including everyone at NBase, that the brilliant Mr. Carlson and Mr. Bentolli are young…," he said, then chuckled. "I just didn't tell them how young."
"How old do they think we are?" I asked, feeling a bit uncomfortable.
Dr. Meyers cut into his last bit of prime rib, and then shrugged. "I let them think whatever they wanted. They all seemed to want to believe that you were recent college graduates."
I blanched, but chewing my steak.
"What happens," Ed asked from our end of the table," if they want to meet our young inventors?"
Dr. Meyers looked from Davey to me. "No way!" he said, and shook his head smiling. "These boys are strictly X9." He leaned towards us conspiratorially. "That's what they used to call the hush-hush computer stuff back in the fifties when I first started. Top secret."
When we got to the embarrassing cake and birthday song part, the waiters and waitresses surrounded the table, placing small cakes in front of both Davey and me. Across the table, Davey's face glowed in the light of his single candle. He grinned at me, and I caught myself — realizing how dangerously close I was to looking at Davey precisely the way Larice said not to, with unbridled adoration. I gave Davey a quick smile back and then looked away.
Ed paid the bill and was waiting for the receipt when he reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. When he dangled them over the table, we could see that they were car keys. My heart stopped for a moment.
He grinned broadly, "Happy birthday, Davey and Michael, from Carlson-Bentolli Incorporated! You'll find the brand-new red Camaro in the second row from the street."
Davey and I sat there, mouths wide open. I looked down the table at Mom. She and Maggie both grinned. "You knew?" I asked.
They nodded. "Not that I'd pick that color," Mom quickly replied.
"Well?" Ed asked. "Who's going to drive it first?"
Davey and I looked at each other. "Davey," I said, sighing. "He's the one who said he likes Camaros. But you guys can't watch," I warned, with a wink at Davey. "He drives like an old lady!"
Ed tossed Davey the keys. Hunter immediately cried, "shotgun!"
"Like hell, you have shotgun," I shouted, as the four of us, including Chase, dashed for the door. "It's my car too. I get shotgun!"
It turned out that we really did need the car, since we both had to 'drive to work' now — which we did for the first time the very next day, right after swim practice. At the university, we parked as close to Dr. Meyers' building as possible.
When we walked into his office, a young Hispanic man was sitting with him. He had long, thick, dark hair pulled into a ponytail, wire-rimmed glasses, a wrinkled t-shirt, and faded blue jeans. He was solid in a pleasant sort of way, with a rounded face, and he wore an uncertain smile.
Dr. Meyers stood up, and when he did, the young man did as well. "Gentlemen," he said, "I'd like you to meet your very first employee, Arturo Rodriguez. Arturo, meet Michael Bentolli and David Carlson."
I looked questioningly at Dr. Meyers. Frankly, I was nonplussed. Not that I expected to have complete say over our money, and Dr. Meyers sure deserved some say in how it was spent. But the name of our little corporation was Carlson-Bentolli. I didn't like the surprise.
"Look, Michael," he explained, "you and Davey did the hard work, designing the sort, and doing the coding up until now. Arturo is just going to help you get it ready for the other platforms we need it for within the next month…"
"I thought we had two months," I interrupted.
"NBase releases version three in less than sixty days. They need our stuff in a month. That's why you need Arturo," he said, nodding again in the young man's direction. "Coding is not one of Davey's strengths — no offense, Davey. And, Michael, you'd kill yourself trying to go it alone. You can still concentrate on the initial coding, but at least let Arturo here do the debugging. He can correct all the syntactical errors and can flag procedural bugs for you to rework."
I looked Arturo over. He certainly looked like a fully qualified Hispanic geek.
Dr. Meyers continued. "Arturo's working on his Doctorate in Software Engineering at Stanford. He's brought his wife home for the summer because her family's here and she's getting ready to have their first baby."
He smiled and held out his hand. I took it.
"Good to meet you, Arturo."
"Michael," he nodded. Then he shook Davey's hand.
Dr. Meyers handed me several sheets of paper. "Here are time sheets for Arturo to use." Then he handed me a second sheaf of papers. "And here's a copy of the final contract that you, Ed, and your moms all signed to cover buying computer time here at the university. It's now signed by my superior as well. Pass it on to Ed. He's keeping a file for you guys. And this is for the file, too," he said, handing me a final sheaf of papers. "This is Arturo's signed non-disclosure agreement. He's sworn to keep all your code secret."
"X9?" I asked, grinning.
Dr. Meyers looked seriously at all of us. "Yes, X9. There are people out there, and companies too, that would love to steal your ideas. And if they do, they'll steal more than just money. You all have to keep your code secret. Understand?"
We all nodded.
Davey and Arturo drifted out the door, but Dr. Meyers held me back. "Michael," he said quietly. "I'm sorry. I guess I got a bit ahead of myself, hiring Arturo. I could tell by the look on your face you didn't like the idea. It's your money — it was wrong of me to hire him without checking with you first. I just wanted to make sure we meet the deadline. And Arturo is damn good."
I nodded gratefully. "Yes, sir. I appreciate that."
"It won't happen again," he assured me. "And Michael," he said, seriously. "I'm not trying to put pressure on you boys to be some kind of golden goose for me. I've worked with both of you for months now and I've seen how brilliant you each can be. In my gut, I just feel that if we do this right, the two of you will produce ideas and intellectual properties that will make you very successful. I want to help with that." His eyes twinkled. "I've seen guys make sudden fortunes in the computer industry before — sometime I'll have to tell you how DEC started — anyway, I think you and Davey can do that."
"A fortune, huh?" I asked.
He put his hand on my back and walked me to the door. "Well, you guys may never make billions, but I think," he said, grinning, "that with help, you might make a very good living. I honestly do think you two have a chance to be successful. It may be selfish of me, but I want to be in on it."
"You going to help us with the coding, then?" I asked with a smile.
"Not with coding, Michael." He shook his head. "I don't want to muddy the waters on ownership of the code."
I nodded. "Thanks for being careful for us," I said. I watched his face. "You really do think we can do well at this, don't you, Dr. Meyers?"
He smiled and patted my back. "You're about to take a tiger by the tail," he said. "I just hope you're ready for all the work required when success comes along… Speaking of work, let's get back to it."
I pulled out all the stops for our Saturday night dinner, which featured a spiral cut, glazed ham. I used lawnmower money to buy it, because I needed to sweeten up Mom.
"What do you mean, you can't go on vacation with me?" Mom asked, obviously displeased.
I finished putting down the platter and looked up. "You know we're under a deadline, Mom," I said. "We've got to have everything ready by mid July."
She scowled at me.
"Mom, we're talking a lot of money here!" I pointed out. "And they've already advanced us some of it."
She continued frowning at me, obviously considering alternatives. "You're much too young to already be a workaholic, Michael," she said, then sighed. "I need a break — I'm still going. You do what you have to do."
Davey and Maggie had been watching in silence. I glanced at them. "I have good news, though, for all of us," I said, as I took Mom's hand. "Last fall, I promised Davey that we'd take a trip to the beach once we had our drivers licenses… with yours and Maggie's permission, of course."
Mom raised an eyebrow.
"Just wait a second," I pleaded. "Hear me out." I squeezed Mom's hand. "Once we've finished the coding, Ed says he can set up a vacation at a resort at South Padre — for all of us; you, Maggie, and Davey and me. He can organize rooms, fishing trips — the works."
Maggie glanced at Mom. "You know, Gloria," she said thoughtfully, "I still have a week's vacation I haven't planned."
A smile played at the edges of Mom's mouth. "And I have a second week's vacation I haven't planned yet." Then she frowned. "But I'm not sure about fishing. I may prefer to stay on the beach."
"I might like to fish," Maggie said with a grin in my direction. "I liked it as a girl."
As we drifted into a discussion of beaches and fishing, I watched our Moms come alive in a way I hadn't seen in some time. As they became more excited, Davey and I grinned happily at each other — partly because it'd be the first time in all the years we'd been friends that our two families would vacation together.
Yeah, I thought, grinning at Davey while our moms happily chatted away._ I can definitely get used to having some money for a change._
Later, Maggie and I finished drying the dishes while Mom and Davey went out onto the porch. I could tell Maggie had something on her mind, but I waited for her to tell me what it was.
Finally, when we were almost done, she put down her towel and leaned back against the counter. "Michael," she said, "when you split the NBase money evenly with Davey, you said it was because both of you worked up the sort. I took your word for it. But now it… well, it sounds to me like you're doing all the work."
I began to protest, but she raised her hand. "That's not right, Michael," she insisted. "Davey shouldn't be getting half the money if he's not actually doing half the work."
I smiled and patted her arm. "It's fine, Maggie. The money was for the idea — the sort. And half of that really was Davey. I don't mind doing a little extra work to get everything else ready by the deadline. It's sort of fun… kind of like homework, only with a big reward at the end."
She looked at me skeptically.
I smiled, trying to coax one from her. "Come on, Maggie — you know we're all family. Davey and I are brothers. We're about to start a family business, that's all." I hugged her and kissed her forehead.
She frowned up at me, still not completely convinced Finally she shrugged. "Alright. Thank you. But you make him help."
I picked up the last plate to dry. "Davey pulls his weight, you know."
Maggie cocked her head. "Oh?"
I hung up my towel and tilted the dish drainer toward the sink while I thought how to answer. Then I turned to her. "Maggie, Davey looks at things differently than we do. He sees things we don't see… he has ideas we don't have… he sees numbers and shapes and relationships. And even though he doesn't communicate well, that doesn't mean that he can't come up with brilliant ideas. There were three different things he suggested for the sort, and they were incredible — even Dr. Meyers said so. I couldn't have done that myself. And now that I've started introducing him to encryption, Davey's catching on to some things a lot better than I did."
She bit her lip, thinking. "I'm going to ask you something, and I want an honest answer, alright?"
"Sure," I said, nodding.
She looked down at the floor. "Dr. Kazan has wanted speech therapy for Davey for some time. I just haven't been able to afford it, and my insurance won't cover it. What I want an honest answer to is this — does Davey have enough money for speech therapy?"
I shrugged. "Davey's money is Davey's money. We need to save as much as we can for expenses and as seed money if we really want to start a company, but half of the money is still his. How expensive is a speech therapist?" Then I caught myself. "No," I said. "Don't answer that. There really isn't any question is there? Let's just do it. I'll talk to Ed about how best to pay for it."
Maggie's eyes started to water and stepping up, she put a hand on my cheek. She opened her mouth to say something, but at that moment, Davey leaned into the kitchen.
"Go away," I told him. "We're talking about you."
"Your ears should be burning!" added Maggie, wiping her eyes.
Davey grinned and walked up, putting an arm over each of our shoulders. With his face between ours, he nodded. "OK. Talk about… me."
I winked at Maggie. "So, ah… you were saying that Davey was left here by an alien space ship?"
"Absolutely," she nodded. "They left him and said to feed him, clothe him, and tickle him every day."
Davey's grin grew bigger and he began to back away. I took a single threatening step towards him and he backed out of the kitchen, then leapt for the front door. He beat me out of the house and took off down the street. I chased hard after him and for three blocks he widened the gap.
We ran like the wind, sprinting flat out. We flew past mailboxes, parked cars, and houses, flying down the pavement much faster than we ever did on our jogs. And then, slowly, I began to catch up. Davey was tiring. He tried dodging me at the end, but I still managed to tag his butt. "Gotcha!" I called. We stumbled a few steps, exhausted, and then we both bent over, hands on knees, panting hard.
Unfortunately, we were still full from feasting on ham at supper, and mine was trying hard to come back up. Davey's mouth dropped open and he clutched his stomach. With a thin wail, he bent over and retched, vomiting all over the sidewalk. As soon as the smell hit me, I lost all control and retched too.
So much for the fancy supper, I thought, trying not to look at the two hours worth of cooking splattered over the sidewalk.
We just looked at each other, all bent over, catching our breath. Davey began to chuckle. And we both tried to laugh; the whole thing seemed so ridiculous.
It was a couple of minutes before we could stand up. He looked at me and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. I did the same.
"Want a kiss?" I asked between breaths.
Davey groaned and looked away.
"What? You aliens don't like kissing?"
He looked up at me with that grin.
"Oh, no you don't – I was joking." I said, holding my hands up defensively as I backed away. "You wouldn't dare!"
I shouldn't have said that either.
He charged, but I held him off by keeping my hands on his shoulders. But then I tripped, and he landed on top of me. Davey quickly pinned my hands, and grinning wickedly, bent down to plant a kiss on my lips, but I turned my face away. He bent over that way, trying to follow.
I turned my head again in the other direction as his lips smeared my cheek.
"Help! Aliens!" I screamed, laughing.
And that's when Davey cheated, digging his fingers into my ribs. I grabbed for his hands and was in the middle of a really loud howl when he managed to get his mouth over my open one, planting what had to be the foulest kiss on me that I was ever likely to get.
It was pretty awful. We both groaned and we both spat to the side.
Davey grinned down at me in triumph. I laughed. And he kissed me again! Only this time, the foulness didn't matter. The fact that we might be seen in the dark didn't seem to matter, either.
We both shuddered convulsively at the end of that kiss.
"We need to shower," I said, gagging at the smell. "Inside and out."
Looking up at him in the darkness, I could see the smile in his eyes.
"Shower at my house," he said quietly. "Sleep over with… me."
"Is this an alien abduction?" I asked with a chuckle.
Davey cocked his head.
"Never mind — yes," I said. "That sounds good to me."
He let me up and we both brushed off. "I can't believe you did that," I said, grinning. "Wait till I tell your mama what you did!"
Our laughter echoed down the street as we turned towards our houses, each with an arm over the other's shoulder. A warm Texas breeze gusted through the trees, making it easier to breathe. And I tried to think of someone, anyone, I could tell about Davey's alien kiss.
Over the next couple of weeks, we developed our own routine. In the mornings around 9AM, Davey and I went to the summer swim team practice sessions, and then we came back to my house for lunch. In the afternoons, we drove to the university and worked as late as we could.
After a couple of days, it became clear to Dr. Meyers and myself that Davey's forte was sudden insight and off-the-wall solutions; transcribing code from one operating system to another wasn't his strength. And so, Davey began dropping me off by myself, and then picking me up later on.
I wrote computer code all afternoon, and sometimes well into the evening. When I stayed really late, Arturo brought me home. I was working so hard that at night I even dreamed about programming.
Mom took off the last week in June to vacation at her parents, and Davey spent every night with me. It all seemed incredibly domestic —going off to work during the day, and then coming home to my lover in the evenings.
Somehow, we managed to find ourselves a lot more time for making love, and the more sex we had, the hornier we seemed to become. Certainly the swimming and running put us into peak physical condition; maybe it affected our libido. For whatever reason, we made love a lot, and enjoyed the hell out of it.
Davey started visiting Amy with me, and then later, for me. She'd been phoning with increasing frequency, and as much as I tried to spend time with her and — I still had a hard time believing it — our future child, it was difficult. Davey, on the other hand, decided to make himself the unofficial godfather for little David. The moment that Amy held his hand to her womb and he felt the baby move, Davey was hooked, transfixed by the wonder of a baby. I was glad that Davey went, as I never really felt comfortable around Amy's dad or brothers.
Mr. Sullivan, however, genuinely liked Davey. So did Mrs. Sullivan. And Davey liked them. He began buying little stuffed toys for the baby, and took Amy out for sodas, or to get something to eat.
And so while I worked on the birth of our company, Davey involved himself in the birth of my baby.
"Michael?" Dr. Meyers called from the computer room door.
"Yes sir?" I said, leaving the computer terminal and walking over to him.
"You still think you'll be done early with the project?"
"Yes sir," I said with a nod. "Arturo's been great. We just need a few more days."
"Good. We may have a little problem. Come with me."
I followed him back to his office where he waved me into a seat. Using his speakerphone, he dialed Ed's office. Ed's secretary immediately put us through.
"I've been informed that the president of NBase wants to meet the boys, Ed," Dr. Meyers explained.
Dr. Meyers grinned sheepishly. "I think I over-sold them. Now he wants to meet with them, even after I let him know that the boys are still teens."
"I was afraid of this," Ed replied. "Did you tell him they're sixteen years old?"
Dr. Meyers shook his head at the speaker phone. "I just said teens, and left it at that. But he still wants to meet with them. He wants to fly the boys out to California."
My jaw dropped. California!
"We can't do that, Harold," Ed said. "They won't take us seriously once they see how young the boys are!"
"It's not that simple, Ed," Dr. Meyers said with a sigh as he leaned over the speakerphone. "Chang says he'll fly out here if he has to."
"Why is he so dead-set on meeting the boys? What does he think we're up to?"
"Like I said, I oversold them," Dr. Meyers repeated, apologetically. "In selling the software, I told him the two 'young men' who wrote the sort were 'brilliant visionaries' with ideas that would revolutionize the industry. I just neglected to tell him how young they were."
Dr. Meyers looked up at me and mouthed the word, "sorry."
"Well," Ed said after a pause, "I guess that was just strong marketing. But dammit, Harold… can't we put him off?"
Yeah, I thought,_ for maybe five years, when we're twenty-one_.
"That'd be a bad idea," Dr. Meyers said, shaking his head. "Look, NBase is already committed to us on the sort. Carlson — Bentolli, Inc. has the signed contract. They really can't back out without a huge mess. Besides, they want the sort. I'm not worried about that side of things. But I am worried about future business. If NBase turns sour on us, there's a good chance we won't get anywhere in the industry."
I sat watching Dr. Meyer's eyebrows work up and down as he considered possibilities. Ed was silent.
Dr. Meyers turned and, looking out the window, ran a hand over his brow. "Look, Ed, I've gotten to know Raymond Chang pretty well. He's a decent guy and young himself — early thirties. I'm thinking that the best thing to do is to be honest with him — let him know that the boys are really young, but still brilliant, of course." He winked at me. "Chang's seen the CB sort and there's no denying its excellence. I've got complete confidence in Michael and Davey. Let him meet with them. We'll insist he keep their ages quiet for now."
There was a pause before Ed spoke. "That might work," he said. "Involve him like a co-conspirator, Harold. Treat the boys as if they're some private treasure that you're going to let him in on. I suppose he wants to see them soon."
"As soon as possible," Dr. Meyers said.
"OK. You talk to him. In the meantime, I'll take the boys to my hair stylist and see if he can make them look older. We'll dress them in business suits and see if we can't impress this Mr. Chang."
"It's Dr. Chang," Dr. Meyers corrected. "And I think he might be smart enough to be impressed."
The next day, Ed took us to the salon where he had his hair cut. Victor, his stylist, was a pale man in his thirties, with a well-trimmed beard and thick brown, closely cropped hair. The shop was adjacent to one of the finest sports clubs in the city, and was obviously upper class. The floors were granite and all the counters were of dark stone and wood, with brass or gold fixtures. The lobby, where we met Victor, had deep red leather couches and chairs.
Victor looked Davey over first. He pulled Davey's hair back into a ponytail, which he held to turn Davey's head this way and that. He stood back, hands on his hips and nodded. "Alright. I know what I'm going to do with this one. We'll cut the hair shorter. That should make him look a little older."
Then he turned to me and gave me the same going over. But in my case, his survey was punctuated with exasperated grunts. He lifted my hair up from either side of my head. "I can't cut his hair too short, not with a long neck like this." He shrugged and turned to Ed. "But I'll do what I can."
There are two people you do not want to hear cursing while they work on you — your dentist and your barber. Victor cursed quite a bit. I did everything I could to avoid looking in the mirror.
When Victor was done with me, he stood me before Ed and Davey. Ed frowned.
Davey smiled. "You look like… Chachi," he said, starting to giggle.
Ed turned to Davey. "From Happy Days on TV?" And then he looked back at me. "Yeah, you're right, Davey — a lot taller, but he does look a little like Chachi." Then he frowned at Victor. "Problem is, Victor, he looks like Chachi did when he_ first started_ on _Happy Days _years ago."
Victor turned me around and looked me over. "How old are you, kid?"
"Ha!" Victor said, then looked at Ed. "I happen to know how old Scott Baio was when he began playing Chachi – sixteen!"
Victor insisted there wasn't anything else he could do. So, while complaining that Victor never made him look younger when he got a hair cut, Ed paid the bill.
Davey stood grinning at me. "Chachi!" he said, pointing.
"I do not look like Chachi," I said, glaring.
Two days later, Davey stood in front of the three-way mirror in a hastily altered, dark navy business suit. I stood next to him in a deep charcoal design with pinstripes. They may not have been custom-tailored, but with the alterations, they looked it. The fabrics were rich and the suits were elegantly cut, and they cost several hundred dollars each. But Ed was insistent that we make the right impression for our meeting. I had to admit, the colors were perfect for both of us.
But the effect wasn't only from the color. Davey, in a suit and with that haircut, was breathtaking. It did make him look a little older and he was remarkably handsome. His Scandinavian heritage was beginning to assert itself in the line of his jaw and the planes of his face. There was no question, I decided. He was getting even better looking as he was getting older.
I leaned close. "I want to tear off your clothes," I whispered. "You're beautiful."
He looked me over from head to toe, then put his mouth to my ear. "You look like…" he started to say.
"Don't say Chachi," I warned.
He shook his head, smiling. "Lots cuter."
Ed arranged the conference call to California from his and Dr. Meyers' offices simultaneously. Davey and I sat with Dr. Meyers.
After introductions were made, Dr. Meyers explained the problem. "We can't send the boys after all, Raymond. None of us can break away from our current projects to bring them."
There was a long pause before we heard Dr. Chang's voice. "Michael, Davey… just how old are you boys, again?"
I looked at Dr. Meyers and he nodded. "Ah… sixteen, sir." I said.
"Hmmm. And you boys designed the CB sort entirely by yourselves?"
"Yes, sir. Absolutely."
There was another pause. "Harold, are you telling me you can't find an adult to bring them out here? A parent or guardian, or maybe a family friend?"
Dr. Meyers shook his head. "Both their moms work and have already planned their vacations in August. Neither can get away. I'm the head of my department at the school and have a couple of classes going on this fall to prepare for, plus I have to interview three new instructors next week."
"And I can't break away," Ed said. "We've got some major labor negotiations going on in town for the next three weeks."
The silence at the other end this time went on for too long. Dr. Chang had to be thinking that Davey and I were practically still in diapers and that Ed and Dr. Meyers really weren't committed to Carlson-Bentolli at all.
I bit my lower lip in frustration. We are about to screw this up, I thought. And I sure as hell was not going to let that happen!
I cleared my throat. "Dr. Chang, this is Michael. We'll still come. We're sixteen, not twelve. And we're geeks. We'll build our own airplane if we have to." I watched Dr. Meyer's eyebrows rise.
"It's important for us to meet," I continued. "We need to show you that we are as capable as you thought we were before you found out how old we were. It's important for you and for us, because… Dr. Chang, we have other ideas, other plans that can benefit NBase even more than our sort will."
Now Dr. Meyers' eyes went really wide. I winked at him.
"What kind of ideas?" Raymond Chang asked. "What kind of plans?"
I thought Dr. Meyers was going to have a heart attack. He turned red and jumped to his feet, waving frantically at me to say no more.
I smiled reassuringly. "Innovative ideas, Dr. Chang. I read all the industry trade magazines around here and I know what I'm talking about. But we're not ready to make them public yet."
There was a bemused chuckle from the other end of the phone line. "You're right, Michael. It is important that we meet." Relieved, Dr. Meyers collapsed back into his chair.
Dr. Chang continued. "And we need to meet sooner rather than later. You boys have school in the fall?"
Then I heard Ed's voice. "Dr. Chang, the boys are certainly capable of traveling on their own. But they can't stay by themselves out there."
"Look, it's not a problem," Dr. Chang said, unconcerned. "I'll have one of my people look after them, like a chaperon. If you like, we'll even make sure they get a side-trip over to Disneyland for a day. It's not far away from our offices in Anaheim."
Davey looked at me, grinning.
"Davey? Michael?" the voice of Dr. Chang asked.
"Yes, sir?" we replied together.
"I was a bit of a child prodigy myself," Chang explained. "I'm not worried about your ages. In fact, I'm looking forward to meeting you. But I think we need to keep your identity a little secret."
Dr. Meyers grinned.
We heard Dr. Chang, clear his throat. "I'm not sure my board of directors would understand our decision to pay a half-million dollars over three years to a couple of sixteen year-olds… We'll just tell our people that you are Carlson and Bentolli's younger brothers, so you may have to dumb down a bit in public, but we'll make it fun. I promise."
Davey gave me a thumbs-up. I nodded.
"Tell you what," Chang continued. "I'll have my secretary make reservations for first class seats on a flight out here Monday. We'll keep the boys a couple of days and then shoot them back to you, safe, and dedicated to NBase for life." He laughed. "We'll fax over some parental releases, medical releases… whatever our legal people say need to be signed."
Davey turned to me grinning from ear to ear. "Disneyland!" he whispered. "California!"
California, I thought — Brandon. I sat back in my chair, my mind immediately filled with memories of him.
Dr. Meyers finished the conversation for us, and Ed immediately called back afterwards.
"Well done, Michael," Ed said through the speakerphone. "For a moment there, I thought everything was going to go south. I had my calendar open trying to figure out how I could possibly break away, but you saved the day. You might have just as good a head for business negotiations as you do for computers."
"Thanks," I said, trying not to let thoughts of Brandon distract me.
Dr. Meyers frowned. "I'm not sure I like it," he said. "The boys will have to stay on their toes." He looked sternly at Davey and me. "Don't give away anything — no ideas. No secrets about how the sort works. No suggestions on how to improve their products… period."
He rubbed his jaw, thinking. "They may have already tried to reverse-engineer the complied code. Since they're paying for it, they might feel like they own it. But no sense giving away anything!"
"Dr. Meyers is right," Ed said over the phone. "You handled the conversation with Chang very well, Michael, but you'll both need to be very careful. Don't give away anything. Tell them you have to talk it over with your business advisers first."
"I'm not worried about that side of things," I said. "We've got a bigger problem to worry about."
"Yes?" Ed said.
I sighed. "I'm worried about how you're going to talk Maggie and my mom into letting us go."
Ed laughed. Dr. Meyers was still frowning. And as it turned out, we almost had more trouble talking Dr. Meyers into letting us go than we did with our moms.
The biggest dilemma for me was what to do about Brandon. I really, really wanted to see him, but I knew Davey probably wouldn't like that. And yet, I couldn't possibly go to California and not let Brandon know.
In the end, I told Davey what I was going to do and why, and I called Brandon to tell him that we would be out there, but only for a couple of days, and that we would not be able to see him.
"I didn't want you to find out someday that we'd been out to LA and we hadn't let you know about it."
"Damn, Michael! Anaheim is only 25 miles from where we are living in the Valley. Talk to Davey — see if he'll let us meet. He can come, too! Maybe do dinner or something. We'll keep it all honest and above board." His voice was almost pleading.
A slight frown was beginning to develop on Davey's face as he watched me on the phone.
"We'll see, Brandon," I said carefully. "They're probably going to keep us busy at the office. And we're going to have a chaperon."
"Damn it, Bent," he muttered. "I wish you wanted to see me as much as I want to see you."
"I do, Bran. That's, uh… part of the problem."
"Part of what?" whispered Davey.
"Nothing!" I whispered back, thankful that he couldn't hear Brandon's side of the conversation.
"And to be honest," I continued, "there's one other thing."
"Well, Davey and I have never traveled together like this. We've never gone to the beach like you and I did. We've never gone camping together like he did with Geoff the Creep. But this is something that we can do together that neither of us has ever done with anyone else, you know? I'm really excited, Brandon. It's gonna be a special time for Davey and me. I don't want to mess it up for anything." I winked at Davey.
There was the briefest of pauses. "Not even for an old friend?"
"Don't be like that, Bran. You know we both love you. But this trip is for Davey and me."
"OK, Bent," he said, reluctantly. "Davey's your boyfriend. I really do hope you guys have a great time. Honest."
We said our goodbyes, and I hung up.
Davey put his forehead to mine. "Thanks," he said, and then hugged me.
I worked through the weekend, trying to get the software as ready as possible for Arturo to work on while I was gone. Not only did I work late on Saturday, I worked all day Sunday, then through Sunday night, and all the way up to the last possible minute on Monday morning. I was so exhausted I could barely see straight, but Arturo and Dr. Meyers were pleased with the results.
Davey helped me pack and drove us to the airport. I dragged myself onto the plane, but was unable to sleep much on the flight. After all, it was Davey's first-ever plane trip and only my second. Not only that — we were traveling together, just the two of us. It was too damned exciting to sleep.
And so, on Monday, July the eleventh, Davey and I arrived in California both exhausted and excited — or rather, I was exhausted, and Davey was excited. Coming off the plane at LAX, we saw a young lady holding a small cardboard sign that said, "Carlson — Bentolli."
She saw us coming and grinned. "Mr. Carlson? Mr. Bentolli?"
Davey and I looked at each other and Davey giggled. "I'm Michael," I said. "And this is Davey."
She held out her hand. "Hi, I'm Martha, from NBase corporate communications. It's very nice to meet you Michael," she said, shaking my hand first. She had a good grip. "And you too, Davey," she added.
She turned. "Follow me, gentlemen. After we get your luggage, I'm going to check you into your hotel and then treat you to supper. I know you two will need to adjust to the two-hour time change, so after we eat, we'll just go back to the hotel. You can sleep, and then tomorrow morning, I'll take you over to the NBase campus."
We struggled to keep up with Martha. She was a fast walker.
"I know your secret," she said, talking back over her shoulder. "Dr. Chang told me that you two are the geniuses behind the CB sort. Only a couple of other people know that. To everybody else, you're the younger brothers of Carlson and Bentolli. Very hush-hush."
"Top secret," added Davey.
She rounded a corner and we hurried after her up another passageway. "We weren't sure what to do with you guys," she continued talking over her shoulder. "You aren't kids, so I know you don't want a baby sitter, but I also can't exactly leave you alone. We have a nice hotel room for you, and I have a room down the hall, so technically, there's an adult with you. But you won't see me unless you want to. I promise, I won't cramp your style." She smiled back at us. "Just don't burn the place down or get arrested, OK?"
"Sure," I said and Davey echoed his agreement, running a few steps to catch up.
"You'll spend tomorrow at Nbase" she continued, "getting the tour and meeting Dr. Chang. Then on Wednesday, I have the difficult job of taking you to Disneyland. We can decide about Thursday later. Friday, I'll put you two back on the plane for home."
Davey and I grinned at each other. This was going to be so cool!
We reached baggage claim and as we waited, Martha leaned toward me. "Did anyone ever tell you that you look a little like that kid on Happy Days?"
I punched Davey's arm when he laughed.
The Anaheim Mariott was lavish, with a lobby made entirely of marble, glass, and chrome. The large swimming pool and courtyard were clearly visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows as we approached the front desk. Both Davey and I checked out the swimsuit-clad male bodies lying by the pool outside, though we tried hard not to gawk. Davey almost walked into a column when two Speedo-clad body builder types strolled by the window — I just hoped Martha hadn't noticed his wide-eyed appreciative look.
"We're definitely not in Texas anymore," I whispered to Davey.
Our hotel room was a surprise. It was a two-bedroom suite with a Jacuzzi in the large bathroom, and a king-sized bed in each of the bedrooms.
Martha tipped the bell hop and turned to us. "You boys ready for something to eat?" she asked.
I yawned, and fell back into a chair, almost too tired to eat.
Martha smiled down at me. "So you really worked through the night?"
"We could skip the restaurant," she suggested, "and order from room service. Would you like that?"
"Room service!" echoed Davey.
That night, Davey and I found out that fish did not always have to be fried, and that Chenin Blanc was an excellent white wine to go with seafood. Martha, however, only let us have one glass each.
After supper, she glanced at her watch. "I know it's getting late, but if you want, I can drive you around to see some sights. Or you guys can just get some sleep and rest up for tomorrow."
Davey looked at me and smiled. "Sleep," he said.
I nodded my agreement, just hoping to be able to make it to the bed. The glass of wine had been the last straw – I was ready to collapse completely. But I knew Davey was excited about us being in a hotel room together, and that he would want to make love first. I just wanted Martha to leave so I could take care of Davey and get to bed.
No sooner had Martha left for her room than he began frantically undressing me, laughing hard in the process. Somehow, I managed to get his clothes off, too, and he maneuvered us on to our sides on the bed for a sixty-nine.
I rested my head on Davey's thrust-forward lower leg, took a deep breath of his aroma, and closed my mouth over his cock. In seconds, I was asleep.
I was only vaguely aware of Davey lifting and dragging me over to the other side of the bed where he had pulled back the covers. I felt the soft press of his lips to my cheeks before he pulled the bedcovers up over me.
And then it was morning. I awoke to find myself facing Davey across the pillow. Our legs were entwined and our morning erections lay over one another. Davey was sound asleep, his mouth hanging open, his almost-white hair all disheveled. Early morning light came in through the window, and a glance at the clock told me it was barely 6AM. We still had hours to go before our meeting.
A surge of affection came over me. I found myself taking a deep breath and marveling at the love he stirred in me. I wanted to let Davey rest, but I also wanted to have him in my arms and make love to him.
I put my hand on his butt and pulled our privates even closer together. Davey's mouth closed and he smiled, eyes closed. I gently kissed his lips, and he put his arms around me, nestling his face into my neck.
Moving my hand up from his butt, I rubbed the middle of his back and kissed the top of his head. "Sorry about last night, Old Man. I guess I was more tired than I thought."
"You owe me," Davey murmured into my neck.
"Yep. I admit it — I owe you. Anything you want."
Davey looked up from my neck, his blue eyes dancing. "I want… YOU!" he shouted, and pushed me onto my back. He rolled onto me and pressed his mouth to mine. We both had morning breath, but I didn't give a damn.
It was still early, California time, when we went back to sleep after making love. The next time I woke up, I was on my back and Davey had a leg over my middle. His cock pressed against my hip and he had propped his head on his elbow next to my shoulder. He was drawing designs on my chest with his fingertip.
"Having fun?" I asked, then yawned and stretched.
"Ummm," Davey said, running his palm over my tightened belly.
When I relaxed, he licked his fingertip and ran it in circles on my right nipple. "You've got baby… chest hairs," he said, pulling at a couple of darker hairs that had made their first appearance.
"Sorry," I said. "I can pluck them."
"No," Davey said simply. "I like 'em." Then he drew his finger down the middle of my chest and belly, circled my navel, and continued on down to my pubic hair. He moved his leg lower on my body and laid his hand over my privates, fondling them while he bent to kiss me once again. He pressed the heel of his hand down on my upturned cock and rubbed. I groaned and closed my eyes.
"You're going to start something again," I warned.
"Aren't you hungry for breakfast?"
Davey rolled onto me, dropping his legs to the outside of mine. Putting a hand on each of my shoulders, he pushed up and, looking down at me, he ground his cock on mine. "I am hungry," he said, looking seriously down into my eyes. "I want to fuck… Chachi."
I gasped at his joke and reached for his ribs. "We'll see who fucks who!"
In a blur of limbs and laughter, we ended up falling off the bed, still held together by the sheets and blankets which proceeded to wind around us even more tightly as we rolled. Eventually we could barely move. Our bodies were wrapped together like mummies, our noses almost touching.
"We better stop," I joked, "before we need someone to come rescue us."
Davey smiled, and then his smile faded to that hungry look, and we wrapped our arms around each other even more tightly than the wrap-around sheets.
When we finished, he stayed in me, still spooned within the sheets, and began playing with the hairs on the back of my head.
I had a stray thought. "Our waiter last night was gay."
Davey blew softly, soothingly over the back of my neck. "Yep," he said, confidently. "Def… definitely gay."
"Maybe we're getting gaydar, Davey," I said. "Remember? Knox told us about that."
Davey buried his nosed in the back of my hair and took a deep breath. Then he pulled my hair back from my ear. "The waiter," he said, confidentially, "brushed against me…when he set up our table."
I looked back over my shoulder at him. "You know," I said. "I bet we see lots of gay guys out here."
Davey let his cock slip from inside me and began squirming out of the sheets. "Want to go… swimming?" he asked.
I laughed. "You just want to go to the pool to test our gaydar. But nobody's going to be out there this early." I looked at the clock. "Damn, it's too late to get breakfast like Martha said to do."
Davey padded into the bathroom and the sound of his heavy piss stream followed. The sound caused me to realize how badly I needed to go, but I was thinking about gaydar. As I stood up to follow him, I repeated my thought. "I bet we see lots of gays out here. I mean, it is California."
I replaced him at the toilet while he washed his hands and looked for his toothbrush. "Of course," I said, feeling relief as my own piss stream started, "we can't just point at guys and say, 'Do you think he's gay?'"
"We need a code. How about if we say, HG? For like, you know, He's Gay? So like if you see somebody you think is gay, you can just nod at him and say, 'HG,' alright? But whisper it — OK?"
Davey grinned with a mouth full of toothpaste. "OK. Top secret."
"Cool," I said, watching my reflection in the full-length mirror by the john as I shook off my cock and flushed the toilet.
Davey saw where I was looking, nodded at me in the mirror, and said, "HG."
I slapped his bare ass and joined him at the sink.
After we cleaned up, I called the front desk and they put me in touch with the concierge, who in turn sent a junior manager to help us fix our ties. I kept meaning to ask Ed to teach us before we left, but kept forgetting with so much else to do.
The junior manager laughed and said no one in California wore ties. But Ed seemed to think the business suits were important. So the manager helped us with the ties. When the junior manager left, Davey raised his eyebrows. "HG?"
I looked in the mirror at the way the tie was knotted, and shook my head. "I don't think so."
We HGed guys to each other as we walked out the lobby that morning, and as we rode in the car to NBase with Martha.
The NBase campus consisted of half a dozen sprawling buildings spread over several acres of landscaped grounds. Though the buildings were all modern brick and glass, the effect from the outside was quiet and pastoral. It was deceptive as to just how large the campus really was.
There was security everywhere. We had to be cleared through a security gate, and again at the front desk as they issued us special VIP visitor passes. And once we were past the front desk, we entered an atmosphere unlike any I'd experienced before.
Even though most of the people were dressed casually, there was an unmistakable air of professionalism. People worked intently at desks or terminals, individually or in groups, and others hurried quickly from one place to another. And all of the equipment was state-of-the-art. It made our gear back at Dr. Meyers' lab look downright antiquated.
We stopped at the doorway to a long hall. It was almost completely blocked by a security desk and turnstiles. Martha winked at us. "The Sanctum Sanctorum," she said. "You've been cleared to see where we do our developing."
The guard passed us into the hall and Martha led us into the first of many rooms. This one had tall windows along the right side, and the cubicles had low dividers, which gave the room an open feel.
We walked quickly from cubicle to cubicle. Martha didn't explain what anyone was doing, so I tried to guess from what I saw on worksheets or, on the VT-100 computer terminal in front of each worker.
In one cubical, an older man with gray hair and dark bushy eyebrows was working down a list of figures.
"Converting from hex?" I asked.
He looked up at me from over his glasses, looked me up and down, and nodded with a tolerant smile. Probably thinks I'm just a kid getting a quick tour, I decided.
"Don't you guys have a little conversion program for that?" I asked. A university student had written the one we used back in San Antonio.
He frowned at me, annoyed. "Been meaning to write one," he mumbled. "Just no time."
Davey came up alongside and looked down at the paper. He smiled at the gray-haired man, took a pencil from the desk, and quickly filled in the remaining two dozen or so conversions.
As they watched, both Martha and the gray-haired man looked increasingly impressed. Then, sensing someone looking over my shoulder, I turned to find a slim, middle-aged woman watching us. Her most prominent features were two piercingly dark eyes framed by close-cropped dark brown hair.
When I turned, she quickly replaced a slight frown with a careful smile and held out her hand. "Ruth Jamison," she said. "Financial VP. You must be Michael Bentolli."
I studied her as we shook hands. She didn't like me — I could sense it. But my first reaction was that I might like her. She used her eyes the same way Grandpa Bentolli used his; to look into people.
I smiled. "Yes, ma'am, I am. I'm very pleased to meet you." I held her gaze.
She leaned back slightly and studied me more intently.
I turned and pulled Davey over. "This is my… uh, my associate, Davey… uh, David Carlson."
Ms. Jamison nodded and shook Davey's hand. Then she dismissed Martha. "I'll take them from here, Martha. You can pick them up after lunch."
She turned back to me and held up some papers with her left hand. "Dr. Chang meant to have you both sign non-disclosure agreements before getting a tour." She smiled. "It's not really that important, but I do need you to sign them." She held the papers and a pen out to me.
I shook my head. "Dr. Chang never told us anything about signing any forms."
"Oh, I assure you," she said. "He was supposed to…"
I smiled. I had her. Dr. Chang obviously didn't think it was important enough to remember even if Ruth Jamison obviously did. And she was right. But I wasn't going to sign anything. Her smile faded just slightly.
"Ms. Jamison," I said, apologetically, "I know you're just doing your job, but we're just teenagers. We aren't going to sign anything without checking it out with our Moms."
I think I was too transparent. A smile broke across her face. "Somehow," she said, with amusement, "I imagine your mom checks more with you on such things."
She laughed and lowered the papers. "Well, to be honest, I'm not sure how binding the signature of a minor is under Californian law anyway." She smiled at me. "I like you, Mr. Bentolli. But I'm not sure I should trust you in our development rooms."
I spread my hands deprecatingly. "I understand, Ms. Jamison. But I promise you, I won't steal any of your ideas. Neither will Davey."
She looked appreciatively at Davey. "You have quite a brain there, Mr. Carlson." Then she turned back to me. "Why don't we finish touring the building?"
We followed her as she walked from desk to desk. At one, she asked if I knew what a young lady was working on.
"Quadratic equations," I answered.
"Care to try one?" she asked smiling.
It was a test; I knew it instantly. I smiled back and stepped up beside the young lady. I did first one, then a second, and was soon on a third.
Ms. Jamison nodded approvingly. "Can you guess what Ella is working on?" she asked.
I picked up the paper and looked it over, then shrugged. "My guess is that you're trying to build in some optimizing intelligence to your software. This equation looks designed to calculate the impact of disk cluster size on seek time and the next equation deals with search time."
Ella's mouth dropped and Ms. Jamison raised her eyebrows.
"The problem with this third equation," I said, about to disregard Dr. Meyer's instruction to not offer help, "is that you need to factor in disk sector size."
Ella grabbed the paper from me and looked it over, her brow deeply furrowed. Ms. Jamison broke out in a laugh.
I smiled. "Care to move on?"
She clapped my back and turned us toward the next booth. "I'll be damned," was all she said.
We were starving by mid-morning when Ruth finally treated us to a snack in the cafeteria. "So, Michael," she asked, while we ate. "What's your overall impression so far of NBase?"
"What's yours?" I asked, "of us?"
"Of you?" she said, smiling. "Very favorable. But I think you know that. You are two special young men."
Davey gave me an "if-only-she-knew" smile and I frowned at him.
"So," she asked again, "ah… your overall impression of NBase?"
I nodded. "I'm impressed," I said. "I like all the energy, all the technology. I like the people, too." I hesitated.
She looked at me piercingly. "But?"
I took a drink and shrugged. "I'm just a teenager, Ms. Jamison. I don't know much."
"Come on, Michael," she said. "There's something you aren't telling me."
I looked her right back in the eye. "Have you shown me everything you have in development?"
She nodded slowly. "Pretty much. Why?"
It was hard to decide just how open I should be with her. I liked her. And the NBase people were nice. I almost felt like I was on the NBase team. But if I told them what I really thought, it might put a formidable competitor right in the path I was hoping C-B could take.
Suddenly, an image of Dr. Meyers' face came back to me. He was frantically waving his hands, back in his office.
I casually shrugged and took another bite of my sandwich. And Ruth asked no more questions.
After the break, we toured accounting, shipping & receiving, tape dubbing, tape and disk duplication, and all the other departments a software company needed. The tour ended at an impressive boardroom, where a large, polished wooden table was set up at one end for lunch.
Martha joined us along with three men. The Asian man obviously in charge was Dr. Chang. If I hadn't known he was in his thirties, I would have guessed twenties — early twenties. He was nicely built and had an air of energy and good health.
As soon as he entered the room, Davey leaned close. "HG?"
I stared at him a moment before I remembered our new code for 'He's Gay'. "You wish," I whispered back.
Davey nodded enthusiastically and poked me in the arm.
Dr. Chang smiled at us and came over. "You guys getting the royal tour?" he asked.
We both nodded. I held out my hand. "I'm Michael Bentolli."
When introductions ended, we sat down to lunch. Raymond Chang was friendly and outgoing. He had no concept of trade secrets, though. I would never say this to Dr. Meyers, but in one hour with Dr. Chang, I learned as much about the future of computing and data storage as I had after spending weeks with him. That wasn't to say Dr. Meyers wasn't as knowledgeable; it's just that his information wasn't nearly as current.
Dr. Chang was dead wrong about one thing, though. I was certain of it, but didn't try to argue — he was convinced that home computing and PCs weren't going to go anywhere. IBM had released their first home computer two years earlier, and I was certain it signaled the start of something really big. The cost of PC computing power was a fraction of that on mainframes and minicomputers. Businesses were noticing that. But Chang was sure that the PC wouldn't make a dent on the business market. And he thought the new Apple Macintosh was a toy.
Dr. Meyers would have been proud of Davey and me. We talked only about the things Dr. Chang already knew and I offered no suggestions. I detected a few little tests during our conversation, and said enough to let them all know that Davey and I knew our stuff, but only just enough to make our point. The whole time, Ruth Jamison kept a close eye on me, and I felt like she knew every time I held back.
At the end of the meal, they excused themselves and left Davey and me in Martha's company for a few minutes.
When they returned, the mood was serious. Dr. Chang sat down between Davey and me. "Gentlemen," he said, smiling. "My people have been impressed with you, and with your sort. We studied it and once we understood some of the things it did… well that's when I called to invite you two to come out here — the sort is brilliant."
He smiled. "You boys clearly know what you're doing. And we have a proposition for you." He put a hand on each of our shoulders and smiled widely. "We would like to hire you guys. We'll pay all your expenses to move you and your families out here. We'll find you a good school, or do like they do with child stars and hire you tutors. And we'll pay you well… very well."
My jaw dropped, then I caught myself. For just a second, I was incredibly flattered – but only for a second. Perhaps I did have good business instincts because, I suddenly thought I understood what was behind the offer — they were trying to hire us so that they could gain control of our ideas!
"We have our own company," I answered. "But we want to do business with you. That's why we're here."
"And that's why we wanted you out here," Dr. Chang patted my back. "Setting up your own company was a clever way to sell your sort, Michael, but in the long run, working for a solid corporation for a steady income is not something to pass up lightly, especially considering the future you would have with us."
My unease must have been obvious, because Dr. Chang quickly offered an alternative. "Tell you what; for now, we could simply fly you out for the rest of the summer and have you brainstorm with our staff. You can bring your moms out with you for a vacation. There's lots to do and see out here. We'll get you rental cars and pay all your expenses. On top of that, we'll pay you ten thousand dollars."
He leaned back smiling as if we were supposed to be wowed. But I figured our ideas were worth a lot more than that; and he must have thought so too.
"Ten thousand, each," he emphasized.
I forced a smile. "That's really generous, Dr. Chang, but we have our own ideas that we're already working on."
"Call me Raymond," he insisted. "And bring your ideas! We can make them work for you."
That was certainly transparent enough, I thought.
Ruth Jamison watched me closely. She certainly couldn't be thinking that we'd go for this. I hesitated, trying to think how to decline the offer without offending Dr. Chang. There was an uncomfortable silence.
"OK," he said. "Make it twenty thousand each."
Davey gasped and his jaw dropped. He looked across Dr. Chang towards me and grinned, nodding.
But I shook my head. "That's a really generous offer, uh… Raymond. But we need to check with our business advisers first," I said.
Davey gave me an 'oh-yeah' look and nodded. "And our moms," he added.
Ruth Jamison suppressed a smile.
"Sure," Dr. Chang said, with a forced smile. "Sure. In fact…" he waved in a couple of office clerks carrying boxes. "We have some gifts for you and your moms."
In the boxes were NBase ball caps, T-shirts, pens, and mugs. Dr Chang smiled and shook our hands as he left the room, but he looked pensive. It was clear that Dr. Chang was used to having his way. I hoped that I hadn't sabotaged our relationship with NBase.
Ruth Jamison put a hand on my shoulder. "How old are you, again, Michael?"
She chuckled. "Alexander the Great was sixteen when he led his first military action — successful action, I might add." She squeezed my shoulder. "I have to tell you, I'm awfully impressed with you boys. We're looking forward to seeing great things from you two."
"Thank you, Ms. Jamison," I replied. Davey and I watched her leave the room. I leaned to Davey. "Alexander the Great was gay," I said with a wink.
"Did he look like Chachi?" Davey asked with a grin.
Before I could reply, Ruth came back into the room holding out business cards. "I meant to give you each one of these," she said. "Call me if I can help with anything."
Then Ruth pulled Martha aside, giving her instructions for the afternoon.
"I like her, Davey," I whispered.
"Only because," Davey said in a stage whisper, "she didn't say… you look like… Chachi!"
Ruth turned back to us, open-mouthed. "That's who you reminded me of! Fonzie's cousin on Happy Days, right?"
I scowled at Davey. "You're going to pay for that!"
He giggled, delightedly.
Right after lunch, we changed from our business suits and Martha drove us down the freeway to Universal Studios. And that night, she treated us to real Japanese food at Yamashiro's in the nearby foothills. They almost refused to let us in because we didn't have ties, but Martha convinced them that as 'kids' we shouldn't need them.
Davey's goal for the evening, however, was the courtyard swimming pool and we finally made it there after supper, even though it was almost 9PM. The reason Davey wanted to hit the pool wasn't to swim, though.
He pulled two lounge chairs together for us to sit in, adjacent to the pool area entrance. Then he had us lean back in our speedos sans towels and spread our legs in a shameless display of our wares. And so we sat and waited.
And what we got was girls.
Despite the fact that Davey 'HG-ed' me every time a young guy went past, it was the girls who flirted, girls and older women.
I had to admit that the quality of the female wildlife was good in Southern California. Back in San Antonio, the general rule was that the size of the female swimsuit tended to decrease as the size of the female increased. That was not the case at the hotel pool where every female was shapely and none left a single curve to the imagination.
Davey and I were watching a teenage couple playing in the deep end when a lady at least the age of our moms slowly walked past. She still had a good figure, and showed off everything she had in skimpy bikini. She stopped right in front of us and bent over to pick up something that 'fell.' After giving us an ample view, she stood back up and boldly stared at our speedo-encased packages.
I crossed my legs. She smiled, actually licked her lips, and walked to a chair where she could keep an eye on us.
"Mickey," Davey whispered. "We're definitely not… in Texas… any more."
We ignored the lady and just enjoyed watching the guys who came and went. One guy in his twenties pulled up a chair next to ours and struck up a conversation. He was trim, and good looking, and friendly; he explained that he was studying over at Cal State Fullerton, and his folks were staying at the hotel for the week. When the guy jumped in the pool to cool off, Davey leaned over.
"HG?" he asked in a low voice.
"You need to ask?"
The guy kept smiling back at us as he swam.
"You tired yet?" I asked. I checked my watch, it was already 10PM.
The guy looked really disappointed when we left, but gave us a friendly wave. In the room, Davey and I took a shower together. We sprouted erections, but we were exhausted, and were no longer in the mood by the time we dried off.
So we turned on the TV and lay naked across the bed to watch it — Davey on his stomach with a pillow under his head, and I lay behind him, using his back as my pillow.
We watched an episode of Remington Steele – not a great show, but the guy in it wasn't bad looking. I threw my leg over the back of Davey's legs and snuggled on to him, fighting to stay awake.
"Mickey?" Davey said softly during a commercial.
"I was real proud of you… today."
"You were?" I asked, crawling up his back to put my face closer to his. My balls and soft cock settled comfortably on his butt.
He smiled. "Yeah… at NBase. You did… good."
I wrapped my arms under his chest and I lay the side of my head down on the back of his neck. "It scared me, Davey. When Dr. Chang offered us jobs. I just didn't trust him, but I didn't want to mess things up."
"You made him… want us more," he said.
"Thanks, 'Old Man'," I said. Then I chuckled. "But don't forget — you're the one who blew them away with those hex conversions."
"Yeah," Davey said. "I like blowing… away."
I laughed. The commercial ended and I moved my head onto Davey's pillow. And I wondered if we could do as well with software as I was beginning to think we could. I fell asleep with my leg over his butt and my arm over his back, and I dreamed we had a big software house that sold Davey's Hex Conversions.