Authors: Gordon Merrick
Billy turned a page. “Forgive me. I'm not a great conversationalist in the morning. It's delightful to feel you here beside me. Tell Laszlo if there's anything in particular you want for breakfast from now on.”
“This is perfect. I couldn't be happier.”
Breakfast in bed. What better way to start the day? Perry was going to quit his job later. He was going to be voluntarily unemployed, perhaps forever.
They had finished their breakfast when Laszlo returned. “Shall I take everything away?” he asked. Leaning over Perry to take the folding table, he gave him a faint nod. “I gave the other bathroom a look. It's ready for you, sir.”
“I grasp your message, Laszlo,” Billy said. “It's time to get up.” Laszlo withdrew, and Billy threw the covers off. “Laszlo's right. I take hours in the bathroom. Perhaps we'll have time for a little eye-opener before we go out. I'll see you downstairs.” He pressed Perry's hand and left him.
Perry got up and pulled the dressing gown around his shoulders and crossed the landing.
He found the other bedroom next to the studio. Laszlo was making the bed. He straightened and turned as Perry dropped the dressing gown. Laszlo was in shirtsleeves and had removed his tie.
“You're a very splendid-looking young gentleman, if I may say so, sir,” he said.
Perry laughed. “Cut it out and call me Perry.”
Laszlo laughed in his turn. “I already call you Perry in my mind, but I must be careful not to make a slip. Has Mr. Vernon gone to the bathroom? He'll be busy for an hour.” Laszlo eyed Perry's naked body with a smile. “Yes, very splendid indeed.”
Laszlo sighed, shrugged, and burst out laughing. “I'd better explain.” He laughed again. “If I can stop slathering. There. I think I'm back in control. You see, I live a happy, faithful domesticated life with a man who's devoted to me, but I'm not made of ice. I wanted very much to see you like that. Naked. That's as far as it goes, incidentally. I don't allow myself to make passes at anybody. But nobody could be arrested for just looking, particularly at something fairly rare.” There was no mistaking where his gaze was centered.
Perry laughed in return. “I'm discovering I enjoy being looked at. Should I be worried about that?” Perry grinned and wiggled his hips comically, making them both laugh. It was good to feel at ease and friendly with this charming guy.
“Only if you decide to show yourself off on Fifth Avenue.” Laszlo became businesslike. “Shall I run your bath?”
“Not unless you call me sir.”
“Don't worry. I'll be calling you sir when I see you next. Right now it's nice getting acquainted. Seeing you like this makes me feel I really know you.
, I keep reminding myself.
Mustn't touch. You're
“Am I? I don't know. Actually, I haven't had much experience. I'm just learning how amazing it can be with guys sometimes.”
“Really? I didn't know there was anything else.”
“Believe me, there is. I hope I won't start agreeing with you too soon.” Then he added suddenly, “I have to shave.”
“There's plenty of time. You haven't much of a beard anyway. Are you going to sleep in here?”
“I don't know. I sort of took it for granted he'd want me to sleep with him.”
“Unless he makes a definite point about it, he'd probably rather you be in here. He doesn't really like anybody in bed with him all night.”
“How long have you been with him?”
“He found me in a restaurant near Monte Carlo where I was a waiter. About five years ago? Something like that. At first I took care of hisâ¦ well, you must know by now â his eccentricities.”
Perry flinched at the memory.
“When he got bored with me, he offered me this job. It suited me and paid better than anything else I could have found. I was brought up by servants so I knew the form. Is it settled? Are you going to stay?”
“I guess that's the idea. But, well, there'sâ¦frankly, his eccentricities bother me. Does he want that all the time? I mean, I don't think I could stay if I had toâ¦”
“He's spoiled and has a temper, but he can be handled. Even the, uh, eccentricity can be handled. He's generous, and he's loyal to the people who work for him, if not to his boys. They're unusually dreadful little things â he likes variety â but he can get them to administer to hisâ¦ his needs, if it bothers you.
“I don't know how he had sense enough to choose you. I know nothing about you except what I see, but I think you may be like me. You want things that only money can provide, but you haven't the training for the highly paid jobs. I was trained to be a Hungarian nobleman. Unfortunately, somebody neglected to preserve the money required for that exalted calling. For me, being a rich man's valet is next best. It's quite amusing. I know people socially whom I've served as guests. They never recognize me.”
“I don't see how I could've turned down a trip to Europe.”
“Why should you? It was difficult for me to decide not to go, but I know Europe better than he does. There's going to be a war very soon. If I get caught there, I could be put in uniform by any one of half a dozen countries, and that would be the end of me. Mr. Vernon had the strings to get me into the States in the first place. He might not be able to pull the same strings again.
“Europe will give you new ideas. There, a man with enough money to lead a life of leisure is envied, not despised. You'll find a number of attractive young men living by their wits and accepted accordingly as serving a useful social function â entertaining the rich. You're perfectly suited for it. My looks may be pleasant in an old-fashioned way, but you're the ideal male of today. Tyrone Power, Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn â there's a little of all of them in you. Oddly enough, there's a hint of the feminine in all of them too. The mouth, the eyes.”
His eyes dropped to Perry's midsection. His mouth twitched into a sly smile. “And you have your body.”
For a moment Perry thought Laszlo was going to touch him, but his control was stronger than the desire in his face.
“Here, you'll be called a kept boy but only behind your back, so you needn't worry. There may be something slightly whorish about it, but in Europe a fashionable whore has an honorable social position. It may be our decadence, but it's a much more reasonable view of life. Most people here struggle their lives away trying to get what will be offered to you. Take it.” Laszlo finished making up the bed as he talked.
“You're an education, Laszlo, as well as my best press agent. I wish you were going with us.”
“I'm looking forward to your safe return. I want to see how it's changed you. Did you leave your clothes in the other room? I'd better go get them. I love talking with you, but it would look odd if I didn't perform my duties.”
Perry was lathering his face with his ratty-looking shaving brush when Laszlo returned. He stood in the bathroom door.
“You don't have a fresh shirt, of course. Perhaps you'd let me lend you one of mine. I keep a few spares here. When you're dressed, you'll find the morning papers in the living room downstairs. Lucius Beebe has a rather amusing column in the
. When I get Himself out of the bathroom, I'll be down to fix you a drink.”
“A drink? I just got up.”
“If you're going to be with Mr. Vernon, you'd better get used to drinking. It's one of his major activities. I'm quite fascinated by you, Perry. I could stand here all day looking at your back. I don't want it spoiled by drink. I'll mix you a very weak one.”
Weak drink in hand, Perry wandered around the pleasant downstairs living room that faced onto a small sunny garden, looking for traces of a private life. The lack of personal clutter reminded him that it was a sublet. The enlarged framed snapshot of a pretty girl on the mantelpiece might not even be Billy's.
He was admiring the girl when Billy joined him, glass already in hand. He was looking very spruce and dapper in another pale summer suit. He lifted his glass to Perry.
“I had one while I was putting on my shoes. One of life's most tedious chores. You've found Bettina? Pretty, isn't she? Has Laszlo taken good care of you? He says you had a nice chat.”
“He was telling me how sorry he is not to be going with you. He's devoted to you.” Perry gave closer attention to the snapshot. He couldn't really see what the girl looked like except that she was quite pretty and had an air of great vitality and animation. “She looks like quite a girl,” he commented.
“She is. You can't really tell from that little picture. I'm so pleased I'll have somebody with me she can enjoy. You're perfect for her. You'll cool her off if she gets a crush on you and appreciate her attractions without being tiresome about her.”
Perry's thoughts fixed on the idea of Bettina's getting a crush on him. He couldn't see why he'd want to cool her off. Bettina with a crush on him would suit his purposes very well. All in the family. He was ready to settle in.
“Isn't she a bit young?” he suggested, thinking his own thoughts.
“Girls mature much earlier than boys. A girl at sixteen is a woman.” Billy snapped his fingers, muttered, “Damn,” and left the room.
“I guess they do,” he called after him, noting Billy's words.
Having an attractive woman with him would make the summer complete. Here was the woman, smiling out at him from the photograph. A woman, a yacht, the south of France, money â unlimited money, pockets full of gold. The ingredients were mind-boggling.
He went into a sort of trance. A trance of greed â a greed, a need, a hunger for all these unknown luxuries. What would it be like to be on a yacht? A private yacht, almost his own yacht? His knees felt weak. And what would the girl â the woman â be like? How would they react to each other? Not only did he wonder what she would be like, but he tried to imagine how he'd be, to picture himself in these extraordinary circumstances.
He reached for the picture frame and picked it up, straightening his back and lifting his head at a smart angle as he looked at it. He'd be beautifully dressed when he met her andâ No, he'd be lying in the sun on the deck, all but naked. He'd be oily and brown. He'd have a glass in his hand. Champagne? A long cool drink with lots of ice? No, he'd have a beer. A nice common beer that he'd make elegant just by holding it. A frosty beer in his hand, he'd move slowly across the deck and look down from his huge yacht into a port, a perfect port with other yachts on all sides, and a picturesque town, an old town, a sort of medieval town, carved out of pink stone stretching out and up the side of a wide promontory.
He reeled slightly with the effect and blinked. Was he still drunk from last night? And there, just below the stairs â are they called stairs? â that led to the quay, stood this girl. This very girl. Bettina. She smiled up at him and waved. He leaned over the balustrade and smiled and waved back.
“Is Mr. Vernon there?” she called.
“Yes. You want to see him?”
“Well, yes, rather. I'm his daughter.”
They moved toward each other in a sort of slow motion. She seemed to float up the stairs. Their bodies were close, almost touching. She looked at him with a yearning, knowing smile. She didn't have a crush on him; she was wild about him. She'd do anything for him. He could feel the warmth of her body as they swayed closer and closer.
“Beer?” he offered grandly and then laughed to himself. What a suave opening.
Was that the best he could do?
He felt himself getting hard thinking of her body so close to his. That was really his best feature: his body. He put his hand on himself. Would she like that? Of course she would. Everybody did. It was his ticket to the good life, and it was almost here. Everything he'd ever dreamed about. So close. Almost within his grasp.
He brought the photograph closer to him. The face faded and went out of focus for a moment. He blinked again to bring it back, but it seemed to have changed. The smile was gone, the eyes had narrowed, hardened. The mouth seemed to be moving, saying something. Whispering. What?
He held the photo closer to his ear. What was she saying?
Somebody's boy. Boy? Whose boy?
boy? What? Father's boy. Daddy's boy.
. Whore-boy. Whore. Whore.
. Queer. Fairy. Fairy.
The framed photograph dropped to the floor.
Perry?” Billy's voice was calling from somewhere.
Perry reeled and sank to the floor on his knees and grabbed the photograph. The glass hadn't broken. The face was once again the face of the lovely young girl. He stood and put it back on the mantelpiece.
“Yes, coming.” He swallowed and cleared his throat and turned to face Billy.
“I've been calling and calling. Have we decided about lunch? The Oak Room? It's a nice day for a stroll. You look as though you could use one. And some fresh air. Quite pale. Come. The Plaza is only a few blocks away.” He drew a white envelope out of his breast pocket and handed it to Perry. “I'm starting your allowance today. Perhaps tomorrow you'll have time to go pick out some clothes. I believe you have to allow time for alterations. Do you have a bank account?”
“I've never had anything to put in one.”
“Don't you think you should open one? All the big banks have branches around here. I do a lot of business with Chase. You could give my name as a reference. I could tell my office to make a weekly deposit and save myself handing out envelopes like Santa Claus.”
“Not quite so ghastly-looking, I hope. That red suit.” Billy shuddered. “I want to go over with you all the arrangements I've made in Europe. You could take care of any details I've overlooked. The office is working on your cabin. They say they'll manage. May be we could sell Cunard their groceries.”