When the Stars Come Out (9 page)

BOOK: When the Stars Come Out
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“Just out for a drink.”

“Any dinner plans?”

Well,
that
was abrupt, presumptuous, and inappropriate. And, based on the number of heads that swiveled in their direction, Bart knew he wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

“Uh . . . thanks, but I think I have plans.”

Morris continued, undeterred. “Because I have reservations for

two at 7:00 at David Burke & Donatella, but my dinner companion cancelled on me, so I thought you might like to go.”

“Well . . . I don’t know you.”

“What better way to get to know each other?” Morris’s hand

reached and found Bart’s knee.

“I’ll . . . uh . . . I’ll have to think about it.”

Morris stood, touched Bart on the shoulder, and said, “Nature

calls. That gives you a few minutes to think.”

When he was gone, Paolo leaned across the bar and motioned

for Bart to join him. Bart sighed and leaned forward, hoping that

Paolo wasn’t about to try anything. One awkward situation at a time was more than enough.

“Listen,” said Bart, deciding to be preemptory with the bartender.

“I appreciate your attention, but I’m not interested in you.”

Paolo raised his eyebrow. “You’re not interested in me? Really?

How sad.”

“I’m sure you’re a great guy, but . . . well, you’re just not what I’m looking for.”

“And what are you looking for?”

“Right now?” Bart thought about the answer to that question

much more seriously than it deserved. “Right now I’m on vacation

and just looking for some fun. Uncomplicated fun.”

60

R o b B y r n e s

Still leaning on the bar, Paolo motioned for Bart to come even

closer. When their faces were just inches away Paolo whispered: “I think maybe this isn’t the right bar for you.”

“I don’t understand . . .”

“Understand this, then.” Paolo’s face conveyed intense serious-

ness. “We have a few rules here. The main one is, no hustling.”

Hustling
? It took Bart a moment to digest the word, but when it occurred to him that Paolo was calling him a prostitute, he reeled back. His whisper was now almost as loud as Morris’s speaking

voice. “I’m not a hustler. The guy bought me a drink, that’s all.”

Paolo took the scotch and soda off the bar and, in the same mo-

tion, dumped it in the sink. Bart’s jaw dropped as he watched the

liquid disappear down the drain.

“Good-bye,” Paolo said with a dismissive wave, and Bart didn’t

wait for a second send-off.

Morris would dine alone that evening at David Burke & Donatella.

It was just as well. After being accused of being a hooker, Bart was in a very bad mood for the rest of the night.

“How is he?” Noah asked Tricia, when he was safely back in the

apartment, after a cab ride spent convincing himself that he hadn’t really gone to Bar 51
only
to find the stranger, but that he needed human contact. Even if, as usual, he hadn’t actually engaged in any.

“He’s sleeping,” she said. “Thank God. He is the worst patient

ever. Cranky, cranky, cranky. I couldn’t wait to get out of that hospital.”

Noah dipped his hand into a candy dish brimming with M&Ms,

which Tricia had been struggling to avoid for the hour since she

had left Lenox Hill. She frowned at him.

“You know my dad. He’s an active guy. Being bed ridden is going

to make him crazy.”

“And him being crazy is going to make
me
crazy.” She stared at Noah. “And you know what that means.”

“Yeah. It means I’m going back to DC very soon.” He popped a

few pieces of candy in his mouth. “The Stooges were asking about

you.”

“You went back to the bar?”

“I was bored.”

W H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T

61

“Uh-huh. Bored or horny?”

Noah blushed. “A question I never expected from my step—uh,

father’s wife. But to answer your question . . . yes.”

She looked at her watch, a slim, elegant, diamond-encrusted

number Max had brought home for their most recent anniversary.

“You weren’t out very long. I guess you weren’t trying very

hard.”

He shrugged and grabbed another handful of M&Ms.

In turn, she shrugged, too. “Whatever. Not my life.”

“No,” said Noah. “It’s not.”

“Anyway, I’m glad you didn’t tell me, because I would have prob-

ably wanted to go with you. And the last thing I need is more of that bad wine. My head was
pounding
.”

Tricia looked at her stepson—her
husband’s son
, she reminded herself—then at the candy dish, then back at Noah. Then back at

the candy dish. Then . . . .

“Well, in other news, David Carlyle stopped by to visit your fa-

ther.”

“Oh, shit,” muttered Noah. David Carlyle was his editor, and The

Project—the stillborn Project—was already well past its contractual deadline.

“He asked for you to call if you got a chance.”

“I’m sure he did.”

With that, Tricia finally grabbed a handful of M&Ms.

David R. Carlyle III was not a punctual man. He was also not, in

his very own self-critical estimation, the most responsible man on the planet. Although he held a senior editorial position at the publishing house Palmer/Midkiff/Carlyle, he knew that the fact that

his last name was Carlyle had everything to do with it.

And he was fine with that. In the world of David R. Carlyle III, he was the rule, not the exception. A random twirl of his Rolodex

would give up the names of dozens of other roman-numeraled

scions of Manhattan, none of whom felt any special guilt for the

good fortune of their birth. They lived well, they gave back from

time to time, and they generally believed that if fate was going to smile on any individual, it was just as well it was them.

In fact, David Carlyle thought of himself as, perhaps, just a bit

62

R o b B y r n e s

better
than his peers. Because he
did
hold down a job, and he
did
go to his office more days than not, and he
did
contribute not only to the economic bottom line, but also to the nurturing of young talent. And although he was usually a genuinely humble man—one of

his best friends was actually a young woman in the lower wage

scales, and he loved bringing her to society events both for her

company and the deflating effect her presence had on upper-class

pomposity—he did have his moments when he thought of himself

as a modern-day Medici.

But mostly he thought of himself as plain old David Carlyle, one

of the good guys who just happened to have enough family money

to keep him in homes on Fifth Avenue and in Southampton with-

out ever giving a thought to his finances. One of the good guys who could afford to redecorate every year. One of the good guys who

could go to the ballet on Tuesday, the bars on Wednesday, and, on

Thursday morning, buy a book idea from an aspiring writer, before

driving to the Hamptons for another long weekend. All in all, he

thought, it was not a bad life for one of the good guys.

But if he wasn’t extraordinarily punctual or responsible, he ex-

pected those attributes from his writers. Which is why Noah

Abraham was beginning to piss him off.

One year earlier, Noah—the son of his lawyer, Max—had sat

across from him in his office and promised to deliver a manuscript on closeted gay congressional staffers. Contracts were signed, and Noah had been given ten months to deliver that manuscript. In return, David had commissioned a contract and, eventually, an

$8,000 advance, half of which was payable upon signing of the con-

tract.

Noah had signed the contract, cashed the check, and then es-

sentially disappeared.

And now, two months late on his delivery date, he had finally

scheduled an appointment, which David knew was solely—if coin-

cidentally—because he had visited his father’s sickbed the day be-

fore. That wasn’t why David had gone to the hospital, but if it

spurred things along, all the better.

It was about time, too, because things were getting a bit awkward

whenever he ran into Max and Tricia Abraham on the social cir-

cuit. Almost as awkward as that time a few years earlier, when David used a favor with Max to get legal assistance for one of his authors, W H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T

63

and was repaid when the author ignored almost all of Max’s advice

before he vanished. Now
that
was an awkward period in the relationship between David and Max, assuaged only slightly—and exclu-

sively on David’s end—when the vanished author’s book became a

best-seller. Sometimes, vanishing is a good career move.

Noah, though . . . Noah had not been punctual, nor had he been

responsible. Nor had he even had the decency to dramatically dis-

appear. He had simply taken a relatively small amount of PMC

money and not delivered. And it wasn’t the money, David kept

telling himself; it was the principle. As a gay man himself, David felt a special need to give back to his fellow gay writers, and when one of them didn’t deliver—as occasionally happened—David Carlyle

felt personally wronged.

But Noah
had
now taken the initiative to contact him, and although David was certain it was only because of the hospital visit, no one was holding a gun to the young man’s head, so he felt

slightly better. Maybe Noah would walk into his office with 100,000

words or so tucked under his arm and . . .

“David?”

David looked up from whatever it was he had been trying unsuc-

cessfully to read and saw Noah in his doorway. Nothing was tucked

under his arm. He frowned.

“Take a seat, Noah.” The younger man sat. “Before we get down

to business, how is your father?”

“No change overnight. He’ll be fine. But he’s driving everyone

crazy right now.”

“I can only imagine. Tell your father and Tricia I asked about

them again, will you?” Noah nodded. “Anyway, on the matter of that manuscript . .”

“I know.” Noah, his frown matching David’s, glanced at the floor.

“I’m far behind schedule. But it’s not coming.”

“Not at all?”

Noah summarized his problems with the book for David, who re-

acted not without sympathy. But business was business.

“Let me ask you a question,” said David, when Noah concluded

his narrative. “Do you think you’ll be able to finish this book?”

Noah thought seriously about that. He wanted to say no, but was

afraid that not being able to finish would speak to his abilities more than his topic. So he said, “Can I have another three months?”

64

R o b B y r n e s

“Will the manuscript be done in three months?”

“I think so,” he lied.

“Then three months it is. But I really do need something by early

January, at the latest.”

“I understand,” said Noah, trying not to think of the commit-

ment he had just made.

They talked briefly and Noah excused himself, wishing he had

never taken the $4,000 initial payment. It was not as if he needed the money, but his life at that moment would have been a lot easier without having to turn in a manuscript that he didn’t want to write.

David Carlyle wished he had not taken the $4,000, too. Not be-

cause of the money, but because it had created all different levels of social awkwardness for him, and David
hated
social awkwardness.

And even as he watched Noah leave, he knew he would not be see-

ing a manuscript by January, or at any point after that. There would be permanent social awkwardness, and that made him very unhappy.

Noah left the imposing Sixth Avenue building housing Palmer/

Midkiff/Carlyle and began wandering aimlessly up the avenue,

into the West Forties. Even though it was still technically the final days of summer, the tourists had largely decamped after Labor Day, and he was determined to enjoy the relatively uncrowded sidewalks.

The holidays, with their maddening hordes, would arrive soon

enough. After a dozen blocks, as he approached Radio City Music

Hall, he saw something out of the corner of his eye that stopped

him in mid-crosswalk.

It was that stranger, the handsome young man from Bar 51, walk-

ing south on the opposite side of Sixth Avenue.

Noah squinted, unable to believe that he was having this third

coincidental encounter. As he stood in mid-crosswalk, the lights

changed; two milliseconds later, a line of cabs and delivery trucks laid on the horns. Noah jumped and dashed for the opposite corner, narrowly avoiding a bicycle messenger in the process.

He looked back at the stranger, who now—thanks to the ruckus—

was staring back at him. And when he smiled, Noah smiled sheep-

ishly in return.

His view temporarily blocked by a row of passing tour buses,

Noah tried to make a quick decision. Should he be bold, and dart

across the street while he still had the light? Or should he walk

W H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T

65

away, and recognize this for what it was: a chance series of encounters?

The decision was one that, in the end, he didn’t have to make.

Because when the buses were gone, so was the stranger.

Anxiously, he scanned the sidewalk, looking up and down Sixth

Avenue, but he had completely vanished.

Noah thought,
How the hell does someone disappear like that? Where
did he go?
And he cursed himself again for letting opportunity slip through his fingers.

BOOK: When the Stars Come Out
3.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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