Shea's "education" begins.
Two days later I was sitting in an office on the 10th floor of the Kingman Building downtown.
"Did you go for your check-up this morning with Dr. Lindeman?" asked Russell Boyer, who was in charge of finances for The Club. He was once again dressed all in brown. Maybe he didn't own clothes in any other color. Maybe even his underwear was brown. With a sinking feeling, I thought about how I would probably find that out sooner rather than later.
"Yes, sir," I said. It was like I was in the principal's office, trying not to look too guilty.
Howard Lindeman, the short, bald opera fan, had examined all my orifices, turned me every which way but loose, and pronounced me fit to fuck. Well, he didn't actually say that; I'm sure he would never even think of anything so crass, but that's what it felt like.
Boyer -- it was difficult to think of him as Russ -- squinted at what looked like a checklist. He glanced at his watch, then back at the papers, then at me. "Did he do the HIV test?"
I winced. "Yes, but I was just tested in June. I was negative." I paused. "I always practice safe sex," I added. Yeah, except for the past few years with my lying, cheating partner.
"I hope so," Boyer sniffed. "Since I'm going to be overseeing this project I need to know that all the members of The Club are protected."
"What about my protection?" I inquired.
He pitched me a sharp look. It was obvious that he didn't approve of this whole scheme and was only going along with it because everyone else in The Club had agreed to it. "I assume you'll handle your own protection. Our members are aware of what they have to do, but I don't want them to be compromised." He shifted through some more papers. "Have you ever had a sexually transmitted disease?"
I winced again. "Is this necessary? Dr. Lindeman already took my medical history."
"Please answer the question."
I took a deep breath. "Yes, gonorrhea. But it was over ten years ago. I've been fine ever since."
"Is that when you were hustling on the street?" Boyer asked pointedly.
"Yes." What more was there to say?
He made a note on one of the papers. "I want you to be aware that three Club members are HIV+."
This was news to me. "Raj didn't say anything to me about that."
Boyer shrugged. "They're all in good health and on meds, but you should know before you... er... have any intimate dealings with them."
"Thanks," I said. "Which ones? I mean, who is positive?"
Boyer looked directly at me. "Geoffrey Hamilton." That was the gallery owner. "And both James Wolfson and his partner Terry Boncoeur." The guy who owned all the businesses and the hairstylist. "Is that a deal breaker?"
"No." And it wasn't. I'd already come this far. I could handle it. "I'll be extra careful."
"See that you are. Here." He pushed piece of paper across the desk at me. It was a form. "This is for insurance purposes. Sign it and date it. I'll also have some forms for taxes and other things. The Club is hiring you as a consultant -- that's your designation -- and I want to make everything as legal as I can."
"As legal as something this illegal can be?" I offered.
"Let me worry about that," he said. He opened a drawer, took out an envelope, and passed it to me. Inside was a cellphone and recharger, along with an instruction book. "You ever use one of these things before?"
He sighed like I was the world's biggest idiot. "Read the instructions so you know how to use it. I've already programmed the numbers of all the members into the phone. Remember -- they call you; you never call them, except to return a call. Got that?"
"Yes, I've got it."
"When they call, the name will show up in the window. If you absolutely can't answer, the call will go to voicemail. But try to answer ASAP. Our members are busy men. Time is money. Never turn off the phone and don't waste time with personal calls. This is for business. Understand?"
"Good." Then he handed me a smaller envelope. Inside was an American Express Card with the name T.H. Club on it. Catchy. "This is also for business only. You can charge gas and clothing and other necessary expenses that are Club-related. But don't go overboard. I'll be monitoring the charges and if I see something questionable, you'll hear about it."
I bet I will, I thought. "And is this my nom de fuck? T.H. Club?"
Boyer didn't smile. "Finally, log all of your meetings in this datebook." He gave me a leather appointment book. "Make sure you have the name of the Club member, the place, the time the meeting begins, and the time it ends. You will call my number at the beginning and end. It'll go to voicemail, but I'll check it regularly and log in the meeting. I'll expect to see your datebook once a week to make certain everything matches. I'll also be double-checking with the members, too, so don't try to fudge the times."
I bit my lip to keep myself from telling this guy to fuck off. "I wouldn't do that."
"See that you don't."
"Do I have to... write down everything we do?"
Boyer's lip curled in distaste. Was this guy really gay? He didn't seem to like queers. Or maybe it was just me. "No! Members are paying for your company only. Whatever they want to do during that time is between the two of you. So don't write anything like that down! That'll get us all in hot water. I mean it, so don't be stupid!"
"Does Raj know you're giving me the third-degree here?" I asked sweetly.
Boyer frowned. "Raj Kumar does what Raj Kumar wants to do. My job is to implement this little plan of his and keep track of the finances. Which reminds me." He opened a manila folder. "You won't be handling any money. Everything will be done through this office. All of the members have been apprised of rates, but nothing is written down -- for our own protection, obviously. I've done some research into the business and I think you'll find the rate-scale I've set quite in line with what an upscale... er... person in this line of work would expect to make. At an agency, they would take a substantial cut of the fee, sometimes as much as 50%. We won't be taking any commission, of course. All your fee will go to pay down the debt." He almost smiled, as if he was pleased with himself for working things out so adroitly.
Now I was curious to know what my ass was worth these days in cold hard cash. "And what will that rate be?"
"Certainly. $200 an hour, with a minimum of two hours per meeting. For overnights -- between midnight and 6:00 a.m., $1000 flat fee. The entire weekend, Friday to Sunday, $4000. Any longer period of time is negotiable, but please direct the member to me and I'll do the negotiating. That way I won't have any complaints that you're playing favorites. Got it?"
"Got it." That seemed like a lot of money, but it was in line with the sites I'd been looking at on the internet. And Boyer was correct in suggesting that if I'd gone to Vegas to work for Barbuto's cousin, he'd have taken half of anything I made -- or more. "And just to be clear -- I won't play favorites," I added.
"See that you don't. It may cause problems." Boyer checked his watch. "They're late."
"Who?" What else were they going to spring on me? An office orgy?
"By the way, you already have an appointment booked for Monday afternoon. It's in your datebook." Boyer looked serious. "It's with Mr. Kingman, so don't screw up."
Carter Kingman. The Big Kahuna. Who probably owned this entire building. I felt the sweat begin to trickle down the back of my neck.
"His office is on the 12th floor," Boyer continued. "Take the elevator up there and ask for Mr. Nye, his administrative assistant. You'll get further instructions from him."
"Sounds like 'Mission: Impossible!'" I cracked, trying to ease my own tension.
But Russell Boyer seemed to have no sense of humor at all. His bland face never changed. "Be discreet with all of the members of The Club, but especially with Mr. Kingman. He's married, you know."
I remembered the ring on his left hand. "I didn't know for sure, but I figured. So what's his deal?"
Boyer scowled at me. "Mr. Kingman's 'deal' is none of your business. His wife is a nice woman who is very active in many charities. She's on the board of the Cleveland Orchestra."
"Well, goody for her!"
"Mr. and Mrs. Kingman been married for 27 years!" he huffed. "They are devoted to each other, so have a little respect."
That's why Kingman's hiring me for a session of afternoon delight, I thought, because they're so devoted! But that's when it hit me. "You have a crush on him, don't you? You're in love with your boss!"
Boyer was about to rip me a new asshole when there was a knock on the door. Two men were shown in by his secretary: Dennis Marshall, the lawyer, and Nick Santini, the contractor. I understood why Boyer might want a lawyer here, but why a contractor?
"Hiya there, Shea!" said Nick, as chipper as ever. "You guys ready to hit the road?"
Boyer stood up and began gathering papers into his briefcase. "We're ready. We've been waiting for you two."
"We're here, we're queer!" Nick laughed. "Get used to it, Russ!"
"Very funny," Boyer mumbled.
"Do you have the money?" asked Dennis. Boyer nodded and tapped his coat pocket.
"No one told me about this," I said nervously. "Where are we going?"
Nick and Dennis exchanged looks. "To pay a little visit to Marcello Barbuto," explained Nick. "Who, it just so happens, is my second cousin. Small fucking world, ain't it?"
I gulped. "Yeah. Small fucking world."