Friday, October 05, 2007

Chapter 10, Part 1

The next few weeks passed in a blur as Danny experienced two completely new elements of life: working at a real job and participating in a real relationship.

Nothing about his work with Poppy was completely alien to him, he was an expert at schmoozing rich people and knowledgeable about interior design, and his college career had certainly prepared him for clerical work like note-taking, transcription, and writing instructional letters; but showing up at nine every morning, ready to answer phones or take notes or harrass contractors was a delightful novelty that did not stale with custom.

The work itself was immensely satisfying: Danny loved getting up with an alarm-clock and driving to work in the mornings wearing a jacket, answering the phone with a brisk and cheerful "Ermengratz Design Associates, this is Danny, how may I help you?" and visiting some of the most beautiful houses in the City with a view of making them more beautiful. He learned an enormous amount from Poppy about interior design, and felt that his suggestions were taken seriously and appreciated.

Danny became very close to Poppy in those weeks, as they were constantly together, visiting clients and having lunch, then working out together before spending the afternoon doing clerical work in the office. Poppy tacitly adopted Danny as a sort of nephew/protegé and constantly advised him on his life and his wardrobe.

Danny found this relationship even more satisfying than the job. Poppy was very wise, having not only lived in different eras but in different lifestyles and serveral different important cities: he'd come of age in the time of the Stonewall Riots and lived that exciting ensuing decade in the heart of Manhattan; after Toddy Ermengratz died in '83, he'd rocketed around Europe and South America, cravenly (by his own admission) avoiding the worst of the AIDS crisis; he'd lived in Hollywood and Miami and Seattle during the 90s, and moved to San Francisco on the eve of the Millennium. He'd quite literally been everywhere and seen everything, and was fond of remeniscing about all these different times and places.

More importantly, he'd observed and synthesized a great deal about people and the way their minds worked. He was a genius of human behavior, and Danny delighted in having people explained to him... especially himself. Poppy saw through every mannerism and behavior Danny exhibited, and would root out the cause and desire behind each one. It was very much like having a psychiatrist and an agony-aunt at one's beck and call.

Poppy's most aired advice had to do with Valerien. Poppy had met Valerien on the occasion of the latter's eighteenth birthday, when the Comtesse had Valerien's rooms at the Chateau redecorated for him by Poppy. Valerien was enchanted by Poppy's funny camp mannerisms, and Poppy was entranced by Valerien's fairy-tale beauty and innocence. They became good friends during the time of the redecoration, and so Poppy was the obvious choice of decorator when Valerien moved into the "bachelor apartment" that his family owned, where his father and grandfather had each lived before marrying and moving into the family's Pacific Heights mansion.

Poppy understood Valerien perhaps better than anyone, and was indulgent of his foibles to the point of foolishness. For example, Valerien's refusal to learn to drive a car or use a computer, as well as his unblinking prejudice against any form of music or art that came into existence after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, was considered the cutest little quirk rather than a potentially serious sociopathy.

"He's my Little Proust Princeling," Poppy would explain, "Or my Little Prince Proustling? He simply refuses to participate in the modern world, and who can blame him?"

"What about disco and gay rights?" Danny would counter, bringing up two of Poppy's favorite topics.

"That sort of thing is important for people who have to live in this time, or who like living in this time, like you and me. For people like Valerien, who have the power to be gay whenever they want and the money to rearrange their reality to the exclusion of anything they don't want, it just doesn't matter. He's like a period movie come to life, isn't he? I love him to pieces."

While Danny wasn't sure that this head-in-the-sand approach to reality was wise, he loved Valerien, too. And though Danny had many affairs, he'd never been in what he and the other party considered a serious relationship. He spent all of his free time with Valerien, and all of their activities were the type considered "romantic."

Every morning, there was a new bouquet of Leonidas roses and alstroemeria lilies waiting on Danny's desk, and Danny always met Valerien wearing one of each in his buttonhole. Every afternoon Valerien's Rolls picked Danny up at the Ermengratz offices, then they had sex before preparing for an evening out. Every evening, they dined together in posh restaurants, went to parties and the theatre and the opera together; they even danced together at a charity ball and took moonlit walks along the beach or through one of the City's many parks (with two security goons in close attendance, of course). Every night they slept together in either Danny's or Valerien's apartment, taking turns as host, with Valerien's valet Henri running back and forth between the apartments with one or the other's clothes for the next day.

Unfortunately, Danny realized after only a few days that, though he loved Valerien dearly, he wasn't in love with him and would never fall in love with him. Having experienced the sensation of falling head-over-heels for Marquesa, he knew what it was supposed to feel like, and he knew that this wasn't It.

Nor did Danny believe that Valerien was in love with him. Their relationship felt a little like play-acting, the romantic activities seemed a trifle contrived, and their sex was more fun than fierce... instead of true lovers, they'd become more like fuck-buddies who happened to be monogamous.

There was a certain lack of intimacy in their conversations: though he'd gleaned little bits of biography from passing comments and Poppy's trove of information (such as the touchy subject of his parents, that his father had murdered his mother during a drug-induced hallucination and was institutionalized as criminally insane), Valerien never talked about his own past the way Danny and Marquesa had over that weekend in the hotel.

He was forthcoming about his current activities, little experiences at the offices of his family's bank or a new purchase at the auction galleries or something to do with his horses in the country... but never anything about his inner life, his emotions, or his dreams for the future. Nor was he particularly interested in hearing about Danny's, and didn't encourage any kind of conversation that had to do with anything that was not of-the-moment.

There was also the issue of money. Valerien was constantly buying Danny expensive gifts, jewelry and clothes and extravagant little trifles like a sable teddy bear or a case of rare wine; he even gave Danny a credit card, insisting that he use it frequently lest he hurt the giver's feelings. And though Danny most frequently used the credit-card to buy gifts for Valerien, these things put him right back into the Courtesan role he had tried to escape in favor of the role of Lover.

However, it was enough. Between the novelty of working and the novelty of Valerien, Danny was very nearly as happy as he'd been during that weekend with Marquesa... not quite bliss, but the very next best thing.

During this period, Danny and Marquesa very seldom met. As Danny and Valerien were always together at the social events that Valerien and Marquesa had been accustomed to attend together, Marquesa chose other men from their social set to escort him to those events rather than act as a third wheel. Danny would have worried that he was coming between Valerien and Marquesa, except that Marquesa spent every weekend with Valerien at the Chateau de Seguemont near Sonoma, where Danny could not follow because the terms of his bail required him to remain at all times within the City and County of San Francisco.

Instead, Danny spent his weekends swimming and being pampered at the spa, going out dancing (to the newest music), chatting with old friends (many of whom had returned, apologetically, after the scandal of his arrest had dimmed in the public memory... though a number of them, including Aunt Tittie, were distinctly chilly), and catching up on the sleep he missed by keeping such odd hours during the week.

In betweentimes, he shopped for Valerien. The young baron was indecently difficult to shop for, being already supplied with all the world could provide by way of luxuries. But Danny considered that a challenge, and was always on the prowl for little bibelots and curiosities to delight Valerien.

And it was at an auction-house, where Danny had gone to bid on a miniature on ivory purportedly of the Marquise de Pompadour (a favorite figure and ancestress of Valerien's), that he was reminded, once again by force and surprise, of his impending murder trial: right beside him in the auction-room was Rodney Casterman, Esquire, bidding on several pieces of seventeenth-century silver Judaica.

"I wanted to congratulate you," Mr. Casterman said to Danny after that auction had ended and conversation was again possible, "The suggestions for avenues of investigation were very helpful to my son. Several have borne very useful fruit. You may have a future as a detective, yourself."

"That's very gratifying," Danny replied, "I'd like to hear about some of this fruit someday."

"I must arrange a meeting with you and RJ, then. I think your perspective will be useful in piecing together the evidence thus far. Also, I need to meet with you in the next two or three weeks, your arraignment date has finally been set for July 11th, and I have to go over the procedure with you."

"I'll have to ask my boss for time off," Danny laughed delightedly, "I've never had to do that before. It's great fun, having a job!"

"I'm glad you enjoy it," Casterman responded dryly but indulgently, "Shall we say the twenty-third of June? I think that's the Monday. I'll have my secretary call you. And RJ will contact you directly about discussing the evidence. Perhaps next weekend?"

"That would be delightful."

The bidding started up again, and Mr. Casterman took his leave with the receipt for a beautifully chased Kiddush cup while Danny waited around for his ivory miniature to be snatched away by another bidder at an amount higher than his own credit cards and Valerien's combined could bear.

Danny later discovered, when Valerien gave him the Pompadour miniature, that he'd been beaten by the intended recipient.

***


Danny was surprised to meet Detective Varajian again, having no knowledge that he and RJ Casterman had been working together for the last few weeks: Varajian was able to supply all sorts of official information to which RJ didn't have free access while RJ was able to provide the footwork and surveillance that Varajian's department couldn't afford. The two had become romantically involved, as well, the older man finally giving way to the forceful flirtations of the younger, and Danny was very amused by the way they treated each-other... like a father and son nursing an embarrassing secret.

They had gathered at Danny's apartment on the Saturday following his chance meeting with Rodney Casterman, and the two detectives spent some time wandering about studying and appreciating its beauties while Danny put the finishing touches on a very elaborate afternoon tea complete with pastries and little sandwiches. This was brought out on an immense silver tray with Georgian pots and modern china, and placed on the large cocktail table in the center of the room.

"Your question about the identity of the parrot-shirted man, and whether or not he and Aunt Tittie were the same person, has yielded interesting results," RJ said around a mouthful of scone, handing Danny a blue leather folder, "They are indeed the same man, and more importantly, Thomas Carmichael AKA Lady Titania Cunard lives in the same apartment building as Marshall and the Baron, two floors above the murder scene."

"Small world," Danny remarked, fascinated, as he flipped through the dossier on Aunt Tittie, which included recent pictures of him out of drag and leaving The Brat in the early afternoon, sometimes with a young man in tow though more frequently alone, which would probably make excellent blackmail material.

"More interesting, considering some of the physical evidence dug up by the Medical Examiner," Varajian put in, "The boy with the purple hair you saw with Mr. Carmichael was his houseboy, Cort Johnson, who'd been living with him for nearly a month. There were purple hairs found in the service hallway that commands a view to both of Marshall's apartment doors, and so he is a perfect candidate for questioning. Unfortunately, he disappeared two days after the murder."

"That seems inconsistent with a murderer's actions, doesn't it?" Danny wondered, looking up from the folder, "You'd think he would want to disappear immediately."

"If it were an unplanned murder, yes," RJ answered, "But there is evidence of premeditation that is extremely consistent with such a scenario. Cort appears on one of the tapes in Marshall's playrooms about three weeks before the murder, it would make sense that he'd sit tight over the weekend after he'd already invested so much time, particularly since you were the prime suspect."

"Well, that's great!" Danny enthused, "Opportunity, access, motive... a perfect alternate suspect."

Varajian coughed and put down his teacup, "Sadly, the purple-haired Cort does not exhonerate you, or even shift suspicion from you. Though there's no real reason his hair should be found on a different floor from where he was living with Carmichael, there's no very compelling reason why it shouldn't. He was just another hustler, which puts him in an entirely different category than you. Plus we can't prove he was even in the building that night, he didn't show up on any of the cameras until the following morning. Unless we can find him, you're still on the hook."

"But that's remediable," Danny shrugged, "I'm just glad to know what movement is going on. Now, you said the purple-haired kid was on the videos... was there anyone else of interest? Anyone else from The Brat?"

"Just about everyone from The Brat," RJ laughed, "Marshall was prolific and apparently paid well. Most of the kids didn't mind Marshall's antics, his drugs were good and he paid promptly. A few had been upset by being handcuffed and then fucked, but they get a lot worse out there."

"How grimly repetitive, handcuffs and barebacking," Danny sneered.

"Marshall was a creature of defined habits," RJ opened the blue leather folder containing the interviews of the hustlers from The Brat, "He would go on a jag of a particular sex act and repeat it for some three or four months with different boys each time. Then he'd tire of it and start on another one. He was due for a change in routine, which makes the professionals on the circuit very poor suspects... they knew they'd be getting another turn with him soon, and he payed twice the going rate."

"How very vexing," Danny fell back in his chair pettishly, "We need something concrete. Returning to the purple-haired kid, did you get any way of tracing him? DNA or fingerprints or what-have-you?"

"I can't get a warrant on such slim evidence," Varajian admitted sadly, "And Carmichael knew nothing about the boy besides his name, which could very well be fake."

"And I wasn't able to induce Mr. Carmichael to allow me to fingerprint the apartment voluntarily," RJ smiled ruefully.

"Well, I bet I can. She owes me, especially the way he's been cold-shouldering me lately," Danny was qutie furious, knowing that Aunt Tittie, whom he'd always counted as a close friend, would withhold this kind of information from him on purpose, "Get your Medical Examiner to meet us at Tittie's apartment at his earliest convenience, and I'll slap the lashes off that old hag if I have to. I'll get Val to threaten her with eviction, or threaten to show these pictures of her leaving a hustler bar in broad daylight alone."

"You're vicious when riled," RJ marveled admiringly at the hot flush in Danny's cheeks, "Remind me not to cross you, ever."

"I'm sorry, I'm not usually so intense," Danny laughed with embarrassment, trying to recompose himself, "I just get so angry when people behave dishonorably."

"As well you should," Varajian said gravely, "I only wish more people had your will to see justice done. Most people in your position would be making up alibis and poking holes in the prosecution, not pursuing the truth. That more than anything else has convinced me of your innocence."

"High praise indeed," RJ rolled his big amber eyes comically at Danny but put his hand over Varajian's affectionately. Varajian blushed as darkly as a fifty-year-old man of Armenian descent can blush, and hastily pulled his hand away and excused himself to the restroom to compose himself.

"Isn't he the cutest thing in the world?" RJ asked confidentially after Varajian was out of earshot.

"You make a very sweet couple," Danny said in a conspiratorial tell-me-everything tone.

"Oh, I wouldn't go so far as 'couple,'" RJ explained, "Aside from the fact that I have heretofore found monogamy quite impossible after a month or two, but also David's embarrassed to be seen out with me, just because I'm half his age. Plus, he doesn't like that I'm bisexual, or that I'm a PI instead of a 'real' cop, or that I tend to bite in the heat of passion."

"It looks like rather more than a fling from where I'm sitting," Danny observed, "I think he might very easily fall in love with you if you're not careful."

"It's a little late for 'careful,' I think," RJ sucked his front teeth thoughtfully, "But I'm a bit of a brat. I have to have what I want, and I wanted him the moment I laid eyes on him. Sexiest daddy ever."

"If I didn't know your father, and know that he's absolutely nothing like Detective Varajian, I'd suspect you of quite deliciously Freudian motives," Danny camped a little in the sing-song voice and purple diction he'd picked up from Poppy.

"Oooh, grrrrrl, you got a dirty mind!" RJ camped right back, which caused another blush of consternation from Varajian, who'd just reentered the room.

"I think we'd better be going and let Mr. Vandervere enjoy the rest of his Saturday in peace," Varajian intoned in a very unpleasantly stern voice, like a displeased father.

"I'm right behind you, Daddy," RJ replied teasingly, "Danny, I'll get back to you ASAP about hassling Aunt Tittie into letting us search his apartment for traces of the mysterious Mr. Cort Johnson. Thanks so much for the tea!"

"Do you have to act like that?" Varajian demanded of RJ when they'd reached the sidewalk.

"Oh, don't come all over closeted," RJ teased some more, "It's not like Danny's going to cause you a scandal. Besides, he'd figured it out for himself. It's pretty obvious I'm crazy about you. And Danny thinks you're falling in love with me. Are you?"

"If you'd stop embarrassing me, I might," Varajian growled, but was secretly pleased to hear that the younger man was crazy about him, "And maybe if you stopped dressing like a jet-set playboy, and got a real job instead of just working for your father, well..."

"But then you wouldn't like me at all. Unemployed and badly dressed, I never even would have met you. Unless I killed someone. Did you know Danny only lived two blocks away from your place?"

"Of course," Varajian was suddenly wary of that last question, which not only carried a slight tone of jealousy but came too closely on the tail of a suggestion of murder, "He told me his address when we questioned him."

"Before that, though," RJ persisted, "You've seen him around the neighborhood, haven't you? You must have noticed him."

"Of course I noticed him, I notice everything. I'm a detective."

"So am I, though you like to pretend I'm just Daddy's Little Sinecure. When you first arrested him, you recognized him as a near neighbor, didn't you?"

"Of course. Why are you so interested in whether or not I ever saw Vandervere before?"

"Because I can see you're attracted to him, and that makes my fingernails itch just a bit," RJ stopped walking and grabbed Varajian's elbow to make him turn around.

"You can't possibly be jealous, can you?" Varajian was amazed.

"I can so possibly be," RJ replied petulantly, "And I don't see why I shouldn't be."

"If for no other reason than because I haven't got the money to interest a boy like Danny Vandervere. He'd never give me the time of day. He in fact has passed my door a number of times without so much as looking at me."

"I don't believe you," RJ's eyes narrowed to dangerous slits, "You're a hot man, and he's not blind, or even nearsighted."

"I'm hot, am I?," Varajian tickled him to make him lighten up, "You're the only one who seems to think so anymore."

"Can I help it if the rest of the world is stupid? And seeing as how we're so close to your apartment, I want you to show me exactly how much I shouldn't be jealous of Danny Vandervere."

"You are a spoiled brat," Varajian said evenly, though the light of sex was already glowing in his eyes.

"That's why you maybe-love me," RJ pecked him on the mouth and led the way up 16th Street to Varajian's door.

***