by Riley Cannon
Author's Note: February 24, 2004
All right, I'm going to go ahead and archive this puppy, as is, even though I dearly want to dig into it and do some major rewrites and revisions. There are a lot of things I would change about it now, mostly small and fussy things -- fix some grammar mistakes and typos, like that; there are a couple of bigger changes I wish were possible, but one of them is too strongly established now for anything to be done about it, and the other ... well, I'm just going to cross my fingers and trust no one will notice when it's never referred to again (and hope that wasn't anyone's favorite part of the story).
So, unedited, unrevised, unbeta'd, here's Chapter One.
OK, here you go, the first installment of this thing. Heaven only knows how long this one will go on. <g>
DISCLAIMERS, WARNINGS, ETC.: Oz, the series and it's characters/concepts is the property of Levinson-Fontana Productions, HBO, et al, ditto whoever owns the rights to The Philadelphia Story; I am making no money from this. Slash - B/K; rated R to NC-17; don't expect a lot of the usual Oz-type language.
Summary: So I was over at the Twisted Sisterhood list, wondering if anyone would be interested in seeing a romantic comedy-type story featuring Chris & Toby (Highlander fans familiar with my fic will know of my weakness for this kind of tale), and the response was not only very favorable, but when I further mentioned having something in mind along the lines of those old Cary Grant movies from the 1930s like The Philadelphia Story well, one thing led to another, and here's the result. Somehow or other it's wound up being part of the TS's "B/K Through The Ages" challenge as well. So expect AU to the max, here.
Expect sap and romance, a sprinkling of angst here and there, and with any luck a laugh or two.
It's not absolutely essential to have ever seen The Philadelphia Story to get anything out of this as it's not a direct take off on the film; it's just that certain similarities in plot are not, y'know, coincidental. I'm striving for a little originality here. <g> If you're wondering how the character match ups breakdown, though, here's a handy-dandy scorecard for you:
C.K. Dexter Haven Tobias Beecher
Macauley Connor Christopher Keller
Tracy Lord Haven Genevieve Beecher
George Kitteridge Vernon Schillinger
Liz Imbry Marie Peter Reimundo
James Kidd James Devlin
Many other denizens of OZ are scheduled to appear, however, as things progress possibly even some I haven't thought of yet.
Oh the title of this story... In case you don't know, The Philadelphia Story was remade in the 1950s, as a musical called High Society, with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly in the roles originally played by Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Katharine Hepburn.
Songs by Cole Porter, George & Ira Gershwin, and Irving Berlin, possibly others as they occur to me, are quoted throughout, and used without permission.
I'd like to dedicate this to all the wonderful folk over at the Twisted Sisterhood, and specifically to "Here Have A Plot Bunny" Renee for suggesting a myriad of ways to get Chris Keller out of his shirt. <g>
And these intros are getting really long for some reason. So, enough nattering from me, here's the story...
New York City 1939
You say e-ther and I say I-ther
You say ne-ther and I say ni-ther
Let's call the whole thing off
You say po-tay-to and I say po-tah-to
You say to-may-to and I say to-mah-to
Let's call the whole thing off
But oh, if we call the whole thing off
Then we must part
And oh, if we ever part
That would just break my heart
So if you go for oi-sters and I go for er-sters
I'll order oi-sters and cancel my er-sters
For we know we
Need each other so we
Better call the calling off off
Let's call the whole thing
"Fuck!" Chris Keller ripped the sheet of paper from the typewriter, balled it up and lobbed it at the wastepaper basket across the room missing by a foot and smacking into the man just coming through the door. He glowered at the visitor before aiming the look over at Mary Pete, and saying, "Will you turn that goddamn music off? I can't concentrate."
Mary Pete glared right back at him, but obligingly turned the volume down on the radio. "How much concentration does it take to write up what Hollywood starlet was seen dancing with which married senator?"
"About as much as it takes to snap their photograph," Chris returned, sizing up their visitor. He was about 5'10", with a good build set off by a gray suit that Chris bet had not just come off the rack; you could tell when someone came from money, new or old, and this guy had that comfortable, old money air about him. Chris judged he was in his mid-thirties, noted the reddish blond hair was tidily cut, and that the sky blue eyes looking back at him were direct and lit with a sharp intelligence. "You want something?" Chris asked, tilting his chair back, thinking he knew this guy from somewhere it would come to him in a minute.
"I have an appointment with Mr. Devlin my name's Tobias Beecher."
Beecher...Beecher -- a bell was starting to go off, all right.
"Could you tell him I'm here?"
Chris gave him another sharp look. "Do I look like the receptionist?"
Tobias sent a wry look back. "I'm sorry, my mistake it must be your sunny disposition."
Chris' glower deepened a little, but before he could reply Mary Pete piped up, saying, "Oh, don't mind him," she got to her feet, straightening her skirt. "He's just feeling unappreciated today. Come on," she led Tobias back into the hall and pointed him toward Devlin's office.
"So," Chris lowered his chair as Mary Pete came back, "why do I know his name?"
"Maybe because you actually read the magazine you write for?" Mary Pete said, giving him a look of tolerant exasperation.
Chris dismissed that idea with a snort. "It's enough I have to write this tripe; they can't make me read it, too. So, what skeletons does Tobias Beecher have rattling around in his closet?"
"A messy divorce, for one thing," Mary Pete told him, digging through a filing cabinet and handing him the thick folder she retrieved. "At least everyone thought it was shaping up to be the best show in town."
"And?" Chris prompted, looking through the collection of clippings and photographs. He noted the divorce had happened three years ago which explained why it was news to him; the shenanigans of New York high society had been about the last thing on his mind back then. "He got custody of their three kids? That's unusual."
Mary Pete perched on his desk, crossing her shapely legs. "The rumors were flying right and left: allegations of abuse, infidelity, drugs, alcohol, insanity-"
"Yeah, because we all know the rich and famous don't just fall out of love like the rest of us." Christ knew he wouldn't mind having some more money in his pocket, and his ego wouldn't at all mind his name being mentioned in the same breath as Fitzgerald or Steinbeck, but he sure as hell didn't want the rest of it. Not after spending the past two years writing for The Tattler, having to shine a glaring spotlight on the private foibles of public people. The way he looked at it, there had to be times when being a celebrity felt a whole like being a monkey in the zoo.
"Well, amicable society divorces don't sell magazines," Mary Pete went on, "and that's what we ended up with, right before court proceedings were scheduled to start. The best anyone could do then was insinuate why it was all kept hush-hush."
A cynical smile quirked Chris' mouth. "Let me guess: the most popular innuendo was that the wife was paid off?" He looked at a picture of her Genevieve: pretty name, pretty girl; she sure didn't look like any gold-digger Chris had ever seen.
"Well, she did wind up with a penthouse on Park Avenue and appears to have money to burn."
And that was the kind of insubstantial cause and effect that kept rags like The Tattler going. That wasn't why the name Tobias Beecher had rung a bell, however, and everything clicked as Chris came across a mention of Tobias' occupation. "That's where I know him from he's representing that author, William Giles, in his censorship case." That was a court proceeding Chris had been following fairly closely, in fact, given the potential personal ramifications of the outcome.
"Thought that was an obscenity trial."
Chris gave her a disappointed look; he thought better of Mary Pete than to imagine she'd take the consensus view on something like this. "Have you read his book? There's nothing obscene about it. The blue-stockings are just having the vapors because he wrote about two men falling in love and didn't have one or both of them commit suicide in the end. In my book, that makes it censorship, no different from the way they're burning books over in Germany."
Mary Pete was unfazed by his lecture. "As a matter of fact I have read it and I can understand why it bothers some people. One of those men is only nineteen, after all. I imagine a lot of people think of their young son being preyed on by an older man, and it disturbs them."
"And I'll bet those same people wouldn't bat an eye if the seducer was an older woman."
Mary Pete gave him a funny look at that and said, "Don't be so sure of that."
"Anyway, nobody's preying or seducing in Giles' book. And I don't see what makes it any different from Gone With The Wind and there's a hell of a lot more sex in that." Chris frowned at that, realizing he'd just admitted to having read the Civil War potboiler, and wondering if Mary Pete was going to get on his case over that, given how he'd made fun of her gushing over it.
Besides giving him a knowing look, though, she only said, "The difference as you very well know, Christopher, is that Margaret Mitchell had the romance between Rhett and Scarlet, and William Giles would have had it between Rhett and Ashley."
Chris smirked; he knew he'd got her goat when she started calling him 'Christopher.' "Yeah, and that might have made a better story."
Mary Pete gave him another exasperated look and hopped down off his desk. "There's no sense talking to you," she told him, going back to her chair and picking up her sketchbook again. "But I bet you'd be singing a different tune if Hollywood was gearing up to releases a million dollar movie based on one your stories."
Which would happen, Chris thought as he turned back to his typewriter, about the same time hell froze over.
The intercom buzzed just then, Devlin's voice requesting the presence of Mr. Keller and Mrs. Riemundo in his office at once.
Sharing a 'So what's up now?' look, Chris and Mary Pete headed
down the hall
HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter One, 2/?
"Mr. Devlin," Toby settled back in the comfortable chair James Devlin had shown him to in this well-appointed office; if one were to judge by appearances alone one might suppose these were the surroundings of a respectable gentleman of refined taste -- which only went to show how good weasels were at camouflage, "you are aware extortion is against the law?" he asked, pleasantly.
Devlin's smile was as oily as everything else about him. "Mr. Beecher, you'll be threatening to sue me and my publication for libel next."
Toby's smile didn't go anywhere near his eyes. He crossed his legs, sizing Devlin up as if he was about to cross-examine him in court. "It won't be a threat, Devlin I already have it drafted."
Devlin gave his head a mournful shake. "I'd advise you to give that a great deal of thought, Mr. Beecher, weigh all the strengths -- and weaknesses -- of your case. Of course," he smiled again, "I win either way. You do realize that legal action would guarantee full disclosure -- my attorneys would insist upon it, I'm afraid. And The Tattler would have exclusives on it all."
Looking across the huge desk at Devlin, Toby was rather startled at the urge he had to go around there and pound Devlin's head into the polished wood. Fortunately a knock at the door came right in time, and Toby turned around to have a look at the people Devlin was intending to intrude into his and his family's life. To his surprise it turned out to be the couple he had met earlier. Very reluctantly giving into the inevitable, he took a closer look at them, prepared to find a great deal wanting.
Somewhat to his chagrin he had to admit both of them made a far better impression than their employer. The woman, introduced to him as Marie Peter Riemundo, was petite and fine-boned, with fashionable bobbed hair that lost none of its beauty for being shot through with gray. Toby thought she might be about sixty, give or take, but she certainly did not put him in mind of any of his mother's friends. None of them possessed the lively spark in Mrs. Riemundo's dark eyes, or would look half as smart in her Chanel suit that showed off her legs and trim figure.
As for her associate...
"And this is my best reporter," Devlin was saying, "Christopher Keller."
Toby found himself gripping a strong, firm hand, and felt himself being assessed once more by those sharp, dark blue eyes. He had heard of someone possessing a piercing stare, but this was the first time Toby had actually experienced one and it was very difficult to look away once that gaze had captured you, he was finding. With an effort, however, Toby did break the contact first, taking a moment to do some assessing of his own. He judged he and Keller were about the same age, but he thought that might be almost the only thing they had in common. Keller was a little taller, and if the powerful forearms revealed by his rolled up shirtsleeves were any indication he was built like an Olympic athlete. His close-cropped dark hair wasn't especially fashionable, but then he might not especially care, either; and his features were probably all the more distinctive and attractive for not being entirely conventional. There was something a little too forceful about Mr. Keller, Toby found himself thinking; and he certainly didn't look like someone who spent his days chronicling the misfortunes of others.
For some reason Toby found it difficult to stop watching Keller, filing away how the other man moved on into the room, settling into a chair and giving the impression that he owned this particular space -- not James Devlin. That was the sort of confidence that tended to elude Toby anywhere but the courtroom, and he had the feeling for Keller it was as natural as breathing.
"So?" Keller said, long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle, looking at Devlin with an expression that seemed to say Don't waste my time, asshole. Something told Toby that Keller didn't hesitate to say words other people only thought about.
Devlin gave him a look of distaste -- and nervousness. "Keller, Marie, I have rather a special assignment for you. As I'm sure you know, Mr. Beecher's former wife, Genevieve, is getting married again -- a week from this coming Saturday. In their," Devlin flicked a smug, knowing look at Toby, "generosity, Mr. Beecher and his father are hosting a number of events for Genevieve and her fianc in the next week, most of them at their estate on Long Island."
Keller looked over at Toby as if to say What the hell's that about?, but otherwise looked completely unimpressed. "And this has what to do with me and Mary Pete?"
"Our publication has been granted exclusive rights to cover the events of the week, and as my very best team, you and Marie will have the honor of handling that," Devlin said, beaming at them.
Keller nodded, a wry smile touching his mouth. "Oh yeah, I guess me and Mary Pete can die happy then."
Mrs. Riemundo no, Mary Pete, that suited her better, Toby thought surreptitiously kicked him, and Toby had to cough to cover an unexpected laugh. Under less obnoxious circumstances he thought Keller might be someone he wouldn't mind getting to know better.
Ignoring the dirty look Keller was giving her, Mary Pete asked, "When would we need to be on hand? Not the whole week?"
"Yes, actually, that is the plan," Devlin said. "Mr. Beecher and I have just been ironing out a few details. We feel that in order for you to get the best story possible, it would be helpful if you appeared to be members of the wedding party, as it were. We only have to work out what relationship you might claim to have to Mr. Beecher." Devlin looked back at Toby, oozing sincerity and familiarity. "Tobias, mightn't the simplest answer be that Keller is an old friend of yours, perhaps from your days at Harvard? Marie could be, oh, his maiden aunt, perhaps?"
The flash in Mary Pete's eyes said she didn't think much of that idea. "Think again," she told him.
Keller canted a mischievous look at her, suggesting, "Well, how about if you're a wealthy, widowed socialite, and I'm your gigolo?"
She smacked him on the shoulder this time not so surreptitiously -- making him laugh.
"I expect you to treat this with all due seriousness," Devlin said, giving them a severe look, "and conduct yourselves with decorum."
Not sure why he was getting even more involved with this, Toby suggested, "I think that first idea has some merit. Perhaps Mrs. Riemundo," he looked at her, smiling, "could be Keller's recently widowed aunt? They've been traveling and just arrived in town; we bumped into each other somewhere, and I invited them to join the party?" He looked at Keller then. "Plausible enough for you?"
Keller shrugged. "About as plausible as you helping your ex get hitched to somebody else."
Toby had a bad feeling all of a sudden that Keller wasn't going to leave that alone until he'd worked out what was really going on here.
HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter One 3/?
Lounging in the doorway of his office, Chris watched Tobias Beecher waiting for the elevator -- smiling as the lawyer fidgeted a little, like he knew Chris was looking at him but didn't want to let on it bothered him. After another moment, however, Tobias turned to give him a huffy little look, and Chris just couldn't help it = he winked at him, grinning as Tobias looked even more annoyed and flustered. The elevator arrived right then and Tobias looked more than a little relieved to be able to escape into it and get whisked away to safety.
His curiosity more than a little piqued by Tobias and the story he wasn't telling, Chris grabbed his hat and coat and was waiting for the elevator to return as Mary Pete came back from powdering her nose.
"Where're you going?"
"Gotta see a man about a dog," he told her, setting his fedora on his head as the car arrived. "See ya later!"
"Hey, you better not be late," Mary Pete warned him.
"Why?" Chris stopped the door from closing. "What're you fixing?" He didn't know why she thought he'd starve to death if she didn't feed him a home-cooked meal at least once a week, but he'd gotten to like their little get-togethers.
"Need me to bring anything?"
"Just your appetite."
"I'll be there with bells on," he promised.
"Oh, I'd pay to see that," she told him, giving him one of those 'And don't think I haven't got your number, buster,' looks. "Go on, get," Mary Pete said, watching the elevator doors close.
She couldn't help feeling a little twinge of concern for Tobias Beecher. Whatever secrets the poor man was keeping -- and for him to have done some kind of deal with their boss it had to be a real doozy = she had a hunch they weren't going to last very long now Chris had scented something. He could be worse than a cat on a rat when something actually got his attention, and Tobias appeared to have him fully engaged.
Funny thing, though, Mary Pete found herself thinking, but something told her the cat just might have met his match this time.
"He is, but he's with a client." Kitty screwed the top back on her nail polish and blew on her now-crimson nails. "So you better take a seat, Mr. Beecher."
"Toby," he reminded her, setting his hat on a chair and settling a hip on the edge of her desk, trying to not to stare at her breasts. He liked to think she wouldn't wear her blouses and sweaters quite so snug if she really minded the attention. "How's life treating you?"
"Can't complain," Kitty said, looking him over like she didn't mind the view, either.
Toby couldn't say it wasn't kind of flattering, even if he did suspect a lot of the attraction lay in the size of his bank account. And it beat the way Keller had been looking at him, like a big, lazy cat who had just found a new mouse to play with. The more he thought about it, the more Toby was convinced this whole arrangement was a disaster waiting to happen. Which was what brought him to McManus; if Devlin was hiding some skeletons of his own, and if McManus could ferret them out quickly enough, maybe this whole charade could be abandoned.
"You get moved into your new place all right?" he asked Kitty.
"Oh yeah. My ex came by over the weekend and got me all settled in."
Toby gave her a curious look. "Do you mind a personal question, Kitty?"
She gave him a cheeky look back. "Depends on how personal."
He smiled. "Well, it always sounds like you and this mysterious ex of yours still get on pretty well. So -- why'd you get divorced in the first place?"
Kitty squinted her blue eyes, considering this. "You're not half wrong on that mysterious part. Chris he keeps a lot of himself to himself. That's sort of attractive to start with, but then a girl kind of gets to wondering how come she's married to this fella five years and still doesn't really know him. 'Course," she added, "him always just stopping by on his way to somewhere else didn't help a lot, either."
No, Toby supposed not. And what Kitty had said about being married to someone but not really knowing them, not really sharing each other's lives, hit far too close to home. He couldn't imagine achieving a similar, amicable arrangement with Genevieve as Kitty had with her ex-husband. Oh, he and Gen were impeccably civilized, but the frost that has settled over their marriage had not diminished at all since their divorce.
"But you and Chris, is it? you still get along, you like each other?"
"Oh sure," Kitty said, sounding like it was the most natural thing in the world. "I figure I'll always be a little sweet on the big lug."
Toby smiled at that description, one that would never be applied to him, and was a little surprised to hear himself asking, "That doesn't mean you wouldn't consider going out with someone else, does it?" Was he really hovering on the edge of asking Kitty to go out with him when he didn't even know her last name? Well -- and why not? He had to see about getting some kind of social life sometime. Toby knew his father was trying to get him interested in Katherine McClaine, and on the face of it that probably would be an ideal match. He liked her well enough but, well, he couldn't say she set his pulse racing. Neither did Kitty, of course, but he kind of thought she might be a little more fun.
Not to mention that he didn't want to just settle again, didn't want to link his life to someone just because it made everyone else happy. He'd been down that road once and been left wanting so much more. Toby couldn't even say what it was he felt he was missing, but he had the oddest conviction that he'd know when he found it. Someday he'd turn a corner and that person would be there, the one who would finally make all the magic happen.
And sometimes he kind of worried and embarrassed himself, thinking things like that.
Kitty was giving him an interested look. "Are you asking me out on a date, Mr. Bee- Toby?"
"I think I am. What do you say?"
"I...wouldn't say no."
Toby flashed her his brightest smile. "Tonight all right? Dinner and a movie, maybe?"
She said that would be fine, and they were settling the details when the inner door open and Tim McManus ushered his client out. Toby glanced at the woman -- a slim blonde in her thirties who would probably be even more attractive without the pinched and pensive expression she wore; no one he knew.
"I'll get in touch as soon as I have some news, Diane," McManus told the woman, walking her out into the hall. Returning, he gave Toby a curious look. "What's up?"
"I'm hoping you can dig something up for me," Toby said, following McManus into his office and closing the door. "Something incriminating the more embarrassing the better."
"This for a case you're trying?" McManus said, settling behind his desk.
"No." Toby took the chair set out for clients. "This time it's personal." He leaned forward. "I want you to help me nail James Devlin."
"Well, you write it, don't you?" she returned, not protesting as he took the magazine from her and dumped it in the trash.
"Strictly under duress," he told her, looking over at McManus's office door. "Your boss around?"
"He's with someone, so you just wait your turn." Kitty gave him a suspicious look. "What do you want with him anyway?"
Chris flashed her a smile, admiring the way her blouse clung to all her curves. "Let's just say I'm looking for a return on all the times I've scratched his back."
She gave him a coy little look. "Well, you know if you ever need your back scratched real hard..." She let it trail off suggestively.
Grinning, Chris swooped in for a quick kiss. Trailing a finger over her smooth cheek, he asked, "You got plans for later tonight?"
"As a matter of fact I do."
His eyebrows drew together. "That a fact? Anyone I know?" So they weren't married anymore, and even when they had been he'd kind of had problems with that forsaking all others part. That didn't mean he had to like the idea of Kitty with someone else.
"Not unless you're moving in some real different circles lately."
"Yeah? And just what circles are you moving in now?"
Kitty gave a little toss of her head. "A girl's got a right to test the waters."
"Oh, yeah? So whose waters are you tes-" Chris broke off as Eli Zabitz let himself in, stopping like a rabbit frozen in its track when he spotted Chris.
A very different sort of smile coming over his face, Chris stood up, moving towards Zabitz, circling him as he remembered Kitty telling him the little creep was always bothering her, trying to cop a feel. "You have some business here?" Chris asked silkily.
Zabitz started, eyes darting around the reception room. "I, ah, I'm here to see Mr. McManus. He," Zabitz's breath caught again as Chris loomed even closer, "has a job for me."
"The sort of thing only a dirty little weasel can do?"
"Yes no. I-"
"Do you want to know what I'd better never hear you're doing?" Chris asked him. "I'd better never hear you so much as looked at Kitty, because if I do I will cut off your balls and feed them to you."
Wide-eyed with terror, Zabitz stared back at him, seeming not to even breath. Then, with a funny little squeak, he clutched his chest and dropped to the floor with a thud.
"Cripes, Chris you killed him!" Kitty hopped up from her chair, hurrying over to Chris, linking her arm through his as they both looked, nonplused, at Zabitz laying there in a heap.
"What the hell is going on out here?" McManus demanded, opening his door and poking his head out, looking from Chris and Kitty to Zabitz and back again. "Keller, what did you do to him?"
"You keep him away from me, Mr. McManus!" the man said as McManus helped him up and over to a chair. "I've got a weak heart!"
"It a match for your weak brain?" Keller said, not looking especially troubled by whatever he might have done to the man. Then he noticed Toby and smiled, bringing back that image of the hungry cat getting ready to pounce on the mouse. "Small world, huh?"
Evidently, Toby thought. "Are you following me?"
"No, I'm not following you," Keller said, looking like he thought that was pretty fatheaded thing to ask. "I was stopping to see Kitty."
Toby's eyes darted to her. "He's your ex?"
"Sure is," Kitty said.
Keller was looking far too interested again, his head cocked a little, looking from Toby to Kitty. "You two been having a little chat about me?" Then his eyes narrowed, zeroing on Kitty. "This who you're testing the waters with?"
"And so what if it is?" Kitty shot back.
He shrugged, appearing very sanguine about it all; somehow Toby wasn't buying it for a minute. "Least he can take you somewhere nice." Those sharp blue eyes homed in on Toby then. "You are taking her somewhere real nice, right?"
It was on the tip of Toby's tongue to apologize, say he'd forgotten there was something he had to do tonight and maybe he and Kitty could get together some other time -- but, damn it, he was not going to be intimidated by this man. "Not that it's any of your concern," he said, trying to make his voice as cool and confident as possible, the tone he used when he had a witness right where he wanted them, "but yes."
Keller's only response was a little, knowing quirk of his lips.
Ignoring him, Toby told McManus to let him know just as soon as he had that information, then told Kitty he looked forward to seeing her later, and without even acknowledging Keller with a look, made what he supposed was a very smooth exit.
He was outside on the sidewalk, hailing a cab, when he felt a presence at his side, and turned to find Keller there.
"You forgot your hat," Keller told him, handing it over.
Toby took it, put it on as a cab pulled up to the curb -- and
couldn't think of a damn thing
to say as Keller had the gall to climb in after him.
HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter One, 4/?
Harrison Beecher finished looking over the contract Katherine McClain had drawn up, immensely relieved that it met with his approval in every way. His partners -- oh, and himself, too, if he were really being honest -- had been reluctant to hire Katherine, preferring on the whole to ignore the changing times and remain entrenched in tradition. Even the stodgiest of them couldn't complain about her abilities, however; and if the biggest fussbudget in the firm namely, himself -- couldn't find anything to fault in her work, that ought to be good enough for the rest of them.
He looked across his desk at her, sitting on the edge of a chair and trying not to look nervous, and smiled. "This is excellent, Katherine. You've done a really good job with it."
"Thank you, Mr. Beecher," Katherine said, sitting back a little now. "It means a great deal to me."
"That's good. Having a passion for your work is what keeps something from being just a job, I always think. I know Toby feels that way, too."
"Yes, he's told me how much he loves the law," Katherine said, her dark eyes drifting over to a shelf where Harrison had a number of family photos displayed. She appeared especially interested in one from Toby's Harvard days, when he had been on the rowing team; Harrison had to admit it did show his oldest son to excellent advantage. Katherine clearly thought so as well, and her effort to be casual as she asked, "Where is Tobias? I haven't seen him today," wasn't particularly successful.
Harrison smiled, shuffling some papers together. "He had court this morning the Giles case, then telephoned to say he had some personal matters to attend to." And he'd been just a little too mysterious about that for Harrison's liking. Toby had been looking just a little harried lately, too often turning to alcohol for the fleeting comfort it provided. Harrison had thought for awhile his son might be pining for Genevieve, that her wedding to this Schillinger fellow was finally bringing home that he'd lost her, and it was hitting hard. It had also crossed Harrison's mind to wonder if Toby's insistence that they host some events for Genevieve and her fianc, even allowing the wedding to take place at their Long Island estate, was a last minute play to win back Genevieve. When he'd mentioned that to Toby, however, his son had given him a look that, well, could only be described as, 'What are you insane?'
As much as Harrison wanted Toby to confide in him, share these burdens and thereby lighten them, he just wasn't sure how to go about that. Victoria would have nagged and scolded Toby, and only driven him further away in the end. Harrison had resolved to take a different approach; to respect his sons as adults, well able to make their own decisions and live their lives as they chose but make it clear that he was available should they want to talk about anything. Sometimes he thought that might be facilitated by revealing a few of his own little peccadilloes; perhaps that would put them on more of an equal footing.
Pretense certainly hadn't done any of them any good, whether it had been Toby marrying Genevieve mostly because Victoria wanted him to, or Victoria's own retreat into genteel alcoholism -- or those peccadilloes of his own, come to that, he considered as he gazed at a gilt-framed photograph of his late wife.
"I'm sorry I never met Mrs. Beecher," Katherine was saying, evidently under the impression Harrison was regarding Victoria's photograph with some great depth of regret and longing. "I've heard she was a wonderful woman.
Yes, well, they did say you mustn't speak ill of the dead. "Yes, she was...memorable," Harrison said. And frighteningly efficient. If Victoria were here, she would have Katherine and Toby engaged already and be furiously at work planning their wedding, making certain it would be the most extravagant social event of the century to make up for the relatively spartan ceremony for Toby and Genevieve. Given the times, Harrison had insisted that they could not possibly stage some kind of extravaganza; their own finances had weathered the Stock Market crash fairly well, true enough, but so many of their friends had not been so fortunate and it would smack of a kind of rude and tasteless cruelty to flaunt their good fortune with something as frivolous as a wedding. Toby had been in complete agreement; in fact Harrison had gotten the impression Toby wouldn't have minded the whole thing just going away. Victoria and Genevieve had been severely put out, of course, making certain everyone knew of their displeasure, too; and sometimes Harrison feared that had jinxed the marriage at the outset, that maybe if he'd let the women have their little gala, Toby's marriage would have been a far happier and successful union -- but it had just seemed so...tacky, at the time.
For himself, Harrison thought Katherine might be a good match for Toby, but he had resolved not to pester Toby about it. He wanted Toby to be happy, but if he had learned anything it was that at some point there was very little a parent could do to create happiness for a child. If Toby took a fancy to Katherine, that would be grand, but so far there had been little indication of this happening and that was fine, too.
Wherever Toby's heart took him would be fine with Harrison.
Thinking of storybooks made him think of fairies, though, and that made him think of her former husband, that little pansy lawyer, Tobias. No one was going to tell him Tobias wasn't representing that pervert, William Giles, just to get at him. He'd already had all the sordid details from Genevieve by then, how Tobias only married her for the sake of appearance, to stop the gossip about his proclivities -- Vern liked the way she called them that, proclivities; how Tobias never would have touched her if his mother hadn't insisted on him producing some heirs, and as soon as they'd used Genevieve like some kind of brood mare, they'd kicked her out in the cold. So it hadn't come as any surprise to find out Tobias was taking up the cause of that filthy book and that colored teacher, Goodson Truman, who'd insisted Andy and Hank read it for class. Tobias had probably jumped at the chance to try and make his ex-wife's new beau look like some kind of jingoistic ignoramus; him and that hoity-toity father of his, both of them acting like they could barely stand to breath the same air as Vern Schillinger.
Well, Vern was going to have the last laugh there. Robson told him the case was going really well, that he had the jury in the palm of his hand; that decent folk knew pornography when they saw it, and they for certain did not want their children reading it in school.
And Vern had something Toby could only wish for: his own newspaper and weekly magazine to promote his views. It had taken a lot of doing to turn that magazine around. When he'd taken it over, the International Observer had been the worst kind of Communist, elitist trash, but Vern had seen to that. Maybe he didn't know the first thing about the news business, but he sure as hell knew what he wanted to read about, and it wasn't some reporter's biased take on the war in Spain, or what was going on in Germany, or anything like that. One of the first things Vern had done was get that one smart mouthed reporter and most of his colleagues canned; he'd only kept the editor, Yood, because he needed someone with experience to handle the transition Vern envisioned. Now that was pretty well established, Mr. Yood could start looking for work elsewhere, too.
Even Tobias' stuck up father didn't have that going for him. So what if he talked about the President and Mrs. Roosevelt like they were old friends of the family? All that 'Franklin this, and Eleanor that' did not impress Vern one little bit. He had connections of his own -- but he was keeping that to himself, for the time being.
Soon as this pervert case was settled Vern had it in mind to start a new crusade, something about the injustice of a good and decent woman being denied custody of her own flesh and blood. Genevieve put a real brave face on for him, but Vern knew it had to be eating her up that her children were being raised by her ex-husband, probably getting exposed to all sorts of indecent things every day of their lives. With just a little time and effort those kids could be the sort of make any parent proud, just like his own Hank and Andy.
Yes, he was the luckiest son of a bitch in the world.
Settled comfortably in the seat, Keller tipped his hat back, smiling maddeningly. "Whichever way you are, Tobias."
Since Toby suspected it would amuse Keller more if he got huffy with him, Toby simply gave the driver the address of the law firm and tried to adopt Keller's nonchalant pose. He had a hunch it didn't fit quite as naturally on him, however. "Do you want something?" he said after a few awkward moments.
Keller's lips curved with a sly smile. "Oh, I want all kinds of things, Tobias." He shifted around to face him. "I'd like to know why you took the Giles case, for instance."
That was unexpected, and Toby shot him a wary, considering look. "I thought it was a worthy cause." He supposed Keller would mock him for that; someone like Keller probably wasn't much on causes, worthy or otherwise. "Why?"
"It's sort of risky, isn't it?" Keller propped his elbow against the backrest, leaning in a little closer, those eyes watching him intently once more. "I mean, you and me, we know it's all about censorship, but there are plenty of folk out there who are going to think you're defending the rights of moral degenerates to promote their views and corrupt the youth of America."
Toby huffed. "You don't have to tell me about that, Keller. Between The Sentinel's editorials every day, and the Observer trumpeting some related story every week, I am well aware of how certain parties," namely one Vernon Schillinger; and once again Toby had to wonder what in the world Gen was thinking, attaching herself to that racist, fascist, overbearing moron, "are trying to make their case for what this is really about." Toby noticed Keller grimace at the mention the Observer, like he'd been poked in a sensitive spot.
"Yeah, well, I can't speak for The Sentinel; that always was the kind of paper that would only make William Randolph Hearst proud. The Observer used to be a good publication, though, until some asshole bought it and decided to make it his own private soap box."
Canting a curious look at him, detecting some personal note there, Toby said, "You sound like you know something about that."
"I should. I got fired because this new owner didn't like my slant on things."
"And what slant was that?"
"The truth, and nothing but the fucking truth," Keller told him,
smiling again. "Isn't that
how you lawyers put it?"
Despite himself, Toby couldn't help smiling back. "Well, we usually leave out the 'fucking' part."
Keller flashed him a broader smile. "Aww, Tobias," he said, something warm and teasing in his voice and eyes, "you should never leave out the fucking part."
Toby felt himself blushing and smiling a little more brightly himself. He'd never known anyone who could get him so flummoxed. "Yes, well," he had to regain control of this conversation, "that still doesn't explain your interest in the Giles case."
Keller gave a little tilt to his head, an eyebrow slightly quirked. "Didn't think it had to be explained. But it's pretty simple: I'd like to interview Mr. Giles and do an article about him, his work, the whole bit. Maybe make up for all the trash being written now."
"I'm sure your intentions are the best, Keller-"
"Chris." There was that annoying little smile again.
"-Keller," Toby repeated, more firmly, only provoking a cockier smirk in the other man, "but I don't think Mr. Giles would consider The Tattler the ideal venue to represent himself."
"And I wasn't thinking of peddling it there. I have something more like The New Yorker in mind."
Oh. "Well, I suppose that would be different. I certainly can't tell you not to contact Mr. Giles with any such proposal, but I'm not sure it's something I would advise him doing."
Serious now, Keller asked, "You think you're going to lose the case?"
Toby sighed, brow wrinkled with concern. "I don't honestly know. It should wrap up tomorrow, and usually at this point in a trial I'd have some feeling for how it's going, but..." He shrugged slightly, frowning some more as he wondered what possessed him to confide any misgivings to this man; he hadn't even told his father he was feeling doubtful about winning the case.
"Hey, maybe justice really will prevail for once."
"Maybe I'm not advising Mr. Giles to count on it, though."
"What would you advise regarding this charade we're going to play?" Keller asked.
Yes, Toby supposed they should give some thought to that, since it was pretty unlikely McManus would get the goods on Devlin in time. "I don't know, to be honest. Any ideas?"
"No, Dad would know them."
"Maybe we were on the same sports team?" Keller gave him a sort of dubious look. "You did play sports, Tobias?"
"I played sports," Toby returned, trying not to sound defensive. "I was on the rowing team, among other things."
"Wow. The rowing team, huh?" Keller said, laughter sparkling in his eyes, but not like he was really making fun of Toby; just tickled for some reason.
Teasing back, surprised to realize that's what he was doing, Toby said, "Oh, and I suppose you only went in for things like football or boxing?"
"I had my moments. Boxing's a lot better to watch than participate in, though. I figured that out pretty quick."
"I wouldn't know -- either way," Toby admitted, earning a look of utter incredulity. "What?"
"You've never been to a fight?"
"No." Toby had a feeling he was confessing to some incredibly gauche social gaffe.
"You've never seen Joe Louis in action?" Keller asked, pressing for clarification. Then adding, "You do know who Joe Louis is?"
"Yeah, I've heard the name," Toby replied. He wasn't that hopeless. "I suppose you're an aficionado?"
"I'll look that up in a dictionary and let you know," Keller replied, smiling. "Actually I know a guy, Leo Glynn, who used to be a prize-fighter, pretty good one -- went ten rounds with the Brown Bomber once, in fact. I'll introduce you sometime."
"Oh, I'll look forward to it," Toby said. Oddly enough, he sort of thought he might
HI, SOCIETY-- Chapter One, 5/?
Funny, Chris thought he actually might enjoy taking Tobias around to see Leo and Floria. Tobias might even wind up having a good time; Chris had a feeling the other man didn't have a whole lot of fun. Which was too bad because he sure did look good when he smiled.
Chris hadn't expected to find himself liking Tobias Beecher. He thought he'd had him all figured out: a spoiled rich boy with some relatively banal secret to hide -- like he had a msitress stashed away that he didn't want Mommy and Daddy knowing about, something like that. He wasn't so sure now. If Tobias' reputation mattered to him that much, after all, would he have taken on something as controversial as the Giles case? Would the kind of spoiled little rich boy Chris had envisioned even know a worthy cause if it walked up and bit him in the ass?
And he kind of wished they really were old friends because that could make it a whole lot easier to ask what this was all about. As it was, anything he said or asked would sound like a pesky reporter trying to pry out the juicy details, even though that was about the furthest thing from Chris' mind at the moment. Since that was the only approach open to him, however...
"So what were you seeing McManus about?" he asked, and watched the warm smile fade from Tobias' eyes, a look of wary suspicion taking its place.
"And how would that be any of your business, Keller?"
Chris shrugged. "Can't know that in advance, now can I?"
"Yes, well," Tobias gave him that huffy little look again, "that's not your concern. I would suggest you keep your mind on what is."
Yeah, so, maybe he'd been right the first time, Chris thought, feeling like he'd just been put in his place. He shifted around again, away from Tobias, watching the city pass by outside. "Don't worry, Beecher, I've got better things to do than dig out your dirty little secrets."
"I don't have any dirty little secrets," Tobias said, and Chris shot him an incredulous look. "Well, I don't," Tobias insisted, the look in his eyes defying Chris to prove otherwise.
Chris shrugged. "Fine. You're a regular boy scout."
"I didn't say I was perfect."
"I didn't say you did."
"You implied as much."
Chris shifted around to face him again. "Okay -- you're a drugaddled degenerate who kicks puppies for a hobby. That better?"
"That's what you'd like to be able to write, isn't it?" Tobias shot back, blue eyes flashing bright.
"No, what I'd like to be writing doesn't have a fucking thing to do with what people who have more money than good sense get up to in private," Chris told him, folding his arms over his chest.
"So why aren't you? If you're so disdainful of The Tattler why are you writing for it?"
"Because I don't have a rich father to pay my bills and I've gotten kind of fond of eating and having a roof over my head."
"Well..." Tobias seemed to realize there really wasn't much he could say to that, and just looked kind of uncomfortable. After a moment, picking at an imaginary bit of lint on his trouser leg, he murmured, "Being rich isn't all it's cracked up to be."
"Yeah, I'm sure you suffer horribly," Chris returned, earning another aggravated look.
"I'm sorry if you've had a hard life, Keller, but that's not my fault."
"I didn't say it was."
"You implied as much," Tobias said with a little sniff.
Chris rolled his eyes. "That must be quite a responsibility, Tobias, having the whole world revolving around you." Then, shooting him a quick smile, "That was an implication, in case you missed it."
Tobias just glared back at him. "Look, you don't know the first thing about my life--"
"And you don't know the first thing about mine so let's call it even."
Stopped in his verbal tracks, Tobias huffed again, but then relaxed back into the taxi seat a little, brushing at an imaginary wrinkle in his trousers now. "I'm sorry if I was rude," he said quietly after another moment. "It's just...I have trouble trusting people lately."
"I'm not asking you to trust me, Tobias."
"What are you asking then?" the other man said, turning to look at him, a funny, kind of earnest look in his blue eyes that made Chris' stomach do a queer little flip all of a sudden.
"I'm asking," What the hell was he asking? "that if you don't jump to conclusions, neither will I. I mean, we're going to be spending a lot of time together in the next week or so, why not just see what happens?"
Tobias looked like he was thinking that over, looking back at Chris, searching his eyes in a way that -- almost -- made Chris uncomfortable. "All right."
He couldn't say why, exactly, but Chris had a feeling some very important bridge had just been crossed.
"We're here," Tobias said, and Chris blinked, breaking eye contact and looking around the building the taxi had stopped at; not the most impressive building in this city, but about what Chris would have expected: a very respectable and solid piece of architecture.
He got out first, telling the driver to wait as Tobias paid the fare. Chris was about to get back in when an older man exited the building, greeting Tobias familiarly.
"Toby! Where've you been all day?"
"Just had some things to do," Tobias -- Toby? Chris decided he liked that better -- said, not moving away as the older man slipped an arm around him. "Oh, umm," he looked over at Chris, gesturing him to come forward, "Dad, you'll never guess who I ran into today. This is Christopher Keller -- my old friend from Harvard?"
"Oh, yes, of course," the elder Beecher said, holding out his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Christopher."
"Same here, Mr. Beecher," Chris replied, clasping the offered hand.
"Harrison, please. Have you just arrived in town?"
"Yes, my Aunt Marie and I just arrived from," Chris looked at Toby for a clue --
"Argentina," Toby supplied, and Chris glared at him. Toby just shrugged.
"Yeah, Argentina," Chris confirmed. Great -- England, France, Germany -- those couldn't have popped into his mind? Places he actually had been?
"Really? I have a cousin down there -- Charles Beecher. He owns a cattle ranch. I don't suppose you'd know him, though."
"Umm, no, I can't say the name rings a bell."
"No, Charlie hardly ever leaves the ranch from what I've heard. Say, Toby," Harrison was looking at his son like some brilliant idea had just occurred to him, "I'm sure you boys have a lot of catching up to do. Why not have Christopher and his -- Aunt Marie, was it? -- join us this weekend?"
"Oh," Toby looked like he thought that might be a huge imposition on his old friend and his aunt, "I'm not sure Chris and his aunt would want to get mixed up in all that."
"Oh, why not?" Harrison countered cheerfully. "Having some agreeable company might be very welcome." He looked at Chris then. "I suppose Toby's told you we're hosting some events for his former wife and her fiance. It certainly would be no problem to add two more names to the guest list."
"I wouldn't want to impose," Chris said, noting how Toby rolled his eyes.
"Nonsense. Friends are never an imposition, Christopher -- is it Kit or Chris?"
"Excellent. That's settled then, you'll join us. In fact," Harrison appeared to have been struck my another great idea, "why don't you and your aunt join us for dinner tonight?"
"Actually, Dad," Toby broke in, "I sort have a date tonight--"
"Really?" If Harrison had been looking pleased already, now he was positively beaming as he regarded his son. "With Katherine?"
"Well, no, her name's Kitty -- you wouldn't know her."
"Oh. Well, I'm sure she's a wonderful girl. Well," Harrison looked at both of the younger men, "what would be a convenient day, then?"
Toby looked at Chris. "Saturday?"
Chris shrugged. "Sure. I'll have to check with Aunt Marie, of course, but I'm sure she'll be agreeable."
"Fine, fine," Harrison said. "Well, this is splendid."
Toby didn't look like he entirely shared his father's enthusiasm, but Chris figured it had gone about as plausibly as they could hope.
With a few more pleasantries exchanged, and Harrison saying he looked forward to meeting Chris' aunt and hearing all about Argentina, Chris was able to get away at last. He got back in the cab and gave the driver the address of The Emerald Room in Harlem, then settled back in the seat wondering what the hell was getting himself into.
HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter One 6/?
"Well, he seems like a nice fellow," Harrison remarked as they watched the taxi pull away into the late afternoon traffic. Maybe he'd been worrying needlessly about Toby: here he was with a friend, and dating this girl, Kitty -- that wasn't so bad at all. "I'm sure we've met before, though."
"I don't think so, Dad," Toby said, waving down another cab.
"You're sure? There's something very familiar about him."
Toby's mouth quirked with a little smile at that. "There certainly is," he agreed, but Harrison had the feeling his son meant that just a little differently. "We didn't move into many of the same circles, really. We played sports together, mostly."
"Ah, I see," Harrison said as a cab pulled up to the curb and Toby got the door for him. "What's he do?" he asked as they got inside.
"I...believe he writes," Toby said.
"Oh, well, that's interesting." Harrison gave the driver the address of their townhouse. "Has he had anything published?"
"I'm not sure, really."
"Well, that's one of the things you can catch up on, then," Harrison said, settling back in the seat. "So, who is this Kitty you're seeing?" he asked, hoping he didn't sound like he was prying into his son's life.
Toby looked at him like he was trying to gauge his response before saying, "She's Tim McManus's secretary, actually."
Well... Harrison had to admit that wasn't quite what he had been expecting. "His secretary?"
"Yes. Is there something wrong with that?" Toby had a wary, reserved note in his voice; exactly what Harrison didn't want to provoke.
And, really, in this day and age, what in the world did it matter? "No, of course not, son. You certainly don't need my approval of who you see." He turned to look at his son very seriously. "And I trust your judgment, Toby. I want you to know that."
"I... Thank you, Dad," Toby said after a moment, clearly a bit disconcerted. "I appreciate that." He pulled up a small, selfdeprecating smile. "I'm not entirely sure it's warranted, though."
"Nonsense. You're a son any father would be proud of -- and I am."
Looking embarassed, Toby glanced away, out the window. "Thank you," he said again.
"And I want you to know, Toby, that if you're having any problems you can bring them to me."
Toby looked back, curious, but a little guarded, too. "Everything's fine, Dad. But that's good to know."
"You're sure there's nothing you want to talk about?"
Harrison nodded, suspecting anything more would be edging over into nagging. "This Kitty -- is it serious?" he asked, thinking a change of subject might be welcome.
Judging by Toby's look of relief it came none too soon, either. "No. It's going to be awhile before I'm ready for anything serious, I think."
"You don't fancy Katherine, then?" Harrison asked, shooting him a hopeful little look.
"She's very nice," Toby said, sounding very polite -- too polite.
Harrison sighed. "It couldn't hurt to ask her out once at least."
Toby shrugged. "I...suppose once wouldn't hurt," he admitted, a notable lack of enthusiasm in his manner.
"I'm not trying to match you up with her, or anything like that," Harrison hurried to assure him.
Toby smiled, the kind that warmed his whole face. "I know that, Dad. It's all right," he said, patting his arm.
"It's just that, well, I worry about you being alone."
"I'm fine, Dad, really."
Harrison hoped that was true. And he knew the main reason he doubted and worried about it was because of Toby's drinking. It was such a helpless feeling, watching someone dear to you withdraw into alcoholism. He'd been down that road with Victoria already, seeing her pull further and further away from him and the children until he scarcely recognized the woman he had loved once upon a time. He'd been reading about this organization, Alchoholics Anonymous, and kept thinking that might be just what Toby needed, only he wasn't quite sure how to bring it up. Suggesting to Victoria that she needed help had only resulted in tremendous rows and driven her further away. Harrison didn't want to risk that happening a second time, not with Toby.
Give it time, he supposed. And maybe things were turning around now, with him dating this Kitty, maybe willing to give Katherine a chance; it was a start at least. This Chris Keller might be good for him, too. A fellow needed friends, too. It was a long time since Toby had a friend to just do ordinary things with. Not since --
"Oh!" That's why this Chris seemed familiar to him, Harrison realized as an elusive memory took form.
"What?" Toby said, looking at him curiously. "Are you all right, Dad?"
"Yes, of course. I just remembered who your friend reminds me of -- David."
"David?" Toby repeated, frowning -- then looking a little taken aback. "David Blake?"
"Yes. Don't you think so?"
"I...hadn't really thought about it," Toby said, and he didn't look as if he really appreciated thinking about it now.
Harrison couldn't help thinking that was a little odd. Toby and David had been very close once. In fact -- Harrison could remember thinking the boys were a little too close. Nonsense, of course, but he could recall being a little relieved when David had moved away. "He went to California, didn't he?"
"Yes, I think so," Toby said, a little distracted now. "I haven't heard from him in a long time."
"I wonder if he ever married."
"I don't know."
Harrison was rather inclined to suspect he hadn't.
So was Toby, and he looked out the window, frowning, wondering what had put such a ridiculous idea in his father's head. Chris and David were nothing alike. Well, maybe there was a slight physical resemblance, just their coloring, and maybe they were about the same height. But that was all. Otherwise they couldn't be more different. David had been funny, charming...brash...
Anyway, he thought, feeling cross all of a sudden, what did it matter? David was ancient history -- and nothing had ever happened anyway. Not really. Chris was nothing at all to him, just some guy whose company he'd have to tolerate for a few days.
God, I need a drink, he thought.
"It's the wrong time and the wrong place Though your face is charming, it's the wrong face It's not his face, but such a charming face That it's all right with me.
"It's the wong song, in the wrong style Though your smile is lovely, it's the wrong smile It's not his smile, but such a lovely smile That it's all right with me."
Chris walked through the big, main room of The Emerald Room, pausing to look up at the stage where Gloria Nathan was rehearsing with The Kev Ketchum Orchestra. She sounded great as usual; he really liked that kind of low, throaty quality in her voice, like she really felt the words she was singing. And the rest of her wasn't bad, either, he thought, finding it pretty easy to understand why Ryan O'Reily couldn't take his eyes off her.
"You can't know how happy I am that we met
I'm strangely attracted to you
There's someone I'm trying so hard to forget Don't you want to forget someone, too?
"It's the wrong game, with the wrong chips
Though your lips are tempting, they're the wrong lips
They're not his lips, but they're such tempting lips
That if some night you're free
Then it's all right, yes it's all right with me."
Finished, she looked over to see what Ketchum thought. "That okay with you?" Gloria said, her tone implying it better had be because he was starting to get on her nerves.
"It'll do," Ketchum returned, earning a glare from Gloria and a demand from O'Reily to know "What the fuck's wrong with it?"
"Nobody said anything was wrong with it," Ketchum told O'Reily, not quite the same striking figure in gray pants and a blue sweatshirt, as when he was decked out in all-white tie and tails. "She just needs to put a little more come on in her voice."
"It sounded great to me," O'Reily said. Noticing Chris, he solicited his input, "What about you, Keller? Plenty of come on for you?"
"Worked for me," Chris agreed.
"Yeah, well, when you two have your names on orchestras," Ketchum told them, coming down from the stage, "I'll listen to your advice." Telling his people to call it a day and to not be late for tonight's show, he nodded at Chris and O'Reily. "I'll see you gentlemen later."
"Yeah, we'll be pining till then," O'Reily called after him, earning a dirty look tossed over Ketchum's shoulder.
Smiling, Chris pulled out a chair and sat down beside O'Reily, watching the Irish mobster track Gloria's movements around the room, only letting up when she sat down to chat with Rebadow and Busmalis over in the corner. "Last I heard, O'Reily, the lady had a husband."
That got Chris a dirty look. "Yeah, well, things change, Keller. What do you want anyway? It's a little early in the day for you to be stopping by."
Chris set his hat on the table, stretching his legs out and crossing them at the ankle. "Just wondering if a couple names ring any sorta bell for you."
"Trot 'em out and we'll see," O'Reily said, making himself equally comfortable.
"High society lawyer? Yeah, he comes in here now and then."
Chris sat up a little straighter. "Who with?"
"Nobody particular. In a group, usually. Friends, I guess."
"Not that I've noticed. Almost had to toss him out a couple times, actually," O'Reily said, giving his tie a little nervous tug as he caught sight of something.
Gloria was still gabbing with Rebadow and Busmalis, so....? Looking around, Chris spotted O'Reily's brother, Cyril, just coming in -- looking a little jumpy himself. The kid was always getting spooked at shadows, though, ever since that accident where he'd got some brain damage. Must be a hell of a thing, Chris thought, being a grown man with the mind of a little kid. There was a kind of sweetness to Cyril, though, that kept a person from feeling too much pity for him. You sort of got to thinking maybe he didn't have it so bad in some ways, being able to hang onto a kind of innocence.
"Toss him out for what?" Chris asked, getting back to Toby.
"Getting drunk and disorderly."
Chris sat up even straighter. That sure didn't fit his picture of Tobias Beecher. "How drunk and disorderly?"
"Enough to qualify as a pain in the ass. Listen," O'Reily got up, "I gotta talk to Cyril. I'll be back in a sec."
"Sure," Chris nodded, relaxing again and thinking maybe Toby did have a few little secrets after all.
He wasn't surprised the lawyer came here; everybody who was anybody did, after all. The night club had been the hottest spot in town since before Prohibition, and had only picked up steam ever since; Chris remembered celebrating a pretty memorable New Years' Eve here when the 18th Ammendment got repealed. The club hadn't changed hands much, either, which had to help; the Callahan brothers had had it since the Twenties, with Rebadow and Busmalis as their front men -- and O'Reily supervising operations the last few years.
So, it made sense Toby would turn up here. What Chris was finding hard to picture, though, was the quiet, reserved man he'd met today kicking over the traces enough to get himself booted out. That had to be quite a picture. Funny thing, though, he found himself kind of hoping no one actually had any photos like that. In fact the more he thought about it, the more Chris really disliked the idea that Devlin hd anything at all to hold over Toby's head. He'd like to think this was the worst of it, but something told him there was a lot more to it.
Oh now, something was up, Chris thought as he spotted Detective Sean Murphy come in the club and give everyone a cool once over - - his gaze stopping on the O'Reily brothers.
"Something I can do for you, Dectective Murphy?" O'Reily said, stepping forward.
"You can tell me where you've been been for the last two hours."
"Right here. That right, Keller?"
Chris quirked an eyebrow. "Don't drag me into it, O'Reily. I'll only vouch for your wherabouts for the past fifteen minutes."
"Yeah and fuck you, too," O'Reily shot back.
Bob Rebadow piped up, saying, "Ryan's been here all afternoon, Detective. Why, is there a problem?"
"Let's just say it'd be a good idea if you two," Murphy aimed a stern look at the O'Reily brothers, "didn't get any ideas about going out of town anytime soon." Making sure it had sunk in, he headed over to Gloria, pulling out a chair and leaning towards her as he delivered some news -- pretty dramatic news, to go by her reaction.
Jumping to her feet, Gloria rushed off in the direction of the dressing rooms, only pausing long enough to shoot a furious look at O'Reily.
"So what was that about?" Keller called over to Murphy.
"None of your business, Keller."
He shrugged. "I'll know about it soon enough anyway."
Agamemnon Busmalis supplied the details, earning an aggrieved look from Detective Murphy. "Somebody attacked Gloria's husband."
"Preston? How bad?"
"He'll live -- and he'll testify," Murphy said, his words weighted with meaning as he looked at the O'Reily brothers again.
Looking innocent as an altar boy, Ryan O'Reily said, "And he'll tell you me and Cyril didn't have a thing to do with it."
Murphy didn't look like he bought a word of it. "I'm a patient man, O'Reily. Don't forget that," he said as Gloria came back.
"Gloria--" O'Reily started.
"Don't even!" she warned him. "Don't you even!"
"Come on, Mrs. Nathan," Murphy took her arm gently, "let's go see your husband."
Chris watched them make their way out, then canted a look at O'Reily. "So -- your brother been out whacking Preston while you sat here getting an alibi?"
O'Reily didn't reply, of course, just shot him an aggravated look. "Finish your asking then beat it."
Chris smiled. "James Devlin."
O'Reily sat back, whistling. "You want the goods on your boss?" He leaned forward again. "No dice, Keller -- not unless I get something back."
Chris narrowed his eyes. "Like what?"
"Like -- you find out who got Preston roughed up."
Chris made a show of looking around, then zeroed in on the man opposite him, raising his eyebrows.
"And it ain't me!" O'Reily declared.
Oddly enough, Chris was almost inclined to believe him. "Okay, say I do -- you really got something?"
O'Reily smirked. "Oh yeah, I got something, Keller -- something you'd give your eyeteeth for, if you really wanna get your boss by the short hairs."
"You better not be blowin' smoke, O'Reily."
The other man shrugged. "You in or out, Keller?"
Chris considered it. "In."
They shook on it, and Chris picked up his hat, checking the time as he hailed a cab. Plenty of time to get over to Mary Pete's for dinner -- and then see how she felt about a night out at the movies.
Sorry this went out with so many typos yesterday. That's what I get for doing this when there are so many distractions around. This is the exact same segment, just cleaned up. The only addition is that I meant to say the '39 hurricane was a real deal; I remember seeing a documentary about it a few years ago, on NOVA or something, and details can be found here, if you're interested: http://www.fordyce.org/long_island/
All thoughts of drinking were driven from Toby's mind the instant he walked through the front door and was met with a chorus of, "Dadddy, Daddy, Daddy!" as three small figures swarmed at him. This, he reminded himself as he scooped up Harry, was why he needed to stay sober. Toby appreciated the encouraging words from his father, but sometimes it was hard to see that he had accomplished much of anything in his life so far -- except for these three little miracles. For their sake he had to make the effort to do better, and he thought he had been lately; it was a long time since he'd actually gotten drunk, and one or two drinks a day, just to relax a little, wasn't so bad really.
Presented with Harry's latest drawing (a giraffe or zebra; Harry wasn't ready to commit on this point apparently) and asked to admire Holly's new doll and give his expert opinion on Gary's newly-assembled model plane, as well as try and keep track of three different accounts of their day out at the zoo, Toby was bustled along to the children's playroom. Their nanny, Patricia Ross, was tidying up there and greeted him with a more cheerful smile than she'd worn in quite awhile now.
"How are you doing?" Toby asked, putting Harry down.
"Better," she said. "Goodson thinks he has a chance at a new teaching position."
"That's great. I hope he gets it." Toby wasn't naive enough to think the color of Goodson Truman's skin was of no consequence in his finding employment. He was embarassed to recall being just a little shocked himself, the first time Truman had come here to pick up Patricia. She had told him all about her fiance, of course, sounding very much like a woman head over heels in love, but naturally she had never mentioned his race and Toby had just assumed he would be white. Truman had noted his surprise and had understandably been a little defensive at first. Toby was grateful the initial awkwardness had faded very quickly, however, and that he'd gotten the chance to know Truman a little better. He could be a little bit of a prig at times, but when he wasn't lecturing he was good company.
He had taken the Giles case as much for Truman and Patricia's sake as anything else. That Truman could lose his job just because he had brought All's Fair up in his class was the only thing obscene in the whole business, as far as Toby was concerned. It was pure bad luck, he supposed, that Schillinger's sons had been in the class.
And what a joy that was going to be, Toby thought, having Schillinger's boys underfoot all this next week, too. Some little vindictive part of him couldn't help enjoying the thought of them as Gen's stepsons, though.
"How's Truman's book coming?" he asked Patricia, nodding to Gary as his oldest explained how the model plane worked.
"He's almost finished," Patricia said. "You really think he'll find a publisher?"
"I don't see why not. It's a good story; that it's true ought to make it even better." Toby knew he'd been very caught up in the story of Truman's grandfather, born into slavery and living through so many tumultous decades of the nation's history. There was even a romance woven into the biography, every bit as dramatic as the goings on in Gone With The Wind -- just from a very different perspective.
"I hope so. Well," Patricia looked at her watch, "I'd better be going."
"All right. See you tomorrow," Toby said, walking her to the door and watching until she'd gotten into her car.
And he guessed he ought to be getting ready for his date with Kitty. Hearing voices in his father's study, Toby stuck his in head to see what the kids were up to now and smiled at the sight of Harrison at his desk, surrounded by his grandchildren and attentively following every detail as they told him about their day. Confident they were in good hands he went back upstairs to his room, already worrying about how awkward this evening was going to be.
Keller's ex. What the hell were the odds that the first woman he'd asked out in ages would be so intimately connected to this stranger he was inviting into his life? This stranger who seemed very determined to get on a more familiar footing with him. And he thought again about what his father had said, stirring to life long-dormant memories of David.
Undressing as he walked over to his writing desk, Toby tossed his coat, tie, and shirt on the bed, crouching down to rummage through a drawer, finally locating a crinkled, worn, manila envelope. He emptied it out on the desktop: just a few perfectly innocent mementos of David -- a half dozen letters, some postcards, a photograph of them together. It was a very long time since Toby had looked at any of these things, and he felt a strange reluctance even now to really examine the photograph, as if that had the power to really stir things to life again. Frowning at that ridiculous thought, Toby turned the photograph over, oddly struck by how utterly innocuous it was: just David and himself after a polo match, standing side by side -- and barely that: the horse was doing its best to get between them. They weren't even touching. And see, he told himself, David didn't look anything like Chris. At most they had a similar build; David had been darker, with thicker, curly hair, and brown eyes, softer features; nothing like Chris' striking, hawklike visage, those deep blue eyes that held a person as if mesmerized...
Jesus Christ, what was he thinking? Almost angry, Toby stuffed everything back in the envelope and threw it back in the drawer, slamming the drawer shut and pacing over to his dresser. Caught by his reflection in the mirror, he insisted it was nonsense. He'd been a little confused back then, but it was over -- over -- and even if there was some quality to Chris -- Keller -- that he found...well, not appealing, no, but sort of...intriguing, that didn't have to mean anything. It couldn't mean anything.
Funny how his reflection didn't look at all convinced.
Pushing them around his plate, he said, "We've just come from Argentina, by the way."
She looked at him over the rims of her glasses. "What?"
"That's what Toby told his father, that my Aunt Marie and I just came from there."
So it was Toby already. Mary Pete couldn't say she was surprised. When Chris made up his mind he wanted to get to know someone better she'd noticed that he usually succeeded. "Why Argentina?"
He shrugged and speared a carrot slice with his fork, looking it over suspiciously. "He probably thinks it's funny, or something." Apparently satisfied the carrot wasn't noxious, he grudgingly ate it. "What do you make of him?"
"He seems like a very nice young man," Mary Pete told him. The real issue, she suspected, was what Chris made of him. Would Tobias be flattered that he had engaged Chris' interest so strongly, with so little effort? Mary Pete had seen a lot of people, women and men, try to do that and seldom with a lot of success.
And it wasn't because Chris discouraged anyone's interest. He was very willing to entertain any number of possibilities, but he always seemed to come away a little disappointed. He'd asked her once if she'd loved her husband, and how she'd known she did, looking a little envious and perplexed at her answering that it wasn't something that could really be explained; you just knew this person meant more to you than anyone else ever had, that you couldn't imagine your life without them, that you didn't feel quite complete without them. Seeing how puzzled he had looked at that, as if he was trying to grasp some very unfamiliar concept, she had told him that it was probably different for everyone, though, but Mary Pete knew she had gotten a rare glimpse behind the glib, confident persona Chris donned for the world at large. Reading his stories had confirmed her suspicions: whatever else might be going on they were all love stories at their core, but without fail the love was unrequited. There wasn't a happy ending in sight.
Mary Pete had a feeling he really wanted a happy ending, too. That he wanted to fall head over heels in love with someone.
But -- with Tobias Beecher? And that was strange, wasn't it, how she couldn't help thinking at least Tobias would be a tremendous improvement over that Ronnie Barlog person. Mary Pete didn't actually know what there was between Chris and Ronnie, but there was a degree of familiarity between them that made her suspicious -- and there was just something about Ronnie that rubbed her the wrong way, a feeling that he wasn't someone you could really trust.
Mary Pete shook her head, bemused by her train of thought. The way she had been raised, weighing the pros and cons of how suitable two young men were for each other was supposed to be a sin, yet the only thing that concerned her was who would make Chris happy. If that was some terrible transgression she guessed she'd deal with it when the time came.
"Want to share the joke?" Chris asked, looking over at her.
"Maybe some other time," she told him. Satisfied that he'd eaten most of his carrots, she said, "Do you want anything else?"
"Nope, couldn't swallow another bite," he said, getting up and helping her clear the table, carrying dishes into the kitchen. "That was really good."
"Thank you. Tobias' father -- that's Harrison Beecher, isn't it?" Mary Pete said, starting to wash the dishes.
"Umm hmm. You know anything about him?" Chris took the plate she handed him and duitfully dried it before placing it on the counter.
"I know his wife died last year."
"Yeah? What of?"
"A heart attack, I think. She was out at their Long Island estate when the hurricane hit and I understand that brought on the attack."
"But no gossip about the father?" Chris persisted.
"Well, I didn't say that." Mary Pete scrubbed harder at a baked on bit of sauce.
Chris gave her a curious look. "So...?"
"So... There were some whispers he had a mistress."
Chris looked like he found at that a little hard to believe, and Mary Pete supposed it was to be expected. When people got to her age, or Harrison Beecher's, they were expected to put all of that behind them; love, and certainly sex were for the young. Strange thing was, once you got to be that age you found out it wasn't quite that simple. You didn't just flip a switch and turn all fleshly desires off.
And even when your own good sense told you not to make a fool of yourself, Mary Pete thought, casting a careful look at the man beside her, engrossed in drying a glass so there wouldn't be any water spots, it could be difficult to suppress the feelings that someone could stir up. She'd heard the whispers behind her back, the ones about how there was more than a professional relationship between herself and Chris -- and the uglier, more hurtful ones, about how it was disgraceful for a woman her age to be chasing a man young enough to be her son.
She could take some solace in knowing it was just malicious gossip, and that she had never tried to get his attention. The words stung all the same, however, for knowing that she did find him attractive, that if he had ever shown an interest in her that way she might have been more than a little tempted to succumb. Thankfully those temptations had muted with time, and if Chris had ever noticed he had mercifully never remarked on it. What did linger was that she didn't feel matronly around him; sometimes it was even a little flattering to receive some envious looks from other women, young and old, when they were out together at some night spot.
The last thing she felt like was anyone's maiden aunt!
"Did the whispers ever attach a name?" Chris asked.
"Some chorus girl, I heard -- Shirley or something like that. I thought you weren't interested in that kind of thing."
"I'm not," he said, handing her the dish towel and going back out to the cosy living room. "I'm just trying to figure out what Devlin's got on Toby and his family."
"With an eye to doing what?" Mary Pete asked him, eyeing him suspiciously.
His little sanguine shrug didn't fool her for a moment. "Nothing in particular." He checked his wrist watch, frowning, then looked over at her, "You want to go to a movie?"
"Yeah. There's nothing else going on in town tonight."
Her suspicion deepening, she asked, "What movie?"
And his answer was enough to floor her, "I thought Wuthering Heights."
"Wuthering Heights? You do know what that's about?"
He gave her a cross look. "Yeah, I know what it's about. You got something against it?"
Mary Pete shook her head. "Not a thing. I just would have thought something like that cowboy movie, Stagecoach, would be more your taste."
"Is there something wrong with me wanting to go see Wuthering Heights?"
She smiled at his expression, like he was daring her to say Yes. "Not at all." And maybe it wasn't so incongruous really. Cathy and Heathcliffe's love wasn't unrequited, exactly, but it sure wasn't happy, either.
All the same, she thought as she got her purse and followed Chris out the door, something told her he had some kind ulterior motive up his sleeve.
Here's another batch of this, the first of two for today if things work out as planned. Let's see, a peculiar name may leap out at you when Kitty gets to thinking about a new beau and I just want to say: "It's all Renee's fault!" <ahem> OK, technically I did think of it first, but was all ready to scrap the idea when she emailed me a plot bunny with that very suggestion, so I fgured if two people have the same thought it can't be that stupid... <g> Anyway, it's sort of keeping in line with all the cross-universe pollination that goes on with some of these shows anyway. So there.
HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter One, 8/?
Well if this didn't beat all, Kitty Keller found herself thinking. She guessed it was what Chris would call ironic: here she'd landed a date with one of the most eligible men in town and all he wanted to do was talk about her ex-husband.
Not that it really surprised her. The way they'd been acting at the office had told her something was going on between them. What did surprise her was that apparently it had only been going on since that afternoon. But that was Chris for you, she thought as she linked her arm through Toby's, waiting for the light to change so they could cross the street; Kitty ought to know better than most how Chris could sweep a person right off their feet if he took the notion.
And she was long past being surprised at who Chris might take a fancy too. What had he seen in Kitty O'Connell, fresh off the bus from Kansas, after all? It was like she'd told Toby: one minute this good looking fella was buying her a cup of coffee and almost the next thing she knew they were down at the courthouse, with the judge pronouncing them man and wife.
Walking along with Toby, enjoying the cooler evening air and taking a moment to really register where she was, Kitty was pretty certain she wouldn't change a thing. There sure wasn't anything like this back in Kansas: the traffic in the street, the bustle of people around them, so many different voices blending in with all the other sounds to create a unique kind of music. Chris had told her that, saying it was like a jazz symphony constantly being improvised and revamped by everyone who lived here. He was always saying funny things like that and a lot of the time Kitty wasn't too sure what he meant; like she'd told Toby, that had kind of been one of their problems. Chris -- he had all these ideas in his head, things he was looking for that she hadn't been able to help him find. Kitty had seen Toby's eyes sort of light up when she's said that, like his curiosity had gotten a real jolt.
So what was Toby looking for? Kitty considered that as they drew near to the movie theater. He sure had everything going for him, too, looks and charm that were every bit a match for Chris, just in a little different kind of way. Chris' looks and personality just sort of smacked a person right in the face so you couldn't help but notice; Toby, first you thought he was kind of cute, then you got to paying more attention to him and wound up thinking it would be a shame to ever have to choose between the pair of them. Aside from all that, all the other things Toby had going for him ought to make him the kind of catch you'd want to hold onto. So how come his marriage hadn't worked? None of her business, of course, but she couldn't help wondering if he might be looking for some of the same things Chris was, if maybe they could find them together.
Funny how you got to thinking after you'd spent some time with Chris. That Kitty O'Connell from Kansas -- she'd had her eyes opened to a whole lot of things through Chris; the bedroom had just been the starting point. She wouldn't change any of it, but -- she looked at Toby as they got in line to buy tickets -- maybe she would try and find a fella who was a little less complicated. And maybe a little more inclined to stay on one side of the street. Sean Murphy's partner, that Tim Bayliss, might not be a bad prospect, Kitty found herself thinking. He was awful good looking and had been sweet talking her a whole lot lately. And to the best of her knowledge he'd never met Chris.
And speak of the devil... Her eyes easily picked out a particular tall figure across the lobby, talking with Mary Pete. Kitty couldn't help stopping to admire him, smiling as she noticed a whole lot of other apprectiative eyes glancing over him. Nope, there wasn't one of those movie actors out in Hollywood, not Clark Gable or Tyrone Power, who had a thing on her Chris.
Beside her, Toby had noticed him, too. "Oh for crying out loud," he muttered under his breath and Kitty smiled some more, almost wanting to tell him, 'Honey, resisting's only gonna make him chase you harder.' She guessed he might not be ready to hear that, though.
Mary Pete had spotted her and Toby now, looking surprised for a moment but then giving her head a kind of rueful shake as she glanced at Chris. Kitty gave a little shrug back, knowing Mary Pete understood the big lug pretty well, too. Of course she should have known something was up when Chris had wanted to know where Toby was taking her; that one never just casually did anything.
Chris had seen them, too, and wasn't even pretending to be surprised. He gorgeous eyes slid over her in a familiar way, admiring right back as he came on over -- and Kitty was strongly reminded of the first time she had seen him in motion, the way his body moved had been all she needed to get to wondering what he'd look like without his clothes, how he moved in bed. Finding out was always going to be be one of her best memories. His eyes flicked over Toby then, looking him up and down, too, before settling on his face with a warmth that sort of surprised Kitty. And Toby, too, if his blush was anything to go by.
"Well, this is quite a coincidence," Chris said, slipping his arm around Kitty's waist but never taking his eyes off Toby.
"Positively mind-boggling," Toby replied, kind of sharpish, like he wanted to pretend he didn't like the attention he was getting.
Kitty kind of envied him, both that he had Chris' attention and that he was going to treated to a first time with Chris. That was something you never forgot.
Gloria put the microphone back in its stand, barely registering the applause from the crowd -- not registering anything but Ryan O'Reily's eyes watching her every move. She couldn't get off the stage and away from that gaze fast enough. Even with her dressing room door closed and bolted she couldn't escape the feelings, though, how Ryan made her so keenly aware of herself.
It had all been so harmless, at least to start with. Just a little flirting, the sort of thing you did without ever meaning anything. Only the words, the looks had taken on a deeper meaning somewhere along the way; a casual touch from Ryan -- just his hand on her arm, at the small of her back -- made something sizzle through her veins that she'd never felt with Preston.
As much as Gloria told herself all Ryan O'Reily could ever give her was heartache, as much as she tried to remember the way Preston had looked in the hospital -- one arm in a cast, his head bandaged, his face bruised and swollen -- what she kept seeing was Ryan with that cocky smile on his face. Ryan catching her right outside here, his arms braced against the wall on either side of her as he looked into her eyes and leaned in to snatch a kiss. Snatch a kiss? Oh no, Gloria knew that was a lie. Ryan hadn't had to steal anything from her. She had given that kiss up very easily, would have given up a whole lot more -- before.
Hearing Ryan at the door, asking for her to let him in, telling her it wasn't him who'd gotten Preston beat up, Gloria wondered if she had anybody but herself fooled. Because it took all she had not to open that door, not to believe him.
"Go away!" she yelled back at him.
"Open this door!"
"Gloria!" Goddamn it! He kicked the door, cursing some more when that only made his foot hurt. Drawing a crowd -- Cyril, Rebadow and Busmalis, Ketchum -- didn't improve his mood any, and shooting a killer glare at all of them he stalked off to his office.
Keller better be digging something up for him, Ryan thought furiously. He had to be able to show Gloria some proof that he hadn't had anything to do with Preston getting beaten up. Had he thought about it? Fuck yeah. He wanted Gloria like he'd never wanted anything before and thought he probably would go to just about any length to get her. But he hadn't, not this time.
Funny thing, though, he thought as he unlocked a desk drawer and took out a large manila envelope, emptying the contents on the desk, what he really wanted was for Gloria to want him back just as bad. For her to come to him of her own free will. They'd been getting there, too, he was sure of it. If fucking Preston hadn't fucked it up by getting himself smacked around. Ryan was perfectly willing to believe Preston had done it deliberately, too.
He looked up as Cyril came in, watching his brother look at the photographs spread across the desk.
"Who's that man?"
"His name's James Devlin."
"He looks like he's real happy to see that lady."
Ryan had to snort back a laugh. "Yeah, Cyril, he's real happy to see her." And Keller would be real happy to get his hands on these photographs. He put them away again, sparing a moment to wonder what the hell Keller was up to anyway, but mostly thinking about Gloria, and how sweet it was going to be when she did come to him.
Oh Jesus, sweet Jesus help me, Preston wanted to shout as Adebisi just kept smiling at him. How was he going to get out of this? What was Gloria going to do when she found out?
"Hey, hey," Adebisi stroked his shoulder again, "you do the right thing. That's all. No more worries then. Hey?"
Tim smiled and bent to kiss the top of Sean's head. "That's the idea. Tough day?"
"Ahh, the usual. You?"
"The same." Tim came around to sit beside him. "You want to go get a bite to eat?"
"Nah, we can fix up something here. We do have something in the ice box?"
"Timmy, geez, it was your turn to go do the shopping."
"Hey, it slipped my mind. It's not like I don't have other shit to do all day."
"Yeah, and I don't?" Sean countered. As quickly as his temper flared, though, he figured it wasn't worth it. After all the shit he saw all day, way too much of it involving loved ones taking it out on their nearest and dearest, the last thing he wanted was to get into it with Timmy -- and for fuck's sake not because of something stupid. "Yeah, we can go grab a bite at the diner."
Timmy gave him a sly little look. "How about if I promise to make it up to you later?"
Sean slid a hand around the back of Timmy's head, drawing him close. "I'll hold you to that," he said, and claimed his first installment in a long kiss.
HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter One, 9/?
So how had this happened again? Toby wondered, looking across the aisle where Kitty was sitting with Mary Pete. They were no help, though, sitting there in the dark, caught up in Cathy and Heathcliffe's obsessive, tumultuous love story. Meanwhile he was over here, excessively aware of the man at his side. Chris shifted in his seat and his leg brushed Toby's for a moment, that slight touch tingling through him like a tiny shock of electricity. This was not happening, it couldn't be happening. That's what the rational part of his brain kept stridently insisting, all to no avail because the rest of him was almost painfully on edge, anticipating another of those accidental touches.
The dark head tilted toward him again, almost touching, and he felt as much as heard the whispered, "Popcorn?"
Toby looked at him stupidly. "What?"
He watched the well-shaped lips curve in a little smile as Chris said, "You want some popcorn?" and proferred the carton.
"Oh." Toby looked at the puffy white kernels, at Chris' long fingers holding the carton. "Sure," he said and reached into the carton, somehow unable to avoid getting his fingers tangled with Chris' for a moment. "Sorry."
Chris smiled some more. "Not a problem."
Oh God. Toby slumped down in his seat a little, feeling terrified, moritified, and excited all at once, and wondering if this was what a nervous breakdown felt like.
Eyes on the screen, watching Cathy's death scene, Heathcliffe proclaiming he would never let her rest in peace, Chris leaned close again, whispering, "I bet they leave out the rest of the story."
"Well, it does get kind of complicated after this," Toby murmured back.
"Yeah, but it's not your typical boy-meets-girl story, it's supposed to be a little complicated," Chris replied.
Toby shot him a surprised look. "Have you read the book?"
Dark eyes flashed an irritated look back at him. "Yeah, I've read the book. Why wouldn't I have?"
Toby shrugged, embarassed at having made a foolish assumption. "No reason. You just don't, umm--"
"Seem like the Emily Bronte type?" Chris finished, but he was smiling again. "It was a class requirement."
"Oh." Well that made sense. Toby couldn't honestly say he'd have ever read it if not forced to. "Anyway it would probably run too long if they tried to do the whole story."
"That Gone With The Wind movie's supposed to run something like four hours."
"Nobody'll sit through a movie that long."
"I don't know," Chris said, "Kitty and Mary Pete can't wait for it to come out."
Behind them, an older, gray haired man leaned forward, sternly hushing them for about the sixth time.
Chris turned around to look at him, giving the man what Toby was sure was a 'Fuck you,' look, and Toby had to cover his mouth, smothering the laugh that wanted to bubble up.
What the hell was the matter with him? He usually needed several drinks in him before he started feeling this reckless. This wasn't like him, none of it. He'd never taken such an immediate liking to someone and he couldn't understand what was going on. He wanted it to be simple; he wanted it be that Chris Keller was smart and funny, he'd obviously led an interesting life to go by what Kitty had said, and it was perfectly natural to feel a little drawn to him. Why couldn't it stop there?
Toby tried to concentrate on the end of the movie as Heathcliffe dashed into the snowy night in pursuit of Cathy. All the while, though, he kept fretting at how he'd felt in the lobby, feeling a mix of irritation and anticipation when he'd spotted Chris; hating the blush he could feel burning his face as the other man looked at him, but also feeling a little thrill go through him as those blue eyes looked him over with such blatant admiration. That wasn't right, that insistent voice in his head kept insisting. He wasn't suppsoed to get lost in another man's eyes, notice the shape of his mouth, want to experience more of those accidental -- accidental ? -- touches.
He looked at Chris, catching those remarkable eyes again and surprising a sort of pensive, perplexed look in them before Chris looked away, back at the screen where the ghostly lovers were walking off into eternity. What are you doing to me? Toby wanted to demand of the other man. And am I doing the same thing to you?
Okay, this wasn't funny anymore. Chris wasn't exactly sure what it was, only that its amusement value had drastically decreased back there in the lobby, when those sky blue eyes had looked right into his and made him feel like -- he didn't know, like...he was being welcomed home. And that sure as hell didn't make a lick of sense but he didn't know how else to describe it. He didn't know why he was feeling like a kid on his first date, hoping for another chance to touch Toby and check to see if all those other times had just been some fluke and this time a slow brush of fingers against his own wouldn't send that sweet little shiver through him. Or maybe when he made Toby smile again and send him one of those shy little sidelong glances it wouldn't make his stomach do that funny little flip. And how come it took so much effort, more self-control than he'd ever known he possessed, not to thread his fingers through those silky-looking curls at the back of Toby's neck; snag those golden curls and draw him close, close enough to kiss his mouth.
Oh fuck. Chris realized he'd been staring at Toby, hungrier for those lips than for anything else he could ever remember. Quickly looking away, back at the movie screen before Toby caught him, he tried to concentrate on the movie but couldn't help thinking the drama being played out up there in black and white was nothing to what was going on here, between him and Toby.
What the fuck are you doing to me, Toby? Chris wanted to demand as the lights came up and everyone around them began gathering their things and getting up to leave, chattering about the movie as they filed out of the theater. For a moment Chris couldn't move at all and he regretted the loss of the intimacy that had been forged for a little while, there in the dark.
Toby moved then, his hand brushing Chris' shoulder, that same rush of sensation skittering through him again. Chris looked at him, their eyes locked once more, and that feeling hit him all over, that no one else had ever looked at him like this. That no one else would ever know him the way Toby would.
Do you know what you're doing to me? Chris wanted to ask again, taking a little satisfaction in seeing the color rise in Toby's face. Maybe he wasn't alone in this? He smiled then, feeling something warm blooming in his belly at that thought. Toby smiled back, a little uncertain, but not looking away from him, not flinching as Chris grazed his fingers across the back of his hand.
"Gentlemen," Mary Pete said, "the movie's over."
Yeah, maybe that story was over, but Chris had a feeling a whole other one was just getting started.
All right, what was wrong with this picture? Toby was thinking as he sat in the cab watching Chris kiss his ex-wife good night. Whatever problems those two may have had in their marriage it was pretty obvious it hadn't been anything physical. And Toby didn't get that at all, how a man could kiss a woman like that and still look at him like...well, like he wanted to kiss him the exact same way.
Toby couldn't believe he was thinking that, feeling like this. He'd lost his mind, of course, that was it. Funny thing was he also felt like he'd found something, something he'd never even dreamed he was searching for. It seemed incredible that, twentyfour hours ago, he hadn't even known Christopher Keller existed, and he couldn't believe how grateful he felt for having made that amazing discovery today.
Chris and Kitty were talking now, looking over at him; Kitty popped him one on the shoulder and he laughed. He kissed her again, waiting until she was safely inside her building, then got back in the cab.
"You know, I could have sworn she was my date," Toby said.
Chris grinned. "Yeah. Funny how things work out, huh?"
"Hilarious." Toby settled back in the seat. "So -- where to?"
"Better be you first -- I'm out in Queens."
Toby nodded and leaned forward to give the driver his address, not missing Chris' smirk at hearing the Fifth Avenue address. "You're a snob, you know that?" he said, sitting back again.
Chris' eyesbrows quirked. "I'm a snob?"
"Umm hmm. You're holding the circumstances of my birth against me, aren't you?"
"Thought we weren't going to make anymore unwarranted assumptions about each other."
"Okay -- so disabuse me of this ill-founded notion," Toby challenged him, turning to face him and smiling at the look of mild aggravation on the handsome face.
"Are you gonna tell me you haven't had it easy because of your money?" Chris returned, also facing him.
"No. Sure, a lot of opportunities have come my way because of my family's wealth and position, but it was up to me to make something of them -- and I haven't, always. None of that helped me do well in school or pass my bar exam." More serious, he added, "And it didn't help me make a good marriage."
Chris cocked his head a little. "Yeah, I guess we've got that in common."
"I don't know, going by what I just saw you've got me beat there; Gen and I didn't kiss like that on our honeymoon."
Chris shifted around again, glancing out the cab window, the city lights illuminating his acquiline features. "Yeah, but it takes more than that to make a marriage."
"I know," Toby said quietly, and Chris turned back to him, a flash of sympathy in his eyes as he reached over to touch his shoulder; Toby wished that fleeting touch could linger awhile.
"Okay, so my background doesn't make me inherently superior to you," Chris said, smiling. "Or vice versa." He shot him a sly little look, adding, "I don't recall ever implying that it did."
Toby smiled at the little nudge. His curiosity piqued, after another moment he asked, "So what is your background?" That bought him a suspicious look, so he prodded a little, "It would be kind of peculiar if I didn't know a few things about my old college buddy, don't you think?"
Chris quirked an eyebrow. "So we're old college buddies now? Thought we were just, what was it, on the rowing team together?"
"Yes, well, Dad isn't much for cross-examination outside the courtroom so I think we can stay a little fuzzy on the fine details. So...?"
Chris didn't look like this was a topic he really enjoyed, but after a moment he said, "There's not much to tell. My dad was killed in France during the last war, then Mom got sick pretty soon afterwards and couldn't take care of me anymore. My aunt and her husband took me in then." He shrugged it off as no particularly big deal even as he looked a little surprised he'd actually told Toby. "Nothing remarkable."
"I don't know, it can't be easy to lose both your parents so young."
Chris glanced away again, back out the window. "I've had a long time to get used to it. And Aunt Kate and Uncle Mike were okay." Chris looked back at him as Toby reached over, squeezing his shoulder. "I've got nothing to complain about."
Sensing the other man didn't want to continue with this line of discussion right now, Toby said, "Kitty told me you've written some short stories. Is that or reporting your real passion?"
"Passion?" Chris repeated the word, thinking that over. "Don't know if I'd call it that but, yeah, I'd rather be able to choose what to write about than have to work for Devlin. Writing for the Observer was good, though. But like I told you, I'm in no position to be particular."
It was probably foolish to feel guilty about that, but Toby did anyway. Maybe his privileges hadn't made everything easy but they had certainly cushioned the disappointments. "Well," he said, knowing it must sound pretty lame, "maybe things will start looking up for you."
Suspecting this topic had also been exhausted for the moment, Toby said, "Was it just me or did Mary Pete seem a little peeved with us?" They had dropped the older woman off first, right after mentioning the dinner party Saturday night. 'And you were going to tell me about this when?' she'd said to Chris who had looked remarkably abashed. 'It didn't cross your mind to ask before making plans for me?' Her dark eyes had scolded both of them then.
"She'll get over it."
"You're sure about that?"
"Yeah," Chris said, kind of drawling it out a little. "Pretty much," he added, sharing a mischievous little grin with him.
Toby's smile faded a little as he realized the taxi had pulled up at the townhouse and the evening was over. He couldn't remember the last time he had been so reluctant for a day to end, to have to say good night to someone. "Well, I guess this is where I get out," he said, opening the door, not really surprised when Chris came after him.
"Yeah." Chris shoved his hat back and put his hands in his trouser pockets as he looked up at the old, elegant building. "Must be a real hardship having to live here."
Toby shot him a warning look. "Don't start."
Chris grinned back at him. "Well, guess I'll be seeing you."
"I guess. I," Toby hesitated, "I had a good time tonight, Chris."
A flash of surprise lit those blue eyes for a moment, then Chris reached over, touching his neck, stroking the hair at his nape for just an instant -- and for a wild moment Toby thought he was actually going to kiss him. He was amazingly disappointed, too, when Chris only said, "You're all right, Toby," before stepping back. "Good night."
Surprised he could even find his voice, Toby whispered, "Good night," and watched him get back in the cab. He stood there on the sidewalk, a perplexing myriad of thoughts and emotions scampering through him, watching until the taxi's red taillights were lost to view.
"What're you looking at?" Chris asked the cab driver as he climbed back in.
"None a my business," the man said with a sanguine shrug. "Where to now?"
Giving his address in Jackson Heights, Chris settled back in the seat, not really sure what was going on and unable to match it up with any previous experience for comparison. All he knew was that it didn't feel anything like what had been between him and Kitty, or Ronnie, or -- anybody, ever.
The only thing he knew for certain was that he didn't want this to be the only night he and Toby shared. And that he'd give just about anything not to have to say good night and leave Toby ever again.
HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter One, 10/10
"Toby?" Harrison watched his son finish looking in on all the children, softly closing the door to Holly's room.
"Hi," Toby said, coming over. "You're not waiting up for me?"
Harrison gave his son an indulgent smile. "No, I think you're old enough to come in past your curfew." Toby grinned at that, looking far more cheerful than Harrison had seen him in far too long -- and best of all, without aid of alcohol, he amended, detecting no tell-tale whiff of spirits on his breath, and noting his eyes were clear; everything about him was alert and vibrant. "I guess I don't have to ask if you had a good time."
Toby shot him a funny little, shy look at that, like he was keeping some kind of secret to himself. "It was a good night," he agreed.
Well, this Kitty must be quite a girl, Harrison thought, and he had to wonder if Toby had misled him a little in saying it wasn't really serious. He couldn't help thinking his son had a certain air about him, very much like that of a young man in love -- or getting there. "Are you seeing her again?"
Toby ducked his head, avoiding Harrison's eyes; he was smiling, though, not like he was trying to hide anything, just sort of bubbling with something he wasn't quite ready to share. "I'm not sure," he said. "I--" He looked at Harrison then, a little shadow of guarded concern creeping into his eyes. "It's sort of hard to explain, Dad."
"That's all right, Toby," Harrison was quick to assure him, patting his shoulder. "Just don't forget what I said: whenever you need to talk, I'll be ready to listen."
The expression in his son's eyes was a little dubious of that. "I hope so."
"Well, you'd better be getting to bed, you're going to need to be sharp tomorrow."
Toby sighed, looking a bit pensive now. "I wish that was all I needed." He cast his father a thoughtful look. "I'm not sure the case is going well," he confessed. "The stuff in the papers isn't very encouraging."
"It doesn't matter what some muckraker dredges up to try and influence public opinion, son, it's what you put across to those twelve jurors. Those are the only people you need to concern yourself with."
"I know, but..." Toby sighed, scuffing his shoe on the carpet. "I think Robson's winning them over to his side."
"Balderdash," Harrison said firmly, earning a quick, bright grin from his son. "James Robson couldn't win an argument with a stump," he said with absolute conviction. "What have you got left to do?"
"I'm calling Goodson Truman and Giles to the stand tomorrow, then -- sum it all up to the jury and see what happens." His shrug was a little hapless and Harrison wanted to guarantee that he'd win the case, but of course that really wasn't possible. Toby's misgivings weren't without some foundation and Harrison had been practicing law long enough to have seen too many juries come back with amazingly absurd verdicts. "I really want to win this case, Dad. And it's not because of my ego, I really think it's important."
"Tell the jury that, tell them why it matters -- don't be afraid to let your passion guide you."
Toby shot him an odd look at that, giving his head a little rueful shake. "Well, good night."
"Good night, Toby," Harrison said, watching him go on down the hall to his bedroom. Closing his own door, Harrison got back into bed, picking up the Perry Mason mystery he'd been reading and thinking it was a pity real life legal matters couldn't be wrapped up quite as tidily as Perry managed them in fiction.
Undressing, neatly folding his clothes and turning down his bed, Toby wondered how his father would react if he knew who had really made tonight special for him. He recalled his father had liked David well enough, and hadn't actually discouraged their friendship -- no, that had been Mother, coming up with some especially nasty insinuations when she'd been at the booze. This thing with Chris, though, it was a million miles away from the hero-worship and yes, he admitted to his skeptical reflection in the bathroom, the little bit of a crush he'd had on David.
And he had to guiltily admit that, in some ways, he'd almost been as relieved as his parents when David had gone away. Chris, though -- he didn't know what it was, exactly, that he wanted with Chris; he was afraid to imagine anything past a touch, maybe a kiss; but he was certain one thing he didn't want was for Chris to go away.
Although he wouldn't mind this rollercoaster of emotions halting, he reflected ruefully, reaching for his toothbrush.
Climbing into bed, turning off the bedside lamp, Toby was certain he'd never be able to get to sleep, too much had happened today. His eyes drifted shut on the memory of Chris touching his neck and looking into eyes, like he was seeing something in Toby no one else ever had.
Chris let himself into his house, turning on the lights and thinking -- again -- that he really needed to see about selling the place. He'd bought it shortly after he'd married Kitty, when the money had been better and they had been thinking about starting a family. Now it was just a whole lot of empty rooms and more of an expense than he needed.
He was just starting up the stairs when the doorbell rang. Shit. Two guess who it was, he thought -- and that was two too many. Reversing his steps, he opened the front door to find his suspicion confirmed as Claire Howell from next door stood there, all dressed up even though it was coming up on midnight, and giving him what she seemed to be convinced was a seductive, come hither look.
Not in a million years, Chris thought. Not if he was the last man and she was the last woman. He'd become a monk first. He'd become a eunuch first.
Pulling up what he hoped was a neutral smile, he said, "Do you want something?" -- and inwardly winced at phrasing that pretty poorly.
She smiled back at him, looking him over in a way that made it clear what she wanted -- and making him want to go jump in a hot shower. "I accepted delivery of a package for you," she said, holding out a small parcel. She was always doing that -- intercepting his mail, bringing him the newspaper, offering to come over and cook him a meal; anything that would get her in the door.
"Thank you," he said, trying to take the parcel from her, thinking it was just a little late in the day to have to get into a tug-of-war with her over his mail, and finally getting it out of her tenacious grasp. "Good night," he said, quickly stepping back and closing the door in her face, double-checking the locks for good measure.
He tossed the package on the kitchen table and made it up to his bedroom without further interruption. As he undressed his thoughts inevitably drifted back to Toby, wondering if he was nuts to even be thinking about the other man like this. If Toby hadn't looked at him like that there on the sidewalk, almost like he was waiting for Chris to kiss him good night, he'd be thinking his imagination had kicked into overdrive. He knew that look, though, he knew when someone was interested in him, and Tobias Beecher had all the signs. Only... Only there was something different this time, like there was some deeper connection between them.
Chris sighed, starting to remove his boxers, when he looked out the window and saw Claire Howell, across the way, looking in at him. Oh for fuck's sake! Crossing to the window he yanked down the blind, shaking his head. If anyone was going to ogle him it wasn't going to be her.
In fact there was only one person he could think of that he wouldn't mind eyeing him like that, and he got into bed, thinking how it would be if Toby was here with him. That was a pretty nice thought to go to sleep on.
Toby was walking beside David. He wasn't quite sure where they were, somewhere out on the island maybe. It was nice to spend time with David; he was one of those guys who had everything going for them -- looks, charm, smart to boot. Everything came to him so effortlessly, and Toby felt more confident and popular just because he was part of David's circle.
He paused, looking at the older boy. Only that wasn't right. David shouldn't be frozen there as a callow youth of twenty while Toby had moved on in time. That awkward, shy Tobias might peep out now and then, but for the most part he had been left behind, there in the past where he belonged.
When he and David stopped, sitting down on a grassy bank, Toby stared at the hand David placed on his knee, saying, "Don't," as he turned to look at him, only to find it wasn't David there at all.
"Don't what?" Chris Keller said, his voice soft and teasing, his sapphire eyes hot with desire.
"Don't stop," Toby whispered, closing his eyes to savor the touch as Chris' hand gently glided up his leg, along his torso, curving around the nape of his neck, strong fingers tangling in his hair. He opened his eyes to see Chris move closer, moaning softly as the other man's lips touched his, the tip of his tongue caressing Toby's mouth. "Oh God, Chris..." He sighed into the other man's mouth, reaching his arms around his back and pulling him down with him, on top of him, into the grass.
In his sleep, Toby smiled and sighed, rolling over, more than content with his dream.
Disturbed by some dream, only certain that Toby had been there, and feeling too warm, Chris kicked back the covers and got out of bed, going over to the window and cautiously raising the blind. The house across the way was dark and silent, thank God, although someone somewhere was playing music. He opened the window, enjoying the cool, night air flowing over his body, listening to the distant music:
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own
You knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for
Someone I really could care for
And then there suddenly appeared before me
The only one my arms would ever hold
I heard somebody whisper "Please adore me" And when I looked the moon had turned to gold
Now I'm no longer alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own...
Chris sighed, wishing life could be as simple as a song.
==end chapter one==
Song credits for Chapter One:
Let's Call The Whole Thing Off by George & Ira Gershwin
It's All Right With Me by Cole Porter
Good Morning, Heartache by Irene Higginbothan/Ervin Drake/Dan Fisher
Blue Moon by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart
And the version of Wuthering Heights they were watching is the 1939 classic, of course, starring Laurence Olivier & Merle Oberon.