“How come we’ve never flown Alaska before? Don’t we own stock in it?” Brett retrieved a book from his backpack and stored the bag in the overhead compartment. His knowledge of their investment portfolio was at best marginal; his husband handled household finances.
Ten days after the New Year’s Eve conversation with their sons about the Malibu beach house, he and César were on their way to Los Angeles. The Alaska Air flight leaving Regan National at 9:00 a.m. would deliver them to LAX around noon. Brett looked forward to Southern California temperatures in the sixties—some thirty degrees warmer than in Washington.
“I don’t know. Maybe because we don’t fly to the West Coast that often?” César rearranged the complimentary quilted blanket provided to first class passengers and made himself comfortable in the spacious leather seat. “United has better flights to Colorado, which is where we usually go. But we may be doing this more often in the future.
“And yes, we own it. One of the companies I bought last year when the market dropped. I sold off enough to recoup our investment, but we still have an interest. It’s been a slow recovery, and I think there’s still an upside to it. Our brokers agree.”
CJ and Ritch, with Owen’s enthusiastic endorsement, had encouraged their fathers to take back the beach house Brett had lived in through his senior year in high school. Ritch had been the most excited one about the possibility. He had immediately called dibs on the place for spring break. As much as he was enjoying the weather in Colorado, he mentioned a week in a warmer climate would be welcome.
“I can see us spending time in L.A. before or after a weekend visiting Ritchie over the next four years.” Their youngest was in his first year at the Air Force Academy. “And if he does go for jet training after he graduates, it’ll be out west too.”
Ritch had explained that following training in the supersonic, two-seater T-38 Talon jet, further schooling in F-15 and F-16 planes would most likely take place at Air Force bases in Oregon or Arizona.
“You’re gonna have to give in sooner or later, you know?” César shook his head and grinned. “The kid’s hell bent on being called Ritch instead of Ritchie.”
“Not gonna happen any time soon. Ritch reminds me too much of his asshole father.” The boy’s biological father—who threw CJ out of his house when he found out the teenager was gay—had shared a first name with his son and gone by Rich.
“Leave the dead alone, Jarhead. Even CJ doesn’t hold a grudge anymore.” CJ’s resentment had given way to gratitude. He claimed if Rich Peterson had not reacted the way he had, he would not have moved to Washington to live with César and Brett. Being exiled from Miami had opened up a world of opportunities he would reap benefits from for the rest of his life.
“Fucking CJ’s turned into a forgiving, goody-two-shoes pussy. I liked the feisty version better.” As a teen, the kid had relied on his martial arts training more than once when confronted by bullies.
“Don’t be a dick. He’s older and he’s now a father. Can’t have him beating up people. It would set a bad example for Liebe. Anyway, what are you reading?”
Brett turned the book in his husband’s direction. “Michelle Obama’s Becoming.”
“You’re still not done with that?” César sounded surprised. The memoir was published towards the end of 2018, and CJ had given them a copy as a Christmas present. Having befriended the Obamas years before, he had the former First Lady inscribe the book for his fathers.
“Nah… But one of my resolutions this year’s to read more. Not sure why I gave it up. I used to devour books when I was younger.” Over the next five and a half hours, taking breaks to enjoy fresh, West Coast inspired meals, Brett made significant progress in his reading. The introspection concerning his reading habits and his resolution were a result of continuous reminiscing about his childhood. All sparked by the possibility of once again owning the family home.
“Really, Jarhead?” César grinned even though he sounded incredulous. “This is why you wanted to make the rental car reservations?”
Brett slid into the driver’s seat of the white Jeep and smiled. “Hey! I used to drive one when we first met. And I drove one all through high school and college. You know that.” It was the main reason he had insisted on buying a Wrangler for their son when CJ turned sixteen. “Shit, this one’s a hell of a lot fancier than mine used to be. Look at the size of the dashboard screen.”
“That’s so the GPS maps are visible to lost tourists driving L.A. expressways.” From outside the vehicle, César tugged on the garment bag with their dressier outfits. Making sure it was securely hooked, he slammed the door closed. “At least you got a four-door model. Would have been a pain otherwise.”
“Stop being an old fuddy-duddy. We’re DINKs, and we agreed to live a little when the boys left home.” Brett was still adjusting to their Georgetown townhouse not being constantly overrun by teenagers. “Just wait ’til you see what I reserved for the next part of the trip.”
CJ was married, had a kid, and was about to be posted overseas by the State Department. Ritch was at the Air Force Academy, and who knew where he would be stationed at or deployed to once he graduated. César and Brett’s role as direct caretakers had been short and was now over. While most parents found themselves in a similar situation at an older age, the two of them were young and had the resources to do whatever they wanted.
“I really hope Rod and Taisha don’t run into anything they need to call us for. I’d like to enjoy myself and forget about Washington for the next two weeks.” César typed their destination into the console. His borderline OCD personality always required a Plan B. Brett had said he knew where he was going but acquiesced to having an alternate guidance system.
Rodney Abelló, César’s nephew, and his wife, Taisha Kravitz Abelló, were in charge of Third Line Development while Brett and César traveled. Rod had gone to work for the company right after graduating with a Civil Engineering degree from Northwestern University in Chicago. Taisha had been hired as Brett’s administrative assistant, proved she could handle more than menial tasks, and was now office and projects manager for the real estate development firm.
“They better, or our plans to get away on a regular basis are fucked.” He lovingly stroked the steering wheel and pressed the ignition button. “Oh yeah! All we need’s a couple of surfboards, and we’re ready to hit the beach.”
“Maybe when we’re in L.A. again.” César had tried surfing a couple of times but was not wave-crazy like his husband.
“Yeah, I guess. Next stop, the Ritz-Carlton.”
César turned in his seat to stare at his husband. “I was surprised you agreed to a downtown hotel. Figured you’d want to stay on the water. Or at The Beverly.” Affectionately known as the Pink Palace, The Beverly Hills Hotel opened in the early nineteen hundreds, and for generations had played host to the rich and famous.
“As you said, maybe next time. Considering we’re in town for only two nights, I didn’t think it’d matter.”
“But it mattered enough when renting a Jeep instead of a comfortable car?”
“Oh, shut up, old man. Fuck you and your comfort.”
César was unable to reply since both started laughing. “We sound like an old married couple,” he finally said when they recovered.
“Welcome to the Ritz-Carlton, Mr. Abelló.” The woman’s gaze shifted in rapid succession from the driver’s license and black American Express César had placed on the countertop to his face. Her welcoming smile did not falter as her fingers flew over the keyboard embedded on her side of the reception desk. The pause was infinitesimal before she turned her attention to Brett. “Mr. Davenport.”
“Hey, Jessica.” Brett was not surprised the last name on the lapel tag was García; she had pronounced Abelló perfectly. One thing he liked about five-star hotels was the personnel. They were always better trained and more knowledgeable than the yahoos staffing the cheap motels they stayed at on motorcycle trips. The woman had obviously accessed their reservation to get his name.
“You’re with us for two nights?”
“That’s right. But we may be back at the end of the week.” César tucked the license and credit card back in his wallet after the woman scanned them into the system. “Jessica, do me a favor, please. Can you confirm our dinner reservation?”
“Yes, sir.” She barely glanced at the hidden screen while typing away. “We have you at WP24 at six-thirty. Party of four.”
“Perfect. One more thing, could you have housekeeping bring up a steamer? I’m sure our dress shirts are wrinkled by now.”
“Would you like us to press them for you?”
“Nah, that won’t be necessary. The steamer should do the job this time. I’m sure we’ll use your cleaning service if we return for the weekend.” Neither man had packed a suit or necktie; this was a vacation even if some business would be conducted. The slacks and blazers would satisfy any event requiring more than a polo shirt.
“Very well, sir. Let us know if you change your mind.” She slid two small envelopes across to Brett and César. “You’re in one of our king, corner rooms with a wonderful city view. Those are your key cards, the Wi-Fi password’s on the outside, and the porter will meet you at the elevator with your luggage. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“I have a question.” Brett held César’s arm, preventing him from walking away. “Are you a Lakers fan?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Davenport, I’m not. Are you interested in tickets to a game? Our concierge can arrange those for you.”
“Not right now, but I may be. I’ll let you know, if we come back in town.”
As they walked away, César gave him an incredulous look. “The Lakers? Is that why you didn’t object to the Ritz? Because the arena’s within walking distance?”
Brett tried to appear innocent. “Maybe… Anyway, they play at the Staples Center on Friday and Sunday. I checked the schedule.” Although they hoped the third segment of their vacation would find them skiing in Vail, they knew it was probable they would be back in Los Angeles again.
“What’s with the sudden interest? We don’t even go to the games when they play the Wizards.” While the Los Angeles Lakers were one of two NBA franchises in town, the Wizards were the National Basketball Association team in Washington.
“I’m not sure. I grew up a Lakers fan. Since Kobe died last year, I’ve been thinking about all the time I spent watching games when I was younger. I think I’d like to see them play live again.”
Kobe Bryant had died at the beginning of 2020 in a helicopter crash. He, his daughter Gianna, and the other passengers in the aircraft were mourned by the world. The five times NBA champion had been posthumously enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame later that year. Since a helicopter accident led to Brett retiring from active duty, he identified with the tragedy on a very personal level.
“Miles, it’s good to finally meet you in person.” Brett had no problem recognizing the man; the mostly silver hair and the bright blue eyes were as distinctive as Chipper and Ethan had mentioned. After shaking hands, Brett turned his attention to the woman standing by the attorney. “You must be Alanna. Brett Davenport. It’s a pleasure.”
“The boys described you both well. Hello, Brett. Hi, César. Welcome to L.A.” César had previously met Miles; Brett had only spoken with him on the phone. Neither had met Alanna before.
“I’m glad you guys chose this place. We’ve only been here on a couple of occasions, but the food and service were outstanding each time.” Miles held the door open for his wife and the Washingtonians. “Wolfgang did a great job with this one.”
Located on the hotel’s twenty-fourth floor, WP24 was part of Wolfgang Puck’s culinary empire. The Austrian-born, American chef had a well-known passion for Asian ingredients and cooking techniques; his many restaurants specialized in modern Chinese cuisine.
“Do you know him?” César raised a finger to pause the conversation while giving his name to the maître d'. “He lives in L.A., right?”
“I think he spends more time traveling than in any one city. We’ve met him a couple of times, but I don’t really know him.” Miles held a chair out for his wife. “How come you guys picked this restaurant?”
“Convenience and family tradition.” Brett’s enigmatic response drew a confused look from Alanna. With a smirk, he expanded on his comment. “While our sons lived at home, we tried to eat together as often as possible. Sunday nights were always for Chinese takeout. You said something about the boys describing us well, Alanna. You mean Chipper and Ethan?”
“That’s them. I understand they’re close friends with your eldest? I’m guessing they’re around the same age. How old are your kids?”
“Kids?” Brett laughed. “César keeps reminding me they’re adults whenever I call them that. CJ just turned twenty-three and Ritchie’s eighteen.”
“Wow! You guys are too young for children that age. Miles’ forty and I’m thirty-five; ours aren’t even teenagers.”
“Blame César! He was twenty when CJ was born. I’m about your age and when the boy first came to live with us, I couldn’t decide if I was a parent or an older sibling.” Brett raised the sleeve of his sage, ribbed Henley to show the tattoos on his forearm. He pointed at the names inked at the wrist. “CJ and Ritchie are ours. Owen’s CJ’s husband, and Liebe’s our granddaughter.”
Miles’s body shook. “Please, no talking about being grandparents. The thought terrifies me. How old are you, César?”
“Forty-three. Guess I’m the old man at the table.” César opened the menu and scanned the offerings. “Anything you recommend?”
“The prawn toast and the tiny pork belly dumplings are awesome as starters.” Miles’ suggestions were endorsed by a nodding Alanna. “For the entrée, the broiled, Japanese, black cod’s my favorite.” Miles lowered his menu having apparently decided what he would be ordering. “Listen, guys, can we discuss business for a minute or two? I’d like to get it out of the way.”
Brett nodded and closed his own menu. He knew what he wanted. “Sure thing. The house or the documentary?”
“The house, I have nothing on the documentary right now.” At Ethan’s recommendation, Miles had handled most legal matters with A Home for Warriors.
Alanna interrupted her husband by placing a hand on his forearm. “Is thatthe documentary about a community of tiny houses for homeless vets you talked about last year?”
“It is,” César replied for Miles. “The place’s called Heroes Haven, and our family’s producing the film. It’ll premiere spring of this year.”
Miles tried to resume the business conversation. “Anyway, I don’t want to drag this out. We have an appointment at ten tomorrow at the house. If it’s okay with you, I’ll pick you up at nine.”
“That works.” César looked at Brett and received a nearly imperceptible nod. “Did you share what we talked about with Nalbo?” he asked Miles.
“Nope. All I mentioned was the two of you were flying in and had a proposal for him.”
“Miles mentioned this house’s where you grew up, Brett. It belonged to your parents?” Alanna was obviously aware of the reason the two men were in town.
“It was. I was born in Oceanside, not L.A. But Mom and Dad had the house built and we moved there when I was like five. After they died, my grandfather, Dad’s dad, moved in so I could finish school at Malibu High.” Brett paused while the server took their order. “After I graduated and moved to the Bay Area for college, Grandpa decided to keep it in case I ever wanted to live in it again.”
“I guess you decided not to.” Miles pointed at the wine list while looking at César before returning his attention to Brett.
“Well, the Marine Corps had something to say about it. I was deployed to the Middle East and eventually landed in the D.C. area, met César, and the rest’s history. We bought a house in Georgetown with a return to California in the back of my mind. When CJ came to live with us, we ended up selling the Malibu property to Nalbo. It had been rented on and off over the years, and we realized we’d never be moving out here.”
“And now you’re back because he’s in trouble and wants out of it.”
“That’s about it. I know you’re aware of what he tried to pull on Chipper. He told us all about you bringing in the FBI. That boy’s like one of our kids, and when we heard what Nalbo tried to do, I was ready to break his neck.”
“Gossip around town’s he’s in deep doo doo.” Alanna giggled. “So you’re a local. Are you related to the Davenports of the Davenport Hall at CAMALA?”
“Camala?” César sounded confused.
“California Museum of Art at Los Angeles.” Brett and Alanna spoke simultaneously, making them both chuckle.
“I am. Mom and Dad funded the pavilion, and most of their art collection’s on indefinite loan to the museum.” Brett was momentarily lost in thought. “You know what, César? If we end up getting my parents’ house back, we may want to schedule a meeting at the museum.”
“You’ll have to figure out the tax part of a charitable contribution, but we may want to take a couple of paintings I really like back. And consider giving them the rest outright.”
“Oh, my god. You mean you still own all those works?” Alanna was definitely surprised. “There are some exquisite pieces in there! And some of them are quite pricey.”
César looked at the label of the California Pinot Gris and nodded at the server. “Go ahead and pour.” He turned his attention to Alanna. “You seem pretty knowledgeable.”
“CAMALA’s one of the organizations Miles and I support. I volunteer as a docent a couple of times a week.”
“Are the Warhols on exhibit?” Brett sipped his wine and nodded in approval.
“Mao is. The soup can isn’t right now. As far as I know, it’s in the conservation department being cleaned.”
César’s eyebrows shot up. “Your parents owned soup cans? Lithographs right? Because I know we’ve seen the originals all together at MOMA.”
Alanna proved she was knowledgeable about art. “Those were the ones he painted in 1962. Thirty-two of them. They were first exhibited here in L.A., and the set sold for a thousand dollars. MOMA bought them for something like fifteen million years later. Today, they would fetch ten times that.
“In sixty-four, Warhol started experimenting with silk screening. That became his preferred medium. The Mao portrait Brett mentioned is one of those, but the soup can in the Davenport collection isn’t. Warhol returned to the subject repeatedly and produced variations. Brett’s is a tomato soup can with a torn label.”
“Wow! You know your stuff.” Brett was impressed. “What about the Pollocks?”
“How many are in the collection? I think there are three on exhibit.”
“I’m pretty sure Mom and Dad only had two, so the third one’s not mine. I may want to steal Mao and one of the Pollock’s back.” Brett tilted his head towards César. “And anything else this one or the kids want.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of appetizers. “I didn’t know Warhol and Pollock were in your parents collection.” César was aware of the loan to a museum but not the individual pieces. “You think you’d want to hang them in the house if we end up with it? Insurance could be a pain. How much are they worth?”
“I’m not sure what any of them are appraised at, but I know a ripped-label can sold for over ten million a few years ago. It’s probably worth a lot more today.” Alanna was still in docent mode, sharing her knowledge. “And I know a Pollock sold at auction for close to 150 million.”
“Damn!” Miles shook his head looking incredulous. “I didn’t realize those things were so pricey. But what do I know? Alanna claims I’m a philistine when it comes to art.”
Brett felt something he was unused to. He had mourned his parents, hated them for dying, and in time came to accept their loss as part of life. They became a collection of sadness-tinged, happy memories. But at this moment, he yearned for them. He missed the carefree days living to surf, the travels with them, and the way they accepted his homosexuality. Maybe that was due to the permissive Hollywood attitude of most of their friends—even though they were conservative Republicans. His coming out was a non-event.
“Brett?” César touched his arm.
“Huh? Oh, sorry, I spaced out.” He slowly turned his head to look at his three dining companions and smiled. “I was thinking about my parents.” The smile disappeared and his resolve took front stage. “Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do.”
He flicked imaginary lint off César’s blue blazer’s lapel. “Hope you’re okay with this. I want my house back. We’ll go with what we planned, but I want it. One way or the other. Even if we have to foreclose and buy it at auction.”
“Okaaay…” César smiled, probably realizing Brett was not done.
He was not. Next, he focused his attention on Alanna. “We’ll come back to L.A. on Friday and will likely spend at least part of the following week in town. Skiing with our boy in Colorado’s gonna have to wait until next month. We can hit Vail for Presidents’ Day Weekend.” The last he directed at César who shrugged. “Alanna, do you think you could arrange a meeting at CAMALA for when we return? I’d like to inspect my entire collection, but I don’t want to scare them off. Please don’t mention I may want a couple of pieces back.” Brett realized he was referring to it as his artwork instead of his parents. He was feeling possessive.
“It won’t be a problem, it would be my pleasure to help. I was planning on being at the museum tomorrow morning. I’ll stop by Fernando’s office and make an appointment for you.”
“Fernando Llorosa, the executive director.”
“Got it. Listen, I have Miles’s cell number but not yours.” Brett reached into his jeans’ back pocket and retrieved his phone. “Let me add you to my contacts, and we’ll check in with you in a couple of days.”
Brett sipped from his wine glass but continued to ignore the food. “Miles—” The attorney laughed so hard, Brett had to stop. “What’s so funny?”
“You!” Miles dabbed at the corner of his mouth and relaxed. “I see why Ethan and Chipper told us to call you Captain. It’s as if something or someone took over you. You’re planning a military campaign and issuing orders to accomplish your objectives. Are you certain you’re not still a Marine?”
“Of course I’m still a Marine.” Brett was borderline offended. He wondered why the man questioned his being a member of the Corps.
“What he means”—César rubbed Brett’s arm, helping him settle down—“is once a Marine, always a Marine. They all feel the same way, MIles. No matter their age. You should hear some of the older ones I’ve met talk.”
“Is he always this focused?” Miles directed the question at César.
“Yep. Although it’s usually in a more relaxed way. My husband can be a slave driver. But if it was up to him, he would rather be getting stoned or surfing. Or both.”
Brett rolled his eyes. “Whatever, bean counter. But you reminded me pot’s legal in California. We need to stop by a dispensary tomorrow. Anyway, Miles, what I was going to ask is that you order a title search for the house. I want to make sure the idiot doesn’t have any outstanding liens.”
“How about I ask my people to do a search for building permits too? In case he’s done any major work.”
“Great idea. If I see any changes, we can make sure they were done up to code.”
Brett found the remainder of the evening quite enjoyable. The two couples discussed art a bit more, talked about their children, and made plans to spend time together again the following weekend.
When César asked for the check, Miles objected. “Let me get it. You guys are clients, so this is a business expense.”
“Forget it, counselor. I worked for Ernst & Young for years, and I know how the system works. You pay, the firm reimburses you, tacks on a percentage, and adds the amount to our next bill. Thanks, but no thanks.”
Miles acquiesced by raising his hands in surrender.
“Isn’t it amazing how much our kids influence us?” César squeezed toothpaste onto his toothbrush and passed the tube to Brett.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re reading a book CJ gave us as a Christmas present a couple of years ago, and we’re brushing our teeth with toothbrushes he and Owen gave us this past one. We can’t get away from the fuckers.”
“But they did good both times. The book’s great, and the bamboo toothbrushes are better for the environment than plastic ones. We have to think of Liebe. I want to make sure she has a world to grow up in that’s better than ours. Reducing waste’s part of it. We change toothbrushes monthly, so this means at least twenty-four of them will decompose instead of hanging around in a landfill for who knows how long.”
“Damn, Jarhead! You’ve been feisty all night. What’s gotten into you?”
“Nothing. But something’s getting into you as soon as we hit the bed. You know with me feisty and horny are a package deal. Grab the lube.”