“Nope. Not acceptable.” César was unhappy with his husband’s attire. “Change.”
“What?” Brett stared down at what he had put on.
“You can’t wear that. Change. Jeans and Chucks are okay, but wear a dress shirt and your sports jacket.” He had stepped out the door to drop the room service breakfast tray in the hallway, and returned to find Brett in flip-flops, cargo shorts, and a t-shirt with a rooster and Stop Staring at my Cock on it.
“Why? We’re not trying to impress the asshole.”
After Greg Nalbo missed two consecutive mortgage payments on the house he had bought from César and Brett, the men were unsure what their reception would be when they met in person. The sale had been handled remotely through lawyers. Their current attorney, Miles Abramonov, was on his way to pick them up for the trip to Malibu.
“Not impress him, Jarhead, intimidate him. I want us to look like hard ass, East Coast snobs.”
Brett’s laughter filled the room. “You’re such a drama queen.”
“Whatever, Blanche. Get over it.” César was in a great mood. It was amazing how good sex before going to sleep, and again first thing in the morning, could lift your spirits.
“That’s it! No more Golden Girl reruns for you.”
“Shotgun!” Brett lifted his sunglasses and scanned the sleek BMW 8 Series convertible from one end to the other. “Duuude… bitchin’ wheels!”
Miles cracked up, and César smiled and rolled his eyes. “Morning, Miles. Forgive my hubby. He’s regressing to his teens. Must be the California air.”
“Hop in, guys.” Miles watched as César tossed his backpack in and folded himself into the back seat. “You got enough room back there?”
At three inches over six feet, César was taller than the two men sitting in front. “I’ll survive.” He was surprised how tight the confines were. In his opinion, a car costing over a hundred thousand dollars should be more spacious.
“You guys want coffee?” Miles pointed at the travel mug in his cup holder. “Should I drive through Starbucks?”
“I’m good. Jarhead?”
“I’m fine. If I have any more, I’ll really be like a little kid, asking for a stop so I can tinkle.” Brett bounced in his seat the way a preschooler would.
As Miles headed towards the I-10, his laughter was loud enough to be heard over the radio and ambient noise. He tapped a control on the steering wheel to lower the sound and gave Brett a quick glance. “You must have been a hellion growing up.”
“Actually, for being a rich, spoiled brat, I was okay. One of the reasons Dad insisted I go to public school, instead of the exclusive prep academy my mom wanted to send me to, was so all the other wealthy kids wouldn’t be a bad influence on me.”
“Your dad and mine had a similar approach.”
Brett turned as much as the seatbelt allowed. “Oh, yeah? Where’d you go?”
“Beverly Hills High.”
“Oh, excuuuse me.” César leaned forward so he could be heard over the whistling wind. “Beverly Hills High? I’m sure there were no rich kids there.”
“There were. But not as many as at Harvard-Westlake where my mom wanted me to go. Why is it mothers are usually the ones who insist on private schools?”
“When our eldest came to live with us, we left it up to him. He attended a private, Catholic school in Miami but picked a public one in Washington. The fact it was ranked as the best high school in The District made it easy for us to say yes. When his younger brother came to live with us after his parents died, we didn’t feel Ritch was as mature as CJ, so we sent him to a private prep school.”
“So you grew up in the two-one-oh?” Brett’s slang referred to Beverly Hills’ postal code: 90210.
“Yeah. But my life wasn’t like the kids in the TV series.” Beverly Hills, 90210 had been a teen soap opera following the lives of several friends living in the wealthy neighborhood. “I actually had a job while I was in school.”
“What? As a salesman on Rodeo Drive?” The renowned street was home to upscale shops catering to the rich and famous.
“Nope. As a gofer at Warner Brothers.”
“That’s not a real job!” Brett used his left hand to push on Miles’ shoulder. “I’m sure you suffered while rubbing elbows with TV and movie stars.”
“Bah! My dad was an executive at the studio. Another New York Jew in the movie business. I saw plenty of those people around my house growing up, so I wasn’t starstruck.”
“Dodgers or Angels?” Brett’s minimalistic question referred to the two Major League Baseball franchises in the Los Angeles area.
“Dodgers all the way. Growing up I was a fixture at Chavez Ravine.” The ravine, a shallow canyon in the hills north of Los Angeles, was home to Dodger Stadium. “You?”
“Duh! Dodgers, dude. But, I was more of a basketball fan.”
“Clippers or Lakers?” Those were the two National Basketball Association teams in the city.
“Double duh! Lakers!” Brett looked at a chuckling César for a moment before returning his attention to Miles. “Listen, we’ll be back in town Friday, and the Lakers play that night at home. I’m gonna hit up the concierge at the Ritz for tickets and invite Chipper to go with. Would you and Alanna be interested in joining us?”
Miles smiled while glancing at César in the rearview mirror. “He is a little boy, isn’t he? I haven’t sounded that excited about sports since I was a kid.”
“You have no idea, counselor. You have no idea.” One of the things César loved about Brett was his joy for life. He took pleasure in things most adults stopped caring about once they grew older. Sports was one of them. Then again, their entire family and most friends were avid fans of one team or another, if not participants in some sort of organized competition.
Miles took his eyes off the road for a moment again to look at Brett. “Actually, Alanna hates going to most sporting events. She does it occasionally out of a sense of obligation but spends most of her time gossiping with the other partners’ wives.”
“Partners’ wives?” César wondered if Miles was a part owner of the team.
“Law firm partners. Hang on one second, let me call my assistant.” Miles muted the radio, inserted an earbud, and touched another button on the steering wheel. It apparently controlled the phone plugged into the system. “Hey, BMW, call the office.” At the same time, he activated the Bluetooth bud in his ear.
“Morning, it’s me. Can you check on ticket availability for the Lakers game this coming Friday? I need four.” His pause, César assumed, was due to being placed on hold.
“I’ll take them. Me and three clients: Chipper Pereira, Brett Davenport, and César Abelló. I’ll be in the office after lunch, and I’ll sign for them.” Miles removed the ear bud and turned the music back on. “We’re set, guys. Are you staying at the Ritz again when you return? If so, I’ll park there and we can walk to the Staples Center.”
“Yeah. Unless Brett has another moment, and we end up sleeping in the back of an old Volkswagen van parked on the beach somewhere.”
When Brett raised a middle finger above his head, a passing car honked at them. “Sorry, ma’am. That wasn’t meant for you.” Miles and César cracked up.
Interstate 10, one of three coast-to-coast highways crossing the continental United States, had its western terminus in Santa Monica. When he reached it, Miles merged into CA 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, and headed north. He eventually abandoned the famed highway and switched to Malibu Road, which skirted the ocean and afforded occasional views of the Pacific.
César noticed Brett was uncharacteristically quiet as they neared their destination. Looking between the seats, he saw his husband had a death grip on the center console.
When Miles slowed down, Brett covered his eyes. “Keep going, Miles. Please, don’t stop yet.” The frivolity of their previous conversation gave way to a somber silence.
“You okay, Brett?” Miles asked as they passed the house. He steered towards the road’s shoulder and turned off the engine a few houses past their intended stop.
Brett’s breathing was ragged, and a couple of sobs escaped him. César retrieved the ever-present handkerchief from his back pocket and passed it over. “What’s wrong, Jarhead?”
“I… I need a minute. I’m sorry.” The halting words came out slowly. “FUCK! Sorry, guys, I’m a mess. I miss my parents.” Brett reached for his shoulder and covered the hand César had placed there. “Just give me a minute. I’ll be alright.” He dabbed at his eyes with the handkerchief before blowing his nose. Unexpectedly, he chuckled. “I’m gonna keep the hanky now that it’s full of snot.”
As quickly as it had overcome him, the darkness lifted, and Brett turned and winked at his husband. “Sorry again. Ever since the possibility of getting my house back came up, I’ve been having flashbacks to living there. I think I miss my parents more now than I did when they actually died.”
“The house’s working as a trigger for those memories?”
“Yeah… I think so.” Brett inhaled deeply and placed his hands palm down on his knees. “Okay, I think I’ve got my shit together. Let’s do this.”
Miles started the engine and made a U-turn. As he signaled a right onto the driveway abutting the house, César nudged Brett’s shoulder. “You know Ozzie’s gonna make us pull up all the grass in the front, right? He’ll insist it’s not good for the environment.”
The house was unlike others on Malibu Road. While most had entries and garage doors facing the street, the old Davenport home had a side driveway running from street asphalt to beach sand. At the end, a circular, covered carport afforded a degree of protection to parked vehicles without entirely blocking the ocean view. The residence’s main entrance faced this driveway.
Half of the turn circle was blocked by two vans. The side of one proclaimed it belonged to Freddy’s Pool Service. The other one, with an open trailer behind it, had small lettering on the door identifying it as the property of Ensenada Landscaping.
“Guess we get a clean pool and trimmed landscaping when we throw the bum out.” Brett’s airy comment suggested he was over his moment of sadness.
César wanted to make sure. “You really okay, Jarhead? Ready to do this?”
“Hell, yeah. Let’s—”
“Daaamn! Daddies for days!” The comment came from a twenty-something, shirtless man walking around the side of the house. “I can’t believe I’m gonna miss this. No wonder Maddie was in such a rush for us to finish.”
César suspected the guy was not referring to cleaning the pool. Stylishly cut, highlighted hair, shoulders close to twice as wide as his hips, a deep tan, and board shorts riding low enough to show a strip of lighter skin made him the epitome of the California golden boy. The sweaty sheen covering his hairless torso suggested recent exertion.
The man sprinted to his truck, reached through the open window, and sauntered towards the BMW holding something César was unable to identify. “Hey, guys.” It was a cardholder in his hand, and he extracted three. “I’m Freddy. Here’s my card. If you ever need a reliable pool maintenance company, I’d love to be of service.”
Brett held a hand up. “I’m sure you would, but I don’t need one. That’s my husband in the back seat.” There was a little extra emphasis on husband.
“Dude, you landed a hot stud.” Freddie handed a card to César but encountered another raised hand when he offered Miles one. “Come on, Foxxy. Take my card. Please?”
“Save it. My wife insists our sons clean our pool. Says it builds character.” Miles’ bright smile nearly outshone his glimmering silver hair.
“Strike three. Guess I’m out.” He gave one glance back before he reached his vehicle. “Hey, Silver Fox. Your wife’s a lucky woman.”
“Holy crap! That was… Interesting to say the least. Were you a smidgen jealous, Jarhead?” César shoved Brett’s shoulder.
“He still gave you a card, didn’t he? And I didn’t rip his head off when he did.” Brett sounded proud of himself. “But that boy has daddy issues. The way his eyes danced between the two of you, I couldn’t tell which one he wanted to get naked with first. Babe, I may want you to start coloring your hair.”
Miles cracked up. “The two of you are a trip! You should consider pitching a reality show. Gay power couple with two sons and a granddaughter. I know an executive at Bravo. The network would be all over it.”
“Hush, Miles.” Brett opened the door and stepped out of the car. “Time to work. How many hundreds of dollars are we paying you per hour? Now’s when you start earning it.”
Freddy honked and waved as he drove by. César passed the pool service card to Miles. “Check it out.” It had contact information on one side, and a picture of a naked Freddy standing by a swimming pool on the reverse, his genitals hidden behind a thick, ridged, vacuum hose.
“Oh, my god. That boy has chutzpa!”
Brett shook his head and headed towards the door. “Come on, you two. Let’s get this done.” He slammed his open hand on the glass door’s wood frame.
The surgeon had done a good job, but the breasts were definitely fake. So was the blonde hair with dark roots creeping in. The lips were too plump to be natural, and the lack of forehead wrinkles screamed Botox.
“Well, hello there! We’ve been expecting you. Come in. I’m Madeline Nalbo. Call me Maddie.” Close up, the perfect teeth and perky nose suggested the makeover had been thorough.
Miles proffered a business card. “Good morning, Mrs. Nalbo. I’m Miles Abramonov. We have an appointment with your husband.”
“Of course you do.” She adjusted the sheer cover-up around her shoulders and tugged at the straps to her metallic-gold bikini top.
The predatory glance she gave Miles made César shiver. The woman appeared ready to pounce. Cougar for days, he thought.
“Greg’s upstairs getting dressed. He’ll be right down. Could I offer you boys a cocktail?”
“I think we’re fine.” Headshakes from the other two men echoed Brett’s reply.
César had seen pictures of the exterior and driven by the house before, but had never been inside. The layout was not what he expected. Standing at the entrance, an expanse of terrazzo stretched all the way to folding glass doors affording a view of the lanai and the pool beyond. To the right, he knew the bare, white wall enclosed the kitchen in front and a bedroom with an en suite at the back. Discolorations on the paint marked where artwork had been recently removed.
Brett had talked ad infinitum about the two rooms on the other side. In front, his father’s study had a wall of mostly glass affording views of the beach. Completing the symmetrical design was the bedroom Brett had occupied while growing up. César knew it had a door to the narrow, wooden walkway bordering the sand. Brett had mentioned waking up and stepping outside immediately. The bedroom’s wall facing the living area also bore the imprint of frames previously hanging on it.
“Hey, I know you. You’re the attorney, right? Pretty sure I’ve seen you at an event or two.” Nalbo’s hair was still wet, and his open shirt revealed a fit, tan, and somewhat furry torso. The heavy gold chain around his neck was so gaudy he could have swiped it from one of his Hip-Hop clients.
“Miles Abramonov, Mr. Nalbo.” Miles extended his hand to the nearly naked man.
César did not wait for Miles to introduce them. “César Abelló,” he said offering his own hand for shaking. “And this is my husband, Brett Davenport. Those empty walls seem to be missing artwork.”
“Yeah, I’ve sold a few pieces off.” The man did not sound happy. He stared at Miles before continuing. “Fucking lawyers are hounding me, and I’m trying to build up cash. You have any idea how much these bloodsuckers charge per hour?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.” César’s lopsided smile made Miles shake his head. “I’m sorry to hear you’re facing legal issues. Maybe Brett and I can help.”
“Sure as shit hope so.” He shifted his attention to Brett. “You’re the one who grew up here, right? This was your parent’s house? You’re awfully quiet.”
“Sorry, lost in memories.” Brett pointed at the last door on the left side. “That used to be my bedroom.”
César rubbed his husband’s back, guessing Brett was having a further bout of nostalgia. “You wanna walk around a bit, Jarhead? Miles and I can sit and talk with Mr. Nalbo.”
Brett appeared grateful, reached down, and squeezed César’s hand. “Would you mind?” he asked Nalbo.
“Nope. The place’s a little empty, we’ve disposed of some furniture pieces too. Mostly antiques.” Nalbo quickly glanced towards the lanai, where Maddie was stretched out on a lounge chair perusing a magazine. “The three of us will be in the study. If you need anything, ask Maddie. But I guess you know the layout. Ignore the messy bed upstairs.”
César gave Brett’s hand a final squeeze before following Nalbo and Miles. “So you’re trying to build a war chest to fight a lawsuit?”
“Lawsuits. Fucking ungrateful cocksuckers. I make them stars, I make them money, and they stab me in the back. They’re like a bunch of vultures circling a carcass. But hell if I’m gonna take it lying down. If they think I’m gonna roll over and play dead, they have a surprise waiting.”
“Well, maybe we can help you.” César took a seat across from Nalbo, opened his backpack, and took out a manila folder. “Brett and I were surprised when you missed last month’s mortgage payment and alarmed when told you wouldn’t be making further ones.” He skimmed through the papers in his hand and placed a single sheet of paper on the desk. “Although we previously informed you electronically, this is an official notification of default.”
Before Nalbo could say anything, Miles spoke. “My firm prepared most of the documents César’s sharing. Although he and Brett are in the real estate business, they’re not familiar with California rules and regulations. They asked me to help them follow the law.”
Nalbo’s sneer exhibited his disregard for the legal profession before his words confirmed it. “And I’m sure you were happy to spend as many hours as you could doing it. And billing for them. You’re all the same. It’s why I told you I would meet you guys by myself. I’m not paying a shyster to tell me what I already know.”
César tried to disguise his smile by coughing into his hand, while Miles remained stoically quiet.
“So, you gonna foreclose on me?” Nalbo returned his attention to César. “Not sure why you wanted to meet then. Your lawyer could have done all this without you having to fly all the way out here.”
“We were planning a vacation anyway.” César decided it was a good moment to brag about how wealthy he and Brett were and display their disdain for money. His hope was Nalbo would realize those exorbitant attorney fees he complained about meant nothing to them.
“We rearranged our plans and flew to L.A. instead of Vail. We’ll go skiing with our son next month instead. Anyway, I don’t want to bother you with our family concerns. We could begin foreclosure procedures immediately but would prefer to avoid them. Why make the lawyers even more money?” His small grin and raised eyebrow would hopefully make Nalbo believe they were not enemies.
“Instead, we are willing to purchase the property from you.” César placed additional documents on the glass surface. “That’s a proposed contract. We’ll need to do a title search, but we’ll waive the inspection.” Brett’s keen eye would discover any major issues while walking through the house. Neither one of them was an engineer, but both had acquired significant knowledge since opening Third Line Development.
Nalbo picked the contract up, glanced at it, and stared first at Miles, then César. He stood up and threw the pages back on the desk. “Fuck you!” He stormed out of the room slamming the door shut.
A moment later, Brett stepped inside. “He didn’t like our offer?”
“He looked interested when I mentioned we would buy the house back, but he probably didn’t like the fact we offered to do so at the same price we sold it to him.” César had enjoyed pissing the man off. “Where’d he go?”
“Walking towards the lanai when I came in.” Brett was apparently enjoying himself too. “Let’s nail the bastard for what he tried to do to Chipper.”
César placed the remainder of the documents he carried on the desk and stood. “You’re on, Miles. Time to really earn your keep.”
The three headed towards the pool area with Brett and César a couple of steps behind the attorney.
“Mr. Nalbo, we’ll be leaving now.” While Maddie still lounged on the recliner paging through a magazine, Nalbo paced the length of the pool. “I left the documents Mr. Abelló brought on your desk, along with my business card.”
“What the fuck for? This place’s appreciated since I bought it. Why would I wanna sell it to them for that price?” Nalbo stared at Miles and pointedly ignored Brett and César.
“You’re right, sir. The property’s value has probably increased. However, my clients are prepared to close within days. They have already deposited the amount of the offer in our escrow account. Please be aware that should you decide not to accept their offer, we will begin foreclosure proceedings. ”
Nalbo remained still and paid attention. That told César he was thinking about it. He had judged correctly. The man was starved for cash.
Miles pressed on with his assault. “Of course, in this town, that might lead to additional negative publicity for you. Rumors have been swirling for a couple of months about your difficulties. The foreclosure would also require additional outlays for legal fees.” Nalbo made to talk, but Miles did not give him the opportunity. “Finally, you could try to sell the house for a higher price. But how long would that take? And how much would the realtor’s commission be?”
César decided to step in. “If you decide to accept our offer, give Miles a call. We’ll be back in town this coming weekend. If you’re agreeable, we can arrange for a closing next week. Thank you for seeing us, Mr. Nalbo. We’ll find our way out.”
“Is there ice water running through your veins?” Miles tapped his phone against the terminal while staring at César and stepped alongside the counter to wait for their drinks. The drive to Coffee Perks had seen lots of headshakes and grins but been mostly silent.
Brett had quietly stared out the window but became animated after the ten-minute ride. “My husband’s dangerous when he’s that calm. But you better not piss him off. I anger quickly and get over things just as fast. César, he’s slow coming to a boil but watch out then. And he holds grudges.”
“I do not.” He stuck around after getting his latte, waiting for the barista to finish the other two. “Aren’t you the one still having issues with a deceased Air Force officer? And aren’t you the one who wants to stick it to a certain music impresario because of what he tried to do to an aspiring artist?”
Miles head might as well be following a tennis match. The smile, however, never left his face. “And that is another master negotiator move. You just referred to three people without using a name. Keeps those who shouldn’t know who you’re talking about in the dark. And makes them wonder what’s going on. You'd be a good litigator, Mr. A.”
“Blame Chipper. He said I should call you that. And I’m supposed to address Brett as Captain or Cap. He mentioned it’s what your friends call you. After spending last night and this morning with you guys, I wanna be your friend!”
The three cracked up. “Buddy, he lied to you. That’s what our sons’ friends call us. A bunch of Millennials. You’re too old for it.” Brett pulled a chair out and sat.
César noticed his husband acting more relaxed than at the house. Brett would have appeared calm to anyone else, but César knew him too well. Brett had been tense.
“As your attorney, I advise you not to call me old. It may lead to my foot connecting with your behind.”
“Damn! The lawyer has half a sense of humor. So, you thought César did well? What do you think Nalbo’s gonna do?”
“Capitulate. He won’t call today and maybe not tomorrow. But by Wednesday, I’ll be reporting he agreed to the terms César outlined.” Miles paused to sip his coffee and raised his right hand. “I swear his eyes bugged out when he heard we had all that money sitting in my trust account waiting for him.”
“You noticed that too, eh?” Brett appeared more relaxed by the minute. “I’m not sure what he’s up to, and I don’t want to know. But he’s accumulating a hell of lot of cash just to fight a few lawsuits. He could be scared of something really bad coming out and be planning to leave the country.”
“Not our concern.” César waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. “He could move to Russia for all I care. As long as the sale goes through, he can do whatever he wants with the money.”
“My ass hurts.” A pouting Brett walked out of the bathroom naked.
César smiled, placed the reading glasses and his tablet on the nightstand, and patted the bed’s empty side.
After Miles dropped them off at the hotel, they changed into casual clothes and went out in the Jeep. Brett’s mood was upbeat, and César was happy the sadness had dissipated. Brett drove the fifteen minutes to the dispensary, but after surreptitiously sampling two Ganja Gummies before even leaving the shop, he handed the keys over for the drive to Venice Beach.
After removing their shirts, Brett and César kept tilting their heads upward. They sought warmth from the weak, winter sun, as they ogled steroided muscle bunnies throwing iron around on the sand. Lunch at Seoul Food was Korean tacos chock-full of thinly sliced short ribs, chopped Napa cabbage, matchstick-sized daikon slices, and chopped fresh cilantro. Los Angeles food trucks were a gastronomical world tour.
“My fault or the spicy food?” They had ordered room service between bouts of sex. At both lunch and dinner, Brett doused his food with hot sauce.
“You, right now. I’m dreading tomorrow morning already. You know all those damn chilies are gonna kick in.”
César chuckled. “Good thing we have a bidet. You’ll be fine by the time we land in San Francisco.”
“Doubt it. I think I’ll take the top bunk tomorrow.”