North to the Max
“Gus, Ray, could you come here a minute,” Mel called out from her office door. Mel had been using a small “guest” office for almost two months since her arrival at North. While technically the office was situated in the artist section of the North, Melanie preferred it to the more “sterile” business wing which was above the day care – preschool.
Gus and Ray were huddled over a computer out on the main floor; they were finalizing the Dunhill campaign. A week prior, Gus, Ray, and Bree had taken a tour of the Dunhill Furniture warehouse. It was loaded with “one of’s” or discontinued furniture lines that were going nowhere and taking up valuable space. Dunhill had no idea what to do with the myriad of desks, conference tables, chairs, wardrobes, coat racks, and other business type furniture. They were all neatly stored in the warehouse, many still in their original packing. As Gus began to photograph each item, Ray was cataloguing, while Bree wandered around. At one point the siblings stood next to each other staring at the furniture. Dunhill watched the siblings with amusement.
Bree and Gus turned to each other then grinned. “Ray, take this and keep taking pictures,” Gus said as he handed Ray his small camera. Just then Bree and Gus ran around the warehouse creating groupings of furniture starting with a nice sized conference table and two sets of four chairs. Alternating the chairs, the siblings created what could be used as a conference table with unique chairs or as an eclectic dining room set.
Brother and sister continued running around the huge warehouse, marrying various pieces and constructing interesting groupings. Within a few hours, a little more than half the warehouse was arranged to their liking. And there were many more pieces to go.
“Do they always work that way?” Arthur Dunhill asked Ray.
“Pretty much,” Ray replied with a smile and a shrug of his shoulders.
“And they really aren’t related by blood?”
“Nope,” Ray laughed.
Dunhill was so impressed by what Bree and Gus devised that he signed off on the Kinnetik North campaign.
“Mom, you wanted us?” Gus asked as he and Ray entered Mel’s office.
“Have a seat,” Mel replied as she indicated the chairs in front of the desk. “Where’s Bree?”
“At the park down the street stretching her legs,” Gus said.
“Is that a euphemism for playing soccer?” Mel asked. Gus nodded with a smirk. Mel nodded in reply. “I’ve decided to go home. You guys don’t need me, besides you have less than two weeks left of this visit unless you want to send Bree back at the end of the month then stay longer. Brian will abide by your decision if you two want to stay.” Melanie paused to allow that to sink in before continuing.
“I’m booked on an afternoon flight tomorrow. I’m only staying in Pittsburgh for a few days then I’m flying to London. Gus, your mom is beside herself. The damage to the gallery was more extensive than they originally thought. The fire extended to one of the storerooms, one of Sam’s paintings was singed. Charles wants Sam to fix it, Sam wants to keep it as is, to be a testimony of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man,” Mel stated as she rolled her eyes.
“Anyway, I want to be there for your mother. Brian told me to check in with Isles so we can write this off as Kinnetik business. If you have anything for Shane, I can take it with me,” Mel explained. “You guys do wonderful work,” Mel said with pride. “And Shelly is doing a great job here. Brian will understand if you just want to put Bree on the plane at the end of her stay or one of you can go with her then come back. It would be nice to see how the Dunhill ad works out.”
“I’ll talk to Bree later tonight over dinner,” Gus told his mother. With their meeting over, Gus and Ray went back out onto the floor leaving Mel to tie up any loose ends before going home.
“Hugo, I’m so pleased that you approved of the lovelies that I sent you. That little bonus you dropped into my offshore account came in very handy. I’m thinking of retiring soon, someplace sunny where I can work on my tan and not be bothered by extradition laws. No, no, of course not right now, but in a few months. As a matter of fact, I’m looking at an exquisite creature right now. A rather athletic strawberry blond young lady. I’m sure she’ll be worth millions. Pictures? Not a problem. What do you think? I thought you’d say that. I’ll get back to you. Au revoir.”
Bree’s practice game was just about over. As she waved goodbye to her fellow teammates, she grabbed her backpack and dug through it for a bottle of water. Seeing that most of the benches surrounding the field were full of players, parents and equipment, Bree walked toward the edge of the park to find a place to sit and cool off before returning to Kinnetik. As she sat for a few minutes sipping her water, a tall good looking man approached.
“Do you mind if I share your bench? The others appear to be occupied today,” the man said. Bree smiled and nodded. “Do you play here often?”
“Sometimes,” Bree said with caution. The man looked nice and spoke with a sophisticated accent but Bree was leery. Her instincts and all that her parents taught her about talking to strangers were kicking in. “Do you work around here?” Bree asked, trying to glean some information.
“In a manner of speaking,” the man said then paused. He was waiting for the pretty young lady to ask more questions. However, Bree recognized the tactic. She had witnessed her elder father use it several times in business meetings. Bree had learned her lessons well.
Becoming impatient, the gentleman began to explain. “I’m on holiday to your fair city but in some businesses you’re never truly on holiday, n’est-ce pas?” Bree smiled as she nodded her head. “My card,” he said as he pulled a fancy business card holder out of his pocket and then with a flourish, he gave a card to Bree. Bree was watching him carefully and took a good look at his clothing and shoes which appeared to be all the latest fashion. But Bree could spot a knock off almost as well as her Dada.
She took the card, “Mr. Maxwell, talent agent,” Bree read out loud.
“Yes, my dear, and I must say with your beauty, you could be walking the red carpet within a year,” he gushed. Bree gave him a coy smile. Sensing he had made the right impression, “Maxwell,” went in for the kill. “Oh oui! You are most magnifique!” he gushed then continued jabbering in a mixture of French and Italian, trying to impress as well as flatter and fluster the young lady. “May I take you to lunch?”
“Thank you, Mr. Maxwell, but I have some friends waiting for me,” Bree said as she got up from the bench. She hastily stuffed her water and the business card into her bag while searching for some of the other kids. Finding a large group about to walk off the field, Bree politely bid her new acquaintance goodbye then made a beeline back onto the field to lose herself in the group. When she felt safe enough, Bree broke away from the crowd then ran back to the office.
“Hugo! I’ve made contact and she’s even more exquisite than you can imagine. If we play our cards right, we both can retire after this transaction. Her eyes…I wonder if she’s related to Liz Taylor? I’ll be in touch.”
Bree streaked through the front door at Kinnetik North startling Jeff who was just finishing up a call. “Miss Bree, are you all right?”
“Yes, no. I don’t know. Where’s Gus, I need him.”
“He’s in a meeting with Miss Melanie but I’m sure it’s okay if you join them,” Jeff assured her.
“Thank you,” Bree said then took off toward Mel’s office, albeit at an appropriate office type pace. Bree knocked on the door jamb before entering the office. Mel, Gus, and Ray were reviewing campaigns and contracts.
“I’m sorry to interrupt but something weird just happened,” Bree said as she entered the room. Gus immediately puffed up, ready to do battle on behalf of his sister. Ray gently took his hand and gave it a supportive and reassuring squeeze.
“Tell us what happened,” said Melanie in a calm, precise tone. Ray got Bree a chair. Bree sat, took a breath then reported what happened in the park. Gus immediately swooped his sister up into his arms.
“I was scared,” Bree murmured into his neck.
“But you did the right thing,” Gus assured her as did Mel and Ray.
“What tipped you off that this guy may not be who he says he is,” Ray asked. Gus and Mel nodded and urged Bree to explain further.
“I’m not sure. He had a weird accent like he was from England but trying to be “posh.” Then he spoke French but it was awful. Some of it made no sense. Mr. Pierre speaks nicely,” Bree said by way of comparison. Ray snickered. “And then his clothes!”
“What about them?” Mel asked.
“They were knock offs, I wouldn’t wear them to a drag queen’s…”
“We get the picture,” Mel interrupted before Bree said something totally un-pc. Ray and Gus giggled. “This isn’t funny,” Mel warned. The boys coughed and a-hemed until they got themselves under control.
“Bree, what did this guy looks like?” Ray asked.
“He was old, kind of tall but not as tall as you,” she said looking at her brother. “Light brown hair.”
“How old is old?” Gus asked.
“Not sure. Older than you but maybe not as old as Dada,” Bree said.
“And he gave you the impression that he was a casting agent?” Ray asked trying to get the full picture. He had a pad in his lap taking notes.
“Oh wait, I got his card,” Bree crowed as she fished around in her bag pulling out stuff including her water bottle.
“Bree, he didn’t touch your water, did he?” Melanie asked with concern.
“No. Auntie Mel, I had put it away. He didn’t get that close to me.” A collective sigh of relief was heard. “Found it!” Bree smiled as she handed the card to Gus. Gus examined it closely then handed it to his mother.
“Mr. Maxwell, talent agent and scout,” Melanie read. “Not very original,” she mumbled.
“Google him,” Ray suddenly said. “See if there’s a picture. Gus, check social media sites. I want to check something,” Ray said as Mel worked her laptop and Gus his phone. Ray took his wallet out.
“I’m not getting anything,” Mel began. “Either he’s very new on the scene or a phony.”
“Yes! I knew there was a reason to keep this,” Ray stated with a self satisfied grin.
“What is that?” Mel asked. Before Ray could hand the business card over, Gus snatched it out of his hand.
“You kept it!?”
“For just this reason. A snake like that doesn’t completely vanish. He might hibernate somewhere and then spring out again when he thinks he can make a quick buck. Turn it over,” Ray said to Gus. Gus turned the card over. “Don’t know if that number is still good but at least we have a sample of his handwriting.”
“You guys want to fill me in?” Mel asked with annoyance. Gus quickly googled again and got dozens of pictures in return.
“Bree, is this him?” Gus asked as he handed her his phone.
“Yes, but he looks older and skinnier. I think he had a fake tan. He kind of looked like Uncle Michael when he was sick,” Bree said after thinking about it.
“Boys, who are we talking about?” Mel demanded to know.
“Max Jacobs,” Ray and Gus said.
“Shit. We have to tell your father,” Melanie said.
“No, Auntie Mel, he’ll want me to come home. I really want to see if the Dunhill ad works,” Bree begged.
“Momma, can we report this to the cops?”
“And say what, some creep flattered a little girl in the park then let her walk away?”
“I’m not a little girl,” Bree retorted.
“You’re young enough,” Mel spat back.
“Wait, wait!” Gus called out, trying to get everyone to be quiet. He closed his eyes while pinching the bridge of his nose. “Momma did you join the local business society or some lawyer club?” he asked after a while.
“Lawyer club?” both Mel and Ray asked. Ray shook his head.
“You know what I mean. You’ve been here for months; you’ve made local contacts. Anyone in the police department or the DA’s office?”
“This isn’t Law and Order,” Mel snarked. “And they’re called Crown Attorneys up here. I may have met a few. Why?”
“I don’t know but I’ve got the “uh oh” feeling and it’s scaring me,” Gus said as he pulled Bree over to him and into his arms again.
Mel looked at the siblings hanging on to each other for dear life then at Ray. Ray nodded. He trusted Gus’ instincts. Melanie picked up her phone, scrolled through her contacts then pressed the button.
Brian walked back along the street toward the diner. He thought it might make him feel a little better if he ate at a familiar spot instead of a fancy restaurant … or the hotel coffee shop … or room service. Brian let out an involuntary sigh. Living in a fancy hotel wasn’t all it was cracked up to be … especially when you were alone.
“Hey, dude, you looking for some company?” a voice called out.
Brian’s head swiveled around as he turned in the direction of the voice. He saw a young man probably no more than sixteen or seventeen leaning seductively against a wall, his hips thrust out in a provocative manner. Brian had never seen this kid before. Everyone in the neighborhood knew that Brian was off limits. The legendary couple of Brian and Justin was not to be messed with. This guy must be new to the territory.
“You talkin’ to me?” Brian asked in his best imitation of … someone.
“I don’t see anyone else around,” the smart aleck kid replied.
“What did you have in mind?” Brian asked wanting to establish what this young man was all about.
“There’s a nice dark alley over there that we can use for some privacy,” the guy stated.
“How long have you been at this?” Brian asked.
“So not very long.”
“Like I said, long enough. You interested or not?”
“Not,” Brian said starting to walk away.
“You won’t find anyone better,” the kid called after him.
“I already have someone better.”
“That’s a winning comeback,” Brian retorted as he kept on walking.
“Hey, look mister,” the kid said as he started to trail behind Brian. “I’m real good at what I do. I can show you. You won’t regret it.”
“Oh, undoubtedly I would,” Brian said shaking his head.
“Look, just a quickie, for ten bucks,” the kid said almost begging.
“Never beg,” Brian said. He stopped walking and turned towards the boy. “It makes you look pathetic.”
“I … I’m hungry. I just want a few bucks for some food. Come on, man.”
Brian took a few steps toward the boy. “Take this. Get a meal and a room somewhere,” Brian said handing him a fifty dollar bill.
“Hey, thanks. I’ll be happy to do whatever you want me to do for that amount.” The kid quickly pocketed the money.
“The only thing you have to do is what I just told you, and after that if you want some help, go see Hunter at the youth centre across the way.” Brian nodded toward Hunter’s building.
“I don’t need help,” the kid declared.
“If you don’t need it now, you will soon enough. Hunter’s a good guy and he can help you.”
“I’m fine on my own, and if you don’t want to make use of my services, I’ll go get something to eat.”
“You do that.”
Brian turned and started to walk away. Then he stopped and turned back. “What’s your name?”
“What difference does that make?”
“No difference. I just thought I could tell Hunter to be on the lookout for you.”
“No thanks, I’m fine on my own.”
Brian shook his head again. “Suit yourself.” Brian walked away without looking back. He felt bad that the kid wouldn’t take any of his advice, but Brian couldn’t make him do anything, so he would have to find out about life on the streets the hard way.
A couple of minutes later Brian was at the diner. He slid into a booth where Lacy poured him a glass of water and asked what he would like to eat. All of a sudden Brian had no appetite. Maybe it was being alone or maybe it was his encounter with the street kid.
“I’ll have a coffee for now,” Brian said.
Lacy quickly placed a coffee in front of him. “Anything else?”
“I’ll let you know.” Brian took a sip of the coffee. He pulled out his phone hoping that there might be a call from Justin or Gus or Bree, but there was nothing. He frowned as he put the phone down on the table. He could call them, but he didn’t want to seem too needy. He could wait.
“Hey, Lacy, I’ll have a lemon bar to go.”
“Is that all?” Lacy asked.
“Yeah, that’s all,” Brian said as he slid out of the booth and went to the counter. He laid down a twenty as he took the bag with the lemon bar.
“Is that for Justin?” Lacy asked with a smile.
“Justin’s in England,” Brian replied.
“Oh? Not for too long, I hope.”
“Any amount of time that he’s away is too long,” Brian admitted before walking out of the diner.
Brian hailed a passing cab and rode to the Plaza where he would have to spend another lonely night without his partner. Life sucked sometimes.
In his room, Brian sat on the sofa, leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He felt restless and out of sorts. He decided that his life wasn’t much without Justin being there. He thought about the first time he had seen Justin under that streetlamp. He had been blown away by the young man, but he certainly didn’t know how Justin would end up changing his life. All those years ago.
Inevitably those thoughts brought him back to the kid who had propositioned him on the street. He hoped the kid would go talk to Hunter, but that didn’t seem likely. Brian decided he should call Hunter and give him a head’s up that this guy was working the streets. Maybe Hunter would be able to find him and get him some help. Brian decided that tomorrow would be soon enough for that. He didn’t feel like talking to anyone at the moment.
After a while he thought about calling room service and getting a turkey sandwich on whole wheat without any mayo, but that seemed like too much effort. He couldn’t be bothered. Brian reached for the TV remote and flicked it on. He quickly flipped through all the stations offered on the regular TV, not finding anything he was the least bit interested in. How could they have so many channels and nothing worth watching? He came to the pay-per-view stations and debated ordering some porn, but that wasn’t really what he wanted. What he wanted was his own little porn machine, one Justin Taylor, and he just couldn’t have him at the moment.
Brian switched off the TV. He reached for the bag from the diner which he had dropped on the coffee table. He opened the bag and pulled out the lemon bar. He carefully unwrapped the sweet confection. He sniffed it suspiciously and slowly raised it to his mouth. He took a small bite off the corner of the bar. It was overpoweringly sweet. He dropped the rest of the bar back into the bag wondering what Justin could possibly see in such a rich dessert. He had never been able to understand why people loved desserts.
Now ice cream was another matter. He could eat a small cone from the general store back home, especially when he and Bree were getting one together. That brought his thoughts to the rest of his family - Gus and Bree - in Toronto, also far away.
“Shit,” he said out loud. He needed to get a grip and stop feeling sorry for himself. He could do that if he put his mind to it. He knew he could. But how did he get his mind to cooperate? It wasn’t being very helpful at the moment.
“I could have a shower and get ready for bed,” Brian said to himself. He glanced at his phone to see that it was 8:25. When was the last time he had gone to bed at 8:25? Probably never. And when was the last time he had gone to bed alone? Other than the last couple of nights that he had spent at the Plaza, he couldn’t remember.
Brian concluded that he didn’t take well to being on his own. If he took a shower for an hour or two that would make it 10:25 which was a much more respectable time to go to bed. That’s what he would do.
And if he could get to sleep after that, how many more fucking days was he going to have to spend like this? Even one more seemed impossible to comprehend.
Return to North to the Max