Authors: V. J. Banis
Tags: #gay, #camp, #parody, #man from U.N.C.L.E., #humor
“It looks authentic, all right,” he admitted, still studying the note. “I'd stake my reputation on it.”
Jackie had risen to look over his shoulder at the note. “So would I,” he said. Mathews gave him a frosty look. “If I had one, I mean,” Jackie amended
Mathews ignored that remark, folding the note and placing it carefully inside his billfold. “If you don't mind, I'll take care of it from here in,” he said to Aunt Lily. His manner toward her had become less skeptical, since he had seen the note.
“But what does it say?” she asked. “Heavens, I think we're entitled to know that.”
“I wish I knew,” he said with a shake of his head. “Unfortunately, it's a code I haven't seen yet. But don't worry, our boys will break it in no time flat.”
He rose to go, the others standing also. As they did so, Mathews became aware again of the “Moonlight Sonata.” It first movement was just ending, but he was certain that the same movement had already ended earlier. What's more, he had originally thought it was the batty one, Nasturtia, who had been playing, but she was with them now. “Who's playing?” he asked politely.
“That's Honey,” Aunt Nasturtia answered proudly.
“Entertaining a boy friend,” Mari added, in a none too pleasant voice.
“Now, dear,” Lily scolded her mildly. “Don't be envious. There's nothing to prevent you from meeting your own men-friends, and bringing them home.”
“I wouldn't dare,” Mari said, rolling her eyes. “I did once, and between Honey and Aunt Nasturtia, the poor thing was worn out before I could even get to him myself.”
Mathews paled slightly at the prospect of still another nymphomaniac in the house. It was beginning to seem to him that he might not be at all safe hereâthese women were too hungry for male flesh, and they were not the sort to whom he customarily offered his male flesh.
“Why is Honey playing the first movement over and over?” he asked, however, curious about that fact, for the first movement had indeed begun for the third time.
“The dear thing only knows the first movement,” Lily explained. “But wait, Honey will want to meet you.”
Before Mathews could protest. Lily had floated away in search of the pianist. The music stopped a moment later. Mathews shifted his weight nervously from one foot to the other, and waited, prepared to bolt for the front door if necessary.
It was not, as he expected, a woman who returned with Aunt Lily, but a manâor an approximation of one, he corrected himself. In comparison to this one, Holmes was as masculine as a Marine commando.
“Hi, I'm Honey,” the young man greeted him with an overly warm smile. His eyes went up and down Craig's body, and Craig felt a warning draft as his clothes were metaphorically stripped from him.
“Isn't that rather an odd name?” Mathews asked faintly.
Honey nodded his head. “It's short for Honeysuckle,” he explained. “We all have floral names, if you hadn't noticed.”
“Why not Pansy?” Craig could not resist asking. “That's a flower too.”
Far from being annoyed, Honey only chuckled. Watching him, Jackie was not so perturbed as Mathews. In fact, he was far from it. It was true, Honey was effeminate, the type often described as languid.
He had grown, however, since Jackie had last seen him, into a terribly pretty queenâthin, but with a graceful elegance about his appearance and movements. His trousers were rather loose fitting, but even so Jackie had seen a nicely formed, if small, fanny, and now that Honey was facing him, he could scarcely ignore the outline in the trousers that, unless his eyes were playing tricks on him, extended nearly halfway to the kneesâand Honey had very long legs! Nelly or not, Honey had quite a lot to offerâand Jackie found himself looking forward to the offer.
That, however, would have to be later. He forced his eyes from Honey's leg, meeting Honey's understanding smile with a wink. Business first, before Honey's business.
“I'll tag along with you,” he said to Mathews. “I'm curious about that note myself.”
“It isn't necessary,” Mathews told him. He was beginning to feel dazed by the strange people who inhabited this house, and had no desire to keep company with any of them longer than necessary.
“I'd like to, though,” Jackie insisted. “After all, I flew all the way here from the West Coast just to see if that was authentic. I'm entitled to be a little curious now.”
Mathews yielded, more interested in reaching the safety outside than in arguing. “Well, all right,” he agreed, heading for the door. “But we'd better get with it.”
Jackie followed him, pausing at the door to look back at the others. “I'll be back later,” he promised. “That is, if you can find room for me. I could always sleep on a sofa.”
“Or you could double up with Honey,” Nasturtia said.
Honey grinned. “Sounds fine,” he said, his voice a purr. “Those sofas are beastly anyway.”
Mathews' “taxi” was still waiting outside, the driver looking as patient and fresh as though he had been there only a minute or two. “My place,” Craig instructed him as they
climbed in. Jackie followed him inside and sat back in silence.
“I gather the family was quite a surprise to you,” Jackie said finally.
Now that he was safely away from them, Craig could afford to grin slightly. “I'll have to admit, they are different,” he said in a voice that might have been genuinely amused, or sarcastic, for all Jackie could tell. Mathews' mask was an all-time thing, and thus far just about impenetrable.
“Speaking of families, reminds me,” Jackie said, deciding to try another approach. “How did a no-mystery-about-it Irishman like you ever get a name like Mathews? Wouldn't O'Malley have been more appropriate?”
For the first time the mask seemed really to slip, and when he spoke, Mathews might have been talking to a friend instead of a casual business acquaintance whom he was keeping at arm's length.
“Would ye laugh?” he asked in a brogue so thick it could have been cut with a knife. “If I tell you it should have been O'Malley?”
“I won't laugh at all,” Jackie answered with sincerity. “But I'll admit you've got me curious.”
“It's not that much of a story,” Craig said, in his normal voice. “My mother was first generation, and still pure Irish. She'd have no part of any young man who wasn't from the Isles, although there was one who was daft about herâMathews, his name was.”
“I'd guess he finally changed her mind,” Jackie said with a smile.
“He did thatâbut not until after I had come on the sceneâoh, not fully, mind. I wasn't yet a baby boy, but I was more than a twinkle in my father's eye. He was a fine handsome devil, so my mother told me when she finally confessed the story. He wooed her and won her, but he wouldn't wed.”
“An age old story,” Jackie said.
“Yes. So, her father, of course, was all for taking a horsewhip to him and making him marry, but you know the pride of the Irish, and once he'd laughed at her, me mother wouldn't have him. So while I was making my presence felt, and seen, she remained a single girl, and Mr. Mathews continued to court her. Finally she told him about me, and about her folly, and he just laughed and said he'd known about that since the morning after, and it made not an ort of difference. So they were married a month before I joined the family, and instead of the Timothy O'Malley I was to have been, I was Craig Mathews.”
He paused and sat quietly for a moment, and Jackie thought he was perhaps embarrassed to have talked so much, to someone he hardly knew, and little liked.
“So now you know,” Craig said at length, “that you're with the worst sort of companion a man could ask forâan illegitimate Irish Catholic, from Boston.”
Jackie's first impulse was to laugh, but he realized in the nick of time that he was being dared to laughâCraig was quite serious, summing up any complaints and asking to be reassured.
“As a matter of fact, I'd be hard pressed to think of a better companion,” Jackie said instead. “It's not every day I get to ride around with a heavenly youth from the Emerald Isles, full of stuff and blarney.”
Even the driver had to laugh at that, and Craig joined in, although he blushed also as he remembered that the young man with him was an admitted and obviously active homosexual.
They arrived then at their destination, what at first glance appeared to be merely a cleaning plant. As Jackie followed Craig inside, he realized that was only a front. Inside, behind a curtained dressing room, another door let them into a small but efficient-looking office.
“I just want to copy this,” Craig explained, removing the note. “I'll send it to headquarters for decoding, with our driver. But I want to make a copy for us, in case anything should happen to him.”
“Make two copies,” Jackie suggested. “In case anything happens to you.”
Craig shot him a quick glance, but he did not argue, and when he returned from the adjoining room a moment later, he had two copies, one of which he handed to Jackie, the other he locked in a drawer.
“I'll be right back,” he said as he went back to the front of the shop. “I want to give Fred the original and send him on his way.”
He was back again in a minute. “Now we wait,” he announced. “How about some coffee?”
“No thanks,” Jackie answered, seating himself on a small, Naugahyde-covered divan and loosening his necktie. He rarely needed stimulants of any sort; he was trained to be always alert and ready at any time.
“Sorry I can't offer anything to help pass the time,” Craig said, sitting at the desk.
“I could make suggestions,” Jackie said with a meaningful smile. “But I doubt you'd appreciate them, let alone go along with them.”
“You're right,” Craig agreed quickly, keeping his face expressionless.
Very frustrating, Jackie decided with a frown. He wondered if that one even showed any feeling when he was reaching a magnificent explosion. Of course, he'd like nothing better than an opportunity to answer that question through firsthand experience. But thus far he wasn't making much progress toward creating that opportunity.
Oh well, there was always Honey back at the house. He was grateful for the fact that he was versatile. He had always made it a policy to be what the other one wasn't. He found that he enjoyed many more opportunities that way.
“Of course,” he said aloud, changing the subject. “We could just go to this poodle parlor and see what we can find.”
“It would be closed by this time of night,” Mathews reminded him. “And we can hardly break in without some more conclusive evidence. And we won't have
that until we know what the note says.”
So they waited. And an hour and a half later, they were still waiting. By the time the phone on Craig's desk rang, the agent was so nervous that he nearly hit the ceiling. Jackie, too, was impatient, although he was less nervous. He had been trained to remain calm in any situation, in order to function more efficiently.
Mathews could not hide his disappointment, however, as he listened to the speaker on the other end of the line, speaking only an occasional monosyllable himself. His face was grim as he finally hung up the phone and turned to Jackie.
“We're out of luck. The boys haven't been able to break that code yet. They think it might be unbreakable.”
“Would you object if I took this along with me?” Jackie asked, indicating his copy of the note.
“What for?” Mathews asked.
“C.A.M.P., the organization I work for, has as fine a staff of code experts as exists anywhere in the world. I won't believe this thing is really unbreakable until they have had a crack at it.”
Mathews was rather disdainful. “If our boys couldn't do anything with it, I hardly think it likely that your amateurs would do better.”
“It can't hurt anything to let them try.” Jackie pointed out. “We're not doing anything but sitting here wasting time anyway.”
Mathews shrugged carelessly. “I suppose you're right there. But where do we find your people without going all the way to Los Angeles?”
“Oh, Los Angeles is only a local office, just as the one here in Washington is. Each of them operates more or less independently, but always under the assistance of High Camp, or headquarters.”
“And where is...your headquarters?”
“Even I don't know that,” Jackie admitted. “It could be anywhere on this earth, or maybe even off of it.”
“Doesn't that make your work a little more difficult?” Craig asked.
“Not really. We're in constant communicationânot directly, but through the local offices. And think of it this way, isn't it a lot safer if no one knows where to find you? Look how many risks would be eliminated if no one knew where our government was located, or our atomic defenses.”
“I guess you're right,” Mathews admitted begrudgingly; it annoyed him for some peculiar reason to think that this fairy might be able to say something intelligent. Everyone knew gay fellows were giddy and silly, and incapable of thinking deeply.
“Then I can take this message to C.A.M.P., and let the local office have a look at it?”
“All right, but on one condition,” Craig agreed. “I'll go along, just to be sure there isn't anything out of the way.”
“Fine,” Jackie said, with a sly grin. “But you may find things a bit unorthodox.”
“That I don't doubt,” Mathews said, remembering Jackie's peculiar relativesâand Jackie himself was unique, so far as that went.
They left the office and Mathews led the way to a parking lot in the rear, where a Volkswagon was parked. “Since our chauffeur never came back, we'll have to go on our own steam,” he said, climbing behind the wheel. “Where to?”
“Lafayette Park,” Jackie instructed him.
Mathews gave him a funny glance. The park, although it was directly across the street from the nation's most famous residence, the White House, was also notorious as a pick-up spot for homosexuals. With the traffic inside and outside the park, it was a pretty unlikely place to conduct any sort of business, particularly that of an agent.
“You're sure,” he asked aloud.
“Much surer than I am about you,” Jackie said.
Mathews frowned and started off in the direction of the park. He had been warned that this would be unorthodox, and it had been his idea to come alongâalthough he was beginning to regret that idea a little.
The park, as Craig had suspected, was a busy place. Young men in conspicuously tight jeans ambled up and down the walks, eyeing one another for a glimmer of interest; Mathews felt as though he were a lamb tossed into a den of hungry lions, although it was obvious that his companion was enjoying himself.
“Stop glowering and look flirtatious,” Jackie whispered as they walked. “You're supposed to look like you belong here.”
“I can't do that,” Craig argued.
“Fake itâpretend one of them is Ava Gardner, and another one Lana Turner.”
Craig did as suggested, with a slight improvement, but his heart wasn't really in the act. He was just plain uncomfortable, and out of place. He had no idea why they were here, or what was coming next.
The area of the park in which they were now was dark and secluded, and for a brief moment there was no one else around. With a movement so quick that
Craig scarcely realized what was happening, Jackie had left the path and ducked behind a tree, waving for Craig to follow him.
By the time Craig was there, Jackie had already tripped a switch concealed somewhere on the tree, that caused a trap door to open suddenly in the ground. So cleverly was it placed that, from even a few inches away, the opening was hidden by the bushes and the tree.
“Come on,” Jackie urged as Mathews stared in amazement. Mathews recovered sufficiently to follow Jackie down the steps that the opening had revealed. As they descended, the opening closed over their heads, and they were in darkness.