“Did you make out checks for yourselves?” Tom asked as he settled onto his chair in front of the computer, noticing a pile of invoices with checks neatly clipped to each one. He gasped like a child glancing at a quarterly tax payment to the I.R.S. which was due.
Stephen handed Tom the checkbook which included two additional $75 checks awaiting his endorsement. The checks had been properly dated and the amounts covering three hours of secretarial service for both of us had been written in impeccable cursive penmanship by Stephen while Tom rested in seclusion on his bed near a fireplace at the front of the house.
The old actor looked nothing like I had remembered from the movie Arthur. In real life, Tom was more like the character he played in the Cher film Suspect. A frazzled Tom Barbour appeared in the very opening scene of Suspect. He played the part of the judge who committed suicide by shooting a gun into his mouth. I was not in the least bit star struck by the actor Tom, for I had worked for other celebrities with far more theatric prestige and besides, in Suspect, Tom didn’t have a speaking role, just a silent suicidal act.
Tom signed our checks with dramatic flair. He moved his pen like a skilled physician working a scalpel through gangrene flesh. The Harvard thespian handed us our checks as a waiter may hand a patron at a fancy restaurant a spare cloth napkin.
“Wow, look at that– seventy-five dollars! It’s better than a poke in the eye with a dirty stick! When will I see you again?”
“We’ll be back Tuesday evening and I’ll show Charles the tax drawer and where you keep all your receipts,” Stephen replied and went on to mumble, “I need to ask you for loan, Tom…”
Tom, pretending not to hear logged onto America Online.
YOU GOT MAIL!
“I need eight thousand. I’ll make monthly payments of $50. Jose and I have to get a car when we get to Puerto Rico.”
“Money is just pouring out of me,” Tom shouted. “Well. I don’t know if I have it. Jesus– Richie was just here yesterday needing a new furnace for the house that I bought for him. I must be running low on cash. I must! I don’t know, oh dear. When will you need it? Aren’t you leaving next Saturday?”
“Your balance at Chase is $33,000 Tom. Your quarterly check from the Bank of New York should arrive next week.”
“Oh– I see. Well. What can I say? Write yourself a check,” Tom insisted and then suddenly broke into a loud weeping whine. A gush of tears flowed down his powder white cheeks in a somewhat staged fashion.
“I hope you don’t need a loan too,” Tom mumbled to me while blowing his nose. “I’m sorry you have to witness me like this. You see, Stephen has been my personal secretary for fifteen years now. He’s like a son. I don’t want him to leave me.” Tom stared at me without blinking while saying those words. His blue eyes glowed like antifreeze under thick, white caterpillar shaped eyebrows that were cocked in a slant. His hands trembled when Stephen handed him a third check to be signed.
“Jose and I may return to New York, Tom. This is not the end. It’s just a change of scene for a while– a little break from the rat race. Remember, we’re subletting the apartment for eight months. I found a tenant interested in my place. He’s a dentist, Tom, and besides, he’s gay and I know how you feel about who lives above you. He’s very attractive. I’d like for you to meet him before I sign a lease.”
“This is true,” Tom explained to me as his tears dried and his sinister side returned. “I never let a female live under the roof of 60 Perry. I’m superstitious I guess. They are like black cats. You should meet my sister Alison Fox. No thank you! I shouldn’t say that. I let the mail lady in every day. How callus of me to say such a thing. Oh, I forgot about Floyd. He’s not gay. Can’t you tell? This is Greenwhich Village and this is my house and I prefer the company of gay men– that’s the way the Village once was, you know– gay men under every roof. Not so much like that now, but it is here.”
“Thank you so much. We’ll see you Tuesday at six,” Stephen said, grabbing his second check.
“Would you please do me a small favor before you go? Would you mind fixing my nightly martini? I’m a little too tired to head up those stairs to fix it myself. I never trust Floyd with anything I put in my mouth.”
“I heard that,” Floyd shouted from his room. “He won’t let me do anything for him– afraid I may have to bill him for another hour…”
“Who pulled your chain?” Tom asked. “I should have never hired you when you were eighteen! You’re already my slave for the rest of your life. I stopped keeping track of the time you owe me in labor.”
“Tom has one martini a night,” Stephen explained to me. “Sure Tom– Dry as usual?”
“Yes, thank you, dear. Oh no, what will I do with Stephen gone?”