This is the sixty-ninth chapter of an ongoing series. I've appreciated all the comments, questions and encouragement I've received from readers and hope to continue hearing from you. I try to answer all messages promptly. If I'm slow at times it is only because of the pressures of work.
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That evening, back in London, Roger and I had dinner with Peter Amsted, who headed Sheffield Studios, the production company we hoped to work with.
After the apprehensions I'd felt over our meeting with Bell Corley, the meeting with Amsted was easy and relaxed. He was a gracious and courteous man, not at all stuffy or pompous, but still rather formal in manner. I quickly felt at ease with him and knew he was someone I could learn to value as a mentor and a friend.
I'd read a bio on Amsted before leaving LA; Peg Solanski had a file on him which she'd passed along. >From it I knew he was forty-two but when we met him that evening he seemed younger. I tried to separate what I'd read from the impression he made and decided he looked and acted like a man five or ten years younger than his actual age.
He was shorter than me by several inches and appeared slender in his perfectly fitted dark pen stripe suite. His hair was dark, a deep chestnut brown, long by American taste, but obviously carefully cut and well within normal length by British standards.
He had piercing blue eyes and an active intelligent expression. He seemed to take a lively interest in everyone and everything around him.
From the bio file I also knew he was married to his second wife, but he wore no wedding ring. I suspected the custom of wedding rings for married men was less established in England than in America but still found it interesting, maybe significant.
From the comments Roger had made, I knew he'd met Amsted on previous occasions. As best as I could make out, they'd first met about two years earlier at a weekend house party in Kent, given by a friend of Dexter Cohen. Then a year or so later, they'd met again at a film conference at the University of Leeds.
The three of us had met at a small French restaurant on North Audley Street, just a short walk from our hotel. We'd been seated at a very private table near the rear of the elegant restaurant and the conversation seemed to be entirely personal and friendly. I wondered if we'd ever get to business issues, but unlike our meeting with Bell Corley, Roger seemed to take the lead so I just relaxed and listened to the easy banter between him and Amsted.
It became clear that they were more than just casual friends, as I'd assumed. I was soon learning things about their previous meetings which were completely new to me.
"Have you seen Clive Begley lately?" Roger asked at one point.
"Yes, just a week or so ago." Amsted looked across at me and smiled. He lifted his wine glass and took a sip. We were drinking an excellent Chardonnay which complemented the oysters we were having as a first course. "Do we want to talk about all that in front of Rob here?"
"Yes, certainly, Peter. You can speak openly."
"I wouldn't want to shock his youthful sensitivities."
"Oh, I think Rob can deal with anything we might say."
"Do I take it then," Amsted said, speaking directly to me, "that you have some degree of sexual sophistication?"
"I suppose," I said, and felt my face go hot.
"Well then," he said, and turned back to Roger. "Begley's found himself in a bit of trouble lately."
"Yes, I'd heard that much," Roger said, "but I wasn't sure what exactly he'd done."
"Oh, nothing too spectacular, just another little adventure with a boy."
"Nothing new in that," Roger responded.
"Nothing new other than that this one was not only young, thirteen or fourteen, I think, but also the youngest of Henry Street's sons."
"Um, yes, I see. That could complicate things, considering Begley and Street seem to have a history of their own."
"Could and did, complicate things, I mean."
"Will there be some public spectacle?"
"No, nothing like that. The boy - named after his father but known as Hal, has assured anyone who'd listen that nothing had gone on he didn't want to go on. He swears he's in love with Begley and I guess Bagley has been saying he's desperately in love with Hal."
"But even if the legal issues are kept under control, I suppose the newspapers are enjoying themselves."
"There have been hints of it in the papers but nothing overt. As long as Hal insists he was as much the instigator as Begley, and with his parents staying calm, at least in public, I think it will run its course. It isn't 1895, Roger, and we don't send silly gay men to Pentonville these days, at least not just for being gay."
"Decriminalizing homosexuality was a long time coming, though."
"Yes, we only got that done five years ago. Now the issue is the unequal age of consent. Technically what Clive`s been doing is still a criminal offense but nobody seems to be interested in making and example of him and I think, unlike Queensberry, Henry Street has taken a more enlightened view of the situation. He'd just as soon keep it all as private as possible."
"Well," Roger said, "I figure what you did here in 1967 won't be done in some part of the United States for another twenty or thirty years."
"Um, progress is slow in the colonies," Peter smiled
"But you think Begley's problems will all blow over in time."
"Yes, they're largely blown over already. I've never known anyone to keep Clive's interest for long in any case. He'll move on soon, if he hasn't already done, and Sweet Hal will find himself a boyfriend closer to his own age."
Reading between the lines, I was learning a lot but then the waiter brought our next course and the conversation shifted.
Roger and Peter mentioned other people they both knew and then the conversation gradually moved to Amsted's current and upcoming projects.
"I guess you read we bought the old Barlow studios."
"Yes," Roger said. "I was that. They have a lot of history."
"And quite a future. We're spending quite a nice sum on renovation and expansion. I think it will be one of the preeminent film studios in the UK before we finish."
Then, finally, Roger brought the conversation around to the reason for our visit.
"Have you read Call the Dark Waters?"
"Yes, a couple of years ago, but I just re-read it again after hearing from you. It will be an interesting project but getting the script right is a challenge."
"We met with Bell Corley this morning, actually, just to discuss that point."
"How's the old dear doing?"
"Do you know her?"
"Yes, sort of. Our paths cross from time to time."
"I wouldn't have thought you and she would travel in the same circles."
"She and an aunt of mine are old friends, actually. They were at St. Hilda's."
"Then you may know about this mystery woman she calls Brook."
"Oh, yes, it's a fairly open secret really. She was Margaret Sikes in real life, Margaret Dunworth was her married name."
"She was married?"
"Yes, to a vicar, no less. I suppose that was the real cause of the problem."
"And the Dunworth woman did kill herself?"
"Well, that's not so certain. She died in a car wreck, actually."
"So it wasn't a drowning then."
"No, I think that was Corley's little homage to Virginia Wolf."
"She wants us to change to two women's names to Marge and Bell in the film?"
"Does she now? That is interesting. I guess she's trying to come out of the closet in her dotage."
"Dotage? She isn't that old, Peter."
"I suspect Bell Corley was born an old woman. But the real point is that anyone who figured in the tale is probably dead now so there's no chance of libel."
"When would all that have taken place, then?"
"Oh at least twenty five years ago. I can ask my aunt, she know that whole group from their days at Oxford."
"So Margins husband, the clergyman, has since died as well?" Roger asked.
"Yes, rather recently, I think but I know there was some mention made at the time. I think he went off to New Zealand or some such place. Maybe it was South Africa. But in any case, he died there and I gather he never remarried.
In the discussion that followed as our meal continued, it was became clear that Amsted wanted to work in the project as much as we wanted him to do it. A friendly agreement was reached, and while no formal contract was signed, the deal was struck. Over the next few weeks the legal staff at NSB worked with the Sheffield Studios people and by the end of September everything was in place. Completing a workable draft of the script was another matter. That process took many more months.
When we left the restaurant that evening Peter walked with us back to our hotel. The soft evening light lingered and there was the feel of approaching rain in the air.
As we walked along Balder ton Street
Roger put his hand on my shoulder in an affectionate, even possessive way.
Peter noticed and when he caught my eye, he smiled.
To be continued.