This is the fourth of five chapters of a new Absolute Convergence sequel.
While this story is being added to the existing Absolute Convergence file, it constitutes an independent, self-contained narrative. I've given this sequel the subtitle Alvarado Court for reasons which will become obvious as the story unfolds. While it will be helpful for readers to know the original Absolute Convergence series, in which all the principal characters were introduced, this story should stand alone.
Absolute Convergence made its first appearance in January, 2002, as a series which eventually ran to a total of eighty chapters, the last of which was posted in January, 2004. I never anticipated the series continuing for so long and I am still amazed by the incredible loyalty of readers who stayed with me from the beginning.
I also appreciate those newer readers who have contacted me from time to time to say that they've discovered this series and ventured through the collected chapters.
I'm always glad to receive comments, questions, criticism and encouragement and hope to continue hearing from you. I try to answer all messages promptly. If I'm slow at times it's only because of the pressures of work.
Andrew continues to give me much needed proofing and editorial help for which I am sincerely grateful.
The author holds exclusive copyright (© 2004) to this story. It may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archive under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.
All the stories I've posted on NIFTY can be found by looking under my name in the NIFTY Prolific Authors lists. If you'd like to receive e-mail notification of subsequent postings, previews of upcoming stories, and other bits and pieces, please let me know by sending your request to the e-mail address below.
I did very little obvious work the
rest of that day. At least, it wouldn't have seemed like work to anyone
watching me, but sometimes the mental battles associated with the creative
process are the hardest work of all.
After Sam and Nat left us, William settled into his usual routine, spreading endless financial summaries over the table, then over the bed and finally, over a good part of the floor of our bedroom. I knew from watching him do this many times before that there was some secret order in his apparent madness but to watch him it seemed like chaos.
I often retreated to the little balcony
off our bedroom to read or make notes. That day, Tuesday, however, I took
a small notebook and headed off alone for the boathouse, telling William
that I'd be back in time for lunch at 1:00.
Sitting on the cool dock, looking out over the deep blue waters of Lake Tahoe, I thought through everything I knew about William Desmond Taylor and his murder in 1922. I tried to see things as Sam had seen them, not as an orderly police investigation surrounded by a media circus but as a single, swirling chain of events in which police officials and studio executives and a bevy of reporters stampeded Taylor's bungalow and the grounds around it. Sam has suggested that it had not been chance disorder at all, but a deliberate and even orchestrated attempt to muddy the waters, confuse or even destroy evidence.
I tried to think how I could organize a story, a novel, around those events and use it as a starting point for a description of gay life in Hollywood in the early 1920s. The longer I considered the complex issues, the more discouraged I became. I had no expectations of solving the mystery of Taylor's death. Many people had tried, a dozen or more with training in criminology.
The more I thought about the case, the less I was interested in solving it. I began to see it as a springboard for a rather different story, one sat in the present, not in the past, and dealing with the issues which surrounded it, not the actual facts, known and unknown.
I've always considered myself an optimistic and cheerful person, never subject to overwhelming pessimism or discouragement, never plagued by depression, yet by midmorning I was almost overcome by a deep sense of melancholy, even dread.
It wasn't that I had some reaction to the misfortune of Taylor's murder over sixty years before. It was far too late to mourn his death.
What struck me, as I considered the
conclusions Sam had reached, and slowly made them my own, was that a group
of powerful people, probably powerful men, had conspired to cover up a
murder, to conceal the truth, in order to protect their own secrets.
As I thought more about the known facts of the Taylor case, it seemed very likely that the primary secret they were so desperate to hide had to do with the homosexual activities of those same powerful men.
Was the social climate in 1922 such that public exposure as a gay man or woman was something that demanded avoidance, even at the cost of committing unethical, even illegal actions?
That thought was in itself disturbing,
but what struck me as an even more overwhelming truth was that public acceptance
of gay and lesbian people hadn't really changed that much in the intervening
In a period of over sixty years, little, it seemed, if any progress had been made. If Taylor's murder, or one similar to it, had occurred in 1984, would the same thing have happened? It seemed likely to me that it would, that the entire thing would have been swept under the carpet, rather than endanger the images and careers or famous and powerful people. The recognition of that fact made me almost physically ill.
But by then, the summer of 1985, a great deal had changed, if not in public perceptions, at least in the personal lives of gay men and women. Tragically, much of that change had been negative. Hundreds, probably thousands, of people in Hollywood, throughout the United States, Canada, the UK, and western Europe, were still living in a world of secrecy and deceit. In the less developed world conditions could be even worse.
The greatest changes, of course,
had been brought on by the AIDS crisis. Lives were not only being changed,
they were being destroyed. The disease had ravaged gay communities everywhere
and had touched heterosexuals as well. It had caused the loss of some of
our finest minds; creative people, artists, musicians, teachers, professional
people from every walk of life, as well as so many young men, whose promise
would never be fulfilled.
AIDS was a tragedy for everyone, whether they recognized it or not. It had swept through cities, universities, rural areas, and we would never know the treasures we'd lost; the unwritten poem, the symphony which would never be heard, the medical discovery unmade or postponed, the list was endless.
As I sat on the boathouse dock, I sank into a dark, bottomless gloom, my usual buoyant disposition lost in the abyss of sorrow, anger and hopelessness. The breeze coming off the lake had become uncomfortably cold, reflecting my own mood.
So little had changed in my lifetime, so little had changed in the sixty years since the murder of William Desmond Taylor. There seemed to be so little chance of change, gradual or sudden.
"I don't want gradual progress," William had said the evening before, "I want to be open and out and accepted now, while we're still young enough to enjoy it."
What chance was there of change, what likelihood that William and I would live to see a day when gay men and women could be open and free to express their sexuality and their love?
I eventually looked at my watch and
realized it was nearly time for lunch. The morning had slipped by and I'd
not written a word in the notebook I'd brought along. I stumbled back to
the lodge, more miserable than I could ever remember being. The shock of
my father's death or the deaths of friends I'd seen wither around me, none
of that compared with the collective realization that we, William and I,
Sam and Nat, all the other gay and lesbian people I knew, were still regarded
as outcasts, as a marginalized segment of society.
AIDS might be killing us, but society as a whole was crushing us. I felt overwhelmed by my new insight, depressed, frightened and angry. It was an awful moment in my life, but it was a necessary moment. It was the point at which the project I had envisioned became clear in my mind. But more importantly it was the moment when I saw the fate and future of gay people everywhere as a cause which could not be ignored. It would become, to one degree or another, my life's work.
When I reached the lodge William
was sitting with Sam and Nat at the dining room table.
"We were just about to go looking for you," William said, a cheerful tone in his voice which told me he'd had a productive morning.
"Sorry," I said, taking my place
as Mary came in from the kitchen with a steaming pot of soup.
"It seems cool today," she said, her own voice chipper and friendly. "A good day to start lunch with a hot chowder and fresh baked bread."
I was silent through lunch, only entering into the conversation when drawn into it. I had so much I wanted to say, but felt the time was wrong.
Back in our room, William said what I knew he must have been thinking during the meal. "You seem in a funk."
"Yes," I admitted as we got out of our clothes and settled on the bed. It was a luxury we enjoyed most afternoons at Tahoe but seldom had when at home in LA, caught up in our usual hectic schedule. That day, especially, I needed the comfort of William's embrace.
The room was cool and the French windows to the little deck were open, allowing a soft breeze from the lake to waft across our naked bodies. We made love slowly, lovingly, caring for each other, aware of our different needs. William's, I knew were mostly sexual. That was okay. I loved him so deeply and would be happy to assuage his lust, even if that was all it was, but I knew it was much more. He loved me in return, sensing my hurt, but not yet understanding it.
Later, resting in each other's arms,
I told him of my thoughts that morning and the realizations they'd brought.
"I've had the same feelings, Robert," he said, rolling over onto his side and gently kissing my ear. "They never came together in my mind so completely, but I've felt the same frustrations."
"I want this book I'm planning to be more than a simple narrative, Will. I want it to address issues, really deal with the deeply rooted problems."
"The most basic problem, I think, is lack of understanding," William said. "Before the heterosexual community can accept, they must understand."
"That's a tall order."
"I know, but I trust your abilities, lover," he whispered. "It's a book that has been needed for a very long time and I know you can write it."
That evening over dinner I told Sam
and Nat about my thoughts. As we continued our conversation they made several
excellent suggestions dealing with the police investigation of Taylor's
murder, small points which seemed to confirm the intentional muddying of
the case. Individually the points they raised were insignificant but collectively
they pointed strongly to intent.
"Properly trained policemen just don't make that many mistakes, even considering the standards of the nineteen-twenties," Sam said.
"Unless they were intentionally messing things up," Nat added.
As we went on talking about the issues
I'd considered that morning on the boathouse dock, discussing the fears
and the discrimination and the impact of the AIDS crisis, Mrs. Abernathy
stood by listening in silence. Finally she spoke. "I think Miriam should
hear this. She might be able to make some valuable comments."
"Cook?" I asked.
"Yes, Cook. Her name is Miriam Tobias, you know."
In all the years William and I had been coming to the lodge at Lake Tahoe, I'd never heard her full name.
"My father died at Belsen," Miriam began. William and I, along with Sam and Nat, sat in the living room of the old lodge having coffee. We'd been joined by Lois Abernathy, who ran the lodge, and Miriam Tobias, whom we'd known for many years as Cook.
"I had no idea," I said, shocked at how little I knew about the woman.
"I have no memories of all that.
I was just a baby when I arrived in the States with my mother and brother
"Your mother and brother survived the camps?" William asked
"They were never in the camps. My father managed to hide our family with a farm family he knew near Tubigen. He was caught in the very last months of the war when he went into the village to sell a few of my parents' remaining possessions. He died of typhus in the epidemic that swept the camp just before the war ended."
"Is that where you were born?" William asked.
"No, I was born in a displaced persons' camp a few months after the war had ended. My father never knew mother was pregnant."
"And you and your mother and brother
were able to come to the United States," I said.
"Yes, we settled first in Chicago, then in 1953, came on to California. My brother and his family emigrated to Israel in 1966 and are still living there in one of the new towns in the Galilee."
"How on earth did you ever find your way to Tahoe," I asked. It seemed like such an unlikely place for a woman like Miriam Tobias to settle.
"It was Dexter Cohen who arranged this job for me," Miriam went on. "My mother worked for him for many years and he did a great deal to help our family."
"Miriam was married, you know," Lois
added. "She has a grown son and grandchildren in Los Angeles.
"And you, Lois," Miriam said, "you have grandchildren as well."
"Yes," Lois Abernathy agreed with a smile. "We'd both had other lives before coming here."
I quickly calculated their probable
age and determined that Miriam, at least, must have had a child, or children,
at a very early age to already have grandchildren. I wondered if Lois was,
in fact, a little older than Miriam.
"You came here together?" William asked.
"No," Lois said, "I've lived my whole life near here and was hired as housekeeper by Mr. Cohen just a month or so before Miriam arrived to be his cook." As she spoke, Lois reached out to take the other woman's hand. "It was one of the great wonders of my life, finding Miriam."
Both women smiled and we were all silent for a moment, absorbing the confidence they had shared.
"How long have the two of you been
together?" William asked.
"We've both been here at Mr. Cohen's lodge for fifteen years, since 1969, but we've only been a couple for ten years," Lois said.
"Yes," Miriam smiled. "We were both slow admitting to ourselves and each other how we really felt. It was an odd experience for both of us, realizing that we were in love with another woman."
"William and I have been together
thirteen years now, but we figured it out quicker than you did," I chuckled.
"I guess loving another man wasn't such a new concept to either of us."
"Yes, we'd remembered this week was a sort of anniversary celebration for you," Miriam said. "We have a sort of special supper planned for you for Friday night."
"You two were so adorable, that first time you were here. Miriam and I said to each other that you were in love. You were such children then, we thought."
"We were twenty-two," I smiled, "not all that young."
"And now you are both thirty-five?"
"Yes," William and I said together.
"Still kids," Nat said with a grin. "I guess I can say that Lois and Miriam and Sam and I are all now past forty."
"Well," Miriam laughed, "I'm just forty."
"And I'm the old lady of the bunch," Lois admitted with a simile. "I'll be forty-six in a few weeks."
"You're both young to be grandmothers,"
"Perhaps, but I'm certainly glad we both married and had our children at a young age. That way by the time Miriam and I met, we were both free."
"Did you raise your kids here at the lodge?" I asked. Thinking back, I couldn't remember ever seeing children here during our early visits.
"Yes, but we both lived in staff
cottages then. You'd not have seen them," Lois said. "Now we share a bedroom
and sitting room upstairs in the north wing of the lodge." She paused,
and then went on, "but the reason I wanted you to talk with Miriam was
so she could tell you something that her brother wrote to her from Israel
recently." She paused, looking over at the other woman. "Did you bring
"Yes," Miriam said, reaching into the pocket of her full skirt and extracting a few sheets of folded paper. "It is mostly family news so I'll only read this one part. 'I have considered many times the suggestion so many have made, that the Holocaust was the price G_d demanded for the founding of our Jewish Homeland. I do not believe G_d works in such ways. I do believe, though, that within the human community the horrors of Nazi Germany had a great influence on world opinion and led many people who had previously opposed the formation of a Jewish state to change their minds and support it.'"
Miriam had spelled out "G_d," enunciating only the consonants, rather than actually say the sacred name, as is the habit with religious Jews.
We were silent for several moments
considering the passage Miriam had read. The thought was not new to me.
I'd heard others suggest the same thing but, for a moment, the reason these
two women thought it was relevant to the conversation we'd been having
escaped me. Then, of course, I understood.
"Are you suggesting that the AIDS crisis could play a similar role toward the acceptance of gay and lesbian people?"
"Yes," Miriam said. "I do not believe G_d sent AIDS to punish gay people, but I do suspect that out of every disaster some good may come."
"Because the heterosexual community
would have some new sympathy for us?"
"Perhaps, in some small way, but what is more important, I believe, is that when any group suffers such loss, it can rebound with a greater sense of identity and purpose. I believe it is time for gay and lesbian people to come together. We may have differences, great diversity, but we also has so much in common. I believe it is time for us to become a true community, not a local community, but one that spans every corner of the world.
The woman spoke with such clarity and with such simple eloquence that I was silenced by what she'd said. There, in a few words, was the vision I'd searched for.
I turned to William who, like the rest of us, sat silent.
"Miriam is right, Robert," he finally said. "It is time. Maybe it has taken AIDS to show us that simple fact."
After another pause, Sam said, "I was in college when the Stonewall riots occurred. I somehow thought it would bring gay people together, but perhaps it was too localized."
"Well, AIDS sure as hell isn't localized," Nat snarled. "Miriam is right, gentlemen. It's time, way past time. We need to come together, form organizations, get small local groups connected to other small local groups . . ."
Nat paused to catch his breath and Sam took up the cry. "Something needs to be done to bring gay people together, to make them realize that the straight world will never give us understanding and support until we reach out and take it for ourselves."
"You are all certainly right." William said. "There isn't a single gay person who hasn't been touched by the AIDS epidemic. We've all lost lovers or friends or business associates. Even the few who have not been directly touched have lived in fear of the disease, waking in the dark of night, wondering if we'd been exposed, wondering if we were the next to contract that awful scourge.
Yes, we all agreed, it was time!
To be continued.