Sunset in the West

by Shirozubon Saruko (城図凡然る子)

If you or someone you love is experiencing thoughts of suicide, or you fear you might harm yourself, help is available. Please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a crisis center, or contact another organization you trust. 

 

1.

now

Jim kept frowning at the phone for a minute or two after he took it away from his ear, as though it might have more answers. It didn’t, though: just sat there staring innocently with the glass rectangle that was its whole front, while the robot voice telling him the things he could do with his message droned on, tinny and distant. Finally he woke up the phone, called up the keypad, and after some hesitation, pressed the number that would save what he’d heard. But he kept looking at it for a minute or two, just in case.

It was only the sound of keys in the door that startled him out of it. He looked up just in time to see the outside door opening on Dave, in a frame of blue-lidded southern California morning. He was still stopped by the screen, but the sound of his voice broke all at once into earshot: “–a minute, just a minute, hold your horses, we’ve got all day–“

He pushed open the screen door too, and the wagging tail and furry back that had been visible between his feet was revealed to be Rosie the border collie mix, wearing her navy blue bandana and sporting a big goofy doggie grin. She came tearing into the kitchen first thing, in spite of her stiff old legs — making a beeline for Jim to sniff his sweatpants and running shoes and take a slurp at his free hand, and then scooting off again. “Would you settle, girl!” Dave called after her, even as he was turning to close the door behind him. “What’d you do, drink my coffee?”

“Guess I know who’s taking the lead today,” Jim said, grinning, although it melted away a little as he glanced back down at the phone to hang up on his voicemail. Well, no sense putting it off. “Hey, ah. Did you…”

But he trailed off — amused to find that a part of him didn’t want to finish that, even now. Even after all these years.

Dave glanced up, though, frowning, from zipping his keys into the pocket of his running pants. “Did I what?”

Too late. “Did you — get this call from Patti too? About the special, or whatever it is?”

“No, I haven’t checked the machine since I got back last night.” Made sense, Jim guessed; Dave had been out at the ranch all week, and he had never budged an inch in the face of thirty years of Carly demanding he get a cell phone like a person. By now Jim was almost beginning to believe he might outlast her, which was worth admiring. “Why, what special? What’s it about?”

Jim tried not to take a deep breath. “The show,” he said, and made an effort to be smiling when Dave looked at him quick. There was never any need to say which show. As far as the two of them were concerned, there was only one. “They want to do one on the show. Get some interviews and things. I’m sure they’re gonna be after you too, I just didn’t know if you’d heard. Probably Carly too, if they think they can get her.”

He took a long, careful look at Dave, but Dave seemed to have frozen: holding in place, his hand half-lifted, his mouth still half-twisted around the shape of some expression or thing to say. After a moment, though, he seemed to settle back into himself — his face relaxing, his hand going back to his side. “Well, I wish them luck with that,” he said, slowly. Jim thought for a second he might say something else about it, for better or worse, but Dave bent instead to ruffle up Rosie, who was now wiggling and wagging between his feet, her tour apparently done. “You ready?”

And Jim was right on the verge of saying something else… and then let it go, let the frown clear off his face. No need to push it. Maybe he’d never fully know what Dave was thinking, but it was all right. Dave could talk when he wanted to talk. “Yeah, if you are,” he said, instead of anything else on the subject. “Is it hot out there yet?”

“Ah, not too bad.” He looked down at Rosie — maybe instead of meeting Jim’s eyes — and scruffed up both her sides, while she grinned up at him with adoring expectation. “Whaddaya say, girl, you ready to run? No fool like an old fool, am I right?”

 

2.

from “What’s David Belham Really All About?” (interview)
Teen Dream Magazine, July 1973, pp. 14-15

“Well, it’s hard,” David says. He wears that dark, intense look that gives us shivers. “Television can be a real death-trap for actors. It pays the bills, but it’s every waking minute. All your own interests–your creative life–that gets put on hold. There’s no time for much else.”

What else would David be doing, if he weren’t starring in Hotchkiss & Rambacher?

“That’s what I’m still trying to figure out,” he says, and laughs. “There’s a lot that interests me. I have a lot of half-finished projects piled up. I’d like to break into film someday–not just acting, but maybe on the creative side, too. There’s a screenplay I’ve been trying to get the time to finish.”

He looks ready to go on, but we can’t stop thinking about the show. Surely it can’t be all bad! Isn’t there anything about Hotchkiss & Rambacher that David likes?

“It’s work, I guess. That’s really all you can say for it.” He thinks it over, though, leaning his chin on his hands. “Well, Jim and I work well together. He’s a swell guy, really easy to be around. He’s pretty new to the business, I guess, but he’s got a real passion, a real energy. It’s his good vibes that keep everybody going, on the set. He’ll give you everything, every day, no matter what. That’s all you can ask from somebody on a show like this.”

It is well known that David and his costar are as good friends off the screen as on. But what about his love life? He’s been seeing the lovely Rachel Hallowell, a painter and performance artist from San Francisco, for almost two years! Are they ever going to tie the knot, or is David Belham still too wild to be tied down?

“No, it’s nothing like that.” David thinks again, those deep dark eyes of his staring into space. “I don’t have anything against marriage, one of these days. But we’re comfortable the way we are. The focus is really on our work. Which I think is how it should be.”

But we can’t help ourselves–we’ve just got to ask! Does this mean there’s no truth to the rumors? David looks surprised, and a little bit worried, as he asks what ones we mean. Why, about him and former Lulu costar Carly Diamond, of course! Are there any others?

David sighs and sits back in his chair. “Of course not. No, Carly and I have been split up for years. She’s a wonderful gal and a real good friend, but we both want to leave it at that. Honestly, the things people talk about! We’re fighting an unjust war in the East and killing kids for saying so, and that’s all people care about? Who other people are seeing?”

 

3.

from “Jim Duffy: ‘I’m Not Ready To Settle Down!'”
BravO! magazine, July 1973, p. 9-12 (full-page photo p. 10)

Leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head, Jim Duffy looks like an overgrown kid: an all-American boy, you might say. With his head of blond curls, a twinkle in his blue eyes, wearing a breezy yellow Western shirt and jeans and his trademark ear-to-ear grin, he definitely looks the part. I can’t even believe my good luck to be sitting at a restaurant table with him, eating lunch on the outdoor patio of the little cafe he insisted on taking me to visit. I know a lot of women would give anything to be in my place!

“It still feels like I’m getting away with something,” he says, as I dig into my salad. “I mean, I grew up in Kansas, with these very strict parents, you know, very demanding. Very serious people, a real Protestant work ethic. So even now, I don’t talk to them much, but I’ve still got it in the back of my mind–you mean I’m getting paid for this?” He chuckles, pouring himself another glass of iced tea. “The first paycheck I got from the show, I went to cash it, and I felt like I was holding up the bank. I still feel like that sometimes.”

“So you’re not close to your family?” I ask. Jim laughs and shakes his head.

“Nah, not really. We don’t have a lot in common, these days… never really saw eye to eye to begin with. But I guess it’s the same with a lot of people. I get told it’s hard to believe, but I can be pretty hard to get along with. I’m too stubborn, I guess.”

I push a little further, after the waiter comes and brings us more drinks. “What about David Belham? I’ve always heard that the two of you get along pretty well.”

“Well, that’s true. That’s very true.” Jim thinks about that for a minute. “But being on a show like that with somebody, it’s sort of like being married. No matter how much you like the other person, you spend all your time with them, day in and day out, and you don’t really feel like you need to go out of your way to make extra time to see each other. But we get along real well, on the set. David’s a wonderful guy, and a really great actor. Really talented. Too good for TV, I’m sure he’d agree with me on that.” He laughs again. “I’ve learned more from working with him for one year than I think I would’ve in ten without him. I think we make a pretty good team.”

“Talking of being married–“

“Now, stop right there, I know where you’re going with that!” Uh-oh, now he’s really gotten going! “Not anytime soon, I can tell you that for sure. I’ve met so many good-looking gals since coming to Hollywood, I hardly even know where to look, and I’ve had a great time with some of them. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to stop!” Jim leans back in his chair again, giving me a devilish grin. Oh my–I think I’m finding out how dangerous he really is! “As far as I’m concerned, marriage is something most fellas ought to put off as long as possible. I’m just not that kind of man. Some people are, sure, but not me. I just don’t think that way.”

 

4.

March, 1972

When he’s finished, he waits for her to answer, trying to read her face from the corners of his eyes as he studies the table. It’s not much use, though; Carly has her incognito on, big broad sunglasses and a bright patterned scarf around her head. The effect makes her look a bit like some glittering, exotic bug, although of course David isn’t about to tell her so, even if it’s not a bad look on her. The restaurant is good about being discreet, but she’s gotten big enough to have reason for caution, these days. And for right now, she just seems to be looking back at him, expectantly even. The minutes that pass seem like the longest of his life.

“Oh,” she says, finally, and sips at her bloody mary. He doesn’t have a drink, though not out of respect for the hour; down at the bottom of his mind he was a little afraid if he got started, he wouldn’t stop, and he wouldn’t be able to make any goddamn sense by the time he nerved up to tell her. “All right.”

That actually manages to bring his head up, with the start of a scowl. “What do you mean, ‘all right’?”

She shrugs, prodding at her drink with its stick of celery. “Well, if you’re expecting me to fall over shocked and alarmed, I guess I’m not going to.” His scowl deepens, and after a moment she relents, reaching out to rest her hand on his. His hand dwarfs it, comically. “David, you worry so much about nothing. You always have. It’s not so bad as all that.”

“Says you,” he says, in a mumble, looking away. She squeezes his hand to bring him back.

“Says a lot of people, these days. Especially here.” At his look, she raises her eyebrows, enough that he can see even above the glasses. “Hell, half of everybody in town is a homosexual. It’s not exactly like you’re alone out here. If it weren’t for gays, Hollywood wouldn’t even run. We’d all have to pack up and go home to our family shoe-shops.”

He can’t help it, that manages to surprise a laugh out of him. That’s Carly for you. “I think you might be exaggerating a bit, but all right, for the sake of argument.” He pauses, and gives her another long look. “…You’re not mad?”

“Why would I be mad?” She’s retrieved her hand now, is rooting through her purse for a cigarette. He hates her smoking, harped on about it to her while they were dating enough to drive her crazy. Now, though, he bites his tongue, or she’ll tell him herself in no uncertain terms it’s none of his business, and be right to do it, come to that. She’s twenty-two this year, eight years younger than him; if she were a normal person, she’d just be getting out of college in a couple months from now, a rosy-cheeked coed in a cap and gown about to turn her fresh eyes on the whole world ahead of her. He asked her once if she’s ever thought about going back to school, and she laughed, a harsh twist in her mouth. No, I don’t think my agent would like that too much. Might ruin everybody’s image of old Lulu, giggling her fool head off and falling on her ass. So instead she smokes cigarettes and drinks cocktails at lunch when the agent isn’t looking, like a little girl playing dress-up in all the wrong things out of Mama’s closet. …Then again, come to that, he guesses he’s in no position to judge.

He shrugs, anyway, spreading his hands. “I’m not sure. False pretenses?” She gives him a sharp sort of look at that, he thinks, and then strikes a match, bringing the flame close.

“Then are you going to drop… oh, what’s-her-name.” She shakes out the flame, breathes out smoke. “The artist?”

An awkward question. He takes a breath. “No. I’m not.”

She raises her eyebrows again. “And you’re not worried she’s going to be mad?”

“…No.” She doesn’t answer, though, and finally he has to keep going. “She knows already. That was the arrangement from the start, that’s the difference. She’s kind of… helping me out.”

Carly purses her lips up like she’s just bitten into a lemon, but she doesn’t say anything. He knew already she doesn’t care for Rachel, which is probably part of it. At the last party they all three showed up at, he was worried for a bit that Carly was going to take a swing at her, in spite of the small fact that the top of her head comes up to maybe Rachel’s breastbone. Like the Bard said, though she be but little, she is fierce. He can’t even remember what they were arguing about now; he was pretty drunk at the time. “Well, it’s up to you. Your secret’s safe with me, though. You know that.”

“I do,” he says, and smiles. “Thank you, dear.” She gives him her own smile back, sweet and dimply as ever. It looks a good sight more honest than his own ever seem to, anymore. “…Well, anyway. What have you been up to?”

If she’s surprised by the change of subject, she doesn’t show it, just shrugs and sits back. “About the same as ever. Can’t get a single part that’s not written for an idiot.” She glances him over, toying with her cigarette. “What about you? I thought I remembered Allen telling me you were up for a new series.”

He nods, trying not to show the bitterness too much. She’s right, it’s lousy the way she’s gotten boxed in, but still he can’t help noticing some of those idiot parts of hers are on the silver screen nowadays. Carly Diamond’s star is rising, all right, with that meteoric suddenness that strikes like lightning sometimes: fast and bright and with hardly any sense. Once there might have been a little girl named Carol Drummond from Illinois, who barely even finished high school before running off west to seek her fortune, but she’s long dead now and a bona fide celebrity has taken her place. And not that it’s up to him, but he thinks that’s all right. Everybody deserves a chance to wipe their slate a time or two, and start from blank.

“Some buddy western kind of thing,” he says, and shrugs. “Couple of do-gooder U.S. marshalls who always get their man, except they also let him get away half the time because he was just stealing bread for his starving family. It’s sort of a comedy, I guess. Pretty silly.”

“A western, really? I didn’t think anybody was making TV westerns anymore.”

“Neither did I.” He shrugs, picking at his plate. “They’ve got Lyle Thornton attached, though — the guy who made Sojourner and Six Chambers, I don’t know if you’re even old enough to remember those — so I think they’re trying to make one last go of it.”

She nods, considering him. “Are you going to take it?”

“Don’t know.” He tries to sound casual about it, like it’s really any kind of choice. “I’m not too sure about the kid they’ve got to play opposite, for one thing. He’s brand new — been in a couple commercials, I think, but otherwise fresh out of the box. Good-looking, I guess, but he’s not great, that’s for sure.”

Carly’s head’s tilted down, so he can see her roll her eyes over her sunglasses. “Oh, pooh-pooh,” she says, laughing as she surfaces from her drink; “the critic has spoken. Don’t be a pain, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Don’t you ever remember what it’s like to be young?”

Seldom, David thinks, but he doesn’t say that.

 

5.

Transcript of interview excerpt from “Into The Sunset?: The Real Story of Hotchkiss & Rambacher,” That’s Entertainment! episode 7×13 (original airdate: July 18, 20–)

BELHAM: That was–

DUFFY: [laughing] Yeah, that was during the auditions. Dave was, well, they had me lined up first, and then they brought me in to read with him.

BELHAM: Yeah, to see if we clicked.

[Cut ahead. Both laughing.]

DUFFY: He couldn’t stand me. Dave was practically rolling his eyes at me. He thought I was so wet behind the ears I was dripping everywhere.

BELHAM: That is not true, that is not true at all, I just–

DUFFY: It’s true and you know it. You were thinking, “What have I got myself into?”

BELHAM: Don’t put words in my mouth. [Duffy laughs] I thought you were inexperienced. Because you were. [Still, panned over: black-and-white production image of Duffy from 1972, in costume, on horseback] It was your first series, there’s no shame in that. Everybody does it once, everybody who does this. But the fact of the matter was, is, we did click.

[Return from still.]

DUFFY: We did. I don’t think, you know, either of us really realized it at the time–

BELHAM: No, I don’t know about that.

DUFFY: But we did, we really did. It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing, how you, if you find this one person who just–there’s this chemistry, and that becomes what everything’s about. The characters, the show. It all comes out of there. [Belham nodding] And no matter how long you look, the whole rest of your career, it could be, but–you’re never going to work it out quite the same way with anybody again. That’s it. That’s your shot. That’s your moment, right there.

 

6.

now

They picked up Carly at the studio after filming shut down for the afternoon, in Dave’s pickup (Rosie having stayed home; there’d be no room in the cab, and for all his easygoing on other matters, Dave was dead set against any of the dogs riding in the flatbed). They both had their own IDs to get onto the lot by now, courtesy of Carly. She could still swing a lot of weight without a lot of effort, when she took it in mind to. Jim got out to open the door for her when she came down the curb, amid all the passing crowds of crew and extras, and she slid in to kiss Dave’s cheek, and then Jim’s when he flanked her on the other side.

“Going all right?” Dave asked, smiling as he started the engine back up. Carly harrumphed under her breath, and flipped down Jim’s mirror so she could lean across his lap and check her face.

“Oh, it’s fine… mostly I’m just standing around watching those kids trip over lines, anyway. It’s only a couple more days.”

“Don’t sound so enthusiastic,” Jim said, and grinned at her when she made a face.

“You wouldn’t be either, if you were playing Ma Kent.”

“That is very true,” he said, while Dave cracked up at the wheel. “If only ’cause mostly I’d be too confused to be much else.”

Carly rolled her eyes, although she was starting to smile now too. “I can’t imagine what they need another Superman for, anyway. Seems like they start that whole thing over from the beginning every two years or so.” She sighed, leaning back on the middle of the seat. “Well, it’s not like I’m not used to a long line of being ‘somebody’s mom,’ anyway. I’m just lucky to be working at all. …Or not to be grandmas instead, at least yet.”

“They don’t know what they’re missing,” Dave said, reaching over without looking to give her knee a squeeze. “I think you’re twice the bombshell now you ever were.”

“You’re so sweet.” She patted his thigh in return, then turned to raise her eyebrows at Jim. “Isn’t he sweet?”

“The sweetest there is,” Jim agreed, and smiled back at Dave’s smirk. “Was that a hint? Am I supposed to be taking notes?”

“Couldn’t hurt.” She glanced between the two of them. “So, anyway. What was this thing you wanted to tell me?”

She didn’t interrupt, but even so they were halfway back to the house by the time they’d finished explaining all the details, and it wasn’t a short drive even without traffic. Living outside of L.A. instead of in it was best for your health on a whole lot of levels, they were all pretty much in agreement, but it didn’t save you gas or frustration on the way.

“Well, I don’t see why not,” she said at the end, slowly, staring out at the backed-up highway ahead. “I haven’t heard anything from my agent yet, but Patti’s not juggling a boatload of prima donnas like Isaac is. I don’t have anything against it, though.” She paused for a moment, considering, and then looked at them both again. Mostly at Dave, Jim thought, because of course it would be mostly at Dave. Lingering there, the same way he had himself. “How do you feel about it?”

“We’ve been talking about that since this morning, off and on,” Dave said, without glancing over. Keeping his eyes on the road, although it was hard to say how much of that was an excuse. “We’re… thinking we might be all right with it.”

Carly kept looking at him for a long moment, then turned to glance at Jim, who shrugged. “Seems like a good chance to talk about it, honestly,” he said. “Now that nobody cares, I guess I mean. Might clear the air a little.”

Dave didn’t say anything else, just let Jim speak for him. Neither he nor Carly looked at Dave, Jim thought only by concerted effort. Finally, Carly shrugged back, and settled into her seat again.

“All right. If that’s what you think.” She even managed to keep her voice maybe seventy or eighty percent free of that “wifely skepticism” tone that always drove Jim up the wall, which he thought was pretty impressive under the circumstances. “Well, if they ask me, I guess I’ll say yes, then. Not that I’m sure they will — I was only in the one episode. But if so. …And if I’ve got time, Lord.” The smile that won out of Dave was brief… but it was something, anyway, all the same.

“Yeah, that’s a fair concern,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to put any strain on you. Being the mother of a superhero, you know, that’s got to be awfully demanding.”

“Oh, go to hell,” Carly said, and this time, it was Jim who busted up.

 

7.

from the Biography page for Carly Diamond on IMDb

Carly has been married once, to Roger Barheim. Their marriage lasted from 1975 to 1984. She has lived with professional tennis player and former actor Jim Duffy since 1995.

IMDb Mini Biography By: H. R.

Spouse

Roger Barheim (16 September 1975 – 20 December 1984) (divorced)

 

8.

Excerpt from shooting script, “The Girl With The Silver Derringer,” Hotchkiss & Rambacher episode 2×06 (original airdate: November 29th, 1973; guest-starring Carly Diamond as Betsy Sanford)

EXT. DESERT – EVENING.

Sunset. HOTCHKISS, BETSY, and RAMBACHER sit up against a boulder, exhausted. HOTCHKISS drinks from a flask, then passes it to BETSY; she drinks too, like a champ, and then passes it to RAMBACHER.

HOTCHKISS

So why’d you do it?

BETSY

Do what? Save you boys’ sorry lives?

HOTCHKISS smiles.

HOTCHKISS

Yeah, that.

CLOSE-UP on BETSY as she thinks about that, and hold for the next line.

BETSY

Well, I don’t rightly know. I guess the sensible thing would’ve been to ride off and never look back. You’re right about that.

CAMERA pulls back to reveal HOTCHKISS and RAMBACHER, exchanging a look with each other.

. . . But I just wouldn’t have felt right about it. You boys have both been such gentlemen, in spite of everything, and. . . well, I’ve just gotten too fond of you to let anything happen to you.

She takes on a falsely innocent tone. CAMERA cuts to HOTCHKISS and then to RAMBACHER as she speaks, with increasingly exasperated looks on their faces.

And I might’ve hoped that, after seeing such a moving display of moral character from a young lady who’s really only ever committed a crime out of self defense–

CAMERA on all three again, as HOTCHKISS and RAMBACHER sit back, sighing in disgust. RAMBACHER looks at HOTCHKISS.

RAMBACHER

Joe, please tell me I got this all wrong, and we ain’t about to kiss a two thousand dollar bounty goodbye?

HOTCHKISS

Partner, I only wish I could.

BETSY looks between them, delighted, then hugs an arm around them both.

BETSY

You won’t regret this, you really won’t!

HOTCHKISS

That ship has sailed.

They both look just a bit pleased with themselves though.

BETSY

Although. . . there is just one problem.

RAMBACHER

Another one? I don’t even know if I wanna ask.

BETSY

Well, if I’m not going to jail. . . I’m going to have to find some way to figure out which one of you two I like the best. I couldn’t have you fighting over me, after all. And I don’t mind telling you, it’s a real challenge.

RAMBACHER

Sounds like. But I think I know one real simple way we could solve that for you.

BETSY gets his point quick, and turns on him, indignant. HOTCHKISS just starting to laugh. FREEZE.

 

9.

December, 1973

The suits are popping up more and more often, these days: like roaches in an apartment that’s falling into neglect. Where there’s one, there’ll be a flood. The ratings are better than anyone expected, David thinks — definitely better than he expected, or even really understands — but success seems to be putting the network even more on edge than failure would’ve. Every other day of filming, it seems like, there’s some suit-and-tie type in a folding chair out on the back lot, wearing a phony smile and writing things down on a pad of paper. …And getting underfoot whenever they can, of course.

“Well, that’s really the problem, isn’t it?” today’s is saying, his smile plastered from ear to ear, paper cup of coffee dangling from his hand. They’re back on the lot today; they’ve been doing interiors, in the little square of studio that gets dressed up and shot at every angle under the sun to make it into a different Old West hotel each week. “Too much just isn’t getting talked about. These are two handsome young men with decent jobs, even if they get unlucky sometimes. People are going to want to know why they aren’t married, why they’re spending all their time just with each other.”

David’s been doing nothing but checking the lacings on his costume’s gloves for so long it’s a wonder nobody’s noticed, staring at them so hard his eyes have started to water. He can only see peripherally the no-expression on Lyle’s face, as he leans on the back of one of the crew’s folding chairs. “That’s the Western, Bill,” Lyle says, in the low, distant-thunder rumble he has for a voice. The suit asked Lyle straight off to call him Bill, but David doubts anybody but Lyle ever would’ve dared, even so. “Nobody’s going to want to know that. They know that’s how it is. In a Western nobody asks that question.”

“Well, maybe we should start,” the suit says. Smiling.

“Excuse me a minute,” David says, but only when he’s already moving: bulling blind past the chairs, the hands in his gloves knotted up tight. His voice comes over top of whatever Lyle’s about to say, but he can’t see or think anything except the little sliver of daylight out the edges of the studio door. But he knows when the suit turns in his seat, standing halfway up, and he was right all along. He shouldn’t have moved, should’ve just stayed as still as he could. Now he’s back on the little weasel’s radar.

“Oh — I’m sorry, Mr. Belham, but could I just have one word? Just one word. It’s nothing really, the producers were just going over some of the dailies, and there was one thing — “

“You’re giving my actors notes now?” Lyle says from behind David. He sounds mild and benign as ever, but David can imagine that if he turned around, he’d see something a little harder than all that in Lyle’s eyes. He doesn’t, though. He only looks over at the suit, with a tight mask of a smile fitted over his face, pulling from his temples to the corners of his mouth.

“What seems to be the problem, Mr. Leonard?” he asks — neither of them answering Lyle. The suit only looks up at him, all in earnest, weekend tan and trimmed sideburns and tie-pin set like a glittery bug in silk amber.

“Bill, please.” How long does he have to practice, to get his smile looking just like that? “There’s no problem, not at all. There was just a little concern that maybe some of the gestures and movements you make on the show… well, we’re not trying for total historical accuracy here, of course–” He laughs, doesn’t seem to notice that nobody’s joining him. “But it was suggested that some of that’s, well, it doesn’t really fit well with the time period. It was a man’s world, you know? Sure, we live in more enlightened times these days, but talking of history — “

“There’s nothing wrong with David’s god damn gestures,” Lyle says, and this time he’s not so mild and quite a bit closer. Gotten up, come up behind David’s shoulder. David doesn’t even like to imagine how his own smile looks at this point.

“I didn’t say anything was wrong–” the suit begins, already beginning another uneasy laugh, but David cuts him off there.

“I understand, Mr. Leonard.” Smiling harder, stretching at his head. “Thanks. Thanks for letting me know. Excuse me just a minute.”

‘Fresh air’ is all relative on the studio lot, but it’s still a damn sight better than all the smoke and coffee and sickly-sweet cologne he’s left behind. It’s a fight not just to sit down on the steps from the rear door down to the curb, between passing chatting extras and bustling tech crew, and drop his head between his knees. In the end, he compromises: he sits on the steps, yes, loosening the bits and pieces of costume that he can, but then just passes a hand over his face and stares out at the asphalt. Watches it blur in his eyes into just blobby patterns of grey.

Maybe some ten minutes later, the door clunks open again behind him, and heavy footsteps first stop at the top of the steps, then come slowly down them. David sits his chin on his folded hands, and doesn’t turn around, doesn’t say anything. There’s a long silence behind him, and then he can hear the crinkle of rolling-paper and tobacco, the soft wet and breath that make the last steps before the pop of a match. Then the boots come down one more step, and Lyle’s standing over him, looking out straight ahead himself when David finally musters himself to glance up.

“I sure as hell hope you weren’t about to pay that turkey any mind,” Lyle says, after another long pause. He’s got a voice made for radio, as deep as a grave. He’s done a little bit of being on the other side of the camera in his time, come to that; but he’s better known for being the man behind some half-dozen of the best small-screen westerns of the 1960s, in David’s and many other people’s opinions. Looks the part, too, with his thick grey mustache and shearling coat and jeans and cowboy boots. He’s even got a house in Texas, and a stable full of horses out in the foothills he uses to take guests out on sort-of trail rides, the sort-of kind where the houseboy follows along in a golf cart with a cooler full of champagne. David hasn’t known Lyle that long, just here and there before working on the show, but sometimes he suspects that it’s not just that Lyle likes to make westerns. Sometimes he sort of thinks Lyle wants to live westerns — that he’s got a heart full of nostalgia for a wilder time when the country was untamed and the men were still Bill Leonard’s real men, and the world was in fact theirs. A time that breathed its last gasp some eighty years ago, as much as it ever even existed outside the imaginations of men like Lyle. And David doesn’t really know what to think about that, except to suspect that if Lyle really thinks that time was better, he must not be good friends with many Black folks, or women — not to mention those marvelous gays that keep Hollywood running on time, at least not as far as Lyle knows. Rose-colored glasses are fine for those that can afford them.

“You think I’m man enough for the old West?” David asks, without looking around this time. There’s a wan bitter twist pulling on his mouth now, in spite of himself. After another beat, Lyle sits down next to him, with a sigh and a lot of settling.

“I think you’re the best goddamn actor I’ve got. Not much else enters into it.”

“That’s damning with faint praise a bit, isn’t it?” Lyle glances over at him, and then snorts. Smoke puffs slightly from his prodigious nose when he does, which makes David wince a little.

“Well, don’t get a swelled head over it, either.” He takes the cigarette from his mouth and turns it over in his fingers, eyeing it thoughtfully, then holds it out butt-first to David with a cocked eyebrow. David shakes his head, raising a demurring hand, and Lyle nods and seats it back where it’s been. “What I’m saying is, don’t you worry about guys like Bill Leonard, or the producers, or the network. You let me handle them. You and Jim need to just concentrate on getting through filming and getting the series in the can. And I’ll keep shitbirds like that fellow from distracting you as much as I can. Good deal?” That startles David into laughing, harder than he would’ve expected, and the corner of Lyle’s mouth curls up around his smoke. “Gestures. Jesus Christ.”

Well, that gets the laugh out of his mouth. Its last remnants go melting down off his face as he stares at the ground again, and as he scrubs at his forehead with his thumb. “Does everybody know?”

Lyle appears to think about that for a moment, which isn’t exactly heartening. “A lot of folks think they know a lot more than they probably do,” he allows at last, slowly. David doesn’t look at him — just staring at the ground again. “And a lot don’t. …Jim doesn’t.” And he smiles a little more at David’s unwilling laugh.

“What Jim doesn’t know would fit in Jupiter.” But he’s smiling, with a core of a lot more warmth than he would have liked to admit at the heart of it. “Just as well. If he did he’d probably deck me first thing, on principle.” Lyle laughs at that, but doesn’t agree or disagree. After a moment, David just sighs and stands up, slapping off his clumsy costume-shop chaps. “I’m gonna hit the dressing room. How soon do you need me back?”

“You got half an hour,” Lyle says, mild as milk. David can almost make his groan sound good-natured.

The dressing room’s not much relief, though. There’s a note waiting for him from one of the production assistants, Rachel called, three times, so there’s a shot of sunshine in his cloudy day. He grimaces, and paws into the top drawer of his dressing-table until he can find the flask he doesn’t quite dare keep right on his person, then holds it in his hand and gives it a long moment’s consideration before unscrewing the cap and swigging. The whiskey burns the top layer off everything, at least. Makes it take a step back and away.

And then, when he’s been there for maybe all of five minutes, there’s a knock at the door.

Before he can even get up to answer, though, Jim pops his head in, all curls and bright eyes and big goofy grin that might as well be on the face of one of Dave’s dogs. Although Dave wouldn’t like to admit it either, though, that’s a lot less bad than anyone else it might’ve been. “Dave, you got a minute?”

“Yeah, I’m not busy.” He gets up, and Jim comes in, shutting the door behind him and flopping down on the couch in the corner. Wardrobe’s having him wear his shirts open at the neck these days, a tanned V of him showing well down past the collarbone, and David really sort of wishes they wouldn’t.

“Are you all right?” he asks — face more serious all of a sudden, sitting forward with elbows slung over his knees. David blinks, standing leaned on the back of the chair he’s been in.

“Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Jim shrugs, lacing his hands together in front of him. He’s got big, square hands, rough around the knuckles, heavy at the bones. “I heard that guy from the network was giving you a hard time.” From whom? David can find it in himself to wonder, that was all of five minutes, tops, and it’s more exasperated than anything, but he doesn’t say it. “I know you’re probably a lot more used to it, but — nobody likes getting told how to do their job, right?”

Right. David smiles, ducking his head down at the same time. “Don’t worry about it. It wasn’t much of anything.” He considers a moment, and in the end decides to add, “Seemed like Lyle really had my back about it, anyway.”

“Well, that’s good. Lyle’s all right, I should’ve figured he would.” Jim pauses, then his face furrows down in a broody sort of look, eyes on his hands now. “Can’t believe they’d get on your case about anything. I mean — you’re great. The show’s great. And it’s not like it’s doing bad, or anything. What are they even showing up here for?”

“If it ain’t broke, fix it,” David says, but he can’t help being a little bit amused, all the same. “Don’t worry about it too much, Jim, I keep telling you. You’ll get used to this sort of thing.”

“I don’t think I want to,” Jim says, and he sounds so sullen about it David just has to smile. “It all just seems like one big load of horseshit to me.”

“You and everybody else.” And if nothing else, he allows himself the small luxury of crossing over to where Jim sits, sitting down next to him on the couch and patting his nearest shoulder. “You about ready to get back to it? Speaking of horseshit. Honest to god, I think that animal was out for your blood this morning.”

And when Jim groans, and he laughs, and it’s just the two of them in this room and the subject is left behind, for a minute or two David finds he can almost forget about it.

 

10.

Transcript of excerpt from “Into The Sunset?: The Real Story of Hotchkiss & Rambacher,” That’s Entertainment! episode 7×13 (original airdate: July 18, 20–)

GILCHRIST, V.O.: But for David Belham, network interference in the show’s production was only the tip of the iceberg. [Slow pans over a series of production stills: Belham and Duffy in costume, Duffy pointing offscreen, Belham smiling; Belham on horseback, riding through a desert scene with clouds of dust raised around them.] With Hotchkiss & Rambacher an unexpected success, the demands of the production schedule quickly exceeded Belham’s level of commitment, and began to stifle his own creative energies. It also thrust him into a position of public visibility as an actor that he hadn’t been prepared for.

[Cut back to Belham, interview segment.]

BELHAM: I was never comfortable with the whole “teen heartthrob” angle. That was never something I was looking for, personally. I was never comfortable with a lot of attention, from outside — with, you know, “your private life is everyone’s business, you’re everyone’s business.” I never felt like I was everyone’s business. Or that I should be. Or — knew why they should care. [laughs] The network told me, more or less, “never say no to an interview,” so I didn’t say no. And I’d get asked these really silly questions, these really ridiculous questions. And it was plain to me that nobody minded much about who I thought I was, they were more worried about who they thought I was.

[Slow zoom in to still: Belham on a studio set, crew and equipment in shot, engaged in conversation with Lyle Thornton.]

GILCHRIST, V.O.: As the pressures of the series increased, Belham’s psychological condition also began to deteriorate. Unbeknownst to his colleagues and fellow actors, he was suffering from clinical depression: a condition that, in the early 1970s, frequently went undiagnosed. Furthermore, by the winter of 1973, Belham’s excessive drinking had also begun to affect both his health and his performance.

[Cut back to Belham, interview segment.]

BELHAM: It’s true that I did go into a clinic when filming shut down. [looks away from camera] That my going into a clinic is what shut filming down. I guess I should say. And… [covers mouth with fingers briefly] I guess that led people to assume that I was an alcoholic. Which makes sense, I mean. But that wasn’t really– Well. It wasn’t really how things were. Drinking was a symptom. It wasn’t the disease. It was just that–that was really the only thing anybody understood, back then. There were places to go, if you were a drunk. Or if you were a schizophrenic, sure. It was a clinic, or an asylum, not a lot in between. If you just felt messed up and bad, you didn’t go anywhere. Somebody said, cheer up! And that was about it. [laughs, uncomfortably]

[pause]

I think people forget, sometimes, how new that idea is. I mean, even now it’s not perfect, it’s still a long way off from perfect. But it wasn’t that long ago it just wouldn’t occur to anybody, that something could be wrong with your mind and make it just as impossible for you to get through your life, as much as if it was your body. That just wasn’t something that was talked about. We had soldiers coming back from Vietnam over that next couple of years, with post-traumatic stress, and we didn’t know what the hell was wrong with them, either. Because that wasn’t something you thought about, if you didn’t have to live it. If you’d lost a leg, people understood why you couldn’t stand up. But not when it was here. [taps side of head]

[pause]

That’s something pretty new.

[pause]

 

11.

now

Jim drove on the first day they actually wanted to start filming interviews, which amused David privately. Jim driving places was something he did when he wanted to be manly and protective. He might even think David had never noticed. There’d been no need, though, even less than there ever was. That first day they’d mostly just talked about the early days, the starting out, and the two of them had pretty much laughed their way through it. Things would stop being funny eventually, of course, but maybe that was all right too.

When they got back, anyway, Jim dropped him off at the carriage house — it was all of twenty yards’ walk there from his and Carly’s door, but that was Jim for you — and went to start dinner, and David let himself in, patted his way through a joyful little sea of dogs, checked the answering machine. He lived here only about half of the time, splitting the rest between the ranch and his cot in a dressing room at the tiny black box theater he ran in San Francisco. He took as many dogs with him as would fit in the pickup’s cab each time, and trusted Jim and Carly to look after the rest. That was about as big as trust got, in his mind.

David satisfied himself that no one worth his time wanted him right now, and climbed up the back stair to the single bedroom and bath. He filled the glass on the bathroom counter, and shook an afternoon dose of Lexapro into his hand from the bottle in the medicine cabinet, along with a little rainbow of bonuses the regular doctor had him on now for his skin and his blood and his whatever all else. When he closed the mirrored door, he was amused to find Cabbage — a middle-aged bulldog — standing in the doorway and watching him avidly, wagging her stump of a tail.

“Don’t suppose it’d do any good to tell you you don’t want any,” he told her, before dropping the pills into his mouth and washing them down. It never had before, after all.

He’d supposed, at first, he ought to be beating himself up about it: him who would just as soon be in a sleeping bag on the ranch or in the woods as in the comfy little grandpa suite on Jim and Carly’s lot, who wrote letters and joined protests about all the chemicals dumped on the world every day. Maybe it should’ve seemed like hypocrisy, using all these chemicals of his own, and for nothing wrong with him that you could even see. God knew he’d endured enough jabs about it from other people, over the years. (Not Carly or Jim, though. Never. For all Jim’s other occasional failures of sensitivity, he’d dump the goddamn things down David’s throat if he ever showed signs of wavering, and Carly would hold him down.) But in the end, he’d never been able to muster up much guilt. At the start, he hadn’t felt enough in himself and his own mind to really think about it much, and as time wore on he’d never seen any reason to be anything but dumbly grateful, down to the bottom of his soul. As far as David was concerned, when your lungs were full of water, you didn’t tell the man with the lifejacket that God meant for you to swim.

Anyway, he was old now, and the pills were multiplying like pet mice in a cage. Harder than ever to give a damn about one more.

He tidied up a little, gave out food and some pills of their own to the dogs, and then hiked back up the drive to the main house with the whole gaggle of them romping and trotting along at his heels. The kitchen smelled good by the time he got there, Jim presiding over some wild rice and veggies and filets of the trout they’d frozen after last time David had gotten out to Lake Gregory. Jim had turned into a pretty handy cook over the years, which worked out well since Carly’s ex had kept the chef in the divorce. Of all the things David had to be grateful to Jim for, keeping Carly from living off take-out back in her forties was probably never going to top the list, but it was on there.

“Smells good,” David said, while he settled in at the breakfast nook table. Rosie and Jo-Jo came over to nose at him, and he petted them absently, while all the rest crowded around Jim and started hovering or sitting at his feet, sniffing at the air. Jim gave him a pleased little backward glance, and he smiled back. “Carly gonna make it for dinner?”

“Nah, not tonight.” Jim turned back to whatever he was keeping an eye on, talking over his shoulder, all while gently shoving away a curious nose with his free hand without seeming to much notice. “They’ve got her doing a couple re-takes and voiceover, but she’s low on the list so she said it might run late. Said she’d get a car home.” David frowned — he didn’t like Carly alone with a driver she didn’t know well, which she made absolutely merciless fun of him for — but there wasn’t much he could do to argue about it, he guessed. “You’re stuck with just me tonight.”

“Well, that’s a real hardship, but I’ll see what I can do,” David said, his grin pulling his dry tone all out of shape. Jim snorted but didn’t even look at him until the rice was done.

“Did you just bring the dogs up for another vote on dinner smelling good, or are you staying here tonight?”

“Ah, little of both, I figure.” He exchanged another smile when Jim turned his way. Jim had changed from his interview clothes into just an old t-shirt over jeans, and David didn’t mind a bit admiring how it all still molded way too well to the shapes of his muscle, gone only wiry with age. “That all right by you? I can stay out of your hair if you’ve got things to do.”

“Hmm, seeing as how somebody told me today my company was a real hardship–” Jim started, but he didn’t make it any further than that before David was laughing.

They ate pushed into the breakfast nook rather than bother with the dining room table, talking aimlessly about everything that wasn’t the special and the interviews, and where it was all going to have to head before too long. If Carly had been there, she and Jim probably would have opened a bottle of wine, but as it was, Jim drank iced tea. Another habit that’d had decades to set in harder than poured concrete: when it was just him and David together, Jim never drank. David had never asked him for anything like it, and they’d never quite had a moment when things had gotten bad enough that it’d been a damn good thing Jim had been sober, and Jim kept on doing it, all the same. Some habits, like the pills, were necessity; others were a talisman, instead.

After dinner, they watched part of some stupid movie on the big TV, and after they gave up partway David worked on some of the paperwork for the theater while Jim read on his laptop, his big square reading glasses perched on his face. It wasn’t even getting late yet, though, when Jim glanced up at David, with a funny little knowing smile on his lips.

“Did you have anything in particular in mind for staying up at the house tonight?” he asked. David smiled, and though he didn’t have to think about the answer, it was a near thing. It’d been a long day, and he was honestly already on his way to tired. If Jim had asked even a half an hour later, he might have taken a rain check even so.

But it was a good day. They weren’t all good, and wouldn’t all be ahead either, even with the pills and even without the interviews. But today was good, and every day counted for what it was. And Jim looked really good in that shirt and he damn well knew it.

“I could have some ulterior motives, if you’d be up for it.” Jim laughed, the deep grooves of the lines around his eyes showing up strong, and turned to lean in on the couch with a familiar hand on David’s thigh to brace him.

“You know I’m always up for it,” he said, halfway teasing, just before his kiss landed. It made David laugh into it, and smirk back at him when Jim finally pulled back out.

“I don’t know about always.” He stole another kiss before Jim had time to protest, though, and ran a hand down Jim’s shoulder, his bicep, through warm soft well-worn cotton. “I’ll grant you’re pretty easy, though.”

Jim rolled his eyes, but he was still grinning, even as he swatted at David’s thigh. “Come on up to bed, fool. If we try making out on the couch like teenagers you’re going to finish up the night taking me to the ER.”

“Yeah, just look at what awful shape you’re in, old man,” David got in as a parting shot as Jim was getting up (and all right, his knees did pop like gunshots), but that was just force of habit, too.

The Alaskan king bed in the master bedroom was a goofy indulgence maybe four nights out of every five, David imagined, but he for one surely appreciated it on the fifth. They each just stripped out of their clothes without any ceremony before lying down on half of the enormous mattress, just to have it out of the way, although looking at Jim was as nice as it always was. He was bony in places and soft in others that he hadn’t been fifty or even twenty years ago, but there was a lot worth appreciating all the same about how far he and his body had come together, how much more at home there he’d become. Jim had spent so much of his life with a deep tan to his waist that all his skin had taken on that slightly leathery, almost hardened brownness of a man who’d passed a lot of life outdoors, mottled though it was with the ghosts of freckles and spots from aging. Though it was, impressively, the only really significant health problem he’d had so far, he’d already had to have Carly’s fancy suite of doctors cut a couple of early melanomas off him, and that probably wouldn’t be the last of them, even if he had finally given up and started trying to use sunblock in recent years. Nor was there any doubt there were even heavier things in store, for all three of them, for that matter. Like a cheesy villain in their old show, old age said dance and started shooting, and the shots just came faster the more tired you got.

Well, never mind. Nothing to be concerned with tonight.

They stretched out alongside each other and David ran a fond and admiring hand over Jim’s shoulders and chest, and Jim smiled at him and kissed him, and they tangled and kissed each other. The house was quiet, with the dogs all settled amiably into the little fleet of beds always waiting for them in the dressing-room, the central air silent with the nights still late-spring cool. When they paused in kissing and touching each other they talked a little about what sounded good, laughing a time or two at some crack one or the other made. Then Jim got a pillow under Dave’s hips to put him at a more comfortable angle, and then lubed up and fingered his ass open slow and steady, while his other slick hand pumped tight and smooth around David’s cock, urging it patiently to a hardness that got more and more difficult to get all the way to. Jim had strong, firm hands, textured with callus from how busy he kept himself and toned from decades of tennis rackets, and they were one thing he liked using best and David liked best from him. David lay luxurious and comfortable while Jim worked him over, his eyelids fluttering shut sometimes and sometimes cracked open to look at Jim kneeling up over him, just letting a soft groan slide out of him now and then. Sometimes he linked his hand with Jim’s to guide it, tighter or looser or to a stop for a moment. Jim was obliging, attentive. David was, for right now, his whole focus.

The blood banked up in David’s face and chest in good time, his breath going shallower and his tired old heart picking up one more time to high speed. He arched a little and came with a lot of voiced gasping and moaning, peacefully adrift, pleasure drenching him. It took a while to collect himself and his breath, but when he did and opened his eyes, he found Jim still sitting above him, idly stroking his thigh, smiling at him.

He rolled over obligingly enough, though, while David shuffled more pillows around (being able to hold so many pillows was another thing that made the bed very worthwhile), ending up with a nest Jim could recline back in and have his legs propped wide for David to rest, cushioned upward, between. He didn’t think he’d ever lost any of his taste for sucking Jim’s cock since the very first time, and even if it might not seem as urgent anymore it was still definitely something that tended to occupy his thoughts. It was a pleasure almost as great as the touch of Jim’s hands to get into the cradle of Jim’s thinning but still-strong thighs, lean his forehead on Jim’s belly, and first taste and then sink down around the stiffening heat of him.

David took his time there, lingering over it, even as Jim’s breath went from deep and steady to a little shuddery to faster and shallower. He could just see over Jim’s hips that Jim had his hands tangled up in the sheets, rather than reach for David’s hair when they were still sticky, and David had to suppress an unhelpful smile at that thoughtfulness.

Jim came, when he finally did, with a long, loud, shaky sigh. David let Jim’s softening length slide out of his mouth a little bit at a time, and then swallowed what he’d ended up with primly. While he caught his breath and flexed his jaw, he just lay there, stretched out with his arms and chest propped up on the pillow and his head propped on Jim’s hip, smelling his sweat and come and warm pleasant skin. He shut his eyes, breathing, and his head rose and fell with the comfortable rest of Jim’s body.

Then finally he dragged himself up again, and they sorted themselves out: getting pillows vaguely back where they belonged except for the few that gotten a bit gunked up, which got tossed overside to deal with in the morning; getting up one at a time to the master bath to brush teeth and piss and wash hands and all the regular business of getting ready to sleep. Jim was under the blankets on the far side by the time David got back second, sleepy-eyed and smiling, and he pulled them back in invitation to join him as David got close. David took it gladly, winding up curled close enough up to Jim’s chest to feel the warmth of him and the ruffle of his breath, if not quite touching. It was a little too warm for that already.

He’d thought he might be awake for a while, thinking about the past and the future, in the dark of the bedroom. But as it turned out, he only barely stirred when later the mattress shifted and bumped under Carly’s slight weight, as she crawled in on his other side. And then the next time he woke there was light filling the room, and he was pressed between Jim’s naked skin and Carly’s skin-warmed silk chemise, one of their arms each slung across the middle of him like they were holding him down from floating away.

 

12.

from “‘Hotchkiss & Rambacher’ Shuts Down Production”
Variety, February 13, 1974, p. 1

Lyle Thornton’s latest prime-time Western, “Hotchkiss & Rambacher,” will be unexpectedly stopping production effective immediately, according to a ___ press release. “Unforeseen issues with actor schedules” were cited as the reason for the shutdown. When contacted for clarification, network sources declined to comment. It is also unclear when or if production is intended to resume.

The announcement came as a shock to the industry, as “Hotchkiss,” currently in its second year of production, has proven to be a surprise hit with audiences in spite of its outmoded genre. Much of the appeal of the series has been ascribed to Thornton’s name and experience, the screen chemistry between its leads, David Belham and newcomer Jim Duffy, and the teen appeal of the two young, handsome actors. With no further details forthcoming, crew and production staff. . .

 

13.

December, 1973

Jim Duffy is on top of the world, every minute, right up until he isn’t.

The thing is, if he’s being honest, he never really expected to much make it in Hollywood, not like he tried to puff himself up that he did. Maybe at most that he’d end up waiting tables and showing up at endless calls for crowd scenes, and that would be about it. And that would have been fine by him, because he would still be doing it in L.A., and not Kansas. Back in his early days he had maybe half a dozen vague acquaintances among the city’s hopefuls, and a couple of them used to mention now and then wistfully how they couldn’t scrape together the cash to go home for Christmas, and Jim could barely hide his incredulity while he listened. He has never, for a second, looked back. Not now that he’s here, beyond the reach of endless nights drinking with other imploding high school kids in parking lots, and sweating it every time even when he used a condom because what if, and the ghost of his uncle’s clammy hands in the night, and the loop of his father’s belt dangling from one hardened farmer-turned-minister’s hand. His mother used to write to him, dutifully, one letter a week, no matter how many times he never wrote back. Then finally after his first couple of checks from Hotchkiss & Rambacher came in, he put a cashier’s check for $3000 — more than he could honestly afford, a third of what his dad made in a year — in an envelope and sent it back to her, with a note that was only one hand-written sentence: Don’t write to me again. She never did, either. He still doesn’t know if it’s because he asked her, or because she finally got the only thing she was interested in.

But unbelievably, he’s wound up with a prize even bigger than not being in Kansas anymore: He’s on television, on an actual show, and not just a bit part but a lead, if you can believe that. Teenage girls have been known to scream when he shows up for the rare signing event he can be spared time to go to, and he can’t even roll his eyes at it like Dave does, he loves every minute. He shows up every day on a studio lot or a location and his job is pretending to be someone else, and even if sometimes it’s fourteen or even sixteen hours of taking the same three steps and saying the same line over and over and over again, they actually give him a paycheck for the only thing he’s ever wanted to do. He knows he’s still not that great at it, he knows he falls into bed every night burnt down to nothing left of himself, but it’s still better than anything he ever thought he had the right to expect.

And when he can find a few free minutes, which isn’t often, well… the world has opened up to him here in other ways, too. People who wouldn’t have paid the slightest bit of attention to him when he was doing the occasional commercial suddenly have a lot more time to talk. Mainly the women, and that’s mainly what interests him; he’s never really had friends, never been a real pal-around-with-the-guys type. He doesn’t care much for the parties — he guesses he’s still enough of the countrified minister’s son that he’s appalled by all the drugs; he’s been relieved to learn Dave at least feels the same way, even if Dave does drink pretty hard when he’s off the set — but stopping into one for a half an hour or so is good enough to find someone pretty, pick her up, and take her home, often without so much as learning each other’s names. He’s still got enough in him of the small-town boy who triple-checked the rubber every time with his high school sweethearts that he can’t help feeling like a kid let loose in a candy store, more than half crazy most of the time with all his wild indulgence.

At least, until it’s the small hours of the morning and the girl’s gone home, with only one last sweet smile and a number he’ll never call, because he doesn’t remember who belongs to the name that goes with it. And he’s sitting out on the balcony of his apartment looking up at the cool, pleasant southern California night, wondering if the top of the world should feel this lonely and this hollow inside it.

But then he gets up in the morning and he goes to work, and Dave is there. Dave who actually is great at this, a seasoned and genuinely talented actor, who’s patient and thoughtful about talking Jim through the beats he misses in a scene even if he’s clearly humoring Jim a little, whose advice Jim hangs on and hoards and who Jim privately watches and studies and wishes to hell he could be more like. Dave who Jim spends more hours with in a week than he thinks he has with anybody else his entire life, friends or family or anybody. It doesn’t matter if they were strangers to each other at the start of this; the cameras turn on and they just click, just fit together like two gears with interlocking teeth, and the network mints gold. And in the bright, harsh light of long days and hard work, that feeling of emptiness disappears — or at least becomes so pale he can’t see it, like the moon in the afternoon sky.

It’s after eight tonight when Lyle finally rumbles “All right, fellas, I think that’ll do her,” and everybody packs things up and mills apart, but even as tired as he is, it still feels too soon somehow to Jim. He finds himself hovering around Dave as he’s getting his props squared away and getting ready to go get back out of costume, waiting until Dave looks up and finally gives him that brief, exhaustion-strained smile.

“Hell of a day,” Dave says. “Get some rest, all right?”

“You too,” Jim says, automatically. Then he adds, almost without expecting it of himself: “Rachel drove you this morning, didn’t she? You want a ride home, save her the trouble?”

Dave looks surprised enough to stop what he’s doing for a second, and then he turns fully to Jim, smiling a bit with his eyebrows still raised. “That’s kind of you, but no need for that. We’re just in Atwater, if she’s busy I could practically walk.”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to.” Jim tries out his cheesiest grin, and it feels good when even Dave can’t seem to help but smile back. “We don’t have to go straight there, either — we could go someplace, get a drink, if you want.”

He almost thinks Dave reacts to that oddly for a second, though: going a little still and tense, a little wider at the eyes. A quick flicker like he’s really seeing Jim for the first time, maybe, and taking him in. But it’s gone too soon to be sure, and why should it have struck Dave odd? It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve ever seen each other outside of filming; he’s been over to Dave’s place and Dave over to his, for short whiles and a politely offered drink after work. Granted, it’s the first time Jim’s ever suggested going out and doing something with a plan in mind, but even so.

It’s a moot point, though, maybe, as by now Dave is just giving him a another small smile. “What, you don’t get enough of me all day long on set?” Dave asks, with half a rueful laugh under his breath. “I’d think you’d be sick of seeing me by now.”

That takes Jim by surprise, first… and then after a second or two to land, it also manages to sting a little. Not from anything Dave actually said, but from the implications that are easy to spot — even for Jim, who everybody seems to think is dumb as a post and can’t keep most of everything from sailing over his head, and who’s usually fine with letting them think so. Dave’s probably sick of seeing him, is what you don’t have to be all that smart to spot under the surface of that. Dave probably gets enough of him in a full day on the lot. And the proof is in how he’s trying to say without saying that he’d rather not, if it’s all the same.

It isn’t, but Jim makes the biggest smile he can anyway, and swallows down the startling recoil of hurt. Maybe it isn’t even what Dave meant, but even the possibility is enough to push him back a step, and make him remember himself. What’s he to Dave, anyway? This is all they’ve ever had in common. Just because he’s maybe just starting to realize that the prospect of seeing Dave is half of what gets him out of bed in the morning doesn’t mean the feeling’s mutual.

“Well, we don’t have to, either,” is all Jim says, though, easy as can be. “Just thought I’d ask. You take care, all right?”

Does Dave maybe hesitate again, give him a look like he’s going to say something else? Jim doesn’t wait to find out before he saunters away toward the dressing rooms, putting it out of his head. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. Dave’s got a ride if he needs one. It was just a thought.

 

14.

Transcript of excerpt from “Into The Sunset?: The Real Story of Hotchkiss & Rambacher,” That’s Entertainment! episode 7×13 (original airdate: July 18, 20–)

DUFFY: Well, I don’t know about that. That seems a little too dramatic, you know, “blacklisted.” [laughs] It’s true that, I guess… well, I won’t speak for Dave, but I think it’s safe to say that–he knew what he was doing, going into the clinic when he did. He knew he wasn’t coming back. And that might mean not ever, after a big… you know, the show was on a tight schedule and it was worth a lot of money to some people, and there just wasn’t that kind of… understanding that you might have more of now. Or you might not, I don’t know.

[Cut ahead.]

DUFFY: For me, it wasn’t really like that. I might’ve gotten a little bit of a reputation for being hard to work with, since–they didn’t want to shut down filming at first, with the show doing so well. They wanted to right away recast Dave’s part and keep going, and I said–I’m not doing that, if you do that I’m going to walk out anyway. So we kind of forced them to shut down. Between that and Lyle [Thornton] having both our backs about it. I think Lyle tried to kind of shield me from the worst of it, but there were probably some people who heard it through the grapevine and thought, you know, oh, I’m not going to work with him. That’s just how it happens sometimes.

But I don’t think it was too many, though. I mean, I got a couple other parts after that, in other shows and TV movies and that kind of thing, nothing that was really a big deal. I think mostly people just finally figured out I was never that great without Dave. [laughs]

[Pan over still: Candid photo of Duffy from the early 1980s at an opening, wearing a tuxedo and with his arm around a young woman in a cocktail dress. Duffy is craning to look at something far off to one side outside the photo, smiling widely.]

GILCHRIST, V.O.: Regardless of the reason, in the end, Duffy’s acting career outlasted Hotchkiss & Rambacher by less than a decade. By 1982, Belham’s young costar had fully retired from the world of Hollywood, instead applying his talents to the tennis court. He enjoyed a modest professional career as a sportsman for most of the 1990s and early 2000s, but never returned to television or film.

[Cut back to Duffy, interview segment.]

DUFFY: Sure, it was tough, in some ways. I loved acting, when I started out, and it was tough, you know, getting this one big break and it went under. But… well, I don’t know. The way I saw people treat Dave about it, and other things, and the whole experience of the show shutting down… I don’t know if I’d say it soured me on things. At least not right away. But you know, the longer I spent acting out on my own, the more it just, well, it seemed like it might not be for me after all. At least tennis was a lot less dramatic. [laughs] You just have to hit the ball, right?

[pause]

I guess what I mean to say is, yeah, I was sorry to leave Hollywood in some ways. But if it all came back to the show, you know, shutting that down, then that’s okay with me. One way or another, the way that went, it was what Dave needed. I absolutely believe that. And for me, no matter what else might have happened, that’s, that makes it more than worth it. If you ask me, would I go back and do it the same way again? Yeah, I would. If that’s what it was going to take for Dave, then of course, in a heartbeat, I would.

 

15.

now

It’d been a long time since David had really had to sit through a makeup chair in earnest. He’d done a little bit of stage acting here and there over the years, at his own theater and at others’, but that was somehow both more total stuff on your face and less of a production, somehow. At least for interviews, though, it was much less of an ordeal than he remembered its being for any sort of fiction.

And now he had Jim to entertain him, which wasn’t nothing. Over in the chair next to him, Jim kept cutting up and cracking up the girl working on him, and they hadn’t been there five minutes before he was leaning over to show David the screen of his phone. On it was a picture of Carly, taken herself on her own phone, standing arms around each other with some anonymously handsome young actor, both of them in sunglasses out on the lot. David vaguely recognized the kid, but couldn’t have said what his name was, or probably picked him out of a lineup of other top-billed actors of the moment, for that matter. That was fine, though. Nobody needed his crotchety old opinion, least of all some good-looking young guy too rich and famous to know what to do with himself.

Carly must be on her way out, then. She’d been called in for a few last things this morning, but after that she’d be able to shake the dust of Ma Kent off her heels, and surely be much happier for it. The timing was good, too, as she’d tentatively agreed with That’s Entertainment!  to come in for her interview segments this afternoon. He and Jim mostly just had a couple bits of cleanup this morning, and then next it would be all three of them, in some combination or other at a time. And then after tomorrow, it’d be all over, if you could believe that. It seemed so silly in retrospect, all the fuss they’d made over whether or not to go through with it, when now it seemed to have taken only the blink of an eye to get most of it in the can, and more of it had even been pleasant than not.

He nodded and smiled agreeably enough, anyway, and Jim grinned back and left him to watching himself get powdered in the mirror, and to his thoughts. It was just as well, to be honest; he was worrying at one in particular today like one of the dogs with their chew-toys.

What he couldn’t seem to stop thinking about was telling only half the story, when you’d finally come far enough to be trying to tell the story in the first place. What a waste that seemed like. Especially given everything tangled up in that story, and what it might mean. Coming into these last two days of filming, and seeing the end of the whole thing looming ahead, it seemed to him increasingly like if you were already in for a penny, you might as well just go ahead and be in for a pound. The only question really was whether all these years later, with the show and him and everything nearly forgotten and buried, he had the guts to dig out that pound and put it on the table.

It lingered at the back of his mind while they finished getting prepped and groomed, and while he followed Jim out into the lights of the soundstage to meet Kristin Gilchrist’s professionally wide and bright smile. He wasn’t sure he completely had an answer yet, but it was definitely something to consider.

 

16.

Excerpt from shooting script, “Last Train Into Little River,” Hotchkiss & Rambacher episode 1×17 (original airdate: March 8th, 1973)

INT. BOXCAR.

Noise from the train. HOTCHKISS sits on a crate of cargo and cleans his gun, looking weary, while RAMBACHER paces the floor. He is pensive, too much on his mind.

RAMBACHER

It ain’t right.

HOTCHKISS doesn’t look up.

HOTCHKISS

I know it ain’t. What would you like to do about it?

RAMBACHER

I don’t know. I just know it ain’t right.

He continues to pace. HOTCHKISS finally gives up cleaning his gun and looks up at him, waiting until he’s ready. Finally RAMBACHER stops, and leans on the wall.

RAMBACHER

Do you ever think about the folks in Washington, the ones that really cut the checks we get eventually? Such as they are, I mean. What do you think they make of men like Benson’s gang?

HOTCHKISS looks surprised.

HOTCHKISS

Why, I can’t say I ever thought they think about ’em much at all.

RAMBACHER

They’ve got to sometimes, though, don’t they? They read the reports, or they’re supposed to. They at least must read the papers. What do you suppose they say to themselves, when they do? “Those fellas sound like ten miles of bad road,” I expect. “We’re just lucky we’ve got our marshalls out after ’em.”

HOTCHKISS smiles, but he’s sour underneath it.

HOTCHKISS

Half the marshalls are worse, if we’re being honest.

RAMBACHER

Yeah, and they probably know it, if they stop to think. But nobody ever does, do they?

HOTCHKISS

It surely does seem that way.

He pauses.

What’s eating you, partner? Besides the obvious.

RAMBACHER sighs.

RAMBACHER

I just hate thinking of those fellas in Washington, thinking they know how things are out West. They think we’re all just playing cops and robbers out in the sand, or cowboys and Indians. They don’t know most of it’s just like it is anywhere else: just folks trying to get by. It’s just that here’s the only place where robbing trains to do it is an option.

He looks off into the distance. He looks angry, but at least as sad.

You know what I wish? I wish just one time, I could drag them all out here and make them take a look at how things really are, before they go telling us what to do about it. But the truth is, I know even if I did, they wouldn’t see.

HOTCHKISS smiles. He looks more tired than ever now.

HOTCHKISS

Those are some mighty deep thoughts, for a lawman with pockets almost as shallow.

RAMBACHER

Yeah, I know it.

He pushes off the wall, like he’s about to set to pacing again.

So what are we gonna do?

HOTCHKISS is quiet a moment, thinking it over. Then he gets a much broader and much more real smile on his face.

HOTCHKISS

Well, I don’t know about you, partner, but I think what I’m going to do is thank you.

That startles RAMBACHER enough to turn him around.

RAMBACHER

What for?

HOTCHKISS looks up at him, and he has a grin that’s wider than ever.

HOTCHKISS

‘Cause while you were over there lamenting about the state of the world. . .I just had an idea.

 

17.

January, 1974

The winters are always bad, but this is the worst winter there’s been yet. 

There’s a shotgun in the garage of the modest little Atwater bungalow David shares with Rachel, when he’s not just sleeping in his car because he can’t face the idea of trying to speak to her, of what she might say to him. He’s never been all that much for hunting, but he’s been known to go occasionally, and the rifle is a matter-of-fact, well-kept Remington, good for deer and a bird now and then when they’re in season. These days, that shotgun seems to occupy most of David’s brain, looming large there and elbowing its way in no matter what other things he’s supposed to be focusing on. Sometimes when he breathes, he feels like the gun is lodged inside his chest, forcing the air to move only in what little space remains around its shape.

It feels like it’s there now, even while he’s standing in the kitchen, washing out coffee-cups and butt-filled saucers used as ashtrays by Rachel’s friends. The whole group of them are still on the sofas in the living room, talking about transcendentalism and drugs and Warhol, but he seized this excuse to be out of that smoky pit, where the walls feel about three feet apart. Maybe he’ll find some way to claim he needs to go to bed after this, although it’s comically early — at least shut himself up in the bedroom with his dogs, keep himself out from underfoot just like them. Maybe he’ll go out and get drunk.

When he comes back into the doorway to say one or the other of these things, though, Rachel’s eyes turn to him sharp and glittery behind her thick-rimmed glasses, and he immediately realizes his mistake, the same mistake as always: he’s made himself visible. Out of sight, she was content for him to be out of her mind, but now he’s here and there’s nowhere to run.

“Maybe you should ask David,” Rachel says, smiling very widely, to whichever of her black-turtlenecked friends was speaking but with her eyes not leaving David’s. “He’s an artist too, you know.”

The men — and it’s really just the men; there are two other women, with long lank hair and short skirts like Rachel’s, but unlike Rachel they seem to only be here to listen — look amongst each other, and then there’s a ripple of uneasy but unkind laughter. “For his expert craft of an escapist caricature of cryptohistorical masculinity?” one of the men says, smirking. He actually says those words in that order, if you can feature that.  “I suppose there’s some merit in that assessment.”

“Oh, no,” Rachel says, sweeter than ever. Her gaze never leaves David’s, and he’s frozen in place by it, a deer being run down. Much as the boring little painter’s jab might rankle — and absurd as it might be it honestly does, it shouldn’t but it does, the blow lands every single time — he knows full well where the real danger lies. “He creates illusions much more elaborate than that. David’s a grand master, you see. A consummate performer. He’s dedicated his entire life to the work — every last minute.”

The artists don’t seem to know what to make of that, but David is barely aware of their increasingly uncomfortable puzzlement, their polite uncomprehending chuckles. He’s blind plummeting into heart-stuttering fight-or-flight, and it doesn’t take much for the latter to win out.

“I’m going to step out for a bit,” he thinks he says, but he has no time to make sure before he’s practically running, half-stumbling, through a nightmare blur of just getting out the door and away.

The night outside is cool, not cold, but for all that it’s still Los Angeles the air tastes blessedly clean. David stands on the moment catching what breath he can around the shotgun-shape, trying to gather himself up before he goes to the car and goes somewhere, anywhere.

He doesn’t know if it’s better or worse that he knows all her malice isn’t just for malice’s sake. It’s defensive, and vengeful. He’s hurt her, in spite of her knowledge of the arrangement from the start, by not wanting her. More so, though, by also no longer even wanting to listen to or talk to her — by not even being able to live up to the task of being her friend, when he’s too busy retreating down the throat of his own numb, empty apathy. That’s the crime he’s actually able to regret, all things considered. Whether she’d believe it or not, he does miss when they used to be friends. But he has nothing left to make friendship from. The shotgun inside him doesn’t love anybody, and he doesn’t know how to stop that hurting them.

Well, here he is, out of the house. Now where should he go?

There are bars in Silver Lake, he knows, and he’s even vaguely heard the raids have dwindled to almost nothing in the years since the demonstrations at the Black Cat. The risk still just always feels too big, though. Maybe if it was a world he’d ever stepped into before, but he hasn’t: The very few trysts he’s ever gotten into have all been furtive meetups through the grapevines of acting, or friends of friends. It’s hard to imagine being surrounded by men like him, and men unlike him, men wearing dresses and makeup and courage, men who will touch and not care if they miss a 7 a.m. call because they ended the night in a paddy wagon. The idea of it is too strange to him to really seem worth it.

It’s brutally funny, in a way. That what’s wrong with him is the wrong kind of wanting, when he feels like he wants anything at all less than he ever has in his life.

In the end, he just gets in the car and curls up in the passenger seat, pulling the coat he discarded in there across himself and leaving the heater off. With his arms folded up under it and his legs stretched out, he tries to get comfortable, amid the hard angles and the gear shift’s poking knob. He looks through the window at the stars.

 

18.

Transcript of excerpt from “Into The Sunset?: The Real Story of Hotchkiss & Rambacher,” That’s Entertainment! episode 7×13 (original airdate: July 18, 20–)

GILCHRIST, V.O.: A long-time friend of Belham since they were costars on her popular breakout series Lulu, Carly Diamond was perhaps an inevitable guest star on Hotchkiss & Rambacher. [Slow zoom in on production still of Belham, Diamond, and Duffy, all in costume on set and seated on the front of a model stagecoach. Camera and crew surround the framed shot, while Thornton stands to one side in discussion with Belham and Diamond, while Duffy appears to be caught mid-laugh.] While her busy career had kept the two largely out of touch, her appearance gave them the opportunity to catch up–and also marked Diamond’s first meeting with Jim Duffy. Their mutual friendship with Belham would lead to their own enduring friendship–which, following Diamond’s marriage and subsequent divorce, would eventually become a romantic relationship, one that has now lasted for over thirty years.

Given that Belham and Diamond were also briefly romantically involved during their time working on Lulu, one might expect that tensions would form between the three at this development. But nothing could be further from the truth.

[Return from still to interview segment with Diamond alone.]

DIAMOND: Oh, God, nothing like that. [laughs] David and I only ever were seeing each other for a few months, and it was never serious. I think he always thought of me more like a kid sister than a romantic prospect, even when we were supposed to be together. [Pan over promotional still from Lulu, where Diamond and Belham are both on a beach and in swimsuits, Diamond apparently struggling with an enormous beach umbrella.] He was a lot older than me, for one thing, and even though that was more normal back then, I still don’t think David was very comfortable with it. He was just always this sweet, serious guy, and he felt like–he had to look out for me, I guess. Including when it came to himself. Maybe especially. [laughs]

[Return from still.]

No, David and I love each other, and Jim and I love each other, and David and Jim love each other. It was really just that simple. Honestly, I think David was more thrilled than anybody when we got together, because he knew we were both finally going to have somebody he thought was good enough for us. [laughs]

GILCHRIST, V.O.: Not everything about Diamond’s guest appearance was the promise of future romance, however. [Pan over candid still of Belham and Diamond, in street clothes, engaged in conversation while walking across a filming lot.] While Belham had been able to conceal his deteriorating mental health from others in his life, his old friend immediately noticed he was struggling, and became concerned.

[Return to interview segment with Belham, Duffy, and Diamond.]

DIAMOND: I tried to talk to him about it, at least once. Just to see if he was doing okay, because it really didn’t seem like he was.

BELHAM: So I stopped returning her calls. [smiles briefly] Carly had so much on her plate, I told myself I didn’t want to worry her. Really, though, I just wasn’t ready to talk.

[Diamond nods.]

And it wasn’t just her. It wasn’t like she was the first person who got the sense I wasn’t doing well, you know, people did try to reach out. Jim did, too, I know that. He saw me every day, he knew things were bad.

DUFFY: I don’t know if I knew as much as you give me credit for. [Belham smiles] But yeah, I knew you were drinking a lot, you didn’t talk as much, you stayed to yourself off the set. I wondered if something had happened.

DIAMOND: I think the first thing Jim and I ever talked about alone was David. [Belham groans, and Diamond smiles] Just comparing notes a little. We were both worried about him.

BELHAM: And I did not want to be worried about. [pauses] I was keeping a lot of things to myself, as best I could, right then. Some of it’s just–a disease, you know, but there were outside things to it too, and I think that was definitely where some of it was coming from, what was making me such a wreck. It was–

[pause]

[Duffy and Diamond waiting]

Well, a big part of it was, I was a very closeted homosexual. And I was living with that, along with everything else that was going on. I guess it was a bit of an open secret, there were people who knew, or guessed, or–suspected, or whatnot. It definitely wasn’t an uncommon thing in Hollywood, but you couldn’t just–be open about it, you know, publicly, then. Hell, as late as the eighties, when Rock Hudson got AIDS, people said, “Well, how could that ladies’ man have gotten that [bleeped] disease?”

[pause]

[Duffy and Diamond both very quiet, not looking at Belham]

I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be nasty with the language. But you’ve got to understand, that’s how it was. And it’s not something I’ve ever talked about in public before, with the press or anything. I’ve always been a pretty private person, as much as I could be, I didn’t want to talk much about my personal life at all, so that’s a piece of it. But also… well, it was all that, you know. It’s not even as much better now as some people want to think.

[pause]

GILCHRIST: [from offscreen] Well, I’m really honored you would share that with us. What made you decide to talk about it now?

BELHAM: Well, we’re here to tell the whole story, so I thought I might as well tell the whole story. [laughs slightly] And that’s kind of the missing piece at the middle, if you know it. It was right near the end of Vietnam and the middle of the gay and lesbian protests that were starting to happen, and everyone was kind of in a crisis about what it meant to be a man in America, which I think is part of why the show got greenlit in the first place–people wanting to see those old manly Western men in action, you know, show the hippies who’s still on top. But then the network couldn’t leave it alone, because a couple of guys alone on horses, you know, now that just seemed a little too gay. And my being one of the leads didn’t help. [smiles slightly] So that was a really careful line I had to walk. And I was dating this girl I’d been good friends with, to kind of cover it up, like I had with Carly, and that was in the middle of imploding, because that’s not really a good way to treat somebody. And…

[pause]

I guess I want to talk about it now because it’s not as much better as it should be. I mean, for guys like me, white guys with good careers and money, sure, we always seem to figure something out. But everybody else, not as much. Especially transgender people, these days, I think that’s more like what we used to deal with, but even tougher, because it’s harder to hide. And I’d hate to think I’m being one of those white guys here, thinking I got mine and I deserve my privacy, when maybe there’s some girl or some Black kid out there, or some young person having to pretend they’re a gender they’re not, who it really might have meant something to for one more person to say, hey, yeah, you know what, it’s me too, I’m one of you too. That just seems like the most important thing to me. Just saying, hi there, I see you, and it’s okay being you. You’re not alone.

 

19.

Transcript of video “OUTTAKES AND BEHIND THE SCENES: Into The Sunset Special Hotchkiss & Rambacher,” posted to YouTube by user xXJoesGirlXx on August 11, 20–

[Fade in from white from last segment.]

GILCHRIST: All right, we’ll cut there. [Belham, Duffy, and Diamond all visibly relax in their seats] That was really beautiful, David. Thank you so much.

BELHAM: Sure, I–Yeah. Thanks. [laughs a little self-consciously] I’m, ah, just gonna go freshen up a minute, excuse me. I’ll be right back.

GILCHRIST: Sure, take your time.

[Belham gets up out of his chair and walks out of frame. Diamond smiles at him as he goes, and Duffy pats him on the back. There is a moment of silence after he’s left.]

GILCHRIST: [quietly] Did either of you know he was going to say that?

DIAMOND: No.

DUFFY: [almost overlapping] I had no idea.

[They look at each other, and then Diamond laughs and then presses a hand over her mouth. Duffy shakes his head, smiling.]

GILCHRIST: But you knew? I mean, you knew that he was gay.

DUFFY: Oh, yeah.

DIAMOND: Yes, we both did. I mean, for ages now. I just never expected… [pauses, and then laughs again] Wow. I mean.

DUFFY: Well, Dave always liked a little drama.

[But he’s smiling as he says it, and his eyes are soft and fond, looking in the direction that Belham went. Diamond bursts out a laugh, and then shoves at his shoulder. Duffy lets himself move with it and smiles.]

GILCHRIST: This is definitely going to be an exciting episode, that’s for sure. [laughs]

 

20.

now

None of them said much of anything until they’d gotten out to the car, and there was a bit of a necessary pause in the parking lot, as Jim was getting the keys ready. That was when the silence finally started to feel like too much, and silly at the same time. He turned back to Dave behind him, with Carly looking up at him quietly from one side, with a little smile for both of them.

“I think Patti’s gonna finally lose it if you don’t give her some warning about that,” he said to Dave, almost casually. “Do you want to call her, or should I?”

Dave hesitated a minute, and then smiled back at him, his dark eyes veiled and opaque in their nest of crow’s feet. There’d been lots of sun and outdoors over the years for Dave just like him, just in a different context — but also lots of smiles, so many more than Jim once might’ve ever dared hope, and he never wanted to take that for granted. “If you’d be up for it, that’d be a great help,” Dave said. Which Jim figured was the closest Dave was going to get to saying, Please, for the love of God, you do it, don’t make me talk to anyone else about this right now.

Jim nodded, and then just tried to think of what to say. To say he was proud of Dave seemed condescending: Like with so many things, it was true, but it was just as true that if he was being honest with both of them, Jim hadn’t really done anything about it to be proud of. He knew that Dave had felt for such a long time that he owed Jim his life, maybe felt that way still, and refused to be dissuaded even though Jim had tried to point out a hundred times the illogic of that. Dave had saved Dave’s life, just as he’d been what it was in danger from in the first place. Dave had done all the work, all along the way, and being proud or not was Dave’s own business. 

In the end, Jim couldn’t think of anything to say to any of it that it would be his place to. Or wouldn’t be weird and disingenuous, like thanking Dave for leaving himself out of it. Honestly, he couldn’t give less of a damn who knew he and Dave had been sleeping together on and off for some fifty years now, for his own sake; the only thing that would give him pause would be Carly, and how she might fare from whatever people decided to make of what the three of them had made for themselves in private — her and however much of her career she still had patience left for. That also wasn’t really about Jim at all, at the end of the day.

So instead of saying anything, he just stepped in, and clapped Dave into a tight hug, with all the feeling he could express with just his arms around Dave’s back. Dave stiffened up with startlement for just a second, but he relaxed at once, and Jim could hear an awkward little laugh under his breath as he hugged back. A moment later Carly had an arm around each of their waists, too (which was about as high as she could comfortably reach), and her head laid against Dave’s shoulder. And for a second or two they were just three old fools, holding on to each other in a studio parking lot on a too-hot-for-it L.A. summer afternoon, getting themselves sweaty in the sun.

“What a couple of saps,” Dave grumbled at last, and their twin huffs of laughter were the excuse he needed to back off again and get that ironic little smile back on his face, to firm up anything that might have gone shaky in there. He didn’t quite look at either of them, even when he did. “Are we gonna get out of here, or are we gonna stand in the parking lot all day?”

Jim smiled, and jogged the keys in his hand before beeping the doors open. Carly might have swiped the back of her hand at her face in the meantime, but that was all right. She was allowed that in a way Jim would never quite feel like he was, no matter how dumb he knew it was in his head. “All right, let’s get home,” Jim said, and pulled the back open for whoever wanted it. “I’m thinking about doing enchiladas, how’s that sound?”

 

21.

Excerpt from shooting script, “The Honest Thief,” Hotchkiss & Rambacher episode 2×13 (filmed in January 1974, unaired)

INT. HOTEL ROOM.

HOTCHKISS lies on the bed nearest the door, still dressed to his boots, with his hat over his face. RAMBACHER enters. He’s about to say something when he sees HOTCHKISS sleeping, and he smiles instead. He does his best to walk quietly past.

But–

HOTCHKISS

All delivered?

RAMBACHER stops sneaking all at once. He turns to HOTCHKISS, exasperated.

RAMBACHER

Do you ever actually sleep?

HOTCHKISS

I can sleep when the West is safe for women and children and bankers.

He takes the hat off his face and sits up, clearly wide awake. RAMBACHER gives in.

RAMBACHER

Yeah, he gave it all back. Every cent. He even wanted to write a letter of apology to the president of the bank, if you can believe that.

He shakes his head, chuckling.

I tried to tell him he could write the president he was a horse’s hind end and he’d pay it no nevermind, as long as he got his money. But our Mr. Kennedy wouldn’t hear it.

HOTCHKISS smiles.

HOTCHKISS

Well, he’ll learn one day.

Neither of them thinks he will, though.

RAMBACHER

He’s just lucky he didn’t get caught before now. It’s a wonder he even made it far enough to get the money back.

HOTCHKISS

Wonder? It’s a downright miracle. He’s lucky it was us who caught him, too. This state’s full of bounty hunters who’d have shot him where he stood and took the money back themselves, and never mind if he was no good or a decent fella.

RAMBACHER

You really think so?

HOTCHKISS

I know so. I’ve had to buy some of them drinks just to keep them out of my hair.

He looks grim a moment, thinking about it.

I’ll say this, partner — our jobs may not seem like they’re getting easier, but it’s getting a lot tougher to be a dishonest man out in this part of the world. More civilization, more lawmen, and it all means fewer cracks to slip through. By the time you and I are ready to retire, I don’t think men like Mr. Kennedy are gonna be breaking banks to send their children to their grandparents anymore. And I only wish I could say that’s because they won’t need to.

RAMBACHER considers this solemnly. But–when he’s finished, he breaks into a broad grin.

RAMBACHER

What makes you think we’ll ever be able to retire?

HOTCHKISS makes a disgusted noise, and picks up his hat again.

HOTCHKISS

Wipe that smile off your face when you say that.

He puts the hat back over his face, and lies right back down again.

 

22.

February, 1974

Tonight the girl — who Jim thinks might be named Sandra — fell asleep in his bed for once, instead of putting her dress and heels back on and giving him a goodnight-and-goodbye kiss right away. She’s pretty and pleasant, and he won’t mind making her breakfast in the morning, so Jim slides out of bed and tugs on some boxers before padding back out to the rest of the apartment, instead of trying to wake her. He gets himself a beer out of the fridge and opens it on the counter, and then stands sipping it a little bleary-eyed in the middle of his living room for a moment, trying to decide whether or not to get himself a sandwich, or maybe go sneak to the bathroom to have a shower.

And then a minute or two later he has cause to be glad he hasn’t started either, because there’s a knock on his door.

Not loud, not a pounding like something is wrong, but not like it’s not trying to be heard, either. As he turns to frown at it, Jim’s glad he left the bedroom door shut, so it shouldn’t be enough to wake maybe-Sandra. He goes over to it, and then — considering he’s not entirely decent, exactly — he peers out the peephole.

It’s… Dave. Dave Belham, his costar, Dave. He’s wearing a coat even against the relative mildness of the L.A. winter, and has his arms tucked close and tense around himself, and nothing on his face is exactly an expression Jim can read, at least not through a little fish-eyed peephole. For probably an awkwardly long time Jim just stands and stares through it, unable to process the sight enough to actually do anything about it.

When Dave’s mouth sets and he starts to raise his hand to knock again, though, Jim snaps out of it, and opens the door. So he catches Dave a little wrong-footed when he does, of course, halfway to knocking and his hand in the air. They look at each other as Dave drops it. Dave’s eyes also drop toward Jim’s state of undress, as well they might, Jim guesses, but it’s only something about how hard Dave seems to be trying not to do it that manages to make Jim self-conscious.

“I, ah,” Dave says at first — as though he’s the one taken aback, the one Jim took by surprise. Then he seems to recover a little. “Am I– Sorry. Did I wake you up? I didn’t mean–“

“No, no,” Jim says, quick enough to almost be overtop of him. Both because it’s true, and because Dave looks halfway ready to bolt all of a sudden. “I was still up, I was just, um.” He realizes as that’s coming out of his mouth that he’s not quite sure what to follow it with, though. Instead of trying to figure it out, he jerks his head toward the apartment behind him, and stands aside. “Come on in. What’s going on?”

Dave comes in, his head down, but doesn’t answer right away. As he passes by Jim, though, the reek of whiskey off him hits like a physical slap — easily overpowering the beer still in Jim’s hand by a mile. Dave’s not walking a completely straight line, either, it’s easy enough to notice, but even still, nothing in his demeanor makes him seem all that drunk. Not enough to match that smell on him, anyway. Jim can practically see the cloud of it.

He shuts the door and Dave turns around toward him, only lurching a little bit on his feet. He’s all tensed up again in spite of the state of him, and maybe that’s part of what’s making him seem less drunk. Drunk usually makes a person loose. “You got another one of those?” he asks first thing, dipping his head toward Jim’s beer and not quite smiling. “Or something stronger, if you want to offer.”

Jim considers the beer, and then Dave. “If you want, but I think you’d be happier in the morning if you skipped it,” he says, as kindly as he can. And then before Dave can answer, he asks again: “What’s going on, Dave? Is something the matter?”

Dave’s whole upper body shakes with a bark of something it takes Jim whole seconds to identify as laughter. Then he’s still again, and he only speaks after a few seconds more. “No,” he says. “Nothing to worry about.” He finally looks Jim in the face after that, for the first time really, but Jim’s not sure right away it’s an improvement. There’s something very bad in Dave’s eyes, in the set of his face. He looks hot and wild as somebody who’s about to throw a punch, although Jim can’t see why he would be, can’t even feature somebody like Dave doing such a thing even with good reason. “I just wanted to ask you a question.”

After midnight, on one of their only days off, after not really talking outside of work for weeks? But Jim just smiles and shrugs, because what is he supposed to do? “Shoot,” he says, and starts turning to lead Dave toward the couch.

But he stops right where he is when Dave says, “Would you ever let a man suck your cock?”

The cliché, in the novels and the movies, is to think at first you didn’t hear the person right. Jim can’t even question that for a second, though. The apartment’s well off the main roads and it’s very quiet, in the dead of night, and even though Dave’s a little slurry, he wasn’t at all unclear. The whole time that he’s turning back to face Dave again, slowly, Jim knows exactly what he said.

“The hell kind of question is that?” he asks, after looking into Dave’s face for too long clears up absolutely nothing at all. Dave shakes with another of those little violent, coughing laughs, and shakes his head.

“A fucking stupid one, is what.” Jim doesn’t think he’s ever heard Dave cuss that bad before in all the time they’ve known each other. “I sure don’t think you’re any kind of queer. Everybody says you take a different girl home every other night, and look at you, you’re the goddamn Marlboro Man. No wonder the suits love you.” He doesn’t even leave Jim time to figure out whether or not he’s weirdly stung by that for some reason, though, before looking straight in Jim’s eyes again, his brow furrowed and jaw tense even as he’s got something like a smile on his mouth, his eyes a deep blazing darkness. “But who knows? If the opportunity came up, some people aren’t too picky. Shut your eyes and one mouth is pretty much the same as another.”

Jim struggles, again, to find anything to respond with. “Dave, are you trying to pick a fight with me?” he blurts out eventually, almost desperately; it doesn’t feel like what’s going on, but it’s the only context he can possibly think of for saying any of this, for Dave’s coming here tonight at all.

But Dave’s shoulders just sink, and the laughing sound he makes this time almost sounds wounded, like he’s been shot in the side. “No,” he says. “I’m trying to get you to either let me suck you off so I don’t go home and shoot myself in the head, or beat me to death so I don’t have to. Can’t say I much mind which.” He hauls in a breath that sounds like it hurts. “I’m the queer. Ask anybody. I want to suck cock, I want to suck your cock. And I want to be dead but I don’t want to kill myself, at least not enough yet. So do whatever you want about it. I don’t care anymore.”

It’s very quiet again for a moment. The refrigerator ticking softly to itself over in the kitchen, a shuffle or two of late-night sound from elsewhere in the apartment complex. The girl who might be named Sandra still asleep in the other room. Or still asleep with any luck, at least.

“So let me get this straight,” Jim says at last, slowly. He can see it’s not anything that Dave was braced to have happen next, and he’s not even sure it’s anything he himself expected to say, either. “My one choice is to get my dick sucked and you not be dead, and the other is kind of the opposite of that?” Dave doesn’t answer, just stares at him, and Jim somehow manages to turn up the corner of his mouth a lopsided little. “Got to say, that one kinda sounds like a no-brainer, Dave.”

Dave keeps staring at him at first, so motionlessly Jim’s not even sure if he processed any of that. And then finally Dave cracks, and laughs a little — quieter, more breath, and so much more like some normal human way to laugh than any other sound he’s made tonight. Not sure of anything at all, but maybe still Dave in there, somewhere.

“Come here,” Jim finds himself saying, coaxing, and they’re moving across the floor to the couch like he’d started to a minute ago, Jim putting down his beer somewhere along the way. Feeling halfway like he must be asleep himself now, and dreaming, Jim pulls down his boxers and then kicks them aside from his feet before he sits down naked on his own sofa. The fabric of it feels scratchy on his ass. He’s soft, of course, having just gotten laid not an hour previous and just now been talking about how the closest thing he’s ever had to a friend wants to die, but that doesn’t stop Dave looking all down him in a helpless, hungry way that makes it finally one hundred percent for certain that this isn’t all just some bizarre joke. Jim looks back up at him, trying to smile, not even knowing if he should try to smile.

Your move, he’s about to say, or something like it, for lack of anything else. But before he can, Dave lurches down a little too fast and hard to land on one hand on the couch beside Jim’s thigh, and then the other, and then down onto his knees at Jim’s feet. He looks dazed and lost, mostly, but at least all that strange thrumming fight-tension has gone out of him. He’s not only still dressed, he’s still wearing his coat, and thinking only vaguely of it being too warm in here Jim pushes at the lapels of it, until Dave absently wrangles his arms out the sleeves and tosses the whole thing aside on the couch. His attention stays fixed on Jim’s dick tightly enough to make a man feel a little vain and also maybe a little uneasy.

Then Dave’s hand cups around the lax weight of Jim’s shaft, and Jim can’t help twitching a little, like he got a shock. Dave’s hands are warm, but they’re still Dave’s hands, which is a lot to process all by itself. Dave spends a lot of time in the outdoors and they’re weather-roughened and callused, not even as soft as you might expect an actor’s to be, with long large fingers and big knuckles. There’s no mistaking them for anything except what they are. So much for what Dave said about shutting your eyes and pretending; this is just going to be what it is, if it is.

But Dave takes a hold of him carefully, almost reverently, and then he pushes forward so his upper body presses between Jim’s knees, and he puts the whole relatively modest state of Jim at the moment in his mouth. It’s a very hot, wet place to be fully surrounded in, and yeah, probably about the same as any other mouth, even if nothing else is. It doesn’t take much of that before Jim starts heating up, starting to fill slowly again, from the stimulation and always having been a pretty easy guy to get going. Dave’s having to ease back and adjust his mouth before long, and then again, until this is working a lot more like the way you’d expect it to.

Dave’s tongue is soft and and gently circling on him, from the point when it’s almost an uncomfortably sensitive sensation to when it’s almost too teasingly little. He draws on Jim’s length gently, just a bit of suction that makes all the heat inside Dave’s mouth inescapably close, all the time. He’s carefully, exaggeratedly anything but drunkenly clumsy: he takes the kind of care a man would take fixing a watch, or shaping a precious gem into tiny, delicate facets. This is something he finds worth absolutely lingering over. Is something about that making Jim helplessly harder, his face and throat and cock all desperately overheated ahead of schedule, just by being the subject of it? Hell, maybe it is. He can’t think of when he’s ever been wanted by somebody, in this raw and immediately sexual a way, rather than had his want for someone else just warmly welcomed. That’s not how the game plays, the way he learned it. But the Kansas boy he was learned a lot of things that were wrong.

After a while, Jim rests his hand on the back of Dave’s head, lightly — not trying to push him down harder, he wouldn’t do that with a girl and he won’t do it with Dave, but just making contact. Trying to reassure himself that Dave is still here and whole, and to reassure Dave that he’s welcome to whatever of this he needs. Dave makes a little noise when he does, though, muffled into Jim’s cock and the wrap of Dave’s hand around its base. When Jim looks hazy-eyed down at him, he sees Dave’s arm tucked down and moving in a telltale way that says he’s rubbing himself through the front of his pants, maybe even working on getting them open and shoving his hand inside. The knowledge of that sends a shivery tightening all down the front of Jim that’s too complicated to explain.

He leans back heavily on the back of the couch, swallowing, and then lets out an unsteady breath at the way Dave drags his lips down almost to the tip. He’s getting close to the edge already, although he doesn’t really know if he should be. Can’t be much bothered to care, honestly.

His hips start trying to twitch as it’s all coming to overwhelm him, although he does his best to hold them still. Dave just rides out the thrusts, as much as he’s able, although he does seem a little clumsier now. His breath is heavy and hot and blowing steadily around the shape of Jim’s cock, warm and then quickly cool on wet skin where it surrounds him. He brings his hand up to slide on the base of Jim’s shaft again, getting it wet from all the slickness his mouth is spreading around there before pulling it away again. His face is reddening when Jim cracks his eyes open to look at it, his arm back down and working steadily. He looks good like this. The last thing Jim probably would ever have thought he’d think before tonight would have been that Dave Belham looks sexy all worked up and hot and bothered, but here they are. Here Dave is, his whole attention on plunging the wet heat of his mouth up and down along Jim’s cock, his own writhing at Jim’s feet something he barely seems aware of at all. There may be some questions Jim needs to ask himself about all this, later.

He doesn’t care right now. He’s going to come.

“Dave, gonna,” is about all Jim manages to mumble, vaguely, but he’s pretty sure Dave gets the message. It doesn’t seem like Dave is bothered about it one bit, though: He pushes in, not back, trying to get Jim seated more fully in his mouth than where he’d just been drawn back to tease a little. Sucking him in urgently like something’s coming that he really wants to get a taste of, and Christ, yeah, that’ll do it, that’s enough. Jim’s whole body stiffens and tenses up, heat and pleasure and excitement wash through him in a flush of fever, and his face twists up even as his mouth drops open and a groaning breath slips out of it. And then he arches in spite of himself and comes in Dave’s mouth, for what would probably feel like forever if he were aware of anything except how it shudders through him, how hot he is, how hard he’s getting off.

It finally ebbs to just pleasant little shudders, and Jim goes lax and slack against the back of the couch again, just drawing his shaky breaths and eventually starting to blink his eyes open upward. By contrast, Dave is more than ever a constant motion of heavy panting and twitching against his legs, and he lets Jim’s softening cock go so reluctantly that it’s almost starting to get uncomfortably oversensitive by the time it slides free of Dave’s mouth. Then Dave is just sitting fully back on his heels and leaning his head against Jim’s knee, a heavy warmth and an uncommonly sweet gesture. All the while, though, his breath is catching on wanton little grunts at the back of his throat, and his working hand in his pants is making a rhythm of wet and filthy sounds.

Then his head turns deeper into Jim’s leg, and his mouth locks silently open for a moment as he stiffens — and he exhales a long, heavy, voiced rush of air, shuddering full-body against Jim’s calves. It’s clear enough what’s happened, even as dazed as Jim is all over again by the idea. And he finds himself just reaching out again with his hand, resting it on Dave’s hair again, as the last twitches are running their way through Dave’s body. That touch seems to get another, stronger shiver out of Dave for a second, although how exactly to interpret that is hard to say.

Finally, Dave slumps, and his whole weight falls on his knees and away from Jim again. He kneels there, head down, breathing, and Jim sits over him catching his own breath. The apartment seems newly very quiet again, although it never really stopped being that way in the first place.

Jim doesn’t have the slightest goddamn idea what to do with this situation. That being so, though, it seems to him he can just do whatever it occurs to him to. He eventually clambers and shoves himself forward on the couch with almost painful care, and Dave scoots and bumps very clumsily out of his way so he can get up. Without even bothering to put his boxers back on (the windows are reasonably screened by trees, and even if they weren’t, it’s a little late to worry about that now), Jim heads over to the kitchen on unsteady legs, getting out a glass and starting to fill it with water. The soft click of the bathroom door over in the hall makes him look around, surprised, but sure enough Dave isn’t on the floor anymore and what he can see of the bathroom door is shut. It stays that way long enough for him to come back over to the couch, a little lost, and set down the glass; even long enough for him to get himself covered up, such as it is.

Eventually, though, Dave comes back, with his eyes turned down. Before he has time to pick a place to go now, though, Jim gets up and picks one for him: taking Dave’s shoulders and steering him onto the couch. Dave feels thin through his shirt, his modest wiry muscles feeling shrunken like they’ve wasted away, and he’s fever-hot to the touch, but he doesn’t flinch away or anything. Jim gives him the water, which he just stares at for a minute, but finally drinks enough that Jim’s satisfied and helps him get lying down, instead. By the time Jim thinks to go dig a throw blanket out of the coat closet and comes back with it, Dave looks like he’s asleep, or close enough anyway. Jim puts the blanket over him, and then Dave’s coat over top of it, for good measure.

Then it’s just Jim, standing in his own living room looking at Dave sleeping on the couch where Dave just sucked him off, having to try to think what to do about anything. Go to sleep himself, is what he ought to do. He could go to the bed, get back in beside the girl who’s been asleep there this whole time, try to shut his eyes. That might make sense, but the idea itches at him. He’s not sure enough that he would hear the front door from there, if it were to open and close again.

And what are the odds he’s going to get a lick of sleep anyway, no matter where he is?

In the end, he just turns off the living room lights, and settles in sitting up on the floor at the base of the couch (almost where Dave had been, he avoids thinking). It’s right where Dave would be hard-pressed to get up without kicking him in the back of the head, so that’s something, at least. He leans himself back against the couch, his hands tumbled across his lap, and shuts his eyes, just feeling the noisy drunken rise and fall of Dave’s breath behind him and the cool of the air on his skin. Neither the rug under him nor the couch behind him is very comfortable, and his brain is vibrating like an overheated engine. It’s going to be a long time before it’s morning.

He must have finally fallen asleep eventually, though. Sometime a little after six the next morning, Jim wakes up groggy to the muffle of birdsong from the trees outside, and blue early-morning light through the windows. He’s never had as much in the way of curtains for the ones out here as the ones in the bedroom, and the room is getting bright in a hurry. He blinks around himself for a minute or two, his complete bafflement slowly settling and sorting itself out into remembering and understanding.

Dave’s breathing is a little quieter behind him than it was last night, but it’s still no surprise to turn around (wincing at his own incredibly stiff back) and see the long lump of him lying there, still where Jim left him. At some point Dave’s gotten himself turned over to face the back of the couch, and the blanket and coat are disorganized but still covering him just about up to his ears. There’s almost nothing of him to see at all, honestly. But he’s there, still breathing.

Jim clambers up to his feet, and cracks what feels like his whole back in one long arch that he makes a lot of contorted grimacing faces through. Then he limps off to the shower — all the better to make it seem like that’s the only place he ever went. There’s no movement from the bedroom either, though, by the time he comes out damp and betoweled, and good for everyone else in the apartment actually getting some sleep, Jim supposes. He snags a robe from the bathroom, heads back to the kitchen, and sets about making at least three people’s worth of coffee and eggs and bacon.

Sandra (maybe) finally emerges by around the time the bacon really starts smelling good. She’s back in last night’s dress, as presentably as she can be, and looking sleepy-eyed and sheepish. Jim smiles at her when she comes in, but she doesn’t give him a chance to say anything first.

“I’m so sorry I fell asleep–” she starts. She’s not keeping her voice down, of course, and Jim winces in spite of himself and pats at the air a little in her direction, as gently as possible. She frowns, and then looks where he’s looking — over at Dave, still mostly just an unidentifiable lump on the couch. The frown she turns back to Jim is, he guesses, about as baffled as he deserves.

“Friend of mine tied a few too many on in the neighborhood last night, and came by after you went to sleep,” Jim half-lies as smoothly and charmingly as he can, at a much lower volume, smiling at her again apologetically. “He was in no shape to get home, so I let him sleep it off here. Sorry to spring that on you, though.”

Maybe-Sandra just laughs quietly, though, kind of like she’s mostly relieved there’s an explanation. It’s probably the best he could have hoped for. “Oh, that’s all right, that’s sweet of you to do for him.” Her grin widens a bit, and goes a little impish. “I guess that makes us even, anyway.”

Jim grins back, and nods her toward the little kitchen table. “I sure hope so. Have a seat, breakfast’s just about ready.”

“You’re the whole package, aren’t you?” she says, and leans over his countertop to kiss his cheek before she does like he said. She’s a real nice girl. He wishes he for sure remembered her name.

They eat together, passing pleasant meaningless conversation in the corner of his little kitchen the whole time. They’re keeping it down as best they can, but they’re not exactly silent, either, and even so Dave never stirs. Finally maybe-Sandra gets up, tries to wash her plate before Jim insists he’ll take care of it, not to worry, and then gives him another kiss before having to run off to a casting call for some commercial or another. She leaves her number on the counter, and he tells himself he’ll call it, one of these days. Probably.

Then she’s gone, and it’s just him and Dave again.

Jim sits back at the table and drinks his coffee, waiting, and eventually Dave does start to move around a little under the blanket. He groans, too, in a very heartfelt way that can’t help but make Jim wince in sympathy, and also smile just a bit in spite of himself. Finally, Dave emerges out of his cocoon into the harsh light of day: pulling himself up on the couch by torturously slow degrees and shoving the blanket and his coat feebly off into a heap, and then just sitting there a minute, looking like a wreck. His overlong hair’s every which way, his eyes are puffed up to an owlish squint, and he’s got lines from the cushions on one cheek. Your teen heartthrob, ladies.

“Mmnuh,” Dave says, when he sees Jim, and that’s honestly more than Jim was expecting. Jim nods to it, companionably, and after another minute Dave hauls himself staggering upright and to the bathroom again. He’s in there for a while, and the water runs several different times, but when he finally comes out Dave looks almost like a human being again. His hair is at least slicked back, and the puffing and marks on his face much reduced.

“Have a seat,” Jim says, before Dave has time to say anything or do anything or bolt out of here at top speed. He gets up himself, even as he says it. “I’ll get your plate out of the oven. There’s coffee too, if you want it.”

“Please,” Dave says, softly, after such a long time that even with his back turned, Jim can just imagine how many other possible things to say Dave must have considered and discarded. He doesn’t turn around — just nods, turns off the oven, and gets out a mug.

He brings Dave his breakfast to an equally quiet but heartfelt murmur of thanks. Dave does eye it all for a minute like he doesn’t trust it before tucking in, but all things considered, Jim doesn’t think that’s a slight on his cooking per se. Dave takes the first few bites pretty cautiously, too, but fortunately for them both everything seems to stay down all right, and he picks up confidence as he goes.

Jim drinks his second cup of coffee while Dave works his way through. Finally, when Dave’s gotten a good amount of food down him, Jim sets the cup down and says with all the quiet, firm calm he can muster: “Dave, you need to quit drinking.”

Dave pauses in mid-bite, like a kid playing Statues. Finally he starts chewing again, though, and swallows even though it looks difficult. Then he sets down his fork, looking down at his plate. “Drinking’s not the problem,” he says, just as quietly. 

“I know,” Jim says. He does, now. “But it’s not helping, either. And… well. Hang on. Let me try and say what I’m thinking.”

Dave doesn’t look up, but he doesn’t interrupt, either. Jim wishes he could’ve waited until after Dave ate a little more, but there’s nothing for it now but to keep going.

“There’s the clinics, especially around here, where drunks go to dry out, right?” is what he says, when he does. He’s never been a great one at choosing his words, but he’s trying his damnedest to pick the best ones he can now. “Where you go stay there, and they keep an eye on you and help you, and all that. I’m thinking — maybe that would be a good idea. For the drinking, but also… for a place where somebody would be looking out for you, you know? Where they’d…”

He can’t quite finish that sentence, though. Dave still won’t look up at him, just sitting with his head down and hands in his lap. Jim takes a slow breath, and exhales it out long.

“Look,” he says, “I don’t… have a problem with what happened, as far as that goes. Or with you. At all, I promise you. But as much as I’d like to flatter myself that sucking me off is enough to keep somebody wanting to live who wouldn’t otherwise, I don’t think that’s gonna work forever. Or am I wrong?”

He can’t quite see whatever little flicker seems to pass through Dave’s face at that. Then Dave does lift his head a bit, though, and the corner of Dave’s mouth tugs into almost a smile, then gives it up. “No,” Dave says, without any particular inflection at all. “I don’t think you are.”

Jim nods. “So… the way I see it, if drinking’s part of the picture, that’s one option, right? And if it’s that or a mental ward, that’s the better one, if you ask me. It can be about drinking, as far as anybody else knows, and you can be somewhere where they’re gonna try to help you, and they might be able to, a little. And they can at least keep you someplace where they can make sure you don’t do anything to hurt yourself, if you want to keep from doing that.”

He half-expects Dave to start fighting: to say no, he doesn’t want it, he doesn’t need it — or worse yet, try to laugh it off, say it was just one stupid night, he’s fine now, really. It’s what he’s afraid of, because Jim doesn’t have the slightest idea how he would come back at that, if he even could. How would he get in and help if Dave decided not to let him? And why should Dave let him? Why should Dave listen to him at all? Who’s he to Dave, really, even after everything that happened last night?

But in the end, after being quiet for a long time, all Dave says with an almost-half-smile is: “What about the show?”

Jim blinks, and then frowns. “What about the show? The hell with the show. The show’s making it worse, seems to me.”

“You’re not wrong about that either,” Dave says after a moment’s hesitation, and sighs before he finally risks looking Jim in the eye. “But I can’t just say the hell with it, either. That’s not just about me, it’s about you, too. And Lyle, and all the folks who work on it. I’d be screwing over everybody.”

“Not on purpose,” Jim says — and it comes out of him a little offended, almost, on Dave’s behalf. “Not for no reason. And… look, I’m not going to say I’m crazy about it. I love the show. I hate how hard it’s gotten on you, but I still like doing it, I always have. But… if it’s what you need to do for yourself, then yeah, the hell with the show. It’s not the end of the world, Dave. There’ll be other jobs, for me, for you, for everybody.”

“Not for me, not if I do this,” Dave says, and smiles, thinly. “That’s ‘you’ll never work in this town again’ territory. I know you’re new at this, but you’ve got to know that.”

Jim hesitates himself a moment, and then digs in his heels, as best he can. “I don’t know it for sure, and neither do you,” he says. “If nothing else, I know Lyle won’t do that to you. He can be kind of a horse’s ass about some things, but he’s all right. He’s a decent guy. If we go to him and we tell him this is what’s going on, I’m sure he’ll get it, and he’ll get your back about it.”

Dave just looks at Jim for what feels like a long time, and then that very tired, very tiny smile cracks on his lips again. “We?” he repeats — not unkindly, but a little skeptically. Jim nods, his mouth firming up, but Dave just keeps looking at him like he didn’t even see it. “Why do you even want to do all this for me, Jim?” Dave asks, a minute later, his voice much softer now. Vulnerable. “We barely know each other outside work. And I can’t imagine last night helped.”

Of course that first part hurts, but he can admit it’s true, too. Jim shrugs, and now he’s the one who looks down at the table. “Yeah, but inside work, you’re just about the only person I know as well as I do,” he says. “And you’re a good guy. I don’t want you doing anything crazy just because I tried to pretend everything was normal when it wasn’t. I know it isn’t, I knew before now.” He meets Dave’s eyes again, with an effort, and tries to smile. “I think I’d want to get to be your friend, someday, if you want that. And even if you don’t, I want you to stick around.”

Dave stares back at him a few seconds, and then drops his gaze, swallowing. They just sit like that for a while.

“Will you take care of my dogs?” he asks, soft again. “I mean, I hate to ask, but…” Jim looks at him wide-eyed as he trails off, then can’t help a sudden burst of a laugh.

“Yeah, of course I’ll take care of your dogs.” He might ask why Rachel can’t do that, already being in the same house with them, but he guesses Dave’s thinking if he goes through with this, it’ll be the end of that too. He wouldn’t lay money Dave’s wrong about that, either. Especially… well, given everything he knows now. “Come on. Finish up your breakfast, and then we’ll go to Lyle’s office and talk to him. Just lay it out.” He pauses, even while Dave notably doesn’t much move to start eating again, and then asks, “Is there anybody you want to call, or want me to call, when you go in, that I wouldn’t know about? Family, or friends?”

Dave shakes his head, slowly, like he’s trying to think about a lot at once. “I haven’t talked to my parents in almost ten years,” he says, with a grimacey little smile. Well, not like Jim can’t relate. “And I can’t think of many friends who haven’t gotten sick of me by now.” He thinks a second, though, and then adds lower, “Maybe… you remember Carly Diamond? From when she guested on the show last year?”

Jim gives him another incredulous second of stare, for a very different reason now. “No, I forgot all about getting to meet Lulu in person. Kind of thing that just slips your mind.”

Dave makes some kind of blustery snorting sound, and then wipes his face with both hands, actually laughing a little. “God, don’t say it that way to her face,” he says, but doesn’t elaborate. “She’d… I think she’d still want to know. I’ll give you her number. Maybe give her a call, if you can.”

“I will,” Jim says, with no questions. He knows Dave used to date Carly for a little bit, although he’s not sure what to make of that now. Still, it’s Dave’s business. He’ll just call.

He waits a second after that, but then he gives it up and nods to the rapidly cooling plate still in front of Dave, more pointedly than ever. Dave looks at him, weary, but Jim just looks back. And after a minute, finally, Dave sighs, and picks up his fork.

 

23.

Transcript of excerpt from “Into The Sunset?: The Real Story of Hotchkiss & Rambacher,” That’s Entertainment! episode 7×13 (original airdate: July 18, 20–)

BELHAM: Well, I know what Jim says about it, and I can appreciate that. But… yeah, I regret it a little. I think it was the right choice, and it had to happen, and I’m not sure I’d change it if I had it to do over again. But I regret it a little. 

[pause]

[Duffy watching him and waiting in the wide shot, then camera tight on Belham.]

You know, if I’m honest, I think what I regret isn’t even leaving the show, it’s the attitude I took toward the show in the first place. [laughs] This seems like the right chance to mention that. I didn’t… as you might expect, for a long time, I didn’t really want to look back at any of the stuff from that period, but lately especially with this special and all, I’ve gotten around to watching some of the old episodes of it, some of the ones I never even saw all finished before. And I mean, God, it’s awful watching yourself on camera, especially from forty, fifty years ago. [Duffy laughs offscreen] But still. I was just… kind of taken aback by what a good show it is. I mean, it’s a good show. It’s not high art, it’s not groundbreaking, it’s got its issues, sure, especially by today’s standards. But it’s a solid, and honestly, really thoughtful thing. A lot of people worked really hard on that show, from Lyle Thornton on down, the writers and costumers and set dressers and–horse wranglers, and everybody. They cared a lot, and it shows. And in the writing of it, really, it ended up being really progressive, honestly. It was really trying to do a lot of things–with race, sometimes, and gender, and especially about wealth and poverty and policing–that I think it was really ahead of its time on. I was surprised, to look back on it and really see how good it was, for what it was.

And it made me feel bad, you know? That I didn’t appreciate that at the time. I was so frustrated with television work in general, and the network, and so keen on getting into film but not being able to do it, that I just had this really dismissive sort of attitude toward the whole thing. And depression, it… it feels unfair to say it, but it has this way of making you myopic. Self-centered, really. I don’t mean that in a judgmental way, it’s necessary. You have to turn in on yourself like that, to be able to survive. You need all the resources you have to keep going, and you can’t spare anything outside yourself. But for me… it means I missed a lot of things like that, that only now I’m appreciating for what they were. And that’s hard.

[Pull back out to Duffy, watching Belham, and nodding.]

And, if you ask me how I feel about the show now–I’m just grateful. I’m really grateful, to have been a part of something that so many people cared about and worked for, and that led to me meeting Jim, my best friend my whole life, and–hell, might have ended up saving my life. I’m grateful that I’m still here to look back on it, and talk to you about it.

I’m just really grateful.

 

24.

Excerpt from “Into the Sunset,” final episode of Hotchkiss & Rambacher (unaired, unfilmed, unwritten)

Joseph Hotchkiss and Theophilus Rambacher lie in the dust and sparse grass beside a little watering hole in Utah, a tiny oasis holding up against the desert. Their arms are folded behind their heads, Hotchkiss chewing a stem of grass, their horses loosely tethered not far away. They’re watching the few clouds in the dimming late-afternoon sky — a moment of peace after having finally turned in their badges, unwilling to cross some last moral line that the job demanded (what it would have been was never decided). They’ll find other, better ways to protect the people they’ve sworn to, ones that aren’t as beholden to powerful men who’ve never given a damn, and make a living in the bargain. Whatever it is, they’ll do it together.

“What do you think?” Rambacher asks, presently. When Hotchkiss doesn’t immediately reply, he glances over. “Do you regret it?”

Hotchkiss only keeps looking up a moment longer, and then he smiles, chewing at his grass. “Not a bit,” he says. “Don’t think I ever will. This old Earth has never turned backward one day I’ve been here, and I figure all I can do is keep turning forward with her. All this, all these ugly old ways we hurt each other… it’s going to be distant history, someday. And I’m going to wake up and see a tomorrow that’s better than today.”

“How do you know?” Rambacher asks. He’s always been full of questions for his older, more seasoned partner, but this one is especially soft and wondering.

“I don’t,” Hotchkiss says, and smiles. “But saying it’s a promise to help make it that way, if at all I can. And to stick around to do it.” He glances over at Rambacher, and then holds out his hand. “You with me?”

Rambacher looks at his hand, then at him — then smiles brilliantly.

“Every step of the way,” he says, and takes it.

They’ll get up soon, and mount up, and keep riding, toward all the blazing color that’ll rise up out of the western sky to meet them. But for now, they just lie shoulder-to-shoulder, each content to know there’s at least one guy around who wants to see him walk another day under the sun.

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6 thoughts on “Sunset in the West

  1. AHHHHHH I loved this piece! So good, and so sincere! I love how much research was put into this, too–I’m a fan of old queer hollywood history, and so this was a treat to read thru!

    I especially liked the combination of prose and script elements–felt like I could picture the episodes of Hotchkiss and Rambacher, as if I’d caught an episode or two on TV Land/Turner classics, haha.

    These characters are all wonderful and I appreciate the sheer amount of work that went into this. Well done!

  2. I could really feel the characters’ bittersweet nostalgia and reflection on where they were and where they are now. Very interesting and in-depth story that really made me believe that these folks could be actors from the past. Super cool use of different sources of writing (all purposefully included!) to make a cohesive picture of these characters’ lives.

  3. thank you for this thoughtful and warm piece. mixing the different medias in between present time made it a fluid and fun read as well. the interactions with side characters, the historical elements, and overall bittersweet, weary mood fleshed out this story and i’m just happy that everyone, especially Dave, is doing better.

  4. Sad AND hot AND! hopeful! I mean, I guess there’s no such thing as a bad reason not to kill yourself.

    I’m also glad these three found a relationship structure that works for them, even if it’s not something they can easily talk about. I loved Carly coming in and cuddling them after sex.

  5. So before anything else, let me say I definitely noticed the little magic trick where things set in the present day are in past tense, while things in the past are in present tense, and I enjoyed it very much.

    Jim, Dave, and Carly all have such a warm, healthy relationship; I will always prefer a not-always-but-definitely-sometimes OT3 over frustrating love triangles or flat-out infidelity, and seeing how much each character means to each other (such as Dave being thrilled that “[Jim and Carly] were both finally going to have somebody he thought was good enough for [them]” upon learning of their relationship) is just plain nice, especially given how much time and how many bad relationships the story covers.

    Historical stuff is rough if one doesn’t get revisionary, and I like how you still pushed the narrative in a more forward-thinking direction in spite of the heavy stuff going on, all while feeling true to the era.

    I am so glad you write for this zine.

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