Bright and early Wednesday morning, Richard drove us to the airport, bitching nonstop about the ungodliness of the hour. This caused Philip to say, "Maybe we should have taken a taxi."
"Ignore the grouch behind the wheel," I said. "We've been best friends since junior high school, and he's never been a morning person."
We settled down on the plane and slept part of the way to San Francisco, therefore arriving as rested as one can be after a transcontinental flight.
Philip waited at the baggage carousel for our luggage while I went to take care of the paperwork for our rental car, which was probably a needless luxury for the first several days of our visit inasmuch as we hadn't planned any side trips for that first week. We'd decided to indulge ourselves anyway, and I managed to drive us to Union Square and our hotel without getting lost in the process.
By four thirty we were sitting on the terrace of a bar at Ghirardelli Square, where we could look out over the bay at the Golden Gate Bridge to our left and watch the cable cars being turned around on the street below and slightly to our right. Despite the January chill, there were a few swimmers doing laps in the bay below us. After an hour or so, we walked over to Fisherman's Wharf and meandered through the shops.
From there we walked through the North Beach section looking for a place to have dinner, finally settling on Grifone, a small Italian restaurant on Columbus Avenue, and it proved to be a serendipitous choice. We had to wait at the small bar for a table, and sat nursing our drinks, watching an attractive young Italian man tend bar and oversee the waiters. After we'd been sitting at the bar for perhaps ten minutes, the bartender/host/maitre d', who'd been standing behind the bar with nothing to do for a couple of minutes, struck up a conversation with us, turning into Chatty Cathy from then until our table was ready. In the course of the conversation, we learned that his grandparents had started the restaurant when they'd arrived from Italy in the mid-1940s. We had a pleasant conversation concerning both the restaurant business in general and Italian food in particular before our table became available.
The meal was as good as the conversation had been interesting, and we lingered for more than an hour and a half over dinner, dessert, and Port before walking down Columbus and catching a bus to Union Square and our hotel.
Thursday, we devoted the morning to the Palace of the Legion of Honor and the afternoon to the de Young Museum. That night, we dined in a somewhat eclectic cafe near the opera house and Civic Center.
Friday morning we visited the Cable Car Museum and wandered around Nob Hill. We visited Grace Cathedral, then went to Chinatown, where we lunched on dim sum. In the afternoon we explored a quaint shopping area that ran along an eight-block strip of Union Street just east of Van Ness. We returned to the neighborhood that evening to try a French restaurant whose menu had looked interesting--the food was very good, the service less so.
Saturday morning we ran, as we had the previous two days, up and down the hills of San Francisco, although we covered nowhere near our usual distance. Running up and down steep hills is harder than it looks, and neither of us was conditioned for it. We spent the rest of the morning shopping in the Union Square area.
After lunch, we took a bus to Castro Street and explored the area thoroughly, walking hand in hand, as were several same-sex couples in the area. At first, we were both somewhat self-conscious at such a public display, but the fact that we were just one of many couples behaving similarly got us over our nervousness. A lifetime habit of keeping up appearances is a difficult thing to overcome.
The area of shops, boutiques, and bars of The Castro only extends for a few blocks along Castro Street off Market Street, spilling onto several of the side streets for a block or so in each direction. From there, we went back up Market Street to Polk Street and explored that well-known strip of porno shops and bars.
Saturday evening we were back in The Castro for dinner, having earlier selected a restaurant on one of the side streets. The clientele, at least on this evening, was about 90 percent male, all of them same-sex couples. The atmosphere was quaint, and there was a piano in the dining area, presumably for entertainment later in the evening. The food was superb, as was the service. I noticed that the waiter looked at us strangely several times, almost to the point of staring, but concluded that he was merely cruising us, so I pretended not to notice until Philip commented on it.
"Which one of us do you think he has the hots for?" Philip said after the waiter had brought our entrees.
"That's hard to tell. Maybe he wants us both."
"Hmm, it's been a long time since I participated in a menage a trois."
His smile told me that he was kidding, but I couldn't resist saying, "Control yourself, please. I'm not at all certain that I'm up to that."
"Relax. I'm only joking."
Any rejoinder I might have made was interrupted by music. We hadn't been paying attention, but we looked around and saw that a young man was now seated at the piano playing a medley of songs from the fifties or sixties, but I wasn't sure which. We ate in silence, listening to the music, which continued until we'd finished our entrees and had ordered dessert and coffee. The musician stopped playing and walked over to the bar to take a break, but by the time we'd finished our coffee he was back at the piano, this time playing music of a more recent vintage.
The waiter brought the check, and I gave him a credit card. He carried the card and our check back to his station, but quickly returned and handed me the card. Then he said, "Are you the guys from Atlanta that were on the news, Mr. Barnett?"
"Yes, we are," I said. "Why?"
"And your name is d'Autremont, isn't it?" he said, directing his attention to Philip.
"It is," Philip said.
"I thought I recognized you from the evening news last Tuesday."
I chuckled at that, and the waiter said, "What's so funny?"
"We thought you were cruising us."
This caused him to laugh in turn. "Honey," he said, affecting an exaggerated accent, "Ah nevah cruise when ah'm on duty." Dropping the accent, he continued, "I thought I recognized you and kept looking just to be sure."
"Now that we've gotten that out of the way, where's the charge slip for me to sign?"
"There won't be one. Your meal is on the house, compliments of the management." Having spoken his piece, he walked quickly over to the piano player and whispered something in his ear.
The pianist stopped what he was playing and performed a little fanfare on the keyboard. When he'd gotten the attention of his audience, he picked up a microphone and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I've just been informed that we have a couple of celebrities in the house tonight. Seated near the back of the room between the last pair of arches are the two men from Atlanta who were responsible for the downfall of one of this country's most notorious homophobes, none other than the allegedly Rev. I. M. Foible, aka I'm Full of Bull. Please put your hands together for Charles Barnett and Philip d'Autremont."
It was simultaneously embarrassing and exciting when everyone in the restaurant stood up and clapped. When the room had quieted down, the entertainer came over to our table carrying a cordless microphone. He introduced himself as "John Barry--no relation to the well-known composer of film scores," and he proceeded to conduct an impromptu interview with Philip and me, to the evident delight of the other diners. After he'd gone back to his piano and commenced playing again, the manager came over to our table and introduced himself.
We thanked him for the meal, complimented him on both the food and the service, and chatted for a while before he went back to his duties. As soon as he left our table, several other diners stopped by to talk to us. Two of them, a couple who appeared to be in their late thirties, invited us to have drinks at their home on Nob Hill late Sunday afternoon, saying that there would be a gathering of thirty or so people there, all of whom would be pleased to meet us. I looked at Philip and caught his nod of agreement before accepting the invitation.
Sunday morning after our run, we went to services at Grace Cathedral. Before walking back to the hotel, we reconnoitered the area and discovered that the address we'd been given the night before was a high-rise apartment building. Back in our room, we changed into casual attire, then took the cable car to Ghirardelli Square and had lunch at a nearby restaurant.
We arrived at the apartment building around four thirty and were directed by the doorman to a penthouse apartment. Before I rang the bell, I said, "Remember, if this turns out to be a room full of screaming queens, I'm going to complain of a little migraine early on."
"You won't have to, because I'll beat you to it," he said.
As it turned out, my fears were proven groundless. Most of the thirty or so people who came and went over the course of the next two hours were doctors, lawyers, and professional men in the thirty- to fiftysomething age group, with a few accountants and middle-level management types mixed in. To our surprise, we were introduced to everyone as the guests of honor, and equally surprising was the fact that I managed to enjoy myself. Robert, my late partner, and I had both attended and given many cocktail parties over the years, and I'd continued to receive invitations after his death. I even went to a few of them, but it was never the same. After that, I issued so many "regrets" that people eventually stopped asking me. The difference, of course, was Philip. He and I were becoming, just as Robert and I had been, two halves of the same whole.
Walking back to the hotel, I articulated some of this to Philip, and we decided that we would start entertaining, on a limited scale at first, once we were back home.
We'd also learned during the course of the party something of what had been happening at home as a result of Philip's trial. We'd deliberately refrained from reading the papers or watching the news, it being our mutual desire to forget about the recent ordeal, at least for the duration of the trip. (Philip had been charged with the murder of his late wife, and a politically ambitious district attorney, aided by a homophobic television evangelist, had used the power of his office to frame him for the crime.) From various conversations, we learned that the district attorney had been swiftly indicted by a grand jury, as had the Rev. Foible, along with a cast of lesser players from their respective organizations. The criminal justice system in Atlanta was busily cleaning house now that its very dirty linen was in public view. Detective Kellerman was singing like a canary, naming names all the way up the chain of command of people who'd conspired in ordering him to falsify his reports. The televangelists in general were hastily trying to distance themselves from their fallen colleague for fear that contributions from the faithful, which were only beginning to recover from the sex scandals of recent years, would plummet once again. Last, but certainly not least, the elusive Ruby, who was in fact the actual murderer, had been arrested and brought to Atlanta for trial.
Monday morning after our run, we'd planned to drive up to Napa, but Philip said that he had something he wanted us to do first.
"What?" I said.
"Be patient and you'll see."
We went down to the hotel entrance, where Philip asked the doorman to get us a cab. In the taxi, he gave an address, and we were quickly driven to a residential neighborhood in the Marina District. We disembarked in front of a small apartment building, and Philip paid the driver, asking for and receiving a receipt. He gave me a mysterious smile and said, "Just play along with me for now, okay?"
"Sure," I said in total bewilderment.
I noticed that there was a "Vacancy" sign in front of the building, and as soon as we were in its foyer, Philip rang the buzzer marked "Resident Manager."
When a middle-aged man appeared in answer to Philip's ring, Philip told him that we would like to see the apartment that was advertised for rent. Curiously, he gave our names as Philip Wetherbee and Charles Greene.
The manager showed us a two-bedroom apartment on the top floor, which was as impressive as its price was appalling. Philip complained that he thought the price was excessive, and the manager hinted that he might be able to do something about the rate he'd quoted, in that he had an "in" with the owners. He made it quite clear, without coming right out and saying so, that he expected a gratuity for helping us in getting the apartment at the price we wanted to pay. Philip haggled with him expertly for a few minutes, finally giving him fifty dollars, for which Philip was assured that the lease could be signed on the spot for the agreed-upon amount. We followed the manager to his apartment, where the papers could be filled out and executed, and the minute we were in the manager's apartment, Philip took his cell phone out of his pocket, punched a few buttons, and waited.
The person he wanted to speak to must have answered, because he said, "Hello, Stanley. Philip d'Autremont here. ... I'm in San Francisco--in fact, I'm in the apartment of the resident manager of my building, who has just accepted a fifty-dollar bribe in exchange for renting the apartment at a lower than advertised rate. I want you to immediately exercise clause thirteen of his contract. ... You can reach me at the Francis Drake or on my cell phone to confirm that you've taken care of the matter. I suggest you call him right now." As he said this, he ended the call and signaled to me that we should leave.
We'd just reached the apartment door when we heard a phone ringing, and Philip turned to the RM, who seemed to be in a state of shock, and said, "I suggest you answer your phone. We'll let ourselves out."
I followed him out of the building in something of a daze, and as we began to walk toward the nearest business district, I said, "That was quite a performance you put on back there."
He gave me one of his million-dollar smiles and said, "Sometimes, you just have to take the bull by the horns. I've suspected, ever since this guy became resident manager, that there was a problem here. Now I have confirmation."
"What's 'clause thirteen'?"
"A paragraph that relates to misfeasance and malfeasance and gives me the right to demand that the manager vacate the premises within forty-eight hours."
"I see. Is this the only building in San Francisco that you own?"
"Yes, it is. Actually, I'm thinking about selling it to B & D Properties, at book value, of course."
"Can the corporation afford it?"
"Absolutely. This property is heavily leveraged because I recently refinanced it when the interest rates dropped, so the actual book value is quite low. However, even with the additional leverage, it's still cash flow positive and will make B & D look much better on paper."
"What's the book value?"
"So if you put the property in the corporation, I would need to put an equal amount in cash."
I thought for a minute about the trust funds that Randolph Forney, Philip's longtime tax attorney and advisor, was assisting me in gradually liquidating, and said, "Okay, I think I can handle that with no problem. If you want to do it that will be fine."
"There will be an immediate fringe benefit."
"The corporation can turn around and reimburse each of us for part of the cost of this trip."
"Oh, I hadn't thought about that."
"Well, it bears thinking about. If B & D Properties owns property in various cities around the country that you and I just happen to enjoy visiting, we have a legitimate tax write-off for some portion of our trips to those cities."
"You have a devious mind."
"No more so than your average lawyer."
Our walk had taken us to a small neighborhood business district, where we managed to find a cab to take us back to the hotel. San Francisco isn't really a taxicab city in the sense that New York is, and it isn't always possible to spot a cab cruising by looking for a fare. As soon as we were in our room, Philip telephoned one of our hosts from the previous evening and asked if he knew anyone who was stable and dependable, and more importantly, would like an apartment at a greatly reduced price in exchange for duties as resident manager. Philip gave the name and telephone number of the rental agent who handled the property, and then called the agent himself, telling him to expect a call from one or more prospective resident managers.
He'd just hung up the telephone when it rang briefly. He answered and then handed the instrument to me, saying, "It's for you."
"Hello," I said.
"Charles. I'm so glad I caught you in your room, my boy; I didn't want to bother you on your cell phone when you were out and about." It was Andrew Chandler, outgoing senior partner of my law firm, Chandler, Todd, Woodward, and Barnett, and my longtime mentor.
"What can I do for you, Andrew?"
"Have you been keeping up with the news?"
"Not really. We kind of wanted to put all of that behind us. We did hear through acquaintances that indictments have been brought against both Wetherbee and Foible, not to mention a few lesser fools."
"Just so. You might also be interested to know that both you and Philip have been the subject of death threats."
"Really? How so?"
"The usual--hate mail coming here to the office addressed to the two of you. Anonymous, of course. In addition, Richard reports that there have been a few ugly notes shoved through your mail slot at home. He's posted an around-the-clock guard for the time being."
"Wow! What do the police have to say about all of this?"
"Not much. They're a little reluctant to take it seriously. On the other hand, after all the publicity, they're afraid not to respond."
"Sounds like we're missing all the fun." I could see Philip's eyebrows rising in a question mark as I continued, "What else is going on?"
"Well, the real reason I called you is that Donald Brown--the television talk-show host--would like to have the two of you appear on his show in the near future. As it happens, he's on the West Coast this week, and you could either fly down to Los Angeles and do it face to face or arrange to go to a local station for a remote setup. That is, assuming you'd like to do so."
"What do you think?" I said.
"It's a tossup," he said. "It would either stir things up more or help to calm them."
"You do know," I said, "that guy is pretty much a left-wing nut in his viewpoints and might not like to hear what a couple of semi-conservative libertarians have to say."
"I brought that up with his representative and warned him that the interviewer might not get answers to his questions that he particularly wanted to hear."
"What did the representative, as you call him, say to that?"
"In a word, he said that it wouldn't be a problem."
"What do you really think about it, Andrew?"
"It's hard to say, but on balance, I think it might be a good thing."
"So do I, and if Philip agrees, we'll set it up."
"I was hoping you'd say that. Let me give you the name and telephone number to contact."
I took the note pad and pen provided by the hotel, made a note of the name and Los Angeles telephone number, and said, "Anything else?"
"Nothing we can't handle here, my boy. Enjoy the rest of your vacation."
"We will. However, please call me if anything else happens."
"I will. Give my regards to Philip."
I said that I would, and we hung up. I looked at Philip and said, "Andrew sends you his regards."
"What was that all about?"
I told him about the threats.
"And what else?"
I told him about the talk show and asked what he thought of it, adding, "It sounds like a good idea to me. Talking to America's aging sob-sister might even be fun."
"Fun! Are you sure?" Philip said. "The questions could get very personal and/or nasty. Our privacy will be in shreds after this."
"I think we can handle anything they throw at us, and as for privacy, we have no intention of inviting them into our bedroom, do we?"
"You know we don't."
"Then like it or not, we have to realize that a great deal of our privacy is already, as you put it, 'in shreds'. Our pictures have been all over the media. The lawsuits I'll be bringing will cause more of the same, and neither of us is the type to cower at home for fear of being recognized. We're going to be seen together out and about in Atlanta and elsewhere, so we might as well 'bite the bullet' now, so to speak."
Philip was unable to refute anything that I'd said, so I made the telephone call and arranged for us to be in a Sacramento television studio Thursday afternoon. That detail taken care of, we retrieved the rental car and drove up to Napa.