This is Chapter 9 of the "Queer Identities" series.
The narrator is Justin Taylor, and features Brian Kinney, Tom Packard, Dale Irvine, Sam Elliott, George Phillips.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Justin is asked to do a job. Arizona, May 2003.
Disclaimer: You know the drill. This is for fun, not profit. Enjoy.
I'm working at my computer, answering some e-mail, when someone knocks at the door of the trailer.
I'm surprised to see Tom Packard, the no-nonsense location coordinator of the shoot, carrying his ubiquitous clipboard. I've seen him around -- he was at the dinner Dorian gave on Monday night -- but I've never really spoken to him. And since I'm not an actor and not part of the crew, he's had no reason to speak to me.
"Justin Taylor? You're Mr. Kinney's personal assistant?"
"Yes, that's me. Come on in." It's always polite to invite people into your trailer since it's so hot here. He nods and steps inside. "What can I do for you, Mr. Packard?"
He wipes his sweaty brow, so I immediately go to the fridge and pour him some lemonade. I always have a pitcher made and waiting. Brian likes a big glass the minute he gets home after a long day at Cowboy Camp.
"Thanks." Packard drains the glass and hands it back to me. "That hit the spot. Anyway, Mr. Folco suggested that you might want to help us with something. Ordinarily I'd use one of the people from catering -- food is their job, after all -- but this isn't a regular catering assignment and no one over there is too keen on sleeping out in the open while they're working. Would you be interested?"
I put the glass in the sink, then turn back to him. "I'd love to help you, Mr. Packard, but I don't really understand what you're talking about. Do they need someone to serve food somewhere? I used to be a waiter, but I didn't come all the way out here to carry a tray."
"Oh, I guess I thought you understood the situation," he says. "It's for the camp out. Last two days of Cowboy Camp. That's tomorrow and Friday, with wrap-up on Saturday morning. You know about that, right?"
Now I'm on a firmer footing. "Sure. The wranglers and actors playing cowboys are going to drive the cattle out into the desert and camp out. Brian told me about it." I don't add that he was cursing the whole time about having to sleep for two nights with nothing but a sleeping bag between his tender body and the cold, hard ground!
"Yeah, that's it. Bouley wants them all to eat from the chuckwagon, just like their characters would. Mr. Elliott, who's playing the cook, will be driving the wagon and doing most of the cooking, but he's going to need a helper. I was going to order one of the interns to take the job, but Mr. Folco seems to think that you'd like to do it."
"You mean that I'd go on cattle drive? And camp out, too?" Now I'm getting excited.
"Yeah. Mr. Folco also said you have some cooking experience. That'll help. Although Mr. Elliott has done this before, he's not exactly a real cook. But that's kind of the idea. Everybody will have to make do with what's at hand, just like they'd do on a real cattle drive. And it's only for two days, so I doubt the guys will starve. So, what do you say?"
"Yes!" I almost shout. "I'd love to do it! Anything to help out."
Packard looks at me and shakes his head, a little smile crossing his face. He seems to think it's funny that I'm so delighted about doing something that apparently everyone else wants to avoid. But it's camping out with Brian! It's Cowboy Camp and the cattle drive! Of course I want to do it!
"Good," he says in that laconic way of his, making a note on his clipboard. "They'll be heading out tomorrow morning, but you'll need to meet with Dale Irvine, the head of catering, as soon as possible. He'll be showing you and Mr. Elliott what kind of supplies you got and what you have to do with them. Mr. Elliott has already been working with the wagon -- he's done a lot of Westerns, so he's driven one before. All you'll have to do it ride with him and help him with the cooking and cleaning up. But you'll have to sleep out like all the other guys. Is that okay? We'll give you a sleeping bag."
"It's fine! I don't mind at all." Little does Mr. Packard know that camping out with Brian is one of my major fantasies. Of course, it won't exactly be romance under the stars with all the other men there, but that's all right. The closest thing we've ever come to really camping is sleeping on the boat and one furtive night last year when we fucked in the backyard of the Creekside Canyon house while avoiding Ron. I doubt I'll ever get Brian into a real tent unless I dress up as a Cub Scout, so this is going to be my best shot.
I escort Mr. Packard to the door. "Report to Irvine this afternoon. He'll fill you in on the details. And you'll need to wear rugged clothes." He glances at my shorts and tee shirt. "Jeans and boots. And you'll need a hat, too. If you don't have one, check with wardrobe. They'll find you something."
"I will! Thanks again!"
The moment Packard is out the door I change out of my shorts and into 'rugged' clothes more suitable for the cattle drive. But I don't have a hat. That's something I'll certainly have to remedy if I don't want to get heatstroke.
Being on location is like a new city you've just moved to -- you're always finding new corners that you never knew existed. And although I've eaten at the catering tent, I've never thought too much about the logistics of feeding a hoard of cast and crew in the middle of nowhere.
The tents and trailers of the catering department are at the far end of the main camp. Some men are unloading boxes from a refrigerated truck and they direct me to a large trailer with a sign that says 'GH Catering Service, Inc.' on the side.
"So, Mr. Taylor," says Dale Irvine. He's sitting at a desk inside the trailer, sorting through a pile of receipts and invoices. "You've volunteered to be our helper on the camp out, huh?" He looks at me dubiously.
"I can cook and I have experience as a waiter," I tell him.
"You're Brian Kinney's personal assistant?"
He glances up at me. "And his boyfriend?"
"Yes." There's no use denying it. I mean, cover of the 'National Enquirer' and all that!
"This isn't a pleasure trip," he states bluntly.
"I'm here to help Brian any way I can. Tom Packard said that Mr. Folco recommended me for the job. He knows I can do it. And I want to do it. I know the difference between having fun and doing a serious job. I wouldn't want to screw up in front of Brian's co-workers."
He looks me up and down, as if deciding whether or not this is a good idea. "Okay," he says, finally. "The chuckwagon is behind the storage trailer. Ask for Beth. And I'm holding you to that promise not to screw up. Those guys are going to be working hard out there and when they're finished they're going to want their food. If it's not right, then you'll all go hungry. That won't make for a very happy group. You get my drift, kid?"
I think of what Brian will do to me if they end up with no food after being in the saddle all day -- and it's his boyfriend's fault. "I get your drift, Mr. Irvine. I'll do my best."
"Then move your ass," he says, dismissing me.
I move my ass out of the trailer and go to find Beth and the chuckwagon.
By the time I get back to our trailer Brian is just turning his steak on the grill.
"Pull up a stump, Sunshine," he snarks. He spears the bloody piece of meat and moves it over, then he slaps another steak down next to it. "So how do you want it? Raw or charred?"
"How about somewhere in between?" I slide into a lounge chair and fan myself with my hand. It's hot. A dry heat, yes, but a fucking HOT dry heat!
"I was expecting dinner to be ready when I came back from a hard day wrestling steers to the ground." Brian reaches into the cooler and hands me an icy bottle of water. "But, as you can see, I'm actually quite capable of feeding myself." He pokes both steaks with the long grilling fork.
"I think you're capable of doing everything for yourself, Brian," I say. "More than capable."
"Thank you," he says grandly. "If you want to see capable, you should see my technique for roping an 900 pound steer!"
"Brian! Did you do it?" He's been frustrated by the roping. Last night he was practicing until almost midnight. He was doing great, too, but I know that roping a lawn chair isn't the same thing as throwing a rope around a large, angry, moving beast.
"Not only did I do it," he crows. "But I did it not once, not twice, but FIVE fucking times! Even Pat was impressed."
"Congratulations!" I give him a big kiss, almost knocking the water bottle out of his hand.
"If you really want to do me a favor, finish off these steaks," he laughs, slapping me on the butt as he stands up and stretches, scratching his belly where the tee shirt rides up. "I have to piss like a fucking racehorse."
"Okay. And when you come back I have some news, too."
"Something good?" Brian cocks his head.
"I think so," I say. "I'll explain while we eat."
While Brian is inside I poke at the steaks and try to think of a way to word my news. Either Brian is going to think it's great that I'm going on the camp out or he's going to be royally pissed off. With Brian I'm used to speculating on the extremes. Because Brian is an extreme kind of person. Or at least he has been until lately. Sometimes it's hard for me to get used to the reasonable, even-keeled, and sober Brian who came out of Springhurst. I mean, I like him this way. I like that he listens before he freaks out -- usually. And I like that he stops and thinks before he over-reacts -- again, usually. But sometimes Brian Kinney, Regular Person, catches me by surprise. Mostly in a good way, but sometimes in a way I'm not used to.
Because, contrary to logic, I fell in love with the Brian Kinney who was a snarky asshole. The Brian Kinney who could be cruel, even to his best friends. Even to his lovers. Well, especially to his lovers. The Brian Kinney who didn't want anyone to know he had a heart. The Brian Kinney who only showed his vulnerable side to a few people. The Brian Kinney who...
"Jesus H. Christ! Are you letting my fucking steak burn?" Brian grabs the fork out of my hand and rescues his strip steak. "It's fucking ruined! Look at that, you little twat!" He pushes it in my face and I see that there's a tiny bit of charring on one edge. "How am I supposed to eat THAT?"
"I think you'll live," I retort. "I'll eat that one and you can have mine -- it's still almost raw."
"Well... maybe," he sniffs. He sets the steak back on the fire and turns his attention to the other piece of meat.
"Enjoy that steak while you can," I say. "At the camp out you'll be lucky to get beans and bacon."
"Don't remind me! My fucking back AND my fucking stomach! I'm going to spend all Sunday in the Jacuzzi spooning vanilla ice cream into myself."
"I can help you with that," I advise. "Actually, I can help you with a lot more."
"Obviously," he says, throwing me a leer. He checks his new steak and then removes it, dripping bloody juice, to a plate. "I have plans for your ass later tonight."
"Besides that!" I take the grilling fork away from him and turn my steak. It's still going to be rare, but I like mine cooked! I take the salad I made earlier out of the cooler, dress it, and then put some on both our plates. "That's where I was earlier. Over at catering."
Brian frowns. "At catering? Doing what? Cooking lessons?"
"Sort of. I was learning what I need to know for the camp out. I'm going to help Sam Elliott with the chuckwagon." I pause, letting the information sink in. "Cooking, setting up the camp, that kind of stuff."
"And how did you wrangle yourself that job?" Brian's face is impassive, so I can't tell what he really thinks. He cuts a piece of semi-raw meat and chews it.
"I didn't wrangle anything!" I assert. "Tom Packard asked me to do it. It was Dorian's idea, apparently. And since I'm your personal assistant and this will assist you, I agreed." I watch his face, but he's still thinking it over. Thinking and chewing. Chewing and thinking. "If you're going to ream me out, Brian, then do it and get it over with. But I already said yes. I also spent all afternoon going over the supply list, helping to pack the wagon, and learning how to lay the fire and do the basic preparation. So if you're going to be a dick and tell me I can't do it, you better say it now so they can get someone else!"
Brian takes a long pull on his water bottle. Then he looks at me, raising one expressive eyebrow. "Why are you getting your knickers in such a fucking twist? If Packard asked you to do it, it's no skin off my ass. I'm sure you can cook better than that Avi kid, who was the one we all guessed would be doing it. In fact, I know you can cook better than he can." Brian eats a bite of salad. "Good dressing."
"It's raspberry vinaigrette. Em sent me the recipe. He and Vic used it for some Memorial Day party they worked. I was able to get the ingredients in town yesterday."
Brian nods. "As long as you don't forget that this camp out isn't a fucking walk in the park. It's a way for Charley to see who can keep up and who can't. Who can pass as a cowboy and who they'll have to cover for during the actual shoot. It's a test. And that means mainly a test for me, since most of the other guys have already done Westerns before and don't have to prove that they've got the right stuff, so to speak."
"You don't have to prove anything to anyone, Brian. You're the star of this picture!" Brian gives me a dubious look. "Well, you and Clint."
"But I do have to prove myself," he says. "I have to prove myself to Eastwood, and Swayze, and Sam Elliott, and all the other guys who know what the fuck they're doing out here. All those guys who've been in this business for twenty or thirty or fifty fucking years and wonder how someone like me can walk onto this set and have the nerve to call myself an actor. And also all the guys who are wondering if a queer can cut it. That's always the subtext when you're working in a world of straight men. Can the fag stand up and take it? Can he show that he's a fucking man? That goes for me, but it also goes for you, too. Because they'll be watching you. They know you're my lover -- and they'll be taking your measure."
I take my steak off the grill and put it on my plate. Suddenly I'm not as hungry as I was. But there's no way I'm going to back down now. "We're not the only queers on this shoot, Brian. What about Dorian? And Nick and Rowan? And that other actor -- Paco what's his name?" Yeah, Brian's old trick. "And even Burr Connor, if what they say about him is true? What about them?"
"I don't give a shit about them," Brian states flatly. "I only care about us. But never think that they aren't under constant scrutiny, too, because they are. We all are. And the minute any of us fuck up, it'll prove to the straight brotherhood that queers are pussies after all. That they can't take it when push comes to shove. Never forget that one fact."
"I like push coming to shove, no matter where it is!" I say, trying to lighten the mood a little.
"Hey." Brian grabs my arm and pulls me closer to him. "Listen to me. No fucking around on this camp out. I mean it. If you're going to do this, then be a professional. And if you want to fuck under the stars, we'll go out and camp some weekend on our own time. Get it?"
"Got it," I nod.
"Good," says Brian. "Let's finish eating and get to bed early. I want to take advantage of having a mattress under me while I can. The next two nights in a sleeping bag are going to be hell on my already sore ass!"
I cut my steak and take a bite. It's perfect. "I'll remember to bring the Icy Hot."
"I don't think Icy Hot is true to the period," Brian says. "But we can sneak it in."
"Yeah," I reply. "We'll sneak it in!"
Brian gets up at 6:00 a.m. because he has to be at the corral at 7:00 to get his horse packed for the camp out. I lie in bed, watching him get ready. I love watching Brian do anything.
"I can only bring what will fit in the saddlebag," he comments, shoving some socks, underwear, and a clean shirt into a plastic bag. "And that's not much. I'm going to be living in these clothes until Saturday, which means I'm going to reek like a fucking warthog in this heat!"
"Warthogs are cute... sort of," I say, stifling a yawn.
"You aren't going to be much better off. You sweat like a fucking construction worker!" he points out. "But take a flannel shirt in your bag. It can get cold at night in the desert, especially if you're sleeping outside."
"I don't think I have a flannel shirt." In fact, I know I don't. "What about a sweatshirt? Like my PIFA hoodie?"
"I guess. But don't let Charley Bouley see it." He opens a drawer and pulls out a hideous orange and blue plaid flannel shirt. "Take this. Then you won't need to worry."
"Thanks -- I think." I try to picture myself wearing the thing. I'm no fashion icon, but I just can't see it. I can't imagine where Brian picked it up. It looks like something even Emmett would reject as too loud. "I'm not an actor, Brian. Why do I have to be in period?"
"Because Charley says so, that's why. And he's the boss of Cowboy Camp." Brian tosses the baseball cap Clint gave him on the bed. "Which is why I can't wear this thing anymore. Pat said he'd give me one of his hats for the camp out."
"I'm supposed to pick up a hat at wardrobe. They said I'd need one."
"Yeah, you will. And take plenty of sunscreen," Brian reminds me.
"That's not period, either."
Brian sits on the edge of the bed and pulls on his boots. "I don't give a shit. Take it and use it. That's whatI've been doing. I don't want you frying the hell out of your skin."
"What are you going to do on the shoot, Brian?" Brian's skin is darker than mine, but it still burns easily.
"Make-up will take care of that," he explains. "They'll put the sunscreen underneath and then put the make-up base on top of it. I already did the tests back in L.A. They have to check it beforehand so you don't end up looking like some idiot with a fake orange tan when you show up on screen!" Brian rubs his chin. He shaved this morning because he won't be able to for the next couple of days. "I'm not sure about the beard, though. I think a stylish stubble is what Dorian wants me to go for."
"But that's so Eighties!" I laugh.
"A hot guy with stubble is never out of style, even in the 1860's," Brian instructs me. He stands up and adjusts his shirt as he looks at himself in the mirror, the picture of a hot guy with stubble, no matter what the decade or century. "I've got to move. I'll see you out on the range, cowboy."
After Brian leaves I get up, too. I need to pick up my hat and then get something to eat before I report to the chuckwagon. I'm more nervous than I thought I'd be. I really want to do this right and make Brian proud. Which means being as unobtrusive as possible. Doing what I'm told to do. And not ruining the food.
I follow Brian's example and move into the shower. Then out the door, hoping I haven't forgotten anything. A half hour later I'm standing next to the chuckwagon. Sam Elliott is already there, squinting at the wagon and shaking his head. Four horses have been hitched up and are stamping impatiently, the buckles on their harnesses jingling.
"If this thing holds together it'll be a miracle," he says to a short man in overalls who is standing with his hands on his hips.
"We didn't want it to look too new, Sam. It's supposed to be a working wagon," the man replies defensively.
"It wouldn't kill you to put a few springs in this thing," Elliott says in that deep, drawling voice I've heard a millions times in movies and commercials. He not only looks like a wise old cowboy, he sounds like one, too. "I almost killed myself during that night-shoot. I drove over a rock or a rut or something and almost flew out of the seat and on my ass! This thing is shaking my damn teeth loose." He looks up and notices me. "I think my assistant is here." He holds out his hand. "I don't think we've been introduced. I'm Sam and this worthless S.O.B. is our prop master, George."
"I'm Justin," I say, shaking their hands.
George only nods, but Sam grins at me under his big bushy moustache. "You know what you're supposed to do, Justin?"
"I think," I admit. "Whatever you say, I'll do my best."
"Can't ask for more than that," he says. "Stow your gear in the back and climb aboard. We might as well get started. We've got to catch up with the guys and the herd and then try to get ahead of them so we can set up for the mid-day meal. Thanks to this fella here," he slaps George on the back. "It's gonna be a bone-rattling ride!"
"I'll see what we can do about the wagon," George retorts. "But there's nothing I can do until you get back from the camp out!"
"If we live that long!" Sam climbs up onto the seat and takes the reins. I run around the back, toss my bag in, and then go back up front. George gives me a boost up and I'm sitting next to Sam. It's much higher than I thought. "You ready, kid?"
"Ready as I'll ever be!"
"Then let's go!" Sam shakes the reins with a snap.
The horses snort and begin to move. The wagon lurches forward and I can see what Sam was talking about. The whole thing shudders and groans. I have to hang onto the rough wooden seat in order not to be thrown off.
But as we drive through the camp the wagon seems to settle down a little. Or else I'm starting to get used to it. Some of the crew stop and wave as Sam guides the horses past the catering tent, past the equipment trailers, down the trail past the corral, and out into the desert.
"You all right there, Justin?" Sam shouts. The wagon is noisy, creaking and rattling as we jolt down the narrow trail.
"I'm fine!" I shout back, hanging onto my hat. But I start to cough as the dust swirls up around us.
"Here." Sam pulls a large blue handkerchief out of his pocket. There's one just like it around his neck. "Take this bandanna. You don't want to be swallowing a lot of dirt."
I tie the handkerchief over my mouth. "Thanks. That helps."
"You look just like a bandit now!" he laughs. "Justin the Kid! How do you feel?"
"Great!" I say through the material. And it's true. I think everything is going to be okay.
"Let's shake up these nags or we'll never find that herd. Gid-up there, hoss!" he yells, slapping the reins across their broad backs. "Gid-UP!"
The horses break into a trot and the chuckwagon picks up speed as we move out into the open desert.
Continue on to "Iguana".
©Gaedhal, June 2007.
Posted June 1, 2007.