Posted September 22, 2021

The Brilliant Boy Billionaire

The Amazing Journey of a Remarkable Kid, by Altimexis

PART SEVEN – Midwestern Medley

Chapter 2: The Gateway to the West

“A Tesla,” the young man at the valet desk exclaimed as I got out of my car. “We don’t get too many of these. I can take it to the fast-charging station nearby and then park it for you, or you can park it in the public garage at one of the metered spaces with a charging station, if you prefer.”

Laughing, I replied, “I know there’s a limited-liability clause of some sort, but that’s a thousand percent better than the no-liability clause if I park it myself. I know the talk about crime is probably overblown, but I’d rather not chance it. These cars are impossible to steal, and they summon the police in the event of a break-in, but most would-be thieves don’t know that, and they can do a lot of damage before they give up.”

Handing the young man my key fob, I added, “Please charge it when you park it for me. It’s pretty close to depleted. I drove with the A/C off, which is why I’m not wearing a shirt. If you could arrange for the cost to be charged to my room, I’d appreciate it.” Actually, air-conditioning reduced driving range by only a few percent, at most. I just liked driving with the sunroof and windows open, which added enough drag to reduce driving range at least as much as the A/C did. The irony is that with electric vehicles, cold temperatures are much worse when it comes to driving range. Cold weather makes the car much less efficient to begin with, but with the heat on, range is cut by as much as forty percent.

Using the app on my phone, I unlocked the trunk and removed the only luggage I’d need for the couple of days I’d be spending in St. Louis. I re-locked the trunk and set it so the fob couldn’t unlock it. For once I was glad I had a Model 3 with a real trunk rather than a Model Y or an Audi e-tron.

“Could I ask when you’ll be checking out?” the young man asked.

“I’ll be leaving first thing Thursday morning,” I answered.

“Will you be taking the car out during the meantime?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Both days. Since the weather’s nice, I’ll try to see the Arch and sites around here this afternoon and then the other sites during the next two days. By the way, just tell me to fuck off if you can’t or would rather not say, but where can an under-21 guy meet other under-21 guys around here?”

“To save any embarrassment,” he responded, “are you asking about places to pick up gay guys?”

“Mostly to meet them,” I explained. “Definitely not an escort service or anything like that, but a dance club or something like that would be fantastic.”

“You realize it’s Monday, and most guys who didn’t have to work this last weekend like I did are partied out,” he continued.

“Is that a way of saying you’re available?” I asked.

“I didn’t mean for it to come out that way, but I get off at seven,” he replied, then turning bright red, added, “Maybe that wasn’t the best way to put it.” Boy, he was cute! “I could get in serious trouble if seen fraternizing with guests, but no one will say anything so long as I’m discreet, if you’re interested, that is.”

“I’m definitely interested in spending the evening with a cute guy like you,” I answered. “I’m J.J., by the way, and since you’re too polite to ask, I’m nineteen. I know I look more like I’m sixteen, so some guys automatically assume I’m off limits.”

“The age of consent’s sixteen in most of the Midwest, so that’s not a problem here at all,” he explained. “Obviously, one has to be sixteen to park cars. I’ll be eighteen next week.”

“Happy birthday,” I responded. “You just finished high school?”

“I just finished my second year in biophysics at Wash U,” he explained. “It’s gonna be a premed course of study if I can get into the M.D./Ph.D. program. By the way, I’m Dave,” he added as he extended his hand.

Taking his hand and shaking it firmly, something I was still getting used to in the post-pandemic era, I said, “I’m impressed. I should probably tell you I finished my Ph.D. in computer science a couple of years ago. It’s not something I usually bring up on a first date, but you’re smart enough to figure it out.”

Nodding his head, he responded, “Since very few nineteen-year-olds travel on their own unless they come from money, I figured you’re either unusually smart or already making money yourself, or both. Rich kids don’t stay at the Drury Plaza unless everything else is full. Otherwise, I’d have played dumb when you asked about gay nightlife.

“Listen, you’re not gonna find much nightlife on a Monday or even on Tuesday. Tomorrow’s my day off, and if you’re interested, I could show you around the city.”

“That would be fantastic,” I replied.

“Like I said, I get off at seven. Don’t say it,” he added when he saw me start to open my mouth. “I’ll change out of my uniform and should be good to go by 7:30. If you sit in the lobby, I’ll find you. If you didn’t already know, the Drury has one of the best breakfast buffets in the industry – for a mid-range hotel, that is. It’s way better than what they serve at the Hampton Inn. They also have a decent afternoon buffet with things like chicken drumsticks and nachos and the like, and there are free drinks, including booze, but as young as you look, they’ll card you, so don’t even try. You might want to grab a light snack after you get back from your day’s sightseeing. We probably won’t eat until eight or nine.

“As far as crime’s concerned,” he continued, “It’s mostly confined to certain neighborhoods, but that doesn’t mean that downtown’s safe at night. The area around the casino’s a particular target. The bottom line is that it’s best not to go out alone at night, and if you must, take an Uber. Even if it’s just a block or two, you should call for a ride. They’re used to it, but the prices reflect that.”

“Good thing I’ll have an escort tonight and maybe tomorrow night —” I started to say, but then realizing how it came out, revised it by adding, “or rather a cute guy as my date.” Then realizing we might be going someplace nice, I asked, “Oh, what should I wear?”

“You can go almost anyplace dressed as you are now,” he suggested as he wiggled his eyebrows.

“You mean shirtless?” I asked in feigned surprise.

“You might want to throw something on, even just to check into the hotel,” Dave responded. “For tonight, I’d suggest a solid color t-shirt or a polo over chinos. It’s dressier, and you’ll look sexy in that.”

“Are you saying I don’t look sexy now?” I asked.

“Too sexy,” Dave responded. “I don’t have any books to carry in front of me, if you know what I mean.”

“Totally,” I replied.

“Oh, here’s your receipt for the car,” Dave said as he handed me a ticket stub. “If you hand this to the clerk at check-in, they’ll bill the charges to your room.”

“And the parking, too?” I asked.

“Very clever,” he responded. I started to get a five out of my wallet to give him as a tip, but he waved me off and suggested, “Save it. Instead, I’ll let you pay for dinner.”

“That’s fair,” I replied. “So, I’ll see you at 7:30 or thereabouts?”

“I’ll see you then,” he replied, and then he got in my car and drove off. Well, that was a nice turn of events. Grabbing a tank top from an outside pocket on my luggage, I slipped it on and headed inside.

As I was checking in, the clerk at the desk said, “I see you’ve been upgraded to the VIP floor, and it has a great view of the Arch.”

“Why have I been upgraded?” I asked out of curiosity. “I’m not going to have to pay more, am I?”

“The computer doesn’t say why, but the price for the room is exactly the same, and the only additional charge on checkout will be for incidentals. We’re pretty tight on space, and it’s a bit early to check in. We have a couple of conferences going on, so not much else is available. That may have something to do with it. The VIP floor has its own breakfast buffet, and it’s way nicer than the one down here, and they have a variety of hors d’ oeuvres in the afternoon, and they don’t card the guests. Don’t you want the room?” she asked.

“Of course, I want the room,” I replied. “It’s an incredible upgrade. I just don’t understand why you’re offering it to me instead of someone who can pay for it.”

“That’s an easy one,” she responded. “I can’t upgrade a guest unless they made the reservation before yesterday or unless the hotel’s otherwise full. And there was already a request for an upgrade, if available. I thought that maybe it was you that made the request, but perhaps it was Dave. I saw you talking to him outside, and if I read things right, you might have use for the room.” I could feel myself blushing furiously. “That poor boy’s been through so much. He deserves a night of happiness.”

“Why, what happened?” I asked.

“He should be the one to tell you – or not,” she replied. Handing me the keycard, she added, “You’ll need to use the keycard to access the VIP floor. Just insert it into the slot above the buttons in the elevator. Also, here’s a ticket to see the Arch for 12:30 this afternoon. I assumed you requested it, but perhaps it’s the same secret admirer who requested the upgrade.

“Do you need any help with your luggage?” she asked.

Shaking my head, I responded, “No, but thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” she replied. “Have a great day.”

Wheeling my luggage behind me, I headed for the elevators and did as I’d been instructed. When I got off the elevator, I exited into a nice lounge with comfortable chairs, a buffet table and a collection of newspapers from around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Herald, the Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, and of course the St. Louis Post Dispatch. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d read a physical newspaper, particularly because, as an Applazon employee, I had full access to all their web versions free of charge. I regularly read the New York Times and Washington Herald, and for local info and a very different viewpoint, the Omaha World Herald.

Following the signs to my room, I opened the door to find my room was a suite with a separate living room that doubled as an office and a bedroom with two bathrooms, one of them with a jacuzzi. It was a corner room with a spectacular view of the St. Louis Arch in one direction and about half the city in the other. It was fantastic, but there was much I wanted to do and see. The most important thing to see was the St. Louis Arch, and I was right by it, and I had a ticket to go up in it at 12:30.

Slathering some sunscreen on my face, arms, shoulders and my legs and thighs, I grabbed my phone and stuffed it into my pocket. I stuffed my room keycard into my wallet, and I was good to go. Looking in the mirror as I prepared to depart, I noticed that my hair was growing out nicely, and I looked halfway human again. I still looked young for my real age of seventeen, but I was tall, and that was enough to give the illusion of being older.

Walking into the park, I stopped first at the museum, which was underground, and watched a short video on the construction of the arch, but then I had a little time to kill, so I stopped in the old cathedral, which was the original cathedral for St. Louis. I noticed some pictures inside of the new cathedral and realized it was worth making time to see it. I’d ask Dave about it tomorrow. I was starting to get hungry, so I checked my phone and was surprised at the relative lack of places for lunch in the area. The Arch Café, which was located underground in the park, had very good reviews on Yelp though, so I went there to grab a bite. I liked that the food was all produced sustainably and organically. I had the California grilled-chicken sandwich, which included melted Swiss, guacamole, lettuce and tomato. It came with chips and was filling.

By then it was 12:15 and time to make my way to the underground entrance to the visitor elevators for the arch. At 12:30, I was loaded with the others with tickets for my time slot into one of three round capsules that would take us to the top. Right next to me was a boy who looked to be about twelve but was probably thirteen. For some reason he looked a bit familiar, although I was certain I’d never seen him before. He was fiddling with a fancy camera, so I asked, “Do you get better pictures with that compared to what I get with my phone?”

I knew it was a stupid question the moment I asked it. Why would people spend thousands of dollars on expensive cameras otherwise? Instinctively I knew that a larger lens could capture more light and a larger sensor could capture much finer detail, but I thought the photos I took with my phone were pretty good. There was even a zoom feature that I thought was pretty cool ’cause it used three separate lenses and used interpolation to simulate a true mechanical zoom.

“I have the same model phone,” the boy began, “and I’ll admit that they’ve done a great job of combining multiple exposures and high-dynamic-range techniques to yield a very good picture, but you can’t get around the fact that the sensors are about the size of pumpkin seeds. If you were to take a human eyeball and measure the surface area of the retina, you’d find it’s about the same size as a full 35-millimeter frame. But more than that, a larger lens not only collects more light, but it has a narrower depth of field.”

“I’ve read about that,” I said. “It’s called the Bokeh effect, and it’s the result of the light reflected from each point striking the film from a greater range of angles.”

With a look of shock, the boy said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what’s goin’ on. If you knew about it, why are you still shooting pictures with your phone?”

“Believe it or not, this is my first driving vacation ever,” I said. “I’ve traveled all over the world for work, but this is the first time I’m taking time off for myself.”

Looking at me askance, the kid asked, “Are you J.J. Jeffries, by any chance?”

Shocked, I forgot all decorum and asked, rather loudly, “How the fuck did you know that?”

“I’m in a Facebook group with other smart kids,” he replied. “One of my Facebook friends is Henry Gonzalez. He’s posted the story of how you helped him. He’s cool.”

“Yeah, he is,” I responded, “but I’m gonna hafta have a talk with him about posting my real name online.”

“Yeah, I guess,” the boy agreed. “I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s so cool to actually get to meet you, though. What you did for Henry saved his life. He’s gonna start at MIT as a graduate student in the fall in the Ph.D. math program. That’s so ace.

“Oh, by the way, I’m Franklin Walters, and these are my parents, James and Mora,” he said as he nodded to the seats opposite ours.

After making introductions, I asked, “Could I ask how old you are?”

“You can always ask,” he answered with a grin.

When he just sat there and didn’t answer, I responded, “Ok, smart ass, since you are taking this as literally as Henry would, let me rephrase that. Are you willing to tell me your age, and if so, would you please tell me what it is?”

“Okay, I’ll take pity on you,” he responded. “I’m twelve years old, and I’ll celebrate my thirteenth birthday in a little over five weeks. I’m a sophomore in high school, but I go to the High School for Math, Science and Engineering in New York City’s Harlem, so I don’t have anywhere near the bullying you must’ve had growing up in Southern Indiana. HSMSE is a public high school, but entry is by special examination, and it’s limited to only a hundred kids per year. When I graduate in 2024, I’ll have earned enough college credit to start college as a junior at the age of fifteen. Like you, I started high school at the age of eleven, which made me the youngest by five months. The school attracts freaks like us; it’s a residential campus, so it’s no big deal. It’s on the campus of the City College of New York. Because we all live together in dorms, there’s a kind of bonding you don’t get when you’re living at home.”

“You are so lucky,” I responded. Then, getting curious, I asked, “Isn’t school still in session for the year?”

“It’s our Spring break,” he replied. “It took a bit of cajoling, but I talked my parents into taking a mini-vacation to St. Louis this year.”

“Wasn’t Spring break last week?” I asked, “and why St. Louis?”

“In a lot of places, it was,” Franklin answered, “but New York City has a lot of Jewish students, and this week is Passover. In fact, the first Seder was on Good Friday itself, just as it was for Jesus’ last supper, if you believe the story. So, for the New York schools, it made more sense to make Spring break the week after Easter this year.”

Nodding my head, I again asked, “And St. Louis?”

“It’s the gateway to the West,” he responded with a laugh. “There’s actually a lot to see here. My first thought had been Chicago, and maybe we’ll go there another time, but with the Gateway Arch, Missouri Gardens, the Zoo and the Museums of Forest Park, there’s plenty to see and do. I’m also interested in Washington University, and it’s a good chance to check it out,” he added. “After all, I’ll be starting college in just another couple of years. I need to find a school that won’t overwhelm a fifteen-year-old kid.”

The capsule we were riding in came to a halt, and an attendant opened the door and let us out. The floor was level and there were tiny windows at the top of the arch that weren’t noticeable from below. Franklin took one look through the viewfinder of his camera and said, “I’m not even gonna try to shoot through these windows. No amount of software manipulation can make up for the distortion of all that glass.”

Pretty soon, we were back in one of the capsules and heading back down.

“How much did that camera set you back?” I asked.

“The camera with the standard lens was $2100, and the lens only covers wide angle to portrait, but it’s compact and lightweight. The flash was another 250 bucks, and I bought this 10X zoom lens for times like this, and that set me back another $1050, so all in, it cost me $3400, plus the cost of this camera bag and the other accessories like the polarizer I’ve got mounted right now and the compact tripod I’m carrying with me. By the time you factor in the sales tax in New York, it came to a little over $4k.”

“Shit, where does a kid get that kinda money?” I asked.

“My Gran left me some money,” Franklin replied with obvious sadness. “She passed last year from Covid-19. Henry has his audiophile gear, and I have my photography,” he added.

“Something tells me you’d rather have your Gran than the camera,” I observed.

“You’ve no idea,” he agreed. “The worst of it was I couldn’t see her before she died.”

“That had to be tough,” I said. “What makes the camera so expensive? I didn’t even know Sony made cameras.”

“They’ve become one of the biggest players in the market,” Franklin explained. “Most professionals still use Nikon, which arguably has the better optics, although Sony has partnered with Carl Zeiss, a leader in lens manufacture. The best cameras are made by Leica and Hasselblad, but those can run well into four figures.” Jeez! “Sony pioneered the mirrorless camera, Fuji, Olympus and Panasonic notwithstanding. A lot of professionals don’t like electronic viewfinders, but what you see in an EVF is exactly what the sensor will record. Eliminating the mirror makes for a much smaller camera. They claim the a7C’s the world’s most compact full-frame ILC.”

“ILC?” I asked.

“Interchangeable lens camera,” he explained. “It includes DSLRs, which have a mirror, and mirrorless cameras. Look at how compact this thing is. The camera body’s not much bigger than the A6000 series cameras, which are Sony’s APS-C mirrorless cameras, or the Olympus OM-D, which has a tiny micro four-thirds sensor. A full-frame sensor’s the same size as a 35mm film frame. It has two-and-a-third times the area of APS-C and nearly four times the area of micro 4/3. When I saw the a7C announcement, I had to pre-order it. I had to. To me it’s the perfect camera.”

“No one could accuse you of not being passionate,” I said with a laugh.

As the capsule again came to a stop and we all got out, Franklin asked, “Listen, do you have specific plans for this afternoon? My parents and I are planning to see the downtown tourist sights today. You’re welcome to come with us,” he suggested.

“Perhaps you should ask your parents first?” I noted. “They might not appreciate having another teenager along for the day.”

“I’m not a teenager yet,” Franklin claimed.

“Growing up, I knew sixteen-year-olds with the maturity of a toddler,” I said. “Quite a few of them, in fact. Being a rebellious child doesn’t make you a teen. There are plenty of three-year-olds who would qualify if that were the case. What makes you a teenager is a combination of puberty, maturity, separation from parents and independence. I’ve seen you exhibit every one of those today. Sure, it can also involve bouts of immaturity, emotional lability and outright rebellion. Those things are largely hormone-driven and not fully within our control. By that definition, you’re clearly a teenager.”

“I would agree with you there, J.J.,” Mora chimed in. “And you’re welcome to spend the day with us.”

“I’ve been to the Arch Museum, the Old Cathedral and, of course, the Arch,” I said. “I haven’t been to anything else downtown. I have plans tomorrow with someone who lives here and offered to take me around, and that’ll probably include Missouri Gardens, the Cathedral Basilica, the Planetarium, the Zoo and the Forest Park museums. Whatever we don’t get to tomorrow, I’ll visit on Wednesday. How about you guys?”

“We haven’t been to the Old Cathedral yet, but otherwise we’ve covered the Arch and Arch Museum,” she replied.

“Did you get lunch?” I asked.

“Yeah, we went to Pickle’s Deli,” Franklin replied. “That place was great.”

“Great, I definitely want to see the Old Courthouse, the Federal Reserve, City Hall, Union Station and the Public Library,” I said.

“Throw in Busch Stadium and I think we have the same list,” James replied.

“Let’s do it, guys,” Franklin chimed in.

We started by going back to the Old Cathedral, and then we went to see the Old Courthouse and the Federal Reserve. The main branch of the Public Library was exquisite. I’d never seen anything so ornate in my life. Likewise, City Hall was an exceptional building. Union Station was a grand facility. Busch Stadium was much more interesting than I’d been expecting. I wasn’t much into sports, but St. Louis was a quintessential baseball town, and Busch Stadium was a part of its history.

It had been a very busy day, and I was just about ready for a nap, but I had plans for tonight. As we prepared to go our separate ways, I asked, “By the way, where are you guys staying?”

“We’re staying at the Drury Plaza Hotel,” Franklin’s mother answered. “It was convenient, and we got a great deal on a room on the V.I.P. floor, too.

“We have a great view of the Arch, right from our room,” Franklin chimed in. “By the way, where are you staying?”

“I’m staying in the Drury Plaza Hotel,” I answered, “on the V.I.P. floor, and I, too, have a great view of the Arch.”

“What an incredible coincidence,” Franklin responded as we entered the hotel together. Getting on an elevator, Franklin used his keycard to access the V.I.P. floor and pressed the appropriate button. It turned out our rooms were right next to each other. Who knew?

“I want to make sure we keep in touch,” Franklin suggested. “Would it be okay for me to contact you through Henry?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” I replied. “By the way, I just interviewed for a new position in A.I. research at Applazon in New York. I’m hoping to get into the graduate school at Columbia, too. Columbia has one of the top programs in A.I. in the world, and I’m hoping to get another Ph.D.”

“That’s fantastic,” Franklin responded. “We live in Battery Park City and have a great view of the Hudson. We have to plan on getting together.”

“Definitely,” I agreed.

They started to enter their room when Franklin turned back toward me and said, “He loves you, you know.”

“Who loves me?” I asked.

“Henry,” Franklin answered.

“Of course, and I love him, too. We’re like brothers.”

“No, not like that,” Franklin countered. “He’s head over heels for you, man, but he thinks you see him as a little kid when he wishes you’d see him as your equal. He’s someone special. If I were gay, I’d be interested in him. You should give him a chance, J.J., but if you don’t feel the same way or don’t think you could feel the same way, don’t hurt him.”

I was stunned and couldn’t speak. In the meantime, Franklin turned around and disappeared inside their room, leaving me to contemplate the bombshell he’d just dropped in my lap. It was true that I thought of Henry as a little kid, but he was very much a teen with a raw intelligence that probably surpassed my own. He was definitely my type. Remembering how he’d played footsie with my nipples just before I left was more than a bit arousing. I could easily let our relationship become sexual, but I was supposedly four years older – or, rather, three years, four months. The reality was that I was only one-and-a-half years older, but until he became seventeen, which was the age of consent in New York, sex between us was illegal. I might risk it anyway, but the risk of being discovered was not insignificant given our backgrounds. It would be so easy to give in to our urges, but now was not the time. Still, it was a lot to think about.

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope and vwl-rec in editing my stories, as well as Awesome Dude and Gay Authors for hosting them.

Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.