I also found several phone numbers that JT had used as contact information in Dennis Cooper’s archives at NYU. One number was from a fax dated February 1996. JT named the owner of this number, which he used on three separate occasions, as “Paul.” Both that number and an address that JT used on an envelope belonged to Paul Falotico, who I discovered still lives in the Bay Area. Falotico didn’t know any JT LeRoy, he said. He did know Laura Albert, however, although he thought it might have been under a different name—perhaps Lauren. It was definitely the same woman: Geoffrey Knoop’s girlfriend and a member of Daddy Don’t Go.
A janitor for the postal service, he’d met Laura through an Internet chat room when he lived in Phoenix and then became close friends with Laura and Geoffrey when he moved to San Francisco in early 1996. Before he moved, however, he did favors for Laura—she was very charming. For instance, because she owned no computer, she’d fax him schoolwork, and he’d retype it into his word processor, then fax it back. Laura had taken writing classes at City College, he said. She wrote for different publications, and she was always writing under aliases. “LeCrow,” he suggested as one of those names. “LeRoy?” I asked. “Could be,” he said.
When I mentioned the name Terminator, however, he knew it right away. Laura had a friend, a 16-year-old homeless boy, who used the name. Falotico had never met Terminator or spoken to him on the phone, but Laura had asked him to set up a message system on his voice mail so that Terminator could get his messages. I asked Falotico if Laura used his phone, if he ever heard her speaking in different accents. Yes, she’d done interviews on the phone, he said. He didn’t remember a southern accent, although he had heard her do Asian, British, and African-American.
Laura was always very secretive, he told me, and she wrote about the darker side of life: pornography, homeless kids, prostitution. She’d let him read one story she wrote about a single mother traveling through Las Vegas with her 10-year-old boy. At the story’s end, the mother abandoned her boy at a gas station. This could be an exact description of “Viva Las Vegas,” a story that was published in JT’s collection.
Even Falotico, whose voice-mail box JT was using, hadn’t met him. Once again, in the space where JT should be, I had found Laura Albert. Every trail I followed led me to Laura. One central mystery remained: How had Dr. Owens become involved? I asked Falotico if Laura ever mentioned a Dr. Owens or talked about therapy. He hadn’t heard of Owens, but he did know that Laura was the product of a divorced family and that she saw a therapist about that. Owens’s role in the story remains unclear.
On May 7, I attended the big JT event at Varnish Fine Art in San Francisco, an opening for the paintings from Harold’s End with readings and a performance by Thistle. The official JT, wrapped in scarves, wig, and sunglasses, was hustled in from a taxi. JT then cowered away from the public on the upper balcony. Laura/Speedie/Emily was never far away, addressing the crowd in her British accent. Eric Wilinski introduced the reading, telling his story of having recognized, from a one-page sample, the signs of a real writer back when JT was 15. And the public was lapping it up, the stories of hustlers with pet snails, and needy teens being kept by professors.
It was time to speak to JT himself. When we talked on the phone a week later, I found him or her or them as oddly charming—and disturbing—as everybody said. Whatever Dr. Owens’s relationship to JT, he was definitely in contact with the household. Both he and Wilinski had already tipped JT off to my questions. “The rumors I’m talking about,” I said to JT, “would mean that I’m actually speaking to Speedie, and I find that fascinating.” JT wouldn’t confirm or deny it, although as we spoke for more than an hour, it felt to me that I was speaking to Laura, and it felt like both of us knew that, and that this was a novel and disturbing experience for us both. Whoever was on the other end of the phone was intelligent and articulate. JT espoused values I agreed with and effectively made me question my own investment in writing this story. S/he spoke about metaphorical truth, about purity of intent, and of a commitment to writing. I heard Geoffrey in the background, telling whomever was on the phone that they had to leave for an appointment. But JT kept talking. S/he seemed to be both justifying the performance and asking not to be exposed. S/he discussed the rumors s/he’d spread about fathering Asia Argento’s baby and how angry that had made some fans. But it was a metaphorical truth, s/he said, in terms of the movie Argento made of his book, and JT wondered where was the harm?