Waiters – a Novel

WAITERS – a novel by Jarrod Tyler

Prologue

I sunk back into the hard lumpy hold of the couch, taking inventory of the damage. The shattered mess of glasses, wine bottles and vases caught the overhead lights in a thousand and one sparkling points of varying color. My TV lying face down on the floor promised me it’s 70 inch screen was most certainly smashed. Knives, spoons, forks and shattered plates soaking in pools of water and wine against the hardwood of my living room floor confirmed the fact that the dinner party I’d set up for wasn’t going to happen quite according to plan. When the buzzer sounded, doubtlessly signaling the first guest of the evening, I thought of remaining seated on the couch and simply not answering. Perhaps I could concoct an emergency that would excuse, in hindsight, the strategy of simply not acknowledging any of my guests. People love a great sob story. However, being a storyteller didn’t necessarily make me a tremendously talented liar.

I got up and walked to the small speaker in the wall and pressed the button.

“Yeah.” I said.

“Hey…it’s Tony.” D’Amato’s voice crackled through the small dusty speaker.

“Come on up.” I said and buzzed him up.

I left the door ajar and took a beer from the fridge. I sank back down into the lumpy couch and sipped at it as I waited for D’amato to make his way up the stairs. Scanning the damage strewn across the floor again, I thought of what I’d tell him. In such a situation, what do you tell a Hollywood director who’s just agreed to shoot your screenplay? Anyway it’s presented—a trashed apartment is never going to suggest to any partner in business that one is a picture of mental stability. What I did know however is that no writer worth a damn was ever sane. Still, as D’Amato entered cautiously, noticing the shambles, I greeted him as if it was any other day.

“How goes the battle old chap?” I said, raising the can of beer.

“Looks like a battle has gone on in here.” he said and my reply was interrupted by the sounds of Katie, Walsh and Walsh’s better half Monica. As they entered, their chatter ceased and took on the same ominous caution D’Amato had entered with.

They’d want an explanation and I as I sat contemplating whether or not I owed them one; I wondered how exactly I’d gotten myself into such a predicament. After all, I was a relatively good citizen. Though I wasn’t prone to neighborhood heroics, I was the type of bastard who could be trusted with a stranger’s house keys. I didn’t talk to my neighbors but it was mainly because I didn’t care much to get involved. However, sometimes the universe decides to involve you anyway, whether you want to be involved or not. Love, obsession or perhaps the nether region in between involves you sometimes—whether you want to be involved or not—perhaps to remind you of your humanity…and how wondrous and absurd it can be.

If I’m going to tell you how it all happened though, I should start by explaining my situation at the time. Indeed, I must start there to explain the labyrinth of unfolding events that determined the trajectory of my life which resulted in a head on collision with perhaps the most intricate mind-fuck I’ll probably ever stumble into.

At the time I was writing my masterpiece—a screenplay that had been three years in the making. I was also working as a waiter in downtown Los Angeles, which on its best day was a quagmire of gossip, rumor spreading and professional saboteurs. Though it was spread across the downtown core, the hotel scene in Los Angeles was smaller than it appeared. That is to say that we’d all bounced around from hotel to hotel and had worked with each other at one point or another and so word traveled faster than a Bel-Air wildfire. Some waiters were ambitious and made it their goal to secure positions at the topmost properties in town—or ladder climbing keeners dead set on a promotion which were few and far between. They lived the part and became something like ‘method-waiters’…employing the Stanislavski Method to their signature brand of waitering…after all, it really took something to serve rubber chicken and powdered mashed potatoes to incidental guests. They took the job home with them and in turn lived for the job. I however was content to work a strenuous job for less pay in turn for the having the luxury of indifference. Though the Hotel Davenport had an illustrious reputation; their ballroom division was a mess of substance abuse issues, mismanagement, disorganization and mental illness—I was a perfect fit you could say…which was a great thing because I’d either quit or been fired from every other hotel in the downtown core—which meant that the Davenport was my last chance in the downtown hotel circuit.  What’s more, the job required no thought at all, which left me with a mind full of literary possibilities at the end of each night.

Absinthe

The Hotel Davenport was a towering five star property, sprawling across four city blocks and piercing the sky with a satellite antenna atop its 45 floor tower. The Hotel had been built around the turn of the century and boasted old-word elegance and an illustrious past equally in all of its gilt surfaces, sparkling chandeliers and plush burgundy carpets. In its heyday the Davenport had hosted brief residencies of royalty, celebrities and foreign diplomats. Always swarming with schools of international tourists, business class travelers and overly eager bellmen; the Davenport was a city unto itself; a small city inside the city of Los Angeles.

I worked in the banquet division on the second floor which housed a number of massive and illustrious ballrooms where on any given night, galas, balls and receptions took place under the dim glow of chandeliers; a reign of tradition. The job was mindless and while at it, I was prone to long stretches of boredom. Luckily the Hotel Davenport was massive enough to make getting lost quite easy and also, if you’d made a blueprint of its hallways in your memory it made ducking management even easier.

Concerning hotel jobs, there were always two musts…two non-negotiables; plenty of absinthe and plenty of ducking out. The ducking was essential to keep an even keel psychologically and in fact had started after my second week at the hotel, once it became clear to me how loosely run the operation was in spite of its prestige and sky high standards. There was, I found, limitless room to disappear into and this vanishing act became a regular part of my routine.

For these unsupervised and unauthorized rounds of the massive structure. I kept in the inner pocket of my tuxedo vest, a flask filled with authentic, sugar-cube percolated Absinthe; it was my way of emulating Hemingway—in hopes that I might write as well one day. The absinthe also allowed for a certain degree of mental agility in the wake of a particularly strenuous and disorganized five course served gala dinner—or a seven hour long cocktail reception the repetitiveness of which, if you let it—would surely drive you mad.

The second floor also housed in its east wing, an executive lounge, fully equipped with a fruit juice bar, indoor palm trees, rock fountains and every other symbol of serenity that could possibly be franchised for the sake of white collar escape and drunken oblivion. The executive lounge was appealing mainly because I’d made a friend of Garrison, the night bartender, who was prone to setting me up with stiffly poured G&T’s when I made my unauthorized visits, during which we’d duck out onto a balcony for a few puffs.

I would sit with Garrison for sometimes and hour, knowing I wouldn’t be missed in the ballrooms as I wasn’t yet on management’s radar—until then I’d kept a low profile. It was a nice system; ladies would come in from the spa and mingle with Garrison and I, occasionally inviting us up later on, after work, to their plush suites for drinks, socializing and sometimes more. Of course it was all done under the guise of admiring the twinkle of urban sprawl that seemed to stretch out infinitely beyond the bay windows of their suites.

It was all part of a world traveler façade these business class women had come to exude—in their minds they were globetrotting movie starlets…and who were we to crush that fantasy? Indeed, if anything, Garrison and I were the two key components that most preserved any of the Davenport’s old world charm.

Indeed, it seemed I’d found the perfect niche; the perfect job from which I could frequently escape. What made this phenomenon possible was that Davenport supervisors where, as in most catering situations, painfully underachieved and compensating for past failures through means of tyranny. They were usually wrought with OCD and preoccupied with tending to more pressing matters. Their mental scope was narrow and their intellect was obviously stunted by constant and trivial concerns of an inconsequential nature; a missing fork, a spot of spilled wine, an empty salt shaker, a wayward napkin—these matters plagued supervisors nightly. Some of the worse off spent hours of their own personal time devising diagrams and charts in hopes of simplifying (even more) the mindless process of ordering a vegan entre from the kitchen or the correct way to pour a glass of fine wine for a guest—who didn’t know one method from another. They were in over their heads and such pure dedication to details that the guests, in reality, didn’t give a squirt of piss about, left very little margin of free time for the supervisors to chase down a wayward and wandering waiter.

Such conditions not only encouraged my unauthorized rounds—they nearly demanded that I roam. And roam I would, during which I would saunter the hallways sipping absinthe from my flask; allowing the wormwood to take effect and open portals to the long lost eras the Davenport had housed. It didn’t seem like much of a work detail, visiting colleagues on various floors and ducking out onto balconies for the purpose of taking a few puffs. In fact, it seemed nearly magical that I could be paid to wander aimlessly and abuse substances while doing so. That is until one day, while wandering through a burgundy carpeted, chandelier lit, tenth floor hallway, I came face to face with Denise; the ballroom manager.

Indeed, in such trances of nostalgic contemplation, it was nearly possible for me to hear the old Davenport ghosts whispering to me in the long chandelier lit hallways that had been kept perfectly restored since their design in the late 1800’s. As if calling to me specifically, as if I were Jack Torrance, the hotel would whisper to me softly, offering long dead visions of an era I perhaps lived before and had been prematurely yanked from. I didn’t find any of these notions uncanny at the time.

What I found uncanny dear reader, were the odds of running into anyone from the ballroom division on the tenth floor of the hotel. The odds were so slim in fact that the danger had not even registered to me. The odds were so slim that I had stripped off my bow tie, loosened my cuffs and rolled them to my elbows and held a cigarillo between my teeth. Certainly, these were all infractions…however, the most incriminating hotel policy infraction was perhaps the murky green absinthe splashing gently in the flask I held in my hand.

Upon seeing Denise step out of the elevator perhaps only twenty feet away, I pulled the flask from my mouth and slipped it into the inner pocket of my tuxedo vest, uncapped. As she approached, surprise and sincere loathing wrinkling her face into a pucker of disbelief; I sighed deeply, flashing Denise a charming grin…as if we were old friends who had run into each other in the supermarket one Sunday afternoon.

“Denise.” I said, “How is my favorite manager?”

“Frank!” She screeched, baffled at the sight of me. “What are you doing up here?” she demanded, “Everyone is looking for you downstairs. Your tables are calling for wine and you’re…you’re…what the hell are you doing up here?”

The line of questioning demanded a certain degree of lucid thought and with my mind being curled up very relaxed in my head as it was, I was at a loss for words—for perhaps the first time in my life.

I took a blind stab, “Ah you know—some woman asked me to carry a bag up to the spa for her; what was I gonna say; no?”

“Well, that’s not your job! You’re not a bellman; you’re supposed to be in the ballroom taking care of your tables. And what have you done with your tie?” she demanded, pent up aggression and sexual frustration bringing her words to a smolder.

“I took it off for a moment.” I admitted.

“Why on earth would you do that?”

“Well Denise, Readers Digest says that wearing a tie too often for too long isn’t great for the circulation.” I explained and I wasn’t fabricating this fact either. “What are you doing up here anyway?” I counter-asked for the sake of distraction, wondering if perhaps we were both ducking out of our responsibilities.

“Don’t fuck with me. Get back to the ballroom now or it’s going to be a write up for you.” came her reply, issued with a stern finger that pointed the way to the elevator out of which she’d just stepped.

Certainly this put a kink in any plans I had of wandering freely through the hotel during my shifts from then on; for Denise had taken it upon herself to address the issue in a very public way—to make an example of me in front of our entire team. The scene had been a verbal lynching, with her minions in tow. For good measure, they’d cornered me in the staff room during my actual break—so the rest of my colleagues could observe and consider themselves warned—and also so they might now keep their eyes on me. As Denise and her sidekicks badgered me, declaring a list of points illustrating my unsavory work ethic, poor attitude and social retardation; I sat still in a plastic chair, sipping from a Styrofoam cup filled with scotch and soda, nodding occasionally and adding in at the appropriate spaces in their tirade that I disagreed with their harsh judgments and that perhaps they might exercise a shade of empathy for the imaginary woman whose imaginary bag I’d carried to the tenth floor, out of dedication to our ‘collective team’ of course.

They thought about this for a moment…the collective team. It seemed I’d offered the correct defense, or at least one that couldn’t be so easily disproved. Indeed, dear reader, I’d evaded capture…but next time I was certain that I wouldn’t experience such good luck.

It seemed now however, I was officially on their radar…a large red blip perpetually blinking in management’s peripheral scope. Being on the radar altered everything, and it seemed an iron curtain had fallen over the banquet division—for me at least. If word of my wandering had spread through the echelons of hotel management, then anonymity was no longer an option; I’d now be noticed very easily wandering the carpeted hallways of the illustrious old building.

This meant that the Davenport, which was once my favorite place of employment, would quickly become a grueling detail—a no fun zone…an actual job. The following week my suspicions were confirmed when for three consecutive nights I was forced to remain in the ballroom for the entirety of my shift—which needless to say, seemed like an eternity. What’s worse, the punishment was furthered by having to remain present during a succession of nauseating wedding speeches given by weepy friends and family of the stunned looking bride and groom. I’d never seen such a gang of thespians.

Eventually, I had to vacate or I would have certainly trickled a stream of piss into their punch bowl; every man has his breaking point after all. Being that I was forbidden to roam the halls and visit Garrison or any of my other cohorts spread throughout the massive hotel; the only solace I could find during the marathon shifts was in the basement locker room. It wasn’t exactly entertaining as making my usual rounds, but there was a certain charm there between the cinderblock walls and rows of badly dented and paint-chipped lockers.

It was on one of these occasions that I was stricken with an idea of genius proportion. Perhaps it was the old ghosts whispering to me—lending their wisdom. I’d been sitting in a shower stall, having a few puffs. As the smoke rose and curled toward the overhead bulb in pure and utter silence, I came upon a realization. Truly this locker room was special. It was a beautifully soundproof and highly ventilated encasing of brick which I realized, because of its punch code lock, was a private haven from Denise or any of her management minions who all used a separate locker room reserved for management. In fact, this locker room, sitting unmanned for the most part could, with time and a certain degree of planning, become a smoky poker room steeped in a fine brandy haze; a Gentlemen’s lounge from the prohibition era.

It became clear to me that a game of poker held in the locker room could continue indefinitely as there were enough men on staff ducking management and taking unauthorized breaks in consecutive order to sustain the game for hours. I wasn’t the only one evading management—I was the only one who’d been caught. And certainly it would speed the hours of a shift knowing that our poker room was clacking with cards and chips only a few floors below. Also, there was a good chance that I could make a small fortune.

The catch would be however, the oath of silence from the members of this clandestine lodge. In fact there would have to be measures taken to enforce this secrecy as a plan like this once dreamed, could not continue anymore as only just that—certainly such an operation could only exist under a cloak of secrecy.

In the following days I tended carefully to organizing what would become the operation of the decade. One evening I spent 45 minutes in the locker room to gauge the traffic. I sat there, contemplating the walls as the absinthe set in. In 45 minutes, only one man had entered the locker room. Indeed the locker room appeared to be remote enough of a destination for the plan to flourish. Beyond that, the spies placed sporadically throughout the hotel weren’t baffled by my absence. It seemed the instances of my wandering openly where more disconcerting to them than my actual absence. Each time I returned to the ballroom after a stint in the locker room, I wasn’t questioned or even looked at suspiciously. In fact, they’d not even seemed to notice my absence; they were all too busy tending to pointless details, throwing each other under the bus and puckering up for meager gratuities. It was all fine by me.

Within a week I was incorporating meals into the routine, testing the room and finding it to be satisfactory dining quarters once I rolled in a small round table. Within two weeks I’d brought in a small vintage TV I’d found in basement storage. It seemed to be a product of the mid 90’s and as if fate was aiding me in my quest, I found a remote control taped to the rear panel of the boxy TV. Along with that I also brought in a stock pile of D&G brandy which I kept in an unassigned locker, a fresh deck of cards, and a few colorful stacks of poker chips that Willem from the hotel casino had fronted me. Cigars came next and I began smoking one on every break, watching basic cable and sipping on the brandy while playing black jack with myself. This was the life, as they say. It was also time to enlist a group of regulars.

 The first of this bunch I recruited by sheer accident. I’d embarked on a stealthy and quite risky mission to reach Garrison in the lounge for he had promised me a glass of 46-year-old brandy from France. The bottle had been ordered by some millionaire penthouse guest the previous night and was left nearly full on his table. Garrison had noticed it and set it aside—knowing my penchant for aged brandy.

Indeed, though I’d made it to the lounge without a hitch, I was forced to duck into the Bronze room to avoid being seen by Denise who’d appeared out of nowhere, like an apparition. I backed into the warm emptiness of the Bronze room, concealing the generous sum of 46 year old brandy Garrison had set me up with in a large snifter. I closed the large oak doors and sat down on a table that neatly presented a coffee/continental breakfast station. As I sipped back the smooth warm wash of brandy, I took note of the saucers and coffee cups stacked three levels high in a giant pyramid. All of the handles were set perfectly at 4 o’clock; someone had taken to the time to oversee this small detail that the guests wouldn’t probably notice. Such accuracy about something so pointless was indeed the sign of an unraveled mind.

It wasn’t until I was nearly at the bottom of the glass that I realized I wasn’t alone in the room. There was a muffled voice emanating from beneath one of the long, velvet skirted tables and as I approached it cautiously, I took note of a grey cord running from beneath the table, over the plush carpet, along the floor boards and eventually up the golden door frame, where it finally connected to a touch tone phone fastened to the wall.

Reaching down, I pulled up the skirting, revealing a man I vaguely recognized as a fellow ballroom waiter. His name was Tyrell and he’d existed until then as an extra…a prop…a man that didn’t beg to be remembered—he kept a low profile and for good reason I now realized. He flashed me a grin from his place on the floor, lying flat on his back beneath the eight-foot table.

“Hold on baby.” He said into the receiver before addressing me, “Shit man…I thought you were Denise. What’s up my brother?” he chuckled in a thick Jamaican accent, extending his free hand for a fist bump.

After taking in hand his knuckles and shaking his fist, I dropped the skirting and returned to my place on the continental breakfast table. Slightly baffled, I drained the rest of the finely aged brandy which had existed 15 years longer than I on this earth and would soon wind up in a urinal. I had never seen such innovative methods; lying beneath a skirted and set buffet table right under management’s noses. I was so impressed with Tyrell’s tactical skills and strategic stealth that I waited for him to conclude his call. When he finally emerged from beneath the table with a grin a few minutes later, I immediately commended him.

 “I say old chap, you’ve taken management ducking to a new level.” I said.

 “I do my best.” he smiled, “Besides, under the table is the best place. They never look under there.”

“When did you discover this method?” I asked.

Tyrell pondered the question, gazing toward the ceiling and setting a long dark finger across his chin, “Maybe three months ago.”

“That long? Impressive…quite impressive.” I said, eyeing the table again.

“I got to talk to my girl.” he said.

“It certainly seems that way. Listen old sport, do you play poker?” was my next question.

“Shit man, I always wanted to.” he grinned.

After explaining the situation to Tyrell, we began frequenting the locker room during our unauthorized breaks and after a few days had abandoned wandering the upstairs rooms and hallways altogether. There, behind the safety of a punch code lock, we could now speak freely and frequently on our phones to potential booty calls without the threat of reprimand or irritating interruptions. Certainly we were both relieved to have discovered such an ideal setting to sip fine liquors, play some cards and enjoy a few good hauls from a punch holed Dr. Zipper can—all the while watching Judy Woodhouse on channel 14—like civilized chaps.

“Ever play on a chess board man?” Tyrell inquired one evening as we sat in our respective chairs sipping ice cold beer while watching a Blackhawks game unfold on the small television propped up on a chair.

“Well, I’m not above it if that’s what you’re asking.” I said.

The next night Tyrell brought a chess board as well as a friend to the locker room. The man I recognized as an import from the laundry room. I’d seen him carting linen through the halls on many occasions, exposing obscene angles of his disgusting ass-crack…naturally, I had never spoken with him. As he sat there across from me in the locker room, I poured myself a tall G&T and wondered about the man.

“So, you work in housekeeping correct?” I asked Tyrell’s friend.

“Yeah, it’s ok.” He said in his heavy Parisian accent.

“You talk a lot with those housekeeping women?” I asked.

“Not really.” he shrugged, “They pretty much ignore my presence as a human being.”

“They can never find out about this.” I said simply and cutting straight to the point, “If they do, we’re through—you hear me? Through.”

“But of course not.” He assured. 

The following week I made an executive decision to officially leak news of the locker room to other departments through discreet word of mouth. I decided to tell Schroder, a concierge from back east who possessed a synthetic professionalism that people often responded to. As concierge of the Davenport, Schroder had become a deal maker—the expeditor of one’s whims. He operated on a first name basis with, business moguls, celebrities, politicians and other such narcissists, fulfilling their whims, no matter how absurd or scandalous and always doing so with great discretion; discretion which we now counted on.

I charged Schroder with the task of enlisting members throughout the hotel. Within four days, news of the locker room had spread to the right people. Cooks, dishwashers, valets, housekeepers, maintenance men, room service attendants, bellmen—they all began showing up, contributing to the pot in the center of the mahogany boardroom table we’d carted in; a mound of sweaty, green bills that made the games a touch more interesting.

On any given evening, the locker room would become a crowded, smoky backroom, clacking with cards and stacked with chips and booming with loud collective guffaws of winners and losers. The air was filled with palpable energy; thrilling sweats of anxiousness brought on by the collective gambling rush the room was charged with; poker, blackjack, televised sporting events, the impending union vote—no bet was off limits. In a few short weeks our quiet locker room had escalated into a full-blown gambling operation. And with so many bets coming in, the numbers eventually grew a fourth then consecutive fifth digit. It was then that we realized the need to keep at least approximate track of these figures.

We enlisted in the mathematical talents of William O’Leary; the Davenport’s night auditor. Beyond harboring a weakness for gambling, William brewed his own corn-liquor and habitually quoted everyone from Darwin to Dali in support of any number of his useless theories on life. He’d travelled the world during his self-proclaimed prime, over land, sea and air. He’d nearly died of dysentery in an African jungle like Louise Ferdinand Celine and had nearly died again a few months later while parachuting over Barcelona when the lines of his chute twisted and tangled up. He’d somehow untangled the lines but the experience had changed his perspective on life forever. Subsequently he’d lost himself to reckless abandon in Italy and had climbed mountains in Tibet. He’d caught syphilis in Bucharest and had been treated for it in Scotland. He got around O’Leary did. A legend in his own time, he was now married to an older woman he’d imported from his Midwestern hometown, along with her two daughters. In short, his grand adventure was over for the most part. O’Leary took the job immediately. It made perfect sense that O’Leary would want to add some spice to his otherwise lackluster existence. They all did—and perhaps they all saw the locker room as a perfectly viable distraction from their mundane jobs and the inevitability of their own impending deaths.

Personally, I didn’t give a flying fuck what their motives were; I was making a small fortune, which I had and hadn’t planned to do and didn’t want to overthink any of it. We were giving the casino on the main floor a run for their money, or so William would joke on occasion. We were on a roll and that meant two things; firstly, that it was all just a fleeting era as all eras are and secondly, that people would inevitably aim to sabotage our operation—for basic people exhibit basic behavior; it’s a natural fact.

Furthermore there had always existed the element of whistle blowers, whether we chose to recognize it or not. In fact, the news of our Gentlemen’s lounge was whetting suspicions in dangerous administrative circles. There was talk that human resources had launched an off-the-record inquiry the day after Superbowl Sunday had resulted in a near stand still of the mighty Davenport; men had simply left their posts during the final quarter of the game, leaving guests to fend for themselves. In the wake of this, the evening eventually came when one of the night watchmen sauntered into our locker room during peak hours.

I recall the moment well, for it was indeed cinematic; the way in which silence swept across the room and the way everyone stopped what they were doing and saying and froze, clutching fast to their cards and drinks; smoldering cigars dangling from some of their mouths. Malcolm the night watchman stood at attention in the doorway with his flashlight poised to spotlight any one of us had we made a move. He peered around the room; his expression of stone eventually turning to a wide grin.

“Well, well, well, what do have we here?” he said, slipping his flashlight back into its holster.

Though I’d expected the moment since the start; I was caught off guard when it finally arrived and could only offer a single possibility.

“A focus group?” I offered with a non-convincing shrug.

My words, as well as some muffled chuckles from a few of my colleagues, dissipated in the heavy silence that suddenly cloaked the locker room. You could have heard a pin drop. It was anyone’s guess what would happen next—it was a standoff. It was then that Tyrell rounded the corner on his way back from the urinals, latching his belt and holding a stack of green bills between his teeth. I was standing there, contemplating how the filth and pestilence seething within the microscopic folds and tears of the money didn’t register to Tyrell, when he held out his fist and bumped it with Malcolm’s.

“You weren’t kidding man.” chuckled Malcolm.

“No, I wasn’t.” Tyrell said, placing a cigar between his teeth before widening his eyes and letting loose a sinister chuckle laced with Bombay Sapphire and blackjack fever.

“Give me 40 in chips fat boy.” said Malcolm, handing O’Leary a twenty and two tens.

It was hard to believe, but within four nights, Malcolm was a regular and making his nightly entrance with something of a hula dance as the guys cheered and blew loud whistles. We couldn’t believe our luck and it made me wonder when it would eventually run out; at the rate with which we were gaining popularity, I assumed it would be sooner rather than later.

Still, having Malcolm in our corner seemed like a new lease on the operation. Malcolm kept us informed, assuring us that though there were some murmurs concerning the goings on behind the punch-code door of our west wing locker room; he was in fact, ‘putting out the small fires’ by assuring anyone asking that indeed there was nothing of the sort transpiring in our locker room. Though there was gossip, there was simply no proof and HR had closed their inquiry. This new information seemed to broaden our parameters and put everyone at ease, at least for the time being.

It was this cavalier air which prompted us all to step further across that line—the one separating personal recreation from risky business. Soon, careless liberties were being taken. It seemed everyday someone was showing up with an extra convenience, an extra vice. Vince from valet rolled in his own chair—a fancy leather sort with a kingly engraving—he’d snagged it from one of the executive board rooms on the 14th floor. Meanwhile Walt from maintenance brought in a mini fridge from storage which would keep our wide selection of beer ice-cold as well as an unlimited array of bottles from the mini-bar storage. O’Leary and a couple of the others had the diligence to carry in one of the old reclining leather couches from the reception area on the 25th floor. Aside from a number of new centerfolds taped to the walls, I noticed one evening that a giant half-moon table had been carted in from one of the Casino’s event ballrooms as well as one of the spare portable bars from the Emerald Room. Though the half-moon blackjack table was perfect fit—it was if my colleagues were taunting management.

One night, when I took notice of William and Tyrell setting up a cappuccino maker in the corner of the room, it became clear to me that we’d become too comfortable. We’d mustered the diligence and determination to carve out a better existence at the hotel for ourselves and had wittingly passed the point of no return and now perhaps saw no point in drawing limitations; the sky appeared to be the limit and so every limit was exceeded.

This was confirmed one night when O’Leary stopped me in the hall during the Mayor’s 8th annual Save the Children Gala. He demanded I follow him to the locker room.

“Trust me—you’ll want to see this.” William assured.

“Just let me deliver these desserts to the shitheads at table 14—Denise is riding my sack tonight.” I informed him—however, this could not wait.

“Fuck the desserts man…” he chuckled, accosting my tray and handing it off to a new server who was eager to please, “Drop these at table 14.” he commanded, jolting the skinny, pimple-faced kid into action, before pulling me by the arm into the elevator.

“Let me guess, you guys rolled the Jacuzzi in from the spa?” I chuckled as we descended floors.

“You’ll see.” said O’Leary, producing a small vile from the breast pocket of his vest and pouring out a tiny, perfectly white pile onto the top of his hand before snorting it up with a painful sounding squeal.

“What is that?” I asked of the powder.

“Powdered caffeine…pure shit—I haven’t slept in three days.” he replied with a wide-eyed psychotic chuckle.

Because it was one of the Davenport’s busiest nights; the locker room was packed beyond its capacity and thick with humidity, anxious sweat and cigar smoke. A mass of bodies stood perfectly still, their heads rapt and their shoulders squared. I too halted for a moment at the splendor of its majesty; a massive projector screen nearly the size of one wall towered over our makeshift lounge. Stand included, the screen stood perhaps 7 feet tall and was perhaps 12ft in width. The screen itself was slightly concave and seemed to wrap around the peripheral scope as unseen speakers boomed the sounds of a hockey game back at us with extreme volume—as if we were actually there—first balcony.

It had been taken from one of the boardrooms upstairs that was being renovated and reassembled in our locker room; this was far too risky and I voiced this concern to O’Leary who shot me a glare of astonishment.

“Are you fucking kidding me? Just look at this fucking thing man!” he sang and gestured toward the enormous screen, “Apocalypse Now is playing on Channel 12 at 1030! It’s going to blow the roof off of this place.”

I stood there for a moment and watched as a Chicago forward blazed across center ice toward a building break away which resulted in an eruption of hollers, cheers and ear tightening whistles when the player tipped the puck through the opposing goaltender’s pads and made the score. The cheer was a sonic boom—easily heard in the staff cafeteria next door. Indeed dear reader, it was the right plan at the right time and the perfect fit only illustrated further what I already assumed; this was what legends were made of and like all legends, ours would come to pass in a Francis Ford Coppola napalm-blaze of glory.

And though we all hoped for some kind of break, for some kind of divine intervention to erase us from the suspicions of upper management; it wasn’t meant to last. In spite of Malcolm’s assurances that we were in no immediate danger; quite suddenly it was all brought to a screeching halt. The locomotive force of our operation was halted in its tracks when later that night, as we sat in chairs sipping drinks, playing cards and absently watching Martin Sheen sail up the river; the general manager himself made an unannounced appearance.

Mr. Q he was called. The Q was for Quaid. He was a short man who I’d never seen dressed in anything but black blazers and grey turtleneck sweaters. Evidently, he had not a shred of mercy in him either and fired immediately any new staff members in site who’d not passed their 6 month probation period. He fired them on the spot and with a scolding sermon that went on for what seemed an hour before actually dismissing them. It puzzled me that the fires would sit patiently and listen to his sanctimonious lecture being that he was technically no longer their general manager.

Flanked by two security guards, Quaid threatened to call the authorities, to have us all arrested…caned over the back and thrown into a wicker cage. He was livid—a man with a crusade suddenly…it was a self-indulgent display; a total drag. Quaid went on, becoming more fired up, gesturing wildly like a caricature of a third world dictator. It wasn’t what the locker room was for apparently and according to his pleading tone of vengeance, we’d done more than breached the employee agreement—we’d apparently committed a moral crime as well. It wasn’t enough to lambast us all; the bastard was trying to get us all to tear up, to break down and sob. I lit a cigar, feeling I was already in the shit-house and had little more to lose.

 “There is no smoking in this locker room!” boomed Quaid stepping over and tearing the cigar from between my teeth before launching it against a nearby locker where it collided in a cloud of small orange sparks.

 I drained my glass and leaned back in my chair as Quaid went on with his lecture. The words however were a drone of pointless drivel…a blowing of hot air. I could only focus on the consequences—and the looming dread of having to find a new job…of having to sit through often 4 interviews to secure a 5th and final sit down with any random hotel GM…most of which undoubtedly knew Quaid. Easy come easy go, I thought, feeling if I was going to be fed to the wolves; I would subject myself to no more of Quaid’s boring rant. I stood up and left the locker room with Quaid’s threat nipping at my heels, “You walk out of here now and you’ll never be allowed back in.”

Quaid’s words echoed as I headed up Figueroa toward my van, swigging a mouthful of murky green absinthe from my lucky flask. I dialed Garrison who hadn’t been present in the locker room when Quaid and his henchmen had burst in.

“It’s a firing squad around here.” he said when I reached him and inquired, “10 people from banquets, 3 bellmen and 2 from valet. 15 got the axe tonight.”

“I think I’m one of them.” I said, in a long smoky exhale.

“No, you and O’Leary and also Tyrell can’t be fired.” assured Garrison.

“How do you figure that?”

“You’re protected by your brothers and sisters down at Local 709. The shop stewards are already on this. They’re saying Quaid was taking names, which he can’t really do. The guy is out of control they say…and you gotta think; he suffers from little man’s syndrome.”

“It would appear so…still, I walked out in the middle of his sermon—I think I really insulted the old chap.” I said.

“I heard. Apparently now you’re on his shit list. Talk to the union tomorrow. The shop stewards were all looking for you tonight. A lot of people want to talk to you I guess.” said Garrison. Just great, I thought.

As I walked up Figueroa my eyes followed a stream of urine that ran back up from cracked gutter, up the curb and across the sidewalk to a shop front in the doorway of which laid a drunk. I paused before stepping over his stream of piss and looked at him. He’d gotten to a point in his life where pissing in his pants while passed out on a sidewalk was an acceptable norm. He may have been a doctor, a lawyer, a banker broken by tragedy, addiction or loss; I didn’t know and would never know. I panned up and noticed a poster taped behind the glass of the shop which I realized was a vintage clothing store—a hipster outpost on the hard streets of DTLA. Little did I know it then, but this poster would, in the coming months, turn my inner world upside down with a very private and hopeless torment.

You see, dear reader, the poster, though generic in its sub-cultured cut-out clipping style bared one name that sent a jolt through my core, igniting a spark that would, in short time—become a raging inferno of grotesque infatuation; a curse upon any man who prides himself upon his emotional control. The name was Sarah Lassiter and she was billed as a speaker at a spoken word slam the following month. Sarah Lassiter…could it really be her? Could Laura’s sister have been here all along, moving around the fringes of my small social network? Could I have perhaps brushed by her in a crowded club unwittingly and not recognized her? The thought left me numb in the midst of a building surge of adrenaline.

Leagues of the Forgotten

By the time I’d made it back to the good old Vineland Grove Apartments on Los Feliz and Vermont, sunrise was bleeding into the western horizon, dyeing the sky a deep dark blue across which moved blinking dots of high flying aircraft whose jet trails were illuminated by the rising sun; the beginning of a new day.

I got in, had a few puffs, poured myself a shallow glass of absinthe and stood at the window…peering across the darkened rooftops toward the lights of the legendary Los Angeles skyline flickering in the distance. I stood there for a while thinking about Laura Lassiter and the poster I’d seen earlier that bared her sister’s name. Recalling the entire Laura Lassiter saga in a vivid, Technicolor recollection brought me back to times of old…times perhaps not meant to be revisited but certainly would be, especially after such a chance coincidence.

Who was Laura Lassiter? If I’m to explain her, I will need to backtrack—far back; perhaps two decades, back to an era when things meant more and technology hadn’t robbed the world of romanticism or attention span. It was the 1990’s and as I remember it, there were many evening lanes smoldering with sunsets, or there were wide open blue skies and a homesick yearning that was always accompanied by great Manchester guitar rock…it was my first summer in college.

Because I spent the bulk of my time playing with my band of outsiders and attending many end of days parties thrown by various classmates who would soon be leaving for ambitious destinations in the world; I had little time to notice a certain person who would, in the years to come, have a dramatic effect on me. Her name was Laura—Laura Lassiter and as I say, she didn’t beg to be remembered…she didn’t need to—and though there was a quiet energy about her, she was infamously known. However, I’d not quite noticed her at the time—being as preoccupied as I was with the idea of abandoning the safe havens and immunity youth afforded.

There were passing hellos between Laura and I…there were a few packed car rides from one party to another…there were group conversations at which we’d both been present but never did we talk. There was an odd passing glance one evening after the fourth of July fireworks when we’d passed each other in the park. I remember that the glance had been sticky and long enough that it had vaguely registered to me that she possessed a tragic type of beauty—something rare and slightly haunting. She’d been flanked by her friends; a group of girls who’d come to be known around Hillcrest Village as The Sylvias—classmates from the Westlake Academy; a private school for the overly privileged and overly sheltered west side kids. It dawned on me then that Laura was one of the Sylvias and indeed part of the whole ‘Westlake’ thing. The thought had lingered—then eventually passed into oblivion.

The Westlake thing, I should mention, was made a thing by Laura Lassiter and her band of Sylvias throughout our high school years. They were, for the most part, femme fatales and usually clad in their School uniforms during the week. They were called the Sylvias because of their collective obsession with Sylvia Plath. They were different from the majority of other young women who attended Westlake and quite an equation; though they appeared to be well-bred, well-read suburban saints, the Sylvias were misfits—outcasts to the extreme…the kind of troubled girls mothers worried about their sons falling for. They liked their boys bad and their weekends rough and tumble; a detour from their Catholic values I suppose, but deep down the solid values were already instilled—the scaffolding already braced and this made for great social mishaps.

There was a tragic air about them however, and they often behaved as if they were acting in a Goddard film—another of their obsessions. They emulated European cinema and lusted after dead authors and tragic poets. They romanticized suicide and played the most depressing Smiths selections at their parties and in their cars and they expressed their angst and Catholic guilt through macabre humor and existential perversion…they laughed to us about the bulimia lines in the girl’s washroom at Westlake just after lunch hour and how they were frequently subjected to harsh criticisms for being insubordinate and twisted. They’d somehow come to believe there was something horribly wrong with themselves and rather than exist in shame—they embraced their inner darkness with velvety red passion.

Though we all talked the talk about the girls of ‘Westlake Academy’; few of us walked the walk. I somehow wound up walking the walk. That is to say that I got directly involved with the Sylvias of Westlake one fateful summer. Still, though I consecutively dated exactly 3 of Laura’s classmates over the course of two years, having developed a penchant for the Sylvias; I never dated Laura Lassiter herself…she simply hadn’t occurred to me at that point. She was perhaps the most elusive of their band of outsiders.

Laura, like the others, exhumed fringe styles from the 1960s. She didn’t dabble—she went all the way, wearing full antique ensembles and matching jewelry—she frequently styled her hair in a bee-hive and wore Marimekko dresses. Perhaps she didn’t look exactly like Catherine Deneuve, but Laura emulated her in such a haunting fashion one couldn’t help but see her as a Deneuve doppelganger. I’d encountered Laura in the mall one afternoon, carrying her mother’s Chihuahua; she was feeding him ice cream from the cone and humming a long-lost tune. As I walked by, I nodded to her and Laura had stopped, fluttered her lashes and tried to form words…I stood there waiting for her to speak as the dog ravenously ate away at the ice cream…I asked her if the cat had gotten her tongue…however Laura didn’t speak, she only smiled and curtsied slightly before moving on.

I’d admired her round behind and her golden mane of hair as she’d walked away…but hadn’t really given it a second thought aside from the encounter being too short and slightly bizarre. Beyond residing behind a veil of mystery, it was widely known that Laura Lassiter was quite troubled and suffered terribly from madness—daylight nightmares and scary voices telling her scary things…a condition which it was said she only haphazardly medicated.

I learned the severity of Laura’s illness a few years later. We were all well into our 20s and seeing less of everyone. One particular summer when it seemed I’d been hearing several Laura Lassiter stories, another Laura report came across my desk during a chance conversation. I’d heard many by that point and again I was intrigued, but this time something lingered like a haunting echo; the story snagged on something in me.

The story was told to me by a good friend and career slacker who still lived with his parents across the street from the Lassiter home. In a rather nonchalant manner, he explained to me how one night at approximately 1:30 am, he was awoken by an intent wrapping against his bedroom window. Indeed, he’d found on waking that it was Laura and she’d trekked across the street in the middle of the night without bothering to dress…that is to say that he found her standing in the snow in her sock feet and pajamas, looking pale and terrified all at the same time as the moonlight beamed down all around her.

As the story went, she explained in a panicked tone that there was indeed a kill-crazy neighbor stalking her through her bedroom window. Her parents were overseas for a few weeks and Laura was staying in the house alone. She insisted that the neighbor had rung her doorbell earlier in the evening and had kept returning—to peek through her bedroom window. In an ominous tone, Laura had insisted that the neighbor was still there and that my friend Jack accompany her back—to have a look and perhaps deter the neighbor.

As the story goes—as it was told to me; my friend dressed and slung a pellet gun over his shoulder and accompanied Laura across the street, back to her parent’s lavish residence. Once inside she’d led him through a maze of hallways until they came to her bedroom which he said was scattered with creepy charcoal sketches, half-sown fringe designs hanging loosely from a number of female mannequins that stared back at him blankly and many vinyl records separated from their sleeves.

Certainly I was expecting the story to end in a torrid bout of fucking. However, my friend informed me that when they were standing in the close confines of her bedroom, Laura became terrified, pointing toward the window, “Do you see? Do you see him? I just saw him again.” she’d said, pleading for Jack to look out the window. Indeed, Jack had readied his pellet gun and approached the window carefully with Laura in tow. When he reached the window, opened it and looked out however, he’d found nothing but an empty sidewalk two floors below in the place where Laura insisted the neighbor had stood only seconds before, allegedly staring at her through window; It was one in dozens of circulating Laura Lassiter stories, but it was the one that affected me most.

I’d inquired what had become of Laura Lassiter and I was told that she was off travelling far dark corners of the world. Perhaps because of her absence, I began subjecting our mutual friends—which were many—to pop quizzes regarding Laura and said friends spoke without reluctance…telling their tales with a fond tone—as if missing Laura’s antics by remembering her aloud. I could delve into it all here and now, the many stories; like the time she was called to the office at Westlake Academy and subsequently used up three lipstick cartridges covering Father Sanders’ office walls in dark rouge poetry when, on account of speaking with a visiting parent, he’d left Laura alone in his office for 20 minutes…or how her father had hired a private investigator to find Laura one of the times she’d gone missing—the PI had tracked her down in a third world city, wandering the streets barefoot, unveiled and asking the locals where she could find fire—or so I was told. I could get into it all, the entire collection of installments from the Laura Lassiter saga but it would only reinforce the obvious point—Laura was a book with far too many pages.

Eventually, after some debate and months of building obsession—the likes of which I’d never been stricken by, I’d decided to call for Laura one evening and her sister Sarah had answered the phone…I’d never met Sarah; she was a number of years younger than Laura and I. I’d been prepared to ask Laura if she’d join me for a few puffs and a country side drive around the lake…however, her sister Sarah relayed to me that Laura had gone to Europe three weeks before and hadn’t given an estimated date of return—if any date of return was even planned—Laura was known for her vanishing acts and one never knew when she’d reappear.

When Sarah Lassiter asked my name, I’d bid her goodbye and hung up, knowing that I’d been too late and there weren’t many things worse than getting involved with a tragic damsel whose restless mind pulled her in twenty different directions at one time. There was also her other personalities to consider—the ones that seemed to surface at random. I chose to see her unexpected decampment as fortunate—a bullet I’d dodged…and eventually I gave up on the idea of Laura Lassiter altogether.

As the passing months blurred into vague generalized seasons of retrospect, Laura Lassiter also became a vague apparition, fading into the past easily enough. Though I assumed I’d never run into her again, she crossed my mind once in a while…and rather out of the blue. It should have been the end of the story—most certainly it should have dear reader…but the Laura saga didn’t quite end there; there were three more installments yet to come. For one, I did finally run into Laura again years later, and by sheer chance—ironically just as I was forgetting about her nearly completely.

I had run into her at a dinner party I’d attended with a girl I’d been casually seeing. I was more dragged to the dinner party than invited—my then girlfriend Clare insisted I accompany her in spite of my initial refusal to attend. I had done everything I could do to get Clare to grant me the night off…for I could think of nothing worse than spending an evening surrounded by her flat humored girlfriends and their boring, soft-facade boyfriends who all aimed so carefully at hipness and pseudo-intellectual pontification. Still, Clare assured me that if I didn’t attend, she’d impose sexual sanctions…perhaps realizing that sex was the only thing we had left in common and not very good sex at that.

Needless to say I’d dressed in a blazer and out of spite; an old and faded Norman Mailer ‘Tough Guys Don’t Dance’ t-shirt. I’d attended the dinner party and I found myself quite beside myself when I’d rounded a second floor corner in search of the bathroom and came face to face with Laura Lassiter; a woman in which only a few years before I’d invested so much contemplation. I suppose I remembered her in the dance floor spotlights, illuminated brilliantly as she grooved to indie bands all those years before. The framed recollection was immediately erased by her sudden appearance. In person, Laura was a mere human rather than a legendary figure…and it seemed the embellishment I’d created dissipated when we locked eyes.

On seeing me, Laura offered a smile and a warm greeting. She stood there looking tussled in haphazard, rugged clothing and a freckly tan ran across her forehead over which golden locks of her hair hung, covering slightly one of her eyes. She’d been in South America and had just returned; she told me this when I’d asked where she’d gotten the tan. The conversation on my part seemed awkward and I continued toward the bathroom, where I’d held onto the sink, staring at myself in the mirror, wondering what it all meant…wondering how it was that just as I’d nearly forgotten her; she’d suddenly appeared before me in a second floor hallway.

During the actual dinner, I’d sat across from Laura, basking slightly in the soft texture of her voice…the way she sipped her water, the way she made sure to never place an elbow on the tabletop, her large blue eyes and the dark coronas of her long curled lashes. She was an enigma. What can I say? Though Clare was sitting next to me with her nervous hand on my lap, gabbing about pointless details with her trust-fund coterie of pontificating princesses, I was climbing the nape of Laura’s neck with my eyes…wishing to whisper three words into her ear, “Be with me.”

Later in the evening after the bullshit conversations had subsided and people started to mingle and mill about the main floor of the house; I found Laura in the kitchen and asked her if she would walk to the liquor store with me. I told her there was something I wanted to talk to her about. She’d been in mid conversation with a few guests but obliged me anyway, following me out into the warm mid-summer evening. Walking at a casual pace beside me on the nighttime street that was glazed slightly with lamp light and the warm blue glow of the full moon she talked with me, not bothering to ask what it was I’d wanted to speak to her about. There was something uncanny about the evening, perhaps the magnetism of the moon, messing with our tides…or perhaps it was running into Laura after all those years.

“You know Christine told me a lot about you…more than I should probably know.” said Laura of her Westlake classmate…one which I’d dated for perhaps six months before she one day stopped calling me without explanation.

“Good stuff I hope.” I said, knowing otherwise.

“Some good…some baddy bad, bad.” said Laura, shaking her head with a mischievous grin.

“Well,” I said, “I never claimed to be a great man.”

“I’m sure you’re just fine—Christine was always a bit of a dramatist. So now you’re seeing Clare? How is that going?” asked Laura.

“She hates her father.” I said as the car tops and darkened lawns passed by.

“She’s a real sweet person.”

“Ah, she’s a pain in the ass mostly.” I said, lighting a smoke.

At this, Laura leaned her head back and let out a gargantuan chuckle; a guffaw slightly out of place—for I’d not meant my comment as satire.

“She’ll be pretty even when she’s in her 50’s.” Laura said of Clare, “She has a smart figure don’t you know…and her skin is so fair.”

“So will you…” I said, “…be beautiful in your 50’s.”

“Thank you. That’s probably the nicest thing I’ve been told in a long while.” said Laura.

“I’m sure guys tell you that all the time. Hey listen,” I said, interrupting our small-talk, “the reason I asked you here…” I said, not knowing how to articulate it all in a seemingly sensible way, “…I wanted to talk to you about some shit.”

“That’s what you said earlier. What’s on your mind?” smiled Laura…she was shorter than I and I looked down my shoulder at her tanned face. She seemed much different from the afternoon I’d seen her with her mother’s Chihuahua in the mall. Perhaps I’d encountered an alternate personality in the mall.

“You know…I called your parent’s place one time…a few years back…I got your number from Jack.” I said, “I’d hoped to get you on the line, but your sis told me you’d gone and moved to Europe.”

“Paris.” said Laura, “A land full of love and art and death and birth…it all meshes together there right before your eyes you know…and it’s hard to find the ugliness…but it wasn’t for me…I was back in under 4 months…you should go there one day.”

“I’ve never been off the continent…I don’t fly.” I admitted.

“That’s ok…no one will make you fly.” said Laura softly, “Do you know Balzac died when he was only 51 years old?”

“No I didn’t…that’s young—fuck…way too young.” I said.

“Maybe there were no more novels left in him.” said Laura.

“Also, health care was probably a bitch back then.” I suggested.

“So why did you call for me anyway?” she asked.

“I called for you because I wanted to know the truth about you…for myself.” I said.

“Oh…” said Laura, dragging out the word, understanding suddenly my issue. Doubtlessly she’d heard it all before, from dozens of other men who’d fallen for her tragic allure.

“Yeah…it was that kind of thing.” I nodded

“What would you have said if I would have answered the phone instead of Sarah?” she asked.

“Who knows?”

“You can say it now don’t you think? Or is it so naughty?”

“I guess I wanted to know you.” I said, “Maybe I thought I could distract you.”

“From what?” Laura asked, tilting her head.

“From the monsters under your bed.” I said.

“We all have monsters under the bed.” she said easily and after biting her lip in contemplation she stopped walking, turned to me and suggested we sit down on a soft looking lawn belonging to a towering darkened Victorian, one overhung by trees and shadows.

Laura sat cross legged, balancing her face in her palms. She told me that I should see Bertolucci’s ‘Sheltering Sky’. She told me she had once wandered three days through a jungle in the Amazon searching for a holy place…she told me that she’d once had her food drugged at a hillside retreat and had spent the night hallucinating…she told me life isn’t what we all think it is…and that it was wrong to judge anyone. She then filled me in on her travels since the old days; cliff side bus rides on third world country roads, filthy hostels and hard shanty floors, epic hikes, international flights, the airports in between, hitchhiking on foreign lands, encounters with ancient artifacts and the vermillion spirits of desert sunsets. I sat and listened; utterly fascinated.

Secretly, we spent a number of weeks together and for once in a long time it seemed I’d gotten what I wanted rather than what I needed and I immersed myself fully in Laura, throwing all caution and self-restraint to the wind to the degree of finally understanding the meaning of Beatles songs. Though I knew it was shamelessly sentimental and perhaps thoroughly self-indulgent, I allowed myself to become fully immersed in her mysterious femininity as if it were an ancient aphrodisiac exhumed from the tomb of an Egyptian queen.

Laura was a lover of great versatility…and there weren’t enough hours in a day to satisfy her spiritual curiosities and penchant for art, antique architecture, vintage books or any randomness at all that might strike her as brilliant and darkly poetic. To spend a day with her was to see the world through a prism that cast pastel shades from a long lost Technicolor era. In my mind I’d snapped many of her effortless poses that, 30 years previous could have graced the cover of any women’s glamor magazine—posed unsuspectingly in her vibrant Marimekko dresses and her bouffant hair style, Laura made history in her quiet an unaware way—even if the history existed only in the annals in my mind. Green summer streets turned to Emerald lanes seen through her prism.  She’d once produced a stick of silver lipstick from her polka dot purse and wrote my name across the window of an abandoned antique store in the Jewelry district. She’d displayed her loopy lettering with magical fingers as if she were a game show girl or a magician…gazing back at me over her shoulder with a slight grin and her head tilted back—the faded sign above her reading Abigail’s Heirlooms. It was a perfect mental snapshot and I wondered if anyone else would have recognized in Laura what I did…as if I’d always been meant to see it and recognize the poetry in her—as if I’d somehow come equipped with Laura-receptors in my brain.

One evening we’d met at the Hotel Roosevelt in hopes of free roaming and perhaps tracking down the ghost of Marilyn Monroe—or any of the dead stars that doubtlessly haunted the upper floors. However, when we were foiled by security, we’d walked west on Sunset for miles.

Against my advice, Laura walked barefoot the entire way…seemingly unphased by the coarseness of the rough Hollywood sidewalks. Somehow, our laughter was hysterical at points and by the time we reached Beverly Hills Laura was wearing my jacket and holding my hand closely. We sat for a rest on a street side bench across the street from a grand sparkly hotel and after making out with me for a while, she produced from her vintage polka dot purse a gold nail file with which she carved our names into the wood of the bench, “Just so we know that this was all real.” she said.

“Was?” I asked .

“Maybe you’ll come sit here one day.” she said looking up at me with a deep sadness that had washed over her as suddenly as a rogue wave against a tranquil shoreline.

“Maybe.” I said, finding it all a bit curious, “Why do you say that?”

Laura only looked up at the moon, which was nearly full.

“I was once in Africa…I was travelling in a caravan with some travellers from Portugal. We got caught in a sandstorm. We had to spend the night in a hot, muggy old bus…I didn’t know a word of Portuguese. Later in the night, after the storm had passed, a few of the older men went outside the bus and stood on the dunes…they were saying ‘Lua, lua, lua…” The sky was perfectly clear and black…thick and black as oil…except for the moon sitting massively just above the horizon…it was fiery red…like a ball of lava…this world was born of fire.”

It was stories such as these that enveloped me. Her words seemed to conjure portraits in my mind, not unlike classic novel cover-art. Laura did indeed evoke mermaids of flight with her words and poetically unapologetic remarks that would roll off her tongue with the sincerity of madness yet the calm collected conviction of sanity; she walked a fine line and sometimes fell over the other side.

It may have been her stunning face which to me looked uncannily like Catherine Deneuve. It may have been her poetry, the prism through which she saw the world…perhaps it was the antique bangles she wore stacked halfway up her forearm. Perhaps it was the way she took me inside of herself and fucked the contemplation and existentialism out of me, replacing it with cosmic wonder. There was a great chance it was a combination of all of these elements existing simultaneously within Laura that prompted me to shack up with her in a beach side kitchenette in Santa Barbara for two weeks; where we lived much like Elizabethan lovers—except for the fact that we showered and brushed our teeth.

Our kitchenette at the Palm Grove motel was, upon Laura’s insistence, paid for through the credit card her father had issued for her…more so to keep track of her when she’d disappear for weeks on end. I’d heard so many stories of Laura’s disappearing acts over the years and finding myself looking out from the inside was a curious position indeed. Doing exactly what we wanted with no thought of the outside world felt good. Secretly I’d hoped that we could stay lost for much longer…living contentedly in the beachside kitchenette…fucking, eating, drinking liquor and obsessing over each other’s existences…like in the tattered pages of an old Hemingway paper back novel.

On our last evening together Laura read to me from a book she’d filled with sketches, poems and short bits of prose and her words had floored me, reinforcing my suspicion that there was a very fine line between madness and creative brilliance. Perhaps some of the greatest art is never uncovered due to the artist’s madness. Though Laura’s poetry was no less stifling as Sylvia Plath’s…Laura was simply too troubled to collect it into a publishable form…either that or she simply didn’t see the point in sharing what was so personal to her with anonymous masses. Lying beside me on the lumpy bed of our beach side kitchenette, Laura spoke sleepily as she teetered in between slumber and consciousness.

“I feel safe here.” said she.

“In Santa Barbara?” I asked with a grin.

“In here…with you. I feel like I can be anyone I want to be.” she said.

“Who do you want to be?” I asked.

“A different me…” she sighed, trailing off into sleep.

I had hoped it could go on longer. However, Laura eventually had to leave. Her name was still on an apartment lease in Paris and her most cherished belongings still in a French storage unit. There was also the issue of her art courses, which she was registered to attend. Her departure came with a countdown of first days, then hours…then minutes.

After weeks of absence, I returned to my life rather dazed and dopamine-drunk and when I finally saw Clare, I decided it was the best policy to explain the entire situation to her. Indeed, though by that point Clare had decided to hate me, she had first thrown a fit, then had thrown a plate at my head after which she’d locked herself in the bathroom in a dramatic fashion, taking the cordless phone with her for the purpose of commiserating with friends. She’d cried, screamed and kicked at the door, declaring her disgust for me and the entire situation. The notion sickened her for more reasons than she realized though—for she’d come to know me as her rock base…a solid unmovable foundation upon which she could build her fortress of anxieties. She hated most that I could be softened and essentially possessed by the allure of a woman as broken as Laura Lassiter—a woman she’d always seen as inferior. Needless to say, I was racked with guilt—which didn’t help the hollow spreading within me that came with knowing that I’d probably not see Laura for quite some time.

Laura on the other hand disappeared into the cobblestone Parisian walkways, full of murk and mist and 1930’s café life. When we’d finally parted ways at a terminal at LAX, she’d handed me a small paper upon which she’d scribbled in dull pencil, her personal phone number at her parent’s house in Santa Monica…as well as its proper address, in case I wanted to send her ‘letters’ which she claimed to adore, assuring me that her parents always forwarded her mail to wherever she was staying in the world. I remember asking her if I’d see her again and Laura had looked back at me over her shoulder—she’d nodded and said yes, but something wasn’t right about it. I felt something was wrong, like the way animals can sense an approaching earthquake. The image stayed with me; Laura looking over her shoulder with a sad smile—in my mind it’s framed as a haunting, black and white snapshot. I didn’t know it then…but it was the last time I’d ever see her.

Not long after that Laura had, in a hopeless act of surrender, committed suicide—she’d done it in Paris; so I’d been told by a number of mutual friends. She had her reasons, no matter how ill and tortured—there came a point when she could no longer stand the voices and the sinister laughter and the imaginary neighbors outside her window. She’d checked out, leaving behind a slew of unanswered questions and the memory of a beautiful and deeply troubled woman who’d been a book with too many pages for far too long.

Time went on, the years melted into the past and everyone seemed to forget about Laura Lassiter. Over the years it became a dark piece of conversation and pretty much anyone that ever knew Laura never wanted to mention her anymore and eventually, she joined the endless leagues of the forgotten—that is, until by a sheer stroke of chance I came face to face with her sister’s name upon a poster advertising a spoken word slam at which Sarah Lassiter was performing. What were the odds?

Kahunas

I’d made myself scarce at the Davenport after the locker room incident—in fact I’d made myself scarce in general—I was through wasting time with dead end jobs and managers who were plagued by the pointless nuances of food and beverage services. To me, it had become awesomely clear, that a man must serve a purpose…he must make a real and lasting contribution to the world at large, no matter whether he’s an accepted part of it or not. The mission is what matters. Accordingly, I spent the following two weeks overhauling my screenplay—feeling that if I threw the entirety of myself into it; I could certainly achieve the only thing that seemed to matter in life—a masterpiece.

Though various colleagues, union reps, as well as Tanis Radcliff—head of the Davenport’s human resources office—had been trying to contact me through emails and phone calls for two weeks; I’d simply vanished. Indeed, I’d found a certain degree of refuge at the Oceanic Resort and Spa, which was in Santa Monica; a world away from the tight knit downtown core, where everyone working in the hotel scene seemed acquainted and where gossip always spread like wildfire. Certainly within a few days, word of our little episode with the locker room would have made its way throughout the entire downtown circuit. The many calls and emails verified that.

The Oceanic Resort and Spa was one of three jobs I jumped between; it always made sense to have three or more jobs. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, if you have three jobs—losing one isn’t exactly financially devastating. Also, it’s not a great idea to let bosses at dead-end jobs know that you depend solely on the hours they may or may not give you—depending on your performance. Lastly, after three days working with any particular crew at any particular facility—the boredom always set in. Indeed, for me it was imperative to have options to curb the boredom that comes with being another anonymous hand, holding up one section of the infrastructure.

The Oceanic overlooked the warm beaches of Santa Monica and was always crawling with tourist who spilled in from the beaches, the Pier, the 3rd street promenade. Though the entire expanse of beautiful shoreline would one day be swallowed up by a massive tsunami; one couldn’t help but become slightly mesmerized by the bludgeoned orange blaze of a Santa Monica sunset. The issue however, in my case, was one of miles. For the commute from my apartment in East Hollywood though not an extraordinary distance—took on new dimensions once Los Angeles’ ever present gridlock was added to the equation. Indeed, at 3pm, the drive up the 101 and down the 405, eventually onto the 10 and out to Santa Monica could easily take an hour or perhaps more, depending on how lucky one was.

After two weeks of driving out to Santa Monica and back every day; I realized it was inevitable that I would at some point have to meet with Tanis Radcliff whose name struck fear into most Davenport employees. The asylum the Oceanic Resort and Spa provided was a warm bath of perpetual-summer slack; and I hated to leave it and return to the harsh brick and mortar mentality of the bustling downtown core.

A few days later, I received a letter in the mail from Tanis Radcliff. Her letter, printed on official Davenport letterhead, was a cordial invitation to her office for a chat on Monday of the following week. When Monday came I did my usual drive down Sunset to the hotel Davenport. There was always something about driving down Sunset that relaxed me. My parking pass had run out and so I parked on a downtown street next to a camp of homeless men who were passing a bottle of vodka back and forth.

“I’ll give you twenty bucks if my van is still in one piece when I get back.” I said, to which they shrugged and nodded, assuring me that I could count on them.

As I walked up the street toward the mighty hotel Davenport where Hollywood icons had lived and diplomats still played; I had a few puffs. As I passed the shop fronts, some of which were closed and their metal shutters sporting gang-tags; a concept whispered itself in my ear. Maybe there was an asteroid out there somewhere heading for earth. Maybe there would be no consequences for the years of personal neglect I’d subjected myself to in the name of art—in the name of imagination.

Perhaps we’d all be consumed by a tidal wave of fire and there would be no consequence for choosing against a life of button-downing and 9-5 office sitting…of waking up at the crack of dawn for a vegetable smoothie, a quick jerk and a hung-over jog…engaging in cutthroat competition with friends and enemies alike in matters of materialism—starting personal vendettas and having the audacity to take prisoners…picking a bad sports team and sticking with them…attending suburban car key parties and honing one’s powers of social observation for the sake of becoming another round peg. Was I missing something?

I was still trying to solve this equation as I was seated across from Tanis Radcliff and her assistant Josie somethingorother. Josie was Radcliff’s protégé, but it seemed there was something more between them. Indeed, a curious duo, the two were inseparable and spent a great deal of time huddled in their tiny windowless office, plotting their next ambush. Otherwise they could be seen wandering the hallways, always together and always jotting down details in their small black notepads.

As Radcliff was in the middle of a phone conversation when I’d arrived, Josie instructed me to take the hot seat and wait—and wait I did, feeling as if I was eavesdropping. After a number of minutes waiting in silence however, I took note of a bit of the thespian in Radcliff. There was something in her embellished gestures that suggested the entire phone call was a decoy…a feint…a phony call. Of course the notion that she could be eating up valuable time with such a senseless charade managed to tickle me, conjuring a sudden quake of laughter that drew both of their eyes. Suddenly sullen, Radcliff bid farewell to the possibly empty receiver and placed it gently in its cradle before addressing me.

“So, mister Nero, how are you today?”

“I’m here to help.” I stated.

“I see. Well,” Radcliff continued, “an issue concerning you has been brought to my attention recently. I thought it would be best to address this issue in person.”

“If it’s about the locker room—you know I should have a union delegate present.” I said, glancing at Josie. She was a mini version of Radcliff. She’d even started wearing her hair like Radcliff. The worst of this was that Radcliff’s hairdo was frozen in time—a direct import from rural 1987. Glancing from do to do, I had trouble deciphering; they either did each other’s hair or went to the same salon, I mused—picturing them in my mind, sitting side by side with vintage salon hair dryers coned over their heads…plotting their next ambush.

“Oh, this isn’t about the locker room Mr. Nero. We’ll get to that once an internal investigation is completed. For today however, I want to bring to light an issue of no less urgency. A number of your immediate supervisors have approached me, voicing concern about your lack of enthusiasm.”

I waited for more, but none came.

“Well, I must say that’s an extraordinary allegation.” I said.

“These reports say that it is in fact so.”

“Isn’t it all relative? Define lack of enthusiasm.” I urged.

“Certainly you know what enthusiasm is.” snapped Josie.

“Of course, but if we’re going to discuss this fairly, we need some frame of reference. Wouldn’t you say?”

“Enthusiasm is enthusiasm regardless of context. I hope you’re not going to test our resolve today.” Josie countered, locking eyes and waiting for a response.

“I wouldn’t dream of it. Let me ask you this though—is there a definitive example of this alleged lack of enthusiasm, or are you basing your allegations solely on hearsay?” I asked Josie.

“Oh there are many examples.” she smiled.

“Well…throw me one.”

“We’re not here to satisfy your curiosity, we’re here to discuss what steps you can take to improve yourself.” Josie said.

“But certainly there are two sides to each story…right?” I asked.

“Of course.” Radcliff finally chimed in, when her protégé was left momentarily speechless.

“So you see, I need to know what I’m defending.” I said with a shrug of sincerity.

“Mr. Nero, these points, which are many, have culminated to create the present situation. There is no one thing—it’s a succession of many things.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Like the fact that you don’t smile.”

“I smile.” I insisted.

“It’s been reported right here that you don’t smile.” Josie said, pointing to a printed memo sitting before her on her boxy desk, “Also, you walk far too casually and you slouch—it’s a very unprofessional way that you carry yourself. You don’t engage the guests who approach you—instances have been reported when you’ve flat-out ignored guest requests…what’s more you move slowly—like ‘molasses in January’ another captain’s log specifies.” Radcliff added, studying the dog eared pages of what appeared to be my file—a dossier of sorts which seemed to be filled with interesting tidbits highlighting my professional shortcomings.

“Also, you seem to use a product in your hair that gives you an oily appearance.” Radcliff added.

“Yeah,” Josie agreed, wrinkling her brows as if ultimately perplexed, “what is that product anyway?”

“It’s called Chrome Velocity—and I can assure you…it’s not cheap at $45 a bottle ladies.”

“There’s also the matter of shaving—most of these logs state that seldom if ever do you arrive at work on time and cleanly shaven.” Radcliff said, spurring me to jog my memory.

“Ladies, I can explain…that was my John Stamos look—it was a phase.” I said.

“Rather than offer justifications,” Said Radcliff, flexing her corporate muscle with a long sigh, “you might offer us suggestions on how you intend to improve your performance.”

After pondering Radcliff’s statement for a moment I shrugged and offered the only reply I felt best illustrated the man they wanted me to be. “I’ll be good forever?”

“I assure you Mr. Nero, this isn’t a joke and not something you should be cavalier about.” said Radcliff, tilting her aerodynamic head and peering at me thoughtfully—a tactic she’d doubtlessly learned at another of her three day, coffee breath, croissant fart, managerial seminars.

“I don’t take it lightly Mrs. Radcliff…or is it Ms.?” I said with a tilt of my head, rising to leave.

Remaining seated, Radcliff peered at me from behind her desk, “Allow me to read to you one captain’s assessment of your performance.”

I reluctantly eased back down into the chair and prepared for a doubtlessly bias read. The memo was penned by Kensington, one of the morning captains, who, because he rarely worked the evening shift, had little to no knowledge of my late-night heroics. You see dearest reader, the morning shift was for lifers; men and women who’d relinquished any hope they ever had—people who’d forgotten, or never understood in the first place, the true majesty of moonlight.

Where the morning shift was coffee stains, crusty marmalade and halitosis boardroom meetings; the night shift was splashed with champagne, entertainment, gowned trophy wives and red carpets—the lesser of two borings I suppose. Still, I only ran into Kensington when his usual morning shift might bleed into a gala ball, or a white gloved reception, rendering the poor chap out of his element among the night crew who had a bit of the werewolf in them.

To compensate for being out of his element, Kensington would inevitably become a cunt…what’s more; he thrived on the hatred he instilled in total strangers and long-time colleagues alike. He was the type of fellow who would let his trousers drop to his ankles at a public urinal—just to moon everyone. Furthermore, it was a common practice of his to telephone other captains in the wee hours, delirious with drink and grumbling with paranoid delusions and physical threats.

One such voicemail had trickled down to us grunts who were all slugging it out in the trenches. As imagined, the recording was a wealth of entertainment. He’d managed to use the word fuck 17 times in the course of a 30 second message—no small feat. He’d also made references to agencies he intended to contact and file complaints with, all before slurring a volley of incoherent insults at upper management. Well—who had guessed Kensington had his points of interest?

Indeed, it came as no shock to me that Kensington would forward such a statement to Radcliff. It was as I’d expected, an incoherent rant regarding my handling of a ‘code red’. A code red, dear reader, is a priority alert; an alert that is issued over the captain’s radio if a guest spills a drink on himself, the table linen or another guest.

Rather than come around from behind my bar and console the guest and try to remove the stain from his shirt with a wash cloth and club soda…as we were instructed to do—I had merely handed the clumsy prick a bar rag and informed him that if he was indeed intoxicated; he would be refused any more alcohol—a sensible thing to say—or so I’d thought.

In any case, Kensington cited in great detail his disdain for my lack of devotion and social eloquence, after which he embarked on a lengthy recount of his history, assuring in the end that in all of his travels, working the cruise ships and luxury hotels throughout North America, Europe and the French Riviera; he’d never encountered such a lazy sod as I. I took it with a nod, waiting silently for Radcliff to finish. When she was through reading Kensington’s statement, she placed the paper back into the dossier and interlaced her fingers.

“Those words are quite telling.” she said, leaving a long trail of silence before leaning back in her squeaky leather chair and raising her brows, “Do you care to comment?”

“Well Tanis…to be honest, I thought the letter lacked real heart.” I offered, “His drunken late night voicemails to other captains are much more entertaining.” I laughed, hoping one of them might smile…however, neither did…they both peered back at me, perhaps surprised that I’d heard Kensington’s voice message.

As expected, word that I’d been dragged in with Radcliff and her protégé spread through the Davenport like wildfire. Naturally, a few of the guys called me that evening asking for details. I was certain that most of them had placed bets on whether or not I’d be fired. The fact that I hadn’t been must have left someone disappointed. It was decided that I would meet O’ Leary, Schroeder and Tyrell at Kahunas—a cockroach infested watering hole on Virgil—when they were off work.

Kahunas wasn’t my kind of place. It smelled like cigarette smoke, cheap perfume, stale carpet-vomit and minty urine. It attracted a suspicious clientele and for this reason the pitchers of Black Gold beer were a steal. I found them outside in their uniforms having a few puffs. They looked battle hardened and weary from a long exceptionally grueling gala dinner service—one which I slightly regretted missing. 

Once inside we made our way across the empty dance floor and found a table in one corner of the bar. The place was sparsely populated and there was a total absence of customer service. There were three women stationed at a neighboring table. They were drunkenly arguing and one knocked over the other’s full mug of beer so it exploded in a splatter of foam which ran down the slanted floor, pooling directly at the foot of our table.

“This was a great idea O’Leary.” I said, “What a shithole.”

“Hey man, cheapest beer in LA.” he attested with a wide grin, clearly unphased by the grim surroundings.

“Yeah, it’s probably carbonated piss.” I mused.

When the waitress was upon us finally, she stood there staring at us all with a grin as she smacked her gum with intent. She stood like that for a few moments, smacking the gum nice and hard and bobbing her head to a pulsing electronic beat.

“Are you trying to annoy us?” I asked her.

“No.” she said, tilting her head at me a bit before scanning the others at the table. “Sharp uniforms, where you all work?” she asked with a chipper disposition.

“Hotel Davenport.” said O’Leary with a proud toothy grin.

“Wow, so posh.” our waitress said, poising her pen to take Tyrell’s order first as he was closest to her. She went around the table counter clockwise and landed on me last.

“I’m assuming you don’t have absinthe.” I said.

“What is that?” she asked.

“Never mind, I’ll take gin with lime juice; hold the hepatitis ice cubes.” I specified.

The waitress wrote it all down, voicing the last few words, hold the hepatitis ice cubes and as suddenly as she’d appeared, she was gone, leaving the guys and I alone in our sticky leather booth.

“So what went on with Radcliff today?” O’Leary asked.

“The usual shit.” I said.

“Word was that you were in there for a while man.” said Tyrell.

“They were reading me captain logs…apparently Kensington and a bunch of the other captains wrote a few reports about me. These assholes have nothing better to do.” I shrugged.

“Didn’t Kensington leave some drunken punish-message on someone’s voicemail?” recalled Tyrell, wrinkling his brows.

“Indeed he did…and a hilarious one at that.”

“Reports about?” asked Schroeder, the Davenport’s most reputable concierge.

“What’s the matter Schroeder—you afraid I implicated you?” I asked him.

“No…I’m just asking.” he replied, a bit flustered.

“I’m not a rat. And anyway, they didn’t ask me anything about the locker room.”

“They can’t.” said O’Leary, “It’s a union issue now. What they’re trying to do is get you on a technicality. What was their beef this time?”

“Apparently I’m the worst employee they’ve ever seen…apparently I should wear a creepy clown-smile around all day and kiss a lot of asshole rims.” I said, “According to Captain Katie, I shouldn’t use product in my hair—I should shave more often…blah, blah, fucking blah.”

“Yeah, know what? She’s been riding my sack something fierce…every time I turn around she’s there busting my fucking hump.” said O’Leary, loosening his bowtie with a frustrated yank, “Tonight she told me my pants were too tight…that she could see male camel toe; she’s out of control man.”

“Male camel toe?” Schroeder laughed, raising his brows.

“Ain’t nothing natural about male camel toe G.” informed Tyrell, shaking his head with a long sigh.

“It’s not male camel toe.” protested O’Leary, jumping up out of the booth and standing rigidly, gesturing to his crotch, where, strangely enough, male camel toe indeed resided, as if his sack was walking a tightrope.

“Fuck man…you do have male camel toe.” spat Schroeder, pointing at the gruesome sight.

“That shit looks painful.” I said, perplexed by what I was seeing.

“Fuck all ya’ll.” O’Leary grinned, flipping us both his middle fingers.

“Ease up,” said Schroeder, “she has hers coming…I got an ace up my sleeve for that witch.”

“Do tell.” said O’Leary, sinking back down into the sticky leather booth, pulling at the crotch of his pants.

“Well, this is between present company only,” said Schroeder—his usual disclaimer, “a reliable source—no…very fucking reliable source told me he’s got a video of Captain Katie giving him a drunken lap dance.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” chuckled O’Leary.

“It’s for real.” sighed Tyrell, shaking his head.

“You can say that again.” said Schroeder, “In the video; she’s down to her underwear and let me tell you…that frumpy uniform she wears at work doesn’t do her justice at all…she’s got a great ass actually.”

“And what…you’re going to blackmail her? She probably posted that same video on her fucking online profile.” said O’Leary, squinting hard suddenly to a booth across the room, “No fucking way…I don’t believe what I’m seeing.”

From our booth I could see that the table at which O’Leary was staring was occupied by four clean cut, cookie cutter type gents clad in fancy uniforms and from the collection of beer bottles and glasses crowding their tabletop it seemed a safe assumption that they’d arrived long before we had.

“Who are those assholes?” I asked.

“Those, my esteemed cohort, are some sad-ass motherfuckers from the Hotel Bradley, swilling piss water after a soft, nice and easy, cushy-ass night on the job—if you can call it a job. Guess they like slumming it after a long night of standing around doing nothing.” said O’Leary as the waitress was returning with our drinks.

She set the drinks down one by one, this time starting with me. We sat there for a few moments in silence, sipping at our drinks, waiting for O’Leary to elaborate. O’Leary was like that—verbally constipated at times…he let things out slowly and often with a wince.

“I know those glamor boys from my days at the Hotel Bradley.” said O’Leary, before taking a deep haul of his beer, “Precious little glamor boys.”

When I turned around again to get a better look at the Bradley crew, I noticed that their uniforms were made from a glossy silverish fabric—they looked futuristic somehow, as if they should be armed with laser guns. Indeed, their silver tunics, blonde barbered hair and Ken Doll smiles lent them the appearance of body snatchers with rub-on tan and capped teeth.

“Those are the bitches that got me canned.” said O’Leary with a wince, “I knew I’d run into them somewhere.”

“Those are the exact guys?” asked Schroeder.

“Sure as I’m sitting here.” assured O’Leary as he removed his cufflinks, “They accused me of skimming from the cash float…and I ain’t never skimmed in my entire life—not even when we had the locker room going…there’s just some shit a man shouldn’t do.”

“How can you be sure it was them?” pressed Schroeder.

“I’ve got a friend on the inside…he’s an old college buddy and heads up the room service division at the Bradley. He’s the one who got me the job in the first place…I trust him.” said O’Leary, now turning his attention to Schroeder, who was listening intently aiming to find a hole in the story, as he often did.

“So what are you going to do?” asked Schroeder.

“Well, I think I might just go over there and grab one of them by the frog lips and rearrange his face.”

“Frogs have lips?” pondered Tyrell.

“You know, that whole hotel is like a cult really.” O’Leary said, breaking into chuckles, “You know what those creepy bastards do at the beginning of each shift? They do this really creepy chant…the boss-man gets everyone to huddle up and when they’re in the huddle he starts going off about how the Bradley was funded by some billionaire who had the hotel built on an energy spot—like a gateway to other dimensions kind of spot…they say he was cryogenically frozen and is stored in the basement…they all buy into it…they stay in this huddle for a really awkwardly long time, chanting this motto over and over and over…we’re talking Manson shit here.”

“What’s the motto?” asked Schroeder, curious as ever.

We Are Bradley.” said O’Leary, leaning to one side and chuckling.

“That is creepy as shit.” Schroeder said, slamming his beer down on the wooden table top.

“Did you do the huddle?” I asked O’Leary, who looked back at me, knowing the question was bound to arise.

“Look, I was new at the job…I wasn’t sure what the extent of it was at that point…so yeah, I did it once or twice.” he confessed.

“How do you live with yourself?” I asked him, glancing back at the Kool-Aid cult in spaceman uniforms sitting across the room.

“Hey, I got out of there before they started planting triggers in my head.” insisted O’Leary with a raise of his bottle.

“From the sound of it, you should be glad you got canned from a creep-show like that; I’ll toast to that.” said Schroeder raising his glass.

“I wasn’t sorry to lose the job; what bugs me is that those sweethearts over there tried to fuck with my reputation…my livelihood…and we all know that you don’t ever fuck with someone’s livelihood unless you’re willing to go all the way.” said O’Leary.

“Reputation…” I laughed, “what reputation?”

I felt my phone vibrating in my jacket pocket just then and found that Jay Westcott was calling. I knew Jay from way back, when I used to work on film sets. Jay had stuck with film and had moved up to a comfortable position; where I’d demoted myself from assistant to the locations manager, all the way down the corporate ladder to night-time set security. Indeed, as a security man, my primary responsibility had been to sit in my van, which was to be parked on-set, from 7pm to 7am. I was expected to walk the perimeter each hour on the hour and fill in a security log. I’d followed the routine for a week before discovering that I could leave the set from 9pm to 6am—when absolutely nobody was around. I’d had a good run but had eventually been fired when set-deck had shown up two hours early and had found the set deserted.

In any case, I’d been waiting for a call from Westcott. The last time we’d spoken, he’d mentioned to me that he’d gotten a job assisting Jacky Monroe—an eccentric avant-garde film director who Westcott had mentioned a few months before…most recently he’d made an avant-garde film about a man whose penis was a serpent with centipede legs. Of course it was a commercial flop but the film was funded by a reputable production company. During our last conversation, Jay had mentioned to me that he’d told Monroe about my screenplay and Monroe had asked Jay to read it to him. It was the last I’d heard.

I took the call outside on the rear patio that overlooked a cracked and littered alleyway. I leaned against the wood rail and spoke with Westcott who wasted no time getting to the point.

“So, I read Monroe your script…well—the first quarter of it at least—he asked to meet you.” said Westcott.

“That’s great news. What did he say about the script?” I inquired.

“He mostly talked about how he would light it. Filters he would use…he said he would probably darken the exposure a bit…he said the screenplay has a darkness to it.”

“A darkness?” I said.

“That’s what he said.” assured Westcott, “Anyway; it’s a good thing—he wants to meet you on Tuesday.”

“Absolutely…where at?”

“He’s got a room at the Hotel Emerald…he’s been staying there while he’s in LA. He said we can roll by around 4pm next Tuesday.”

“Sounds great.” I said.

“Come to think of it…he did have one question.” Westcott said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“He asked me what your astrological sign is.”

“Like the zodiac?” I asked.

“Yeah.” 

My mind grappled with this for a moment, assessing the connotations and implications. For what did it say about a man who followed, enough to inquire, cosmic based reasoning founded largely on esoteric sorcery and dime store telepathy?

“Well Jay…I owe you one man—listen, one more thing…” I said.

My train of thought however was abruptly derailed by a sudden explosion of glass that erupted with a sharp and sudden pop. It only took a split second for the giant plate glass window to shatter into millions of shards that caught the overhead lanterns in a sparkling deluge as they scattered outward across the wooden patio, following the momentum of the projectile that had been hurled through the window—which was the body of a man.

Upon closer observation, I realized it was one of the Hotel Bradley crew and as he lay on his side atop the pool of shattered glass, gasping in the sudden static silence that followed like a wash of tinnitus, I realized who’d vaulted him through the window. It was O’Leary and as he stepped through the breakage out onto the patio to finish what he’d doubtlessly started, I noticed over his shoulder, a full scale, booth clearing brawl ensuing on the dance floor, directly under the disco ball that cast spinning shards of glittery light over the entire scene. Perhaps more macabre was the selected soundtrack chiming through the vintage jukebox speakers. To the tune of Cyndi Lauper’s poignant classic, ‘Time After Time’, I saw Tyrell and Schroeder in their opposing silvery uniforms, taking on the Bradley waiters. They were holding each other’s sleeves in a hockey-fight sort of dance, throwing muffled punches and circling into nearby tables, knocking half-filled glasses to the floor.

As O’Leary approached the man writhing on the hardwood patio, the glass crunched beneath his dress shoes and a look of bloody murder appeared in his eyes. I’d never seen him with that look before and I must say, I was a bit surprised he harbored it somewhere within himself.

“Hold on a second Jay.” I said before setting the phone down carefully on the edge of the wooden rail.

Raising my palms, I stepped between O’Leary and the downed Bradley staffer who was moaning in pain and slithering across the shattered glass toward a dark corner of the patio. Of course dear reader, heroics aren’t my forte and never have been by any stretch of the imagination; however, there was something in O’Leary’s murderous gaze that beckoned me forth—at that moment he was our own personal Private Pile who’d been caught one too many times with a jelly donut in his footlocker.

My intervention was more of a reminder of what somewhere deep down, O’Leary must have already known. Reflecting on it now however; imploring O’Leary to refrain from doing anything he couldn’t undo, was most certainly redundant—O’Leary was going to do whatever the fuck O’Leary wanted to do. Still, I cited, within my limited understanding of criminal law codes, a speculation of perhaps O’Leary being charged with only destruction of property at that point—if he left it as it was and went no further. However, the Bradley boys had fucked with O’Leary’s reputation and livelihood and to O’Leary, there was nothing worse.

Pushing me aside, O’Leary leaned down and gripped the writhing Bradley staffer by the neck of his silvery, futuristic tunic. I stood by and watched as O’Leary hoisted the man to his knees. O’Leary then wound up his arm with a hard right cross, as if he was pulling back an arrow in the reed of a bow. When he let it go, the punch landed against the man’s face with a cracking thud–an ugly, bone snapping sound that crumpled the man to the patio floor where he lay motionless; knocked unconscious and twisted into an awkward position with his right leg bent upward so his foot was at his hip. In the absence of his consciousness, his nose gushed blood as if it was a severed garden hose.

“Jezus O’Leary—what the hell is the matter with you? You could kill a person that way.” I said, shaking my head—unable to grasp why such an obvious point was worth so much to O’Leary to prove, especially to a pack of douchebags like the Bradley crew.

When I got back to the phone Westcott was still there. He’d been listening intently to the commotion and inquired immediately.

“What the hell is going on over there?” he asked.

“Ah, some monkey business.” I said.

“Sounds like. Ok…I’ll see you next Tuesday?” asked Westcott looking for confirmation.

“Absolutely.” I assured before clicking off and looking back at O’Leary who was at that point struggling against the restraint of two Kahunas bouncers. Looking back into the bar through the giant space where the tinted plate glass window used to be, I saw Tyrell and his dance partner being separated by a Kahunas bartender as our waitress stood by, a slender nail polished hand placed over her mouth in embellished shock.

The Meeting

The following Tuesday I woke up late and I took the 10 downtown and curbed the rush hour traffic with a half flask of absinthe. I’d fallen into circular pattern of contemplation and found myself revisiting memories of Laura Lassiter and exactly what it was that I remembered about her sister Sarah. Though I’d seen her with Laura on occasion all those years ago, I couldn’t recall what she looked like. I wondered about her as I inched toward my meeting with Westcott and Monroe. Indeed, I was again perplexed by the coincidence of noticing in passing, Sarah Lassiter’s name on the darkened downtown shopfront window.

By the time I made it to the Emerald I was suspended in a smoky haze—a red-letter headspace that seemed to know, all at once, everything I’d ever learned; a supercomputer. I sat comfortably in a tingly chair in the Emerald’s lobby, waiting for Westcott to meet me. As hotel guests, tackily dressed tourists and bellmen in silly hats scampered in all directions tending to their mind-numbing duties; I emptied the flask and thought about the screenplay. The screenplay took me two years to write and I’d poured my soul into it. I didn’t pour my soul into many things—but the screenplay I had. It was a 1990’s tale…a message scratched into a bathroom wall with a switchblade…an unforgiving deposition from Generation X—fittingly twenty years late. Immersing myself in the work was all I could do to curb the disenchantment I felt for the most recent generation who’d nonchalantly dismantled the underground empire we’d so diligently built. They’d wasted their chance on the batting mound snapping selfies and copy-catting. They could have been anything—artistic geniuses, philosophical revolutionaries, visionary citizens—but instead chose to be bland, unoriginal shitheads with nothing to convey beyond perversion. I felt my screenplay reminded the world of something.

As I watched the high-class ladies’ asses wag by; I began to feel forlorn, for it seemed the experts were correct in postulating that time really was a fabric—a poly-cotton blend with curious print. Those master builders who’d founded our country—our world, were all long dead…along with their visionary brilliance and archaic morality. Still, we bathed in the same sun that had warmed their era…it had always been there…it was the same sun that had lit the way of the Roman Leagues; not even Julius Caesar could conquer the sun. That same ethereal body now shined on us and it was very clear to me suddenly how indifferent to our passing shapes and human drama it was. What seemed to matter most was what a man could contribute to his society, whether he was part of it or not.

Eventually Westcott answered my text informing me that he and Monroe were on the way down and a few minutes later, they emerged from the vast golden elevator doors. I joined them in the elevator and we went up—way up. The Emerald wasn’t the largest hotel downtown but it was one of the tallest. As the elevator climbed none of us spoke—we stood in silence watching the small numbered squares above the sliding doors illuminate consecutively until the movement stopped. As I followed the two through the winding emerald marble hallways, I took note of Jacky Monroe in his natural habitat…his current element. With flurries of giggles and limp wristed waves, he greeted every member of staff who passed by—each time making certain to throw a drowsy eyed glance back at me over his shoulder, as if he were proving something. I shrugged, not knowing how else to respond.

Indeed, the Emerald was mostly poise and prestige…bronze surfaces and emerald tones. There were gold vases at every window sprouting with organic flowers. Above them French windows climbed toward the ceiling where gilt rods draped long velvety curtains back down to the floor, tasseled at their bottom with golden threads. The ceilings were vast and concave, painted with depictions of Greek gods, chariots and murky clouds.

“So, Pippin tells me some very good things about you.” said Monroe finally, glancing back at me again with that dopey eyed grin.

“Who’s pippin?” I asked, realizing as I said it that Westcott was the only link between Monroe and I, “You mean Jay?”

“We call him Pippin around here; it’s our pet name for him.” said Monroe, shooting a grin Westcott’s way.

I left his last statement hanging in the silence between us. There was a barrier there which I didn’t care to breach. We walked along in silence, except for the swish of Monroe’s black slacks. When we eventually reached his suite I found that there were a number of people lounging around on various surfaces. The suit had been extremely personalized. Large, tattered looking posters were plastered nearly everywhere…Jean-Luc Goddard, Truffaut, Fellini. Above the fire place was taped crookedly a massive banner, Ken Russell’s Lair of the White Worm. Over a gold framed mirror, a poster of a young Shelly Duval eating cotton candy was taped. Amidst the clutter stood random film equipment such as boom stands, dolly tracks stacked and leaned against the wall and open-faced lights on stands. In front of the hotel-issued flat screen TV screwed into the wall was sprawled an entertainment station with a massive 4 foot screen upon which played filmed scenes from what appeared to be a 1920’s era carnival freak show. Set to silence, the footage was old and black and white and riddled with imperfections and lines.

Against the opposite wall was haphazardly placed a treadmill, a stationary bike and a number of light-weight dumbbells and beside it a juice bar, equipped with a fruit platter that was gathering flies. Beside the fruit bar was a velvet couch across which sprawled a brunette with long hair that was parted down the middle…she was dressed in tight 1970’s jean cut-offs and a red crop-top. Seemingly mesmerized by carnival freaks; she didn’t look up at us when we arrived…she only sat transfixed and staring at the screen blankly, blowing bubbles with her purple gum.

Behind me was another couch upon which a few people sat smoking from an opium pipe. I shot an amused glance at Westcott who offered a slight shrug and a grin that said, ‘It is what it is’ before Monroe offered me a seat on a chair near a window beside which, on a glass table sat a pot of tea and a silver tray of baked goods.

“Would you like a bite of tart?” he asked me, gesturing with his hand toward the silver tray.

From my vantage point I could see that the doily beneath the baked goods was soaked in grease, which led me to believe that Monroe didn’t bother changing the doily regularly. I imagined the collected bacteria of Danishes, cheese biscuits, croissants past and perhaps worse…I took note of a fly crawling up the flowered pattern rimming the platter.

“No thanks old chap.” I said, raising a polite palm, “I’m trying to keep hepatitis out of my dietary plan.”

“Oh? Are you ok?” he asked.

“Sure, why not?” I shrugged.

A moment of silence prevailed before Monroe retracted his stare and sank down into the rustic armchair across from the couch which took his meager weight with a small creak. I took a seat on the chair by the window and Westcott stood beside the window, lighting up and having a few puffs as Monroe and I talked.

During our conversation a woman perhaps Monroe’s age, entered the room and greeted us with a wide Cheshire cat smile after which she perched on the arm rest of Monroe’s chair and shared a grape vine with him. He introduced her as his wife. As Monroe and I spoke, his wife periodically held the vine before his mouth so that he could pull the grapes from it directly with his teeth. He would chew the grapes and spit the seeds out into her waiting palm.

“I’m afraid the pits will aggravate my diverticulitis.” whined Monroe.

He inquired about my familiarity with theater, which was minimal. Though I’d seen a few plays and had enjoyed them…plays, like movie theaters or concerts were usually a test of tolerance. Indeed, if I’d ever been to a movie or a play there never failed to be a tumbling dickweed behind me constantly bumping the back of my seat, or chewing gum in my ear or wrinkling plastic wrappers or guffawing at the most inopportune moments…or incessantly talking. I’d been told by an ex-girlfriend that the source of all my problems was the simple fact that I was left handed and existing in a world designed for the right-handed—who all generally spoke the same social language.

I was about to volley into a brief, on-the-spot explanation of how the screenplay could possibly translate into a stage production when a lithe and gently smiling indian man entered the room. He wore his long black hair pulled back in a ponytail and was entirely nude except for a tight fitting white jock-strap and a pair of combat boots laced to the very top. He padded across the carpet and offered me a cigar from an old wooden box. I glanced at Monroe who gestured with a hand to take one. I took one in hand and thanked the jock-strapped man who next leaned forth and flicked a zippo lighter into play. The flint sparked a calm orange flame and as I puffed the cigar to life, I wondered where the man had been holding the lighter; a disconcerting equation. Monroe also took a cigar and lit it before dismissing his servant with the wave of his hand. Then the real conversation began.

“Let me be honest with you Frank…I’m an honest man…I can’t be bothered with falsities or social graces. Your script…I see it as a poignant play with post-modern sets and stenciled lights against white walls. I see it as West Side Story on Lithium.”

“Interesting.” I mused, trying to picture his vision in the frame of my mind.

“I see there being many post-modern cut-out shapes placed at irregular angles…I see the protagonist’s apartment as a stately velvet chair, a four poster bed, a long rectangular dining table and a solitary door around which are no walls…only jet black curtains…I see some scenes lit by a slide projector, perhaps projecting a still picture of Patty Hearst as a distant backdrop.”

“Interesting.” I nodded.

“My wife is very great with costumes…she heads the wardrobe on all of my productions. She’s quite a genius—we nearly lost her ten years ago when she was terribly gored running with the bulls in Pamplona.” Monroe boasted proudly, sliding his skinny arm around her waist and lifting her blouse, revealing what looked like the jagged scar of a botched C-Section. 

“My life passed before my eyes as the runners trampled over me—it was so beautiful—like being eaten by a thousand and one ants.” said Monroe’s wife, staring off into the distance for a moment before focusing on me, “In what year is your screenplay set Frank?” she asked me.

“It’s set in the mid 1990’s.” I shrugged.

“Have you ever thought of setting it in Paris during the 1930’s? I’m seeing grand costumes, venetian masks and cloaks…cobblestone walkways and fog…it can all be done very easily in a stage production.” said Selma Monroe.

On the screen a few feet away, a flickering scene played out—a double jointed woman crawled like a spider across a dirt road balancing an apple on her forehead. The woman on the couch hadn’t stirred, she only sat mesmerized, blowing large purple bubbles that didn’t quite pop, rather they deflated before she chewed them back into her mouth. Perhaps it occurred to her that the actors in the film were certainly all dead and the film was the only remaining testament of their existence.

“Well, it was certainly an illustrious era…Henry Miller, Louis Ferdinand Celine, Hemingway.” I said, unable to fully conceal my grin.

“They heard the long dead whispers of carnival ghosts.” said Selma.

“Or they just drank a lot of absinthe.” I suggested with a shrug.

“Can I ask you something Frank?” Selma asked.

“Shoot.”

“Have you ever experienced a rectal orgasm?”

“Me? Not personally…no.” I said with a chuckle of absurdity.

“Its other-worldly.” sang Selma, stretching her arms in the air and yawning wide, “I’m going for a swim now dear. You boys have fun.” she added to Monroe, leaning in and pecking his cheek.

Once Monroe’s wife left us, the conversation deviated from the subject of the screenplay and never quite returned to it. Monroe sat in his armchair sipping scotch and intermittently swallowing small non-descript tablets as the sun drained from the sky slowly until there was only the residue of the dissipating sunset dyeing the horizon a deep bludgeoned orange.

Indeed, Monroe talked and talked and talked and it wasn’t all bad because the man knew how to tell a story. It seemed the drunker he became, the further into the jungle his stories took us, until we wound up at an Amazonian out-post he’d been stationed in while he was part of a documentary film crew shooting a piece on the rain forests. He’d been bitten by an insect which had given him a treacherous fever and he’d seen his life pass before his eyes. On one particular night Monroe had had a feverish dream in which Charles De Gaulle came to him and instructed him to search for the bones of Amelia Earhart…De Gaulle specified that the bones were buried in Wyoming…under a Ponderosa Pine–in spite of popular opinion.

The stories kept coming and I kept listening, slightly mesmerized by the absurdity. When our meeting was over, I left Monroe’s suite feeling as if I’d traveled the world myself. I felt a bit drained, perhaps because of the cigars and the scotch and the continuous loop of long-dead carnival freaks and the incessant doting of Monroe’s jock-strapped servant as well as the various interruptions by Monroe’s colleagues who all seemed to drop by for visits unannounced and who all bared conversational tidbits the context of which eluded my understanding. When I was finally back in the lobby of the grand hotel, I made my way across the green marble floor toward the entrance doors that were held open by daft bellmen who, for all any of us knew, were kill-crazy psychotics; one never knew with bellmen.

Lovers and Orphans

As the days went by, I found that my dormant fascination with long lost Laura Lassiter wasn’t so dormant after all. After seeing the Sarah Lassiter poster in the darkened window of the vintage clothing store the night of the Kahunas debacle; thoughts of long lost Laura Lassiter started circling the fringes of my consciousness—like a wild animal circling the woods of a deep forest encampment. Inevitably, I began to wonder about Laura again…and now there was an added angle—the existence of her sister…who I’d always known had existed but hadn’t ever given her a second thought. Though I knew I shouldn’t, I found myself visiting the website of the venue that was hosting Sarah Lassiter’s word slam. On the venue’s website I found the date and all other information pertaining to the spoken word slam that was to unfold the following week at which Sarah Lassiter was scheduled to speak. From the Venue’s site, Sarah’s site was only a button away and though I realized that it was a bad plan, I clicked on Sarah’s link. On her site was posted a wide selection of her photos and I shuffled through them, searching for an indication of Laura…anything—an old photo of the two sisters together…a memorial; anything that might offer an inkling. However, none of her photos revealed a connection to her deceased sister.

Likewise, her blog was minimal and dealt mainly with her upcoming appearances; there was no mention of Laura in any of it and I pondered this at length, coming to the conclusion that Sarah Lassiter obviously didn’t wish to post anything online that would point toward such a tragedy of personal magnitude. After all, her personal life had nothing to do with her public persona and perhaps losing Laura to suicide was something that she preferred to remain buried.

Though Laura’s face had faded into a ghostly image in my mind, I was positive I noticed a remarkable resemblance in Sarah. Aside from baring the name of Laura’s sister, Sarah evoked fringe styles form the 1960’s…much the same as Laura had. There was also a certain gaze in her eyes reminiscent of Laura—I was certain of it. What got my attention most was a photo she’d posted of herself dressed as Dorothy Vallens at a costume party, sipping from a tipped martini glass held in her velvety glove that climbed her slender arm to the dip of her elbow. There was also Sarah’s age range…which lined up perfectly.

Perhaps the most binding evidence that Sarah was indeed Laura’s long lost sister though was a childhood photograph of Sarah sitting in her mother’s lap amidst a washed out 1980’s kitchen color scheme. As faint as the Polaroid scan was, I was certain I recognized the mother in the photo as Rachel Lassiter; Laura’s mother. Beyond that, she was wearing a t-shirt that read East Hills Dance Academy. This was key—for Laura’s mother had been a dance instructor when we were all still in high school. Certainly, none of this could be coincidental—not unless the universe had an inconceivably dark sense of humor.

During the following week something curious happened…my thought patterns had been fully invaded by Sarah Lassiter. My mind had seemed to make a color print of her Dorothy Vallens photo and frame it on the flickering cavern walls of my mind. Again and again it appeared, each time bringing with it more questions about Laura—each time appearing more mysterious to me and each time appearing more alluring. There was something more though…a bottled melancholy sunset that led me back to the 1990’s and the great mystery of Laura Lassiter; a long dead era that stood as proverbial ruins now in this strange, digital age where one by one, we all eventually became lovers and orphans—except for Laura that is…she became a memory; a ghostly apparition that had for many years, skirted the fringes of my recollections.

The discovery of Sarah Lassiter also raised a key question. Would she really want to have a conversation about her sister? It certainly wouldn’t turn back the indifferent hands of time and certainly would only make my inquiry seem absurd and macabre. Though I couldn’t get that photo out of my mind; I decided it was best to abandon all thoughts and notions pertaining to Sarah Lassiter. I passed it off as a small hole in the fortified wall of my psyche, through which a past and unfulfilled obsession had started to leak.

Hoping for some well-needed distraction, I took it upon myself to accept some shifts down at the Oceanic Resort in Santa Monica…the second of three catering jobs I held down in case I was fired or suspended from one of the others. There is something to be said for a long hard night of dead-end, ballroom slavery. It leaves a man unaccountable in a nonchalant way. For at the end of such a grueling shift, a man has little energy to dedicate to hypochondria and existential dread…an overworked person becomes a machine running on hot oil and sheer human resilience; it’s a carnal instinct to push on in the face of the realization that no matter how one exists—we all wind up at the same decaying landfill.

I took these thoughts with me to the Oceanic Resort and Spa. I’d come prepared for some knee buckling labor. I’d come prepared to slug it out in the trenches amidst verbal whippings and public reprimands…I’d come prepared for the hellish, all-out savagery a plated gala dinner for 500 guests can bring out in even the most seasoned veterans. In short—I went into the Oceanic with a Davenport mindset.

During a rush I tended to work fast and didn’t bother to socialize with guests, whose swollen faces hovered like balloons around the boxy, wheel-out bar. I didn’t ask names or inquire how their night was going—mainly because I didn’t quite give a flying fuck. Rather I stood stoically, pouring cocktails and shaking up martinis and focusing on moving the seemingly endless line along. At one point, Miles, one of the night managers appeared at my shoulder in his awkwardly snug fitting suit.

“Hey, look at the cans on that one in the red dress over by the ice sculpture—I could really party on those.”

I looked up, following Miles’ line of sight and found an elderly woman with short silver hair, swathed in a red gown and knitted shawl standing next to an elegantly carved ice sculpture, holding herself up with a cane and sucking on her dentures.

“You like that shit huh?” I laughed as I poured a long Island iced tea for a man who’d also followed Miles’ line of sight having heard what he’d said. He gazed back at us with a suspicious cock of his brow as he took the drink in hand.

“Hey…you don’t have to work so frantically…take it easy man…lay back a bit. This ain’t the Davenport…it’s a whole different ball game over here.” insisted Miles.

“I just want to get this line up down.” I said.

“Piss on these fancy fucks…they’ve been busting my sack all night about odds and ends.” Miles assured, “Hey, let’s go outside for a few puffs.”

“I’ve only been on-shift for an hour.” I chuckled.

“Ah, don’t worry about it.” Miles said with a grin, waving it off and with his other hand beckoning a passing wine steward to join us at the bar.

The wine steward was a lost looking woman who nodded profusely with a slightly terrified look in her eyes as Miles gave her the run-down. When Miles was through explaining the bar system to her, she stepped over and stood beside me, waiting to take my place. I glanced at Miles feeling this must have been dark performance art; however, Miles was waving me over with a crooked grin, as if my hesitation was absurd.

After shaking up a last martini, I left the bar and fell into step with Miles who did an entire round of the ballroom that was packed to capacity with gowned and suited guests, devouring their foie gras and swilling down the wine that was pouring out in streams. It amazed me how much preparation and money went into the color coordinated appetizers, the abstract entrees and the post-modern deserts, all of which would only be shit out into a porcelain bowl the following day. After stopping and chatting with the prettiest waitresses, Miles led us into the back-hall area, where the elegance ended and the military-like barracks began.

As we trekked down the long grey corridors, Miles joked with his employees, who were for the most part kicking back, eating from fruit mirrors and dessert platters, texting on their phones, or just standing around socializing in echoing guffaws. It was hard to believe; such nonchalance and lack of urgency would have found no home whatsoever at the famed and illustrious work-camp that the Davenport most certainly was. Perhaps I’d been wrong all these years.

We took an elevator to the ground level and stepped out into the plush carpeted lobby. We were strolling through the grand entrance doors out onto the hot, muggy street when I suddenly froze, caught in the headlights of an unexpected surprise—a passing face. I felt the shudder of a small shockwave somewhere within as I lit and took a drag of the cigarillo, exhaling the smoke in a blue plume as she walked by. It was Sarah Lassiter and she was flanked by two girlfriends who were listening to her recall a story…a piece of which I caught as Sarah blew by me, completely oblivious to my existence and certainly oblivious to my shock—of course…she had no idea that it was I—the man who had once harbored a morose infatuation with her now deceased sister. She had no idea and she could have no idea. The thought occurred to me in the moment to call after her and matter-of-factly explain the coincidence. The thought did occur to me but I didn’t budge…I didn’t make a sound. I merely stood there on the street, puffing on my cigarillo and watching Sarah strut down the sidewalk in her statement of an outfit.

She wore blood red leggings under a private school uniform, complete with an embroidered crest over her left breast and a pleated argyle skirt. Her hair was short and spiky and peroxide blonde and her 1960’s eye makeup was a wild pastel blue. Her leather, sharp heel boots climbed to just below her knees and made a clop-clop sound against the sidewalk. The smell of smoke that trailed from her thin, European cigarette mixed with a faint scent of perfume carried downwind toward me as I looked on in a small state of confusion, having been caught completely off guard. In a city the size of Los Angeles, what were the odds of coming across Sarah Lassiter by sheer chance? I stood there for a few moments after she’d rounded a corner, listening to Miles blabber on about nothing important…feeling certain that the coincidences surrounding my discovery of Sarah Lassiter where too perfectly placed to be coincidences.

“Are you ok?” Miles finally asked.

“Of course.” I lied, shrugging it off.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” he pointed out.

“I’m good…who are you? Doctor fucking Phil? Get the fuck out of here.” I chuckled.

“You just went a bit twilight zone there for a minute.” Miles chuckled before resuming his rant about nothing in particular.

I wondered if perhaps I’d invited the chance encounter with Sarah Lassiter through the law of attraction. After all, I hadn’t quite stopped contemplating her since I’d seen the photo of her dressed as Dorothy Vallens posted in her website gallery—it was perhaps the worst thing for my defenses, which seemed to be clearly scrambled. The encounter had scrambled them more and I began to suspect that there were forces of nature at work that either a) wanted me to meet Sarah Lassiter for the purpose of Laura-closure or b) wanted to fuck with my head in retrograde payback for a karmic debt I’d unwittingly racked up somewhere along the way—for as they say; hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Whatever the case, the encounter didn’t help my ever building preoccupation with Sarah Lassiter and the more it grew, the dirtier of a secret it became, the more shameful it appeared to be; for certainly, I’d never in my entire life experienced such a preposterous predicament. Indeed, the passing encounter on the street outside of my place of work had only seemed to magnify the effects of this bizarre mental glitch, which it most definitely was; perhaps the first blip of madness on my psychological radar.

I’d spent the rest of that evening working the bar in a fog. Though I was present and in the moment, part of my consciousness was still standing on the sidewalk outside, replaying the encounter on a loop, with alternate endings each time around—none of which made any comprehensible sense.

Of course, once the reoccurring thoughts of Sarah came to my attention and took on the shape of a rather unhealthy practice—a compulsion meant to be suppressed; the thoughts became more difficult to suppress and in fact, the idea of Sarah Lassiter took on a murky shade of mystery…like a full moon seen through a thin veil of midnight fog. In short, I realized what had happened; everything I’d felt for Laura Lassiter had been packed into a sealed wooden crate and stored in a vast, top secret warehouse, not unlike the Lost Ark. Indeed, the discovery of Sarah Lassiter’s existence—and more accurately, the coincidence of her existing in Los Angeles entertainment circles, no matter how underground, had pried said crate open with a crowbar and now it seemed the files were being transferred—against my better judgment. I decided I would give it another week and make a conscious effort in that week to eradicate the intrusive thoughts that bared Sarah Lassiter’s face. By the end of the week, I’d only slipped deeper into the spell Sarah Lassiter unwittingly cast and indeed it was a disconcerting state of affairs—especially being that I had no desire to be wrapped up in such a trance of absurdity. She’d started making cameo appearances in my dreams near the close of the week and it was after experiencing these vivid and quiet surreal depictions that I resigned myself to a simple fact; I was rapidly sailing up shit creek—and without any sort of paddle. I had to take back some ground—and fast.

I decided to enlist in the wisdom of a dear old friend and person I trusted to a certain degree. She lived on a house boat in Marina Del Rey where the ocean met the earth in lulling tides. Though she was a metaphysical junky who simultaneously believed in UFO’s, past lives, tarot cards, Ouija boards and semen retention for men—she was a certified psychologist and if nothing else, was always up late for a candle lit conversation, during which she was prone to offering keen insights.

I drove out to her dock in Marina Del Rey and got set up on the houseboat with a slice of her freshly made banana bread and an ice cold seltzer. The banana bread was hard, dry and I assumed she’d mixed up the baking powder and baking soda measurements. I didn’t bother telling her the truth when she asked how I liked her banana bread. I nodded, swallowing a dry clump down with a gulp of seltzer.

“It’s as good as the Gelson’s bakery.” I added, trying for authenticity—however, I’ve always been a terrible liar.

Buying it or not, Gwyneth smiled and lit a stick of incense before sitting down across from me and lighting one up. I lit one up too and we sat there for some time smoking and listening to Mazzy Star.

“So, what’s on your mind?” she asked finally when her cat hopped upon her lap and started pushing his paws into her leg and purring.

“Well, Gwyneth…I’m into a situation here.” I admitted.

“Why do you say that?” she asked, tilting her head with concern.

“It’s an intricate story.”

“I always love a good story.” she said.

After a pause, wondering if perhaps I should as usual, cop out at the last second and turn it into a farce—a gag…to chuckle and offer an anecdote; I decided to come clean. I explained the entire coincidental debacle to Gwyneth who sat there on her orange futon petting her cat and with the same hand eating palm-fulls of salted cashew nuts. She listened intently to the entire saga, starting with Laura Lassiter and ending with the coincidence of spotting Sarah Lassiter by sheer chance outside the hotel Emerald, a job which I’d landed in another game of chance when I’d gone there to meet Monroe and wound up running into long lost Miles. There are turns in life and some of them lead you up the river. Perhaps the most disconcerting point of interest was that I hadn’t seen any of it coming. Once I’d relayed the story and was sitting in the creaking rock of her spacious houseboat, Gwyneth looked at me and spoke directly.

“Sounds like the beginnings of limerence.” she said.

“What’s that?”

“It’s an unofficial condition—a bit fringe actually. It’s said to be an involuntary preoccupation with a person. It’s said to be tied in with traumatic childhood events I think.”

“Listen, the way the planets lined up for this mind fuck to take place was too coincidental to be a condition I’ve suddenly acquired.” I assured, “I think the universe is punishing me.”

“If you’re insinuating that the universe engineered this in order to fuck with your head; that’s an entirely different thing.” said Gwen in an ominous tone.

“You mean I’m going insane finally?” I asked.

“No I’m not saying that. I’m saying that for some reason, maybe the universe wants you to realize something…maybe sealing things into crates and storing them in an endless warehouse of past emotional traumas isn’t good for you.” said Gwyneth.

“I’ll tell you what’s not good for me—having to see this chick’s face in my head so frequently. I want her out of there. I want my mind back.” I said, “I wish I’d never seen her name on that poster. Everything was so nice before—I was content only I didn’t know it.”

“She must be pretty beautiful to have thrown you through such a loop Frank…I mean wow—I’ve never seen you like this…even remotely close to this.” Gwyneth offered with a coy grin.

“Look, I’ve lost all respect for myself over this…isn’t that enough?” I said.

“If anything I respect you more for trusting me with something like this. I have to see this chick now.” said Gwyneth, thumbing the Jade’s website address into her phone. A second later she was swiping through the photo gallery on Sarah’s website.

“Um…” said Gwyneth, wrinkling her brows as if she was confused, “this is her?” she asked, flashing the screen at me. I confirmed with a nod, “Really?” said Gwyneth.

“Really what?” I asked.

“Never mind.”

“Never mind what?”

“Nothing.”

“I thought we were being sincere.” I laughed.

“Ok…honestly, I’m a little surprised. I had a very different idea when you said she was perhaps the most beautiful woman you’ve ever laid eyes on.”

“How do you mean that?”

“I mean, she just looks like some chick—take away the makeup and the vintage clothes and she just looks like some random chick—plain Jane even.”

“Plain Jane? That’s preposterous.” I said.

“It’s my humble opinion.” she insisted.

“So, what do you suggest? I’m all out of ideas.” I said.

Indeed, Gwyneth was great when it came to making quick and accurate studies. It was perhaps eighty percent intuition and the rest a well-rehearsed routine of her day job as a psychologist. In the end she suggested that I distract myself with the allure of another female…that I throw myself into this woman’s warm femininity in order to placate my unexplained longing for Sarah Lassiter, which was, at the end of the day according to Gwyneth—only a subconscious ploy to relive the past in some way—perhaps with different results.

Whatever the actual case was, I figured I’d give Gwyneth’s plan a try—at least there finally was a plan…a very exciting prospect. When you’ve come to an impasse you’ll try mostly anything and at that point, it seemed I was there. I thought of women I knew or had been intimate with at some point who might offer a viable means of distraction from the Sarah Lassiter situation. I thought immediately of Crystal Canterbury—perhaps the perfect person to offer a potent distraction.

When I’d called her to set up a date to meet—Crystal hadn’t been surprised to hear from me after so long. She mentioned that she’d been thinking about me; she’d written a piece and had been meaning to forward it to me. For some reason, she valued my opinion—or at least wanted me to believe that she did. She picked a day out of her busy social calendar to meet with me, suggesting we have a preliminary dinner at her place the following Saturday. If anyone was going to distract me from thoughts of Sarah Lassiter—I was certain Crystal could.

Storming Out

Crystal lived on Beachwood a few blocks north of Franklin. She never hesitated to inform people that she lived directly under the Hollywood sign. She’d grown up in Los Feliz and had returned to Los Angeles after a stint in New York working as an assistant editor with a magazine. She’d come to despise the job on account of it being a sports magazine and her having no intrigue or penchant for games of a physical nature; her games were all psychological, which I found comical on some level.

I stopped briefly at Gelson’s to pick up something to drink, for I knew all too well Crystal’s weakness for bubbly drinks. The bottle was heavy and cold in my hand as I buzzed her from the street below. As I waited for her to buzz me in, I felt a sinking sensation invade my core. Perhaps it was the old Hollywood ghosts whispering a warning on the late night breeze. The palms above were rustling and I was suddenly taken by an impulse to set the bottle and down, walk back to my van and drive back home where my piano waited—to lull me with deep watercolor tides of melody.

Crystal had gotten into the habit of competitive writing, which she said made one a better writer—that and influences. She believed that there was no difference between us and them—the giants of the craft and all of us writers wandering a digitally apocalyptic earth. It was all circumstantial as far as she was concerned. Beyond that she resented the fact that I was slightly immune to her mind control tactics—mainly because few men were. While every bastard in her circle of acquaintances threw himself at her blindly—possessed by her spell—all of them hoping to marry her; I knew that she harbored true resentment for her father somewhere deep inside and this they could never understand. They had no concept it seemed of the fact that she’d make a terrible wife for all the reasons she’d make a terrific mistress. Still, I was more of a distant outpost to her…Pluto—or one of its moons…circling on the perimeter of her gravity at a safe distance, riding the balance between orbit and a crash landing impact. A woman like Crystal would tear you limb from limb if you allowed it; a dangerous game.

Though initially, it seemed like a great idea…at the last minute I suspected it might be a bad plan, I pressed her little button again…the one naming the previous tenant…F. Audrey 407. I was buzzed up with swiftness this time. I assumed she’d been getting herself ready for me; fitting into the right outfit, applying her femme fatale make-up just the way I liked. She knew how to dress and she liked to look her best when I read her work—doubtlessly another installment of her fantastical dreamscape wherein I was Henry Miller and she was Anais Nin. Where we roamed the misty cobblestone lanes and took each other prisoner. She expected me to take the role opposite her when all in all, I was only distracted in a frightening way by the scenery…the illustrious architecture in which resided beautiful ghosts—but it was clear that Crystal wasn’t willing to venture further into those backdrops than she already had. She was more comfortable sitting on her $1600 Ottoman reading fashion mags and dead existential authors.

Though she spoke frequently about moving to Africa and digging irrigation ditches; Crystal wasn’t willing to part with her devices, her trust fund, her designer clothing or the Miata her parents had bought her for her 26th birthday.

The summer had soaked itself into the walls of her apartment and all of their ornaments with a heavy and thick humidity that hung close, like the oil of one’s own skin. Enclosed in this heat, Crystal sat loosely, sipping a chill-fogged glass of lemonade and gin; her drink of choice. Her apartment smelled of a certain musk; gin, skin lotion, an evening worth of her feminine sweat and scented candles which sat now, flickering on saucers in their small pools of glow…it smelled like woman in there and my eyes smoothed over her exposed knees.

“Anyway, let’s see this short story. I’m anxious to see how badly you slit me in this one.” I suggested, having been slit by her cunning words a few times before.

“I don’t slit. I slice.” smiled Crystal.

Hand it over, hand it over, hand it over.” I sang in my worst Morrissey—as a frame of reference.

“I want you to first sit down and get comfortable…want some lemonade and gin?” she asked.

“I brought some bubbly for you actually…maybe I’ll have a sip of that first.” I said.

When she returned from her bedroom with the story, I felt like getting drunk. Certainly this would have been easy as Crystal was a great drinker with a wide variety of hard liquor and reckless abandon. However after gazing through the first paragraph of her story, I had other things on my mind. It became suddenly clear to me that Crystal was on to something. There was a spark there in between the lines that I hadn’t seen before. It was raw as hell—as if she’d left it all on the page; all of her suffering, feminine rage and human hopelessness—which I was surprised existed in her.

Usually, she wrote of love at first sight, the beauty of the ugly and how the ghettos had soul. She also believed that the best lovers were constantly at odds with one another. This time however, her work took no prisoners—and didn’t offer any flowery apologies. Her piece illustrated this quite obviously; a man and woman, two writers living in New England both married to other people, who’d fallen for each other’s madness and talent in a frightening way—star crossed lovers—just the kind of complicated drama Crystal not only adored, but sought out.

Though he was cleverly disguised, the man was familiar; waving like fine quills between the pastel oils her words conjured. He wasn’t for everyone to recognize though. He wasn’t spelled out as things usually never are but yet should be. He was disguised by Crystal’s coy pen and there I was, splayed out and cleaved to bits on the examination table. Every ounce of substance she had attained from my being, in those moments when I thought her blank stares to be harmless shades of daydreams…every of my confessions had been, in actuality, at her disposal for literary reasons. The realization came like a wash bucket of ice water against my face.

“Prone to storming out?” I asked.

Crystal gazed back at me from behind her femme fatale make-up.

“Well you are. Don’t look at me like that. You so are. You’re not going to deny it, are you?”

“You really think I storm out?” I said, slightly amazed by her observant nature—and my ignorance for having thought she’d not had the slightest clue.

“Well I know that you’re prone to storming out yes.” she smiled.

“Come on Crystal…that’s an extraordinary allegation—extraordinary.” I said.

“Yes. I believe the last time you were here you stormed out.”

“Well, it’s nice that you’ve invested such thought in my malfunctions.” I said, setting her booklet down on the coffee table.

“I care about the world around me. I care about the people around me…”

“Aw, then maybe you should catch the Concord to Calcutta.” I said lighting one of her thin European cigarettes and leaning back in her ottoman.

“You care about me too Capricorn boy. I don’t care what you say in your malicious little novels.” she said softly, reaching over and running one of her fingers from my chin down my neck and hooking it on the collar of my shirt.

“Malicious little novels.” I chuckled, “Indeed my good lady, you’ve finally lost your mind haven’t you?”

“You can’t hide from me.” she said, now standing and running her hand through my hair, pulling my head so it rested against her belly, “You can run—but you can’t hide.”

“You’re so nurturing aren’t you? What a crock” I said. I rose from the ottoman and gestured for her to move in the direction of an Elizabethan chair which she sat down in and stared at me with a crooked grin, knowing where this was now meant to go, “Save that charade for your other men—I know who you really are.”

“I didn’t mean to touch a nerve,” said Crystal, “Stop pouting and come over here…and don’t be nice…or are you thinking of storming out?”

I ran my eyes over her as she raised one leg over the arm of the stately chair and rested a finger between her grinning teeth. It was hard to resist, but was even harder to dismiss her story and its extraordinary allegations. Instead of joining her on the chair, I turned and gazed out of Crystal’s 4th floor window at the blinking city below that sprawled toward the end of the night. I could smell summer in the air. It was flowing in through the window she always kept slightly ajar. On the sill were two flowers in clay pots. I walked closer to the window, lifted one from the sill and placed it down on the hardwood floor beside the old water heater, then the other.

“You have to put something under it if you want it to stay open any more than what it is.” said Crystal as I lifted the window.

I gave the window such a good pull upward, it jammed in place. Leaning forward and out of the window I contemplated the street below–the clean summer air, a woman walking her dog, a taxi cab cruising by and flashing its brake lights…then I climbed out.

“Hey!” Crystal hollered, jumping up from her chair. She was at the window in a flash holding me by the wrists.

“Don’t! Do not! Do not!” she kept repeating, like a mantra as she gripped my wrists frantically.

“Let go of me.” I said, now hanging from her window sill with two hands along the outside wall of her building, “do you want me to fall? Let go. I’m not storming out…I’m just getting some air baby.”

From this perspective I could look directly up the wall and into the night sky that was speckled with a million points of light.

“I’m calling someone! I’m calling the fire department! I’m calling my father!” Crystal hollered frantically.

She raced to her phone that was sitting neatly on a white doily and clasped it in one hand as her other, still holding a long thin European cigarette, dialed frantically. I wasn’t certain who she was dialing, but seeing her so concerned conjured a certain degree of guilt; enough to draw me back into the apartment. When I was once again within the confines of Crystal’s room and sinking back down onto her Ottoman, I was attacked by a flurry of accusations.

“You’re fucked up in the head.” she said firmly, stomping off into her bedroom and slamming the door.

“Oh…who’s storming out now?” I chuckled, popping the bubbly and swigging directly from the bottle. I rose and walked across her hardwood floor, opened her bedroom door and leaned in the doorway.

“Come on Crys, don’t be mad.” I said.

“There’s something wrong with you.” Crystal assured me.

“Don’t I know it?” I said, shaking my head, “I mean why the fuck did I even come over here? You wouldn’t even believe it if I explained it all.” I said, stepping over and joining her on the side of her bed.

She turned to me and in a softer tone she issued a scolding; citing medications that could help me—one’s her father could prescribe. It was hilarity at its very best and I couldn’t help laughing, which only heightened her concern. She had had her doubts but now, she knew for certain that I was ‘mad as a hatter’.

“What’s a hatter anyway?” I asked before taking another long gulp of the bubbly.

“You really drive me crazy Nero.” she spat as she rose from the bed. Standing above me, she cupped her palms over her eyes in attempt at collecting herself, “Ok, that was fucked up. Really Frank…what in god’s name?”

“C’mon.” I said, reaching up and pulling her down into my lap, “I’m sorry…I really am. You just make me crazy Crys. You’ve been marinated in allure.” I confessed, moved slightly by her concern, even if it was embellished.

Crystal resisted of course, but eventually gave in and allowed herself to sit. With her buttocks weighing in my lap and her averted eyes peering toward a spot on the ceiling; she sighed, whispering to herself.

“Trouble loves me.” she said.

“Hey, where’s that old record you used to put on? XTC Black Sea.” I asked.

“I donated it to charity.”

“For real?”

“I gave them a box with a bunch of things in it.” said Crystal.

“Aw—that’s crazy. That’s the real crazy thing here. That record was something else. I would love to hear that record very loud right about now.”

“Maybe we can buy it back tomorrow.” she said softening up finally.

“Maybe you should forget all of this and just come live with me for a while.” I said.

“In Atwater? Please.” Crystal grinned.

“I don’t live in Atwater.” I said.

“Close enough.” she scoffed with a laugh.

“So we move to Fairfax.”

“Been there done that.” she smiled.

“There’s always Glendale, you like Glendale…we could get a pad there easy—a love nest.” I suggested.

“I like shopping at the Americana, doesn’t mean I want to live there…get real.”

“Princess.” I said.

She leaned in and kissed me in her signature way, guiding my hand to certain regions. It was then that the buzzer sounded and Crystal made no move to answer it, which I found odd. Something in her froze as her mind worked away at unraveling a sudden dilemma; to answer or not to answer.

“Well, I wonder who that could be at this hour.” I pondered aloud, irritation surging through me like an electrical current.

“Probably a drunk visitor punched the wrong suite—happens all the time babe.” Crystal said; she wasn’t a very good liar.

When I lifted her off of me and dumped her to the side on a pile of cushions she bolted upward, moving surprisingly fast, trying suddenly to hold me back from the intercom that buzzed again, this time for a longer duration; whoever it was buzzing from the downstairs lobby was desperate. I could feel Crystal’s nails digging into the flesh of my bicep as I pulled her along merrily toward the intercom that buzzed yet again.

“Frank, seriously. Seriously! It’s no joke. Let me answer it.” she said now, all kidding aside.

I gave her a long hard look before pulling out of her grasp.

“Whatever.” I said, “I don’t really care what suitors buzz you in the night Madame Canterbury.”

I left her there at the intercom and returned to the ottoman feeling suddenly disappointed. Perhaps I needed to push past Crystal, storm down the stairs and lay a good old fashioned shit kicking to the buzzer-happy bastard. Perhaps I needed another drink. Perhaps I needed to schedule an appointment with her father; the shrink with Stanley Kubrick’s beard.

She spoke through the intercom and a man’s voice crackled back through the small speaker; he addressed her as ‘gorgeous’ and told her to cue the lobby door.

“Just give me a minute Brad, I’m just getting out of the bath.” she said.

When he started to make a lewd comment, Crystal removed her finger from the intercom button, cutting his words off before they could confirm what I already knew. When she turned back to me, I was already rising from my spot on the ottoman; it was definitely time to go.

“Well, guess this concludes our evening.” I said, heading for the door.

“Please, not that way.” Crystal said, with a tone of concern.

“What way?”

“Can you go out the bathroom window and take the fire escape down?”

“What am I, a fucking cat burglar?” it had me chuckling a bit…after all…

“Please, Frank, do this for me ok.” she was gripping my hand with both of hers now and one was still cold from the glass of lemonade…it was fitting, the warmth and the coldness of this woman gripping me at once.

“Why can’t I just walk out the door like a normal person?”

“Because you’re the other man.” she confessed, carefully, as if to remind me of something.

“I am?”

“You are…or were…or, you know what I’m saying.”

“And this going out the window thing is an unspoken guideline for ‘the other man’?”

“Something like that.” Crystal said breaking away and hugging herself.

“So just to clarify, Romeo downstairs—he gets to leave a building through the front door because he’s what—the main man? And I gotta go through a fucking window? I don’t understand the policies of the ‘other man’. Sounds like a raw deal; maybe us ‘other men’ need to form a union.”

“Please Frank. I thought it was understood.”

“To you maybe.” I said shaking my head.

“Hold on here…what does that mean?” Crystal asked, her energy suddenly changing.

“What if he’s the other man? What if that’s what I’m saying?” I inquired.

Crystal just peered at me, squinting her eyes and shaking her head, “Why are you saying all this suddenly?”

“Maybe I thought it was understood.” I offered.

When the buzzer sounded again, Crystal cocked her head with frustration, “Well, you better make a decision quick then I would say. Is this really what you want? For real?” she asked…raising her brows and tilting her head; an eerily calm gaze in her eyes—a bluff.

I looked around the room, with everything of hers in it…and knew suddenly that I knew the answer—or at least what the answer was just then. I contemplated coming clean and abridging the entire Sarah Lassiter debacle then and there…I contemplated admitting that I’d only used her as a distraction from an twenty year old obsession with a dead ex-lover. I may have too, had I believed she’d care to hear it.

“I’m not the other man…I’m not any of your men. I would almost pity those fools if I thought any of them were worth a squirt of piss.” I said coldly, leaving her standing there on the hardwood floor.

I turned and headed toward her bathroom. She followed me and stood in the doorway, watching as I stepped into the tub then climbed out of the window above it. I stood on the fire escape for a moment giving Crystal a last look. She watched me from the small shag area rug with a hybrid look of concern etched into her face as if she might cry.

“Will you call me?” she asked. When I didn’t answer, Crystal shook her head, as if I’d insulted her on a very personal level, “Are you going to call me?” she asked again. This time I answered.

“You’ll never see me again.” I said and hearing it, she turned and headed for the intercom that was now a solid buzzing. I stood there for a moment peering in through the window before finally making my way down the fire escape. Well, that worked out well, I thought as I descended the iron stairs, knowing we wouldn’t speak again.

Law of Distraction

For the next couple weeks I continued to dodge the Davenport scheduling department, whom I was told were waiting for my response—doubtlessly in order to schedule me according to whatever passive aggressive punishment scheme they’d concocted in my absence and were eager to employ. There was also the incident at Kahunas—which had come dangerously close to implicating me in a quagmire of douchery, which had by then doubtlessly made its rounds through the downtown core gossip circles—circles I tried to stay out of. Indeed, I made a calculated and very conscious decision to fuck all that jive and chose rather to endure the commute out to Santa Monica each evening. What I didn’t realize was that the Oceanic Resort and Spa, for all of its beach-side catatonia, was about to offer me an opportunity; a perfectly viable source of distraction from my potent and rather hopeless obsession with Sarah Lassiter—a woman I’d never met, though couldn’t stop myself from thinking about. I thought back to the method I’d used to exstinguish my obsession with her sister Laura all those years ago. There had been no one point in time when the obsession abruptly stopped—rather it phased out gradually, with the aid of distraction. I’d lost her memory in a succession of women who, though meaning little to me compared to Laura, nonetheless wound up causing me enough headaches and mental distress to distract me from the macabre news of Laura’s sudden suicide. Indeed, distraction seemed to be the best way around the resurgence of my misplaced obsession.

The distraction in question was a younger woman named Ariel and I noticed her one evening wandering around the Sapphire Ballroom looking like a deer in the headlights. If the truth be told, I’d thought little of her upon first glance. She was merely another face—another local girl they’d hired out of desperation. It was a fact that the Oceanic Resort and spa management team had painted themselves into a corner by way of apathy and had taken on the habit of hiring out of desperation; which explains perfectly how I’d gotten hired so easily.

To me Ariel was yet another transient waitress with fringe clothing and 1960’s makeup. On first glance Ariel was perhaps 24, she had long dark hair with undefined bangs which hung, almost always, over half of her face. Curiously the bangs didn’t conceal the side of her face which bared a rather large scar that ran from her brow, across her cheek and down to her chin. The scar was discolored and the stitch holes were forever healed into the flesh around it. She didn’t speak much, and when she did, her statements were blunt, awkward and spoken with an unraveling tone. She wore her apron very high and as well as having slightly slouched posture; she had a signature way of peering up at you from beneath her perfectly plucked eye brows in a very psychotic fashion. That was my quick assessment of Ariel—at first anyway; another desperate hire who rode the Big Blue Bus into work each afternoon.

I say ‘at first’ because I was about to learn more about Ariel. It seemed on a daily basis, the women on staff were diligently collecting as well as sharing tidbits of information about Ariel. They were still undecided about whether they would befriend Ariel, or tear her limb from limb; the Oceanic Resort women could be surprisingly vicious to each other now and then. Though this verbal lynching of Ariel had been going on for perhaps two weeks, I was the last to hear about the wildfire scrutiny concerning her.

Just as there is a grand difference between a check-out isle paper-back and a dusty old hard-cover filled with literature—there is a grand difference between gossip and curious discussion. I tried not to listen to gossip—I tried to form my own opinion of people; none the less, Anabelle swore by her self-professed talent of psychological profiling, having taken a course in criminology the previous year. Ariel, she informed me, was indeed a “mute”. This was the tipping point; the moment I’d officially become intrigued by Ariel…and perhaps it was partly because of the severity in which my female colleagues appeared so threatened by Ariel’s mere presence.

“A mute?” I asked, breaking out of my blank nodding stare across the ballroom toward Ariel who was pouring a cup of coffee for a guest with an expressionless gaze, “What do you mean exactly?”

“She’s so strange. Her responses are all monosyllabic.” said Anabelle, squinting her heavily painted eyes with suspicion, “And you know what else? The other day, when she was leaving work, a few of us said goodbye to her and she didn’t acknowledge us at all, she just put her head down and walked out…I mean, what kind of person doesn’t say goodbye? I mean that’s what a mute is, isn’t it?”

“Anabelle, you’re smarter than that. A mute is a person who can’t speak. Ariel speaks—probably she’s on edge because you’re all so threatened by her. And why do you all care so much about Ariel? What the hell is it with you ladies?” I asked before taking a haul from my glass.

We were joined about then by Miles—Leanne’s right hand man. I suppose it can be said that I liked Miles—he was from Long Island and was a wealth of entertainment—he idolized The Clash, Melanie Griffith and Red Ribbon beer—he was a snapshot of care free times—a beer commercial hold tight from the early 1990’s. He took nothing seriously and nothing ever cracked his devil-may-care composure. He was the kind of bastard you could pass the hours on the job with, breaking each other’s balls, talking shop and drinking company booze—you couldn’t expect anything more precision from Miles, but he kept things on an even keel; he was the type of bastard who’d do anything for a laugh. He possessed an unwitting brashness I found sometimes consoling in the often complicated and tumultuous chemistry that made up our staff of skirted ballroom vixens.

“What are you guys talking about?” Miles asked, leaning on the bar with his signature grin.

“Anabelle was just telling me that she thinks that fohawk thing you’re trying to grow makes you look like a total jerk off.” I laughed.

“Well, that’s only because Anabelle wants me bad.” grinned miles, looking directly at Anabelle who squinted the long dark coronas of her lashes with a quiet, calm fury.

“Fuck yourself Miles…you may as well—nobody else ever would.” she said stonily.

“Aw, it’s so cute how much you pretend not to lust after me.” Miles laughed, a good sport with bad timing.

“Ana here thinks Ariel is a mute.” I said.

“The new girl? There’s something a little off about her—but she’s not a mute…she talks.” he assured, looking over his shoulder at Ariel who was pouring another cup of coffee for a guest, “She doesn’t say much does she…”

“Much? She doesn’t say anything at all. Not even goodbye!” scowled Anabelle.

“Something else about that one I find strange…” said Miles, turning back to us, “don’t you think she wears her apron a little high?”

Anabelle burst out in laughter, “She ties it right under her boobs right? Who does that?”

I looked at Ariel…who was now peering around the ballroom, looking for empty coffee cups to fill. There was something meek in her gestures, something mysterious in her eyes—at least the eye I could see. There was a quiet femininity about her and it was curbed by what I could only assume was some keen sense of personal awareness…Ariel was aware of things it seemed; but what? Perhaps I wasn’t looking deep enough—perhaps I knew I shouldn’t. Yes, there was her high riding apron to consider, but it was easily over looked.

“You guys are ridiculous.” I said shaking my head before draining my glass.

“Ridiculous? Can you not see what a freak of nature she is Frank? Also she has that creepy scar running down her face; I can’t even believe she got hired. I mean, even if she offered to blow someone in management, the only loser who would accept it would be Miles and he doesn’t even do the hiring.” laughed Anabelle.

“Listen, my word could get anyone hired here—as well as fired.” Miles said locking Ana in his sites.

“I think she’s really pretty.” I admitted.

“Pretty?” demanded Anabelle, “You’re kidding me right? Tell me you’re just saying that to be a dick.”

“Not a bit. Look at her…it’s so obvious…she’s got a super pretty face with all that 1960’s makeup—like Gina Lollobrigida, shapely hips, red lips, gold eye shade…deep stares—she’s all kinds of woman and you’re hung up on a fucking scar and the fact that she doesn’t talk to you. You know I saw her coming in the other day wearing a ‘Meat Is Murder’ t-shirt, I’m wondering if that’s just sheer chance…and where did she get that scar by the way? Mama Mia; that’s what I want to know about her above all—how’d she get that sexy scar?” I said.

Sexy scar? Ewe. And what’s a meat is murder shirt? Sounds like creepy shit to me.” said Anabelle puckering her face.

“I mean Miles; you’re telling me she doesn’t look just like Gina Lollobrigida if you really look at her?” I said.

“I don’t know who that is, but…now that you mention it—she’s no Melanie Griffith but I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating cookies. ” said Miles raising his eye brows in agreeance.

“Guys are so bizarre.” said Anabelle rolling her eyes.

“Maybe she was in a knife fight.” speculated Miles now as Ariel stared over at us all watching her from across the crowded ballroom.

“Your taste in women is definitely up your ass.” said Anabelle, sounding distantly wounded.

“It’s just refined is all.” I said.

Anabelle didn’t respond. Instead she stood for a moment staring at Ariel, watching her work, quaking on the inside with disdain. When Anabelle finally walked away, I turned to Miles and inquired if he possessed any additional information about Ariel. Of course Miles didn’t know much more than I. Like me, he didn’t quite listen when the girls got into it with each other—a lot of it went over our heads…but he’d paraphrased a conversation he’d had with Ariel in which he’d asked her why she wore her apron so high, and she’d answered that it was because her pants were ‘up high’. I peered at her again as she lifted an empty coffee cup from a table and proceeded to fill it—again with a stone expression. The apron was indeed high, as were her pants, but the effect created a nice set of buns. A moment later when she walked by the bar Miles shot her a smile and a nod, which she averted by turning her head away.

“Did you see that?” asked Miles, “She’s just shy…that’s all; just shy. Maybe she had a really fucked up childhood. You ever see that movie Carrie? Maybe her mom locked her in closets and shit.” speculated Miles as we watched her nicely shaped rump wag away toward the servery doors.

I thought my intrigue with Ariel would be an isolated incident—that I would leave it where I’d found it. However, a few nights later, when I returned to the resort for my next bartending shift—I found myself standing behind the bar, watching them all eating; investment bankers from Fresno…devouring their individual portions of undercooked mystery meat. As my stomach turned slightly at the sight of them all gorging themselves and salivating simultaneously, I noticed that Ariel was approaching the bar. Her apron was high riding once again and she was peering at me intensely from behind her neatly plucked eye brows. She was wearing black eye shadow this time and a thick coat of red lipstick. She stood there for a moment without saying anything.

“How’s it going?” I asked her. She looked to the left, then to the right…then back to me.

“I’m supposed to ask you if you need anything for the bar.”

“Maybe some company—I’m so bored. I’m the chairman of the bored.” I said.

“Okay.” she said peering at me blankly…as if she were a Stepford wife.

“It’s Ariel right?” I said as she joined me behind the bar.

“Yes—that’s what my name tag says.”

“Let me ask you something…why is this your favorite job?” I asked her as I began polishing one of the wine glasses, which were usually always tarnished with an oily film and lipstick residue.

“It’s not.” she said.

“No? What is your favorite job?”

“Another place…I don’t work there anymore.”

“Cool…where at?” I smiled, running my eyes over the scar that ran down the side of her pretty face. Again I wondered how she’d gotten it.

“A book store.” she said finally when I looked away.

“What a job…why didn’t I think of applying at a bookstore?” I said, “Getting paid to sit around and read books—how rad is that?”

“It’s a bit more than that.” said Ariel, “But yeah, I got to read all the books I’ve ever wanted to read.”

“Like what?”

“I got to read all of Bukowski’s books when I worked there. Before I worked there I’d only read two.” said Ariel, catching me off guard.

“You’re putting me on. You read Chinaski? Which one did you like the most?” I asked, wondering how deep this all went.

“I really liked Post Office—but Hollywood was my favorite.” Ariel said, nodding and throwing a glance at me.

“Both of those are great.” I chuckled.

“Also, another good one…Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar. I read it a few months ago…then I read it again. It’s possessed me and now I’m reading it…again.” she said, phrasing the last word with a whisper.

“A third time…that’s hot.” I admitted.

“I love her.” Ariel purred.

“So, can I ask you a personal question?”

“You can, but I may not answer it.” she said.

“There are certain questions you can ask someone that will answer several questions at once—kind of like the questions investigators and psychiatrists ask.”

“Trick questions?” asked Ariel.

“Not exactly…more like power questions. Here’s the first one; did you cry for Heath Ledger?”

“Who’s Heath Ledger?” she smiled, glancing up at me from beneath her eye brows.

“That’s a bad question for you? Ok, let’s try this one; did you cry when WHAM broke up?” I inquired.

“I wasn’t born I don’t think. Anyway, how much could the answer to those questions possibly tell you about me?”

“More than you could imagine. Listen, maybe you’re right. Forget about it. Let me ask you one more thing; I saw you getting off the Big Blue Bus the other day…where do you bus in from?” I asked.

“I live in Westwood with my mom…” said Ariel.

“You like Westwood?” I asked.

“It’s like living in a house of mirrors.” Ariel said, shooting me a sideways glance. “I did go to Fairfax High though—same high school Phil Spector went to.”

“Really? What a town.” I said with a grin of amazement.

“The girls here don’t like me.” said Ariel out of the blue—and so I ran with it.

“They’re threatened by you is all.” I said.

“Why would they be threatened—I never threatened any of them.”

“They’re threatened by you because you color outside the lines.” I postulated.

They do too…I’ve never seen girls wearing so much messy make-up.” said Ariel, issuing a small shrug, “Guys like messy makeup girls I guess.”

“Sure, but it’s not all we like.” I said.

Ariel looked at me and brushed away the long lock of hair covering one side of her face, “If you say so.”

“I do. By the way, I think your scar is sexy.” I admitted without any lead up, or indication; knowing full well that in doing so I was setting something in motion—and feeling indifferent about the consequences.

“No it’s not.” She said.

“To me it is.” I assured.

“I know a lot of guys—no one ever says that. I don’t know if I believe you.”

“What, you think I’m messing with you?” I grinned, tickled slightly by the insecurity and prettiness that simultaneously existed within Ariel.

“No, I think you’re probably just trying to fuck me.” she said peering out at me from underneath her perfectly plucked brows.

I didn’t see Ariel for a week after that. I wasn’t scheduled back at the resort until the following Saturday. Indeed, when I finally did return to the resort the next weekend for my scheduled shift, I noticed that Ariel’s name had been written over with a red marker that read simply, ‘freak-girl’. However, she was still listed on the laminated sheet that included each staff member’s full name as well as their contact information. Ariel Granger 323 555 5555. I punched the number into my phone.

After my shift was over, I drove up San Vicente, heading back toward Hollywood. I felt like going out somewhere dimly lit for a drink—I had the Dresden or Cha Cha’s in mind. I turned down the music and found Ariel’s contact and hit the dial button. After a few rings I was greeted by her automated voicemail which instructed me to leave a message.

“Ariel, its Frank…Frank from the Resort. I was working there tonight and saw that someone had written ‘freak-girl’ over your name in red marker. Wondering if you’ve quit, call me…I want to take you out somewhere real nice for a drink—maybe the Dresden?” I said and clicked off in time to avoid being spotted chatting on my phone by a cop on a motorcycle.

A few minutes later, my phone buzzed, signaling an incoming text message. It could have been from anyone at that hour, but it was from Ariel and her message was short and to the point, “How did you get my number?”

“Magnum P.I.” I texted back.

After a few minutes another text buzzed in.

“Who is Magnum P.I.?” asked her text.

“Are you going to meet me or not?” I replied.

Radio silence…

I drove on, surrendering to the notion that Ariel was going to either a) over analyze my advances or b) decide finally that the best plan of action was no plan of action at all. However, to my surprise, a text finally buzzed in.

“Not tonight…but I’ll be downtown and horny tomorrow.” said her text.

I wondered briefly if her text was pure sarcasm…but realized that in regard to Ariel; one could assume nothing. I wanted to reciprocate her to-the-point sincerity if that was in fact what it was.

“Can’t wait.” I texted, sending it off into space, where it would sit permanently in some server database—a record of my intrigue for Ariel.

The next night rolled around soon enough. The day had gone by quickly, as it always did in Los Angeles…as if time were travelling at warp speed. I’d spent the day in Glendale helping Gardiner pack up his world. He’d had his fill of cattle-calls and desert heat and longed for the lush green Oregon valleys from which he’d come three years before. I was driving back up the Los Feliz slope toward my place on Vermont when my phone started to vibrate. It was a text from Ariel; she was checking in—perhaps testing the waters, to see how interested I still was in meeting her.

Through texts, we made a grammatically incorrect plan to meet at a specified location at a specified time. As planned, I parked on Sunset, just out front of El Cid at 9pm. I sat in the car with the stereo turned up loud, waiting for Ariel and wondering how exactly she’d gotten her scar. I watched the buses rolling up to the stop across the street, each time wondering if Ariel would step out. However, after a number of buses came and went and none of which contained Ariel, I dialed her.

“Hello?” she said after a few rings.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Where are you?” she asked back.

“I’m where I said I’d be—out front of El Cid.”

“I’m across the street, at Circus of Books. Be out in a second.” she said.

Sure enough a few minutes later, Ariel emerged from Circus of Books carrying a white plastic bag. She was dressed in tight white slacks and leather laced sandals of the same color. She wore her snug fitting Meat Is Murder t-shirt and her bangs were pulled back and tucked beneath a white 1960’s style head band she wore to match her 1960’s makeup. I watched her cross Sunset and walk westward toward my van which was parked beside the entrance of El Cid outside of which a vagrant leaned back, spraying his piss in a streaming yellow arch over the concrete wall and down onto Myra Avenue below.

Nonetheless, I got out of the van to meet Ariel. “You look hot.” I said noticing she’d applied an extra thick layer of foundation, to perhaps conceal her scar which I found strangely alluring.

“I am hot…it’s so humid tonight.” said Ariel.

“I mean you look hot…but I guess you probably hear that a lot so it probably doesn’t even mean anything to you anymore.” I said.

“I don’t get that a lot.”

“Come on…I’m sure you have a special contacts folder for the guys that chase you. Am I in that folder?” I laughed.

“I don’t have a folder…I’m not like the girls you’re used to I guess.” Ariel shrugged as if to remind me of something.

“That’s the best part about you.”

“Thanks.” Ariel said with a stone expression.

“So, are we going in?” I asked.

“No…I have a better plan.” she said.

“Like?” I asked.

“We can go to my place in Westwood. My mom is at a benefit dinner tonight…won’t be back till very late. She used those words, ‘very late’.” said Ariel.

“It’s your night.” I said.

Once we were in my van, rolling westward down Sunset toward her mother’s condo; Ariel answered some of my questions. She’d attended Otis College and had dropped out to live in San Francisco for two years—which she said had taught her more about the artistic process than any class ever could. She said her father wrote for a travel magazine and often sent postcards from the places he visited—he was never home though and it was like not having a father anymore. Also, she rarely dated in fear of catching antibiotic resistant syphilis. She informed me that her last boyfriend had dumped her because she was too ‘crazy’ in bed—evidently she’d been too much for the old boy. She then interrupted our Q&A period to confirm, by pulling the box from the white paper bag, that the condoms she’d purchased where ‘okay’.

I smiled, looking at her sideways for a moment, “Really? So I guess we’re going to get that out of the way before we start our date? Or is the date over after that?” I laughed.

“Guess we’ll see how you do.” said Ariel, surprising me…frankly; I’d never have guessed…and certainly no one else would’ve guessed either that shy quiet Ariel was indeed something of a deviant.

Ariel’s mother’s residence was nicely decorated and color schemed—to be more exact; it looked like a centerfold spread in a table top home-worship magazine. It seemed a touch odd at my age to be out on a date with a woman who still lived at home with her mother. Ariel was perhaps 25 years old—still young in many regards. There was a freedom in that—there was freedom in the fact that she had a number of years left to make a lot of massive mistakes she’d be virtually unaccountable for in the long run; the mistakes after all, though no more or less fantastical than ones she’d make in the future, would only become systematically less harmless in retrospect. These were the best years of her life and I wondered if she realized it.

She circled around the post-modern kitchen a few times, pouring us two glasses of lemonade before gesturing with a wave of her head for me to follow her down a hardwood hallway, at the end of which her bedroom lurked in a shroud of darkness. She disappeared into it, with me in tow, until we were both enveloped in a deep pitch black that carried the aroma of scented candles and hidden weed stashes…then a spark, a small orange flame from a wooden match…then a candle, then another, then three, then four, flickering in their warm pools of glow atop what I now saw was her dresser. As my eyes adjusted to the rooms flickering dimness, I made out the walls, which were covered in oil portraits I assumed Ariel had painted.

“Hey, these are all yours?” I asked.

“They are.” said Ariel, opening one of the dresser drawers.

“Can we turn on a lamp? Can I see them?” I inquired.

“Why do you want to see them?” she asked as she fished through her dresser drawer.

“Call it foreplay.” I said.

“Really? I have something better than foreplay.” said Ariel, retrieving a small plastic bag from the pile of clothes she’d turned over to find it.

She brought over the bag as well as our two glasses of lemonade and joined me on the edge of the bed. I took one of the glasses in hand and watched Ariel pick a pill from the bag. She handed it to me and I looked at it sitting in the palm of my hand, it’s chalky, candy-like contours dancing with flickering shadows and dark mysteries. Ariel swallowed one herself and tipped her head back with a mouthful of lemonade. She peered at me with a grin. “Go ahead, it’s out of body.” she assured.

“I don’t need any aid…I’m good.” I told her.

“If that’s true then why did you say that looking at my artwork would be like foreplay?”

“Well, don’t you think we ought to get acquainted a bit?” I shrugged.

“Why?” she asked.

“Who cares why? Why the hell not?” I said, pretending to pop the pill into my mouth and pretending next to wash it down with tart, chilled lemonade, “Mmmmmmm, tasty.” I said, flashing a mischievous grin as I set the glass down.

Rather than actually swallowing the pill; I slipped it under her pillow as I leaned in for a kiss. Ariel kissed well; she was a noninvasive kisser one could say. Beyond that, she knew how to talk the talk. I was wondering why she insisted on swallowing pills when voices could be heard suddenly echoing through the hardwood surfaces of the condo; a chuckle, the screech of a chair sliding across the floor, a jet of tap water, the sound of glasses being clinked, another chuckle, then the distinct frequency of a woman’s voice emphasizing her tones in a dramatic way. Ariel’s mother had come home early—and she’d brought a guest.

“Fuck.” sighed Ariel, as if deflating rapidly through a sudden puncture wound in her enthusiasm, “It’s my mom and Gordo…her shadow puppet.

“Shadow puppet?” I mused.

“Guess this is her idea of a late night.” said Ariel with a frustrated sigh, “We should go.”

“Guess it’s my place then.” I said, pushing up from Ariel and sipping down the rest of the lemonade which was surprisingly refreshing.

“Sorry.” she said sitting up too, “I thought she’d be gone longer. Sucks to be living back home again.”

We waited until Ariel’s mom had disappeared into the master bedroom with Gordo the shadow puppet before we made our grand escape, tip toeing through the living room and kitchen before slipping out the front door which Ariel closed very carefully and so silently it didn’t even click…it had doubtlessly become her routine; I didn’t inquire because I didn’t quite want to know about the dynamic between her and her mother. I really wasn’t interested in the mutual understandings her and her mother had refined during their time living together over the years—it wasn’t any of my business; I simply wanted to get back to where we were before we’d been interrupted. However, fearing the lengthy car ride back to Vermont and Los Feliz might be a bit of a mood killer—I pulled into the parking lot of a hotel on Wilshire; the Palm Court.

“Wait here, I’m going to get us a room.”

“Thought we were going back to your place.” said Ariel.

“It’s too long of a drive…and I can’t wait to get my hands on you.” I told her.

“Place looks expensive.”

“Well…perfect for your uptown ass then.” I grinned as I got out of the van.

“Hey, can you leave the music on? I love this guy.” she said, reclining back into the seat as Matthew Sweet’s ‘Sick of Myself’ pounded through the speakers.

“You know it.” I said, leaving the van running and the music blaring.

I provided my credit card and two pieces of ID to the robotic clerk at the front desk. She looked at me very intensely as she compared the photo of my driver’s license to my in-the-flesh appearance.

“You’ve gained some weight since this photo was taken.” she said, “You look younger in this photo too.” she added, peering at me with intensity.

“It’s an old photo.” I offered with a shrug.

After some computer work, she printed out a paper and set it before me on the counter. The paper was an invoice that included a contractual agreement stipulating that I’d be held responsible for any damage to the room and furthermore that I understood that the hotel assumed no responsibility in the event that my van was vandalized on hotel property during my stay—which in actuality would last no more than 2 hours.

“Make sure you sign in all the right spots or the contract will be null and void.” she said sternly, “And print clearly—it’s a binding contract.”

“You know something Sherry,” I said, taking note of her nametag, “such lengthy and in-depth processing is a bit superfluous for people like my lady-friend and I who would only visit your pretentious hotel to drink absinthe and bone.” I stated, peering intensely at her, searching for a sign of life; which simply wasn’t there. She stared back at me blankly, handing me a pen and motioning with her hand for me to sign on the dotted lines.

When I’d signed on the dotted lines and the card key was in my hand, I promptly made my way back through the lobby and out into the parking lot where I expected to find Ariel sitting in my idling van, waiting in the same spot where I’d left her, absorbing great 90’s indie rock and blowing smoke rings. However dear reader—Ariel was not there and in fact, neither was your diligent narrator’s van.

I was perplexed and stood there under the exterior fluorescents, watching the Wilshire traffic course by, all of them oblivious to my sudden predicament. The squirrely bird had actually jacked my van; it was hard to believe and quite unexpected…not to mention disconcerting in several ways. I took a moment to wrap my mind around the scope of it. It occurred to me that, even if I so desired, I now couldn’t return to my apartment as Ariel had taken the keys to my entire life with her when she’d jacked my van. As far as the keys were concerned, I’d never backed any of them up with spares for one reason or another. Luckily, my phone sat like a small weight in the back pocket of my jeans and to it I reached, dialing Ariel with little expectation of an answer. As I suspected, my call was answered by her voicemail; so I left a message.

“Hey, grand theft auto is a crime in the state of California. I’m going in—room 112. Don’t make me wait—waiting is boring.” I said and clicked off.

The room was vast and detailed in marble and smooth ivory surfaces…as if we’d rented a room in a museum. I opened a window and flopped down on the bed, staring at the ceiling, contemplating the best plan of action. Perhaps it was best to just lie there in contemplation. Perhaps this was the room in which a grand epiphany would call to me and send me into another flight of inspiration.

It suddenly occurred to me however that I’d overpaid for the room and if indeed I was going to be shenaniganed by the likes of Ariel; then I owed it to her, as well as myself, to inject a bit of my own home grown chaos into the small circus that she’d created by jacking my beloved Grand Caravan; never underestimate the relevance of a paid-for hotel room. And so it was in this fashion that a small surge of elation filled my chest as I rose, left the hotel and trekked back up Wilshire on foot, reverse engineering the directions Ariel had given me to find my way out of her mother’s labyrinth-like neighborhood.

As I walked, a variation of possibilities surfaced in my mind. Of course, whether or not my van would be returned was a valid concern and one that was sinking in just then, along with all of its ramifications. After all, Ariel had swallowed a pill—a pill containing who knew what, which could induce who knew what. I was gripped suddenly by equations—the possibilities of which ranged from Ariel careening my van off of a Mulholland cliff and plummeting to a fiery death in the valley below to colliding head on with a bus in some busy Hollywood intersection. I imagined what the blood toxicology report would say and the interrogations that would follow. What was she thinking? I wondered, unable to fathom her particular brand of insanity.

Indeed, on foot the journey was a lot longer than I’d estimated and by the time I was climbing the steps leading back up to the glass entrance doors of Ariel’s building; the companionship between me and my absinthe buzz had ebbed greatly, leaving me nearly sober to contend with Ariel’s mother who answered my frantic buzzing with an irritated tone that crackled back at me through the small speaker in the intercom.

“Yes? Who is buzzing this late?” she asked.

“Listen, I’m a friend of your daughter Ariel.” I said.

“Ariel isn’t here right now.”

“I know…she’s joyriding in my van at the moment.” I said into the speaker.

“I have no idea what that means young man…but I don’t appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night with rude language and asinine accusations about my daughter.” said Ariel’s mom.

“Grand theft auto.” I said, my words trailing off into the abyss of silence created by Ariel’s mother’s contemplation.

“Ok, wait, I’ll come down—for godsake.” she snapped before clicking off.

I had my back turned when she emerged at the door behind me, clicking it open and stepping out onto the concrete in oriental slippers. She was clad in yoga pants and a Syracuse sweater, her hair was tussled and her eyes looked weighted and bloodshot—however, she looked great—an older, version of Ariel…the apple hadn’t fallen too far. A few seconds behind her was Gordo, the shadow puppet. He bared a striking resemblance to an aged Joe Piscopo and was I could immediately see, overly attentive, doting, whiny and clad in a badly faded Sheena Easton t-shirt, which I assumed must have belonged to the Mrs—at least one hoped it did. He pushed his spectacles up he bridge of his long hooked nose with a finger before souring his expression even further and volleying into a particularly whiny interrogation.

“Who do you think you are coming here in the middle of the night, waking up total strangers? What kind of a man does that?” he demanded, out on the street with his voice raised.

“I never claimed to be a great man. Also, this really doesn’t concern you, shadow puppet.” I assured him.

“Oh, it does…what concerns Pam most definitely concerns me.” sniveled Gordo.

“So that’s what Ariel meant when she called you a shadow puppet.” I said.

“Be careful how you talk to me.” sniveled Gordo.

“Why? Also, if I didn’t know Ariel how would I know that she calls you a shadow puppet?” I said, turning back to the mother, Pam.

“Well, knowing that only proves that you know Ariel…there is no proof that she stole your van as you say.” said Pam, tossing her short bangs to one side in a sexy sort of way.

“I think the footage from the security camera in the Palm Court hotel parking lot tells the tale pretty well Pam.” I assured her.

“She stole your van from a hotel parking lot? How does that even work?” asked Pam.

“Well, it’s like this, when I went in to rent a room for us to use for a few hours; your Ariel decided it would be a great idea to drive off in my van.” I said, watching her hard boiled, mom-toughness, tighten into an expression of dismay.

“Oh my god.” said Pam, shooting a glance at her shadow puppet.

“Maybe you ought to dial her up Pam.” I said.

“Already on it.” said Gordo, placing his sleek, wafer thin phone to his ear. After a few seconds he spoke, “Ariel? Where are you? We’ve got a man at the house who is claiming that you’ve stolen his vehicle…yes, he’s buzzed us…woken both your mother and I up…he’s not saying borrowed honey—he’s saying you stole it…you’d better get back here now…we’ll be out front…and Ariel—don’t speed…drive carefully. Everything is going to be alright.” said Gordo the shadow puppet—feeling in some way that he held the keys to her ease.

After a moment of contemplating the police helicopters pattering overhead, Gordo turned to Pam and explained the situation, every once in a while, throwing an awkward glance my way; as if I was only a bystander and not directly involved with the unfolding mishap. 

The three of us stood silently on the steps in the late night breeze waiting for Ariel to pull up. Finally however, a sign of life surfaced…Pam, perhaps having had too much for too long of her daughter’s delinquent ways broke into shallow sobs, sniffling hard and leaning her face into one of Gordo’s flabby man-tits; so the old sex pot did care about her daughter after all.

“What’s the problem?” I asked Pam.

“I’m sorry; I don’t know what’s gotten into Ariel lately. You know…she lost her father last year and since then she hasn’t really been the same.” sniffled Pam.

“She never mentioned that. Guess that would explain why she hates Gordo here so much.” I said, throwing a glance at the whiny bastard.

“She’s had a very tough year…two years really, if you consider what happened in San Francisco.” said Pam.

“What happened in San Francisco?” I asked.

Pam looked at me with tears welling in her eyes and nearly spoke, but stopped short, shaking her head and issuing a wave of her hand, “Don’t even get me started…and now she’s stealing cars–I’m sorry.”

“Pam—this is nothing…it’s going to stay between you and me and Ariel—and I guess the shadow puppet here.” I sighed, peering at Gordo who hated the idea that I was consoling his woman, “I’m only concerned she’ll crash my car…”

So…perhaps San Francisco had been a horror show for Ariel. It wasn’t hard to believe—there was a darkness in San Fran—much like the darkness in Ariel. Then she’d lost her old man; her world had unraveled and the sun had failed to rise—one never gets over losing a parent or the piece of one a parent takes when they depart…one can only adapt and come to embrace in some manner, the new normal. Perhaps Ariel was still adapting.

By the time Ariel was parking my van out front of her mother’s concrete palace, I regretted trekking back to her place and waking Pam and her shadow puppet. I should have read it better…I should have caught the designs—the jagged textures of fresh emotional trauma within Ariel. Where had my powers of observation gone? Had I really become that out of touch with the basics? I pushed myself up from the railing on which I’d been leaning and strode toward my van as Ariel was fitting the gear shift into the P position.

As she did so, I opened the passenger side door and eased down into the seat next to her. Throwing a confused stare my way, Ariel spoke in a wounded, malicious tone, “What, you want to lecture me now?”

Glancing over my shoulder through the window I saw Pam approaching rapidly up the sidewalk with her shadow puppet in tow, “Drive.” I said.

Contorting her face even further Ariel squinted at me, completely perplexed by my request, “Drive.” I repeated, this time with a grin, “Unless you want to get eaten alive by your mother and her shadow puppet.”

Ariel gave me one last glance before pulling the gear shift out of park and fitting it into Drive. She pulled away from the curb gently, leaving her mother and Gordo shrinking into the rear view darkness looking baffled. The Mathew Sweet CD was still playing and for a few long minutes we didn’t say anything. After a while I turned the stereo down.

“Listen, Ariel…I have to tell you something.” I said.

“What?” she said, glancing at me as she drove carefully, her hands at 10 and 2, just as she’d learned from the private instructor Pam had doubtlessly hired.

“Baby, that Gordo guy is an utter fucking spaz.” I noted.

“Don’t I know it. So where you wanna go?” Ariel asked.

“What…you’re tired of joyriding already?” I asked.

“I feel like getting in doors now.” she confessed.

“Well, I do have the hotel room until tomorrow.” I said.

“You still want to do that?”

“We can do whatever you want. We can order pizza. We can buy a bottle and a board game from Ralph’s and stay up till dawn playing it. We can find some old horror movie on satellite and just hang out and smoke. Or just talk if you want. I don’t give a single fuck…it’s your night.” I said.

“What did they tell you?” asked Ariel wih suspicion.

“They told me enough.” I said as the darkened Wilshire shop fronts went by my window.

Gentlemen Host

Ariel and I did make it back to the Palm Court that night eventually. She liked it slow and from behind as an adult film played on the small flat screen fastened to he wall. To paraphrase John Updike; with a woman, a man goes from being able to do no wrong, to inevitably being able to do no right. With Ariel however, that process, which can take years, took only one night. At one point, as I was lying on the bed, flipping through the Palm Court’s satellite selection hoping to find a Robert Altman classic—Ariel had beckoned me from the bathroom. Having been quite comfortable on the bed, reluctantly I’d gotten up and strolled over casually and found her standing beside the green marble bathtub and wearing a mischievous grin. She’d asked if I wanted to take a bath and I’d shrugged–why the hell not? She’d next instructed me to lie down in the bathtub. I assumed she wanted to have an intimate bubble bath or some such shit in the stately marble bathtub—which wasn’t yet filled with water.

With a shrug I’d obliged, removed my jeans and got into the tub so the green marble was cool against my back. She’d next instructed me to close my eyes which I did with a grin. I could hear her stepping into the tub and felt the coolness of her gold ankle bracelet against my ribs. I assumed she was going to turn on the taps and sit in my lap as the tub filled up. Of course I was jolted from my suspense when a warm trickle of urine suddenly splashed against my chest.

Indeed, perhaps if I’d have experienced such an absurd encounter in the past, I’d have maintained a certain degree of ease and composure and not jumped up and out of the tub like an alley cat from a splash of water. However, I hadn’t and I did and there were the two of us, staring at each other under the buzz of the florescent fixtures above the mirror—me dripping yellow onto the green tiles and Ariel standing in the tub, looking at me with a blood-red she-devil glare, clearly insulted in a carnal sort of way. She’d gathered her things and left directly after…not bothering to bid me goodbye.

Needless to say, I’d made myself scarce at the Oceanic Resort and Spa after that little episode. I was certain that seeing Ariel wouldn’t be good for either of us—at least for a while. Because I wasn’t yet ready to return to the Davenport, and my third job—a catering company based in Encino which was going out of business—had only ridiculously early-morning shifts to offer me; I spent a week working diligently on the screenplay…updating and revising—making it better and more fluid each time. It’s said that an artist never finishes a work of art—rather the work is eventually abandoned; I wasn’t quite ready to abandon the work however…artistic perfection was what mattered.

My encounter with Ariel, though I knew would be the last, didn’t do much for my fledgling faith in humanity. Of course, the experience was soon eclipsed by invasive thoughts of Sarah…a woman my mind, for some reason returned to several times a day. I had hoped Ariel would distract me from he absurd obsession. It was disconcerting in a silent sort of way, and I dared not admit the predicament to anyone; anyone beyond Gwyneth that is—whose advice had perhaps been the wrong bet. Though I’d been working on minimizing the frequency; it seemed the more I tried, the more my mind would return to Sarah Lassiter in a wash of contemplation, mystery and dark intrigue. This wasn’t good at all.

I wondered if this was the turning point…the way I would round the corner of insanity and eventually wind up carrying on conversations with shadows on the wall. More disconcerting was the notion that perhaps this compulsion wouldn’t ebb and I’d be stuck in a Sarah Lassiter loop for the rest of time; disconcerting indeed. 

Making matters worse; the following week I received a call from Westcott, who’d moved into Monroe’s suite at the Emerald. He’d broken the news to me flat out, explaining to me that Monroe had decided against working with me. Westcott cited the reason with hesitancy; because I’d refused to eat any of the spoiled food scattered around Monroe’s suite on various platters and mirrors that were collecting flies—he’d decided there was something truly wrong with me. There was more to it though, which Westcott promised to explain the next time I saw him in person. Then he was gone. Among other things, it meant that I was back to square one with my screenplay getting filmed.

Wishing to avoid Ariel and any on he job drama that might lay in wait for me at the Oceanic, I felt it was finally time to return to the Davenport, mainly because my bank account was merging dangerously close to a four digit sum of relief funds. Coincidently I returned to the Davenport on the worst night possible…a plated 7 course French service gala dinner/awards for 1500 real-estate agents—a convention of phonies. This simply meant a long, impossibly rapid paced night of dashing and ducking, bobbing and weaving, running with the kinks and rolling with the punches.

Down in the trenches amidst the exploding mortars and enemy gunfire it was every man for himself and in accordance with Davenport ethics—nobody was pulling a fallen comrade out of danger and to safety—it was every man for himself. It was kill or be killed—it was cutthroat catering in the strictest sense…no place for novices and if you were seasoned, it was all you could do to avoid the multiple disasters that could result from a wrong call or a moment of hesitation.

It’s funny what happens when a man suddenly emerges after a lengthy absence. At first I was greeted with an enthusiasm and warmth I didn’t recognize. Indeed, colleagues and direct managers alike crowded me with hospitable gestures of welcome—which lasted perhaps thirty seconds before they remembered how little they’d appreciated my company. Then a loud whistle sounded, signaling the preliminary briefing during which managers and captains lectured us as if we were learning impaired. Glancing around the horde of waiters, many of which were new hires, I could see why management had drawn childlike diagrams for us all to follow—the diagrams weren’t for guys like O’Leary, Schroeder, Tryell or me. They were for the agency waiters who went from hotel to hotel as backup troops—fodder to fortify a company victory in the face of incredible odds.

Some of the agency waiters were gaunt, worn down and spent of all enthusiasm and lust for life. Others simply stood there drooling or picking their nose or scratching their jaws in awe of how in over their heads they actually were as the managers spoke, going through the menu and its many nuances in painstaking detail. Certainly the agency waiters had no idea of the shit-storm that awaited them—the bulk of them had never worked the Davenport—much less a French service gala for 1500. We Davenport veterans knew though; we’d seen it all before and instead of standing by in anxious anticipation—we stood by without expression, knowing it wasn’t a great practice to care too much about the possible shambles it could all become so easily if any of the weaker links in our collective chain broke.

Of course, on my first night back, anything that could have gone wrong with our operation, did go wrong and it derailed the train in such a way that everyone, even the boss man Quaid himself jumped onto service, dropping courses on tables in the far reaches of the massive grand ballroom. It was nearly surreal to see Quaid in his managerial turtle neck sweater and blazer, squeezing his fat ass around the chairs of guest, pouring wine and penciling orders down in a small pad—weathering the mass chaos well. So, the chubby old bastard did have it in him after all…even if it was only for one night.

Later in the evening, as we all sat out on the docks, taking a well-deserved smoke break, our bow ties dangling, our ears ringing from the noise, our bodies aching from the exertion; Quaid appeared out on the docks. This was a surprise because Quaid never appeared on the docks. The docks were rotted and slicked with oil from delivery trucks and spattered in seagull shit and littered with cigarette butts—the docks were for grunts like us, not for a heavy weight like Quaid. I assumed he’d make a speech congratulating us on our diligence during perhaps the most grueling function of the year. I’d expected a bit of back patting and perhaps some flat humor everyone would pretend to chuckle at. However, I’d bet on the wrong evening.

Standing on an overturned wooden crate, Quaid projected his voice over the small sea of heads…made up of every waiter on staff at the Davenport, plus dozens of temps from the various waiter agencies around LA. As everyone stood there smoking or sipping ice water or pressing cold compresses on aggravated work-related injuries—Quaid volleyed into a particularly vicious, tirade of criticisms, starting with the pre-dinner reception.

He covered all bases, having taken note in his mind of every infraction, every blunder, every procedural mishap. He wailed at us all, suggesting we should feel ashamed for the pathetic display of banqueting we’d disappointed him and all of our guests with. He went on further, citing a suspected lack of professional pride and personal diligence and this all came before he began a lecture on the importance of standards and practices…assuring us all that the guests would never forget being waited on in such a lackluster fashion…that they’d go home and tell their friends and families about the horrible experience for weeks to come…that they’d not be able to enjoy another banquet again after being traumatized by the likes of our fourth rate band of hacks; a sanctimonious flood of drivel indeed.

When he was finally through he stormed off down the delivery truck route, flanked by his minions Radcliff and her protégé, Josie somethingorother. The rest of us dispersed slowly, most everyone looking slightly dazed by the reprimand after working so hard and diligently. We’d all seen it…we all knew the truth that in fact the source of the most consequential issues was the disorganization of the grimy, tattooed kitchen rats who were usually operating on one narcotic or another. However, Quaid didn’t dare chastise them and risk sullying his curiously close relationship with Jean Francois, Davenport’s executive chef and supreme resident cunt. What a first night back, I thought, lighting one up, shaking my head at the irony of being chastised when for once I actually had applied myself–indeed it deserved a chuckle.

I pulled up a crate alongside O’Leary, Schroeder and Tyrell who were all discussing the unfairness of Quaid’s tirade. They were livid over his lack of appreciation and empathy. I listened absently, smoking it up as I took note of the old guard crew sitting on their crates of their own a few feet away. They’d been at the Davenport since the swinging seventies and had devoted their lives to the place. We’d all heard the tales of their historical escapades, back when they were young and invincible and their dicks still worked. They were old and busted now, pushing seventy and having realized they could never retire—that they’d have to work until they finally dropped dead…ailing and painted into an uncomfortable corner.

“Ah, I pulled my back out again, these fucking trays are getting heavier each year.” said Jacques, the temperamental waiter from Paris.

“Ah, my hernia has given me a third ball—I’m certain of it…I’m going to have my satchel in a sling for the next two weeks.” empathized Maurice…a Prague native who’d worked fine dining rooms all over the world. He’d rock-climbed in Tibet, cave dived in Mexico…he once sailed across the Bermuda Triangle on a rented yacht. However, in all of his death defying adventures, it seemed it was the Hotel Davenport that had gotten the best of him.

There was also Reynolds who’d been at the Davenport perhaps the longest and who didn’t move for anyone. Even Quaid didn’t mess with Reynolds, who knew the job better than anyone…who had been offered a position in management and had declined, citing that he preferred to work for a living. Reynolds’ complaint wasn’t a matter of aches and pains; he loathed most Mr. Quaid.

“He’s a tyrant.” scowled Reynolds.

“He’s worse, he’s a tyrant who believes he’s not a tyrant.” said Jacques…waving it off as if to contemplate the man further was futile.

Mort, another Davenport fossil weighed in—he’d been massaging his ankle and wincing in pain.

“It hurts from my ankle all the way up to my hip. I’m probably going to need a fucking hip replacement because of this godam job.” he gritted, shaking his head in disbelief.

“You know,” I said, to O’Leary, “If we’re not careful, we’re going to wind up like them.

O’Leary glanced over at Jacques and crew, offering a solemn nod, “Some nights I feel like I’m already there my friend.”

“Probably they hate us for being young and shit.” said Tyrell.

“Naw.” said Schroeder, “They like having us around…we make them feel wise.”

“But how wise are they? Look at them, they’re falling apart.” I said, “Old age is a shipwreck.”

“Hey, they chose to work in this field.” Schroeder shrugged.

“Field?” I chuckled.

“Well, what fuck the else those fools gonna do? What else can they do now? It’s too late for them now.”  said Tyrell in a long smoky exhale, “These guys are gonna die doing this shit.”

“Yeah, well…it’s not too late for us.” said O’Leary.

“What do you mean?”  I asked.

“Maybe I have an idea.” he said.

“What idea?” asked Schroeder…perking up now—perhaps hoping he was going to suggest getting the locker room going again.

“Listen,” said O’Leary dropping his cigarette to the ground and watching it burn, “what are we trained for? What have they whipped us into shape over here for? With the etiquette classes and the wine tasting seminars and the culinary torture camps, lectures in diction and posture and social graces?”

“Well, to serve dinner.” said Tyrell.

“Precisely. Etiquette. Class. Prestige. The bullshit charm they want us to sell. They’ve given us tuxedos…they keep us groomed to the nines—do you think I’d be this groomed if I didn’t have to come to this shit hole every day? I ain’t no glamor boy—I’m fucking fierce.” said O’Leary, “What I’m saying is that we could apply that conditioning to a completely new and innovative enterprise. Really I think we could.”

“What enterprise?” asked Schroeder.

“A Gentlemen escort agency for the lonely, bored, neglected and essentially wasted housewives of LA who get dragged in here by their boring-ass, rich-ass husbands who are uneventful as fuck. I mean how many times have we all seen it? How many times have we seen beautiful women in here, sitting with their husbands, looking totally bored and unappreciated? Their husbands flirt with other women right in front of them…it’s a disgrace man–because they’re nice looking broads…and deserve more. And how many times do those women give you the eye when you’re leaning in to pour them a chardonnay and scoping their cleavage?You don’t think they fantasize about us once in a while? You gotta look at it this way, if we do this–we’re in the perfect environment to promote ourselves. We’re in constant contact with potential clientele on any given evening.”

There was a long silence in which we all sat, contemplating what O’Leary had suggested. It was Schroeder who spoke first, throwing his cigarette butt into the rusted coffee can before him. “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I think it’s brilliant. I’m in.”

“Me too man.” said Tyrell, nodding his head as if the notion was still occurring to him.

The three of them looked at me and I was stricken with the feeling that perhaps they’d previously discussed the matter and had decided to stage a spontaneous intervention. I swirled my club soda in its thin seemingly fragile can, which wouldn’t biodegrade for centuries. I drained it, crushed it and threw it over my shoulder so it cleared the railing behind me and fell a number of stories to the parking lot below. We listened to the distant clunk of it colliding with the cement below.

“Well?” asked O’Leary, “You just going to sit there in silence?”

“It’s not a bad plan,” I said, “Everything you say is probably true. However, we’re going to have to organize this correctly. Discretion is going to be key…and that’s not going to be such a simple task if we’re circulating business cards.” I said.

“Business cards. Now you’re fucking talking.” said O’Leary with a wide growing smile, “Overhead…it’s all about overhead.”

“Hey, I’m good with any head.” chuckled Schroeder…we all just looked at him.

“I’m seeing a logo—a black tuxedo jacket and a bowtie. It could say, Gentlemen Host – we cater to your needs—the word ‘cater’ being our cover.” I offered, fanning the vision out with my hands so it hung there in the air before us.

“I like it—plausible deniability being that we officially caterers—I think the women will love that angle too—plausible deniability.” said Schroeder, “Just one question though. Who says these women are going to want a bunch of younger guys? I mean, what if they want the company of guys their own age…or older? I mean, some women have daddy issues they never outgrow right? What’s that called the Epidermis complex? I think we have to have the bases covered. We can’t open a bakery and sell only one kind of bread. We need some options.”

“Oedipus complex you knuckle head. Anyway, in response, we then recruit some older guys…like Jacques and Maurice over there.” suggested O’Leary, motioning with his head toward the group of Davenport veterans, sitting on their crates, massaging their aches and strains.

“Are you kidding me? Those fools aren’t ever gonna be down with such a bold maneuver—they’re fossils.” assured Tyrell.

Having overheard, Jacques peered over at us all with a cock of suspicion in his brow, “Are you calling us fools?” he demanded, clicking his eyes from Tyrell to the rest of us…addressing us all with a certain authority age and the experience of life had afforded him.

“Easy Jacques…nobody is calling you a fool—are they Tyrell?” O’Leary said, making an easing motion with his hand.

Discreetly, O’Leary moved his crate over beside Jacques and the others and commenced to explain the idea. We watched from afar as O’Leary gestured and nodded, pointing at each of them, doubtlessly in an attempt to individually inspire them personally as if he was a self-help coach. Surprisingly the old men began leaning their heads toward O’Leary so they might hear him better. From their body language I took inventory, I assumed the idea was indeed appealing to them and when O’Leary was finally through making his pitch—he walked back to us, dropped his crate and sat down. He lit another cigarette as the three of us sat there, in anticipation of his report, which he finally gave in a long exhale of smoke, “They’re in.” he grinned, “In like Flynn.”

We realized two things in the coming days; we would need to recruit more members for our Gentlemen Host enterprise and we also realized that because it was a delicate matter, we needed to proceed with extreme caution. This meant that all potential candidates needed to be agreed on by the rest of the group…which at that point was seven of us; O’Leary, Schroeder, Tyrell, myself, Jacques, Maurice and Reynolds. Indeed, though getting seven men to agree on select candidates may sound like an easy vote—the task proved to be arduous…mainly because of the davenport veterans who were not only slow to decide, but extremely choosy and indeed a touch paranoid. After all, they’d given their lives to the Davenport and such a concocted scheme could not only get them fired, but also taint their reputations beyond repair in the DTLA hotel circuit; a frightening prospect for men who could never retire.

Though the conversations about who we would invite into the fold were full of arguments, the points of which hinged largely on character, which hinged largely on Davenport reputation; we eventually recruited three more men. Banks, Shilling and perhaps our secret weapon, John S. Belington—an import from Manchester who beyond being an former college-level soccer champ, was indeed a thrift-store Roger Moore knock-off. He’d been educated at a private school and claimed his upbringing had left him with, aside from perfect diction and posture, a wide reaching knowledge of fine literature, fine wines and a penchant for ballroom dancing; we decided that if one man could represent the ideals of Gentlemen Host…that man would be John S. Belington.

Still, though Belington was the golden boy, O’Leary was still the founder and it was he who called the meetings, thought up our fake names and printed out the Gentlemen Host business cards. He brought the business cards to one of our meetings held at Belington’s pad in Palms. He’d set the box of cards on the table before passing around gilt wafer-thin business card holders. The holders were a thing of beauty and were so polished one could see their reflection in them. The cards came next and were, in accordance with my initial suggestion, eggshell white and printed with slightly raised lettering, displaying a black tuxedo vest and bowtie in the top left corner and in the center the company name, beneath which read in italic lettering ‘We cater to your needs’.

After three weeks of planning, we were ready to roll and to make it official, O’Leary incorporated an online staffing app to aid in arranging which host would date which client. Of course availability was key, being that we all still officially worked at the Davenport and still held, for the time being, their schedule in priority. In any case, ready or not…the cards were being circulated at various functions and events. O’Leary was key regarding card distribution as O’Leary was a schmoozer by nature—a man of the people. He was a smooth talker and was just sleazy enough to pass it off as charm. In three days he’d reportedly circulated nearly forty cards and out of those forty cards had received seven contacts. From the seven contacts he’d been able to arrange four dates and one of those dates dear reader was assigned to me.

Indeed, it all seemed a bit surreal. After all, I’d never used a dating site…I’d never even gone on a blind date—yet through the means of electronic messages sent through a staffing app; I was suddenly slated to meet a woman by the name of Mrs. Rogers in the lobby of the Hotel Pimpernel at 7pm the following Saturday. O’Leary scheduled our dates three days ahead of the Davenport’s scheduling department so we could book the night off at the hotel. O’Leary had thought of everything.

Because the app was an open scheduler which we could all view, I noticed the others being scheduled for dates as well. It was hard to believe that women were actually going ahead with it. After all, they didn’t know who they were getting and because we weren’t officially incorporated we existed only in the form of a business card. We had no official address or license. We had no online presence, no fancy advertising campaign aside from the cards it seemed everyone but me was handing out to women of the ballroom who offered suggestive glances. Indeed, though it was hard to believe; the proof was there in the scheduling app which was steadily filling up with highlighted dates and locations and the fabricated-name system O’Leary had devised to protect everyone’s identity.

In terms of pseudonyms, O’Leary was Mr. James, Schroeder was TJ Hammersmith, Tyrell was Mr. Spice, Belington was of course Mr. Moore and I was Mr. Frost for some reason. The names went on, down the column and into a number of blank squares—which I assumed O’Leary intended to fill with the names of new employees.

That week I’d been scheduled at the Davenport every evening and had left at the end of each night feeling as though I’d been rolled down a mountain after first climbing it. I’d acquired pains in places I didn’t realize I had muscles. I’d have thought working so much and for such long durations in a chaotic fast paced environment would have distracted my mind from returning to Sarah Lassiter, but indeed dear reader, thoughts of Sarah accompanied me like a shadow; it was rather disconcerting and I began to wonder how bad the hopeless infatuation could possibly last. Would I go on forever tormented by macabre curiosity and the ghostly image of a long dead lover?

I was of course contemplating this as I sat street-side at a table for two on the patio café located on the mezzanine level of the Hotel Pimpernel. I’d been waiting for Mrs. Rogers to arrive for twenty minutes and was contemplating leaving, figuring she’d backed out. However, I considered a narrow margin of chance that Mrs. Rogers might have been late on account of changing her outfit a few times, or spending an extra-long time on her hair or makeup…perhaps she’d had last minute second thoughts and was sitting on one of the post-modern sofas in the lobby, counting her reasons for cancelling the date she herself had scheduled.

I ordered another seltzer and sipped it as the crowds bustled by and the police helicopters chopped their rotors through the blue sunny skies above. I was halfway through the bottle when a woman arrived at my table. As noted in the scheduling app details, Mrs. Rogers was clad in a red skirt. Her blonde-streaked brunette hair was tied and propped up on her head so it hung on a slight tilt. Her eyes were clear blue and her lipstick matched the pristine redness of her skirt. Her gold jewelry contrasted nicely with the dark tan of her skin.

“Mr. Frost I presume?” she inquired with a confident smile.

“Mr. Frost—at your service.” I smiled back, taking her soft little tanned hand in mine and giving it a small shake, “Please…join me.” I offered, extending my hand, unsure if I should have risen and pulled out her chair for her.

Mrs. Rogers pulled the chair out herself and sat down, looking in her purse for something before becoming distracted and a shade flustered by a wasp that buzzed around the vase of flowers placed in the center of the table. After shooing the wasp away, Mrs. Rogers offered a flustered sigh and placed an elbow on the table, resting her face in her palm for a moment before looking up at me with her cool blue eyes.

“I’m not sure how this works…I’ve never really done it.” she said.

“Nor have I.” I said, raising my small bottle of soda water.

“Really?” she asked, cocking her head as if suddenly intrigued.

“Really.” I grinned.

“So I get to—break you in, so to speak.” she said with a deliciously naughty grin, raising her brows.

“That certainly seems to be the case.” I said.

Indeed, it was awkward for the first few minutes, but there was something about Mrs. Rogers…a sincerity that made the awkwardness easy and once her drink had arrived, the awkwardness had dissipated into the fringes of the conversation that ensued. Mainly the conversation was geared toward finding out what had led me into the shady underground catacombs of the male escort trade. Certainly, though Mrs. Rogers perceived that world to be comprised of shadows, clandestine meetings, lascivious hotel romps and steam rising from alleyway manhole covers—the truth disappointed her and she gave a small tipsy pout when I explained the reality…that O’Leary, Schroeder and I had concocted Gentlemen Host as a financial scheme one evening after a particularly grueling gala dinner event and subsequent verbal tirade from Quaid.

Mrs. Rogers and I were starting to get along quite swimmingly and after two more gin martinis, she suggested that we move to her room—a suite on the 14th floor she’d rented earlier. In a show of chivalry, I arose and pulled out her chair. We walked out into the lobby at which point she tugged my arm in the direction of the elevators which opened conveniently just as we were approaching. We got inside and with one blood-red nail-polished finger; Mrs. Rogers pressed the small circular 14th floor button, which illuminated yellow.

Though not quite as elegant as the Davenport suites, the room was stately all the same. I was a bit surprised to find that in spite of the Pimpernel’s rustic façade and old world charm; the Pimpernel prestige wasn’t extended to the rooms in any great detail. There was a mini-bar, a large bed dressed in silky linen…a post-modern oval bath-tub equipped with bubble jets, a flat screen bolted to one wall and a handsome view of Los Angeles through the 14th floor windows.

Once alone with her in the confines of the suite, I could tell Mrs. Rogers’ anxiety level was rising. She began wandering the room incessantly, offering criticisms about dust on the windowsill, the half used roll of toilet paper on the spool, the haphazard fold of the bed sheets…pulling back the silky bedspread and exposing the sheet below.

“On top of the bedspread or under it?” she asked.

“Ladies choice.” I said, lighting up a cigarillo.

“Oh…so that’s how it’s going to be?” she said, flashing a naughty grin.

I imagined Mrs. Rogers must have been middle aged. It was hard to tell with women—they worked magic and kept all the secrets to themselves. My guess was that at some point, she’d been a devoted wife and mother and perhaps her husband had forgotten what attracted him to her in the first place…or perhaps she’d become disenchanted with him. The diamond wedding ring on her finger that caught the light in tiny sparkles suggested she’d had a happy home at some point…a home that wanted for nothing. I assumed though that she had her reasons for meeting me; she’d come to a few realizations in life it seemed.

“So…you’re mine for the evening.” said Mrs. Rogers, “You’ll do whatever I ask…correct?”

“Well, within reason…but pretty much that’s the idea—isn’t it?” I shrugged, loosening my tie.

“Because there’s something I’ve always wanted to try but have never had the guts to ask any of the men I’ve been with.” she said.

“Well you’ve certainly piqued my interest.” I said.

“It’s so kinky that when I asked my husband to try it with me years ago, he nearly choked on a pretzel.” she giggled, “Come sit.” she said, patting the linen sheets beside her on the bed.”

I sat beside her on the bed and she whispered her fantasy in my ear. It wasn’t as kinky as she thought but certainly a surprise to hear and I looked at her with a grin, “Why you naughty girl.” I said.

She looked at me for a moment and as her smile faded, her lip started to quiver with emotion. Resting her face in her palm again, Mrs. Rogers apologized, shaking her head, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to do this—I’m sorry, it was a big mistake.”

I walked to the window and peered out of it…it faced south west and I could see the neighborhoods stretching out toward LAX in sunlit grids, separated into large sections by snaking freeways and major thoroughfares. I looked out further toward the ocean and the violet sunset exploding across the western horizon in an awesome fiery death. Of course, it was then that I wondered about Sarah Lassiter and where she was and what she was doing and who she was with. Having forgotten about her momentarily, it was sharply irritating to see her face in my mind again, standing in her Dorothy Vallens costume and tipping a martini glass to her mouth. I let out a long frustrated sigh and lightly tapped my forehead against the pane a few times.

“It’s not you.” insisted Mrs. Rogers from behind, pulling me from my contemplation, “Please don’t bang your head against the window like that…really it’s not you.”

“What’s not me?” I asked over my shoulder, turning my head slightly.

“Me…this…why I’m being such a big baby.” she chuckled.

“I didn’t think you’re being a big baby Mrs. Rogers.” I assured.

“It’s not Mrs. Rogers…its Mrs. Epstein. Rosanna Epstein.”

I turned around and faced her, seeing that she was still sitting on the edge of the bed. Her arms were crossed beneath her breasts that were held snug in a silky bra that matched her panties, “You’re a good woman Rosanna.” I said.

“Am I?” she asked.

“Sure…why not?” I shrugged.

“I’ll pay you for the time.” she said, reaching for her purse that was strewn among her keys, phone and clothing.

“Keep it.” I said before leaving her sitting there on the bed in her silky lingerie.

The following week was pretty quiet; I had only three dates. One in particular was with a heavy-metal mother of three from Encino who wanted nothing more than a night at the cinema and a long moonlit walk along the Santa Monica pier. During our walk, she explained to me that her husband travelled a lot for work. She didn’t mention what he did for a living and I didn’t ask. She said she loved him but longed for an emotional connection; passion, fire, romance—the fleeting three. I’d offered her none, but did my best to entertain her. Indeed, dear reader, holding a total stranger’s hand while strolling along the pier in the dim glow of the Santa Monica moon was something I’d never done in my waking life and I couldn’t help but feel as if I was acting in a bad made-for-TV romantic comedy—minus the comedy. I say this because there was something quite heavy and something quite bruised inside of Mrs. Green. It was as if in letting out her floodgates, she was somehow infecting me with her morose, end-of-days perception of life. From what she told me, I deduced that she was surrounded by sickness, death and the dimming of the light; she come to the realization that life is bigger than everyone in the end. She was beginning to depress the hell out of me and as we stood along a railing with the ocean lapping at the wooden posts beneath us, I realized that we were all in the same sinking boat. No matter who—we all wound up in the same decaying landfill.

When our date concluded Mrs. Green wanted to sit in front of her home and chat for a while. She asked many questions about my life; who I was, what I liked to do, if I’d ever been in love and finally, why such an intelligent young man was willing to sell his prick and balls on the black market. I chuckled, offering only a shrug and a succession of improvisational fiction. In the end, Mrs. Green had leaned in for a deep kiss, thanking me for the evening. Before she got out of the van, she unbuttoned her handbag and produced a small red envelope containing payment for services rendered.

“Just keep it.” I said, peering ahead with a small nod.

The following Saturday I found myself sitting around the kitchen table at headquarters; Schroeder’s inherited condo in Inglewood. We’d had a meeting that evening and some of us had hung around playing cards and waiting for some calls to come in; all dressed up and no place to hide—however, we weren’t selling lies and deception…we were selling a few hours of distraction. We weren’t like the beer parlor aristocrats who employed cunning and manipulation to proverbially slaughter another man and lay claim to his land, his wife and his home—in the name of emotional ownership. Theirs was a devious and vicious game; to them, anything was fair in love and war, and perhaps the two were only thinly divided. We however were keeping things real. On the level, if you will.

Of us all, Belington was the first to speak up; taking a break from his wafer-thin phone, the one that contained his entire life and would leave him unhinged if it ever went missing.

“Listen, I don’t think I want to see that Mrs. Spalding anymore.” he said.

“You’re her favorite though.” said O’Leary, “Hit…”

Schroeder flicked another card his way.

“Fuck me.” said O’Leary, “26.”

“The house always wins.” grinned Schroeder.

“Yeah, especially when the house cheats.”

“Cheats? How? This is just good clean losing on your part.”

“Tell me why you don’t want to see Chelsea anymore.” said O’Leary, lighting another cigarette.

“I’d rather not get into it.” said Belington in his pristine English accent which made everything sound elegant.

“Too late for that buddy, you have the floor.”

“Can’t it be enough that I don’t want to see her? I mean really.” asked Belington.

“What…she’s a sex fiend or something? Aw, is she too much for you to handle Belington?” grinned O’Leary, his face creased with sun and age, like a strap of old leather worn to perfection.

“Nothing like that, I just don’t wish to see her anymore.”

“Well, what is it? We’re all adults here.”

“Is that a fact?” Belington said, cocking a brow.

“She only wants to see you though.”

“Well that’s just too bloody bad then, isn’t it?” said Belington, comfortably calm in his mild confrontational tone.

“Really?”

“Really what?”

“Is that really the type of attitude that’s going to give this organization the rep that it needs?” asked O’Leary very seriously.

“Organization? We’re whores.” chuckled Belington.

“So crass bro, so crass.” winced O’Leary, as if hurt by Belington’s callousness.

“Besides, you wouldn’t understand. You North Americans seldom do.”

“Well, we’re all ears.” said O’Leary, putting his cigarette down in the ashtray, as if to squarely undivide his attention, “Come on Confucius—tell us all how it works.”

“Ok, I’ll discuss this, because I think it should be known here and now that getting paid for this doesn’t mean I’m under any obligation to endure absolutely everything that the job entails.” Belington said, quite frankly.

“Cut the shit, what are you driving at?”

“Yesterday night, on the way to see Cats—which was, I assure you, an arduous fucking endeavor—Ms. Spalding volleys into this rant about the tragedy with Lady Diana and how the whole thing was an inside job. She kept referring to a white Fiat that was apparently witnessed fleeing the tunnel only moments after the crash…she was on about this conspiracy rubbish all night…the car hit the 13th pillar—then after Cats ended, she was on about it again, pretty much all night—the bleeding white Fiat.”

“So what?” shrugged O’Leary.

“Well, she also believes that your moon landing was a fraud.” nodded Belington, kicking back now in his seat and raising his legs so his Birkenstocks rested on the table, dangerously close to Schroeder’s drink, “Her grasp on reality is slipping and I wouldn’t much mind it if I didn’t have to listen to it all evening.”

“Look…all of our clients are entitled to five star service—that was the agreement in the beginning. We’re all men here…we all know what we signed on for. That means service from our staff…and just because you might be hot-shit number-one superstar around here at the moment, that doesn’t mean you should start with the slacking.” said O’Leary, lifting his cigarette from the ashtray and taking a long drag as he squinted smoke out of one eye.

“Slacking? Well, certainly Mrs. Spalding isn’t the only one around here who’s turned up delusional. I mean, why can’t Frank have a chance with her? Why can’t I see the Jones woman? Just really what fucking difference does it make?” Belington asked with a hint of protest in his tone.

“Well, firstly, Frank hasn’t been able to get paid for any of his dates so far and secondly—don’t be such a pussy—take one for the team Belington.” said O’Leary, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Tell you what. If you make me see her again, I can’t be held responsible for what will transpire.” warned Belington, removing his feet from the table top now and sitting straight up in his chair.

“That a threat?”

“Yes, it most certainly is.” assured Belington.

There was a long silence between them, before O’Leary sighed deeply and looked at me. “Franky, you’re with Spalding tonight. And you, princess,” he added, turning back to Belington, “you’re with Jones…and I don’t want to hear any complaints about her…ok? I don’t care if she puts your nut-sack in a vice; I don’t want to hear a word out of you.”

“Thank you.” Belington said with a sigh of relief.

The Atrium

It made little difference to me whether I saw Mrs. Spalding or Mrs. Jones. I was adaptable and I was about to get a lot more adaptable. I was to meet Mrs. Spalding at a jazz lounge on Pico at 10pm. What I liked about Los Angeles women was that they didn’t mind getting started later in the evening; many of them were moon worshipers and sought out the majesty of midnight, evoking their mystery with shadows cast by the dim blue glaze of moonlight. On this night the moon was full and I cruised down Sunset in my van with the warm Hollywood breeze blowing through my hair and The Replacements’ Tim album rumbling through the speakers.

I put a cigarillo between my lips and found that the dashboard lighter didn’t work. I leaned over and popped open the glove box, but nowhere could I feel matches, or a lighter. Though I recalled having an extra lighter in the van somewhere, I couldn’t recall exactly where. At a red light I flipped down the sun visor and a small mess fell into my lap. A loosely folded bill from Ralph’s, a roll of life-savers, perhaps three dollars in parking change, someone’s business card and my long lost flask, filled to the brim with absinthe. The silver metal was warm from the afternoon LA heat as I uncapped it, knowing I shouldn’t before a date but figuring I might just as well need it; one never knew what one was walking into and that’s true in all aspects of life.

As I headed down Highland I sipped at the absinthe, listening to the music and wondering what it might have been like in Minneapolis during the Twin-Tone era. It had existed at full throttle at one time, like any extraordinary time and place…driven by wild youth and the brimming spontaneity and the tangible excitement of knowing you’re involved in something truly legendary—banding against the dark void with a crooked smirk and a rock guitar. For most it was now just a city in middle-America…a place that time had left behind and now stood vacant among the giants of the past that ruled no more…like an eerily quiet missile silo abandoned by a generation that had gone off to die in a dark cave. Indeed, the absinthe was lending me its deep green mystery and some deep green focus…so I might recognize the horror as well as the beauty of the fine portraits in oil that blew by on either side of me as I cruised at a steady speed over the potholes.

When I arrived at Venus, the jazz lounge Mrs. Spalding had specified, I was hopelessly adaptable. I found her in a booth wearing all white just as she’d specified. White skirt, white hat, white gloves…and I assumed, white thong panties. She sat alone in a booth near the rear bar of the place drinking a Cosmo. When I slid down into the booth and greeted her, her face twisted into a nearly obscene expression of distaste. Immediately, with one gloved hand, she grabbed her purse, pulling it from the table top, down into the safety of her lap.

“I’m Frank,” I said, “I’m replacing Belington.”

“Who?” she asked, the distaste still twisted into her face.

“Sorry…I guess you know him as Mr. Moore.” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Oh…you’re one of the other Gentlemen…I see. Well I wasn’t informed of any change in the plan…I wasn’t informed Mr. Moore wasn’t available.” remarked Mrs. Spalding.

“It was a last minute thing.” I shrugged, “If you don’t like what you see, I can have someone else sent out.”

“What happened to Mr. Moore…or Belington I guess I should call him now?” inquired Spalding.

“Well…it’s like this; he didn’t want to see you anymore…something about a white Fiat.” I broke the news to her with an unfortunate nod.

“That little shit.” she winced, closing her eyes.

“Anyway, if you want me to have someone else sent to meet you…I’m sure O’Leary can arrange that.” I said; fine either way.

Mrs. Spalding looked at me for a few moments, scanning me with her dark little eyes, stopping on my hands before looking back up at my face, “I guess you’ll do.” she said, “But please pass onto your…manager, I guess I’d call him…please pass onto him that I’d appreciate a bit more notice next time if Mr. Belington can’t make it. I mean, I should get a discount because of this.”

“A discount?” I asked.

“Well yes…it’s a customary business practice to discount a client when you can’t deliver what they’ve paid for.”

“So you’re saying I’m not worth as much as Belington?” I demanded.

“I didn’t once say that.” Mrs. Spalding said, pulling back her head and widening her eyes in a phony sort of way.

“Yeah, you did…and let me tell you something lady; Belington plucks his eyebrows—the princess.” I snarled, pushing myself up and out of the booth and storming at a steady pace toward the door, uncertain of why I felt the brilliant spark of rage flickering in my core—perhaps it was the full moon, messing with my tides.

“You better cool your heels buddy.” said the doorman, a hulking mass of tattoos and steroid injections in a ridiculously tight black shirt baring the Venus’ logo in neon lettering.

“Stick to checking ID’s.” I told him to which he replied but I’d not heard it.

Pushing through the doors out into the night, I walked west on Pico, back toward my car which I’d managed to park on a residential street in the hopes of avoiding a parking ticket if in fact I would have wound up with Mrs. Spalding until the next morning. For there could be nothing worse, I imagined, than coming back to your car after a long night on the job and finding that it had been towed.

I swilled down another glorious haul of the absinthe as I made my way back to my van and as I was turning the corner I felt a small hand push my shoulder. It wasn’t a particularly hard push…but there was enough on it to knock me off balance. I spun around to find Mrs. Spalding standing there on the sidewalk in her white on white outfit. There is no other word I can draw upon to explain how the insult and repressed rage was displayed across her face—indeed it bulged dear reader; her face bulged with insult and rage and in strange spots, like around her mouth. It reminded me of the way a small dog pulls back its gums to bare its teeth when angered.

“Gad, what do you want?” I asked.

“You don’t walk out on me!” she snapped.

“Listen lady, I didn’t want you to be disappointed now did I?” I said, taking another haul and feeling slightly invincible.

“My name is Chelsea…not lady.” She specified.

“Fine then Chelsea—why don’t you do yourself a solid…why don’t you take your little white outfit and wiggle your tight little ass back to your booth—the moon is getting high and the wolves could be out early.” I said, raising my brows and gesturing theatrically toward the brilliantly full moon which was beaming down on us with ethereal wonder.

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked.

“The eternal question…” I said in my best Chinaski, which was inevitably lost on her.

“Look, I told you inside that I was fine with you.” she specified.

“You said I was worth a discount.”

“Boy, for such a big hero, you’re sure sensitive.” she said with a little grin.

“Hardy-fucking-har.” I said, swilling back another haul of the absinthe, needing it dearly.

“What is that you’re drinking?” she asked.

“The green muse…anyway—see you around.” I said and turned to leave.

“Not so fast…I ordered a host tonight and I’m certainly not going to spend the night alone now.” Spalding said, placing her hands on her hips.

“Ok, so what do you want me to do?” I asked, “I can call O’Leary and have him send out Tyrell maybe.”

“Well, I certainly don’t want to go back in there after that little scene you just pulled…and I’m not going somewhere else to wait for another hour.”

“Little scene…” I chuckled, “Do you think anyone was watching? Nobody in this town cares what anyone else is doing—that’s what I love about this town!” I exclaimed, hollering it toward the sky with my arms extended outward.

“What’s the matter with you?” Spalding said, giving her head a small shake.

“No…the question is Chelsea—what’s the matter with this passionless era?”

“Know what I think?” said Chelsea Spalding fishing a cigarette pack from her leather hand bag.

“I don’t really care what you think Chelsea Spalding.” I confessed, phrasing her name with the utmost pompousness.

“I think you’re in the wrong business.” she said, struggling to hit the flint. I grabbed her small sized lighter in hand and sparked a flame.

“Yeah?” I said.

“Yeah.” said Spalding, tilting her head and crossing her legs at the ankles, “I think you’d make a good game-show host.”

I watched her suck a drag back from her cigarette which I assumed was low-tar. As she blew a large plume of low-tar smoke into my face, blinking comically, I noticed a large diamond ring wrapped around her matrimony finger. Out there somewhere there was a man who wore the other half of the matching pair. I wondered about her husband. Perhaps he loved her and would be absolutely crushed by the fact that she spent her Saturday nights gallivanting with various male suitors. Perhaps he condoned her getting it from an array of strange transient Johnny-come-lately bar crawlers and the jealousy and envy kept what little time they had left on earth spicy. Perhaps he had started the trend of infidelity himself and Mrs. Spalding was only acting out of revenge—or freedom. Who knew what made people tick? I’d never know the full story…I’d never know the detrimental effects that had culminated to lead Spalding to such lengths and I didn’t care to know. However, it made me wonder if there was a woman out there who could really understand me and love the illness all the way out of my brain. Standing there under the streetlamp with Lady Spalding—I highly doubted it. I also doubted that I could keep up the masquerade of a male escort; it was hard enough to keep up the masquerade of a ballroom waiter. Still, for some reason, call it devotion to any task I took on—I felt obligated to escort Mrs. Chelsea Spalding back to her home in Larchmont Village.

Shifting my van into park in the driveway of her Larchmont Victorian, I turned to her and asked directly, “Are we sure your husband isn’t going to be in there?”

“He’s in Denmark on business.” said Chelsea with an assuring nod.

“I hope so…I hope he’s not in there hoping to get cucked.” I warned.

“You’ve had to do that?” asked Chelsea with a wide grin, widening her lascivious eyes.

“No…and I’m not going to start now.” I said before getting out of the car.

As assured, Chelsea’s husband wasn’t at home. I sat in the living room drinking her husband’s booze and flipping through their array of poorly selected channels while Chelsea changed her outfit. I’d assumed she’d dressed to meet me—or rather Belington and I wondered why she was changing again so soon. I saw why when she emerged from the second floor…she’d changed into a sparkly black gown that held her contours nicely. She did a little spin for me, “Voilà.” she said.

“Not bad,” I shrugged, “I’ll give it a 7.5.”

Dropping her jaw with a subtle grin in her eyes, Chelsea gasped, “I’m really going to ask for that discount now.” she chuckled.

To my pleasant surprise I found Return of the Living Dead on Channel 135. The film was just beginning and I advised Mrs. Spalding that we should at least watch half of it. Indeed, Mrs. Spalding was game, finding a bit of amusement in the punk rockers loitering in the graveyard…she also found some amusement in giving me a dirty-talking lap dance during the second half of the film—right there on the couch with various mantle-piece family photos watching us. Needless to say, we wound up skipping the midnight matinee and instead drove out to Santa Monica and for the second time in a month I found myself wandering along the beach after dark as the tide rolled in. The tide on this night was powerful though and so it didn’t just roll in…it roared in, crashing against the sandy shore with a minute measure of its majestic power.

As we walked Spalding talked…she talked about everything and nothing all at once—her mind jumped from topic to topic and then back, often drawing correlations between sub-discussions. It was as if she were being timed on a stopwatch and only had so many seconds to solve each subject with crystalline clarity—on the installment plan. I on the other hand, assuming I couldn’t keep up with her racing thoughts, listened and walked along with her, smoking a Black & Mild as I admired the twinkling coastline—mesmerized by the lulling crash of the midnight tide.

“When I was a girl, my father used to bring us here. My mother would set up a towel and we’d eat sandwiches from a cooler and drink orange pop and my mom would read…she would never get in the water.” said Mrs. Spalding.

“What would she read?” I asked.

“Romances, mysteries…I don’t know—always a paper back though.”

“What would your old man do?”

“He got in the water with us and played like Godzilla. I remember those times like they were yesterday.” sighed Chelsea Spalding, recalling a warm pocket of her youth that after all of these years remained a sunlit enigma in some warm corner of her mind, “And what about you?”

“I spent my summers throwing rocks through abandoned windows.” I said.

“You’re very closed off aren’t you?”

“Aw shit…you’re going to analyze me aren’t you? You’ve got a certain look in her head…I’ve seen it before.” I chuckled.

“I’m not going to try and solve you Mr. Frost.” she said, “Even the name…did you pick that yourself?”

“They were assigned to us by O’Leary.”

“Who’s O’Leary?”

“Mr. James.” I laughed.

“Mr. O’Leary has a better ring to it.” assured Mrs. Spalding, “Anyway, you ought to be more open…and less guarded.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know exactly—there’s something I can’t quite place about you. It’s like you don’t belong in these times; like you’re from a different era or something…a different planet maybe.” she chuckled, “But in any case, you seem very closed off.”

“What do you want me to do—stand here and tell you about how I’ve sacrificed everything for a dying art form? That my social life and every other aspect of my life is in some sort of shambles because I put everything I have into my work? See, sometimes I wish I could be like everyone else and surrender to a phone, to sex addiction…embrace this uninspired digital age with blissful ignorance—dance the existentialism away and join the orgy of oblivion.”

“Why can’t you?”

“Look, after the 90’s I saw what was coming. I could see how the digital age was going to annihilate imagination and creativity. I could see how it was going to kill the arts until there was nothing left.” I said.

“And what did you do?” asked Mrs. Spalding.

“I locked myself in a fallout shelter. It’s been just me and my art in that fallout shelter for the last 20 years.” I said, “The walls drove me a bit mad but somehow I actually became the art and the art became me and there’s no place for that in this age…no place at all. So, I guess that’s why you think I’m out of place—I’m a direct import from the 90’s.”  

Mrs. Spalding didn’t say anything for a minute…we just walked in silence along the walls of crashing tide—finally she looked at me a spoke, “Well, I’m not going to tell you that isn’t true, but you might look at it this way—some men have seen it the way you see it and I’ve often wondered how they can be so keen, yet can’t see that being an extraordinary person in the midst of unextraordinary times is a blessing—not a curse.”

I stopped and looked at Mrs. Spalding; she looked back up at me and brushed some hair out of one eye with her smallest finger. In the darkness, I noticed a small smile forming on her face.

“So we agree that these are uninspired times?” I asked her.

“When can I see your fallout shelter?” she smiled.

As planned, we arrived at the wrap party around 1am. I wasn’t sure why Mrs. Spalding had planned it so we arrived so late in the evening, but it wasn’t my place to ask. As we climbed the winding stone steps that led up to the post-modern house that overlooked the beach, some guests who were leaving passed us on their way down to the street. As I’d expected there weren’t many people left at the party by that time. The ones who’d stayed were scattered around the spacious house, mingling and drinking wine, or cocktails.

I followed Chelsea out onto the concrete patio that was comprised of many smoothed edges and an oval shaped swimming pool. Beyond the glass parapet was a drop-off and far below it, I could see street lights and moving cars, beyond which there was only the blackness of the ocean—which commanded a presence of its own.

As I stood there admiring the deep cove of darkness below, Chelsea Spalding chatted with her friend, the one who’d acted in the movie. I noticed an entirely different persona emerge from Spalding as if she’d suddenly, within the space of ten minutes, become a self-deprecating clown, citing her age as a reason why climbing the winding steps had made her knees hurt.

As Spalding said this, a man suddenly called out from the diving board. He was perhaps Spalding’s age of 45, skinny as a rail and clad in Bermuda boxers. He extended his arms outward after getting Chelsea’s attention and proceeded to fall forward as if he’d been suddenly shot, his dead-weight plummeting for a moment before hitting the water below so it made a painful slapping sound and sent a thin wall of pool water splashing against the deck, wetting Spalding and her friend in the process. They squealed with delight, attempting to avoid the splash but couldn’t. The man was upon them a second later, shaking his stringy hair like a wet dog, splashing us all with droplets before handing the women a towel he’d meant for himself. As Mrs. Spalding dried her arm, which had taken most of the splash the man hugged her, pressing his soaking body against her—another squeal followed before the two women broke out in more laughter…it seemed like they appreciated the simple things in life.

After toweling himself off, the man extended his hand, offering his name to me, “I’m C.S. Walsh.”

“Hey.” I said, shaking his wet hand, “I’m Frank.”

“Well you certainly look the part.” grinned Walsh.

“Curtis works in film.” specified Mrs. Spalding.

“Well, I don’t do much work anymore. I’m what you’d call a fossil. I mostly produce now and then. That is when I’m not having my scrotum waxed.” he chuckled, garnering himself an elbow-nudge from Spalding’s friend who next introduced herself to me. Her name was Monica and her diction was firm; it was apparent that she was well-rehearsed in the realm of poolside socials.

After a few minutes, at Walsh’s urging, we moved inside and set ourselves up in an atrium complete with a rock-fountain and a number of high climbing plants. I reached over and took one of the leaves in hand, sifting the texture of the leaf between my fingers.

“Aw, that’s nice—they say it’s important to talk to plants…they are like us after all…and respond to human contact.” said Monica as she poured herself a glass of champagne.

“I was trying to feel whether it was fake or not.” I said.

“Don’t let Sandberg hear you saying that…he cashed out his life insurance to pay for this room.” Walsh chuckled.

“Don’t be crude.” Monica said, offering Walsh another elbow-nudge. It seemed Walsh liked being nudged by Monica’s little bony elbow.

“Don’t worry babe…he doesn’t need the life insurance—the bastard will live forever. You know what they say—only the good die young.” Walsh sang, raising his glass, “Oh, we must get Frank a drink. He doesn’t have a drink Curtis.”

“I have my own.” I said, producing the flask of absinthe from the inner pocket of my jacket.

“Well, cheers to bringing your own flask to a party.” Walsh suggested, leading a high reaching toast before interlocking his arm with Monica’s and taking a sip of his drink. Monica didn’t drink however; she only gawked back at Walsh with a lost expression.

“Monica my dear lass—you just cursed us with seven years of bad sex.”

“How so?”

“When you toast and someone interlocks their arm…you must look into each other’s eyes as you both drink…otherwise you’ll have seven years of bad sex.”

Jumping into action, Monica interlocked her arm with Walsh’s and sipped at her champagne, theatrically widening her eyes and tilting her head for emphasis. “Happy?” she asked removing her arm.

“I suppose I will be for the next seven years.” said Walsh, pulling Monica close.

As we got drunker and the night got later and the guests became fewer, Sandberg the host stopped by the atrium to bid us all good night. He was short and balding and tired looking…as if he hadn’t had a moment of fun in his life. He also had an early morning ahead, but left his trophy wife with us as an extension of his hospitality. Sandberg was the owner of the house and the producer of the film which I was told wasn’t going to be released in theaters…rather it was going to be released directly to the internet, where people could watch the film from the comfort of their own home.

“It’s the way of the future and I get it. But there’s really nothing like seeing a movie on a big screen.” said Walsh once Sandberg was gone and the topic returned to the reason they were all gathered together.

“It’s all relative. Some people have TV’s the size of one entire wall.” said Mrs. Sandberg, a stunning looking brunette in a jet black dress who knew her net worth.

“Yes, but it’s the experience of the movie theater…the large sound, the screen—your fellow audience. There’s an experience that’s getting lost more and more each year. Unfortunately theaters will be a thing of the past in twenty years.” Walsh said with a sad shake of his head.

“You know, Frank and I were having that conversation earlier this evening…about how the digital age has made a lot of things obsolete.” said Spalding.

“Oh?” said Walsh, raising his brows toward me.

“Well…theaters are something I won’t miss.” I confessed.

“So bleak.” said Mrs. Sandberg from her perch on a stool, “Who doesn’t love a night at the theater?”

“Me for one.” I said.

“It’s true actually,” Walsh nodded, “originality is dead…and this most recent generation didn’t even throw it a wake. They were too busy posting selfies.”

The discussion opened an entire assessment of the decay of contemporary arts & culture and its deadening effects on emerging artists and subsequent generations who will grow up knowing no better. It was a large conversation which led into many sub-topics but eventually merged back into the main point; cinema as we all knew it was dead, just like its cousin the music industry.

The conversation eventually came around to the subject of writers and I offered an anecdote that came in the form of my encounter with Jacky Monroe and his suite of horrors in the hotel Emerald. Though Walsh and Monica had heard of Monroe, neither had ever met him and Walsh in particular was stricken by a fit of hilarity as I explained the debacle and subsequent rejection of my screenplay on grounds of me not wishing to eat any of the spoiled snacks in Monroe’s suite. While I’d been focused on the spoiled snacks, the others wanted to hear more about Monroe himself…but the truth was, I had been too distracted to pay much attention to Monroe aside from his articulate tales…the man existed amidst a wide variety of distractions. Perhaps he himself was his own worst distraction; perhaps it was the same for all of us. It was hard to tell, for as I say—I’d been too preoccupied with the details, contemplating their origins and in essence what they said about the man himself but in the end they said very little about Monroe and complicated his enigma even further. Because I wasn’t a puzzle solver, I’d forfeited and left him unsolved, which had become a satisfactory policy for me in recent years.

The booze started to run out as dawn started to slowly bleed into the night that had passed by without my noticing. It was time to make the drive back to Larchmont Village to drop Mrs. Spalding at her manor and it was time for me to get back to my typewriter and tin-foiled windows of my quarters. Walsh and Monica were staying the night in a guest room tucked away in Sandberg’s post-modern, canyon villa. Monica offered to set Mrs. Spalding and I up in another room, but Spalding declined, as did I—pre-dawn drives through Hollywood held many great memories for me and perhaps Mrs. Spalding had teenage kids to tend to; I hadn’t asked.

Walsh and Monica walked us to my van which was parked on the street at the bottom of Sandberg’s treacherously steep grade of uneven steps. As we descended them, I wondered if anyone had ever taken a tumble and rolled down the steps and to the street in a bleeding pulpy mess. Certainly over the decades someone must have. Certainly over the decades people had done everything imaginable in the houses that peppered the canyon ridges appearing as boxy silhouettes against the rising dawn. Certainly these old houses had seen it all.

When we were at my van and Mrs. Spalding and I were buckled in safely; Walsh leaned a forearm against the roof and gabbed a bit more, punctuating the conversation with an invitation the following weekend to his villa in Malibu…he wanted me to see a short documentary about the Salton Sea he was in the process of putting together for a production company overseas. He also specified that I reminded him of friends he’d had while growing up in Brooklyn—whatever that meant; I’d never been to Brooklyn. After exchanging numbers with me, Walsh bid us farewell and a moment later Mrs. Spalding and I were winding the narrow potholed street that descended back down through the canyon to sea level. It spit us out onto San Vicente and we headed east, back toward the 405 freeway.

I was content to drive easily, smoking a cigarillo as 10,000 Maniacs jangled from the speakers. I was content to own the moment…or rather to submit to it—to relinquish any power of will—as if I were a cork floating in a sea of oblivion. The sun was nearly up and the beautifully twisted trees went by like dancing hands. As we drove by a vast and fenced-off golf course, Chelsea looked at me and spoke in an ominous tone.

“Turn right on South Bundy.” she suggested.

“You wanna take Wilshire back? I thought we’d take the 405 to the 101 back to Hollywood.” I explained.

“We can, I just want to check something out with you.” she said.

Technically I was still on the clock…I assumed I was still on the clock until I dropped Spalding at home. It had turned out to be a relaxing evening for a change and so I obliged her…feeling that taking a scenic route might lead to another cinematic Los Angeles experience; you never knew where a day would take you in LA.

Turning right onto South Bundy drive, we followed a few bends in the road until Spalding issued another instruction to turn right again down a side street…then another immediate right into an alleyway. She told me to stop the van a couple houses in. I stopped the van and shifted it into park, waiting for Mrs. Spalding to dictate the terms. However, she didn’t dictate anything…rather she pointed out her window at the back of a condominium that looked vaguely familiar somehow. Peering across the expanse of alleyway, I recognized the scene.

“Oh jeezus.” I said, “For real?”

“The killer pulled up right here…right where we’re parked now…he got out and walked right through that gate on June 12th 1994.” Mrs. Spalding said in an ominous tone which sent a chill through me.

“Evidently.” I said.

“Let’s go check it out.” she said, “I’ve driven by so many times…but never had the tits to actually check it out…I think I could do it with you though—I guess you bring out the devil in me.”

“Lucky me.” I grinned.

“You were probably just a kid when that all happened but I remember it well. At the time I was working at a talent agency on Wilshire not far from here. It captivated the nation, but for us in Los Angeles—it was very real and very shocking—it was hard to believe how it all became a cultural phenomenon/media circus overnight.” assured Mrs. Spalding with a convincing nod.

“Look, I like ya—I like ya a lot—but I’m not getting out of the car to go check that out. That’s fucked up.” I said.

“Ok, fine…sit here and be a little pussy-boy.” Spalding shrugged with a taunting grin before opening her door and swinging her legs out.

“Whatever.” I chuckled.

I watched her hop down out of the van and stroll across the asphalt toward the infamous gate. She bent forward trying to peek through it. When she couldn’t see much, she reached up and behind the gate and unlatched it so it opened with a creak. A moment later she disappeared behind it and down the infamous corridor, shadowing the steps of the killer. I sighed a long exhausted sigh. Indeed, I’d been nestled nicely in a lulling calm and Mrs. Spalding’s mad-lady antics had tipped the scales, exhausting me with the final stop on our date. It was as if every atom in my body suddenly longed to fall face first into a deep penetrating bit of writing.

Laid back in my seat, I felt my consciousness slipping into slumber…I felt it crossing that nether region threshold so the sound of the music started to funnel away into a white-noise spiral. I was nearly across that threshold when a loud wrapping on the window woke me up. Jolting in my seat I turned to find an old man in a golf hat standing outside my window. Though he saw I was awake he didn’t stop wrapping on the window. In his other hand he held a leash that was attached to a small dog. The dog was obliviously sniffing around the asphalt.

“It’s against the law to sleep in your car in Santa Monica.” said the old man. I rolled the window down a bit so he could hear me.

“Hey man…I’m waiting for my lady-friend…give me a break.” I assured him.

“No breaks…go get a hotel room or go sleep on the beach if you want to sleep you godam bum.” he snarled.

“Hey, I have an idea—why don’t you go blow yourself?” I suggested.

“Get out of that car…I’ll kick your ass up to your shoulders.” the man said, trying the door now. I just turned and faced forward, peering down the length of the alleyway. However, the man kept trying the door and inviting me to a bare knuckle street brawl behind the South Bundy hell-house in the wee hours of the morning.

“How about this—I’ll give you all of the change in my pocket if you go kill yourself.” I said, reaching into my pocket and producing some change.

It was about then that a wrapping started at the other window…turning, I found it was Mrs. Spalding and she was gesturing for me to open the door. However, with the crazed man at my driver’s side window I opted to lean over and unlock the passenger side door for her manually. She was barely in the van when I peeled away, leaving the old man and his miniature dog standing in the center of the alleyway.

“What was that all about?” Spalding asked as we cruised down the alleyway.

“I don’t know…probably this alleyway is cursed.” I said shaking my head.

We drove the rest of the way largely in heavy silence. Mrs. Spalding peered out the window at the passing houses. I assumed finally getting so close to the spot upon which a gruesome double homicide had occurred had done something to Mrs. Spalding deep down inside. When I pulled up in front of her house in Larchmont, Mrs. Spalding thanked me for the interesting evening and again called me out for not accompanying her into the yard. I only shrugged, feeling I didn’t need to assemble any apology or explanation. I did however tell her that at first I’d found her presence overbearing but had grown fond of her as the night had progressed; there was a certain sincerity amidst her neurosis that I found comforting.

Before she got out of the van she opened her handbag and produced the payment for my services. I looked at the bills held toward me between her thumb and forefinger. Her nails were painted a beige color which I’d only then realized and her wedding ring sparkled back at me, catching the morning rays like a prism.

“Keep it.” I said.

“You keep it.” she insisted.

“I’m not taking your money Chelsea.” I told her.

“But what will you tell Mr. James at the cabstand?” she chuckled.

“I ain’t going back to the cabstand babe.” I said.

“So I won’t see you again?”

“I thought Belington was your man.” I said.

She placed the money back into her handbag and fished around for a few seconds before producing a small matte-black card. I looked at it and read her name printed in silver lettering. It seemed Chelsea Spalding worked for a news station.

“The bottom number is my personal line.” she specified, “Maybe we can take a drive out to Malibu next weekend…to see Walsh’s documentary.”

“Sounds like a plan.” I said.

When I got back my apartment the sun was already over the Glendale ridge and brilliantly illuminating the rooms. I closed the curtains and tried to sleep. However, thoughts of Sarah Lassiter’s face invaded my mind…pulling me forth with an unconscionable relentlessness and it was as I teetered between slumber and consciousness that I came to a crystalline realization; I needed to talk to Sarah Lassiter…I needed to ask her about Laura for some reason. Something in me wanted to know what had really gone down in the months leading up to Laura’s suicide. Also, there was the incessant romantic obsession that had developed for Sarah…one I was convinced was misplaced and a symptom of my own seemingly mild form of mental insanity. Perhaps the solution was as simple as sending Sarah a message, explaining the complexity of the situation in hopes that she would be able to grasp a modicum of understanding regarding my mental retardation. It also seemed the best shot at attaining the facts regarding Laura.  

I turned on my laptop and found the website she maintained. Since I’d last visited, Sarah had posted photos of her last spoken word performance and had also made mention of her next performance at a café in Venice. Though my goal was to have an honest and informative dialogue with Sarah about the weeks and months leading up to her sister’s unfortunate death; I felt being too direct might have an adverse effect. Rather it seemed that a gradual approach was best suited for the situation. Accordingly I wrote her a vague message, explaining that I wanted to talk to her about some things that transpired in the 1990’s…I carefully placed a hint by referencing the 1990’s as her older sister’s era. I figured that would be an adequate enough giveaway and would either open the gates of communication or at the very least, conclude what I already expected; that Sarah wanted nothing to do with her sister’s past. After pressing send a moment of hesitance lingered…though perhaps it was actually a moment of clarity surfacing amidst the general fog of obsession—one that suggested none of it meant a thing outside the scope of my neurosis…and perhaps there was no point or reason in anything—perhaps anything we did in life was only a distraction from the black void.

The Whistle Blower

It was a 6 course plated dinner for 1800 guests in the Davenport’s Monte Cristo Ballroom. It was one of the biggest events of the year, one that everyone on staff was scheduled for. On top of that, waiters from nearly every waiter temp-agency in LA were on hand, brought in as reinforcements for when the going got treacherous and indeed, on such an evening; things inevitably got treacherous. We were, in all honesty, an army of bungled and botched misfits who’d failed miserably in some shape of form and all trickled down into the same trough—hotel ballroom staff. Of course, it goes without saying dear reader that when you congregate a mass work force made up of failures…collective success is a hard thing to achieve. Because of this, all bets were off—in the thick of such chaos, all safety and social protocols went out the window and along with them always seemed to go the normally composed demeanor of our management team. Corners were cut, important steps skipped, hazards ignored, verbal abuse employed. If you couldn’t bob and weave your way through a riotous mass of drunken entrepreneurs as you balanced on your shoulder a large oval tray stacked with ten metal covered entrées—you were most likely shit out of luck and easy fodder for the heavy artillery of upper management. On such nights the hotel became a firing squad. The calamities were many and any would and could get one fired on the spot…such as spilling hot liquid on a guest’s 5000 dollar suit…or dropping any of the $250 entrees on the floor. Inevitably plates would hit the floor…sometimes full trays would hit the floor and those of us who knew would shake our heads slightly after hearing the crashing of an entire tray to the floor, knowing that we’d never again see the waiter who just dropped $2500 worth of entrees on the floor.

Indeed, though many waiters were sent home, chastised or simply fired on the spot for costly mishaps; I’d made it through virtually unscathed and began to wonder if the fact that I’d gotten better at the job in recent months meant that Davenport management was finally winning. When the service was over and the dance portion of the event began, I took a well-needed break out on the loading docks. As I sat on a crate rolling one up and sipping from a bottle of seltzer, O’Leary and Schroeder wandered out onto the docks. Noticing me, O’Leary bolted into action, striding toward me with obvious intent. He didn’t pull up his own crate; rather he stood on the asphalt that was splattered with seagull shit and littered with cigarette butts, shaking his head with an expression of disgust, rage and perhaps the hopelessness of his own existence.

“What’s the haps old boy?” I asked.

“That haps? I’ll tell you what the fucking haps are. We just found out tonight who ratted us out on the locker room.” he said, lighting up a cigarette, chuckling slightly as if amused by his own disbelief.

“I thought we figured that out already.” I said.

“Did we?” he asked.

“Well…I assumed it was the women in room service—they chirp like a thousand and one canaries my friend…what’s more to know? I told Tyrell not to order room service directly to the locker room…but he speculated that the large tips he was giving them upon each delivery was substantial enough to keep them from turning us in.” I shrugged, “It was room service.”

“Erroneous.” said Schroeder with a knowing nod.

“Fucking erroneous indeed. It wasn’t any birds from room service that did us in…it was Jean-François and I’m guessing his little creepy sidekick.” said O’Leary.

“Which creepy sidekick—he has a few.” I said.

“That little creepy bastard with the Serpico beard…you know the guy who’s always singing Celine Dion songs and bleating out like he’s got Tourette’s.” spat O’Leary.

“I thought he did have Tourette’s.” I said.

“He doesn’t…he’s just a blow head.”

“How do you know it was Jean-François?” I asked.

“I’ve got a very reliable source in the kitchen.” assured O’Leary, “Evidently, Jean-François was wondering where some of his kitchen staff were disappearing to for such long intervals during the locker room nights. Eventually he got word of the locker room and rather than check it out himself, the fat-fuck sent one of his salad prep guys to the locker room…just to see how deep it all went. When it was all confirmed, Jean-François had a meeting with Quaid and get this—apparently Quaid didn’t move on it right away because he was waiting for someone to get video evidence—can you fucking believe that? Video evidence…that blubbery fuck-wad was staging a fucking sting operation…but Schroeder’s no-cellphone policy in the locker room shit-canned their plan—otherwise it would have been over a lot sooner.”

“Son of a bitch.” I said, tossing my cigarillo over the ledge and standing up, “I should have known those cunts were behind it.”

Now, dear reader, this was delicate…for it was known that Head Chef Jean-François took no shit from anyone…not even Quaid. Evidently the two had worked together at the Sapphire country club in Pacific Palisades a number of years before and it was in fact Jean-François who’d brought Quaid in as general manager at the Davenport. Somehow they’d become that close…perhaps by way of professional goals, or perhaps by way of suburban swingers parties…either way it was real grease-ball shit. The fact remained—nobody went toe to toe with Jean-François without going toe to toe with Quaid and I could see that O’Leary was ready to cross that line.

“Well…it’s over now…no harm-no foul.” I said, “We’re all back at work…no worse for the wear…right?”

“No foul? Tell me you don’t believe that shit Nero.” O’Leary demanded.

“Where’s the foul?” I asked.

“They were planting spies!” O’Leary demanded, getting fired up again, “He was out for blood man.”

“Look man…nobody got any video…so this bullshit investigation the union and Quaid are up to is going nowhere. I say let it go. Let’s move on.”

“No, I don’t think I will.” said O’Leary.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Check this shit out…” he said, glancing over both shoulders before continuing as Schroeder stood by, knowingly nodding; it seemed they’d already commiserated and were now looking for a third party to join their scheme, “You know that cake competition they do every year right?”

“Do I look like I follow fucking cake competitions?” I asked him.

“It’s a thing for charity…all the top hotels in town participate…each hotel contributes a cake and then some bullshit committee chooses a winner…then they raffle the cakes off. Winner gets to host the event the following year. But more importantly it’s about bragging rights. Three years in a row Jean-François won for the Davenport…and you know that bastard had the newspaper clippings framed and hung on the wall in his office. It’s a really big deal for that bloated cunt—I would almost argue that the competition is the bane of his useless existence.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard about it…but who gives a fuck?” I offered a chuckle of absurdity, “It’s probably all rigged…he’ll probably win again this year…probably he’s blowing a number of chairs on the committee.”

“Well…this year his cake ain’t gonna win.” assured O’Leary, “Because that cake is going to go missing.”

“You’ll never get near that cake.” I counter-assured.

“No? Why not?”

“Why? Because as I recall; last year they were being ridiculous about that fucking cake. It was top secret…no photos…no one was to talk about it…and when it was finally finished, it was sealed into a box and bound in plastic wrap until the day of the competition. They literally locked it in the fridge for two days. I heard they carried it out of there like the lost ark…all the way to the fucking display fridge in the exhibition hall.” I told him.

“So we get at it the night before. How hard do you think it would be to get to that fucking cake?” Schroeder asked.

“Without the key to the cooler, pretty hard I would say.” I shrugged.

“But what if I told you that I could get us a key?” asked O’Leary.

“I’d ask from who.” I said.

“I have a contact in the kitchen…that’s all you need to know.” said O’Leary with a small grin, squinting smoke out of one eye.

“Why all the cloak and dagger?”

“No cloak and dagger.” assured O’Leary.

“He’s banging one of the pastry chefs,” offered Schroeder finally, his frustration growing.

“Holy fuck man! That’s privileged information. What if my fucking wife finds out?” spat O’Leary, peering at Schroeder in disbelief.

“Fuck sakes O’Leary. Have you already talked to your mistress about this scheme?” I demanded.

“Who do you think helped me figure it all out? She hates Jean-François with a passion. She wants it as bad as I do.”

A few moments of silence prevailed and were just as soon eaten up by a news chopper circling high above.

“You in or what?” asked O’Leary finally.

“Yeah…I’m in.” I nodded after a pause for thought.

Indeed dear reader, my short lived reluctance to sabotage Jean-François’ cake was mainly due to the sudden recollection of all the times I’d witnessed the man behave in a purely loathsome fashion. He could phonily smile at you one moment and crack an arbitrary joke—then a moment later bite his fangs into your jugular. He was infamous for his signature brand of verbal abuse which had on occasion made some waiters cry. Some had become forlorn and internalized Jean-François’ attacks, believing him when he assured them that they were indeed useless, talentless shit-stains on the face of the world’s most prestigious culinary scene…that they should do themselves a favor and apply at the fast food restaurant down the street—as toilet cleaners…indeed, he had some cutting words that may have been hilarious if he wasn’t such a perpetual buffoon.

Not only did he abuse his own staff verbally; he was known to engage in physical altercations with both new hires and veterans alike—in one instance volleying a new line-cook into a stack of wooden apple crates in the delivery bay. He’d once thrown a plate at a waiter who’d returned a cut of prime rib that was so raw the blood had soaked into the potatoes, turning them an unappetizing shade of red. Those who defied him were usually reprimanded with such ferocity, they never attempted it again. Those who did where promptly let go by Quaid directly. More than anything, these instances brought me to ponder what it was exactly between Quaid and Jean-François.

Over the following two weeks there wasn’t any more mention of O’Leary’s great cake heist. It seemed he and the team at Gentlemen Host were busy hustling dates with the real housewives of Los Angeles. I’d expected more resistance when I broke the news to O’Leary that I no longer desired to be a part of Gentlemen Host. I’d expected an argument or at least a well-executed guilt trip. However O’Leary only took the news with a small disappointed nod; mainly I assumed because I’d managed somehow to not get paid for any of the dates I’d gone on and secondly, because I’d agreed so easily to aid him in his revenge on Jean-François—who I didn’t mind fucking with.

As the days went by, I realized Sarah Lassiter wasn’t going to return the message I’d sent her and I briefly wondered why before deciding I’d never know and so should leave it at that. It’s often futile to ponder female logic—for we’re wired completely differently as men and so will never quite make sense of it and perhaps without such mysteries, the human race itself might fall flat. However, the notion left some forlorn contemplation, the shape of Laura’s mystery—or rather the long lost sunsets of the 1990’s when the future seemed so bright and true romance seemed so real.

Luckily I had plenty of distraction. The Davenport was afoot with events of all types which filled it’s fall calendar with no room to spare. Indeed, the ballroom always bustled in the fall…one event bled into the next until it all became a blurred wash of general recollection; mass salivating, mass drunkenness and mass douchery—the level of which never ceased to amaze me. I couldn’t remember specific days or what events fell on a Saturday or a Wednesday…perpetually existing in the ballroom trenches night after night had erased any scope of date and time from my waking reality. In the midst of the busy ballroom season, there was work and there was sleep and it seemed I’d come to exist in a bubble made up of plush red carpeted awards galas, wine and cheese receptions and private corporate parties splashed with champagne, trophy wives and terrible cover bands that all played the same set of uptown junk. In essence—I was losing touch with reality.

Then, out of the blue, O’Leary, as I knew he inevitably would, invited me to Schroeder’s place in Inglewood for a sit-down on evening—it was time. I’d arrived late that evening and sat in a very unenthused fashion at his kitchen table, around which also sat, O’Leary, his pastry-chef mistress Clare, Schroeder and also Malcolm—night watchman at the Davenport. I felt ok about Malcolm because he’d been right there in the locker room with us, placing bets, drinking fine liquor and dodging his superiors. However, O’Leary’s girl Clare was another issue altogether and it was my question, one I didn’t bother voicing to O’Leary, whether any of us could actually trust her. After all, who knew without a shadow of doubt that she wasn’t another of Quaid’s planted spies? Certainly O’Leary would be blind to any suspicions about her given the fact that she was curtsying on his face regularly. However, what remained a clear and present fact is that when it came to firing O’Leary, Schroeder, Tyrell and I; I put nothing past Quaid or his belligerent henchman Jean-François.

Still, the meeting went on and it was on this particular occasion that O’Leary’s plan was finally revealed and indeed dear reader, the old chap had not only thought it out in great detail…he’d incorporated marker-board diagrams and a laser pointer to illustrate his plan, which had been refined down to very exact windows of time which he planned to stick to. Simply stated, O’Leary’s plan entailed arriving on site at 3am exactly after which Malcolm would meet us at a rear exit of the hotel…one outside the scope of the many cameras fastened to the outer walls of the Davenport for security purposes. After gaining secret access to the building, O’Leary, Schroeder and I would file our way up a fire escape stairwell to the 2nd floor. From there we were advised by Malcolm to take an unmonitored maintenance hallway to the south-west corner of the floor where we would eventually come to a door, across a narrow hall from which was located the entrance to the dishwashing room. Because the swinging dish-washing room door didn’t lock, it was the easiest way to gain access to the main kitchen area, which at that hour would be entirely vacant. The issue however was that to make it to the cooler in which Jean-François’ cake was locked; we would have to trek across a large expanse of floor which, unfortunately for O’Leary, was perpetually monitored by a ceiling security camera.

O’Leary however had been crafty and after casing the kitchen area the day before, he’d found that there were two sets of light switches…one in plain view of the security camera and the other on the opposite side of the kitchen. To get to the opposite side however, O’Leary would need to wriggle on his stomach like a slithering asp, concealing himself behind a long row of metal tables that formed the prepping line. Though the scope of the camera included the line, O’Leary’s slithering husk would be well hidden by metal tables. Once on the other side of the kitchen O’Leary was to turn off the lights and Schroeder was to lead himself and I across the darkened expanse of kitchen with a flashlight…all the way to the cooler in which Jean-François’ cake was locked.

It was then that O’Leary would meet us at the cooler, use the key Clare had had copied and gain access to the cooler. Because the light switch for the cooler was situated on the outside wall, it would be possible for us to enter the cooler in complete darkness, save for the small LED beam of the flashlight. In short—a fool proof plan.

“Then what?” I asked O’Leary who took a break in his explanation to guzzle down his whisky and soda.

“Then…we swap cakes.” he said.

“Swap cakes?” I asked, “I thought we were just going to dump the cake on the floor and get the fuck out of dodge.”

“That was the original plan…but then a revision came to me—or rather us.” he said winking at Clare who’d sat silently up until then, “Take the floor babe.” O’Leary said, sitting back down in his chair.

Clare looked at us all for a moment as her cigarette burned in a smooth long trail of smoke that climbed upward toward the overhead light. After taking a long drag of it, she exhaled a large blue plume of smoke and explained, “Chef and his number two are going to perfect that cake the night before. They’ll do some last minute touchups…then they’re going to put that cake in a box…and seal the box with plastic wrap so nobody can touch it…or even look at it until the next day when it’s unveiled and put into the display fridge.

It’s going to be locked in the cooler all night. The day before though, I’m going to be charged with closing up the pastry station…which will happen around 9pm—chef and his number two will leave a few hours later—before I leave though I’m going to wheel a few carts back into that cooler. Hidden on the bottom of one of those carts is going to be the swap-out cake.” said Clare with a coy grin climbing the corners of her mouth, “They won’t notice it because it’s going to be on a cart with several shortbread crusts and the odds of them checking any of the carts is pretty much zero.”

“So,” said O’Leary, picking it back up, “it’s brilliant—the swap-out cake will already be in the cooler waiting for us.”

“What’s the swap-out cake?” I asked.

“Clare is going to design it out of fondant.” chuckled O’Leary, “The design is going to be a cat taking a shit.”

“How does that even work?” I asked issuing an absurd chuckle, glancing at Clare who was more than happy to explain.

“The cat won’t actually take a shit in a mechanical way…but it will be postured in such a position…it’s real easy to do with fondant—the best part is that it’s going to be shitting on a replica of Jean-François’ face—in his mouth to be exact—mainly because his breath always smells like cat shit—I figured that would be a nice touch and one everyone can identify with. I’ve already made Jean-François’ face with fondant…” said Clare, pulling the image up on her wafer-thin phone and handing the phone to me.

Indeed, the face was an uncanny replica—brilliantly sculpted enough to be on display at Madame Tussaud’s. The glasses, the cropped mustache and incidental soul-patch, even the slight rosacea dotting Jean-François’ middle aged cheeks and forehead as well as his strangely receding hair-line. His replica’s mouth was open, waiting for the cat-shit to drop. It was hard to believe that the old gal had made it all out of fondant.

“Fuck…that’s eerie. It’s a complete and total replica…leaving absolutely no margin of doubt.” I said, “You’ve definitely got a talent.”

“Clare used to do makeup for Rock Glen Studios out in Burbank…she knows her shit.” said O’Leary with a proud wink.

“Looks like.” I said handing the phone back…realizing the scope suddenly and the public shaming of one of the Davenport’s most esteemed employees. It was going to be bigger than I thought.

The cake competition was to take place on a Saturday morning and it was beyond me how anyone could possibly want to wake up so early to attend such a boring event. It had nothing to do with me however—for O’Leary, Schroeder and I would be back at our respective dwellings by 5am. The entire timeline O’Leary had estimated would take no longer than a half hour, starting with Malcolm granting us access to the alleyway entrance at 3am. According to O’Leary, we’d be long gone by the time the first kitchen staff arrived—which Clare specified would be 5am at the very earliest.

Indeed, when Friday night rolled around and O’Leary and Schroeder met me on a darkened downtown corner two blocks from the hotel, I realized neither of them had taken into consideration the shadowy figures wandering around the gutters and alleyways at that hour. As we made our way through schools of the walking dead, I checked my watch, hoping my van was still intact by the time I got back—it was 2:45am. By the time we made it to the specified alleyway door, it was 2:56am. We were four minutes early and we stood around in silence as we waited for the door to open.

I doubted it would open. Rather I’d slightly hoped it wouldn’t open. Perhaps my heart wasn’t in it…perhaps I’d have rather been in the comfortable confines of my Los Feliz apartment playing long lost selections on the old Roland. Perhaps I’d rather have been cruising the PCH with the Malibu breeze blowing through my van and the music turned up loud…smoking it up and distracting myself from the moon’s stoic promise to outlast everything we’d ever built. Perhaps I’d rather have been many other places; but I was there, in the alleyway with O’Leary and Schroeder and as I realized the futility of existence—the door clicked open, and from behind it emerged Malcolm’s smiling face.

“Who the hell are you guys—the midnight cleaners?” he asked very seriously before breaking out into a wheezy chuckle a moment later.

Indeed, he’d let us in promptly at 3am…nearly to the second and we were making our way to the maintenance hallway in minutes. Remarkably, our movements matched O’Leary’s timeline perfectly and when we parted ways with Malcolm in the fire escape stairwell, he wished us good luck, citing that we were going to need it. He also warned us that Beckman was on duty—the other night watchman and Beckman he informed us, beyond being unusually short, had also worked the day shift for 2 years at a mall in Encino; Beckman he assured us, was as hard-ass as mall-cops got.

Taking note; we moved on carefully. Though our objective was in ways slightly death defying…we moved toward it with steadfast intent. Though there was something cat-burglar about it all, especially the way in which O’Leary wriggled across the greasy kitchen floor on his swollen belly; we’d rehearsed it so many times in our heads that the comedy had been all but drained from the spectacle and felt strangely more like a mission of black-ops—only with far less consequence. Still, the adrenaline flowed and my reactions became sharp when O’Leary eventually made it to the far side of the kitchen and switched the lights off; show time for real.

Schroeder led the way with a small flashlight and we made it to the cooler easily in the darkness. After turning off the cooler light and using Clare’s key to open the lock hanging upside down from the cooler latch, we stepped into the coldness of the refrigerator which wasn’t refreshing in contrast to the LA heat, rather it made us want to rush the job, which O’Leary insisted must be executed with due care and precision. We made the swap carefully under the small beam of Schroeder’s flashlight and had to share a collective guffaw when we saw Clare’s handiwork in person. Indeed, as she’d explained the cake was a work of art—a miniature Jean-François lying in bed wearing a night cap with his eyes closed. The fondant based argyle covers were pulled up to his neck and the ass of a butterscotch striped tabby was poised above Jean-François’ snoring mouth. On his tongue sat a small brown swirl of soft-serve cat shit; it was definitely going to make an impression.

After rewrapping the box, Schroeder and I carried Jean-François’ cake across the kitchen floor as O’Leary locked the cooler, reminding us that if we dropped the cake, it was all over. He then made his way back to the light switch and waited until we were clear of the camera to turn the overhead fluorescents on before wriggling back across the floor behind the metal tables. Once in the dishwasher room, O’Leary had us set Jean-François’ cake on the metal rollers of the massive dishwasher. He then pressed a green button which activated the squealing metal beast which devoured the cake up in seconds, spitting out its other end the mirror upon which the cake had been set. The mirror was perfectly clean and hot to the touch. Indeed, the massive metal dishwasher had erased completely the cake Jean-François had spent days creating; there was certainly no turning back now.

After replacing the large mirror in a shelving unit with others of its size, O’Leary led the way back into the maintenance hallway, down which we trekked at a hurried speed. Working on adrenaline alone, we took the fire escape stairs easily and pushed out into the alleyway where the warm downtown night sparkled around us with the height of sky scrapers. Looking at my watch I saw it was 3:26am. We’d done it with 4 minutes to spare.

 Behind the Curtain

Being that I had the weekend off, I wasn’t scheduled at the Davenport until the following Tuesday. Certainly I couldn’t make an inquiry for an update from any of the other Davenport staff I had in my contacts list—any questions I had regarding the cake competition and the shit-storm that must have inevitably followed the discovery of Jean-François’ missing cake would have to be made through O’Leary or Schroeder. However, neither answered the text I sent the next day in the form of a single question mark. I wondered if perhaps they didn’t understand the meaning of the question mark. Indeed, I wondered about this for a few minutes before assuming the obvious; Jean-François had thrown a fit after discovering that his prize cake had been replaced by a fondant replica of his likeness, waiting with an open mouth to catch a feline dropping. I imagined there next must have been a surge of shockwaves sent through the various echelons of Davenport staff. It was the sort of incident that would indeed make its rounds through the DTLA hotel gossip circles. Certainly it would probably make a publication or two as well. I realized that the security tapes would be reviewed…an investigation would be launched…a witch-hunt would prevail and this dear reader would perhaps lend meaning to all of their lives. I on the other hand felt detached from it all, having spent most of the weekend in Malibu at Walsh’s place, keeping him company as he re-edited his documentary on the Salton Sea. By Monday I’d basically forgotten about the monkey business with the great cake swap.

I returned to the Davenport for a routine shift the following Wednesday and when I arrived in the ballroom Captain Katie was upon me suddenly, as if she’d been waiting. She was clad in her usual frumpy uniform and greeted me with a solemn nod.

“They want you in Quaid’s office.” she said, lifting her hotel issued radio to her mouth, “Frank just got here…want me to send him up?”

There was a pause and then a crackle of static, through which a voice replied, “Send him directly up now please.” It was Radcliffe’s voice—they must have come to some conclusion with their ‘internal’ investigation of the locker room scandal.

Quaid’s office was on the fourth floor in the administration department. Most of the employees had left for the day and it gave the half darkened floor an abandoned eerie feel. I was met at the elevator by Radcliffe who offered a small sad smile before motioning with her head the way to Quaid’s office. She led me across a vast expanse of desks and cubicles to a far corner of the floor where Quaid’s office resided. I’d never been to Quaid’s office and it was said that most who visited it never returned to the Davenport afterward.

In the office I found Quaid had wrangled a small army of spectators—Radcliffe, her protégé Josie Somethingorother, Ben Tillman—union shop steward and of course Kensington, the bastard captain who’d written so many scathing reports about me; it was a rigged game. I took a seat in the only chair available…one directly across from Quaid who sat in his desk, offering me a cheery smile, “Well hello Frank…how are you today?” he asked.

“Let’s cut to the chase here.” I said.

Quaid looked up at me, his smile fading into a stern business-like glare, “Alright then…Miss Radcliffe.” he nodded in Radcliffe’s direction.

A second later Radcliffe placed a letter before me on the edge of Quaid’s desk. I took the letter in hand and recognized it as a letter of termination—the bastards had actually finally done it. I glanced at Tillman, the shop steward who only nodded in confirmation of something, yet didn’t state exactly what. Perhaps it was the sort of thing that was better left unstated which could have been many things.

“On what grounds?” I asked.

“No grounds.” said Radcliffe.

“No grounds?”

“We feel you just aren’t the right fit for the direction the hotel wants to go in.” said Quaid, leaning back in his boardroom chair and propping his elbows on the rests and pressing his fingertips together, “You see, we have a vision here at the Davenport and in order to move toward that vision, we need to have the right people on board who understand and fully support that vision…we need people who share our vision.”

“This is about the locker room isn’t it?” I asked.

“No, actually, it’s really not about the locker room…that ship has sailed.” assured Quaid.

“Look, we both know I’ve never been on board with your vision…so why fire me now?” I asked.

“It’s the right time.” Quaid shrugged.

“You can’t fire someone without a reason.” I said, “Can they?” I turned to Tillman and asked.

“Well, they can if they offer you severance pay.” he said, the tone in his voice suggesting that Quaid and Radcliffe had found a loophole in the Employer/Union agreement; one they were willing to pay for. I was next being handed an envelope which I was told contained a severance check.

“Wait a second here.” I said, “Are you telling me that you’re willing to pay actual money for me to not show up anymore at this work camp?” I asked, perplexed by the notion, for I’d never been offered severance while being fired…and I’d been fired a lot.

“Precisely.” said Quaid.

Radcliffe stared at me from her comfortable chair. Indeed this was a moment she’d been waiting for…a moment that was supposed to leave me speechless in the wake of her wrath…a moment in which I was supposed to realize the error of my ways…a moment in which they’d all finally be able to bear witness to the crumbling of my façade of indifference, “Is there anything you’d like to say Frank?” she asked.

“Yeah—you can all blow me.” I said as I rose from my chair, taking the severance check with me.

When I was waiting at the elevator, Tillman appeared behind me, shrugging and shaking his head, “My hands are tied on this one Franky…it’s an age old loophole…they’re basically allowed to do it. I mean we can fight it—we can surely get you your job back…but, that could take some time and resources.”

“Hey, Tillman, don’t sweat it…I’d expected to be fired long ago…and certainly didn’t plan on getting a paycheck for it.” I said, “How much is in here anyway?”

“It’s not a lot…in my opinion we can get you a lot more.” said Tillman.

“Listen, no worries.” I said, waving it off, feeling as if a heaviness had been suddenly lifted from my shoulders, “Just one thing—what was the catalyst?” I asked.

“They’re being very hush-hush about the details, but according to one of my sources, it’s got something to do with a…uh…male escort agency. Apparently one of your team forwarded a business card to a friend of Quaid’s at a function last weekend.” Tillman said, unable to keep a grin from cracking across his frog lips.

“No shit?” I said, wondering about the who and the how and the where, “Who was it?”

“Jacques. Quaid dragged him in and basically blackmailed him—told him unless he gave you all up; Jacques would never work in LA again. It wasn’t hard, Jacques sang like a birdy…showed him some sort of schedule spread-sheet…some emails. The union doesn’t really want to touch this—it’s something none of us have ever seen before.”

“Understandable.” I nodded and as I stood there imagining Jacques in Quaid’s hot seat, blubbering and selling us all down the river—the elevator doors parted holding within them three familiar faces, O’Leary, Schroeder and Belington whom Tillman greeted, extending his hand in the direction of Quaid’s office, “This way Gentlemen.” he grinned with a small wink; the clever bastard.

Being fired from the Davenport wasn’t quite as disconcerting as it was curious. Though I should have been concerned I couldn’t help feeling a deep, unquestionable indifference. The truth was that the Davenport had become a complicated and dysfunctional marriage I’d grown indifferent toward in recent months. Any concern I had about the issue I’d seemed to leave in Quaid’s stuffy office when I’d strolled out on them all…depriving them of their chance to offer up a doubtlessly sanctimonious lecture—which was part of their firing routine; so I’d heard.

Though I hadn’t planned to return to the Oceanic Resort and Spa for a longer period of time; my sudden firing from the Davenport rendered a quicker return to the Oceanic Resort a clear and present priority. I decided to call Rebecca Singer, who was in charge of scheduling at the Oceanic. She wasn’t exactly pleased to hear from me, but she didn’t seem to mind chatting about the upcoming calendar. She cited a number of evening events the following month for which she could use me. I jotted down the dates and start times and confirmed them on the spot which seemed to ease her tone of severity; it appeared that I’d be making the commute to Santa Monica a lot in the coming months.

Law of Retraction

So there it was dear reader—your diligent narrator cut loose from the good old Hotel Davenport. I’d been working at the hotel Davenport for so long that it seemed impossible that I wouldn’t ever have to see their faces again, or endure every night the same type of parties with the same type of people who all looked, dressed and sounded the same—as if they were only different heads of the same douchebag entity. Beyond that, I’d not have to ever again listen to one of Quaid’s sanctimonious lectures, which was perhaps the best part of it. It was as if I’d had a tooth pulled and with it had been yanked the suffering and pain—leaving in its wake a question of why I’d not pulled it earlier. I suppose at the end of the day, in spite of my penchant for storming out—as Crystal had so eloquently put it—perhaps the truth was that I wasn’t a quitter…being fired was much easier.

The severance pay bought me at least a month and a half of solitude, during which I worked primarily on perfecting my screenplay as well as finishing the album that had come so organically. I savored those weeks so much so, I dreaded the day when the severance would run out and I’d be forced back into the workforce…back into the mind-numbing grind of hotel waitering. During those weeks I tried not to think of the impending reality outside my tin foiled bedroom windows. I’d removed the clocks and dismantled my phone. I ate according to hunger and slept according to fatigue. I woke up late, perhaps 4pm on average and would work for a number of hours at the typewriter. I left the apartment usually after 9pm and would often not return until just before dawn, at which point I’d sit down at the typewriter again and pour into it for a few hours before I’d immerse myself in the pitch darkness and catch the tail end of afterthoughts that would eventually lead me into a far off land of slumber and dreamy images cast against the flickering cavern walls of my mind.

I started spending more time at Walsh’s place. There was usually no occasion needed to visit Walsh; he simply liked to have people keeping him company at all hours of the day. The man didn’t seem to sleep and appeared to be no worse for the wear. He’d tell you horror stories of waking up at the crack of dawn to make a tennis meet or to drive out to Palm Springs where he was fixing up a house he planned to rent. It made little sense how he could muster the enthusiasm to entertain well into the wee hours, when his neighbors were all asleep, snug in their heavily fortified estates. However, Walsh found a way to be always available…and it was his accessibility that perhaps made him such a hit in the tight knit middle-aged Malibu social scene who all mostly behaved as if they were living a two page spread in some glossy home and garden magazine. Still, for all of his hobnobbing and post-modern coast-line living, Walsh was a maverick…a rogue…a perpetual frat boy who tended to easily run out of the essentials such as toilet paper, tooth paste and hard southern whisky. He ordered-in fish & chips and was content only in an organized mess. He’d laugh and say that one could take the boy out of Brooklyn, but one could never take the Brooklyn out of the boy.

One evening, I was stricken with a vivid dream of Sarah Lassiter. In the dream I was sitting on a beach side log with Sarah, gazing into her eyes and feeling her close to me. Though her mouth didn’t move I heard the whispering of her thoughts and they spoke of everything sacred between a man and woman. Her thoughts whispered about destiny as we kissed and she ran her fingers through my hair. When I broke away and leaned back to gaze into her eyes once more, I found that she was a corpse with milky eyes and cold purple lips. Her hair was long and blonde and worn the way her sister had worn her hair all those years ago; I realized it was Laura and interestingly I wasn’t gripped by fear—rather I was gripped by a wash of shame and it jolted me from my sleep.

Indeed, perhaps because of the nightmare—by the following day, thoughts of Sarah Lassiter flooded my mind in a disconcerting way. Indeed, I was nearly resigned to the notion that this was an early sign of impending insanity. Certainly, at bare minimum, it was highly disconcerting—it was also thoroughly irritating. For you see dear reader, it seemed my conscious mind, which wanted no part of the morose horror-show stigma surrounding the Lassiter sisters, was being directly sabotaged by my subconscious mind—causing the obsession to bleed into my consciousness. In spite of my best most brazen attempts; I couldn’t quite distract my mind from Sarah. I could only hope—and I did so frequently—that I’d wake up one day and the intrusive thoughts would subside, having packed up and abandoned their perpetual post. Indeed, with intense concentration, I could push her from my mind, however, it always seemed that a dream baring her face would surface or I’d see her first name typed across the nametag of a 7-11 worker, or a Street sign or see her last name in the credits of a movie or during a glance at the local paper. Case in point—I’d been flipping one evening through channels in a peaceful moment, minding my own business and harboring no qualms with the universe, when as if under the satirical eye of hidden cameras, I’d flipped across Blue Velvet—particularly a scene in which Dorothy Vallens stood on stage, singing dark lounge for the shadows—coincidence? I thought not…rather I believed it to be the universe once again demanding another installment—in payment of a karmic debt I’d perhaps racked up in a previous life–or perhaps this life. 

If you’ve granted me that as a questionable occurrence dear reader, I should offer here an even more baffling and seemingly non-coincidental encounter that took place only a few nights after I’d seen Laura’s corpse in my dream. I happened to be at a café on Fairfax with Cabrino—a music producer I’d known for many years. He’d dragged me down to the café to watch a friend of his sing—a woman he was entertaining the idea of producing. For some reason he wanted my opinion and so I’d met him there at 9pm. Upon arrival, I’d been told that the bands weren’t scheduled to start until 1030pm. Until then, the café hosted a stand-up comedy night which I could immediately see was going to be painful. Adding to it was Cabrino and his recital of doom, which in recent weeks had centered around Cassie…a witchy import from France he’d met online and started an ill-advised relationship with.

“Listen man…” said Cabrino, “this is imperative man. Cassie deals in tarot cards man, dark magics…she has witchy routines and some pretty questionable colleagues. For instance, she knows this one guy who wears a painter cap and a tender beard, who sends her poems about eating out her asshole—it’s bizarre.” he said with urgency, running a hand through his thick dark hair which carried the sheen of pomade.

I just shook my head, “Sounds like trouble to me.”

“That ain’t the half of it; I was drinking beer at the place she’s crashing at in Palms last weekend and her and her girlfriends did this ritual thing…they all dressed up in gowns…and they had on these tiaras made out of flowers and vines…they were all grown women I might add…they had ribbons and candles and they were chanting and dancing around this old tree. They had the evil eyes!” said Cabrino, perplexed by what he’d seen.

“Sounds like trouble to me.” I laughed.

“You’re telling me. There was this one guy there. He was sort of the ringmaster; this skinny guy in a long black cloak and he had this long flowing pony tail…I saw him from behind at first and thought he was a chick—you know? When he turned around I noticed he had a satanic goatee. I couldn’t help it—I laughed…and I guess he felt threatened and so he kept breaking my balls real indirectly like. I mean I’m a good sport—but after a while…like half an hour of this kid busting my balls…I couldn’t just sit there and let it go on. So finally, I went over to him, grabbed him by the pony tail tossed him into the pool.”

“Classic.” I chuckled.

“Not really. The girls weren’t too happy about that.”

“Oh boy.” I laughed.

“Well, Cassie said that this guy is a witch doctor…I guess he can do a lot of tricks with chicken bones…and sure enough, I was heading out for a jog the other morning and I discovered a little pile of chicken bones on the sidewalk in front of the studio…I know it was him—the guy with the satanic goatee.”

“Could have just been litter.” I shrugged.

“That’s true. But maybe I oughta take communion anyway…head down to St. Mary’s and chat it up with Father O’Leary.” said Cabrino, “I’ll tell you…about a month ago, I caught her cutting a lock of my hair off…she put it in a little sandwich bag and took it with her…she didn’t really explain—maybe she’s trying to work some mojo on me.”

“What does she do?” I asked.

“She’s a fry cook.”

“So let me get this straight old boy…you think a fry cook from the France is working some ancient voodoo on you?” I asked.

“Like I say she has this wack-pack fan club going on the internet. They write in and leave her comments about her melodramatic poetry. They say it’s powerful, but to me it’s sort of just that typical dark and flowery mystical gibberish…like entry level 1st year college chicks might write….there’s a million of them online writing basically the same shit. You know; if everyone is ‘unusual’ in the exact same way—then nobody is really unusual.” said Cabrino, shaking his head and leaning in now to study his ice cubes.

For a long moment he remained silent as we watched one of the comics flog a joke that had fallen flat. After a few minutes Cabrino made a confession.

“I’ll tell you man, I went to a fortune teller last week. A psychic you know? She took an egg white and put it in a cup, and then told me to piss into it…so I dribbled in the thing, and brought it back to her. She took it and added a magical spice to it, some kind of elixir from an eyedropper…and suddenly the piss and the egg white started to smoke! Right there in the office. It was hard to believe man.”

“You pissed in a cup in a psychic’s office?” I asked, setting down my glass, “Like in front of her?”

“No man, in the bathroom in her office. Point is; she said the smoke proves that someone is trying to mess with me—and it makes sense. See Cassie went to Egypt in the fall with her family and while they were on a tour, she threw a book of her poetry into one of the pyramids…down a vent or something…and she did it earn the favor of Pharaoh ghosts…I can’t remember the specifics but she said something magical was going to happen.”

“Throwing a book down an air vent for Pharaoh ghosts?” I chuckled, “Wow…Listen to me man, while we’re out here sweating our balls off and getting shit done on the merit of hard work and disciplined craftsmanship; this chick is dancing around in capes and littering archaeological finds–and you’re sweating her?”

Cabrino absorbed what I’d told him for a moment. Nodding.

“Maybe she put a spell on me…Cassie that is…I mean maybe that’s why I can’t get her out of my mind?” he asked.

“Maybe you put a spell on you.” I suggested.

“It’s no good man…I gotta kick the Cassie habit.” said Cabrino, looking severe and drawn.

“What do you find most unappealing about her?” I suggested.

“Well, she’s always sort of greasy looking in the morning…but I guess a larger problem is her breath…she’s a huge smoker and coffee drinker and she’s always eating rich fatty foods—but it’s like that even when she wakes up. Even if she rinses and gargles and brushes her teeth the night before…it’s like a cat came and shit in her mouth when she comes at me first thing in the morning.” admitted Cabrino.

“That’s good—that’s good….you can really build on that…now just imagine life with her…everyday life…walking through the grocery store with her on a Sunday morning, you’re pushing the cart and she’s nagging you and you have a few kids—who are loud and annoying—and the kids are screaming in your ear and you’re in France and it’s raining and she’s breaking your balls in front of the cashier with her cat shit breath.” I illustrated, “It’s a recipe old boy…”

“Shit man…” said Cabrino nearly absently as he peered off into the distance, imagining the scenario with intensity, “So like…you’ve never had a situation where you haven’t been able to get a chick out of your head?”

“That’s preposterous old chap.” I said, waving it off and turning back to the comedy show that was unfolding on the stage in the corner.

As I’d suspected the comics were all either too flat or too shock-value or too laugh-track and Cabrino and I sat there in our booth with Sandy Ruben—his potential client and her friend Jackie Molasses who wore silver makeup and what looked like a tinfoil jump suit…they were hipster chicks from K-Town and as a musical duo, they were said to evoke magical soundscapes. Indeed, I was interested in hearing what they had—which only made the stand-up night move even slower than it already seemed to be. That is of course until the MC, through a babbling radio DJ shtick, uttered a name that sent a shockwave through my core.

A moment later, there she was, Sarah Lassiter in the flesh, climbing the stairs side-stage and walking out into the spotlights a few moments later.

“What’s with you?” Cabrino asked me, “You look like you’ve seen a godam ghost.”

“I’m fine.” I assured, sitting there, marinating in a state of shock at the possible meaning of such a specific coincidence…which begged not to be a coincidence.

I spent the next fifteen minutes in a surreal state…watching Sarah’s act…knowing that she was Laura’s sister…the last of the two Lassiter sisters. As she spoke to the audience, aiming for comedy, I sat motionless, contemplating the odds of yet another coincidental run in. Sarah’s set wasn’t exactly comedy. Though there were moments of arcane amusement, Sarah’s act was a showcase of the abstract. Her references were too fringe for most people to snag, such as her bit about James Joyce’s fetish letters to his wife Nora, or Sarah’s ill-fated story about meeting Jello Biafra in a San Francisco elevator. She also comically dissected Ingmar Bergman and though playfully mocking him to a tee, the audience was digital-age and didn’t quite know who the fuck Bergman was so the jokes fell mostly flat—perhaps I’d have laughed had I not been slightly unraveled by Sarah’s unexpected presence.

When her set was complete I watched her take a seat at a booth beside the stage. It seemed that my dream had perhaps been a premonition of sorts…for how was it that I’d been caught in such a vivid dreamscape with Sarah and subsequently, by sheer luck, had chanced upon her in a random café I’d had no intention of visiting before Cabrino had called and insisted I join him. This was, I was convinced a complex twist of fate—no matter how dark.

Leaving Cabrino in the booth with K-Town songstresses, I made my way toward Sarah’s table. As I got closer I saw she was talking with her friends, perhaps discussing their feedback on her performance. As I approached the table a gaunt looking guy wearing women’s jeans and eye shadow was sliding into the booth beside her. On her other side was another man, equally as gaunt wearing a skin tight Iggy Pop t-shirt and a greased pompadour and handlebar mustache. Beside him sat two women, covered in tattoos and rockabilly attire. They were drinking sea breezes from mason jars and gesturing wildly as they spoke. Sarah was in the center, looking quiet and lovely in her red Marimekko dress, sipping casually from a long green straw.

“Nice set.” I said, leaning in and extending my hand, which she hesitantly shook. Her hand was moist and clammy, either from nerves or her frosted mason jar.

Under the light she looked quite different from the photos posted with keen precision and angles on her personal website. She looked sad and it was rather unexpected…but at the same time made sense…she’d never gotten over the death of her sister. In person a dimension was added, a dimension of not only physical proportion but human energy as well…the telepathy a person exudes. 

“Thanks for saying so.” said Sarah with a smile.

I handed her my card, one I’d had printed years before and had grown tired of handing out, mainly because I had a wicker basket on my nightstand that was full of spare change and the business cards of people who’d done the same to me. Hoping my card wouldn’t wind up in a wicker basket on her night stand I leaned in and spoke in a voice loud enough for all at her table to hear.

“You’re probably going to be my wife.” I told her with a stoic nod.

Her smile faded as she processed the declaration, perhaps spotlight-searching my face for a sign of tom-foolery or more likely madness. She’d find no tom-foolery however, for whether or not I believed it to be true, the statement was a reflection—the reflection of weeks spent down in a bottomless well of obsession, immersed in the madness of a particularly annoying fascination I’d transferred from her deceased sister onto her. I didn’t feel like Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters—rather I felt like a mental patient who could not pry himself away from the asylum walls though he was free to do so at any time. However, the need to know eclipsed whatever shame I may have felt.

I didn’t bother gauging the reaction of her friends either…I didn’t even really bother gauging her reaction. For initial reactions are often habitual and based on defensive posturing. I figured I’d let what I’d told her sink in for a few days and either I’d hear from her out of her own sick curiosity or she’d simply tear up my card in which case I’d never get a response and my what ifs would be answered bluntly. I was prepared for either but expected the latter and left it all in the hands of fate.

I thought about it later after I’d dropped Cabrino back at his studio in the hills. As I made my way through the gridlocked streets of east Hollywood, I contemplated what I’d seen in Sarah’s eyes. There had been a glassy gaze of calm or perhaps drunkeness, but beneath it something vibrated in a deep blue shade; a quiet intensity that missed no detail and it was intertwined with a strange sadness—a sadness I was certain stemmed from losing her sister to suicide all those years ago.

Up At the Villa

After two weeks had gone by and I realized that Sarah Lassiter wasn’t going to call; I believed the universe had crossed our paths that evening for the sole purpose of offering me a chance to attain some Laura-closure, though I wasn’t sure how that could matter at all to the universe. There was that and the fact that my obsession with Sarah seemed to have little left to do with Laura herself. Indeed, the Laura connection had only predisposed me to a Sarah Lassiter obsession. If I’d passed Sarah Lassiter on the street without any extenuating knowledge of who her sister was—would I have been so captivated at first glance? Would I have believed in the possibility of love at first sight? It was a key question and one I suspected I already knew the answer to. Certainly, I’d never been possessed by any woman upon first glance—at least not with such magnetism. I assumed stumbling into that mind-fuck had everything to do with Laura.

Welcoming a great distraction I finally accepted a few shifts at the Oceanic Resort…and it seemed perfectly timed; the total sum of my Davenport severance check with the duration of my period of unemployment. I spent the last 50 dollars of my severance on a large bag of sativa and returned to the Oceanic Resort the next day. So there I was dear reader…after a number of weeks, standing behind the sprawling wooden bar again, rolling one up on the small white cutting board I was supposed to chop limes on.

I stood there as the reception went on, taking inventory of the absurd presence of them all floundering around in the plush ballroom, dressed the same, poised the same, bred the same, and posing for any camera flashes they could coax…dumbly nibbling at the hors devours and guffawing at flat, corporate humor; they’d given up on something—or had never had it from the start.

I was marinating in these deep leagues of contemplation when Leanne appeared at my side smelling of sea breezes. Indeed, though she attended the mandatory manager meetings and seminars; she managed very little. Mainly she spent the bulk of the night smoking her long thin cigarettes and nibbling appetizers in the staff lounge, gossiping with the other useless tits that kept the F&B flowing like mud. Indeed, Leanne could be found on any given evening, curled up like a cat on the leather staff lounge couch, weathering the deep hours of her shift with reality TV and online socializing. In fact, when she appeared at my side—I was surprised to see her.

“You’re not really rolling that here at the bar? Can’t you go in the back and do that?” she asked.

“Shouldn’t you be watching TV somewhere?” I asked.

“Very funny; I’m going home now because I’ve been here since two this afternoon and I have a head ache and my feet hurt.” she whimpered—I think I have low iron.”

“From what?” I asked.

“I’ve been working like a machine…” she said blankly, staring at me with an airy distance in her big brown eyes, “Anyway, I’m leaving you in charge.” she said, batting her lashes at a strand of stubborn hair that wouldn’t stay out of one eye, “Just make sure everyone does their closing duties okay? Oh, and make sure you don’t let anyone leave early—everyone has to stay till the end.”

“Leanne—nobody is going to listen to me.” I pointed out.

“Then make them listen.” she said, the exhaustion of the day having spent her will to make with the pleasantries.

Leanne I noticed was looking into my eyes with a sort of pleading desperation just then. I understood what it meant; she wished to return to her home, where she could flop herself like a fat cat across soft surfaces, gargle her boyfriend’s ball bag and spend the rest of the evening watching sitcoms, eating potato chips and rocky road ice cream.

I didn’t reply. I only stared back at her, wondering if there were cameras hidden in the vents above us. Perhaps it was a set up. Perhaps they suspected that I was drinking company booze on the job or worse. Perhaps they thought a slip up would be more likely an occurrence in the absence of management. Perhaps it was why Leanne had brought me back to the Oceanic Resort and Spa. Cameras or not, I shrugged and saluted Leanne.

“We’ll dob, dob, dob.” I said with stone seriousness.

“Also,” she said, looking over her shoulder to make sure there was nobody listening-in behind her, “there’s a rumor going around about you by the way. I wanted you to hear it from me first so it’s not a surprise.” she said.

“What rumor?” I asked, assuming she was referring to Gentlemen Host and my recent firing from the hotel Davenport.

“I personally don’t believe it…but it’s going around that you went out with that Ariel chick…and that she took a pee on you in some posh hotel room…that’s the word.” informed Leanne, an expression of disgust etched into her face.

“That’s absolutely preposterous.” I said with a nonchalant wave-off.

“I figured so…anyway, I’m leaving this function in your hands.” said Leanne before giving me a small wave and strolling away, slinging her large purse over one shoulder.

As the awards ceremony got underway and the MC volleyed into his contrived and humorless shtick; I headed to the men’s room where I could smoke with Phillips, the bathroom attendant who still worked, at the age of 72. Leaving the bar and cash float unattended, I found the men’s room empty, except for Phillips who was combing his grey hair back in the sprawling mirror, proud of his intact hair-line at such an advanced age. I lit up the thing and passed it to Phillips. I was slightly terrified of contracting whatever lip diseases he’d acquired after 72 years of hard European living. He was infamous for reiterating twisted stories from his promiscuous past.

“Hey, you ever get a cold sore?” I asked him as he puffed deeply.

“On my cock yeah—I caught it from two women I screwed in Budapest in the 80’s…they were sleeping in a tent in a park…you know—I had no thoughts of using a condom—it was the 80’s…nobody used condoms.” he said, taking another mean puff and hauling it back, “Why do you ask?”

“Well I don’t want to catch your plague.” I laughed.

Phillips laughed back, “My friend, I think you might have more to worry about being pissed on by crazy waitresses.”

So…the story had gotten around…and there was only one person who could have floated it; Ariel. When Phillips handed it back I declined, deciding I didn’t wish to contract whatever else he may have been harboring. I bid Phillips farewell and made my way back to the reception area. I peered out the large glass windows as I walked, adjusting the knot in my red tie and glancing the beautiful expanse of deep blue pacific that went on forever, or at least to Japan…the horizon line was erased by a thick layer of rust colored pollution and I could faintly make out an ocean liner floating distantly on the sparkling water.

Once back at the bar, feeling the smoke take hold, I became hopelessly adaptable—as if I’d regressed back to a long dead era…back to the ballrooms of old; when the only things to fear were prohibition and syphilis. In a long exhale I spent the last of my concern—and found there was a certain invincibility in casual indifference. High above it all from a lighthouse on the hill, I watched the awards ceremony unfold, indifferent to the categories or their winners; I was a cork floating in a sea of whatever.

Though I felt very little either way about the guests themselves—one might say the scene was grotesque; real estate agents patting themselves on the back with an Academy Awards theme, complete with red carpets, long gowns and miniature gold statues. Something in me quietly snapped when the speeches started…you’d never heard such a pack of blubbering phonies. Indeed they’d claimed to raise groveling, deceit and manipulation to the level of an art-form in order to pedal houses on an inflating market. Each speaker took their turn at the glass podium, some laughed, some cracked flat colorless humor…some cried as they read through long lists of names, thanking each person for the same thing in a different tone. The denouement came later when the president of the agency took the stage and struck a chord of absurdity by telling his personal story and how he’d found love with a Russian mail-order bride who’d not only given him direction in life; she’d also breathed new life into his personal style and fashion sense. As he stood on the stage clad in a tightly fitting pair of factory-torn jeans, incidental bling and a skin tight white dress-shirt with the sleeves rolled up enough that we could all see the incidental tattoos covering his forearms—I realized there were certain things in life that were not even worth loathing. I shifted my attention to Tommy, a new and virtually useless waiter whom Leanne had hired on the merit of her own desperation. I took my cue, addressing the kid as he strolled by balancing an empty cocktail tray in his hand.

“Hey kid, step over here a moment.” I said and motioned for him to join me behind the bar.

Tommy was skinny as a rail and barely old enough to drink legally. His curly blonde hair was crimped and sculpted in such a way that it resembled the half used curve of a pencil eraser. As I absently wondered who had given him the idea that such an absurd hairdo was becoming—I swung my arm over his shoulders and chuckled…

“Guess what old chap. It’s your lucky day. I’m going to leave you in charge of this bar for a while okay? And if you can’t help having a few drinks, well…keep in mind there may be cameras hidden in that vent above us. Okay?”

His expression didn’t change…he just looked up at the vent and back at me with a blank stare glazing his eyes as he nodded slowly, “So, like…you want me to mix drinks and shit?” Indeed he was the perfect poster boy for his spoon-fed generation.

“Simple concept really—you know how to mix drinks don’t you kid?” I asked him.

“Yeah, yeah…” he said, “It ain’t shit; just some cocktails and highballs—this ain’t motherfuckin rocket science G.”

“That’s the attitude old sport. Perfect. I’m gonna leave you to it now.” I said, offering a supportive thumbs up and pat on the back before leaving him there behind the old wooden bar amidst the bottles of varying colors.

Leaving the Bronze room, I wandered out into the reception area through a crowd of women in gowns and men in tuxedos that were too tight around the belly. They cackled toward the chandeliers, eating cheese and fruit skewers, sipping wine from smudged glasses; they hadn’t realized the reception had closed and the program had begun. It was my job to let them know about it; to politely herd them into the ballroom. I said nothing however and instead made my way across the hotel lobby toward the exit.

“—where are you going now?” demanded Amber from behind suddenly.

I paused and let out a long sigh before turning around to face Amber. Aside from being an alternate supervisor, Amber was, in her mind, anyone could easily assume, one of the prettiest waitresses on staff at the Oceanside. She worked on her smile frequently in various mirrors and strived toward feats of illusion; with her smile, she offered men a one way ticket to paradise…but the brochure didn’t make any mention of the fact that the paradise she offered wasn’t all-inclusive.

“Amber,” I said diplomatically, catching glimpse of her tongue through her perfectly white, perfectly aligned teeth, “I’ve been put in charge of this division tonight and that means that I have other things to tend to at the moment.” I said.

“I heard Leanne put you in charge…even though I’m here. And what other things do you have to tend to?” she prodded.

“Things above your pay grade…now tie your hair back and get one of these useless new waiters to help you take the fruit mirror into the room before these shit heads start complaining.” I told her.

“Hey—this is bullshit…I’m a supervisor…I know what to do.” said Amber defensively, “Leanne only left you in charge to get even with me…that cunt.”

“Either way.” I said.

“I suppose you wouldn’t talk to your little girlfriend this way.” she pouted.

“What girlfriend?” I inquired.

“Your little pee-partner Ariel…it’s all around that you begged her to pee on you.” Amber giggled.

“What?!” I exclaimed.

“Did I stutter?”

“Hey…I was the victim in that scenario…that was all her doing.” I informed.

“Sure.” smiled Amber, enjoying it.

I left her standing there and pushed onward toward the fire-exit door at the end of the servery hallway.

In case any of them followed suit, I carried the charade as far as the staff lounge, which was situated on the second floor, at the end of a long half-renovated hallway strewn with cement bags, pails of plaster, ladders and scaffolds. Instead of entering the staff lounge however, I ducked behind a scaffold draped in plastic sheeting and observed a collection of supervisors and managers engrossed in conversation. I waited until they broke into a volley of chuckles before striding by the office door. Noticing my passing had turned one head in the crowded staffing office, I sprinted down the remainder of hallway and carefully down the winding staircase that led out onto the promenade; a promenade I might add which overlooked the foamy shores of Santa Monica Beach. I’d made it outside—and was now home free.

Feeling like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders; I loosened my tie and took a moment to adapt to the suddenly serene surroundings of a bludgeoned orange dusk. I took it in for a few minutes before continuing down the promenade toward the parking lot where my van awaited. The streets were mad as usual–people wandering around in the sticky evening aftermath of another sweltering Los Angeles day. In tourist groups, the crowds roamed the streets, sifting through the sweltering ruins for the pulse of stardom—oblivious mainly to a long dead Hollywood era. An era that existed in black and white key chain photos sold in novelty stores all up and down Hollywood Blvd. I saw the general lack in contemporary society, but chose to see LA in Technicolor…like a Hal Ashby film. Though many ghosts lingered…it was the ones from the mid 1970’s I heard most. There was also the architecture that venerated effortlessly the best days…when there was still some romanticism left…some historical bravado…an old world war cry against the apocalyptic darkness we’d all gotten so used to after 9/11. I was sitting at a red light on Sunset when my phone started to vibrate.

“Franky…” said Walsh, “What’s doing?”

“I just walked out of the only job I had left.” I said.

“Why?”

“It’s a long story. I’m heading home now to do some writing.” I told him.

“Can you put that on hold for a few hours? Listen man, I’m not injured, but I’ve totaled my car against a guard rail—luckily not one of my collector series; I’ve totaled my city car and I have a house full of people at home. I need you to come pick me up man—desperate measures over here.” said Walsh.

“I was really looking forward to diving into the typewriter.” I told him.

“Listen man…my car is fucked…they’ve towed it away…to the junk yard I suppose. Are you really going to make me take a cab? I’m literally standing on the side of Mulholland with a bunch of bags full of booze and snacks—I’ve got a houseful of people back at home.” Walsh exclaimed, “And anyways, I have some great news about your screenplay…so get your ass up here man so we can talk.”

“Alright, I’ll be there soon.” I said, tipping my left turn signal.

Walsh lived large, in a house on the summit of a Malibu hill overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean. Decorated by Walsh’s ex-wife originally, the house had once held the theme of beige fabrics and sandy, wood-grain finishes. Now however, having been eroded by two and a half years of divorce and countless spontaneous purchases by Walsh and any of his many transient girlfriends, the villa held no theme at all, by way of diversity and lack of a consistent interior decorator; it had become, as Monica put it, a giant man cave—at least half of it.

Red leather couches had taken the place of chaise lounges. One half of the living room wall which once held three Degas prints was now covered by a massive black and white poster of Tony Montana wielding his hungry M16/M203. In the corner, where an antique wooden loom was once situated, now stood a grand piano made from clear acrylic baring the autograph of Ringo Starr. The top of the piano, always closed, was littered with an array of fine liquor bottles varying in fullness and size, various mixers, several dirty martini and highball glasses and ashtrays heaping with cigarette butts. Crystal vases, once blooming with flowers now held pocket change, pens, keys, discarded mail, incense sticks and other knick-knacks. In the now furnitureless hardwood expanse of the dining room, a basketball net equipped by a yellow Lakers backboard was screwed tightly into the beige plaster above a rounded doorway leading out onto the back patio.  

As Walsh’s guests sat in the living room around a Rubik’s Cube coffee table; I sat, sunken deeply into the surprisingly comfortable hold of a leather couch, chatting with Isabel Ronstadt, a diction coach from Monrovia who ravenously intellectualized her ideals as the legs of her perfectly pronounced diction wobbled and buckled with the wine warming in her core. As she spoke I took note of her lips, which glistened with a thick shiny coat of candy red lipstick. It was clear that she enjoyed listening to herself talk—I didn’t mind listening to her either, especially with those red lips moving over the shape of her multi-syllabic words so smoothly. As she spoke, I half listened, swirling the sour lime gin around in my mouth, wondering why I wasn’t getting drunker.

Isabel talked of Sisyphus and I dear reader was coming to pieces in a slight and silent way, realizing that nobody knew what the hell was going on. I switched to autopilot, absently trading insights with Isabel who eventually shifted the conversation to what it was about Hollywood that brought me a sense of calm. Perhaps it was the end of the earth…where you could dance with sun gods and live among the majesty of an illustrious desert oasis mirage that sparkled with tinsel and ghostly images of dead artists. I was in ways like existing among ancient ruins that had been restored to venerate the long lost–the ghosts of Hollywood past who were buried in Forest Lawn in varying stages of decomposition; life was bigger than them all in the end. I made a speculation about beautiful Natalie Wood and what really happened to her that night just off the shores of Catalina Island.

“I read something the other day,” I said to Isabel, “Natalie Wood had this reoccurring dream about drowning in deep dark waters. Do you think dreams can really predict the future?”

“Maybe…but some dreams are just dreams. I don’t think we should read too much into anything in this life.” said Isabel.

Having been eves dropping, Amber, a devout polyamorous divorcee from Stockton, turned to Isabel and I. Her brown hair caught the luster of the overhead lamp as she spoke in an advising tone.

“I think many dreams are absolutely trying to tell us what’s going to happen and you can understand them if you’ve honed that power and have learned how to focus it…it’s all about decoding…men rarely understand this because men are dumb, insensitive fuck-wits…I think however that a woman as talented and impassioned as Natalie Wood would have been sensitive to premonitions.”

“So does that mean my reoccurring sex dream with Sid Vicious might actually happen?” asked Isabel in a sarcastic tone.

Though Isabel read Amber’s militantly feminist spirituality blog regularly; Isabel had certain issues with Amber. Mainly because it was Isabel’s belief that Amber was a cunning actress—though Amber played the role of a scorned and scarred metaphysical mystic who claimed in her blogs to prioritize spiritual attraction and true love over wealth and luxury; according to Isabel, Amber was actually a materialist who, though she’d married rich, wished to be dominated by a relentlessly masculine blue-collar, cat calling womanizer. I didn’t know what to make of Amber…she was pretty and perhaps that was both a blessing and a curse. There was an earthy seductiveness to her which suggested she might be a devoted lover–however, her devout and rather vocal subscription to polyamory suggested otherwise. She hated to be alone on Valentine’s day, but balked at the traditions of monogamy. 

“I’m not saying that…obviously…I’m saying that men rarely recognize a woman’s pain—which is versatile. Perhaps if the men surrounding Natalie Wood would have recognized that she was hurting, perhaps if she’d been understood better…she’d not have drown in the dark waters.” said Amber, placing a palm against her chest that was heaving with dramatized passion.

“What do you think?” asked Isabel, looking at me with a coy grin.

“I wasn’t there.” I shrugged, “But if I had been, Natalie would have been in my bed rather than wandering around the decks in the middle of the night by herself.”

“See…men….” Amber snapped, “…it always winds up being about holes penetrated—how crude your species is.”

“Why are you so angry?” I asked.

“Why are you such a womanizing chimpanzee?” demanded Amber.

“I’m not…I’m monogamous by nature,” I stated, “and, I don’t need relationship supplements when I’m committed to a woman.” I stated, looking back at Amber.

“Is that meant for me?” she asked.

“No, I’m just saying…”

“I don’t seek relationship supplements. I’m just capable of loving more than one person at a time.” Amber said, her tone less defensive and more pleading now, lowering her voice so only the three of us could hear, “Perhaps if our host Mr. Walsh subscribed to polyamory he’d still be on good terms with his ex-wife, rather than in constant conflict with her.”

“I highly doubt that.” I mused, watching Lindsay, Walsh’s ex, wander back into the living room and peer around, as if assessing for damages.

It had been a scorched earth divorce and one which Walsh and his wife had fought it out in court over. Custody of their daughter, the family dog…ownership of the house…so many other nuances and nightmarish complexities had entered into it—by the time the lawyers had finally adjourned, the agreement had gone from absurd to vaguely surreal; something along the lines of Walsh having to share the old house with Lindsay—the house which had been left to Walsh by his grandfather initially. Apparently this was granted on grounds of Lindsay having rescued the antique house from utter disrepair after they’d married and moved into it. Being that there had been no prenuptial agreement, the sky was the limit as to how far the two could go getting even with each other through their respective teams of lawyers—however, around the house; they’d made a pact to be civil to one another. 

As Lindsay and her new man Dimitri wandered about the vast house, taking inventory of incurred damages, Walsh could be heard coming down the hall. His chuckling resonating through the villa seemed to grate directly on Dimitri’s patience, causing his jaw to grit slightly so a pulse formed in his darkly stubbled jaw-line.

“Ah,” sighed Walsh once in the room—freshly showered and fixing himself another drink, “I thought I smelled sulfur.”

“Don’t be crude.” said Lindsay, squinting the coronas of her lashes at Walsh; a cold warning. Though Lindsay rarely slept at the villa, she often made surprise appearances, to assess damages and parade in front of Walsh, her ever changing line of boyfriends. She still owned a condo in Marina Del Rey which she’d inherited from a previous divorce and spent most of her time there. However, at the most inopportune moments, she’d show up at the shared villa, wielding rules, regulations and well-matched clothing ensembles.

“So Dimitri.” said Walsh, “I see you haven’t tired of my wife’s hospitality yet.”

“Ex-wife,” clarified Lindsay, “That’s ex-wife.”

“Funny that you’re still Lindsay Walsh on paper though isn’t it?”

“You’re drunk.” replied Lindsay, running her finger along one of the window sills and sifting a dusty substance between her manicured fingers, “Big surprise.”

Dimitri stood motionless, staring at me suddenly, as if in my face there was a mirror through which he could see Walsh, who stood behind him, shirtless and watching a police helicopter fly overhead through the French windows…beyond which only darkness prevailed.

“And you haven’t tired of entertaining us.” Dimitri smiled, showing no temper—though it was most certainly simmering somewhere under his cool exterior. Though Lindsay had kept it quiet, she’d recently had to bail Dimitri out of the drunk-tank lockup after he’d jumped from his banana colored race car and punched his fist through the window of a neighboring car that had cut him off in traffic on the PCH.

I am the entertainer and I’ve had to pay my price.” sang Walsh with a clap of his hands, making Isabel Ronstadt jump slightly on the couch beside me. In the uncomfortable silence that prevailed, the rest of Walsh’s guests sipped at their drinks awkwardly.

“Maybe you’re not feeling ok.” said Dimitri, who appeared suddenly to be an overgrown child, standing there, silently stewing in personal resentment.

“Everyone is just fine.” said Walsh, “Please Dimitri—tell me you’re not all for the notes though.” pleaded Walsh, “Please tell me you didn’t help her write the notes.”

“No. The notes were her idea.” said Dimitri turning his head slightly in Walsh’s direction.

“What did the notes say?” asked Amber with an intrigued grin.

“Well, that’s really the question isn’t it? Here is one now.” said Walsh unfolding the latest that had been balanced neatly on the counter top, “Dearest roommate, da, da-da, da-da…too noisy….da, da-da, da-da…cheap smells emanating from my half of the house?” Walsh chuckled, leaning back in his robe, in effect, shaking the pitcher of lemonade he was sipping from directly, “da, da-da, please refrain from flushing anymore of my ‘rubber collection’ down the toilet—rubbers clog it? Ah, this is her finest note yet, I must say…mutual respect…da-da, da-da, da-da, perhaps you might enforce a simple rule, that your girlfriend removes her shoes before traipsing through the hallways at all hours of the night as the clicking tends to keep me awake?!…Jesus…” chuckled Walsh, spitefully before biting down on the note and tearing it in two, letting the pieces fall to the floor before swaggering back to the refrigerator with a yawn.

“I don’t traips…” said Monica, rolling her eyes as she sat contently thumbing through a fashion magazine that had been sitting in a pile of others on the Rubik’s Cube coffee table.

“Ain’t that just the most dirlin thing you ever read? Little notes…ain’t she just dirlin…well tarnation, ain’t that just thee most dirlin little gal you ever did see?” Walsh said, embellishing Lindsay’s southern accent.

“Yes.” said Dimitri suddenly turning to look at Walsh directly in the eyes, “As I say. The notes were her idea. She didn’t like my idea.”

“C’mon, share. What was your novel plan? Did it involve punching your fist through a car window?” asked Walsh with a grin.

“I don’t discuss such things in the company of ladies.” said Dimitri.

“Why not? You wear that obscene hairdo around town all day long.” chuckled Walsh.

“You like it?”

“Oh, I think it’s impeccable. It reminds me of Mr. Quartz.”

“Who is Mr. Quartz baby?” asked Monica from her magazine, not bothering to look up.

“Why Monica my sweetness…my darling dear…Mr. Quarts was an old man who lived down the street from us when I was growing up in Brooklyn…he had some type of mental syndrome and tended to defecate in public after which he’d pick up his own turds and put them into his breast pocket…a very tidy old chap if I’ve ever seen one.”

“That’s enough!” spat Lindsay, spinning to face the man she’d once loved enough to marry and play house with.

“That’s silly hon. I like Dimitri’s hair-cut.” said Monica, finally looking up from her magazine to address Dimitri, “I like your hair cut—it’s very avant-garde.”

“Oh Monica baby—that’s what I love about you most—your sick sense of humor.” said Walsh warmly.

“You’re very kind.” said Dimitri, accepting Monica’s compliment.

“She’s the kindest.” said Walsh, looking directly at Lindsay now.

“Let’s get this straight,” said Lindsay, stepping up to Walsh, looking him square in the eyes, “It’s your stubbornness and incessant need to win at everything that got us into this situation in the first place…now I don’t mind if you have little parties and you play basketball in our dining room and even play that hideous piano at 4am…but you’ll at least have the decency to show a little respect to myself and Dimitri when we’re staying here…which is only a couple nights a week.”

“Ok dear…for old times.” nodded Walsh.

“Let’s go to my room Dimitri—where we can have some serenity.” said Lindsay, her eyes still locked with Walsh’s…raising one brow slightly; a small defiant challenge meant to rub salt into a wound that should have already been healed over.

“Be my guest…you always have been.” said Walsh stepping aside.

“Asshole.” muttered Lindsay as she and her man made their way toward her room on her side of the house.

“I think it’s a bit crass that she’s going to entertain that Neanderthal in her bedroom while we’re all down here having drinks.” said Isabel, looking from me to Walsh.

“Ah, they won’t be doing much—not with the jar of spiders I dumped on her bed a few minutes ago…Lindsay is terrified of spiders.” assured Walsh offering us all a small nodding wink.

“You didn’t.” whined Monica, “What if those spiders find their way to our room?”

“I doubt they will.” assured Walsh before calling my name and motioning with his head for me to join him out on the patio.

“Where are you guys going?” asked Isabel.

“Guy talk.” said Walsh.

Out on the patio Walsh sank down into his favorite padded lawn chair and drank from the pitcher of lemonade as he scanned the coast line that was glazed a deep shade of violet by the sunset sinking behind the western horizon. He gestured for me to sit down as well. I relaxed on a sun chair and sipped at my gin, also admiring the stretch of Malibu coast line.

“So listen man, I have a director friend in New York who I think is interested in filming your screenplay. When I was there last he was complaining that he never gets any sincere screenplays…he said the last sincere screenplay he read was in the 90’s. It occurred to me to tell him about you—another guy I know who’s still trapped in the 90’s—I loosely explained the premise and he had a lot of questions.”

“Who’s the friend?” I asked.

“Antonio D’Amato.” said Walsh.

I’d heard of D’Amato…he’d directed a few movies in the 90’s and had ever since gone into hiding…or public relations exile as Walsh had put it. He’d specialized in indie films, when indie films were king. I’d particularly liked his picture ‘The Guys in Van Nuys’…a college era film about a group of misfits who hang around a convenience store in Van Nuys and essentially save their neighborhood from a particularly gruesome zombie apocalypse. It had been a cult favorite and it could be said that D’Amato had been a cult hero rather than a mainstream flavor of the week. He now lived in the Bronx and rarely left the house.

“He’s a bit of a shut-in these days…the guy orders-in everything, groceries, booze, smokes…he has a tiny oriental broad who visits him on Thursdays and gives him acupuncture. He has like seven dogs and spends most of his time writing down his ideas on post it notes—his entire fucking condo is covered in them…they fall to the floor and they’re scattered all over like yellow and blue leaves; it’s really quite something. This is a man who has been trying to locate the bones of Jimmy Hoffa for over twenty years. He was in Talks with HCO a few years ago about a project…he had this idea of doing a documentary where him and his dogs would travel around the country in a motor home following leads and digging for the bones of Jimmy Hoffa…I think HCO thought he was a bit nuts—and he is…but that’s the selling point of the guy, you know—his madness and brilliance. There aren’t many left like Antonio D’Amato.” said Walsh, “I want to scan your screenplay and send it over to him—if it’s okay with you.”

“That’s an amazing stroke of luck after the bullshit I’ve just been through.” I told Walsh, peering back at the sunset. Soon the night would be upon us and we’d all gather around the acrylic piano and sing old classics deep into the wee hours. Though for me it was a brush up on the old days when I’d played lounge piano around LA to pay my rent…crooning the old classics for the drunken business class patrons who sang terribly but tipped well; it had been a happy time.

“Well…it’s not exactly luck until he agrees to do it—but the premise interested him.” said Walsh tipping back the pitcher of vodka lemonade.

Venice

I’d spent a couple weeks reading over and refining my screenplay for D’Amato, whose films I’d borrowed from the library and watched again. Though I’d tried, I wasn’t able to find his films on any streaming platforms. To me this meant that D’Amato was a generally forgotten artist who’d not bothered to make the leaps and bounds in pursuit of the current and ever changing trends…it also meant that he was perhaps a genuine madman; the perfect sort of chap to direct the screenplay.

On one afternoon in particular, I’d driven up to Burbank for a bike ride. I was lifting my handsome Schwinn from the rack attached to my van when I felt a vibration in my pocket. Wondering if perhaps it was Walsh with an update about D’Amato, I hurriedly retrieved my trusty black flip-up from my breast pocket. Though I didn’t recognize the phone number displayed across the small screen, I answered anyway.

“Yeah.”

“Hi, is this Frank Nero?” asked a female voice in a nearly confiding tone.

“It is. Who’s this?”

“It’s Sarah, Sarah Lassiter.” the voice said causing a surge of adrenaline to freeze through my stomach.

I didn’t say anything…I merely stood on the sidewalk, transfixed in a race of thoughts as I absently took note of a dog squatting its hind legs and squeezing out a long curling turd onto the sidewalk.

“Hello?”

“Yeah, I’m here.” I said.

“Yeah, I’m the woman you approached at the café—the woman you said would probably be your wife. Do you remember—or is that what you say to all the women you approach?” asked Sarah, leaving a deep pocket of silence in which I was meant to voice a response.

“You’re the only one I’ve ever said that to.” I assured her.

“Wow…my spoken word act must have left quite an impression.” she said.

“It had nothing to do at all with your act.” I said.

“Well, now I’m lost…because I’m not sure how a man could see me from across the room and want to marry me. I’m pretty—but not that pretty. To tell the truth, my friends advised me not to even call you and I was going to just tear up your card…but…” she paused, her words trailing off into a contemplative silence.

“But what?”

“I don’t know…I guess there was something in your eyes…the way you said it to me. There was something all too real about it.”

“Don’t I know it?” I said in a long sigh, “Listen, I didn’t expect you to call. I figured you wrote me off as a madman.”

“You’re not out of the woods yet.” laughed Sarah, “Are you a madman?”

“You wouldn’t guess in a million years the coincidences that transpired to draw me to your table that night.” I told her.

“Interesting.” she said, “Please explain.”

“Listen, I’ll explain it all to you—the whole bizarre chain of coincidences…but I don’t want to do it over the phone. I want to tell you in person. Can you meet me?” I asked.

“Uh, I guess. But when?”

“Name it.” I said, “Just make it after 4pm.” I specified.

“Why?”

“I sleep during the day.” I confessed.

“Well, what are you doing tonight?” she asked.

“I’m in Burbank now. I’m just going for a long needed bike ride and then I’ll be free. Where do you want to meet?”

“I’m speaking at café Exile tonight. I’ll be there around 8pm if you want to drop by.”

“Café Exile?”

“It’s in Venice.”

“Ok…see you then.” I said.

“Ok…see you soon.” said Sarah Lassiter before clicking off.

Needless to say dear reader, this set my mind on overdrive…of course I went ahead with my bike ride, but I didn’t feel the ride…my mind simply wasn’t there. As I cruised down the Chandler Bikeway I couldn’t pry my thoughts away from Laura Lassiter and of course hearing Sarah’s voice over the phone was like speaking with a ghost from a long dead past. Though the past was engraved in history, the past was always present, for the present is only an extension of history’s trajectory. I realized then that destiny and fate were merely concoctions of human sensibilities. It occurred to me as I pedaled my Schwinn down the bikeway, that one could essentially change their destiny by choosing not to show up…by challenging the cosmic odds and throwing a wrench into the design. Certainly I could have chosen not to meet Sarah Lassiter. I could have chosen it then and there. Such a decision would inevitably change the course of my life I was certain, just as deviating my obsession away from Laura all those years ago would have saved me some recent grief; it had been my decision and I’d chosen unwisely it seemed. Perhaps it was time to make a wise decision…perhaps this is what the universe was requesting in crossing my path with Sarah Lassiter. Perhaps calling Sarah back and declining to meet her was the key to freeing myself from the endless labyrinth of intrusive thoughts.

Indeed, though I contemplated this all into a rational box of common sense; the fact remained that I was going to meet Sarah Lassiter in spite of what my gut was suggesting; that I run for cover. I was going to meet her because some intuition in me suggested I’d never get to the other side unless I walked through the fire, which meant perhaps getting burned.

After stopping at home to replace my beloved Schwinn in its hooks on my living room wall, I showered and pulled on a Replacements t-shirt and a pair of jeans. I left my hair wild and didn’t bother to shave my stubble. I felt it was best to underdress for the occasion. For me, this wasn’t a date…this wasn’t a get-to-know-you coffee meet-up after which we’d swap anecdotes from the annals of our personal histories. Indeed, I’d hoped to find out the truth about Laura after so many years of vague fourth hand reiterations and speculations.

It was in this frame of mind that I drove down to Venice. It wasn’t hard to find Café Exile…it was a small place in a residential neighborhood and wasn’t exactly a café. It was more of a local watering hole where a very specific niche gathered. This was apparent on first glance. As I scanned the place for Sarah I noticed a lot of burlesque décor and red velvety curtains. The women were mostly rockabilly and the men mostly resembled Dickens-esque street urchins with handlebar mustaches and colonial attire. As I stood there in my bomber jacket and jeans with my hair standing on end, scanning the room for Sarah, I felt a small hand on my shoulder…and just like that—she was at my side, innocently looking up at me with her big blue eyes. I looked deeply into them, feeling the moment to be truly surreal.

“You found it.” she said.

“I did.” I told her.

“Well, come join us…we have a booth.” she said, interlocking her arm with mine and leading me toward a darkened corner of the room.

We slid into the booth that was nearly full with her friends. They all shifted over to make room for us. After introductions went around Sarah and I had a chance to finally talk. It seemed she wanted to focus on small talk first, such as the parking situation in Venice and how the town had changed since Jim Morrison had lived there. She’d grown up in Brentwood and had always seen Venice as a place where her mother took her for ice cream on Sunday afternoons. It was a pretty picture and as her lips moved over her words, I looked closer at her, taking note of the fine creases in her face that the dim glow emanating from the stage lights softly defined. Indeed, she appeared to be much older than I’d originally thought which made little sense and was slightly baffling being that Sarah would have been perhaps five or six years my junior. Perhaps Sarah lived hard, I thought, searching her face further for evidence of a Laura resemblance.

Our conversation was getting closer to the point—the point of disclosure on my part…for it was after all the reason I’d joined Sarah. However, as time went on, it seemed Sarah became less interested in getting to the explanation…she seemed however perfectly content to talk pocket change—at one point delving into the subject of weather patterns in beach communities like Venice as opposed to inland communities such as Pasadena.

“Listen,” I said, “I need to ask you some things.”

“Like what?” she asked, looking at me sideways with a small surprised grin.

As I looked into her eyes, trying to gather the words that would best articulate the issue—Sarah touched my arm gently and spoke.

“What do you think of Brendan?” she asked.

“Who’s Brendan?”

He’s Brendan.” she said gesturing to the man on stage before leaning in to talk more candidly, “It’s a bit awkward that my ex-boyfriend is opening for me.”

“This guy is your ex?” I asked, looking back at the guy. He wore Velcro-shoes, skinny jeans and a burgundy baseball jacket. He was perhaps in his early forties…his hair was receding and his head was aerodynamic. It was hard to believe.

“He’s been real nice about the break up…but some of his material is based on our relationship—it’s a bit awkward. I must say.” said Sarah before leaning back out again and looking up at her ex who wore the Velcro shoes.

He volleyed into a new bit, a rant of sorts about the tribulations surrounding menstruation sex, at which Sarah grinned bashfully at her friends in the booth before sinking her face into her hand. Her friends chuckled, as did most everyone else in the joint—except for me; the guy simply wasn’t funny. I pressed on and was about to cut through the shit—to offer up the hard truth then and there; the anticipation was clawing at me and I wanted us to get onto the subject of Laura, which would ultimately lead to the disclosure I for some reason needed to confess. Indeed, I was about to mention Laura and the entire debacle when the MC of the night strolled onto the stage, requesting the audience offer a round of applause for Sarah’s ex who’d been so terribly dull. Over a sudden downpour of applause and whistles he hollered through the microphone a pep-rally style introduction for Sarah who slid out of the booth, stood up and took a bow under the bright glare of the spotlight. She gave me a glance that was perfectly calm and glazed over as if she were on sedatives. Curtsying slightly she twirled and messily jogged up onto the stage, becoming on the spot her alter-ego; Sarah Lassiter—spoken-word artist.

Certainly, though it was an awkward position to be seated in a booth with complete strangers who Sarah herself had admitted were naysayers regarding our experimental date—I focused on Sarah’s act, which was a carbon copy of the act I’d seen her do on Fairfax the night I’d come across her by sheer chance—or fate, as some might suggest. The gestures, the timing, the punch lines—it was all scripted and I watched her meticulously reiterate her well-practiced routine in the smoky darkness. When her set was finished the house lights came up, signaling an intermission. I sat there glancing at the rest of the people in the booth who started conversing with each other. I just sat there reading their tattoos.

“Hi I’m Genie.” said the woman next to me, offering her tattooed hand to shake. I shook it lightly and found that it was indeed a clammy fish.

“Frank.” I said.

“So what is it that you do Frank?” asked Genie.

“Well, Genie, that really depends on the situation.” I told her.

I checked my phone, noticing a number of texts had come in. A few were from Walsh who had a tendency to send me random photos of the socials he attended, which looked like small blurs on my tiny flip-up screen. On this night he’d sent a number of photos of a concert he and Monica were attending at the Hollywood Bowl. There were a few more messages from random friends bidding me hello—a check-in with nothing attached…as if they were only reminding me that they were alive on this vast rock and perhaps checking if I still was as well. I didn’t participate in online socializing—the trend at large. The last text was from Ariel, whose number I hadn’t deleted for some reason and her message was brief and to the point, asking me if I walked out of the Oceanic Resort and Spa because of what she’d told everyone. I was contemplating what might be a valid response when I looked up and noticed Sarah on the other side of the bar, chatting closely with a man, this one less of a street urchin. He had short hair, a tight black t-shirt and he was as frail and skinny as a work-camp survivor. He slung his arms over her shoulders and grinned down at her before pulling her in for a deep hug which she fell into with an unusually wide, gleeful smile. As they spoke, she smoothed her hand down his cheek.

Glancing again at the denizens of the booth, I felt it was time to vacate and I rose and stood at the table for a moment, swilling down my gin and tonic and slamming the glass down in the center of the table, “It’s been a slice.” I said before I headed for the door.

Passing Sarah, I offered her a small casual salute, which perhaps she read the wrong way. Wrinkling her brows she broke her embrace with the man she’d been holding and reached out, hooking my passing arm. I stopped and turned gazing down at her with a brooding she didn’t quite recognize…she cocked her head and offered another misconstrued expression before leading me over to a table in the corner that was vacant.

“You’re leaving?” she asked me as we stood beside the table.

“Yeah…nice set by the way.” I told her.

“Thanks. I hoped you’d like it.” she said, still standing with her head cocked, as if looking deep into my eyes for a read on why I was leaving so abruptly.

“It was consistent.” I assured.

“So where are you rushing off to in such a hurry?”

“No hurry,” I shrugged.

“Ok, then let’s sit.” she said, gesturing for me to take a chair, which I did.

Sarah sat across from me and as we chatted, she kept her eye on the door to see who was leaving and who was arriving…offering smiles and small waves to passersby. I’d wanted to explain about Laura and the entire debacle but I felt it was the wrong place and the wrong time…perhaps the worst place and time. I wasn’t sure if there would ever be a right place and time. I was thinking this when she scowled coldly toward someone behind me. I turned to see who it was on the other end of her scowl and found a gobby looking fellow in a beige corduroy suit, speaking with some people near the entrance. He wore no tie and his shirt was buttoned to the top and on his feet were a polished pair of black and white saddle oxfords. He held a book under his arm and on his upper lip he’d grown a creepily thin John Waters mustache.

“I hoped he wouldn’t be here.” growled Sarah.

“I can see why.” I chuckled, “Who’s he?”

“Brice Munich. I dated him for a while in the spring…he knows better than to come in here on my night.”

“Well…it is a public establishment.” I shrugged.

“I won’t get into the disaster zone our pairing was, but I can tell you that Brice is an up and coming casting director.” said Sarah.

“But does he create any art?” I asked.

“Not quite the point.” said Sarah with an expression of absurdity.

As Sarah explained the nuances and various mishaps of her relationship with the gobby looking salesman with the John Waters mustache; I waited for a moment to segue into the fact that I’d once been disgustingly obsessed with her older sister and I’d taken that obsession to the wall…destroying a relationship for only a few weeks with Laura. I wanted to ask Sarah if she remembered me calling her parent’s house that afternoon and hanging up on her when she asked my name…which I was certain she didn’t but still wanted to ask. I wanted to ask what it had been like for Laura in the weeks leading up to her suicide. I wanted to ask why nobody was able to help Laura. Indeed, though I wanted to ask all of these things, Sarah left no openings in which to pose the questions; I didn’t press it because the timing felt wrong. As I accepted the fact that I would have to wait for another evening to have the conversation—Sarah peered at the entrance again, this time squinting her eyes in contemplation.

“See that guy over there?” she pointed out. I turned and found a man leaning up against the bar…his head was shaved and he wore a skin tight t-shirt…one of his arms was covered entirely with an incidental tattoo and as I took inventory of his obligatory style, he glanced our way, offering a scoffing chuckle before picking up two shot glasses and carrying them back to a nearby table. When I looked back at Sarah, she was again, shaking her head and squinting her eyes.

“That’s Clint Magnolia…his father is Jeff Magnolia.” said Sarah.

“You don’t say.” I said, “Who the hell is Jeff Magnolia?”

“He’s only one of the greatest surrealist directors in town.” Sarah said.

“Never heard of him.” I said.

“Anyway, Clint is a talented choreographer—he’s pretty hot right now on the scene…he choreographed a couple of Missy Diamond’s videos. It’s a bit sad about him though. I dated him last Christmas for a few months…and I was rather disappointed to find that he couldn’t get enough mirrors in his apartment…totally in love with himself; I mean the sex was extra great, but there has to be something more going on—don’t you find?” she declared, batting her eyes down and stabbing the ice in her glass with a straw.

“Let me ask you something…is there anyone in here you haven’t dated?” I laughed and perhaps this was jumping the gun…perhaps this was the sort of statement one reserved for good friends or an ex-girlfriend who already hated you.

“Pardon me?” Sarah gasped.

“You heard me.” I laughed.

“Firstly who I’ve dated is none of your business.” she said.

“Well it certainly seems you want it to be my business.” I shrugged, “You keep bragging about all of your men, citing them by occupation and social stature…why?”

“I’m just saying…” said Sarah, closing her eyes as if frustrated.

“Do you have a man now?” I asked, “That’s the real question.”

“I was with someone recently and we’re sort of—taking some time.” she offered, as if it were a question, “And I really don’t appreciate what you’re insinuating. I’m not the one who approached you and said that you were probably going to be my husband—I don’t even believe in marriage.”

“Ok, maybe that was a bit over the top. But don’t you want me to explain?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s precisely why I invited you here.”

“Don’t you think that might have been a conversation better had in a quieter place…with less of your ex-boyfriends poncing about perhaps?” I asked.

Just then a couple approached our table. At first the glance the man appeared to be an utter twat…he wore male camel-toe inducing yoga pants as well as a pair of toe shoes…he also wore a closely cropped and tender Michael-Gross-from-Family-Ties type of beard. His lanky Adam’s apple bounced as he explained that they’d just come from hot-yoga. He opened his arms for Sarah who stood up and hugged him before extending her own arms widely and theatrically for the man’s girlfriend…who whinnied in a shrill tone and beamed with embellished enthusiasm as she hugged Sarah dramatically.

“Frank, this is Elsie Lane and Roger Shaw—they’re originally from Vancouver. They run the Twilight Dance Studio in Culver City.” said Sarah.

The man’s hand came first. It was as expected, warm, moist and limp. His girlfriend’s grip was a contrast; skeletal and tight…and she shook firmly. She flashed me a half grin and spoke in a piercing tone, “Are you a fighter pilot?” she chuckled ravenously taking note of my leather WWII bomber jacket.

“Sorry, I left my toe shoes and male camel-toe inducing yoga pants at the hot-yoga studio.” I offered with a wry grin, causing both their smiles to fade. If I could have made a career out of putting people off, I’d have been the richest man on earth.

“Please, sit with us for a few minutes.” said Sarah.

As the woman and Sarah chatted, the softly bearded man with the toe shoes sat with his legs crossed delicately and his hands placed neatly on his lap; he was certainly well trained. He nodded quietly, holding a soft baby-boy grin in his eyes. He lifted his drink and drank from it in small sips, glancing at me and nodding. Meanwhile his girlfriend spoke ravenously, whinnying and cackling toward the ceiling in shrill tones, slapping the table top with her palm as if she were a teenager out on the town for the first time. It struck me suddenly with hilarity which ignited my imagination. I wondered if she was prone to breaking cutting boards over his skinny back on drunken occasions when things got complex. The idea, seeming suddenly amusing made me laugh, one which I pretended was directed at the speaker on stage. Certainly it became impossible to segue into the topic of Laura and I wondered if perhaps there was a reason why. Perhaps the universe wished to save me from a sticky conversation I may have been better off not having.

I finished my drink and watched the next spoken word artist run through her set. She was raw, awkward, arcane and perhaps brilliant…she didn’t drop names or speak with gusto—rather she droned on calmly about her boyfriend’s ball bag, which she claimed hung unevenly on one side, causing her to postulate that his balls were of different ball-density. There were sparse awkward laughs but ironically no one really seemed to absorb the grand joke of it all; it was a tough crowd. I laughed though and felt her monologue about her father’s funeral was especially funny. She was for real.

At some point Sarah touched my arm…she was leaning down to speak to me and informed me that she’d be back…that she was going to the other side of the room to say hello to someone. I nodded, admiring her pretty mouth and sexy hairdo. I watched her round ass wag away and disappear into the crowd of people congregated around the stage. I watched the rest of the artist’s set and ordered another drink, eventually wondering where Sarah was. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was approaching 1030pm. On the dot, at 1030, another spoken word artist started…more people arrived and the cheers got louder. I could see the night was building up to something—the inevitable headliner who must have spit it like fire.

I’d never spent much time watching spoken word and it seemed I didn’t mind it. However, I felt I could be doing other things…like talking to Sarah about her sister Laura—which was after the reason I’d driven to Venice to meet her.

Scanning the room for Sarah, I noticed her sitting at a booth, intimately chatting with a man who wore a black blazer, a thin tie and thick horn-rimmed glasses as if he was an extra in a Fellini film. I walked over to the booth in which she was sitting. I leaned down and placed my palms on the table…interrupting the man she was listening to, I stated very clearly that I wished to talk to her about someone from both of our pasts before I vacated. Sarah looked up at me with a misconstrued expression. The man she was speaking with, perhaps in protest shot me a glare of bafflement, insulted perhaps that I’d cut off his drone of pontification.

“You’re a bit rude I would say.” he said…I just looked at him. 

“It’s better than being a Value Village version of Marcello Mastrioanni.” I laughed.

When the man left us sitting at the table, I sank down into the booth beside Sarah, “Anyway, I’d really like to get into a conversation with you.” I said sighed.

She was looking at me with the same disheveled expression, biting her bottom lip slightly—there was a tight little knot wrinkled into her forehead and she sat sternly with her hands folded in her lap.

“That was very rude you know. Kenneth is a very popular DJ.”

“Yeah? What does he call himself–212?” I laughed.

“What’s wrong with you?” she demanded.

“You invited me down here tonight…I assumed to talk…if you never talk to me again after tonight, so be it—but I need to talk to you about someone from the past…it’s why I drove all the way down here tonight.”

“Look…my past is none of your business…and the way you’re behaving, it would seem my future is none of your business either.” said Sarah with a chuckle of preposterousness.

“You don’t understand.” I said.

“You’re really something else.” she said squinting her eyes at me, as if I’d crossed a line.

I just looked at her for a moment wondering how it was that Sarah wasn’t anything like her older sister Laura…I assumed she’d suffered from bratty little sister syndrome and had never fully recovered…perhaps her parents had wanted it that way after Laura died. I gave a deep sign of surrender to the cold hard facts of our ill-fated meeting before leaving her sitting alone in the booth. I stepped out into the street and headed for my van, which waited for me faithfully under a row of towering palm trees that were swaying in the warm evening breeze.  As I drove back down the 10 headed east, I wondered if perhaps Sarah knew what I’d been trying to tell her and simply didn’t wish to discuss it. 

Out Here In the Middle Of Infinity

I spent the next few weeks lying low, burning through my savings and putting the finishing touches on the screenplay that Walsh was going to forward to D’Amato, who’d read a sample and was waiting for more before making his official decision. I didn’t feel that overthinking anything was a great idea and so I just wrote freely, making sure the feel and flow was genuine—sincerity was key. I’d been working on the screenplay for so long I’d forgotten how long exactly. It wasn’t about the time however, it was about the story. When the screenplay was finally finished I didn’t celebrate, I didn’t smoke a cigarillo and get tipsy at the Dresden. I merely delivered a copy to Walsh, who coincidentally was flying to NYC the following evening. He assured me this was a twist of good fate because it allowed him to deliver the screenplay to D’Amato in person—which evidently D’Amato preferred.

Though I’d expected some update, I didn’t hear anything from Walsh while he was in New York…it seemed he became a different person when he was there and perhaps defaulted to his Brooklyn self…perhaps becoming forlorn with all the rustic reminders of his long lost past towering around him. However, when he was back two weeks later, he invited me to a soiree at his place in Malibu.  

There was also a great sense of ease that had washed over me after the Café Exile incident. There is nothing better for a man than breaking the shackles of romantic obsession—for romantic obsession is an extremely unhealthy state of being—especially when one is obsessed with ghosts. It had been a sincere shame about Sarah Lassiter who wound up appearing to be nothing like her sister. More so it was a disappointment to have drawn the conclusion about Sarah. However, with the slate clean, I found that a crystalline clarity returned to my work. Perhaps Dante needed obsession to stoke his muse…perhaps Clapton had written some of his most prolific songs under the influence of limerence; perhaps some men worked better with their heads lodged firmly up their asses. However, for me—I worked better when my heart and my mind were at ease and on the same proverbial page as my writing, rather than being a chapter behind.

When I arrived at Walsh’s place and was ushered into the living room by Monica, I found there were only 6 people in attendance. Aside from Walsh and Monica, there was Isabel Ronstadt the diction coach from Monrovia, her husband Gabe, Alicia Garner and her assistant Katie, who I’d seen before around Walsh’s place, but had never really talked to. Garner ran a casting agency in Woodland Hills and never seemed to be in a great mood. Tonight was no exception to her rule.

“But why do you want to go? We can order-in.” said Garner.

“I just need some air and to move a bit…I’m used to jogging a few miles a day and haven’t been at it since Wednesday.” said Katie with a small smile, “I don’t mind going…is peach cider ok?”

“Well, that’s just it, I like fruity tasting drinks…but peach cider just isn’t Lex wine coolers…no matter how you dumb it down—it’s important that you get this right if you’re going to go.” Garner said firmly to Katie who stood there nodding.

Katie smiled blankly, as if her smile was involuntary and required without question. Her energy was soft and feminine and her skin a light shade of caramel. Her smile peeled away her lips, so her stark white teeth were revealed. I was admiring her smile as Walsh approached and shook my hand.

“Franky m’boy—I’m glad you could make it. We’re in the middle of a riveting game of Pictionary—why don’t you join?”

“I always like a good game of Pictionary.” I said as I took inventory of Katie as she assured Garner that there was no need for concern regarding such a trivial matter. 

“Really, I don’t need to write any of it down.” said Katie, “I have it all up here.” she said, pointing her finger to her temple.

“I’m not questioning your memory Katie; just making sure. If you insist on going, I want you to get the right brand…that’s all I’m saying…but really, we can order-in…there’s a place in Venice that delivers until late.” said Garner, her ever present irritation mildly flaring her words.

“You don’t need to order-in…I’ll get your Lex wine coolers…if I can find a liquor store that is open.” said Katie.

“There’s one at the bottom of the hill—in a strip mall.” I interjected, causing both women to look at me before continuing their conversation.

“Certainly they’ll have them there.” Katie said.

“But this is very important…I want the morello cherry flavor. It’s going to do me no good if you get the pomegranate flavor or god-forbid the blood orange.” said Garner making a sour face, “I simply won’t drink it.”

“I think I’d rather drink gross light beer than blood orange wine coolers.” Monica weighed in from her place on a red leather couch.

“Morello cherry it is.” said Katie, smiling uncomfortably now.

“Just to be sure, I’ll chaperone…” I intervened.

“I don’t need a chaperone.” said Katie suddenly, the intent behind her words unclear.

“The wrong word perhaps; I’ll ‘accompany’ you.” I offered.

“I can manage.” she said, moving away, toward the rounded doorway.

“You just got here you madman.” Walsh chuckled.

“I’ll be a few minutes.” I shrugged, “The lady might need a navigator.”

Walsh only smiled and offered a theatrical nod—knowing what I’d meant. I followed suit and caught up with Katie in a softly lit hallway lined with paintings no one ever took the time to admire and golden candle holders that grew out of the dim white walls, holding in their bases, small yellow bulbs, glowing in pools against the faint flowery white design of the wallpaper; it was Lindsay’s side of the villa and still maintained a rustic appearance.

“Hey, I think you misread me back there.” I told her, causing her to turn and face me. Alone without an audience, her mood was changed now; made severe somehow by the warm yellow glow of the hallway bulbs.

“Did I?” she asked, “Is that a fact?” she was looking up at me with a soft air of defiance, squinting her dark coco eyes at me, opening a vast canyon of silence between us that threatened to be unfilled.

“Uh, yeah.” I grinned finding it all a bit dramatic, “I’d like to join you if possible. I need some air too. Not like the air outside is any better…but you know what I mean.”

“Get your own air.” she said with defiance.

“Okay,” I said, “am I missing something here? Why all the uptight?”

“How can you even ask me that?” she said stepping forward and crossing her slender arms under her breasts that were held snug in her blouse.

“Ask you what?” I said.

“You’re telling me you don’t remember the last time? At the Dresden?” she asked, placing now her hands on her hips.

“The Dresden…” I pondered, letting my eyes brush over her lithe figure. There was a cloudy association somewhere in my mind, perhaps a few moments of clarity coupled with the quiet alarm of having been so absent that the events were fragmented and many of them in fact missing.

“Oh boy…what did I say?” I sighed.

“Oh, forgotten have you? Well…let me remind you. You said to me, that I looked like Pamela Cross’ sister if Pamela Cross had a ‘less attractive’ sister. Ring a bell?” she was enjoying this, and I had to allow her to.

“Why would I say that?” I winced, shaking my head, “I can’t really remember any of that. But for the record, you’re much better looking than Pamela Cross.”

“Well that makes me feel much better now.” she oozed with sarcasm and a flat tone of disappointment before turning and striding away from me down the hall. I’d have let her go…but her buns looked delicious in her tight white slacks and so I followed after her.

“Much, much better looking.” I admitted.

She stood there, silently staring at me for a moment, her face frozen with stone seriousness. Indeed, I wasn’t quite sure if she’d attack me with a barrage of fist and knee strikes or simply break out in a bout of laughter. Both energies seemed to exist simultaneously behind her intense gaze.

“You don’t even remember my name.” she said.

“Katie.” I said and took a couple steps forward, holding her in a gaze of my own and addressing her directly, “Clearly you’re way hotter than Pamela Cross.” 

Her eyes dropped, and her lashes fluttered, perhaps a bit touched by my words, recognizing in my voice a tone of authenticity.

“You’re so full of shit.” she nearly whispered as she hugged her arms around herself; a defensive stance.

“I’m really not.” I admitted.

“Oh no?” she smiled pivoting with her arms still crossed, “Whatever, I can see it’s going to take more effort to stay mad about it. You can come with me if you promise to behave yourself.”

“I’ll dob, dob, dob.” I said, offering a salute.

“What’s dob, dob dob?” asked Katie.

“Cub scout swear.” I said.

“You were in the scouts?” she laughed.

“Sure was…I had badges up both sleeves.” I said.

“What did you learn in your boys club?” she asked.

“We shot arrows and rifles…learned how to tie special knots and build fires…there were even some fist fights.” I said.

“Sounds pretty macho…for kids.”

“Nah, it was great…we’d camp out each summer on a lake, learning to fish, navigate by compass and identify insects and edible plants. At night we’d tell ghost stories and find constellations in the skies.” I said, remembering it fondly just then.

We continued down the hall until it came to an end and then I was lost. For Lindsay’s half of Walsh’s inherited villa was a white walled labyrinth—one I seldom ventured out into. As we descended a softly carpeted stair case in the dark I could hear Katie’s ring sliding down the oak handrail, wondering if it was in fact a wedding or engagement ring. But just then, my footing required focus in the darkness…and I followed carefully behind her to the bottom of the stairs where her form stood still, faintly outlined by the white tile floor.

“Why does he keep it so poorly lit in here?” I asked aloud.

The flick of her pocket lighter splintered a spark into a solid unflickering flame that illuminated the soft curves of her face, setting two specks of light aglow in each of her dark eyes.

“It’s our torch.” she said widening her eyes before turning to lead the way.

I followed in the darkness behind her, in the trail of her mild perfume…and eventually through a door that led into an even darker mouth of space, carrying in its warm air the faint smell of burned motor oil, gasoline rags and leather upholstery. Walsh was a collector and the sudden flood of overhead light gave a fluorescent flicker to the shine of his collection; 3 fine automobiles he never drove, gleaming with impeccably polished finishes. After crashing his VW Bug, Walsh had taken to riding an old vintage scooter which was also in the garage, leaning on its kickstand in a far corner. Above the scooter was situated a varnished board and there were 5 key-hooks in the board. From the key-hooks hung 3 keys—each key corresponding with one of the collector cars.

“You’re not thinking of driving one of these are you?” I asked.

“Why, are you against a joy ride?” Katie asked, using the touch tone controls on the wall to set into motion one of the garage doors so it ascended with a mechanical hum.

“Depends what you mean by joyride.” I told her.

“Which one shall we take.” she smiled, “Maybe this one?” she said, running her hands over the finish of the car, presenting the automobile as if she were a dizzy, fawn-eyed game show model.

“It’s a handsome car, but I’m not sure Walsh really drives these things. What if we crash it?” I asked Katie who was moving toward another.

“I’m a great driver.” she smiled.

Before I could grin, Katie had turned and was heading toward a few bikes hanging from the far wall of the garage.

“I’m only kidding. It was my plan to ride one of these bikes—see they have nice baskets on them. You like to pedal?” she asked.

“Ah,” I sighed, remembering the dawns I’d chased down on two wheels, “it’s one of my solaces actually.”

We walked the bikes out onto the dark asphalt and mounted them halfway down the driveway before rolling slowly toward the gates of the property with the close humidity of night all around us. Katie found the switch to a small headlight somehow in the dark and the small bouncing beam guided us down the sloping driveway, through the iron gates and out onto the street that was dark and blotted in yellow pools of light thrown down by widely spaced street lamps.

I took in the breeze as we gained speed, enjoying silently Katie’s curves that were caressed in soft angles by the lamplight. The pavement, surprisingly smooth, took our tires nicely as we coasted along with the slight turns, past the gates of other likewise estates populated by others who felt their worth was governed by tangible assets.

Indeed, I took hold of my wits, trying not to conceive the unimaginable volume of the earth, the brain-twisting concept of the notion. Like a tadpole attached to a massive blue whale—I was along for the ride. We all were—walking the tightrope together, toward the end of time, working, eating, drinking, fucking, sleeping—rinsing and then repeating; how bleak it all seemed. I sped up, bearing down on the pedals a few good times to match Katie’s momentum.

The smooth asphalt slope as glorious as it was ended eventually, straightening as it merged with another wider, more used road that was riddled with potholes and coarse patches of wear. It was a public road that ran high alongside the ocean’s edge and we coasted along its winding length for quite some time saying nothing and taking in the majesty of the night. The moon in the western skies, lightly smudged behind a veil of air pollution illuminated the star speckled dome of night with a dim yellow glaze that sat like gold dust on an incline of peninsula tree tops in the distance; Malibu nights.

“There is a strip mall just beyond that bend.” said Katie.

“Why did you want to get some air?” I asked.

“Sometimes I just need to be outside.” she said, smiling back at me from the cushioned perch of her box spring bicycle seat.

“I hear you.” I said.

“So what do you do other than patiently put up with Alicia’s shit?” I asked her, watching the street lights caress her smooth face in soft moving shadows.

“I’ve studied method acting at Lee Strasberg…acted in a few plays. I like the rush of stage acting. But recently I’m mostly a play-write.”

“Live audience; impressive.” I said.

“It’s a lot more pressure—but worth the energy you get from a live audience. I’ve been writing a play which I’m going to direct one day.” she smiled, “I’ll do it when the time is right…maybe one day when I’m older and full of experiences, heartache and dirty jokes—I suppose most of the things that matter to me now won’t matter at all when I’m old and grey.”

“They might not matter in a few months.” I chuckled.

There was a strip mall around the bend and its lights came into view suddenly from behind a giant wall of hedges.

“There’s Pablo’s.” she chuckled.

Mostly, it was closed, aside from a scuzzy old wall-banger pub and the off-sale attached to it at one end; a corporate entity hell bent on sending us off into the night with as much booze as we could possibly carry in the baskets of the collector bikes. Pablo’s off-sale blinked its cold beer and wine lettering in neon blue and red back at us as we coasted toward it…a distant beacon guiding us over the cracked asphalt of the sprawling and vacant, midnight parking lot. We rolled up to Pablo’s and climbed off of the bikes.

Inside there were choices and more choices. More than I was willing to or able to assess at once. The absinthe soaking in my core felt suddenly heavy and it was my suspicion that something lighter would create a fresh canvas upon which the night could splash its pastel designs. I palmed a cool, heavy bottle of champagne; after all, champagne was harmless. Senior citizens and adolescents sipped it at weddings and anniversaries after all—it kept an even keel…without too much keel.

I sauntered toward the cashier as I peered out the barred windows toward Walsh’s bikes, which stood, leaned against the green metal garbage can, their collector chrome parts reflecting the blue and red neon blinking of the sign. We hadn’t locked them for lack of a lock, and with absent concern, I studied the transparent reflection of my face in the window. It suddenly tightened into focus; we are luminous beings…drawn right from the stars; the other half an earthly husk…a mortal coil. 

Turning to Katie who was studying a waist-high display of glittery, pre-poured, pre-packaged shots of various flavored liquor, I slid my arm around her waist and pulled her in close.

“This place is a total shit-hole.” I whispered in her ear.

“Is that a good thing?” she asked as the cashier took her money for the Morello cherry Lex wine coolers.

“Let me ask you a question; if you could turn into a vampire with me tonight, for real…like if we ran into one outside and he offered to change us both into children of the night…would you?” I asked her, “Imagine it—we could walk the earth forever and never get old and never get sick and never die. We’d have to drink blood, but that’s sort of a small price to pay wouldn’t you say?”

“A vampire?” she pondered absently, still scanning the display for something suiting her girlish taste.

“I’m Catholic. No way would I do that.” she said.

“Ah, where’s the romance?” I whined, letting go of her waist as the cashier smiled, setting the coolers in a deep white plastic bag that bared Pablo’s liquor and off-sale in red and blue lettering.

She looked at me square, suddenly squinting her caramel eyes. “You think living forever and sucking people’s blood is something romantic?”

“Well, Lenny Ashcroft has been doing it for eons…it works for him doesn’t it?”

“How do you know that I’m not a spy for Ashcroft?” she smiled, “How do you know I won’t tell him and you’ll never work in this town again.”

“Hey baby, I may never work in this town again anyway.” I laughed.

“You’re kind of cute when you get scared.” she giggled, her tongue beckoning me, peeking slightly through the dark pink hollow between the rows of her porcelain-white teeth.

Perhaps it was Katie’s way of showing me her comment about being an Ashcroft spy had been purely in jest, for she brought the conversation back to Lenny Ashcroft—her old boss and Walsh’s arch nemesis—specifically his wife Naomi Ashcroft. Katie told me how she’d gone over to drop off a box of headshots and had wound up spending the afternoon on a waterfront condo sofa in Marina Del Rey, helping Naomi pick out wall paper patterns for her daughters new bedroom. Naomi had sat sulking with a small dog in her lap, flipping through the charts and applying to each a creative vulgarity after which she’d drank too much, insulted Katie and wretched half chewed martini olives into the bathroom sink; all in all, an enlightening evening.

I shook my head, slightly dazed by the notion. The people running this world were only people after all. It was a scary thought; top officials, space engineers, business moguls, commercial airline pilots…they were all just people; people who insulted their employees and wretched martini olives into bathroom sinks. I knew if I contemplated it hard enough—the notion could become disconcerting.

Katie was grabbing my arm suddenly, pointing toward the barred window with the flashing neon sign. When I followed her line of sight, I watched calmly, in a state of utter calm as two kids made off with Walsh’s collector bicycles. One kid was sleek and light on his feet, hopping the seat like a runaway stallion, his Lakers jersey set rippling by the wind of sudden momentum—his curly blonde hair giving him the rear profile of the greatest American hero. The other was a short kid in a crookedly set ball cap beneath which was tied a bandanna. His forearms were stained with tattoos and he peered back at us as the two casually pedaled away.

“Hey!” hollered Katie from the door; causing the bike-snatchers to jolt into action, standing up to pedal for maximum velocity and peering back at us, “What the fuck? Those are our bikes!” she shrieked, her words charged with disbelief, “What the fuck?”

I stood for a moment, still perplexed, still wrapping my mind around the audacity it took to steal bikes from outside of an off-sale in Malibu. Indeed, it was hard to believe.

“Come on, let’s catch them.” Katie said, suddenly breaking into a dash out onto the asphalt, and across the parking lot.

Realizing that catching two thieves on bicycles was most likely impossible; I didn’t bolt into action like Katie. Rather I took in hand the bag of wine coolers, turned to the girl manning the off-sale counter and threw down two twenties for the champagne and told her to keep the change before exiting the store in an orderly fashion.

“Katie…stop.” I hollered after her but she was already too far ahead to hear my plea. Indeed, if she ran too fast across the darkened expanse of parking lot she was liable to topple over in one of the many pot holes and if she actually did catch up the thieves, she was liable to get shot.

Indeed, her speed was remarkable; she knew how to sprint and exceeded at a doubling rate my steady uncommitted strides. With the ground pounding back up at me through my heels and consecutive joints I found a nice rhythm and watched in the bouncing distance the two thieves’ bunny-hopping the curb running the perimeter of the parking lot.

Over the pounding of my joints, I could make out Katie hollering as she frantically waved her arms, as if flagging an SOS to a distant boat on the horizon. When she stopped sprinting and I finally caught up to her, I took closer note of one darkened corner of the parking lot, where a small cluster of cars were situated like a small bluff in a grand cement clearing. From this small cluster, three bodies ran toward the thieves.

We watched silently from our panting spot on the asphalt as two of the men, sprinting at full speed, connected with our bike thieves and tackled them to the ground, as if it were a Hollywood action film. One toppled hard and fell flat, taking the bike with him between the grip of his thighs, the other was scooped from the wide bouncy saddle with such precision the bike rode on for a while by itself before collapsing to the asphalt, delivering its scraping sound through the distance with a split second delay; Walsh was definitely going to notice some damage.

As we moved closer, now close enough to slow to a casual stroll, I saw that the two thieves were pinned to the asphalt across the white parking stall lines in uniform fashion, side by side, facing west, each with a knee in their back and their arms held behind them tightly at the wrists by men in black unmarked golf shirts.

Closer still, I noticed a handcuff shaped glint flicker from the belt of one of the crouching men as he moved to help restrain the lanky kid in the old-school yellow Lakers jersey. The blip crackle of a police radio confirmed the men, explaining fully their motives for the tackle and salvage. It seemed they were a plain clothes unit, holding an unofficial briefing in the parking lot; a brilliant stroke of luck…the eye in the sky. One of the cruisers rolled to a halt just behind us with its lights flickering against the coarse surfaces and moving bodies, red and blue, blue and red. In the strobe, I could make out the holsters latched to the officer’s belts; a license to kill.

After taking our information the cops cut us loose, back into the night from which we’d come, handing back into our possession Walsh’s collector bicycles which we decided to walk along side of us for a long while as Katie and I dissected the event, trying to find possible reason in the act of random crime—in a vain attempt to understand the mentality of petty theft. Eventually I uncorked the champagne and we passed the bottle back and forth for a while, Katie holding the colored foil neck with a lady-like grip as she sipped from it carefully, savoring the ripe bubbly taste of the fermented grapes.

“What are you thinking about?” Katie asked.

“Really?”

“Of course really.”

“Not much.” I confessed, peering up into the night sky which sparkled dimly with constellations whose names I didn’t know.

“That bad huh?” she giggled.

“Not really—I was thinking of old Hollywood…the giants of the era…the people who built this town and how they’re all dead now. This had all been theirs at one point…and now it’s ours. There was a time when Hal Ashby owned this town—then he didn’t.”

“I loved Harold & Maude.” said Katie.

“There’s a loneliness to his films I guess.” I said.

“Yeah, but even the planets have each other to keep from getting lonely out here in the middle of infinity.” Katie smiled before taking another haul on the bottle.

“Good one…I’m going to use that.” I assured.

“Be my guest.” she said, “It’s not all darkness out there though.” she assured, turning toward the lamplight slightly so the crucifix around her neck caught the light in a brilliant glint of gold, “There’s barbecues, and Sunday afternoons, and rainy evenings with a good book…there’s chocolate and pizza and long hikes and dog parks.”

“Sometimes I can’t see beyond my work.” I shrugged, “What can I do?”

“Make love not war…live in the moment.” offered Katie, tilting her head and peering at me under the streetlamp.

We wound up walking all the way back up the hill that led to Walsh’s place and indeed when we returned there were a few more people present, all of which Katie told about the turn of events at Pablo’s off-sale. Garner who could have cared less, made a scene of concern, approaching Katie and looking her over, as if for damage or injury, asking her in a dramatic tone if she was ok—then directly after if she’d at least gotten the wine coolers. Walsh on the other hand was suspicious, speculating aloud that perhaps the reason we’d taken so long to return was because we’d been ‘humping in some bushes’. As the women fawned over Katie’s traumatic experience I explained to Walsh how the thieves had been dramatically tackled and how the bikes had taken on at least a few scratches when the thieves had been taken down.

He led me through the darkened expanse of his villa to the garage where he could view the damage and after finding it to be even lesser than I’d explained; Walsh waved it off with a shake of his head, unphased and too high on wine to care. He led the way into the back yard, which overlooked the ocean and the stretch of homes which dotted the beachfront with their tiny lights. We stood there smoking for a while, admiring the majesty of it all as an unseen helicopter chopped it’s rotors through the darkness high above.

“On a clear day, you can see all the way to the pier.” said Walsh finally, “You heading back to Hollywood tonight or are you going to crash here?”

“What’s Katie doing?” I asked.

“She’s staying.” Walsh said, “She and Alicia have an early meeting.”

“Then I guess I’ll just probably crash on the couch.” I said, “I think tomorrow I’ll wake up and go for a swim in that cool ocean water.”

“A novel plan.” said Walsh, “By the way, D’Amato is going to film your screenplay.”

I looked at Walsh, “For real?”

“Yeah…what’s the big deal?” he shrugged, “It’s a great screenplay.”

“It’s hard to believe.” I admitted.

“Why?”

“Because when you’ve been losing so long that you’ve forgotten what winning feels like…it’s hard to put into perspective.” I said.

“Well, you’ll have plenty of time to do that…D’Amato tends to move slow…but that’s only because he’s a bit of perfectionist. Anyway, we’ll talk more about it tomorrow afternoon—I gotta get back to Monica. Have you ever felt that you couldn’t stand to be apart from a woman for more than 5 minutes?” he asked.

“Sounds like you’re whipped old chap.” I said, wondering if guys like me were ever allowed to feel that way.

“And loving every minute of it.” he laughed and it was understood.

I looked back to the shoreline and the little houses dotting it with their tiny lights as Walsh made his way back across the yard. A few moments later I heard someone behind me. When I turned I found Katie approaching up the walkway that wound nearly around the pool. She had her long dark hair pulled back now and she was eating an apple.

“Hey.” she said when she was standing beside me, looking out over the PCH which was zooming far below with high beams and tail lights, “Pretty view.”

“What’s up?” I said, turning to her, “You needed to get some air?”

“Yeah,” said Katie averting her pretty eyes and smiling bashfully as she chewed the apple slowly, “and I wanted to stand out here with you—so two birds with one stone sort of thing.”

She took another bite of the apple and wiped her mouth off on her sleeve. She glanced at me nervously and chewed, trying to contain her smile. She hadn’t offered me a bite of her apple and I liked that. I also liked that she’d come all the way outside to stand with me.

“Are you waiting for me to say something?” she asked.

“Should I tell you how when I first saw you tonight I was slightly taken aback by how hot you are?” I asked.

“You could—but then I’d wonder in the back of my head if it was just a line and then I’d wonder what you were really thinking and as I was kissing you I’d be wondering if you meant any of it and if I was just some chick you met tonight and wanted to kiss.” she confessed.

“I have no lines—I call it like I see it. But if you don’t like lines, I guess I could use a different approach with you.” I said grinning at her.

“What?” she giggled, “What approach?”

I stepped over and leaned forward wrapping one arm behind her legs before hauling her up and over my shoulder. Weathering her kicking legs and shrieking laughter, I walked over to the edge of the pool and tossed her in so she landed ass first, causing a large splash. Pushing back up to the surface a moment later, she wiped the water from her face as her half eaten apple sank to the pool floor—I watched it slowly tumble to the bottom in the underwater lights. Looking back at Katie I saw her laughter was suspended by shock…indeed, perhaps she’d never been tossed into a pool before…certainly I’d never tossed anyone into a pool before then. Throwing a splash my way she moved to the edge of the pool, shaking her head and squinting at me.

“Well…now you can help be back out.” she laughed, extending her arm up to me so her red nail-polished fingers grabbed for support.

I reached down and gripped her small hand so she could pull me into the pool. Indeed, her pull was strong and I went in nicely with a big splash.

Uptown Slumming

The next day, Katie had woken early and gone off into the city with Garner for a day worth of meetings. I’d slept late, having stayed up with Katie until the wee hours having very involved sex. Afterward, she’d talked about the meaning of love and being born on the 4th of July, her first recollections of life the sound and flash of fireworks and I’d listened, allowing myself to become lulled. She said she’d always been an introvert, she said she didn’t like large crowds, she said she was easily hurt by people she cared about, she said she could always forgive but rarely forget. She said she could love a man if he wasn’t a real gentleman, but could never love a gentleman if he wasn’t a real man. She rationalized being a bookworm/homebody with a somewhat perverted mind and finding social situations mostly awkward and full of reasons to break out in laughter or shame. I laughed and told her that I had snakes in my brain as well…different snakes but all the same, snakes. We’d fallen asleep like that on her bed, her lying at my side with her head on my chest and Oasis’ Definitely Maybe playing on the tube stream.

When I awoke the next afternoon, Katie was long gone. I’d called her the next evening but her voicemail greeting specified that she’d left the country with Garner on a European excursion. After her voice message played, there was a drone of automated instructions which I couldn’t readily make sense of. I waited for a tone, however, no tone came. I spoke anyway, assuming I was being recorded. My message was brief and to the point.

“Hey gorgeous…I’m just sitting here wondering what color panties you chose to wear today.” I clicked off, knowing that the snakes in her brain would swarm around my comment but that in the end, she might text me an answer.

A man could live in a mansion on the side of a hill, or in a corner of a living room in Westwood or in a rooming house downtown…he could live in a camper along the PCH in Malibu…or he could live in an old worn out apartment in East Hollywood…he could do it for years…for decades…and strike out. Then one day, the man could knock it out of the park, a home run in the final inning…a score tipping moment of luck, or talent or precision or aim—whatever that stroke of chance is; then everything might change…or simply stay the same.

Though I’d signed a simplified contract with D’Amato regarding our mutual agreement to turn my script into a cinematic 1990’s revival—his first film in perhaps a decade; everything seemed the same. Though it seemed the planets had lined up just right and that my losing streak had been finally broken; the fact remained that the garbage trucks still kept me from falling asleep some morning, the air conditioner in my window was still broken, the sexy Spanish girl at Gelson’s who always fluttered her lashes at me still hadn’t made her way into my bed and I was still technically unemployed yet working endless hours perfecting the screenplay.

One thing that did change however; I conferred with D’Amato on a daily basis and found myself in a strange nether region where prose met film. It was an interesting intersection of two mediums that both shared somewhat the same purpose of storytelling. D’Amato asked for rewrites, then more rewrites, then he’d critique the rewrites I’d made, after which I’d wind up doing more rewrites. He’d then ask why I was doing so many rewrites. At some point I’d pondered whether or not he’d actually read the script and I decided it was inconsequential if he hadn’t, for whether he had or hadn’t, his suggestions about general dialogue were systematically making the script stronger. There were times D’Amato would fall off the grid and not return calls for days on end, as I waited for feedback on the previous rewrites. He’d then all at once surface and send a flurry of communications asking questions about plot and narrative and now and then refer to characters and scenarios we might invent for the purpose of a filmed timeline—it was highly adventurous and I was game for the ride—we were getting something important done and it felt real and right.

As the weeks unfolded and I fell even deeper in love with Los Angeles, the sunsets became dizzying and I spent many quiet nights with what few real friends I kept, having coffee in Silverlake cafes, seeing bands at my favorite haunts and taking long bike rides through dimly lit residential lanes. I wondered about Katie and where it was she’d gone to and why it was she’d not responded to the voice message I’d left. To keep appreciators of my work informed; I posted updates on my webpage about the script and the film along with my other endeavors, conveyed in short, journal like descriptions and other related photography. I posted a photo of D’Amato, Walsh and I that had been taken in a booth at the Dresden when D’Amato had flown in to LA for a week and one night met with Walsh and I for a drink and a heavy discussion about his film. We all loved the 90’s film classic that was in part shot at the Dresden and I felt it was appropriate to venerate it with a photo. It was also very 1990’s to maintain a website, use a flip phone and communicate through emails only. I was completely content to never join the social media movement…I was completely content to be disconnected from the digital age on a fundamental level—for it was the digital age that had killed imagination…to remain safely anchored in 1990’s creativity—I needed to stay disconnected and way off the grid.

One afternoon D’Amato called me and asked if I’d ever heard of Matt Fairland, who used to be a prominent actor in the 90’s…he’d been a player during the indie film movement of that decade and was now borderline obese, grey as ashes, commonly drunk and acting mostly in bad made for cable melodramas; age is a shipwreck. I recalled Fairland well, but not well enough to cite his resume. D’Amato informed me that he was speaking with Fairland about the lead in the film and asked me what I thought of it. I told him it was his film and he countered by telling me that it was my screenplay. I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly and so shrugged and told him that if Fairland showed up, fat, bald and unfamiliar with the script as Brando had during the shooting of Apocalypse Now—it might just make the film a cult classic. D’Amato laughed, told me I might have a point and bid me farewell until our next call. I clicked off and was sharing the Fairland development in one of my online journal entries when an unfamiliar number flashed across the small screen of my archaic flip phone.

“Yeah?” I answered.

“Is this Frank?” a woman’s voice asked.

“Yeah.”

“Hi Frank…it’s Sarah.”

“Sarah…” I said.

“Sarah Lassiter yes…you sound very surprised to hear from me.”

“Hey.” I said, caught entirely off guard and without an appropriate response.

“How are you?” she asked.

“Jezus.” I said, “I thought I’d never hear from you again.”

“Was I wrong to call?” she asked.

“I don’t know—I was doing so well forgetting about you.”

“Well, that doesn’t make me feel very welcome.”

“Hey, I know the feeling.” I told her.

“Listen, you weren’t the nicest either.”

“I’m a realist.” I said.

“It was a very strange night.” she said, “And I needed you acting peculiar like I needed a hole in the head.”

“Peculiar? You still don’t get it do you? You really have no idea what that was all about.” I said.

“What what’s about?”

“What I was trying to say last time…it’s about the past…like twenty years ago kind of past.” I hinted.

“What have you heard? Are we talking about an ex-boyfriend or something I did? I’m lost.” said Sarah.

“It’s about some stuff that went down in the 90’s.” I said.

“Can you be a little less vague?”

“I can…but not over the phone. I need to tell you this in person—can you meet me tonight?” I asked her.

“Well…” said Sarah in a long sigh, “…I guess I could.”

We made plans to meet at Fred 62 on Vermont. It was a favorite of mine and I’d subconsciously scheduled many meetings with many people at the diner. I thought about this as I sat at a street side table waiting for Sarah. It was hot, overcast and there was a small dog at a neighboring table peering up at me, hoping for a French-fry. I tossed him one and he caught it in his mouth…as he chewed ravenously, the owner of the dog turned in her seat, citing that her dog was a mooch who loved fries. We started chatting about the weather of all things and how it was that LA lost its luster when the sun failed to come out and play. She was telling me about Atlanta, where she was from when Sarah appeared beside me on the sidewalk.

“Hi.” I said, seeing my reflection in the black lenses of her oversized sunglasses.

“Hi…you want to sit outside?” she asked.

“Sure, have a seat.” I offered, gesturing to the empty seat across from me.

Once Sarah had settled into her seat and the woman with the dog had gone back to her book, Sarah opened and scanned the menu…indeed, it seemed to me that she was very aware that I was watching her and she had a way of glancing up at me in a flustered and seductive way as she struck a number of menu scanning expressions…at one point resting her chin on her knuckles and extending her smallest finger, placing it in a sexy way between her luscious lips; an actress through and through.

“Everything ok?” I asked.

“I’m looking for something vegan.” she sighed, “Quinoa maybe.” she said squinting at the menu dramatically.

As a deep silence prevailed between us and I unapologetically gazed into my twin reflections in the lenses of her sunglasses, waiting for a sign of life—small droplets of rain started falling from the overcast sky, filling the air with the smell of wet asphalt which just then reminded me of childhood thunderstorms out on the vast and electric plains of the 1980’s.

“Are you going to order or just stare at that thing all day?” I grinned.

“Do you live nearby?” asked Sarah suddenly.

“Can you take off your sunglasses?” I asked, wanting to see her eyes, “And yeah, I just live up the street.”

“Would you be terribly disappointed if I suggested we go back to your place? I can pick up some things at the closest grocery and make us both something real healthy…I’m famished and I want something specific.” she said, slipping off her sunglasses and revealing her eyes which were clear and blue.

“Whatevz.” I said with a contemplative gaze.

In the light rain, we walked to my van and it occurred to me how irregular it was to be rained on in Los Angeles…it was nearly a freak occurrence.

Once in the van we drove west down Franklin until we made it to Gelson’s. As if it was a soft-focus dream sequence, we strolled around the produce section and I found Sarah’s pickiness amusing when selecting vegetables. I followed her around the isles as she collected a few more ingredients…it seemed she was quite serious about preparing us something healthy and I wondered what life would be like with her. Would she make me a healthier man? The notion had never crossed my mind, in fact, so far, the notion of her had only conjured the most unhealthy thought patterns and the recollection of her sister’s ghostly image. I thought about Laura and what she’d think of me strolling around Gelson’s with her sister.

By the time we made it back to my apartment, Sarah was telling me about her last spoken word performance. She’d been horribly heckled by a drunken old man in the front row. As she unpacked the groceries and found her way around my disorganized kitchen, she deconstructed the mentality of hecklers and deduced that hecklers heckled because they’d been heckled as children, by teachers, parents or other children; she concluded that it was a form of bullying. She asked me if I’d been bullied as a child. I saw her question as the first in a lengthy and finicky ‘socially acceptable suitor’ checklist, which I’d doubtlessly fail.

“There usually isn’t a lot of bullying at schools with metal detectors…cause you just never know how crazy the other kid is.” I stated with a laugh.

Sarah was a child of privilege…her and Laura had grown up in a cushy, upscale, picturesque suburb. We were from different worlds altogether and her sudden presence made little sense to me. Perhaps I’d willed her to me…or perhaps some things really were meant to be. Or, perhaps I was as little as a fling of curiosity to her—one of many she’d entertain before finally settling down with a more socially acceptable suitor—a picture perfect crashing bore. The notion was disappointing at the very least…because if my instincts were correct and there was no other man on earth who could rock Sarah Lassiter’s world as much as I believed I could, yet I could never keep her…then the entire thing seemed a waste of time and doomed for incompleteness. On the flipside, perhaps it was madness and I’d invented her persona in the laboratory of my mind in an hour glass shaped beaker in a vain attempt to plant a lush oasis in the desert dunes my emotional landscape had become in recent years. Between incompleteness and madness however, I assumed madness was just a bit worse.

I got up and walked to the fridge. I poured us both a glass of orange juice then lit one up. I smoked it as I watched Sarah pace back and forth from the table to the sink, cleaning the vegetables and chopping them on the table in a colorful pile, glancing up at me nervously from time to time. She took a few hauls and blew the smoke toward the ceiling in a cough. She then walked over to the sink and with her back to me; she bent down to look in a cupboard. Her skirt lifted slightly and cupped her rear nicely.

“I like your skirt.” I told her.

“I probably look affright today—I slept so badly last night.” she said.

“I like what I see.” I told her.

“Thanks for saying so.” she said with a bashful tone, finally straightening up having found the pan she was looking for, “I’m not sure if I should use this pan…or maybe a pot might be better.” she contemplated, flashing me a girlish grin.

I stepped up to her and took the pan in hand. I set it down on the table beside the colorful pile of vegetables she’d meticulously diced. I looked at her, unable to consciously fathom what life was, but in that moment knew it had something to do with men and women. Was it all just biology and evolutionary wiring? In order to keep the human race afloat? Were we all just cockroaches in clothing? One day we’d be fertilizer or a vase full of ashes…but we were here and now and I’d waited too long…I pulled Sarah close and pressed my lips against hers; fireworks.

Later, on the couch as the rain pattered the windows, I lit one up and stared at the ceiling, blowing smoke rings that turned inside out as they rose upward and dissipated into nothing.

“Can’t believe it’s raining out there.” I said.

“I like the rain sometimes.” she said, “Where did you come from?” she asked in a long sigh.

“Listen, I should really tell you what I wanted to tell you.” I said.

I’d been so caught up in Sarah’s presence and the surrealization that she was Laura’s sister that I’d neglected to disclose the truth of who I was. 

“What is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know exactly how to tell you this…I’ve thought about it in my mind so many times today…how I might segue into it…but I guess the best way is to just tell you flat out…give it to you straight.”

Sarah sat up, taking the blanket with her. Swaddled to her neck, looking down at me with her short blonde hair tussled and a look of dramatic concern in her eyes, she waited for me to divulge.

“I’m listening.”

“Look, I knew Laura…more accurately, I was infatuated with her…obsessed. Earlier this year I saw a poster with your name on it hanging in the shop front of this vintage clothing store—it was for a word slam. I may have walked right by and never saw that poster…but I did see it—evidently he universe has a sick sense of humor. I guess the best way to describe it is like being accosted by my own subconscious brain. To be perfectly honest, as best I understand it; I transferred everything I felt for Laura onto you…I didn’t even realize it was happening until it was too late.” I confessed, closing my eyes, not sure what to expect from Sarah—a fit of rage, tears, the cold silence of treachery; women are versatile.

“Who the fuck is Laura?” Sarah asked.

Opening my eyes, I turned my head toward her and stared deeply into her eyes…spotlight searching her expression for a hint of sarcasm. However, there was only a sincere and penetrating look of curious concern etched between her brows. “What?” I asked.

Laura…who’s Laura?” she asked again.

“Your sister Laura…I knew her—we had a torrid affair godamit…you don’t need to hide it from me Sarah. I know all about her condition and her suicide and the whole sad story…”

“I never had a sister.” shrugged Sarah, still wearing the curious concern.  

“Come on…is this really an appropriate time for joking?” I said.

“I don’t have a sister. Not unless my mom isn’t telling my brother and I something.” she grinned.

“Your brother?” I asked. It was widely known that Laura and Sarah were the only two Lassiter children…there was no brother. It seemed it was as good a time as any to panic. I propped myself up on one arm and looked at Sarah squarely, “You’re saying that Laura Lassiter wasn’t your sister?”

“I’ve never known a Laura Lassiter…and I’ve never had a sister.” said Laura, “Are you fucking crazy?” 

“Perhaps.” I said, peering up at the window that was pattering with rain, “How can that be?” I asked.

“Uh, my parent’s stopped having kids after my brother was born….” she said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“For real—Laura wasn’t your sister?” I said—floored, because I’d been absolutely, one hundred and fifty percent positive Sarah Lassiter was the Sarah Lassiter.

“Frank, I’m telling you…I’ve never had a godam sister.” she said, her eyes fixed on mine, unwavering and blue and full of perplexity.

“I’m going to need a few minutes here.” I said and rolled onto my back, staring at the ceiling tiles again, a tremor of dread fluttering in my chest as I took another haul and blew a few more smoke rings.

“So…this whole time you thought I was some other Sarah Lassiter? The sister of your dead ex-lover?” she asked.

“Evidently.” I said, exhaling a long sigh.

“Well…there’s only one Sarah Lassiter who matters.” she said, a devilish grin curling the corner of her lips.

September

Indeed, I was surprised that Sarah hadn’t seemed to mind that I’d discovered her through a case of mistaken identity. In fact, it seemed a minor detail. Though something in me suggested that this phenomenon was very curious, I’d chosen to ignore any such inquiries. We met every second day and each time, I was slightly intoxicated by her deep blue eyes, her short blonde hair, her cheek bones, her selection of vintage ensembles. At that time I didn’t see her off the cuff comments as a well-rehearsed performance—rather I saw her comments as poetry that sprung from her rouge colored lips…such is the predicament of a man who is suffering temporary insanity. I was baffled to find that it no longer mattered to me that she in fact wasn’t the long lost sister of Laura Lassiter—that in fact she had no connection with Laura at all and in turn, absolutely no connection with my past—it had all been a magnificently random coincidence. Indeed I wondered, as she would nibble a scone, or sip at her tea, or apply lipstick in a compact mirror, if it mattered at all that I’d mistaken her identity now that we’d established an understanding.

I spent many nights at the typewriter perfecting the screenplay which D’Amato was reading page by page, offering suggestions on character development…the screenplay had become an easy obsession and between being up all night writing and often being woken after an hour or two of sleep by Sarah, who would either suggest we meet or simply just chat on the phone for a few hours; I crashed hard and slept for nearly two days straight, half of which was spent on my living room floor, the other half in my bed, happily content to retreat into slumber. Sarah had gone to San Francisco for the weekend to attend a wedding and everything gradually slowed; the light seeped from the dusk skies and sleep I did. During the catch up sleep sessions I had a reoccurring dream, one in which I stood at my window, watching Sarah stride away down Vermont with her bag slung over her shoulder. In the way one is aware of context in dreams without it being explained, I was aware of being disappointed. When I awoke for a drink of water or a quick piss, the feeling would be eclipsed by the nagging sensation that my subconscious was trying to tell me something by giving me a glimpse into the future which it somehow already knew, as if time was a fabric with a simultaneously existing beginning, middle and end.

I saw Sarah the following Tuesday and planned on mentioning my reoccurring dream about her. She invited me to meet her at a café in Silverlake. When I arrived at the café I saw she was sitting with a man dressed in a black corduroy blazer, a scarf and a flat cap. When I approached the table the man looked up at me and extended his hand. Reluctantly I shook it and sat down. His hand was clammy, moist and frail. I sat there feeling his microbes crawling up my wrist as he and Sarah finished their conversation. They spoke of people I didn’t know and seemed to be particularly preoccupied with a woman named Jenna, about whom they were cuttingly critical. I looked the man over, sitting there under his flat cap, wondering why Sarah would invite both of us to meet her and also wondering why the man was dressed as Andy Capp.

“Sarah tells me that Antonio D’Amato is shooting your screenplay.” said the man suddenly, leaning back a bit and squinting at me. There were small white balls of spittle coagulated in the corners of his mouth, “That’s impressive…how did you manage to land that?” he asked in a jittery sort of way.

I glanced at Sarah who only shot me an awkward smile, before taking another bite of the biscotti.

“Years of refusal old chap…years of refusal.” I said.

Eventually the man (whose flaky parents had somehow felt naming him Keegan was a great idea) finally took the hint and left Sarah and I alone. I sat across from Sarah sipping hot chocolate as she told me about the wedding, the drive up to San Fran, the gowns, the cake, the drinks, the drive back to LA. As the cars went by and the people walked through the intersection and the tectonic plates moved far beneath us somewhere deep in the earth’s crust, she ate a biscotti and I watched her little mouth chew as she spoke.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you about a reoccurring dream I’ve been having.” I said.

“I was meaning to ask you who is handling the casting for the film you and D’Amato are working on.” said Sarah.

“I don’t know…I just write the dialogue.” I shrugged.

“But certainly you must have some input on casting—I mean if you wanted to that is—you’re the muse.” insisted Sarah.

“I mean, D’Amato told me he’s been talking to Matt Fairland for the lead.” I said, “It’s really his film.”

“Yes, but it’s your screenplay—it all came out of your imagination. Wow…Matt Fairland is quite prolific. Will you meet him?” asked Sarah.

“I don’t know why I would.” I said, “Should it matter to me?”

“I guess not.” she said before taking a long sigh and collecting herself, “You weren’t very friendly to Keegan by the way.” said Sarah with a playfully scolding glance.

“Keegan should return Andy Capp’s wardrobe.” I laughed, “By the way…how did you know about the screenplay and D’Amato and the whole thing?” I asked her.

Sarah smiled and looked at me curiously with her head on a tilt…she glanced out the window and scanned the street. She wore large vintage earrings and her short blonde hair was parted neatly to one side…her marimekko dress matched the blue of her eyes perfectly…she was her own work of art and existed in a world of post-modern designs and picture perfect fashion ensembles and lavish weddings in San Francisco; all things that I had little interest in—yet had interest in Sarah herself.

“I didn’t realize it was a secret.” she said.

“It isn’t.” I said.

“Anyway, you weren’t very nice to Keegan.”

“Well maybe you shouldn’t double book me with your nerdy boy toys.” I said.

“We dated for several months back in the fall; it didn’t pan out…and he was hardly a ‘boy toy’ as you so eloquently phrase it.” said Sarah, looking mildly irritated, “Boys like Keegan are always on the make—he’s up and coming and a bit hot on the scene at the moment…he’s had showings at some of the top galleries in town and I think he’s enjoying that to the fullest extent…which has nothing to do with me. Why are you being so jealous?” she asked, fluttering her lashes and sitting up straight in her chair.

“I’m not.” I countered.

“You’re my ‘2 o’clock’ not Keegan. Can I ask you a question?” she said.

“Sure.”

“Aside from being a woman you thought was the sister of your dead ex-lover; was there anything about me that initially attracted you?” she asked.

“Well, your Dorothy Vallens outfit was an anomaly.” I told her.

Sarah shrugged, looking down at her biscotti as a smile formed across her lips, “So, my Dorothy Vallens costume really got to you huh?” she said, clicking her eyes back up at me.

“An anomaly.” I said.

Sarah peered deeply into my eyes, searching for a lie…finding none, she sat back in her chair, nibbling her biscotti still searching for a lie…and I dear reader sat in my chair, looking back at her with a penetrating stare—unable to decipher the general vagueness and mystery that seemed to perpetually surround her like an aura.

Revelation

As the days wore on, the vagueness and mystery seemed to merge in an enigmatic presence which suggested that I was alone amidst my confessions. Sarah often looked at me as if I was a rat participating in a lab study…as if she met with me out of sheer curiosity. Though Sarah emphatically denied that suspicion, I couldn’t help seeing her calm gestures and nonchalance as viable evidence. After all, impassioned women are full of fire, fierceness and severity…an impassioned woman might lose her composure…an impassioned woman might blindly cross a mine field for her lover…or on the other side of the coin, perhaps throw plates at his head…there was a fine line. Sarah however, was coy, mostly indifferent, ever collected and full of playful social grace and I found myself constantly looking for a smoldering edge buried beneath her cool façade—some indication of a burning wild fire within her. Though I looked deeply, I found a labyrinth of hallways and elevator music…and eventually decided the fire was either not there or had been perfectly contained. However, in our most intimate moments, she’d quietly melt—which only deepened her mystery.

That week I was summoned by D’Amato to the Beverly Villa hotel on Wilshire. He’d flown in a few days before and had requested a meeting with me at 11am on a Wednesday morning. 11am was an ungodly hour to meet anyone, much less be lucid enough to maintain a discussion of crystal clarity regarding a screenplay narrative. However, I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of perfecting the work—the mission is what matters. I’d voiced some concern to Sarah about the meeting, speculating whether or not D’Amato had liked my most recent re-writes. I explained that I’d be meeting him the following morning to discuss the screenplay. Surprisingly, Sarah had taken a bus from her place in Westwood all the way out to East Hollywood and had spent the night uptown slumming with me. She read me excerpts from a Kafka novel she’d been reading and I’d fallen asleep, savoring her diction and the calmness of her words.

Surprisingly I’d slept well with Sarah’s small lithe limbs tangled up around me and when I awoke at 930am, she was still asleep and snoring beside me with her mouth open and Kafka still in her hand. I left her my spare key on the counter top with a note, asking her to wait for me to get back so I could see her before she left. I told her to put my spare key on her key chain so she could lock the deadbolt and left it at that.

When I arrived at D’Amato’s room, I found him swathed in a hotel robe and sipping a steaming cup of tea. He’d already eaten a room service breakfast and was reading the LA Times. He was greying and worn from age and too many drunk nights…retreating into the solitary space of eccentricity had rid him of preliminary social pleasantries—which I was okay with. We nodded good morning and he nodded absently, squinting back at the fine print of the newspaper.

“You know,” he said after a few moments, “Mulholland started as a ditch-digger…he started as a grunt town in the trenches of life…and look at what he did…look at the infrastructure he designed. That’s truly inspirational.”

“I didn’t know he started as a ditch-digger.” I confessed.

“Back then there was no formal way…you chose something you were good at and you followed it on up…talent built this country…talent and hard sacrifice.” said D’Amato, “I weep for the future…the next few generations are doomed. I’m reading here that the average millennial has two college degrees and still can’t find a decent job and even if they do find a job they still can’t afford living expenses in this world. It’s only going to get worse too. No wonder they’re so hyper-sensitive; it’s their way of rebelling against their parents…for bringing them into such a dismal world.”

“Could be.” I said, lighting one up and watching the smoke curl into the southern Californian sunlight that cascaded brilliantly through the large windows of the suite.

“So…the rewrites. I like them. I think you’re really onto something…but the very last scene you sent me seems to really divert from the direction you’d been previously moving in; the writing itself seemed distracted…just saying. No matter…it happens to everyone…what you need to do is get back on track my boy. Dust yourself off and get back into the ditch—like Mulholland.”

“You didn’t like the last scene?” I asked, snapping out of my trance that was moving me slowly over the warm soft curve where Sarah’s shoulder met her neck.

“I’m not saying I didn’t like it…it just seemed very distracted.”

“Shit.” I said, lowering my head and squeezing my eyes closed.

“It’s ok kid…you don’t have to take every critique so seriously.” said D’Amato.

“It’s not that…things have been a bit complicated lately.” I told him.

“Oh? I hope it’s nothing too serious.” he chuckled.

“Do you believe that when the gods want to punish you they give you what you’ve asked for?” I asked, peering out the window, scanning the street below, amazed at how Laura, two decades after her death was still somehow relevant.

“Are you no longer on board with this project?” he asked me, “Because if you’re going to flake out I need to know now.”

“It’s not that…it’s an obsession with a woman from the past—or the present…I can’t tell which it is.” I said.

D’Amato’s face eased up and he leaned forward to pick up his glass of orange juice. He sipped on it for a few moments before looking back at me and setting the glass back down, “I’ll tell you something, from an older man to a younger man; true love should inspire, not distract….and obsession is a futile state—it never really goes anywhere—get a godam hold of yourself man. Now…from the top—where do we see this character winding up? We need to get this in the bag and soon.” he said and with that, I discarded visions of Sarah’s smooth and various curves and got down to business—it was the real-world jolt I needed and whether I’d expected it or not—D’Amato’s reaction would spur me back into the waking reality around me and the effect would be like tipped dominos. I knew I’d find an answer at the end of the line…after the last domino fell.

I returned home in the late afternoon and found that Sarah had left. She’d taken the key with her as well as the note I’d written. I called her as I sifted through the mail. When her voicemail picked up, I contemplated leaving her a message but decided not to. Perhaps D’Amato’s comment had resonated. Dissecting an obsession is futile because it goes nowhere…it can go nowhere—for an obsession is a loop of preoccupation without any reason behind it…a streamline of dopamine fed to you by your own madness. In my case it was a series of million to one coincidences and a mistaken name wearing a pretty face and Marimekko dresses.

I decided to put all else aside, get back to the typewriter and punch out some magic for D’Amato. There is some invincibility in punching out magic onto a page. It supersedes all else in restoring vitality and purpose. On the way home, I took a detour along Mulholland and smoked as I drove…when I got back to the apartment I attacked the typewriter like in the days of old, when I would venture toward the end of the night, napalming the jungles of contemporary prose with razor wit, fearless sincerity and an utter disregard for literary boundaries. At that point, the writing becomes a life force of its own…a fierce doppelganger born of midnight alchemy and existential heroism.

I spent the next day sleeping and woke up around 4pm. I lit one up and went straight to the typewriter. When I was through, it was perhaps 1am and I’d written 21 pages of new dialogue. When I finally looked at my phone I saw that among the various texts from people I knew, there was a missed call from Sarah’s number. I dialed her back.

“Hello?” she answered, her voice loose and flexible with alcohol.

“I was doing rewrites all night…missed your call.” I said.

“I noticed. How was your meeting with Mr. D’Amato yesterday?” she asked and I could hear she was in a crowded room with loud music pulsing in the background.

“It was informative.” I said, “Where are you?”

“I’m dancing at the Dream Light.” she said, “I just love the Dream Light.”

“Never been there.” I said.

“Then you should come meet me here.” she cooed.

“I’ve intentionally never been there.” I laughed.

“It’s so fun—you should come dance with me. Well?” she cooed, “Do you feel like dancing?”

“Wrong verb.” I sighed.

“Come dance…I’m wearing something very special tonight.” she cooed.

“What you wearing?” I asked.

“Well, you’ll just have to come and see me won’t you?” she said seductively.

“Why don’t you just come over here? We can drive out to Santa Monica and walk the Pier.”

“I can’t…I’m heading with some friends to an after party in Venice.”

“Well…if you change your mind, I’m here…sitting at the typewriter.” I told her.

“Come to the Dream Light.” she pouted.

“You know that’s not going to happen.”

“Why don’t we do this; why don’t you meet me in Venice later—you said you wanted to walk the Pier…maybe we can do that at dawn. I’ll get the exact address of the after-party and text it to you.”

“Sounds like a plan.” I said.

As promised, Sarah texted me the address to the party, which was located near the northern tip of Venice on a quiet residential street. I parked on the street and went up. It was a condo in the back of the building and I had to climb a number of staircases that wound around the outer walls. When I came to the door I sent Sarah a simple text, “Outside.”

After a few minutes I heard the latch unclick, the doorknob turned and the door opened with a slight suction—as if the condo was hermetically sealed. The opening door unveiled Sarah Lassiter, posed mysteriously with one hand planted on her hip and the other holding a long thin unlit cigarette beside her immaculately made up face.

With her chin slightly elevated, she grinned at me—it was her Dorothy Vallens costume, complete with a brunette wig and a sequined black halter neck evening dress. It seemed a bit unfair of her to use kryptonite on me.

“Good evening.” she cooed as I stepped into the foyer. I pulled her close and tasted the thick coating of her dark rouge lipstick and her gin martini.

“Easy…I just put this lipstick on.” said Sarah.

“I drove all the way from East Hollywood to see you.” I said.

“I realize that, but I just put this lipstick on.” said Sarah.

“I can’t believe you dressed up like that.” I told her.

“Then you really won’t believe the lingerie I’m wearing.” she cooed.

“Let’s go down to the beach and find a spot on the sand–I’ve got a sleeping bag in my van.” I said.

“I can’t just leave…come in for a while.” Sarah urged.

Sarah led me down a long darkened hardwood hall which opened into a sunken living room decorated in post-modern artifacts. The décor gave the place the cold atmosphere of a museum in spite of the fire place which crackled behind a glass pane in the corner of the room.

After a bout of lengthy introductions went around, we got settled on a lumpy love seat and Sarah poured us a couple drinks as the conversation bounced around from person to person and I sat in silence, content to ignore them all until finally the collective attention of the room suddenly fell on me, like a beach ball that had been volleyed into my lap. In such a small group of strangers, I was the elephant in the room, and they’d finally and rather collectively chose to suddenly address me—the outsider.

“So Frank,” said one of the women, “I’ve heard a bit about you. Sarah tells us that you’re working with Antonio D’Amato on his upcoming film.” The question spread out into an eerie silence that filled the room from wall to wall…except for the Velvet Underground album playing quietly on the vintage turntable.

“Well, you know…I don’t want to jinx anything.” I said.

“That’s quite amazing.” said the woman, “What’s he like? I’ve heard he’s quite an eccentric…but brilliant…a brilliant cinematic force.”

“Well…he doesn’t mince words. You know where you stand with a guy like D’Amato.” I said.

“What’s the screenplay about?” asked a frail looking man who wore thick mascara and dressed like a mime.

“Wow…I’ve never heard a mime talk before.” I grinned and as I watched the currents in him change and a look of social dismay flash across his face, Sarah interjected.

“I think they want to keep it hush hush for now.” she suggested giving me a sideways glance.

“Is it true that D’Amato is part of the Fraternal Order of Ancient Knights?” asked one of the other women present.

“I don’t think he’d want to be part of any club that would have him as a member. He’s sort of the man, behind the man, behind the man…” I offered with a grin that wasn’t returned by any of them except for Sarah. They were a tough crowd indeed.

“Well that certainly sounds peculiar.” said the woman.

“Leave the guy alone.” said a man from a couch on the other side of the room—silencing everyone. He was clad in a snug fitting black t-shirt and his arms were covered in tattoo sleeves. He wore sunglasses and a black leather cap fit onto his head. There was a spiked band around his neck and he sat there stoically, offering me a small two finger salute.

“He’s Dirk.” said Sarah.

“Yeah?” I said, wondering why he was wearing sunglasses at night, “What’s happening Dirk?”

Dirk nodded, again offering the two finger salute.

“Dirk plays in a band called Clitmobile and he also runs the Penrose Gallery on Sepulveda.” said Sarah, “Right now they’ve got an interesting exhibit…you’ll find the current showing of Zelda Goldenberg’s Metropolis is a labyrinthine multi-faceted minimalism of negative capability—like Kafka on MDMA!”

“Yeah?” I shrugged, unable to picture what that might look like.

“That description borders dangerously close on being lewd Sarah.” laughed the woman who’d originally struck up the conversation.

“What Goldenberg design doesn’t border dangerously close on being lewd?” shrugged Sarah, causing the entire crew to break out in another bout of laughter. Missing the punch-line, I sipped at my soda water, wondering what drug they were all on.

“Frank…” called Dirk from across the room, he was rising from his chair and was next pointing with his thumb and addressing me directly, “let me show you my guitars.”

“Do you want to go see Dirk’s guitars?” asked Sarah clutching my forearm, as if there was some choice I had the right to make. 

I joined Dirk, following him down the same hardwood hallway from which Sarah and I had just come shortly before. He led me to the end of the hallway and turned right and walked down another shorter hallway until we reached a room at the end. Dirk flipped the light switch and the room illuminated with a florescent buzz. The room was soundproofed and pasted in countless posters; gig posters, band posters, cutouts from magazines, artwork, movie posters, album covers, a giant poster of Robert Smith smoking a cigarette in black and white…it was all haphazardly covering the foam sound proofing. There was a beaten up drum set in one corner of the room and in another there were three amplifiers angled toward the drum kit. Against one wall was lined two stacked rows of guitars that varied in color, texture and luster. I wondered what Dirk was overcompensating for as he went through the list of guitars, explaining the general date of manufacturing, the location as well as the customizations he’d done.

Indeed he was alarmingly skinny and sick looking…he was pasty and moist and vine-like veins twisted up his bony and blotchy forearms. When he removed his sunglasses I noticed he was wearing a thick coating of mascara and his eyes were blood shot and watery—it nearly made my own eyes water just looking at the bastard. Indeed he looked like he’d contracted a wasting disease or a biblical plague or had just been a vegan too long. I checked his forearms for track-marks, suspecting he was being eaten slowly by a needle disease. As he droned on about his guitars I felt a tiny speckle of spittle cool against my cheek—the bastard was also a watery talker. I backed away slightly with a wince, causing a slight lull in his presentation.

“So,” he finally said, “pardon my candor…but what are your intentions with Sarah?”

“My intentions?” I asked him, wiping my cheek with my sleeve and checking his neck and forehead for skin legions concealed under the thick coating of sweaty foundation he was wearing, “What’s it to you?”

“I have a history with Sarah…I guess I’m protective in a way.” he said.

“Well I’m sure that makes her feel real safe at night.” I laughed.

“Don’t be a dick…I’m just telling you the way it is.” he said, his eyes twitching beneath his mascara.

“A dick is it? How about you don’t be a pussy? How about that old chap?” I asked.

“Sarah and I have a history.” he said.

“She actually slept with a skid like you?” I said, a chill of alarm freezing through my stomach at the thought of the different strains of disease coursing through the vine like veins climbing his arms, “Why the hell would she want to do that?” I asked, nearly to myself.

“Call me what you want…but I learned my lesson about Sarah a long time ago—you’d be smart to do the same.”

“How about you drop the ominous allusions…what the hell is your point?” I asked.

“Point is—you’re Sarah’s latest up and comer…enjoy it while it lasts.” he said.

“Latest up and comer?” I said, “I’m an up and comer? I’ve always seen myself as the underdog.”

“Yeah, you’re the latest one.” said Dirk, sniffling hard and wiping his nose with his tattooed forearm.

“Are you sick?” I asked.

“No, I’m completely lucid…and it’s my honest opinion…I’ve known her for years…I think it’s an honest assumption.” Dirk said with a tone of arrogance.

“No, I mean are you physically sick? You look like hell in a hand basket old bean…and your skin has the pasty pallor of an embalmed corpse.” I said.

“Whatever.” said Dirk, rolling his eyes and flipping a long greasy lock of hair out of one eye, “I’m trying to break this to you gently man…Sarah’s only with you so she can get a part in the film you’re doing with that washed-up director. I’m just telling you because I don’t want you causing a scene when she leaves you for the next up and comer…which is inevitable.”

“Hey, blow me asshole.” I told him before leaving him standing in his rehearsal room with his chipped black nail polish and mascara, holding a banana yellow telecaster; the exchange was hard to believe.

By the time I made my way back to Sarah, I was irritated…partially because on some instinctual level I believed Dirk believed what he’d told me was a fact and perhaps there was some truth to it…perhaps it wasn’t just his jealousy speaking. As the collective conversation shifted from arcane topic to arcane topic, I looked at Sarah who sat beside me on the couch, her legs folded beneath her girlishly and her eagerness to participate in the conversation, not unlike a cat watching a badminton birdie being batted around the room.

 “Are you ok?” Sarah asked me, “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I just had a little conversation with your pasty, mascara wearing ex…” I said nearly whispering as the conversations went on around us.

“And?”

“And we ought to both go to the clinic tomorrow—just to be sure.” I said, shaking my head with frustration.

“Pardon me?”

“A full blood count.” I shrugged.

“Excuse me?” Sarah demanded, her eyes widening.

“Why didn’t you just tell me in the beginning that I’m only a prop in your film noir melodrama? That would have simplified so much.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked, “What did Dirk say to you in there?”

“I guess I knew it all along though…I’m gonna jet.” I said.

“Oh I see, you got what you wanted and now you’re going home…” she said, rephrasing it with certain intent.

“Got what I wanted? I’ll never get what I want from you…I’m realizing that now.” I chuckled as the rest of the guests blabbered on, oblivious to our unfolding discussion.

“What does that even mean?” she asked, raising her brows as if surprised—yet still cool as ice, “Are you going schizo on me or something?”

“Maybe I’ve been schizo all along and just didn’t realize it…you want to talk Kafka?” I shrugged, wondering how I’d missed the obvious. I looked back at her for a moment before rising from my place on the couch, “Maybe you’re just the collector of my karmic debt—maybe you’re collecting the karmic bill…what’s worse it’s on the installment plan.”

“The installment plan? What the hell are you talking about?” Sarah asked, squinting her eyes at me and tilting her head as if I were a mental patient out on a weekend pass.

Before long I was back on the 10 heading east…I passed the 405 and instead looped through downtown and swung back up onto the 101 to get back into Hollywood—I needed some time to think…I needed some time to fit things back into rational perspective. I took the Vermont exit and followed it north until I was finally feeling a bit more level. Hollywood; she knew what I felt as she always had and I could feel her breeze through my window, soothing me as the darkened shop fronts went by on either side…at least I still had her, my beloved Hollywood—though she changed, she was always the same and she always knew just what to say to me.

I parked on the street and went upstairs. I lit one up and flipped up my phone, seeing a single text waiting for me. I opened it, “I’m not sure what Dirk told you but storming out was really uncalled for—not to mention juvenile.” It was from Sarah and articulated with her usual coldly collected sensibility. I sat down at the typewriter and before starting with some rewrites, I replied to the text.

Maybe it all was just a random string of random coincidences–maybe it all meant nothing…maybe we really are just cockroaches in clothing.” I wrote before tossing the phone over my shoulder. Though I lacked the desire to text even that simple sentence, I started clicking the typewriter and the words didn’t stop coming.

Indeed, it’s never a liberating experience to realize someone has breached your fortified wall…certainly I prided myself on being a fortified wall…an all terrain vehicle…a wrecking ball of shrewd reason…the master of my own emotional universe. Resilience dictated the terms of most any situation and I’d always had a knack for deconstructing the intricacies to a point where rational sense prevailed. However, in the case of Sarah Lassiter, I seemed to lose a certain degree of common sense–in spite of my better judgment. I wondered what it was about her particularly that caused this phenomenon and eventually decided that I’d never know the answer.

Poetry in Motion

It had been a few weeks and I hadn’t heard from Sarah Lassiter. I assumed she’d moved on to her next up and comer, perhaps a bit prematurely but all the same moved on. The previous months had seemed full of ominous omens and I felt as if everything was culminating…as if I was rounding the corner on some grand realization about existence.

Certainly this was no surprise…for it really did seem like the recent months had been full of surreal coincidences, ominous omens and miraculous occurrences. That day was no exception and it was as if Hollywood herself was intent on aligning me with certain knowledge. Case in point: I was coming out of Skylight books having bought a shirt I’d seen in their window…it was the classic book cover silkscreen of Celine’s “Journey to the End of the Night” which I knew I had to have. I was moving up the cracked Vermont sidewalk holding the shirt out before me in the sunlight and admiring its lines, when I recognized a passing face. It was a woman who’d been at the party in Venice…a woman who hadn’t said much but all the same recognized me just as I recognized her. I nodded with the intent of moving on up the walk. However, the woman stopped to chat.

“You’re Sarah’s friend.” she said wearing a surprised smile.

“The condo party in Venice.” I said, nodding to her…feeling a prickly sensation on the back of my neck…as if the coincidence was indeed actually a brush with destiny.

“That was a weird night. Everyone was on mushrooms.” she laughed.

“I’m sorry I forgot your name.” I said.

“I’m Kylee.” she said, extending a small hand the nails of which were painted grey.

“I love this desert heat.” I said, shaking her small dry hand.

“Nice shirt…do you live around here?” she asked, eyeing the Celine t-shirt as she brushed a lock of hair from her face.

“Yeah just up the street.” I said.

“I love this neighborhood—I’m going to buy a foot stool today I think.” said Kylee.

“It’s a classic—that’s for sure.” I said, wondering how long we would go on pocket changing.

“I don’t mean to pry, but I did see something happen between you and Sarah the other night and then you kind of just stormed out.” said Kylee, “Was that the case or was it just the mushrooms?”

“Everything suddenly came clear I guess.” I told her.

“I mean I hope it wasn’t any of us that made you want to leave.” she smiled nervously, “God what a strange night.”

“No…it wasn’t you actually…part of it was the sick cadaver looking guy with the guitars and the watery mascara eyes…he’s a watery talker and a few droplets landed on my cheek…I felt grossly infected.” I admitted.

“Oh Dirk?” laughed Kylee, “He’s harmless.”

“I think he’s a biohazard…but it was more about something that he confirmed.” I admitted, not knowing why I was admitting it to a complete stranger.

“Have you talked to Sarah?”

“Not for weeks.” I said, “You know, I often wonder about all of these keys embedded in the sidewalk. They all opened locks at one time and I wonder what locks.”

“I’ve never thought about that actually.” Kylee nodded looking down at the sidewalk at the various keys that had dried into the concrete years before, “Sarah didn’t tell you that she’s gotten back together with Brandon?”

I squinted at her and tilted my head, “Who the hell is Brandon?” I asked.

“He’s a spoken word artist—like Sarah. He’s up and coming in the spoken word circuit. Anyway, she’s back with Brandon now.” said Kylee, squinting against the brilliant sunlight.

“Makes sense.” I said.

Indeed, the mysterious chance encounter with Sarah’s friend was a dismal coincidence and it was extra creepy that it had happened on such a sun drenched Los Feliz sidewalk. Dismissing the notion that our encounter could have been planned by Kylee in any way, I accepted the coincidence as just that…or perhaps it was more than that and the encounter had been orchestrated by Hollywood who was perhaps looking out for me…perhaps because she knew how pure my adoration was for her cracked streets, rustling palm trees and existential romance. Perhaps she still believed in true romance and felt I at least deserved a heads-up. I replayed the scene in my mind for a few days, remembering exactly how Kylee had phrased her statement…her casualness accentuating her sincerity…her perfectly shaped ass wagging away in tight slacks down Vermont afterward…urging me to call out after her and invite her for a scone. Indeed, though I sifted for an angle, I could see no reason why Kylee would lie to me. Indeed, I could only see Kylee’s statement as a message from beyond the fringes of conscious understanding.

Though the information didn’t quite erase the residue of disappointment, it seemed to help melt it away quicker. Soon enough the disappointment had melted away and in its absence was offered a lens of objectivity, through which I could view the previous months of obsession for the absurdity that they most certainly had been. Also, and most surprisingly, it cast my obsession with Laura in the same shade of objectivity, one which I’d never quite considered before; indeed, realizing the absurdity of one’s heart and mind is a deeply disconcerting yet liberating discovery.  

The following week I was slated to have dinner with Walsh, D’Amato and Lenny Sandberg at my apartment. D’Amato wanted to formally introduce me to Lenny Sandberg—the man who was producing our little 90’s revival film. He also wanted to glance some of the re-writes and additions I’d been working on and Walsh felt it was time he paid me a visit—Walsh paid everyone a visit eventually…to keep up appearances and to keep current. He might go missing for weeks, but he’d eventually wash up at your front door with a bottle of wine and a few great anecdotes.

They expected dinner and I immediately realized that I was anything but a homemaker. My apartment was a heavily refined mess and scattered in clothing that sat in small piles in the same spots where I’d initially walked out of them over the weeks. The kitchen was a mess of clutter, the bathroom was heaping with towels and more clothing, the living room had become a staging area for scattered stacks of books and Ralph’s grocery bags, all varying in fullness since I’d adopted the simple habit of not unpacking them into the cupboards—seeing it as a waste of time. Beyond that, I’d taken to eating from Styrofoam plates and using plastic cutlery, as not to be bothered with doing dishes; for dishes also took time and any time I had was best spent at the typewriter, pouring into it.

I was lying in the center of my floor, meditating on the dialogue I was working on and feeling the warm sun moving across my shirt. I was blowing smoke rings toward the ceiling, hoping one would touch it. Eventually I abandoned meditating on the dialogue…it was time to take a break. Also, my apartment was a disaster and though I knew what had to be done, I could not muster the fortitude just then to rise and embark upon the task of cleaning the apartment, washing some dishes and cutlery and preparing an impressive dinner; perhaps I’d order out. I held my position on the floor for another half hour, lost in deep circles of contemplation, concerning the dialogue.

At some point there came a knock on the door…I didn’t answer…the knock came again and I still didn’t answer…I heard a voice calling through the door…it was the landlady and I heard her turn her key in my lock. The door clicked open and within a few seconds she was standing on my living room floor with Wong, the maintenance man who stood stoically at her side, puffing on a filterless cigarette and peering intensely at me.

“What the hell do you want?” I asked.

“Charly is here to fix the leak.” said Ingrid, the building manager…she was old and weathered with drink and hard living…she’d seen her share of flophouse quickies and back seat blow jobs…maybe even a drunken dive-bar cat-fight or two.

“No way…not today. I have work and then I have guests…and this asshole is going to be hammering away all day. Besides, there is no godam leak.” I said.

“There’s a leak.” insisted Ingrid.

“This goof ball has been fixing that imaginary leak since I moved in six years ago.” I said.

“There’s a leak…we can tell by the water bill.” Wong assured stoically.

“Well, can I at least shave before you commandeer my bathroom for the next several hours?” I asked.

“Certainly…” said Ingrid in her boozy raspy voice.

I pushed myself up off of the living room floor and sauntered into my bedroom. After retrieving a box from the closet I stepped into the bathroom. Leaving the door slightly ajar I removed my straight razor from the medicine chest and lifted a deep red squeeze bottle of fake blood from the box labeled October 31st. I got into the tub and ran the water so it filled up slowly…I could feel the water cooling through the fabric of my jeans as it rose up the tub wall. When there was enough water in the tub, I squeezed the tube with great zeal, squirting thick red blobs of fake and seemingly coagulated blood over myself, the razor, the wall behind me and into the water, which turned plague-red as it diluted the syrupy fake blood. When the squeeze bottle was spent, I turned off the water and lay perfectly still with my eyes open, as if I were the star corpse in a campy slasher film from the mid 1980’s. Perhaps five minutes later, after the arching blood spatters had had a good chance to run down the tiles in horror show red, Ingrid and Wong made their way into the bathroom.

I could hear their voices grow louder as they approached and abruptly stop dead when they entered the room…indeed, Ingrid screamed a blood curdling scream, placing a liver spotted hand against her liver spotted chest as Wong stood over her shoulder stoically stone faced…his cigarette dangling from his lips and his eyes fixed and glassy. I stayed still for a minute or so, watching Ingrid come to pieces and Wong absorb the scene in a quiet state of shock.

My sudden movement however caused Ingrid to close her eyes and squeeze her temples with one hand, “You scared the bejuesus out of me Nero you bastard!” she scolded, “What the hell is wrong with you? There’s something very wrong with a person who acts this way. And look at the walls! The mess!”

“Come on Ingrid, why don’t you get in…we can have a bloody bubble bath if you like.” I grinned lasciviously from my place in the blood splattered tub.

Ingrid only turned to Wong who stood statue-still…after dragging again, he removed the cigarette with a shaky hand, shook his head and spoke, “I’m an old man…I don’t need this. I’m not going to fix the leak today…I think this man is a crazy…I will return another time…when he’s not home!” he said, widening his eyes and pointing out the rhythm of the last four words with an accusatory finger.

“There is no leak…there’s never been a leak.” I shrugged from my place in the tub.

“What the hell Frank? What the hell? He’s going now…do you see what you just did? You made Charly leave? You scared him and he probably won’t be back.” raved Ingrid.

“There’s no godam leak.” I insisted.

“You’re impossible and I’m going to tell Randy.” she said—her stock threat. Randy was the man who owned the building…and Randy was rarely if ever seen on the property. It was my assumption that aside from the envelopes of rent money he collected from Ingrid monthly—he wanted nothing more to do with the goings on or the tenants themselves, which worked out nicely for everyone involved.

When Ingrid finally cleared out, after a sanctimonious lecture on the virtues of being a model tenant and conscientious neighbor, I rose from the tub without bothering to wipe off the fake blood. I did however peel off my wet jeans and hang them over the shower curtain. In my boxers and blood streaked t-shirt I wandered back out into the living room and rolled out across the floor again; solitude. The sound of the traffic passing below my window and the helicopters chopping through the high above sky started to spiral into a vortex of static white noise which lulled me forth as the sun warmed my skin—perhaps I would just sleep until Walsh, D’Amato and Sandberg arrived.

Caught somewhere in the nether region between slumber and consciousness I was pulled back into waking reality by a repetitious sound I couldn’t at first decipher. I only knew it acted as a small buoy floating in the murky waters of pre-slumber…and as I made my way up the winding stairs of an abandoned light house I stopped at one of its small windows and peered out…there in the murky water the buoy still bobbed, it’s red top-light blinking…and I felt the world seeping back in a wash of sunlight and street noise. My phone, set flat against the hardwood on the floor beside me continued to buzz as I grappled to focus on answering it. When I finally did, I was late and the caller was gone. Checking the missed caller list I found it had been Katie who’d called and I dialed her back immediately.

“Hey.” she answered after one ring.

“Sorry, I was just getting out of the bathtub.” I told her.

“You were sleeping in the bathtub?” she chuckled.

“Huh?”

“You sound half asleep.”

“Maybe I am.” I said.

“I don’t mean to wake you, I just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. I haven’t heard anything from you since I left for Europe and I’ve been thinking about the night we spent together at Walsh’s place.” said Katie.

“What? You didn’t get my voice message?” I asked, “I thought you hated me—I didn’t hear back from you and I just assumed my message had pissed you off.”

“Oh, did you hit the pound button before and after you left the message?” she asked.

“No…why would I do that?”

“It’s the way my voicemail is set up for some reason…and it also explains why I didn’t get your message. What did you say in your message?” she asked.

“I’d rather tell you in person.” I said, “Can you stop by today?”

There was a long pause after which Katie spoke a bit quieter, “Sure…I’d like that. But before we get into any of that…I’ve been meaning to tell you that what happened last time I saw you never happens. I never have sex with someone the first night. I’m not sure why I did that with you—I guess I really felt ok about doing that with you so quickly. I don’t want you to think I’m promiscuous because I’m so not a promiscuous person.”

“I’m not either.” I said, “And I didn’t assume you were. I was more concerned that my voice message had put you off.”

“What did your voicemail say?” asked Katie.

“Listen, I’ll tell you later…when you get here.” I said.

“Are you ok?”

“Sure, why not?” I told her.

“Are you ok?”

“Listen, I got Walsh and D’Amato bringing over Sandberg the producer tonight for a late dinner—they arranged the whole thing…I never host formal events at my place though…in fact my place is basically a cave dwelling at this point. Can you come by and see me before then? They’re supposed to be showing up around 9pm.”

“Sure, I can do that. Is everything ok? This all sounds a bit ominous.” said Katie.

“I’ll tell you all about it later.”

“I have a few things to do, but I can make it over a bit later.” said Katie.

“I’ll be here.” I said.

When we hung up, I rolled onto my side with the intention of pushing myself up into a sitting position, however, before I could catch it, my consciousness faded into a deep sound slumber. So deep I didn’t dream. When I awoke the brilliant warm sunlight had dissipated leaving the dim red glow of twilight soaking against one wall…as if I’d awoken into a calm and peaceful nuclear apocalypse.

I finally arose and went directly to the refrigerator. I guzzled down a quarter gallon of orange juice and turned on some lights. I lit one up and sat at the kitchen table, peering out the window at East Hollywood that sprawled toward the downtown skyline in rolling mounds of houses and high reaching palm trees. Not bothering to check the time, I sat down at the typewriter and started pouring into it. The writing was surprisingly poetic and sharp and just snide enough to curb the moroseness with a knowing nod. I was on a roll and coming to the end of the fourth page when my phone started buzzing from the living room floor. I walked over and scooped it up. It was Katie and she was nearby, looking for parking on a side street.

When she’d miraculously found a nearby spot, I buzzed her into the building and met her halfway down the hallway from the elevator. She looked great—lithe, dark, petite and her black leather jacket complimented her jet black hair nicely, adding to her general luster. She also wore snug fitting black jeans and a black ‘London Calling’ t-shirt—she looked good in black. The blood red of her nails was the same shade of her lipstick and her eyes as always were heavy caramel…only this time they were open widely with a look of horror.

“Oh my god! What happened to you?” she gasped, placing a hand over her mouth as she stepped toward me.

“Oh,” I said, suddenly remembering, “it’s fake blood…I had to fake out the building manager and the maintenance man who showed up for the fourth time this year to fix a leak that has never existed…and that stooge would have torn the place apart and been hammering away all night.”

“Brilliant solve.” Katie said, screwing up her face and uttering a chuckle of absurdity.

I led her into my apartment, feeling slightly ashamed of the mess and the disorganization; and I wondered if perhaps Katie made me want to be a better man.

“Cool shirt…though I was more of a Pistols fan.” I said.

“I’ve never seen the two as one or the other—I like them both.” said Katie.

“I’ve got something for you, just give me a sec.” I said. I entered my bedroom and sifted through a pile of clothing on a stately chair. I found the shirt and walked it back to Katie who stood in the kitchen, seemingly assessing the mess.

“Sorry about the mess…” I said.

“So this is what you call a cave dwelling?” she smiled, glancing around as she set her bag down on the kitchen table.

“It’s what you call method writing.” I offered, pouring us both a glass of orange juice. After handing Katie her glass of OJ, I presented the t-shirt. It was old, faded, wrinkled and as I recalled had maybe been used perhaps twice as a viable jerk-rag…however, the faded silk-screen was prolific and a thing of vintage beauty. The shirt displayed ‘The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle’ album cover across the front and Katie’s eyes widened.

“No way; you’re giving this to me?” she exclaimed, “This film is classic!” she added, once again in disbelief.

“It’s yours…but I’d wash it first…just in case.” I specified.

“Boys will be boys I guess…still, it’s an amazing shirt.” she laughed as she rolled up the shirt and set it on the table beside her bag.

“It was always very snug on me, so should fit you just right.”

“I just love the Sex Pistols—but I’m more of a PIL fan.” said Katie.

“I’ve never seen the two as one or the other—I like them both.” I grinned.

“Touché…anyway…explain this party to me.” Katie asked before taking a few large gulps from her ice cold orange juice.

“It’s Walsh, D’Amato and Lenny Sandberg—for some reason they wanted to meet here to go over some of the new rewrites…I tried to divert it to Fred 62 but they weren’t having it…I think Sandberg wants to check out my inner sanctum—my living quarters before he starts production on the film.”

“Shit…my boss lady isn’t going to be here I hope.” said Katie, looking suddenly concerned.

“I don’t think D’Amato or Sandberg even know your boss.”

“That witch knows everyone in this town.”

“Well she ain’t going to be here tonight.” I assured, “And if she shows up, we just won’t let her in.”

Katie tilted her head back and downed her orange juice. When she was through with it she walked over to the sink and opened the tap before placing the glass half full of water on the counter top. It perplexed me.

“What’s that all about?” I laughed.

“What’s what all about?” she smiled back at me.

“Why did you fill that glass only half full of water?” I laughed.

“I don’t know.” she smiled bashfully, “Sometimes I do things that elude explanation—I’m a bit of an awkward girl. I guess I was trying to rinse it out?”

“Yeah, but rinsing is like rinsing the entire glass…but as you can see,” I laughed stepping over and pointing to the divide, “there’s water in only half the glass…very interesting…it says a lot about your personality.”

“Oh? This coming from the guy who uses his TV as a coat rack.” Katie said, squinting toward my TV, which, though a 70 inch screen, was nearly entirely covered in clothing.

“That TV is mainly there for decoration.” I said.

Katie walked over to the TV and began peeling away the layers of dress shirts, t-shirts, pants, towels and light jackets, making her way to the center, where the on/off switch was located. She instructed me to get a hamper, which I did and together we uncovered the TV. It was a moderately new TV and still bared the stickers of sale. After peeling off the sale stickers, Katie turned the TV on and it came to life in an illuminating glow. She found a retro music video channel and turned the volume up manually. Grooving to long lost hits of a dreary post-fashion 1980’s era, Katie led the way, making sense out of the arrangement of the living room. We rolled the TV to the opposite wall and rearranged the couch and reclining futon. We brought the glass coffee table from behind the couch and placed it in the center of the room. She asked me if I had a vacuum and when I told her I did, she instructed me to vacuum the floor as well as the dark curtains that worked wonders keeping out the sunrays while I was vampire napping during the day.

As I vacuumed, Katie moved into the kitchen and over the music booming from the TV, I could hear her washing some dishes. When I was through with the vacuuming, having removed the nozzle to suck up the cobwebs that had gathered in the far corners of the ceiling as well as on the curtains, I joined her in the kitchen. She’d found my store of glassware, cutlery and plates as well as a mismatching array of pots and pans. She’d washed them all and set them neatly on the counter in a dish holder I’d forgotten I owned.

“We need to get down to Hollywest Promenade before it closes.” she said.

“For what?” I asked.

“Well firstly we need some ingredients…I have an idea what we can make for dinner so we should make a quick Ralph’s stop…also, there’s a Japanese shop there that sells all sorts of knick knacks like candles, napkins and napkin rings, and also I’m guessing we can get a real nice table cloth there. Maybe a plastic-crystal platter for appetizers…I think we can class this place up if we give it a good polish.” she said, enthused with the project of domesticating my cave to the level of hosting a fine dining experience.

After I showered off the fake blood and changed into some fresh clothing, we got in the car and drove down to Hollywest and we made it just in time…in fifteen minutes the two of us managed to pack a small cart full of dinner party supplies and even discovered some we hadn’t planned on incorporating into the cause. After a quick round at the Ralph’s we were back in the car and heading back to my place, a dinner party heavier.

Indeed, Katie had a talent…in the space of an hour and a half; she’d taken my humble cave and turned it into a warm hardwood villa that flickered with candles, intricately folded napkins and impeccably polished silverware. We’d moved the kitchen table into the extra space we’d made in the living room and I’d set the table for five star dining, minus the b&b knife and side plate, which the Japanese knick knack store didn’t have. It was a thing of magic—and whether I believed in it, the reality was there before me; a seemingly unrecognizable apartment.

Standing back, looking at her masterpiece, Katie grinned as she lit a stick of flowery incense, “This is actually a pretty nice apartment, once you dig it out of the mess.” she said.

“Not bad.” I shrugged, “Thanks…I mean, you’re amazing…I’d probably still be sitting at the typewriter had you not shown up.”

“Just wait and see what I can do for Christmas.” Katie smiled, running a finger across my chin as she passed by.

“Christmas is only a few months away.” I said.

Katie looked at me, tilting her head for a moment before smiling and moving toward me. She wrapped her arms around me and enveloped me in a long, deep hug. We stood like that for a while in the center of the living room floor, as Suzanne Vega’s ‘In Liverpool’ chimed from the retro video stream. Katie squeezed herself around me tightly—trying to transfer something into me…something I perhaps needed but didn’t realize I needed it. When she released me she leaned back to look at me. Her lips were glossy and her crucifix gleamed back at me, catching the overhead lamp in a golden sparkle.

“I love this song.” said Katie.

“It’s a classic.” I agreed.

I was looking for the right words, sifting through my usually versatile vocabulary for a string of dialogue that might acknowledge Katie’s poeticizing of the evening; some women write poetry and some live it…if they can do both, you’ve found a winning number…either that or a fantastic disaster. I wanted to ask Katie which one she was when a form appeared in the kitchen under the overhead lamp…the sudden appearance of which caused Katie to jump and place a hand over her mouth before catching herself and breaking into a chuckle.

“Holy shit, that scared me.” she said, “Is she a guest?”

Turning to the kitchen I found Sarah Lassiter standing there in a vintage turtleneck dress, a large yellow polyester bag swung over one shoulder and her wrists full of bangles. On her face was etched a strange expression…one which curiously curled her upper lip. She didn’t speak, rather she stood still, clicking her eyes up and over Katie’s form…then she looked at me, in an expressionless, luscious gaze.

“Sarah.” I said, a flood of impulse washing over me. I was also surprised to see her. I was under the absolute impression that I’d never see her again.

“I knocked but I guess you didn’t hear it over the music. I let myself in with the key you gave me—I came to return it.” Sarah said, holding up the key and dangling it on its chain in a casual sort of way.

“Sorry…we needed the music while cleaning.” I informed.

“Yeah, cleaning…I don’t recognize the place without all the mess.” said Sarah, setting the key down on the ledge of the partition that separated the living room from the kitchen, “Expecting guests?” she asked, stepping into the living room and looking down at the table that was impeccably set, “Pretty…I gotta say though, the napkins clash terribly with that table cloth design.”

“Smoke and mirrors.” I said.

“Smoke and mirrors.” repeated Sarah, “Is that what you call it?”

“I guess.” I shrugged.

“Perhaps I should leave you two alone?” Katie asked me.

“Or it’s a conversation we might all join in on?” suggested Sarah with a grin of absurdity.

“I think I’d better leave y’all to it.” said Katie, backing away from me and stepping into the kitchen. She lifted her leather jacket from the countertop and slipped into it, pulling her hair out of the back with a gentle hand.

“Take the key.” I said, tossing her the set from within my pocket.

Catching the keys, Katie gave me a last uneasy glance and offered me an apologetic smile, “I’ll walk down to Vermont and get some dessert for after dinner.” she said before seeing herself out.

When she was gone Sarah and I stood in silence for a few long moments.

“I came to return your key.” said Sarah.

I looked at her, standing in my living room in a faint cloud of perfume. She stared back at me with her head on a tilt.

“Are you waiting for me to say something?” she asked.

“Are you going to?” I asked.

“I’d rather hear what Dirk said to you the other night—that made you so…skittish.” said Sarah.

“I wouldn’t really call it skittish…disappointed more like.”

“Oh?” she asked as if genuinely interested.

“It was nothing profound—and so nothing that he’d said—rather it was the way in which he said it.”

“Said what?” demanded Sarah.

“Look, I didn’t need that sick cadaver to tell me anything—I already knew…I knew from the start.”

“Knew what?”

“He basically told me that you were only with me because you thought I’d get you a part in the film.” I told her, “Then he capped it off by saying that I’m just another of your up and comers.”

“Yeah, I’m such a clout chaser.” Sarah said coldly glaring at me with a hurt expression which seemed over acted, “You’re really living the high life here in your one bedroom apartment in East fucking Hollywood—but I must say…you’ve really done wonders with the place…I’ll assume it’s your college age girlfriend’s doing though.”

“She’s not exactly my girlfriend and she’s not college age. She’s like 32. What do you care anyway? Aren’t you back with one of your ex’s?” I asked.

“Did Dirk also tell you about that?” asked Sarah, seeming unsurprised to hear it.

“Actually, I ran into your friend Kylee on Vermont a while back–it was sheer chance…she stopped me for a chat, during which she filled me in…for some reason.” I sighed, “Guess Hollywood figured I should know.”

My words opened up a vast silence that enveloped us. Sarah’s face, one side slightly illuminated by the flickering of candles, peered back at me with a twist of irritation. She placed one small hand against her chest and began to chuckle.

“Firstly…Kylee isn’t my friend—she’s super competitive with the women in our social circle…and I think her actions clearly illustrate that. What else did she say about me?” she asked me over her shoulder as she made her way down the creaky hallway toward the bathroom. She closed the bathroom door behind her and I heard water running…the water ran for a long time and I got a beer from the refrigerator and sat down on the edge of the sofa, sipping from the icy can slowly…savoring the bite. I sat like that for some time until the can was half full. When Sarah finally emerged, I saw that she’d re-combed her hair and applied a fresh coat of lipstick; she liked to keep the paint wet.

“What else did Kylee say about me? I’m very curious.” she said with a wry grin…her mood different now…her words calmer and her voice smoother.

“Nothing else…that’s all she said—why, is there more?” I demanded.

“That’s all she said?” she asked, her tone suggesting she didn’t quite believe it.

“Look, what you do is your business. It’s a free country. You want to spend your life with a guy who has the constitution of a dandelion puff…that’s your deal Sarah.”

“Don’t be an ass…you don’t even know Brandon.” protested Sarah.

“What’s to know?” I asked.

“Brandon is a sweet guy.” said Sarah.

“I’m sure he’s a real sweetie.” I said.

“He’s sweet enough for me to want to try again with him, even if it may not work out.” Sarah shrugged.

“Well, luckily for you there’s lot of unextraordinary up and comers out there who’d make great fashion accessories…if it doesn’t work out.” I said.

“If I wanted a two dimensional fashion accessory I’d date a boy like Keegan again…you really have no idea what I’m about I guess. And what about you?” she said, her eyes fixing on me, “You think you could ever really love anyone other than the ghost of your dead ex-lover? You’re in love with ghosts. I should have known you were sick in the head when you came up to my table out of the blue and told me I was probably going to be your wife.” Sarah said, squinting her eyes at me slightly, “I mean what kind of person does that?”

“A bit over the top perhaps.” I said, “But the reality eventually washed over me like an awesome wave of realization.”

“What awesome wave?” asked Sarah, crossing her arms.

“The obvious: I grew up downtown…you grew up in Brentwood. But you know something; I think I knew I wasn’t good enough for your uptown ass from the start–I just chose not to recognize it.” I said looking back at her.

“I see…so I’m just a spoiled, sheltered little princess too huh? That’s what you think of me?” she asked, her lips tightening a bit against her teeth in irritation.

“We’re from different worlds…maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t sense an inferno burning inside of you. I have uncanny powers of observation and I just don’t sense it.”

“What did you expect me to do…handstands?” asked Sarah.

“Maybe…” I said, “…impassioned women are full of fire…an impassioned woman might blindly cross a mine field for her lover…or on the other side of the coin, perhaps throw plates at his head…there’s a fine line. I think if you really felt something…there would be some wild passion…some fire…some pulse…wouldn’t you say?” I said, my words opening up a vast crevasse of silence charged with static electricity as Sarah’s face turned a deeper shade of red.

“You want some fire? Some pulse?” she said as she walked over to the mantle above the fire place and lifted from it a large stained glass vase I’d been given as a gift years before. It was full of odds and ends, change mostly and old keys, screws, bottle caps…she held its heavy weight for a moment, raising her brows and grinning as if she were going to perform a magic trick. Slightly perplexed I watched Sarah hold the vase out at an arms-length and drop it to the floor where it shattered against the hardwood, the colorful shards of stained glass exploding outward with the added pressure of 80 dollars in small change.

“Really?” I asked taking note of the breakage and found it oddly fascinating that only a second before the vase had been sitting intact on the mantle—where it had sat untouched for years.

Choosing not to comment, Sarah calmly moved to the table upon which my typewriter sat. For a moment I wondered if she would smash the typewriter against the floor. Instead however, with a slow and steady swipe of her arm, she cleared a number of empty glasses from my writing table which smashed against the floor one by one.

“How’s that for fire?” she asked.

“That’s not fire. That’s just breaking shit.” I said as I lit a cigarillo.

She moved to the TV next, placing her hand on the back of it and tipping it forward so it fell flat against the floor, cutting the sound of the retro video channel the moment it landed. I squinted at the TV, then back up at Sarah Lassiter who only looked back at me coldly. She next walked to the table Katie and I had set. Sarah reached down, taking hold of one corner of the table cloth and with a solid upward yank, the entire setting was upended, spoons, forks, knifes, plates, red wine glasses, white wine glasses, water glasses, candles, salt and pepper shakers, sugar cubes, coffee creamers, a basket of sliced bread, bottles of wine…everything Katie and I had so meticulously set—it all went up and suspended in mid-air for a moment before being pulled by gravity back down onto the table, chairs and floor in a horrendously loud crash.

I looked from the mess of smashed glass and plates to Sarah who looked back at me with a cocked brow and spoke, “Is that enough fire for you…enough pulse?”

“All you’ve done is prove my point.” I shrugged.

“No, you’ve just proven mine.” she said, dropping the corner of the table cloth with a tilt of her head.

“You done?” I asked.

“I think so…” said Sarah.

“Ok…because I want to leave you with a parting thought.” I said.

“Shoot.” she said.

“I didn’t mean to introduce my insanity into your life…but the intricate chain of coincidences that led me to you was a once in a life time thing. I’m not sure what the purpose was—but the planets really lined up for that only once; a one-shot anomaly. Such an intricate chain of coincidences will never present themselves again. And you’ll never, ever come across a man like me again.” I said.

Sarah looked back at me for a long moment shaking her head slightly, “Is that supposed to haunt me or something?” she chuckled.

When I didn’t answer, she turned and left and I stood there listening to her shoes clacking across the floor and down the hallway.

Stepping out into the hallway, I found she was gone and the hallway was silent except for the stairwell door that spent its air slowly until it finally clicked shut, punctuating the entire debacle like a period.

“Everything ok in there mister?” asked a voice and I recognized a neighbor’s face sticking out from behind his door. I didn’t know his name as I never got involved with my neighbors, but I’d seen his face before. His gaze sat fixed on me, expecting at least some explanation of the noise which must have been horrendous.

“Women.” I shrugged.

“Ah….” he nodded as if he perfectly understood and continued in his heavy European accent, “My friend, it is better to live in a desert than to live with a fretful woman. You are still young…live a peaceful life.” he advised before disappearing behind his door and quietly clicking it shut.

Back in the apartment I walked over to the mess scattered across my living room floor and pushed at some of the broken glasses with the tip of my shoe. I puffed on the cigarillo and walked to the window and opened it up…I leaned out against the sill and saw Sarah walking calm and collected down Vermont, her bag slung over one shoulder…her legs taking the oncoming sidewalk with rhythmic strides—just as it had happened in my reoccurring dream. In time though, I’d forget about her…and I knew I’d also forget about Laura Lassiter—and I’d forget because I’d let myself…and there was a sense of ease in that. In the end it had all been a product of my madness for Laura which had been born out of the deep bludgeoned orange sunsets of a 1990’s love story. Perhaps it was time to let the 1990’s go…to embrace the unimaginative times—surrender to the digital umbilical cord that had sucked the creativity out of the world. 

Feeling the heaviness of the beer pulling at my bladder, I made my way down the creaky hardwood hall toward the bathroom. I puffed the cigarillo deep and immersed my mind in the rustic burned aroma of tobacco which always reminded me of a mahogany study. There was no way I was letting go of the 90’s…I couldn’t even if I tried—it was a lifetime commitment for me. I looked at my reflection in the bathroom mirror as I stood at the toilet, waiting for the piss to come. I looked younger than I was and the southern California sun had bronzed my face nicely and the cigarillo hanging loosely from my lips drew a long thin line of smoke that curled toward the overhead light.

When I was through I looked down into the bowl before flushing and was perplexed to see a number of small brown, rabbit-like proportions sitting silently in the bottom of the basin. I thought back, trying to recall Katie using my bathroom—which she most certainly hadn’t I realized. The droppings in fact belonged to Sarah…something of her, but not her exactly. I stood there perplexed; staring at them…contemplating their existence and their meaning and how it was such a meticulous woman such as Sarah would somehow forget to flush.

I closed the lid and sat on the side of the bathtub in deep contemplation, weighing the angles. Had Sarah left them there to mark her territory…perhaps hoping that Katie would come back, use the bathroom, encounter the small rabbit-like proportions, assume they were Sarah’s and somehow, on some subconscious Freudian level, back off? Did women play territorial games like that? It seemed hard to believe. Perhaps it was more likely that Sarah had left her droppings to sabotage my special dinner party…perhaps assuming that encountering an unflushed bowl might cause any of my guests to form questionable opinions about me and perhaps the word would go around—perhaps it was something that could ruin a man’s reputation in Hollywood—though I doubted it. I chuckled…squeezing my temples with a thumb and forefinger, shaking my head at the absurdity—perhaps she’d just become preoccupied with reapplying her lipstick and had forgotten to flush and there was nothing more to it.

Either way, premeditated or not…the occurrence instilled within me a sobering notion; she was only human…nothing more—nothing less. She wasn’t a majestic effigy of a long lost, soft focus 1990’s romance of dark shades that I’d never get to do over. She wasn’t even Laura’s biological sister. She wasn’t an escape from a mundane era, a distraction from imminent mortality or a catch-all wonder drug that would make everything just perfect; in fact she was only human… a mortal coil…who snored with her mouth open, flossed her teeth, did her laundry, did her taxes, stood in line at the grocer and now and then left the toilet unflushed…and with that—the spell seemed to break, breaking with it, my long standing obsession with long lost Laura and the woman I’d mistaken for her sister and this time I felt it break good and hard…shattering to the floor in a thousand and one shards each reflecting long lost Laura, who had also been mortal…mortal enough to take her own life.

A tinge of shame washed over me as I sat there, realizing it all and watching the smoke curl toward the ceiling. After being a fantastical madman for months; in the end it was a chance encounter with Sarah’s unflushed turds that had suddenly tipped the scales and set me straight on an existential level, finally breaking the spell I’d in essence cast upon myself. I flushed the toilet and left the lid down.

I sunk back into the hard lumpy hold of the couch, taking inventory of the damage. The shattered mess of glasses, wine bottles and vases caught the overhead lights in a thousand and one sparkling points of varying color. My TV lying face down on the floor promised me its 70 inch screen was most certainly smashed. Knives, spoons, forks and shattered plates soaking in pools of water and wine against the hardwood of my living room floor confirmed the fact that the dinner party I’d set up for wasn’t going to happen quite according to plan. When the buzzer sounded, doubtlessly signaling the first guest of the evening, I thought of remaining seated on the couch. Perhaps I could concoct an emergency that would excuse, in hindsight, the strategy of simply not acknowledging any of my guests. People love a great sob story. However, being a storyteller didn’t necessarily make me a tremendously talented liar.

I got up and walked to the small speaker in the wall and pressed the button.

“Yeah.” I said.

“Hey…it’s Tony.” D’Amato’s voice crackled through the small dusty speaker.

“Come on up.” I said and buzzed him up.

I left the door ajar and took a beer from the fridge. I sank back down into the lumpy couch and sipped at it as I waited for D’amato to make his way up the stairs. Scanning the damage strewn across the floor again, I thought of what I’d tell him. In such a situation, what do you tell a Hollywood director who’s just agreed to shoot your screenplay? Anyway it’s presented—a trashed apartment is never going to suggest to any partner in business that one is a picture of mental stability. What I did know however is that no writer worth a damn was ever sane. Still, as D’Amato entered cautiously, noticing the shambles, I greeted him as if it was any other day.

“How goes the battle old chap?” I said, raising the can of beer.

“Looks like a battle has gone on in here.” he said and my reply was interrupted by the sounds of Katie, Walsh and Walsh’s better half Monica.   

As they entered, their chatter ceased and took on the same ominous caution D’Amato had entered with. The four of them stood looking over the disaster scattered around the living room floor. I retrieved the broom and dustpan from a pantry closet and got to work immediately sweeping the stained mess into a large pile on the hardwood floor as Walsh and his girl moved around the kitchen with Katie, evidently going ahead with dinner.  

As I swept, Lenny Sandberg and his wife arrived, looking dapper and glitzy—as if on their way to a red carpet award ceremony. They all greeted each other, ignoring the elephant in the room which again was I. As they spoke about the recipe Katie was preparing and discussed the possible variations; I introverted, focusing on the glass and the sound of it being swept into a pile. I realized D’Amato was standing nearby, watching the glass being swept into the pile as well. I looked up at him, nodded and offered a cordial grin. He wasn’t grinning however; he was smoking his tobacco pipe and staring at me very intensely. He took another puff and removed the pipe from his mouth in a smoky plume…he squinted at me for a moment and then spoke.

“Tell me about this thing.” he said and his comment caused the conversation in the kitchen to subside. I realized they were all listening—waiting for a damn good explanation. I kept sweeping for a moment before looking back at D’Amato and Sandberg. After a moment, I set the broom down and collapsed into the reclining futon with a deep sigh.

“Well, pull up a seat.” I told them.

“Ok, just a sec, I want to get a beer for this one.” said Walsh, sliding over to the fridge and extracting two of the beers he’d brought with him. He cracked one and set it on the coffee table before me and cracked the second for himself. He took a seat beside his girl on the couch; the one he’d fallen madly in love with and who loved him back just as madly—perhaps men like me weren’t meant to experience such a state. D’Amato meanwhile pulled up a chair from the kitchen table and sat intently, waiting for a cinematic explanation as Sandberg removed his wife’s jacket, draping over the back of one chair. Katie, still holding the dish sponge in her hand leaned against the partition wall looking lovely and curious. It was time to come clean.

And come clean I did. I started at the very beginning and cited the entire Laura Lassiter saga. I explained the entire debacle from start to finish, leaving no detail unturned and no psychological twist unmentioned. 

“Ridiculous isn’t it?” I chuckled when I was through.

“I think that’s actually one of the most darkly romantic stories I’ve ever heard.” said Walsh’s girl with an unapologetic shrug.

“I mean, the love story with Laura…and then how you saw her sister’s name on a poster by sheer chance…then how it wound up not being her sister at all…how it was all this big coincidence.” agreed Walsh.

“Like it was meant to happen.” said Katie, “For whatever reasons.”

“No such thing…” scoffed Walsh with a wave of his hand, “Wouldn’t it make more sense that everything is random? What are the odds that everything happens for a reason? I don’t buy it.”

“Random is one theory,” said D’Amato, taking the pipe from his mouth…he looked at Walsh and his girl, then peered at a far point through the window as if scanning the horizon line. He then turned to me and focused, “Franky…I like your screenplay alot…it’s got balls and something more elusive—chi you might call it. But this story…the story you just told us all…that’s the movie I want to shoot…you couldn’t invent that sort of thing even if you tried…it’s poetry in motion…and it’s the perfect 1990’s romance.”

“I agree.” said Sandberg, finally weighing in with a strange grin in his eyes, as if he was pleasantly amused by my predicament.

I glanced up at Katie who was still leaning against the partition, holding the sponge…she’d not moved through my entire account; she’d listened intently. She raised her brows and nodded slowly, a grin forming at the bottom of her eyes, “I don’t think anything in this life is a random coincidence.” she said with a small half shrug.

“I’ve always said that Los Angeles is a hell of a co-writer.” D’Amato said from his chair, a fresh puff of tobacco smoke enveloping his head and offering him a screen of mystery, “I feel real good about this idea for a film…in fact I’m positive…in the same way I was positive about The Guys From Van Nuys.”

“Amazing film.” Walsh said, raising his bottle, “And to many more.”

“To many, many more.” Sandberg concurred with a small bowing gesture as if he was a tuxedoed butler bidding me a good evening.

“I think this story of yours will make an even better film than The Guys from Van Nuys.” offered D’Amato.

“So, maybe that was the reason all along.” I said as I rose from the futon.

I stepped over to the window and scanned the vast expanse of city lights that stretched toward the majestic Los Angeles skyline. What a town—perhaps it was she, the City of Angels who I couldn’t stand to be away from for more than five minutes—and perhaps she knew it. I thought about all the lost souls out there…and wondered where it was all heading. Sarah was out there somewhere…I wondered where…then realized it didn’t matter anymore.

Jarrod Tyler 2020

*As a creative work of fiction, this novel does not represent any residences, facilities, locations or persons either living or deceased — any similarity is purely coincidental and not in any way intended by the author.