WAITERS – a novel by Jarrod Tyler


I sank back into the hard lumpy hold of the couch, taking inventory of the damage. The shattered mess of glasses, wine bottles, beer bottles, plates, and vases caught the overhead lamp in a thousand and one sparkling points of light. The 70-inch TV I’d bought on a whim from a Walmart in Burbank, sat face-down on the living room floor most certainly broken. Knives, spoons, forks, and shattered plates soaking in pools of water and wine against the hardwood confirmed the fact that the dinner party I’d set up for wasn’t going to happen quite according to plan. I lit up a blunt and puffed easily on it, wondering how it had all come to this. When exactly had it all turned a corner? Indeed, it all seemed to have started the day I’d noticed a passing poster stuck to a lamp post. Could I even recall it? I tried, imagining what version of reality may have unfolded had my head been turned the other way instead.

It was then that the buzzer sounded, doubtlessly signaling the first guest of the evening. I considered remaining seated on the couch and simply not answering. What was it about a doorbell that summoned us immediately or at all? Perhaps, it was a healthy thing to ignore a doorbell now and then. Or perhaps I could concoct an emergency scenario that would excuse me from all social obligations—perhaps a sudden fever or a case of benign positional vertigo. Perhaps I could go one further, citing the sudden death of an imaginary friend. People love a great sob story. However, being a storyteller didn’t necessarily make me a tremendously talented liar. Abandoning the contemplation, 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.

“Ok.” I said and buzzed him up.

I left the door ajar and took two beers from the fridge. I tossed one to the chef, who hopelessly peered around the apartment, realizing there was no salvaging any of the food he’d prepared. He caught the can of beer and opened it, oblivious to the foam that sprayed his collar. I sank back down into the lumpy couch and sipped at my beer as I waited for D’Amato to make his way up the stairs. Scanning again the damage strewn across the floor, I thought of what I’d tell him. More importantly, I thought of what I’d tell Warner Diamond. In such a situation, what does one really tell a prolific film producer who’s on the verge of backing one’s screenplay? Whatever way it’s presented—a trashed apartment is never going to suggest to any partner in business or crime, that one is a picture of mental stability and sound judgment. However, I took small solace in recognizing that no writer worth a damn was ever sane. Perhaps it was a truth that would be inherently understood. As D’Amato pushed cautiously through the door, noticing the shambles strewn across the floor, I greeted him as if it was any other day.

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

“Looks, like the bad guys won.” he said offering a grin of absurdity, and the prevailing silence was broken by the sounds of Walsh and Monica echoing their chatter and laughter off the outer hallway walls. They were laughing with Warner Diamond and his wife who entered last, losing their grins immediately on noticing the state of the room. Their chatter ceased and took on the same ominous silence D’Amato stood there with, peering back at me intensely, expecting some type of explanation.

I sat there, peering back at them, puffing on my blunt, sipping from the beer, and contemplating whether or not I owed them an explanation. After all, it had become my dark secret—and perhaps the most complex mind-fuck I’d ever and would ever wander into, even though I’d have rather not gotten involved.

Love, hate, obsession, infatuation, 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 and complicated it can be.

If I’m going to tell you about the chance encounter with a tattered poster stuck to a lamp post, and how it changed the trajectory of my summer, I should start from the beginning, for context…after all, one could argue that context is everything. At the time I was writing my masterpiece—or rather I was method-writing my masterpiece. Which entailed becoming so deeply embroiled in the character and his psychology that I actually became the character—I became he and he became me. I worked as a ballroom waiter in the downtown Los Angeles hotel scene, which on its best night was a quagmire of gossip, rumor spreading, and professional saboteurs.

Though it was spread across the downtown core in dozens of properties—upscale and run-down alike; the ballroom waiter scene in Los Angeles was smaller than it appeared to be. That is to say that we’d all bounced around from hotel to hotel and had worked with almost everyone else at one point or another and so gossip traveled faster than a Bel-Air wildfire in the downtown core. Gossip and cutthroat rumor spreading were key for most ambitious waiters who made it their goal to secure positions at the topmost properties in town—which were chockfull of ladder-climbing keeners dead set on earning themselves promotions, which were few and far between. They lived the part and became method-waiters; applying the Stanislavski Method to their signature brand of shit shoveling, hoping to convince higher-ups that they were the best person for the job of serving rubber chicken and powdered mashed potatoes to oblivious guests who didn’t quite care whether or not their dessert fork faced right, or they drank white wine from a red wine glass.

I wasn’t this type of man. I didn’t believe in climbing ladders. Rather, I was content to pace myself with the luxury of indifference and it seemed I’d found the perfect home at the Hotel Davenport. Though the Hotel Davenport had an illustrious reputation; their ballroom division was a mess of substance abuse, managerial incompetence, sloth, and white-room mental illness—I was a perfect fit you could say…which was a saving grace for me being that I’d either quit or been fired from every other hotel in town—which meant that the Davenport was my last chance. What’s more, the job required very little thought, which left me with a mind full of literary possibilities at the end of each night when I’d stay up into the wee hours, typing away at my method-written masterpiece.


The Hotel Davenport was a towering five-star property, sprawling across four city blocks and piercing the sky with a satellite antenna atop its 45th floor. The Hotel had been built around the turn of the century and boasted old-world 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 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 despite 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 Henry Miller—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 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&Ts 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 an 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 me, occasionally inviting us up later, after work, to their plush suites for drinks and socializing. We often chased down the dawn on those long liquor-soaked nights.

It seemed I’d found the perfect niche; the perfect job from which I could frequently escape. What made this phenomenon of ducking out possible was that Davenport supervisors were, 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 saltshaker, a wayward napkin—these matters plagued supervisors nightly. They were in over their heads and such pure dedication to details that the guests didn’t give a squirt of piss about, left very little margin of free time for the supervisors to chase down a 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 and shooting a bit of the shit. In fact, it seemed nearly magical that I could be paid to wander aimlessly and abuse substances while doing so. That is until one evening while wandering through a burgundy carpeted, chandelier-lit, tenth-floor hallway, I came face to face with Captain Kate; one of the Davenport’s most fiercely dedicated ballroom captains.

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 installation in the late 1800s. As if I was 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 Captain Kate 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 Kate a charming grin…as if we were old friends who had run into each other in the supermarket one Sunday afternoon.

“Kate.” I said, “How is my favorite ballroom captain?”

“Nero!” 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 chick 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 Kate, 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 Nero. 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 Captain Kate 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 so they might now keep their eyes on me. As Captain Kate and her minions 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. I’d evaded capture…but I was certain I wouldn’t experience such good luck next time.

It seemed now 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 upper 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 I was forced to remain in the ballroom for the entirety of my shift for three consecutive nights—which 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 Captain Kate 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 Gentleman’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 maintaining 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 carefully organized 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 were 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-90s 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 stockpile 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’s 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 blackjack 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 56-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 Captain Kate who’d appeared out of nowhere, like an apparition. I backed into the warm emptiness of the Bronze Room, concealing the generous sum of 56-year-old brandy Garrison had set me up 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 the handles were set perfectly at 4 o’clock; someone had taken 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 floorboards, 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 Captain Kate. What’s up my brother?” he chuckled, 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 many years longer than I had 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 do say old chap, you’ve taken management ducking to quite 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 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 shrugged.

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

“Sure man.” He nodded, “You know where there’s a game going?”

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.

“You talk a lot with those housekeeping girls?” 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, 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; one of the Davenport’s veteran waiters. Beyond harboring a weakness for gambling, O’Leary 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 traveled 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 a 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 O’Leary 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 Gentleman’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 standstill 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 we have 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 every day 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, a guy 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 a perfect fit—it was as 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 unwittingly 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 Inner-City Fundraiser. He demanded I follow him to the locker room.

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

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

“Fuck Kate and fuck the shitheads at table fourteen…” he chuckled, accosting my tray and handing it off to a new server who was eager to please, “Drop these at table fourteen.” 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 vial 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.

“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 were being renovated; 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 10:30! It’s going to blow the roof off this place.”

I stood there for a moment and watched as a Chicago forward blazed across center ice toward a building breakaway 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. 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.

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. Despite 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.

It was Mr. Q. The Q was for Quaid. He was a short, round man whom 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 sight who’d not passed their six-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 sat patiently and listened 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 and 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 breach 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, break down, and sob. I lit a cigar, feeling I was already in the shithouse 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 four interviews to secure a fifth 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 mundane and badly articulated 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 in my head as I strolled up Figueroa toward my van, swigging a mouthful of murky green absinthe from my lucky flask as the disease-infested hookers offered to blow me for twenty dollars. 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, “So far, what we know of…10 people from banquets, 3 bellmen, and 2 from valet got the axe tonight and there will be more tomorrow.”

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


“It would appear so. I walked out in the middle of his sermon—I think I really insulted the clown.” I said.

“I heard. 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 from the cracked gutter, up the curb and across the sidewalk to a shop front in the doorway of which laid a homeless man, sleeping in a twisted-up position, as if he was a ragdoll that was tossed there haphazardly. 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, or a banker broken by tragedy, addiction, and loss; I didn’t know and would never know. When I turned to walk on, I noticed a poster taped to a lamp post. 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.

The poster, though generic in its sub-cultured cut-out clipping style bared a name that sent a jolt through my core, igniting a spark that would, in a relatively 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 performer at a 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. As if the name on the poster had found me, rather than vice versa. I read the name again and it brought with it a wash of recollection from the mid-90s, when everything had meant more somehow and dreams called to me through whispering trees—the year I’d gone up the river into the heart of darkness for Laura Lassiter, who’d been a new wave design—a pastel portrait of a dark mystery and a question that I couldn’t ask.


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, the jet trails of which were illuminated by the rising sun; the beginning of a new day through most of which I’d sleep.

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 listed her sister’s name. Who was Laura Lassiter? I suppose nobody really knew who Laura was. If I’m to explain Laura Lassiter—for context, I will need to backtrack, way back…before technology had robbed the world of true romance, creative individuality, and critical thought. It was the 1990s 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 profound effect on me. Her name was Laura Lassiter and as I say, she didn’t beg to be remembered…she didn’t need to. Though there was a quiet energy about her, she was infamously known around our scene. However, I’d not quite noticed her at the time—being as preoccupied as I was with the safe havens, romantic entanglements, and immunity youth afforded me.

There were passing hellos between Laura and me…there were a few packed car rides from one party to another…there were group conversations at which we’d both been present but rarely did we talk. There was an odd passing glance one evening after the fourth of July fireworks when we’d passed each other in Griffith Park amidst crowds of dispersing people. 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…as if there was the shade of a Carpenter’s melody about her.

She’d been flanked by her friends; a group of girls who’d come to be known around Hillcrest Village as The Sylvias. They all attended Westlake Academy; an art school for the overly privileged and overly sheltered west side jet setters. Though Laura wasn’t the ringmaster, she was definitely one of the Sylvias and indeed part of the whole ‘Westlake’ thing. The thought had lingered as she walked by, staring me down—and the moment had eventually passed into oblivion.

The Westlake thing, I should mention, was made a thing by Laura Lassiter and her band of Sylvias. They were, for the most part, femme fatales and usually clad in black. 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 sort 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 suburban family values I suppose, but deep down the solid values were already instilled—the scaffolding already braced and their rebellion against it made for great social mishaps.

There was a tragic air about the Sylvias, and they often behaved as if they were extras in a film by Goddard—another of their obsessions. They emulated European cinema and lusted after dead authors and tragic poets. They romanticized suicide and played the most depressing music at their parties. They expressed their youthful angst and Catholic guilt through macabre humor and existential perversion. They’d come to believe there was something horribly wrong beneath the sunny suburban lanes from which they’d been spawned and rather than subscribe to an upbeat disposition—they embraced their inner darkness with velvety red passion.

Though we all talked the talk about the Sylvias; few of us walked the walk. Perhaps I was the only one fool enough or lucky enough to have walked the walk with the Sylvias. I’d acquainted myself with them one evening on a balcony at some pseudointellectual’s loft party in Echo Park and it had led to a few romantic entanglements one fateful summer. Though I consecutively dated exactly 3 of the 7 Sylvias over the course of one year, I never dated Laura Lassiter herself…she simply hadn’t occurred to me at that point. She was perhaps the most elusive of their group and she commonly orbited around the fringes of my social radius. Though I’d always known of her, I wasn’t stricken by a certain fever for her until years later.

Laura, like the others, exhumed fringe styles from the 1960s. She didn’t dabble—she went all the way. Perhaps she didn’t look exactly like 1960s 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 the dog ravenously ate at the large soft-serve cone. As I walked by, I nodded to her and Laura stopped, fluttered her lashes, and tried to form words. I’d stood there waiting for her to speak; however, she’d only held me in an intoxicating gaze. I asked her if the cat had gotten her tongue…however Laura only smiled and curtsied slightly before moving on.

I’d admired her round behind and her golden mane of hair as she’d strode away…but I hadn’t really given it a second thought aside from the encounter being too short and slightly bizarre. However, it seemed par for the course with Laura. It was widely known that Laura Lassiter suffered from madness—daylight terrors, sunny afternoon nightmares, and eerie voices that told her eerie 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 a lot less of everyone. It seemed the twilight of our innocence was upon us, and hindsight had come to offer a glimpse of clarity. That summer, though not seeking any out, I was offered several Laura Lassiter stories by some mutual friends we shared. I’d heard many Laura anecdotes that summer, but one story, in particular, lingered like a haunting echo, bouncing around the catacombs of my mind weeks after I’d been told.

The story was told to me by an old friend who had briefly dated Laura years before. In a rather nonchalant manner, he explained to me how one night at approximately 1:30 am, he was awoken by a phone call. It was Laura and she explained in a panicked tone that a man had followed her home and had gotten into the house and was hiding in one of the rooms. Having lost their father years before, Laura and her sister Sarah lived in the sprawling estate with their mother, who happened to be a frequent flyer. On this night, both her mother and sister were on a Mediterranean wine tour and had been gone for perhaps two weeks by that point. Laura was staying in the house alone and insisted that a man was hiding somewhere on the second floor.

As it was told to me; my friend dressed and tucked his father’s handgun into his belt. He drove his car over to the lavish Lassiter residence and arrived around 2 am. He found Laura waiting for him outside, clutching the cordless phone and smoking an unlit cigarette. Knowing that Laura was prone to delusions, he drew his father’s pistol just in case, as she led him through a maze of hallways until they finally came to her second-floor bedroom which he said was scattered with creepy charcoal sketches, vinyl records and half-finished dresses Laura had designed and wrapped around a number of vintage mannequins that stared back at him blankly with an empty, eerie gaze.

Certainly, I was expecting the story to end in a torrid bout of fucking or at least some heavy petting. However, my friend informed me that when they were standing in the close confines of her bedroom, Laura became terrified, pointing toward her closet, “Do you see? He’s hiding in there.” she’d said, pointing a trembling finger toward the Venetian closet doors. Jack approached the closet carefully with Laura in tow and the 45 drawn. When he tore the doors back, he found the closet was empty, aside from the usual clutter one might find in someone’s closet. When he turned back to Laura with a consoling grin, now that he’d proven that she was safe and sound, he saw that the blood had run away from her face and she’d backed away, demanding an answer from the imagined man in her closet.

“Why is he looking at me like that?” she’d demanded, peering with horror into the empty closet where she saw a man, staring back at her.

Jack of course had intervened and explained to Laura that there was nobody there. However, Laura only squinted her eyes at him and demanded to know why he was lying to her, citing a surfacing suspicion that Jack and the imaginary man had planned it all…to get her alone, after which she’d bolted from the bedroom and disappeared into the night, leaving the front door wide open and every light in the house ablaze. Nobody saw Laura after that for weeks. It was one in dozens of circulating Laura Lassiter stories, but it was the one that affected me the most. As Jack sat across from me, bouncing around from subject to subject, getting higher and higher on martinis, I’d inquired what had become of Laura Lassiter and was told that she was off traveling the far corners of the world and would emerge at her mother’s lonely estate from time to time, but only for a week or a month, before she was gone again, chasing down a quest in some remote part of the world.

In the following weeks, I found myself questioning our mutual friends about Laura Lassiter. They told their tales with a fond tone—as if missing Laura’s antics by remembering her aloud—as if she weren’t with us anymore. One friend told me about an incident that transpired one afternoon when Laura had been called to the dean’s office at Westlake Academy for a concerned chat about her absences and she’d subsequently used up three lipstick cartridges covering his office walls in dark-rouge poetry when, on account of speaking with the disgruntled parent of a student, he’d left Laura alone in his office with the door closed for 15 minutes. Yet another mutual friend told me about how Laura rented an apartment in New York when her mother had gotten her a job working at a popular fashion magazine, on the editorial side. When a brash young photographer had seen her around the office, he’d immediately requested that she meet him at his studio in Soho for a photo shoot. Laura had agreed to meet him the following week. However, she hadn’t shown up. Instead, she’d abandoned her job, her apartment, and her new NYC life for a plane ride to Argentina and had turned up six months later back at her mother’s house flanked by her new fiancé; an Argentine sculptor twice her age—which didn’t quite sit well with her mother. Laura left the sculptor a month later when she’d gone MIA again…this time flying to Paris to start a new life. Indeed, it could be said that Laura was a book with far too many pages. There was all that about Laura, but there was also a shade—the color of which something in me innately recognized; as if I’d known her in a previous life.

After weeks of Laura Lassiter stories echoing through my mind—stories accompanied by grainy recollections of her beautiful face; I began to feel as if I’d lost out on an opportunity to know her or perhaps solve her, and this realization was made more dire by the fact that she’d left Los Angeles years before and hadn’t been back since. It seemed Paris agreed with her, and she agreed with it. Still, I’d decided to call Laura one evening at her mother’s home, and her sister Sarah answered the phone. I’d never met Sarah; she was several years younger than Laura and me and if I had any vague recollections of Sarah, it was that she might show up at a band night with her cohorts and keep a cool, low profile—occupying, for instance, a shadowy table in the back of the club. After all, it couldn’t have been easy for Sarah to exist in the perpetual shadow of her older and infinitely charismatic sister.

The day I’d called, I’d asked Sarah for Laura’s mailing address—for the purpose of sending her an articulately penned letter, one which would detail my fascination with her. However, Sarah relayed to me that Laura had recently moved out of her old flat and hadn’t yet given the forwarding address to her new flat. 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 were also her other personalities to consider—the ones that seemed to surface at random. It all seemed for the better as it appeared that things could get quite sticky with Laura. Aside from that, there were plenty of lovely and willing damsels in the Los Angeles area who’d made it into my contact list, and who’d also made it clear at one point or another that I merely needed to call them—and they’d join me for a night of what-have-you. In the end, I chose to see Laura’s 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 occasionally, and rather out of the blue. It should have been the end—most certainly it should have, dear reader…but the Laura Lassiter saga didn’t quite end there; there were installments yet to come…only I didn’t realize it at the time. Ironically, just as I was forgetting about her nearly completely, I ran into Laura at a dinner party I’d attended with a woman I’d been casually seeing.

I was more dragged to the dinner party than invited—my then-girlfriend Clare insisted I accompany her despite 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-serve boyfriends who, aside from happily forfeiting their individuality for collective favor, also aimed carefully at pseudointellectual pontification and Oedipus regression. Perhaps having learned her mother’s playbook well, Clare assured me that if I didn’t attend the party, she’d impose sexual sanctions—and more…perhaps realizing that sex was the only thing we had left in common and not very good sex at that, I might add.

I’d dressed in a blazer, jeans, checkerboard Vans, and out of spite; an old and faded Norman Mailer t-shirt—a man dearly loathed by Clare’s clan of misandrists. In this fashion, I’d attended the dinner party and was beside myself when I’d rounded a second-floor corner in search of the bathroom and found myself rather suddenly, face to face with Laura Lassiter; a woman in whom only a few years before I’d invested so much contemplation and fascination. It was hard to believe. On noticing me standing there utterly stupefied and at a loss for words; Laura offered a smile and a warm greeting.

She stood there looking stunning in her simple attire, a Jesus and Mary Chain t-shirt and frilly jean cut-offs, out of which ran her legs in caramel contours, down to her bare feet, the nails of which were painted white to match her fingernail polish. A freckly tan ran across her forehead over which golden locks of her hair hung haphazardly over her coral-blue eyes. We stood there chatting for a while as if catching up…as if we’d been close before her previous departure. She explained her most recent travels matter-of-factly; she’d been in Paris for several months and had then decamped to South Africa, where she worked with a humanitarian organization. She’d recently returned and planned to stay in LA for the summer and I was beside myself suddenly—the infatuation I was certain had been dispelled with the passing of time, washed over me then and there in a crashing foamy wave. When our conversation ended, I continued, toward the bathroom, where I 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; Laura had suddenly appeared before me in a second-floor hallway of a party I’d nearly not attended.

During the actual dinner, I’d sat across from Laura, basking slightly in the soft texture of her voice, the feminine way she sipped her water, the way she made sure to never place an elbow on the tabletop, her large coral-blue eyes and the dark coronas of her long curled lashes blinking back at me attentively as I spoke to her; her enigma wasn’t lost on me in the slightest way. Though Clare was sitting next to me with her nervous hand on my lap, gabbing with her trust-fund coterie of pontificating princesses about vacation spots, Italian handbags, and the latest gossip; 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 guests started to mingle and mill about the main floor of the house with bottomless wine glasses and flushed faces; I found Laura in the kitchen and asked her if she would walk to the liquor store with me. After all, the prosecco was getting low, and Clare had suggested I pick up some more. Laura had looked at me curiously, asking whom I wanted to see at the liquor store. I grinned and told her there was something I’d been meaning to talk with her about for a number of years. When I approached her, she’d been in mid-conversation with a few guests; she stared at me for a long moment and obliged, following me out into the warm mid-summer evening.

Walking at a casual pace beside me in the evening street that was glazed slightly with lamplight and the warm blue glow of the full moon, she told me more about a film she’d seen the night before—Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky, citing the movie had been correct and that indeed there was a vast world of difference between a tourist and a traveler. 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 of wondering about her. I listened to her tell me about a trip she’d taken to Egypt with her Parisian friends and how they’d found an ancient tomb in a mountainside—one that had been robbed and spraypainted with words she couldn’t decipher and without a segue, Laura stopped on the sidewalk and faced me.

“You know Christine told me a lot about you…more than I should probably know.” She said, looking at me curiously. Christine Bains had been one of her Westlake classmates and a devout Sylvia back in those long-lost red-letter days. I’d dated Christine for perhaps three 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—and a good man is often enough. Christine was always a bit of a dramatist. She’s got a moon in Leo, you know. So now you’re seeing Clare? Clare is so pretty…she has the grace of a lovely white swan.” said Laura.

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

“She’s a real sweet person.”

“Ah, she’s a pain in the ass mostly.” I grinned, 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 50s.” Laura said of Clare, “She has a smart figure…and her skin is so fair.”

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

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

“Hey listen, I need to talk to you about something.”

“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 or perhaps it was an alternate that I was strolling down the darkened lane with just then. I found that it didn’t quite matter to me.

“You know…I called your parent’s place one time…a few years back.” 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…you should go there one day—and write an amazing novel…like Henry Miller.”

“You read Miller?” I inquired.

“I saw where he lived too.” She nodded, “A ghastly place, but a creative place.”

“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 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 you because I couldn’t get you out of my mind suddenly.” 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 kaleidoscope of 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 just really want to kiss you right now.” I said.

“Do you mean that?” she asked.

“It’s the one thing I’m sure of right now.” I confessed.

Biting her lip in contemplation she stopped walking, turned to me, and suggested we sit down on an overgrown lawn belonging to a darkened, towering Victorian, one overhung by trees and shadow. Behind a darkened hedgerow, I’d taken her in hand and pressed my lips up against hers—she pressed back, and it was like fireworks.

Secretly, we spent several weeks together, making love on every surface of my apartment, in random hotel rooms, or in the back of my van, one night on a blanket in a darkened wooded area in Griffith Park. Laura was a versatile lover and I allowed myself to become fully immersed in the mystery of her femininity. It seemed I’d thrown all caution and self-restraint out the window, to the degree of finally understanding the meaning of Beatles songs.

Because I wasn’t a champion of self-analysis, I’d never quite figured out why I’d gone so asininely mad over Laura. It was instantaneous however, and as natural as drinking down a cool glass of lemonade…that much I did know. I also knew that 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. She’d once produced a stick of silver lipstick from her red leather 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 shop sign above her displaying Abigail’s Heirlooms in an old forgotten font. It was a perfect mental snapshot.

I’d become so immersed in Laura’s mystery in fact, that I’d forgotten there were monsters in her closet. The line between her sanity and madness started to blur and I began to make little distinction between the poetically unapologetic remarks that would roll off her tongue with a twist of madness and her calm collected convictions of sanity. It seemed her presence caused me to lose all sense of time and space. Perhaps it was her observations that usually skirted the fringes of hilarity, or perhaps it was her Catherine Deneuve looks, or 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. The combination of these elements and the realization that she’d fly off into the sunset at some point in the near future prompted me to shack up with Laura in a beachside kitchenette in Santa Barbara for two weeks; where we lived much like Elizabethan lovers—except that we showered and brushed our teeth.

In two weeks, I tried to make up for every minute I’d missed out on with Laura in previous years and I wished that we could have stayed lost in each other for much longer…living contentedly in the beachside kitchenette…fucking, philosophizing, sipping cognac and absinthe as she read the excerpts of dead existential authors to me, flipping through the channels and smoking copious weed, deconstructing the fabric of existence and obsessing over each other’s words…like in the tattered pages of an old Hemingway paperback.

However, Laura never stayed in one place long. 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 flooded 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 readers. Lying beside me on the lumpy bed of our beachside kitchenette, Laura spoke sleepily as she teetered 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’d sighed, trailing off into sleep.

Laura left LA the following day on a plane to Paris—where she had built something of an existence; a flat, a job, a cat, and some friends. She’d turned my world upside down in the most remarkable way before disappearing into cobblestone Parisian walkways, full of murk and mist and old-world poetry. 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:

My love—thank you for making my life more interesting.

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 she hoped to, but something wasn’t right about it, and I knew it like animals can sense an approaching storm. However, the image stayed with me—Laura looking over her shoulder with a sad smile. I framed it and hung the haunting black and white snapshot on a flickering wall in my mind. I hadn’t known it then…but it was the last time I’d ever see her.

Soon after our encounter, I’d learned that Laura, in a hopeless act of surrender, had committed suicide—she’d done it in Paris; so I’d heard from a number of mutual friends. However, I hadn’t been told how, and certainly I wondered how such a gruesome detail could possibly matter after all was said and done; it seemed an important detail to me, for some reason. I also wondered why she’d done it, but the why was obvious. She could no longer stand the whispering voices and the sinister laughter and the imaginary men hiding in her closet. She’d checked out, leaving behind a myriad 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.

Though I was surprised, I also wasn’t. Still, I’d thought quite a bit about the time we’d spent together as well as meeting her again and what that would be like and where that might be. I’d penned her several letters, detailing my longing for her feminine secrets, her intoxicating touch, and the poetry in her which she couldn’t quite contain…other letters were asinine and full of twisted hilarity and lewd declarations of the lust I felt for her. She would respond with an equally compelling narrative, always enclosing her letters with a red wax seal. In one letter, she’d explained to me how she’d taken a long walk along the Seine and imagined I was there beside her, holding her hand and admiring the ancient architecture. She’d stated the date and the general time and had asked if I’d felt her telepathic transmission. I couldn’t recall but somehow was certain we’d be together again…when she returned from her Parisian life. However, the finality of her sudden suicide put more than a crimp in any plans of a reunion. We were only ever to have one affair—the universal elements had forbidden another.

And so, time did what it does…ticking by relentlessly, keeping the universal rhythm of infinity. Gradually, the years melted into the past and everyone seemed to forget about Laura Lassiter, or at least they pretended to. Over the years Laura’s suicide became a dark piece of conversation and pretty much anyone that ever knew Laura seldom mentioned her or her sad situation. 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 word-slam poster decades later. What were the fucking odds? Indeed dear reader, something told me that it wasn’t about the odds this time.

The Law of Distraction

I made myself scarce at the Davenport after the locker room debacle, or rather they’d made me scarce by firing me. I’d received an official letter in the mail exactly three days later—which stated among other useless tidbits of information that Davenport management wasted no time whatsoever in canning my ass. Strangely, I felt nothing—not even the urge to dial up our good old Union reps at local 424 and pretend that I was distraught over my employment being terminated. It seemed I was through wasting time with dead-end jobs and autistic managers who were plagued by the pointless nuances of food and beverage services. To me, it had become awesomely clear, that what I actually needed was a dead-end job where the managers didn’t quite give a flying fuck. Instead of seeking one out diligently however, I committed to finishing—or at least greatly adding to the screenplay—my cinematic masterpiece.

A man must serve a purpose after all…he must make a real and lasting contribution to the world at large, no matter if he’s a willing participant or not. A man can spend years acquiring prestigious positions, memberships, and honorary titles. Some men spend their lives trying to belong somewhere with one group or another. They make concessions, and compromises, they may even acclimatize themselves to an agreeable persona—all for the sake of belonging to one coterie or another—to be a round peg. For me, that type of motivation was eclipsed by an incessant recognition of its absurdity.

And so, being banished from the Davenport meant to me that I’d finally have some time to complete my screenplay, which was missing an ending. The end was key…and I’d been mulling over several possible endings for weeks, unable to decide on any. Accordingly, I spent the following three weeks overhauling the screenplay, getting into the deep nooks and crannies and knocking out walls, adding new ones, and punching a skylight in the ceiling.

I’d wake up in the mid-afternoon, set ablaze a generously rolled blunt, swill down some ice-cold beer, and send away a few heavily doctored resumes, after which I’d hole myself up in my quarters, chipping away at the screenplay finale and getting completely lost in the novel I was halfway through writing. Indeed, though the novel was turning out to be a milestone work, it did act as a distraction from the screenplay. Though my social life became a necessary sacrifice, I felt I was making great progress artistically…and there is nothing like the creation and release of a great work…there’s no other feeling in the world like building from ground level a magnificently sincere and refined work and then pushing it out to sea in a tinted bottle.

After two weeks of being shut in my quarters, writing, re-writing, and refining the screenplay and only leaving the apartment on account of a Ralph’s run or an evening stroll to the top of Beachwood, I was pulled from my productive state into the harsh reality of the blue-collar world—which seemed to keep specific hours; a dulling routine. Certainly, it seemed to me a bit early to conduct a job interview at such an ungodly time. However, Simmons, the ballroom manager at the Oceanic Resort and Spa, had requested I meet him at 8:30 am. The Oceanic Resort was situated in Santa Monica; a world away from the tight-knit downtown core, where everyone working in the hotel scene seemed acquainted and privy to the latest gossip that always spread like wildfire. And being that word of my little gambling operation at the Davenport had made its way throughout the entire downtown circuit within a few days and sullied my good name among the tuxedo-vested, decades-invested masses of ballroom waiters; the Oceanic Resort seemed like a nice hideout where I could obliviously weather the fallout generated by the gentleman’s lounge that had gotten myself, O’Leary and the others busted.

The Oceanic overlooked the rocky bluffs of Santa Monica and was always crawling with tourists who spilled in from the beaches, the Pier, the 3rd street promenade, or the buses that carried them in from the airport or Hollywood Blvd or Orange County. Though the entire expanse of beautiful shoreline would one day be swallowed up by a massive tsunami; one couldn’t help being slightly mesmerized by the bludgeoned orange blaze of a Santa Monica sunset. The issue however, in my case, was one of miles. 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 3 pm, 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 slow traffic was moving—and it usually moved at a snail’s pace.

After two weeks of driving out to the Oceanic Resort and back every day; I was struck by the miles I’d racked up on my odometer, as well as the small fortune in petroleum I’d expended. However, nothing was worse than the time I’d spent pointlessly beetling along in coagulated traffic. Certainly, because of the commute, I was missing two or sometimes three hours of my days…which already seemed too short—to get finished what I needed to finish, I needed an extra 5 hours each day.

To solve this issue, I’d come across an idea of brilliance. What I’d not bothered considering only two weeks before, seemed not only a viable plan of action—it seemed a plan of action based on necessity. It had occurred to me at some point to convert my lovely Grand Caravan into a space-age campervan, in which I could exist, self-contained, for the consecutive shifts Simmons scheduled me for—which were typically four in a row, running from Wednesday to Saturday. This way, when I left the Oceanic Resort, at midnight or after, I’d merely need to drive a few blocks, find a darkened street somewhere nearby and retreat into the back of my van for some heavy writing and a spot of sleep.

To make this plan a reality, I spent a full weekend on the conversion. After taking out the back seats and piling them in my walk-in storage locker, I covered the floor first in a thick sheet of foam padding, over which I rolled an attractive Persian rug that ran perfectly from the tailgate to the two remaining front seats and measured nearly as perfectly widthwise. With bungee cords, I fastened a set of plastic storage drawers to the back of the passenger seat. I filled the top two drawers with dry goods, canned products, an alcohol stove with a foldable base, isopropyl alcohol, plastic cutlery, tin foil, plastic wrap, a can opener, rubber gloves, and cooking oil. In the bottom drawer, I stored paper towels, dish detergent, Styrofoam plates and bowls, scrub pads, alcohol wipes, and batteries. I’d then purchased a blackout curtain and cut it into large pieces according to each window’s dimensions and subsequently fastened them to the windows with Velcro strips. After running another blackout curtain behind the seats, I bought a large plastic storage container—one large enough to sit in comfortably. I placed this sideways behind the driver’s seat beside the plastic storage drawers. This ingenious idea allowed me the convenience of taking an Abraham Lincoln-style bath at the end of each night behind the privacy of my blackout curtains as I watched the nightly news on my laptop. Three gallons of heated water was all I needed to cleanse myself after pouring sleazy drinks for sleazy swingers all night at the Oceanic bar.

After I dumped the soapy water down a sewer drain, the container lid could be replaced and double as a counter upon which I would, at the end of each evening, place my laptop, on which I’d run classic films as I lounged on my foldable foam-mattress, eating oranges from my icy Coleman cooler, smoking blunts and working into the wee hours on a second laptop which housed my literary works. It was a nice system and one I’d taken great solace in, parked out in front of the gated mansions, as if existing in an interstellar escape pod…each night, attempting to distract my mind from wandering back to Laura Lassiter—and each night finding myself contemplating her existence in long-lost retrospect. And this dear reader would inevitably lead to the pondering of Sarah Lassiter—Laura’s long-lost sister who’d become a word-slammer.

On such solitary nights, while typing into the wee hours, I found myself wondering about Sarah’s act…and how much of it had been influenced by the tragic suicide of her sister. Would there be references? Cryptic clues? Answers to questions I’d always asked myself about Laura’s last days in Paris, but was never able to answer with any certainty? After having nearly forgotten about Laura Lassiter over the space of a decade—she’d suddenly resurfaced, through a chance encounter with a cryptic poster stuck to a downtown lamp post.

It reminded me of those long-lost nights when I’d lie in my bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering who exactly Laura Lassiter was, and coming to no conclusion.

Though after her suicide, I’d scoured my mind for answers, I’d eventually resigned to the reality that I’d never get any. There had been no one point in time that my preoccupation with Laura abruptly ended—rather it phased out gradually, with the aid of distraction. I’d lost her memory in a succession of difficult and manic women who, though paling in comparison to Laura, nonetheless wound up causing me enough headaches and drama to distract me from the haunting snapshot of Laura that I’d burned into my mind. Indeed, distraction seemed to be the best way around the resurgence of my preoccupation with Laura and the building curiosity about her word-slamming sister.

As luck would have it, a distraction came to me at the Oceanic Resort the following week. She was a woman named Ariel, and I noticed her one evening wandering around the Sapphire Ballroom looking like a deer in the headlights. She appeared to be merely another face—another twenty-something Simmons had hired to pad his staff with alternates. However, she seemed worlds apart when it came to her colleagues.

Certainly, I’d never come across a more intellectually bankrupt set of kids than I discovered at the Oceanic Resort. They were indeed a sordid cast that perfectly illustrated why it was so important to expose subsequent generations to talent, the imperative quest for creative individuality, and light-speed imagination. I was perplexed on several levels to encounter their utter lack of interest in history, art, literature, philosophy, the enigmatic extraordinary, and basically anything else that had taken place before the mini-supercomputer had come along and made everything mean a whole lot less.

What perhaps said more is that they used such a technological advancement as an accessory to their narcissism; self-taken headshots every few minutes, cringy dance videos often filmed in the large mirrors lining the ballroom walls, and copycat social media profiles meant to create a fantasy persona for strangers online. In short, they were content to be completely unoriginal.

The staff, who were mostly twenty-somethings, would emerge in the ballroom for their shifts, looking dopey and post-apocalyptic. Punishing lifestyles of hard liquor hangovers, greasy bar food, and snorted drugs made them look older than they were. They had bad dye jobs, snot-crusted bull rings hanging from their noses, cliché facial piercings, cliché sleeve tattoos and a few had sloth-like fingernails with jewels dangling from them, which made me wonder how they wiped their asses without lancing a hemorrhoid. I assumed they felt that if they copied their matinee idols closely enough, their true selves would never be discovered. It wasn’t cool cred however…it was mimicry.

Indeed, the Oceanic was a bore and one that drove me into great bouts of grogginess…when the hours slowed and became deep abysses of time we’d move through, at an agonizing pace. There was little salvation from this grueling boredom, which seemed to permeate my shifts regularly. To make matters worse, the young and the zestless spent long periods of time, congregated at the far end of my bar, snapping photos of themselves, whinnying, and gossiping about which Oceanic staffers were known to be currently fucking. They listened to cheese-puff dance mixes I’d thought we’d done away with in the 90s. They discussed the deeper meaning of a Marcy Z song that detailed her relationship with a man who incessantly wedged his face between her cottage cheeks and ate her ass. Then they snapped more photos of themselves striking sex-kitten poses. It seemed the obvious and rather amusing assumption was that the Oceanic Resort waitresses were a gang of basic bitches.

That is until Ariel arrived at work and strangely didn’t greet her colleagues with the phony enthusiasm the others routinely greeted each other with. In fact, she didn’t greet them at all, and they didn’t bother greeting her. She simply went to work setting glasses of ice water down on the tables. Ariel was perhaps 23 years old, yet she did her hair in a certain way that emulated Debbie Harry, an icon from her parent’s generation—or perhaps the hair was coincidental and Ariel’s face resembled Debbie Harry in a striking way. Speaking of her face, down one side of it, ran a rather mysterious scar from her brow down to her cheekbone. She didn’t attempt to conceal the scar with her hair—she’d learned to live with it, and it was now part of her personality. She didn’t say much, and when she did, her statements were randomly enigmatic and spoken with an unraveling tone. On top of this, she had a signature way of peering up at you from beneath her perfectly plucked eyebrows in a very psychotic fashion. That was my quick assessment of Ariel—the girl who rode the Big Blue Bus to work each afternoon.

“That Ariel girl needs to get a personality…I asked her if she was going to see Gangland Massacre this weekend.” Said Brianna, one of the evening waitresses who had danced nearly naked in several hip-hop videos, “She said, ‘I don’t listen to rap’.”

“Maybe she doesn’t.” I shrugged.

“I wouldn’t doubt it. She’s so bizarre. Her responses are all monosyllabic.” said Brianna, squinting her heavily painted eyes with suspicion, “She needs to get a personality.”

“Why are you so threatened by Ariel?” I grinned before taking a haul from my glass, finding it all a bit amusing, “Maybe it threatens you that you can’t quite grasp her.”

“Threatens me? I’m hardly threatened by her. I just don’t understand why she can’t smile and be bubbly and happy like everyone else.” Said Brianna.

We were joined about then by Miles—the night manager who had been put on probation for showing up drunk to his previous shift. I didn’t mind Miles…he was from New Jersey and didn’t mince words. He drank light beer and had pasted a scantily clad cut-out of Melanie Griffith in his locker. Indeed, Miles was a bag of asinine chuckles.

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

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

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

“Aren’t you on probation?” 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.

“Brianna here thinks our fine lass Ariel needs an attitude adjustment.” I said.

“The new girl? There’s something a little off about her—but she’s got a pair of buns on her.” 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 hello or goodbye!” scowled Brianna.

I looked at Ariel…who was now peering around the ballroom, looking for empty coffee cups to fill.

“You guys are way off base.” I said shaking my head before draining my glass.

“Off base? 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 guess they’re just hiring anyone now.” Said Brianna.

“I think she’s got a certain allure.” I admitted.

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

“Not this time. She’s got this Debbie Harry thing going.” I said.

“Who the fuck is Debbie Harry?” inquired Brianna.

“I can’t get into all of that…but I’ll tell you…I saw her coming in the other day wearing a Meat Is Murder t-shirt,” I said.

“Well that sounds like some creepy shit—right up her alley.” said Brianna 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.

“Well, you know what they say—there’s no accounting for taste.” said Brianna, sounding distantly wounded.

“I’m a man of refined taste.” I said, still gazing across the ballroom at Ariel who was glancing back now, realizing we were chatting about her.

The following evening when I returned to the resort for my next bartending shift at an investment banker’s conference—I stood behind my bar and watched them all devour 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. She was peering at me intensely from behind her neatly plucked eyebrows as she gave her bleach-blonde hair a toss. She was wearing black eye shadow this time and a thick coat of red lipstick. She stood there for a moment without saying anything looking a lot like a 1970s Debbie Harry.

“How’s it going?” I asked her as she peered over my shoulder and through the window, toward a point far in the distance.

“I’m supposed to ask you if you need any help on this bar.” She said.

“I could use some company—I’m so bored at this job. 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.”

“Can I ask you a personal question? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.” I said as I began polishing one of the wine glasses, which were usually always tarnished with an oily film and lipstick residue.

“You can ask.” she said.

“How did you get so great at this job?” I inquired.

“I’m terrible at this job. Even though it’s really just a lot of walking around looking for things to do.” She said, “I have another job that I actually like.”

“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.”

“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?” I asked.

“I got to read all of Charles 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 Factotum was my favorite.” Ariel said, nodding and throwing a glance at me.

“Both of those are great.” I chuckled, “But Hollywood may be his funniest.”

“I never read that one. But another one I’m obsessed with is 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 writing.” Ariel purred, “It’s so sincere.”

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

“You can, but I may not answer.” 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 my question: Did you cry for Heath Ledger?” I inquired.

“Who is Heath Ledger?” she asked.

“Okay, forget that one. Did you cry when WHAM broke up?” I asked.

“I wasn’t born I don’t think. Anyway, how much could the answer to those questions possibly tell you about me?” said Ariel, a grin forming in her eyes.

“More than you could imagine. Listen, maybe you’re right. Forget about it. 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.

“They don’t like anyone who thinks outside of their box.” I said.

“They work here all day, then sit at the bar after their shifts are over. Some come in and sit at the bar on their days off. I think they get mad that I don’t want to sit at the bar after spending eight hours with them. I don’t understand them.” Said Ariel.

“They’re threatened by you.” I said.

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

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

They do too…I’ve never seen girls wearing so much messy makeup.” 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, “My last boyfriend broke up with me because he said I was too crazy in bed.”

“Why don’t you come out with me some night.” I suggested, “I’ll show you some places where Bukowski drank. By the way, how did you get that scar on your face?”

“It happened in a roller-skating accident…at a roller-skating rink in Alhambra…I was a kid when it happened.” She said.

“I think it adds some mystery to your appearance.” I told her.

“You don’t mean that.” She said.

“Sure I do.” I said, knowing full well that in doing so I was setting something in motion—and feeling indifferent about the consequences.

“I doubt it.”

“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 our informative and rather compelling shift together. 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. I wrote the number down on a flickering wall in my mind before getting busy opening the bar, which would be, without a doubt, another mind-numbing canyon of boredom to wade through.

After my shift was finally over and I left my colleagues congregated at the end of the bar, gossiping, whinnying, and taking photos of themselves on their wafer-thin phones, I drove up San Vicente, heading back toward Hollywood—it had been the last shift in a succession of 5 and I felt like going out somewhere dirty and scuzzy and full of Hollywood history. I turned down the stereo and dialed Ariel’s number. After a few rings, I was greeted by her automated voicemail which instructed me to leave a message.

“Ariel, it’s Frank from the Resort. I was hoping to see you at work tonight. Wanna get drunk in a scummy bar Bukowski used to drink in?” I asked 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) overanalyze 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 horny tomorrow night.” said her text.

“Let me know when and where.” 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. 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 El Cid.

I made the short drive and parked on Sunset, as close as I could get to El Cid. I sat in the car with the stereo turned up loud, waiting for Ariel. 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 at the weed store on the corner. Be out in a second.” she said.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, Ariel emerged from the weed store carrying a black plastic bag. She was dressed in tight white slacks and leather-laced sandals of the same color. She wore a snug-fitting Public Image Limited t-shirt and her tussled blonde hair hung haphazardly over her Debbie Harry eyes. 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 and met Ariel. “You look hot…and you’ve impressed me with that shirt…I swear you should have been part of the great Gen X rebellion.” I said noticing she’d applied an extra thick layer of foundation, to perhaps conceal her scar which I found strangely alluring.

“I wore this shirt to prom.” said Ariel.

“You look a lot like Debbie Harry,” I said, “but I guess you probably hear that a lot from all the guys that chase you.” I said.

“I don’t get that a lot.”

“Why are you lying to me already?” I laughed, “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.

She removed her gum and held the soft sticky wad between her thumb and forefinger as she leaned in for a deep, minty kiss, pulling me in from the back of my neck. She slithered her cool tongue into my mouth and ran her fingers through my hair as she wrapped one leg around my thigh, running the instep of her shoe down the back of my right leg. She then ran her hand down and gave me a squeeze through the front of my jeans.

“You look surprised.” She grinned.

“A bit.” I said.

“Just you wait. We can go to my place in Westwood. My mom is at a benefit cocktail tonight and won’t be back till very late. She used those words, very late.” said Ariel with a roll of her eyes.

“Sounds good.” I said.

Once we were in my van, rolling westward down Sunset toward her mother’s condo, Ariel lit up one of the blunts she’d bought from the weed store. After a while she got talkative, telling me a bit about herself—to get more acquainted before we fucked, I assumed. 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 he often sent postcards from the places he visited. She said she rarely dated for fear of catching antibiotic-resistant syphilis. She then dug into her purse and a moment later produced a single condom.

“I’m not trying to get pregnant.” She said.

“Unplanned parenthood is so 1980s.” I chuckled, taking the condom in hand and setting it in the dashboard ashtray.

Ariel’s mother’s residence was nicely decorated and color schemed. It was full of earth tones and contrasting textures and felt mainly like a museum of natural history. 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. 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 residual scent of candles, hidden weed stashes, and ancient incense…then a spark flickered, prompting a small orange flame from a wooden match that illuminated one side of her face…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 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.

“I like them.” I said.

“You don’t have to.” she said as she fished through her dresser drawer.

“Bring that luscious ass over here.” I said.

“Hold on…try this first.” said Ariel, retrieving a small plastic bag from the pile of clothes she’d turned over to find.

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, its 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’m good.” I told her.

“Come on, don’t be a stick in the mud,” she said, leaning in and slithering her tongue into my mouth again, “Let’s party, baby.”

“Alright.” I said, pretending to pop the pill into my mouth and pretending next to wash it down with tart, chilled lemonade, “Mmm, tasty.” I said, flashing Ariel a mischievous grin as I set the glass down.

I slipped the pill under her pillow as I leaned in for another peppermint kiss. Ariel kissed well; she was a non-invasive kisser one could say, and the peppermint was a nice touch. Beyond that, she knew how to talk the talk which she whispered closely as she dug her nails slightly into my shoulders—who’d have guessed our shy and quiet Ariel had such a filthy vocabulary? Having left the condom in the van, Ariel searched for another in her purse. Finding none she abandoned the search and instead produced a small bottle of lube from her nightstand before going to work with her small hands, turning her back to me and guiding me in carefully.

Though she talked the part, dressed the part, and walked the part…in the end, there is only so much ground two people can cover…and I’d been over it all before…with other women, some of whom were more coordinated than others. Ariel, at the end of the day, wasn’t as crazy-insane in bed as her ex had made her out to be. She had a great rhythm and perhaps could have made it as a mean drummer. What struck me most was her 23-year-old curiosity, which I fully obliged. Afterward, as we shared a cigarette in the flickering dimness, 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 checking her watch, which read, 10:28 pm, “We need to go.”

“We?” I said, pushing up from Ariel and sipping down the rest of the lemonade which was surprisingly refreshing.

“I’m not done with you yet.” she said, her face sullen and her brows slightly wrinkled, “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, tiptoeing 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 well-rehearsed 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 they’d 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 car ride back to East Hollywood might kill Ariel’s mood—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.

“I don’t want to wait.” 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 dig these guys.” she said, reclining back into the seat as Definitely Maybe 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-person 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 if my van was burglarized on hotel property during my stay.

“Make sure you sign in all the right spots,” she said sternly, “it’s a binding contract.”

“You know something Sherry,” I said, taking note of her nametag, “this is an awful lot of paperwork to rent a room for my lady-friend and I who are only going to drink absinthe and fuck for a couple of hours.” 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 90s indie rock and blowing smoke rings. However dear reader—Ariel was not there and in fact, neither was my 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 that simple and that hard to believe…not to mention disconcerting in several ways. I took a moment to assess 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; 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 stately, marble museum. I opened a window and flopped down on the bed, staring at the ceiling, and 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.

Just in case, I set myself up at the desk in the corner, in the drawer of which I found, among other things, a small pad of paper stenciled with hotel letterhead. I used a ballpoint pen also stenciled with hotel letterhead, and went to work, composing the final scene in the screenplay—the possibilities of which I’d been mulling over for a number of weeks, making notes and playing out alternate finales in my head as I stood at the Oceanic bar feeling my enthusiasm for existence draining away from me. One thing was for certain—no dead-end job is worth your lust for life. Don’t apologize—leave them high and dry. Quit quietly or go out in a blaze of asininity.

Perhaps Ariel stealing my beloved Grand Caravan was the best thing that could have happened to my screenplay…for everything suddenly clicked into place, the final scene suddenly came to me in crystal clarity as I sat in the stately chair, at the stately desk, with the stately marble all around me, writing—and writing with ferocity, until a cramp in my hand formed.

When I checked my watch I realized that an hour had passed and I contemplated the reality; 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 homegrown chaos into the small circus that she’d instigated; 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 folded the final scene of my screenplay into my pocket, rose from the stately chair, left the hotel, and trekked back up Wilshire on foot, reverse engineering my way back to her mother’s labyrinth-like neighborhood.

As I walked, a variety 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 containing who knew what. I was suddenly aware of the equations—the possibilities of which ranged from Ariel careening my van off a Mulholland cliff and plummeting to a fiery death in the valley below, to her 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.

As I contemplated this, I noticed a poster hanging behind the glass window of a darkened record shop. It was surrounded by many other posters, but it was the only one that stood out as if it had called to me on the whisper of desert breeze rustling through the sycamores. It was a poster for another word slam that Sarah Lassiter was slated to perform at. It was virtually the same poster, however, this poster advertised a different date and venue and also included small square photos of each performer. I stepped up to the darkened window and peered at the small square photo of Sarah.

She had short blonde hair and stood with a microphone raised to her cherry-red lips. With a hand on her hip, she was illuminated by stage lights and the glow of live performance. She wore a black polka dot short sleeve with a white contrast collar and her wry grin stared back at me from the small photograph as a shudder of dread went through me, shaking me to the core. She was stunning and it was like a small dagger in my chest. What was it about this woman? I wondered…and why the hell was her image suddenly crossing my path when I was more than content to never again think about her? LA would answer…just not exactly then.

On foot, the journey back to Ariel’s mother’s condo was a lot longer than I’d estimated, especially with Sarah’s spotlight grin bouncing through my mind as it was. By the time I was climbing the steps leading back up to the glass entrance doors of Chateau Cedarwood; 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. Call for her at a reasonable hour.” said Ariel’s mom.

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

“Ok, wait, I’ll come down.” 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 Venice Beach t-shirt, her hair tussled, and her eyes looked weighted and bloodshot—however, I could tell she’d been hot at one point. She was, for all intents and purposes—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 skin-tight and badly faded Sheena Easton t-shirt, which I assumed must have belonged to Ariel’s mother. He pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose with a finger before souring his expression even further and volleying into a particularly whiny dialogue.

“Who are you? It’s not very becoming to disturb people 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, Gordo the shadow puppet.” I assured him.

“How do you know my name?” He inquired.

“Wow, you really are a shadow puppet, aren’t you?” I inquired.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. And…what concerns Pam most definitely concerns me.” sniveled Gordo.

“Ok, shadow puppet.” I said.

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

“Why?” I asked him.

“Why did you say that Ariel stole your car? I certainly hope you have proof of that before you start making accusations.” 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 Pam, when I went in to rent a room for us to use for a few hours; your delinquent daughter 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.

“Ariel…” 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. We all stood there in silence as Gordo waited for Ariel to answer, which she didn’t.

He hung up and a moment later, his phone sounded—to the tune of Don’t Stop Believin’.

“Ariel? Where are you? We’ve got a man at the house who is claiming that you’ve stolen his vehicle…he’s buzzed us…woken both your mother and me 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 all right.” said Gordo the shadow puppet.

The three of us stood silently on the steps in the late-night breeze waiting for Ariel to pull up. Pam, perhaps having had too much champagne and too much of her daughter’s delinquency, broke into shallow sobs, sniffling hard and leaning her face into one of Gordo’s flabby man-tits.

“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 said her father writes for a travel mag and isn’t ever around. Guess that would explain why she hates Gordo here so much.” I said, throwing a glance Gordo’s way.

“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—please don’t report her to the police…she’s an only child—and can be very selfish at times.”

“Chill out Pam…I was never going to call the fuzz…I just want my van back—that’s all.” I sighed, peering at Gordo who clearly loathed the idea that I was consoling his woman.

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 shattered 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 waking Pam and her shadow puppet and pulling them into a drama that should have unfolded solely between Ariel and I. Certainly, I should have read the situation better…I should have recognized the broken designs and the jagged textures of fresh emotional trauma within Ariel. Where had my powers of observation gone? Had I really delved so deeply into my method-writing that I’d 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 park. 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 across the dashboard, 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, “Drive?” she demanded.

“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 with a slight screech as I leaned out the window and blew Pam and Gordo, her shadow puppet, a large smiling kiss, “Never mind the bullocks, we’re going to drive out to Vegas and be married by dawn. See ya soon mom and dad!” I hollered, so that the entire neighborhood could hear it.

Ariel had swapped Definitely Maybe for a Stone Roses best-of bootleg and as the van cruised along, taking the dips and bumps in the road easily, 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 asked, 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.

“He’ll never be my father.” Said Ariel, “Anyway, where you wanna go?” Ariel asked.

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

“I feel like getting indoors now.” she confessed.

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

“You still want to do that?”

“Never underestimate a paid-for hotel room.”

“What did my mom and Gordo tell you?” asked Ariel with a suspicious glance.

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

Having been briefed on Ariel’s tragic backstory, I felt slightly guilty for having used her as an escape route from a building fascination with Sarah Lassiter. It had certainly worked to some degree—but, Ariel wasn’t any match for the mid-90s sunsets and the technicolor melodramas that played out beneath their bludgeoned orange glow. She was roughly the age I was back then; when the world was filled with philosophical wonder rather than apocalyptic angst, mass shootings, and biblical plagues. We hadn’t made it to the book of Revelation, or rather it hadn’t made it to us. Life was but a dream and perhaps we’d woken up somewhere along the line. Perhaps it was that dream Sarah’s deep blue eyes evoked…an unattainable Sunday, lost in the hazy reminiscence of a home none of us could go back to; time laughs.

Lovers and Orphans

Ariel and I did check back into the hotel room I’d rented, and we did fuck one more time before falling asleep to a Dick Cavett rerun. She was scheduled to work at the bookstore in Culver City at 9 am and I wondered who was buying books at such an early hour, then decided any time was a good time to buy books. Though her early morning rummaging had woken me, I pretended to be asleep. When she was gone, I caught a few more hours and was awoken by the maid, who stood outside the door, knocking and repeating on a loop, ‘Housekeeping…it’s checkout time sir.’ Once out in my van amidst the sunny-morning out-of-towners gawking through shop windows and posing for photos with Marilyn Monroe impersonators, I dialed the Oceanic and asked for Simmons. He clicked on a moment later.

“Mark here.” He said.

“Mark old chap…it’s Nero.”

“Hi Frank. What can I do for you?”

“I quit.”

“You’re quitting?” He asked, “Is there a problem with the position?”

“Not really. It’s just too damn boring.” I said and hung up. I felt honesty was the best policy.

Though I realized this move would cause a lull in funds reaching my bank account, I was confident that there were still a few properties in town that I hadn’t quit or been fired from, who might offer me a job shoveling shit from one place to another. In the meantime, I used the influx of free time to make more adjustments to the screenplay—to refine it a few percentage points closer to the perfection which I couldn’t help aiming for. It had never occurred to me to venture into a project without the expectation of perfecting the work. There seemed little point to release something haphazard and half-baked. Certainly, I preferred to be fully baked, and bake I did when I returned to my apartment. After a few hauls on some Emerald Dream, I pulled on my jogging shoes and bounded north, up Alexandria, past Hollywood Blvd., a left on Franklin, and up and over the hump that rose toward Western. Then the steep climb up Western took me straight into Griffith Park, where I blew past casually lounging sightseers and geriatric couples admiring the pond turtles. I loved her, Hollywood…there was no other city on earth quite like her and I was happiest when saturated by her waters, her polluted air, her desert heat, and her surreal history; anything could happen in Hollywood.

Having finally finished the last scene unexpectedly after having my van jacked by a luscious damsel; it was only a matter of transcribing the notes I’d written at the Palm Court Hotel, sitting at the stately desk scribbling on a pad of paper as if I were Thomas Jefferson penning the declaration of independence with an ink-filled feather. Indeed, by the time I returned home from my Griffith Park jog, I was ready to transcribe those stately installments and add a few more textures to the dialogue—for extra color.

The transcription from start to finish took 4 hours and when I found myself sitting on a draft that I was finally okay with sharing, I took a few friends up on their offer to read it over. One friend in particular, Parker Bryant, worked at a production company in West Hollywood and had inquired about the manuscript a number of times, suggesting I send a copy to him once it was completed. Bryant was a fan of my prose and was one of the existential prose addicts that frequented my 1990s-style website for his weekly dose of the Napalm Narrative. He’d been waiting for me to finish the screenplay, assuming it was every bit as fiery as the prose. Of course, I realize that a great work of art is probably never finished…in fact, most of the works we encounter are only magnificent abandonments. Still, I was anxious to get the work to Bryant who’d mentioned being closely tied to a known director who’d not just earned a name, but also some notoriety with his last film, The Wormwood Madrigals. Though the film had been unconscionably pretentious and nearly impossible to follow, Monroe’s hard-line cult-following had loved it and would unquestionably love anything he directed.

After glancing over the screenplay one last time, I sent the document to Bryant and leaned back in my chair, distantly hoping he’d forward it to Monroe—as he’d said he would. I rubbed my eyes and lit up a blunt, feeling the endorphins from the long jog shimmer within me. Though I should have gone for a casual bike ride down to the Farmer’s Market at Fairfax and 3rd…and meet my long-time cohort Paul Stanfield—who’d invited me through a text; I decided to decline. Rather I decided to ignore my instincts of logic and proceeded to set out on the moors with a flashlight and shovel, with the plan of digging up and exhuming a long-dead mystery.

Though I knew I shouldn’t, I found myself visiting the website of Café Exile—the venue that was hosting Sarah Lassiter’s upcoming word slam. On the venue’s website, I found the date and all other information pertaining to the event. From the Venue’s site, Sarah’s site was only a button-press away and though I realized that it was an even worse plan than visiting the café’s site, I clicked on Sarah’s link. Her site was plastered with a vast selection of self-taken 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 as to what had transpired those last few months, when Laura had unraveled in Paris and killed herself—somehow. However, none of Sarah’s photos revealed any hint of her deceased sister. It was as if Laura had been erased from existence with the backspace of a cursor.

Likewise, Sarah’s blog was minimal and illustrated mainly her upcoming appearances and photos of the vintage, Anna Karina ensembles she wore. There was no mention of Laura in any of it and certainly no photo of Laura. I pondered this at length, sitting at my desk as the helicopters chopped high above and the leaf blowers roared outside my window. I eventually concluded that Sarah Lassiter obviously didn’t wish to post anything online that would point toward such a tragedy of personal magnitude. After all, she was an improvisational comedienne, not a grief counselor or a funeral director, and there is little worse than comics who muck things up by showing their serious side. People don’t want their serious side—they want a well-refined façade of hilarity.

Though Laura’s face had faded into a ghostly image in my mind, I was positive I noticed a remarkable resemblance in Sarah, though couldn’t quite recall with any great clarity what Sarah had looked like all those years ago. Aside from bearing the name of Laura’s sister, Sarah evoked fringe styles from the 1960s…much the same as Laura had and perhaps this was the manner in which Sarah venerated her long-lost sister. There was also a certain gaze in her eyes reminiscent of Laura—one that perhaps spoke a thousand and one words on the subject if one cared to delve into it. What caught my attention most was a photo she’d posted of herself at a masquerade ball, wrapped in a gown and sipping from a tipped martini glass held in a velvety glove that climbed her slender arm to the dip of her elbow. There was a pristine debutante in Sarah, and it only added a certain twist, like a squeeze of pomegranate juice in one’s glass of gasoline.

Perhaps the most binding evidence that Sarah was indeed Laura’s long-lost sister was a childhood photograph of Sarah sitting in her mother’s lap amidst a washed-out 1980s 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. She wore a t-shirt that read East Hills Dance Academy, and this was key because Laura had mentioned once that her mother had worked as a dance instructor before her father had passed away.

The word was that Laura’s mother hadn’t danced again after the passing of her beloved husband. She’d been too broken up over it and I was told it was around that time that Laura’s mother stopped tending to their estate in Pacific Palisades. She’d fired the maid as well as the landscapers…she’d stopped collecting the mail and it accumulated over the months in a sun-bleached pile below the mailbox…likewise the vintage Jag the old man prized was abandoned in the driveway with the top down, left to the whimsy of the rains and the palm leaves and the neighborhood critters that took up residence in the upholstery. Most notably, Rachel Lassiter had stopped having the pool cleaned. I was told that friends would call for Laura and find her mother floating on a raft in the filthy pool water along with the leaves and dead bugs, in a catatonic state, sipping a heavy glass of chardonnay while listening to old Roy Orbison albums.

It was said that the Lassiter women unraveled that winter and perhaps it was of this Sarah didn’t wish to be reminded. There were many smoking guns regarding Sarah; still, I’d not been able to find one single photo or mention of Laura in all her posts. After getting slightly lost in Sarah’s photos, I found that a curious phenomenon started to occur; it was a systematic transference. Though I recognized the transference, it wasn’t something I did consciously; rather something buried deep within my subconscious initiated it. It hadn’t started great and certainly wouldn’t end great, but I had nonetheless managed to systematically transfer what I’d felt for Laura all those years ago, directly onto Sarah, who seemed stunning to me in nearly the exact same way.

There was all that about Sarah, and there was also what I saw in her masquerade ball photo, perhaps something only a mad artist might notice. It seemed the same haunting Carpenters’ melody that surrounded Laura all those years ago, also surrounded Sarah. There was a great mystery in the Lassiter girls, and it was set against a violet sunset that led me back to the mid-1990s. It was a long walk back to the 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’d become a memory; a ghostly apparition that had for many years, skirted the fringes of my recollection. After finding no hint of Laura on Sarah’s page, I was only more intrigued.

A few days later I was called by Sheila Hasselback—a union delegate from Local 424. She explained to me in a near whisper that they’d fought Mr. Q and his HR henchmen through a series of cutthroat negotiations that had gone on in my absence. They’d fought well and managed to get my job back for me—on a technicality. Certainly, I was quite stunned to hear this news as I’d planned to never return to the Davenport and what’s more—I’d felt no disappointment over it. I’d simply seen enough of the Davenport and hadn’t bothered looking back through the rear-view mirror. Sheila capped our conversation with a cordial invitation to meet her in Tanis Radcliff’s office at 2 pm that afternoon. Evidently, Radcliffe had some issues she wanted to address before officially bringing me back on board, which was another of her charades; she knew damn well that Local 424 had the upper hand…the rest was only pantomime.

In accordance, I did my usual drive down Sunset to the hotel Davenport. There was always something about rolling down Sunset that relaxed me and coupled with the Emerald Dream, the shopfronts went by like frames of grainy film from the 1950s and I felt the history beckoning me with a consoling whisper that said, be the extraordinary. My Davenport parking pass had run out and so I parked on a nearby street next to a cockroach-infested 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, showing them the twenty-dollar bill, 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 finished the blunt as I passed by the old shop fronts, some of which were closed and their metal shutters sporting gang tags. I wondered where it was all headed. Maybe there was an asteroid somewhere out there in the dark reaches of space, on a collision course with 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 and intimate ownership…starting personal vendettas and having the audacity to take prisoners…picking a bad sports team and sticking with them no matter what the cost…attending suburban car key parties and honing one’s powers of social observation for the sake of becoming another round peg. Perhaps my years of refusal to conform to the great lack would indeed be of no consequence when the asteroid breached the earth’s atmosphere.

I was still trying to solve this equation as I was seated across from Tanis Radcliff and her assistant Josie something-or-other. Josie was Radcliff’s protégé, but it seemed there was something more between them—like perhaps a bottle of canola oil and an English cucumber, which would have been half intriguing if I’d found either of them even slightly attractive. 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 Davenport hallways, always together and always jotting down infractions 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 several minutes of waiting in silence, 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 an absurd 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 replaced it gently in its cradle before addressing me.

“So, mister Nero, how are you today?”

“I’m here to help.” I stated, “Where’s Sheila? I thought she was supposed to be present for this.”

“Sheila is running late, and my schedule is too tight today to wait for her,” Radcliff continued, “I will leave it to her to relay the terms and conditions of your return.”

“Terms and conditions? I thought you guys had to bring me back because Q fired me illegally.”

“Not illegally Mr. Nero. However, there are several loopholes in the agreement between the union and the employer. It looks like Local 424 will win this round. Before you return however, we thought it would be a great opportunity to address a few concerns we have.”

“Concerns?” I asked.

“Yes…several issues concerning you have been brought to my attention recently. I thought it would be best to address them here.”

“If you’re going to talk to me about the locker room—you know I should have a union delegate present for that.” I said, glancing at Josie. She was a mini version of Radcliff. She’d even started wearing her hair like her. The worst of this was that Radcliff’s hairdo was frozen in time—a direct import from rural 1987. Glancing from hairdo to hairdo, 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 the internal investigation is completed. Unless of course you’d like to offer us all the names of your accomplices. That might earn you some favor.”

“Favor? You guys canned my ass…” I chuckled.

“But you’re being brought back and that’s because Mr. Quaid has agreed to bring you back. Are you willing to tell us who your accomplices were?”

“No chance. Besides, I thought he had to bring me back because of a contractual loophole.” I sighed.

“Ok…well, for today, I just want to bring to light some issues of no less urgency.”

“And those are?” I asked.

“Well, a number of our ballroom captains have approached me in recent months, 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 with me…wielding her well-rehearsed, bitch-boss tenacity.

“What resolve?” I laughed, causing Josie’s face to turn a deeper shade of red, “Let me ask you this—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 vindictively as she ravenously nodded.

“Well…throw me one.” I shrugged.

“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…correct?” 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 small things.” Informed Radcliff.

“Such as?” I asked.

“Like the fact that you don’t smile.”

“I smile.” I insisted, offering them my best Michael Madsen grin.

“It’s been reported right here that you clearly don’t smile.” Josie said, pointing to a printed memo sitting before her on the boxy desk, “Also, you walk far too casually, and you slouch—it’s a very unprofessional way that you carry yourself, Mr. Nero. 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 swagger slowly—like ‘molasses in January’ another captain’s log specifies.” she 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.” Said Josie.

“Yeah,” Radcliff 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,” I grinned, “certainly this isn’t your entire case? Tell me you have something concrete.”

“There’s also the matter of tardiness and a lack of shaving—most of these logs state that seldom if ever do you arrive at work on time and you’ve never been seen clean-shaven.” Radcliff said, spurring me to jog my memory.

“This?” I grinned, pointing to my stubble, “It’s my John Stamos look—you’re not down with it?”

“Rather than offer quips,” 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 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, pressing her fingertips together, and peering at me thoughtfully—a tactic she’d doubtlessly learned at another of her three-day, coffee-breath, bagel-fart, managerial seminars.

“I don’t take it lightly Mrs. Radcliff…or is it Ms.?” I asked, rising to leave, feeling we’d addressed their issues.

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 biased 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’d ever had—waiters 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, flashing lights, gowned trophy wives with silicone implants, and red carpets—the lesser of two borings I suppose. Still, I only ran into Kensington when his usual morning shift happened to bleed into an evening 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. I was certain 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 drop by the dwellings of other captains in the wee hours, delirious with drink and grumbling with paranoid delusions and professional threats.

One such instance had been recorded and had trickled down to us grunts who were all busy slugging it out in the trenches. As imagined, the recording was a wealth of entertainment. Kensington had visited Albert Stack—a senior captain who’d overridden Kensington’s authority one evening. Kensington hadn’t gone home after his shift, rather he’d gone to the pub across the street and proceeded to slam down numerous jello shots until he was intoxicated beyond the point of no return. He’d then shown up at Stack’s apartment at 2 am and had leaned on the buzzer until Stack answered. Kensington had then proceeded to offer Stack, through the small crackly speaker, a sanctimonious and rather vulgar lecture. Kensington meanwhile had recorded the entire conversation on his phone and for good measure shared it with numerous Davenport staff. Over the course of a minute, Kensington managed to use the word fucking seventeen times, the word cunt four times, and the word cocksucker exactly thrice—no small feat for a gentleman from New Hampshire. He’d also made references to agencies he intended to contact and file complaints with; all before slurring a string of physical threats which included popping stack in his ‘nut-bag’. Well—who had guessed Kensington had his points of interest?

In the same fashion, only without the seventeen fuckings, the four cunts, and three cocksuckers; Kensington cited in great detail his disdain for my lack of devotion, enthusiasm, 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 luxury hotels throughout 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 rant through Albert Stack’s home intercom however was priceless. Have you heard it? If not, I think I have it in my email. Would you like me to forward it to you? It’s a laugh-riot.” I chuckled, hoping one of them might smile…however, neither did…they both peered back at me, perhaps surprised that Stack, who quit months before, had forwarded the comedic rant to me and dozens of others.

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 most of them had placed bets on whether or not I’d be let back into the building or whether or not I’d sold them up the river. They all wanted to know what had gone on in Radcliff’s office. And so, it was decided that I would meet O’Leary, Schroeder, and Tyrell at Kahunas—a cockroach-infested watering hole on Virgil—around midnight when they were done their shifts at the Davenport.

Kahunas wasn’t my favorite 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. Though it was only a local neighborhood watering hole, a security guard was perched outside the entrance to deter brawls and knife fights, which were a regular occurrence at Kahunas. When I arrived later that evening, I found the guys outside in their Davenport uniforms, having a few puffs and sharing a chuckle with the bouncer perched on his stool. They looked battle-hardened and weary from a long exceptionally grueling gala dinner service—one which I didn’t regret missing. Once inside we made our way across the empty dance floor and found a table in one corner of the dimly lit 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 when they got physical, a mug of beer was knocked from the table 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 assured with a wide grin, clearly unphased by the grim surroundings.

“Carbonated piss no doubt.” I mused.

When the waitress was upon us finally, she stood there staring at us all with a dopey 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 Dokken tune someone had selected on the jukebox.

“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.

“Absence?” she asked.

“Never mind the bullocks baby, 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 me 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 long while man.” said Tyrell.

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

“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.

“Look, guys…I didn’t rat anyone out…” I said, “…they asked…but I didn’t give anyone up.”

“We know that man.” said O’Leary, “What they’re trying to do is good-cop, bad-cop you. What else did they say?”

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

“Yeah, know what? Captain Kate has been riding my sack something fierce…every time I turn around, she’s there busting my fucking hump…I mean, she seems to appear out of thin air…like a fucking ghost.” 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.

“Ain’t nothing comfortable about male camel toe.” 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—a very fucking reliable source told me he’s got a video of Captain Kate giving him a drunken lap dance in a bathroom stall at some shithole nightclub in K-Town.”

“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 bra and panties, and let me tell you…that frumpy uniform she wears at work doesn’t do her justice at all…she’s got a great body actually.”

“Yeah, too bad her face looks like Bud Court in Harold and Maude.” I chuckled.

“Shit yeah man…I’ve been trying to figure out who she reminds me of.” Laughed O’Leary.

“Regardless…for a small price, I can acquire that video.” Said Schroeder.

“And what…you’re going to blackmail her? She probably posted that same video on her fucking online profile and she probably also—.” O’Leary suddenly stopped and squinted hard toward 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, glamor boys clad in glossy tunics. 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 colleagues, 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. Those arrogant fuckers stand around all night literally doing nothing…their events are all buffets…they don’t know the meaning of a plated dinner.” 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, and waiting for O’Leary to elaborate. O’Leary was like that—verbally constipated…he let statements out slowly and often with a wince.

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

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 chiseled Ken-Doll features lent them the appearance of body snatchers with rub-on tan and capped teeth.

“Yep, those are definitely the same shitters that got me canned from the Bradley.” said O’Leary with a wince, “I knew I’d run into them sometime…somewhere.”

“Those are the exact guys?” asked Schroeder.

“Sure as I’m sitting here.” assured O’Leary as he removed his cufflinks and his watch, “They liked to skim from the cash float and when the missing cash was noticed by management, they accused me of doing the skimming, but 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 who framed you?” pressed Schroeder.

“I’ve got a friend on the inside…he runs 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, pull him outside, and rearrange his pretty face.”

“Frogs have lips?” pondered Tyrell.

“Listen, that whole hotel is like a cult really. They do this creepy chant at the beginning of each shift…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 another dimension…they say he was cryogenically frozen and is stored in the basement…they all buy into it—they may as well have fucking tinfoil hats to go along with those silly looking tunics.”

“A huddle?” I asked, in slight disbelief, certain it couldn’t have been worse than the Davenport, but somehow it was.

“Sure…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 in an ominous tone, leaning back and widening his eyes.

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

“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 laughed, glancing back at the Bradley cult members in spacemen uniforms sitting across the room, “Well…they certainly look like jerk-offs.”

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

“I’ll toast to that.” said Schroeder raising his glass, “To getting fired from pretentious hotels.”

We all toasted having all been fired numerous times from numerous pretentious hotels in the downtown core.

“I wasn’t sorry to lose the job though…the pay was extraordinary. 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? We all screwed our reputations when the locker room got busted. Everyone knows about that shit—even your glamor boys over there.”

I felt my phone vibrating in my jacket pocket just then and found that Bryant was calling. I took the call outside on the rear patio that overlooked a cracked and littered alleyway, hoping for some news about Jack Monroe—the director who’d evidently agreed to read my screenplay. I leaned against the wood rail and spoke with Bryant who wasted no time getting to the point.

“Hey Frank, I only have a minute here. Just wanted to let you know that Mr. Monroe had a chance to read your script, at least the first quarter anyway, and he’s requested a meeting with you. This is really great news because it’s the first step in having your screenplay made into a film.”

“That’s great…but what did he say about the script?” I inquired.

“Well, I’d better let him explain that all to you.” Said Bryant, “He wants to meet you on Tuesday.”

“Absolutely…where at?”

“He’s got a room at the Hotel Vaudeville…he’s been staying there while he’s in LA. He said you can roll by around 4 pm next Tuesday. Text me from the lobby and we’ll come down and meet you.”

“Sounds great.” I said, “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 a bar stool. A moment later a man was hurled through the same window, crashing through the rest of the glass that collapsed like shattered ice against the hardwood patio.

Upon closer observation, I realized it was one of the Hotel Bradley crew and as he lay on his side atop the pool of shards, trying to catch the breath that had been knocked out of him, 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 points of glittery light over the entire scene. To the tune of Time After Time, which jingled from the jukebox, I saw Tyrell and Schroeder in their Davenport uniforms, entwined with the futuristically clad Bradley waiters. Slightly dumbfounded I watched them gripping 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. Evidently domesticated suburban living had driven the old chap mad.

“Hold on a second.” I told Bryant.

Moving with some swiftness, I stepped between O’Leary and the downed Bradley staffer who was gasping for breath and slithering across the shattered glass toward a dark corner of the patio like a wounded animal. Of course, dear reader, heroics aren’t my forte; 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. 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. Shoving past me, 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 and 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 chest heaved on, gasping for breath.

“Good job hot shot…it’s now an assault.” I said, shaking my head as the security guards charged in and grabbed hold of O’Leary who didn’t resist and only stared back at me with a wide-eyed psychotic glare.

“I ain’t never skimmed, ever.” He said, “I ain’t no skimmer.”

When I raised my phone to my ear, Bryant 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 horseplay.” I said.

“Sounds like. Be careful man. Ok…don’t forget next Tuesday at the Vaudeville.” said Bryant looking for confirmation.

“Absolutely.” I assured before clicking off and looking back at O’Leary who was being escorted back into the bar by two Kahunas bouncers.

The following Tuesday I woke up early, puffed some Emerald Dream, and jogged up to Griffith Park. When I returned to my apartment a note was slipped under the door. The note informed me that the rent would be raised by a hundred dollars. I wondered if such an increase was legal as I balled the paper up and tossed it into the garbage. Though the building owner drove a Bentley, it seemed he needed to skim more money from us East Hollywood dregs. The day was already scorching, and I remained in my air-conditioned suite, getting lost in the novel and making great progress. Later, during a break, I rolled up a blunt and peered out the window, wondering if Monroe was going to be the director who’d turn my screenplay into a 1990s masterpiece. However, like clockwork, my thoughts were derailed by first Laura Lassiter…and subsequently Sarah Lassiter…who crossed my mind in her masquerade ball costume. Out of nagging curiosity, I again visited Sarah’s page, searching again for some evidence of Laura’s existence, and again pondered the question of why Sarah had erased Laura from public view.

As I flipped through the photos, looking for any clues, I was jolted when I noticed a familiar face in one of Sarah’s photos. Indeed, the face wasn’t Laura’s however. Rather it was the face of a woman I’d been intimate with several times in the past and who I rarely saw anymore. It was Crystal Canterbury and seeing her pressed cheek to cheek with Sarah as they posed for a self-taken photo at some incidental social event, set my mind sprinting over a coarse landscape of arcane possibilities. There was no caption accompanying the photo, only a date, which told me that the photo was taken only a few months before. So…Canterbury knew Sarah. What were the odds in a city the size of LA? I wondered.

Accessing next my contacts list, I scrolled through it, finding Crystal’s number listed under D for Drama Queen. I didn’t hesitate, rather I dialed her immediately before my better sensibilities could catch up with my impulse. When her voicemail answered and the irritating croak of her voice instructed me to leave a message, I did so.

“Crystal, it’s Frank…hit me up.” I said before clicking off.

I took Sunset downtown and curbed the rush hour traffic with some Allroy’s Revenge and a loosely rolled blunt. I found a parking spot and as was my wont, I offered twenty dollars to a nearby tent dweller to keep an eye on Cara the Caravan, and as always, a tent dweller rose to the challenge, assuring me that he would guard her with his life; never underestimate the power of a twenty-dollar bill. By the time I made it to the Vaudeville, I was suspended in a deeply contemplative haze—a red-letter headspace that seemed to know, all at once, everything I’d ever experienced and ever would. I sat comfortably in a tingly chair in the Vaudeville lobby, waiting for Bryant and Monroe. As hotel guests, tackily dressed tourists, and bellmen in silly hats scampered in all directions tending to their mind-numbing duties; I uncapped my flask of absinthe and sipped at it, once again going over in my mind, the selling points of my screenplay. Selling points that I suspected were lost on the current era. It was a 1990s tale…a message scratched into a bathroom wall with a switchblade…an unforgiving deposition from Generation X—fittingly twenty years late…perhaps when it was needed the most.

As I watched the high-class ladies wag by; things became more contemplative, for it seemed the experts were correct in postulating that time really was a fabric—a poly-cotton blend with curious print, simultaneously containing the past, present, and future. Though the master builders who’d founded our country were all long dead…along with their visionary plan, the same sun that had warmed their era now shined upon us—even if our era had been dulled up and tarnished by hopeless convenience and phone-based ADHD. It was very clear to me suddenly how indifferent to our passing shapes and human drama the universe is. Not even Julius Caesar could conquer the sun. The absinthe was hitting hard, and I sighed deeply, savoring the contemplation, wishing I had a typewriter in front of me.

Eventually, Bryant answered my text, informing me that he and Monroe were on their way down. A few minutes later, they emerged from the parting golden elevator doors. I greeted them under the grand chandelier in the lobby, hoping it wouldn’t pop a bolt and crush us with its thousand and one sparkling shards. The Vaudeville wasn’t the largest hotel downtown, but it was certainly one of the oldest. I’d worked at the Vaudeville some years before and had wound up walking out of my shift when the cluster started to fuck. The place looked different when you were a visitor rather than an employee though—it was nearly pleasant. After introductions went around, we hopped on an elevator to the 20th floor. 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 Monroe in his natural habitat…his favorite hotel on the west coast—or so he said with a flurry of laughter as he waved at 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 to me. I shrugged, not knowing how else to respond.

Indeed, the Vaudeville was mostly poise and prestige…bronze surfaces and emerald tones. There were gold vases at every French window, sprouting with floral arrangements. The French windows themselves climbed toward the ceiling where gilt rods draped long velvety curtains 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 his dopey-eyed grin.

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

“We call him Pippin around here; it’s our pet name for him. I found your screenplay quite interesting…it’s written in a way I haven’t seen in years.” said Monroe, shooting a grin my way.

“I’m old school—what can I say?” I shrugged.

When we eventually reached his suite, I noticed there were a number of people lounging around on various surfaces. What I’d thought was going to be a business meeting, seemed more like an opium den. Over the Elizabethan theme, the suite had been personalized in a pulpy way. Large, tattered-looking posters were plastered nearly everywhere…Jean-Luc Goddard, Truffaut, Fellini. Above the fireplace was taped crookedly a massive vintage banner advertising 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, camera stands, and light reflectors; dolly tracks were stacked and leaned against the wall and open-faced lights on stands sat poised for a close-up. In front of the hotel-issued flat screen TV screwed into the wall stood a rollup screen upon which a projector played scenes from what appeared to be a 1920s era carnival freak show…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 juice bar was a velvet couch across which sprawled a brunette with long hair that was parted down the middle…she was dressed in tight 1970s jean cut-offs and a red crop top. Seemingly mesmerized by the 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 Bryant 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, rubbing its tiny hands together.

“No thanks old chap.” I said, raising a polite palm, “I’m trying to keep dysentery 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 Bryant stood beside a wooden cabinet filled with fake antiques.

“What do you love most about this town?” asked Monroe.

“That there are too many things to love.” I said.

“Do you like period pieces?”

“I liked The Missouri Breaks.” I nodded.

“Much further back…let’s imagine Satyricon meets Caligula.” Said Monroe.

“You want to set the story in Roman times?” I inquired.

“I think it needs to be a carnal setting.” Said Monroe, “A man’s nature, as complex as it is, is to kill another man and commandeer his wife and pilfer his riches. There are the finest of lines between violence and erotic pleasure. I don’t see any point in concealing the facts…nor would I plan on using anything other than actual mammal blood in the murder scenes. Blood contains the spirit Mr. Nero. Certainly, the orgy scenes would be tacky unless there was full penetration and visible ejaculations…but it would be done in an artistic way—perhaps there could be a voice-over of a woman reading an erotic poem in an ancient dialect. Of course, you would write some scenes that are steeped in the sweats and madness of the orgy.”

“You mean like, you want to show dicks going in and shit?” I asked, lighting up a blunt.

“Precisely.” Said Monroe, “And not just dicks going in—dicks pulling out as well.” He added with a knowing wink.

“I mean, the story is about a writer who goes back to his hometown in upstate New York over the Christmas holidays and it just seems—.”

“Tisk-tisk Mr. Nero, one must not read too much into the subtext. The orgies work as a great analogy for the moral depravity of modern-day humanity—the same depravity that existed during Roman times…it’s come full circle…decadence m’boy…decadence. Copious blood and gore is what the masses want. Have you turned on the TV lately? They celebrate serial killers, mass murder, and lucifer himself.” Said Monroe with a mad cackle.

“Sad but true. But you know, I stopped watching TV after they canceled Threes Company.” I said offering a wry grin.

“I just love Threes Company.” Said a woman as she entered the room, greeting us with a Cheshire cat smile after which she perched on the armrest of Monroe’s chair and shared a grapevine with him. He introduced her as Lilly, 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 ravenously chewing gum in my ear or indifferently wrinkling plastic wrappers or guffawing at the most inopportune moments…or incessantly talking to an equally irritating companion.

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 man entered the room. Aside from his entire forearm being strapped by a spiked band. He wore a purple mohawk and was entirely nude except for a tight-fitting black jockstrap 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 of the Cuban cigars in hand and thanked the jock-strapped waiter 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 the waiter with a 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 Caligula on Lithium.”

“Right.” 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 some scenes lit by a slide projector, perhaps projecting a still photo of Patty Hearst as a distant backdrop, for instance.”

“You know what your daddy said Patty.” I drawled.

“My wife knows.” Nodded Monroe, “She’s also very great with costumes…she heads the wardrobe on all 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, though.” 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 torn apart by wild coyotes.” said Monroe’s wife, staring off into the distance for a moment before focusing on me, “Let me ask you something Frank…have you ever experienced a rectal orgasm?”

“Uh, not personally no.” I confessed with a chuckle of absurdity, raising my brows and glancing at Bryant who leaned obliviously against a cabinet, chewing a crusty pastry he’d picked from the greasy platter.

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 in the jean cut-offs didn’t stir, she only sat mesmerized, blowing large purple bubbles that didn’t quite pop, rather they deflated before she chewed them back into her mouth.

“It’s other-worldly.” Sang Monroe’s wife, 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 over 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 spin a yarn. It seemed the higher the pills took him, the further into the jungle his stories took us until we wound up at an Amazonian outpost 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. He’d later met a man in the hospital who’d flown bombers during WW II. The man had claimed the bones of Amelia Earhart were buried in Wyoming…under a Ponderosa Pine. Despite popular opinion—Monroe had tried to locate the bones and his wife had filmed the entire expedition on a Super 8. Film they were currently editing and planning to release as a documentary.

The stories kept coming and I kept listening, slightly mesmerized by the random absurdity and the narrative ease with which they were delivered by Monroe. The whisky kept draining from my bottomless glass, the Cubans kept coming my way and by the time I remembered why I’d shown up in the first place, it was nearing midnight and Bryant was snoring on the loveseat. The others had either dispersed or were also sleeping and only Monroe and I were left to usher in the majesty of midnight.

“Come out on the balcony with me will you?” Monroe requested at one point, rising from his stately chair from which he’d not moved in hours…not even to piss.

Feeling well-oiled and loosened up by the whisky and luxury, I strolled casually out onto the balcony behind Monroe, puffing the Cuban cigar and sipping from a freshly iced glass of Jack. From the 20th floor, the city sparkled back at us magnificently as the warm SoCal breeze brought with it the whispers of long-forgotten Hollywood ghosts.

“What would you do for success?” asked Monroe.

“What do you mean by success?” I asked.

“How far would you go to make this project a cultural phenomenon?”

“I don’t know if I think of it in those terms.” I admitted, “I think the first success for me is artistic—a creative success. It’s what I live for man.”

“Poetic, but what about power and adoration? Accolades? Riches? Any woman you desire under the spell of your penis? The things every man desires.” Said Monroe, “I’m talking about power.”

“Well old chap, power is a perfect paragraph…and speaking of the penis—one doesn’t want it to wind up looking like a chilidog with extra guacamole on it…know what I mean?”

“You can’t fool me. You’ve got lovesickness in your eyes.” He said.

“Get serious.” I grinned.

“Never make the mistake of falling in love with ghosts dear boy.” Said Monroe, “Greater men than you have made that same mistake.”

“Do you know something about my situation?” I asked with a coy grin. After all, I hadn’t told anyone about Laura…or Sarah for that matter.

“Come with me…I want to show you something.” He said, and led me back through the living room, across the Elizabethan rug, and into the Elizabethan master bedroom. Lying around the room on various surfaces were the members of a heavily sedated harem…they wore skimpy Roman gowns and Cleopatra eye makeup. They lazily roused and one stretched her arms and yawned before smiling, rising from the bed, and stepping up to Monroe. He gave me a wan grin and pulled the woman in, slithering his old and filmy tongue into her pretty young mouth. She took it like a champ, without gagging—a real professional.

In one corner of the room, atop a gilt Elizabethan table, sat the gold bust of a creature that appeared to be part bird, part man and part goblin. Around the bust stood at least a dozen dildos of all shapes, colors, textures, and sizes. Around the dildos were set several candleholders that had drip-dried long fingers of wax to the tabletop, which I saw was riddled with white powdery lines.

Noticing me noticing the lines on the table, Monroe stepped over to the table and hooked a line up on the underside of the grotesquely long nail of his little finger. With a bony-faced wince, Monroe snorted up the line and widened his eyes.

“What’s that bust on the table?” I inquired, peering into the demonic eyes.

“That is Zafarius—god of Talazaria.” Said Monroe.

“Yeah?” I said, squinting at the creepy bust, “What’s Talazaria?”

“I’ll show you.” Said Monroe, “Zeffertyria…sit with us.” He said, turning back to the woman who’d taken his filmy tongue into her mouth. Obediently, she followed him to a chair.

“Let’s sit.” Said Monroe, gesturing to two empty chairs he perhaps kept reserved for meetings such as ours.

I sank down into one of the chairs and was immediately handed a mirror upon which were cut several thin powdery lines. I declined and sipped at my drink, as Zeffertyria sat down in Monroe’s lap and sucked on his filmy tongue again.

“This is Zeffertyria; she’s a forest nymph.” He said, taking one of her breasts in hand.

“You don’t say.” I chuckled, leaning my head back.

“Zannabellis…come join us.” Monroe called to another Romanesque prostitute who sprawled on a nearby couch, texting on her phone as she chewed a wad of gum. When she was finished sending her text, she reluctantly slid off the couch and sauntered over to Monroe and me.

“Crawl around like a domestic cat in heat for Frank won’t you.” Monroe said to Zannabellis, who with a business-like purse of her lips, uneasily lowered herself to her knees. She wore a short-cut gown and no panties beneath it, and in a very robotic and clinical way, she started crawling around our chairs, flipping her hair and clawing at us once in a while.

“A cat in heat, I said.” Grinned Monroe, prompting Zannabellis to arch her back and moan, as if she was in heat.

Though she was perhaps only 22, her genitals looked weather-beaten and sunken. She squinted her eyes and hissed at me, as her long red nails clawed at my knees. I looked into her glassy, blood-shot eyes and wondered who she was…and exactly what circumstances had led her to crawl around on Monroe’s Elizabethan carpet like an alley-cat in heat. After a while, it started not to matter.

“You like her?” asked Monroe as the third hooker joined him, sucking on his sagging earlobe.

“Yeah man…she’s great. A wealth of talent.” I nodded, sipping my drink as Zannabellis took my index finger into her mouth and sucked it like a lollipop.

“I want these artists to be in the film.” Said Monroe.

“What artists?” I asked, then a moment later realized he’d meant the prostitutes, “…Oh…well, it certainly seems that way, now doesn’t it old chap.”

“Zafarius has shown me it in nocturnal visions…he’s showed me these very nymphs, dancing around the tallest tree in the clearing of a Roman forest. I wanted you to meet such talented artists, and of course enjoy them, so they might inspire your writing. You must experience what you’re writing about no? You must experience the sweats of the orgy before you can write about them. Let them entice and inspire you.” Said Monroe as Zannabellis sucked my index finger like a lollipop, running her long nails down the inside of my thighs.

“Show Frank how talented you are.” Monroe said, raising his brows at me a moment later.

As Zannabellis unbuttoned my jeans, I couldn’t seem to stop her. Monroe was an arm’s length away however, and watching intently, and I glanced at him, sitting there in the chair beside me, sipping at his drink and penetrating a gaze into Zannabellis’ glazed-over eyes, “I want to open the film with a scene of fellatio—a ultra slow zoom of course…you’ll see what I mean. Zannabellis, show Frank how talented you are.”

“But man,” I said, turning to him, “like I said, the story is about a writer who returns to his hometown in upstate New York for Christmas…I’m not sure how we’re going to open that with Roman fellatio dude.”

“Watch and discover how.” Said Monroe.

I looked at Zannabellis who used her teeth to pull down the zipper of my pants. As a prostitute, she’d taken the very worst LA could throw at her…in seedy hotel rooms, the backseats of cars, bathroom stalls, alleyways, and now in Monroe’s Elizabethan suite at the Vaudeville. She’d let inside of her, creepy cab drivers, fat-cat businessmen, pus-dripping suburban fathers and husbands who frequented Figueroa, crackheads, methed-out frat brothers, drug dealers, pimps, slumlords, and who knew what other desperate and lost souls. I was drunk—but not that drunk, and I couldn’t help being slightly surprised that Monroe ran with such low-level scuzz. I’d thought more of him, for some reason.

“Listen, you’re cute…but I’m afraid you’re just not my type.” I told her, to which she offered a pouty, insulted huff.

Monroe let out a deflating sigh and looked at me very seriously before he raised his brows and shrugged, looking down at the ice cubes floating in his glass.

“I can see you’re not the right screenwriter for this film. I’m sorry to have wasted your time.” said Monroe, shrugging his lips slightly and cocking his head before squinting deeply at me, as if he was trying to penetrate his gaze into my soul, “It’s been…a charming evening. Now leave at once.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice. Good luck with your Roman porno.” I said, bidding an ‘excuse me’ grin to Zannabellis as I got up and stepped around her, leaving her, Monroe, and the other women in the Elizabethan bedroom, which had hosted better men. As I strolled across the living room which was now darkened, I noticed the tray of stacked Cubans sitting on a small marble stand. I lifted a handful from the pile and slipped one behind my ear before dumping the rest into the pocket of my bomber jacket. After filling my glass to the top with a scoop of ice and a heavy pour of Jack, I headed for the door and a voice called out from the darkened room behind me.

“What happened in there?” asked Bryant, his voice groggy and his eyes thin red slits as he sprawled on the couch with an opium pipe balanced across his chest.

“The man is too far gone. Thanks for trying man.” I shrugged, raising my glass to Bryant who only nodded.

There was nothing more to say and I let myself out of Monroe’s house of horrors and found the elevator at the end of the plush carpeted hall. I hit the button and shook my head, sipping from the cold whisky, feeling a pang of disappointment invade the amusement, like black dye; I was back at square one with the screenplay. I lit one up and sipped at the Jack Daniels as the elevator counted down through the floors to the elevator version of The Association’s Cherish—a wondrous melody that nearly immediately brought Sarah Lassiter’s face to my mind. Lulled by the melody and the deep nostalgic blue it evoked, I savored a close daydream of pressing my lips against hers, as Cherish jingled and the floor numbers counted down. Oh shit, I thought, catching myself. My eyes jolted open suddenly as I stared back at my reflected form in the shiny gold elevator doors, oh shit indeed.

Tearing myself immediately from the warm moment of splendor, I set the glass down on the elevator floor, wondering if perhaps it was drugged with Roman love potions. It had been a feeling I hadn’t felt since Laura Lassiter and it had been strong…if only a hint. Indeed, a slight terror shuddered through me as the golden doors parted and a family of four stood, staring in at me from the brightly lit lobby.

“Smoking dope in the elevator? You couldn’t wait to get outside?” demanded the father, who looked severe as a mustached Mountie.

“What are you defending?” I asked him.

I moved around the family and quickly bee-lined toward the gold entrance doors with the sky-high windows, which were held open for me by smiling bellman clad in gold tuxedo vests. Once out on the street, I slowed my pace, feeling good to be free of Monroe’s black void energy. I made my way by the tenements, the beggars, and the tent-dwellers lining the downtown shopfronts like third-world encampments, trying to rid the image of Sarah Lassiter from my mind. Who was this woman and where did she get off haunting me and ruining otherwise great classic melodies?

When I returned to my van, I noticed a man leaning on the hood. I recognized him as one of the men I’d offered 20 dollars earlier in the day to guard my beloved, campervan-converted Grand Caravan. He’d stuck around and I was impressed with his diligence; never underestimate the power of a twenty-dollar bill. Greeting me expectantly, and stroking his chin with fingerless gloves, his bugged eyes darted around as he assured me that he’d kept her safe and had chased off a number of vandals who’d had designs on my beloved Cara the Caravan. I commended the man on a job well done and handed him a twenty-dollar bill, as well as one of the Cuban cigars I’d lifted from Monroe’s den of perversion.

“It’s a Cuban.” I said with a wink before I got into Cara and fired up her engine.

Storming Out

When I was safely in my van and cruising steadily toward the 101 freeway exit, I checked my messages and saw I’d missed two calls from Crystal Canterbury. Amid all the whisky, cigars, and soul-sucking in Monroe’s room at the Vaudeville, I’d forgotten I’d called Crystal earlier. I dialed her back immediately and she answered on the first ring.

“So mister mysterio finally emerges.” Said Crystal, “I always knew you’d come knocking on my door Nero…I just didn’t know when.”

“Crystal Canterbury…Beachwood’s resident princess.” I chuckled.

“That’s all you have to say to me?” she demanded.

“Am I supposed to say something else?” I inquired, feeling a wash of relief as I merged into the flow of traffic on the 101 heading back to East Hollywood.

“You stormed out on me last time.” She said, “Or have you forgotten storming out?”

I tried to recall the instance, but drew a blank, “Did I?”

“You did. I’d read one of your short stories on that 1990s website you maintain—and I realized that the main character was based entirely on me…thinly veiled as Christine of course, but all the same, I felt it was a very unfair account of our relationship. Do you only involve yourself in people’s lives for the sole purpose of writing about them…for the sole purpose of cannibalizing them with brutally cutting prose?” she demanded, “Why not use your gift to spread the love?”

“I thought I was spreading the love last time.” I chuckled, “Listen, I think I must have had too much of the Green Muse last time…I don’t recall what short story you’re talking about…I vaguely recall the last time I saw you…and the leather pants you were wearing…and I recall sliding them off you—slowly…but not much else…sorry.” I shrugged.

“What’s wrong? I’m picking up some strange chakra from you…you sound as if you’ve seen a ghost.” Said Crystal.

“It’s been a bizarre night.” I said.

“I see. Well, you’re welcome to stop by, of course. I’m an empath Frank…you know my door is always open.” She said.

Crystal lived on Beachwood a few blocks north of Franklin. She never hesitated to inform people that she lived directly under the Hollywood sign and up the road from the castle-like home Marilyn Monroe had lived in. She’d grown up in Los Feliz and had returned to Los Angeles after a stint in New York working as an assistant on a nightly news program. She’d gotten into something in NYC, but nobody was ever aware of what. She’d simply left her life in NYC and returned to the city of her birth. Where I felt it was a brilliant decision to flip two birds to a lackluster existence and vacate—Crystal often became forlorn about NYC and loved nothing more than to lament about it over a chilled bottle of champagne.

I stopped briefly at Gelson’s to pick up a bottle of champagne for Crystal—a peace offering. The bottle was heavy and cold in my hand as I buzzed Crystal 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 down, walk back to my van and drive back home where my novel awaited me to begin the tenth chapter.

Crystal had gotten into the habit of competitive writing, which she said made her a better writer. She believed that there was no difference between us and them—the giants of the craft. It was all circumstantial as far as she was concerned—she seemed to have no concept of discipline or channeling; she didn’t live her writing like a pen-knife-wielding warrior. Beyond that, she resented the fact that I was immune to her mind control tactics—mainly because few men were, and it was because of the type of men she mainly surrounded herself with; preening tender-bearded cuckolds who required a proverbial teat and a mother’s warm milk. While every bastard in her circle of acquaintances threw himself at her blindly—possessed by her thrift-store 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. In spite of her cosmic façade, a woman like Crystal would tear you limb from limb if you allowed her to. Perhaps what she found so fascinating about me was that I simply didn’t put up with her shit.

Though initially, it seemed like a great idea…at the last minute I suspected it might be a bad plan to pop in on Crystal…after all, Crystal was the competitive type and may not have understood my line of questioning about Sarah Lassiter’s deceased sister. I found it unlikely that Crystal would know anything about Laura Lassiter—especially if Sarah was the type to conceal her family tragedies. Still, I pressed her little button again…the one naming the previous tenant…F. Audrey 407. It was worth a try. I was buzzed up after a few minutes of waiting. I assumed Crystal had been getting herself ready for me; fitting into the right outfit, applying her femme fatale make-up just the way I liked it. She knew how to dress for an occasion, and she liked to look her best when I read her work—which was doubtlessly the reason she’d been so eager to meet me.

I assumed her new piece would be another installment of her fantastical dreamscape wherein I was Count Ladislaus de Almásy and she was Katharine Clifton. 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 and the illustrious architecture in which resided beautiful ghosts—but it was clear that Crystal wasn’t willing to venture further into those backdrops beyond her weekend whimsy. She was more comfortable sitting on her $1600 ottoman reading fashion mags and dead existential authors and gossiping on her wafer-thin phone to the high society friends she kept. She didn’t live her writing and so it lacked a real pulse. Though she frequently spoke 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 Beemer her parents had bought her for her 26th birthday.

The summer had soaked itself into the walls of her apartment and all 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’s 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 as the caveman in me awoke.

“So, I feel it’s only fair to warn you that I’ve written a short story…one that’s going to be featured in Southpaw Etiquette.” She said when I was settled in and lounging on her $1600 ottoman.

Southpaw Etiquette was another non-descript Arts & Culture rag that published arcane criticisms, reviews, and short stories penned by local authors in flux. They’d never publish anything I wrote as I wasn’t in flux…that is to say, I didn’t subscribe to coteries. Its audience was largely wine and cheese dilettantes with a penchant for pretension; Crystal’s specific crowd. So, it made sense that she’d be featured in the magazine, and I wondered why she’d given me fair warning.

“Congrats, that’s great…but what does that have to do with me?” I asked, sipping from the G&T she’d fixed me. There was not enough lime, and though I felt like asking for more, I didn’t, assuming it was a power play…Crystal’s favorite sort of game.

“Well, it’s loosely based on the time you and I drove out to Palm Springs for Charity’s wedding.” Said Crystal.

I tried to recall the trip and drew a vague recollection, “Oh right, the clone wedding.” I laughed.

“There were no clones.” Said Crystal.

“No? All the guys were dressed exactly the same in male camel-toe-inducing tight-suits…they all had the same tender beards too…and their women all had the same laryngitis voice and I’m pretty sure they all went to the same dude for their botched lip filler injections—don’t even get me started on the uptown junk the incidental DJ was playing all night—I offered the cunt a twenty dollar bill to play some Sex Pistols and he didn’t even know who they were.”

“Wow…you seem agitated tonight—your energy is definitely off.” She said, wrinkling her brows at me.

“Come now dear girl—anyone who doesn’t act like a fuzzy bunny is ‘off’ as far as you’re concerned. 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.

If you say so.”

“I want you to clear your mind first.” she said, “Would you like a cigarette?”

“No. You got some grass? I’d love some grass.” I said.

When she returned from her bedroom with the story and a Ziplock half full of dried and powdery weed, in which was also a book of rolling papers, I felt like getting high. As I rolled one up, Crystal decided she couldn’t wait any longer and began to read me her story. As I sat on her ottoman puffing the joint and blowing smoke rings, haphazardly listening to her flowery portrayal, it became suddenly clear to me that Crystal had gotten very personal. She’d spilled it all out onto the page…all her suffering, father-based-resentment, and feminine rage; for some reason, she’d taken it out on me.

Usually, she wrote of love at first sight, the beauty of the ugly, and how the ghettos had soul. She also frequently wrote that the best lovers were constantly at odds with one another; the usual shit. This story wasn’t much different…it illustrated a tired concept; 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 sort 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 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 were only harmless shades of daydreams…every one of my confessions had been at her disposal for literary purposes. 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 makeup.

“Well, you are. Don’t look at me like that. You so are. You’re not going to deny it, are you? You probably want to storm out right now, don’t you? You’re actually a very predictable man after all…very predictable.” she giggled lasciviously.

“That what you think?” I asked, “Well, it’s written well, but I have to say, it’s fairly inaccurate.” I said, feeling she’d left me no choice but to play her game.

“You storm out when you feel cornered…because it’s easier for you to storm out…it’s easier than facing an issue. It’s very predictable.” she smiled.

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

“As I said, the last time you were here you stormed out.”

“Well, it’s nice that you’ve invested so much thought in my malfunctions.” I said, setting my glass down on her coffee table beside the coaster she’d brought me.

“I care about the world around me. I care about the people around me…I’m a Gemini.” she said, leaning forward and moving my glass onto the coaster.

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“With me, you get two women in one.” She grinned.

“Yeah? Two women in one huh? Does that mean twice the headache or twice the fun?”

“I’m just saying that I care…and I still believe that I can make the world a better place.”

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

“It’s not designer—not really. And by the way, you’re not so tough…I know you care about me Capricorn…that’s why you checked up on me tonight—I’m your secret weakness. 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 Madame Canterbury, you’ve finally lost your mind haven’t you?”

“You can’t hide from me—your soft underbelly is all exposed…poor love-struck boy.” she said, now standing and running her hand through my hair, pulling my head against her so it rested against her belly as if I was a boy, “You can storm out all you want—but you can’t hide from me, my little bratty boy who likes to storm out.”

“It’s a well-rehearsed act, I’ll give you that.” I said, lifting my head and looking up at her.

I rose from the ottoman and gestured for her to move in the direction of an antique chair which she sat down in and stared back 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 Canterbury.”

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

I ran my eyes over her as she raised one leg over the arm of the stately chair, lifting her dress and exposing her transparent panties through which I could make out the shadow of her pubic sculpt. She rested a finger between her grinning teeth next and raised her brows, “You can’t resist me…face it—it’s why you called tonight.” She said. It was true, Crystal was hard to resist, but she’d done wrong in claiming I was a predictable man. One could say her statement had stoked the full-moon wolf that resided in me—and there was no way of her knowing it. 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; Hollywood, there was no other place like her. I could smell the approaching 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 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 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 succulent air pollution, the 101 streaming with cars and trucks in the distance, a woman walking her dog, a taxicab cruising by and flashing its brake lights…a high-flying helicopter chopping its way through the night sky. I breathed a deep sigh, looked back at Crystal with a grin, then climbed out of the window.

“Hey!” Crystal hollered, jumping up from her chair. She was at the window in a flash holding me by the wrists, “Do not! Do not!” she kept repeating like a mantra as she gripped my wrists frantically, clawing at the flesh with her long red nails.

“Let go of me.” I said, now hanging from her windowsill with two hands, along the outside wall of her building, the sidewalk four floors below, “do you want me to fall? Let go. I’m not storming out…I’m just getting some air baby. Ah, breathe it in…can’t you smell that? It’s the smell of broken desert dreams.”

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! Frank, what the fuck!” Crystal hollered frantically.

She raced to the antique phone that was sitting neatly on a white doily and she clasped it in one hand as her other, still holding a long thin European cigarette, dialed frantically. I wasn’t certain whom she was dialing but seeing her so concerned conjured a certain degree of guilt; enough to draw me back into the apartment…she wasn’t designed for this sort of game. When I was once again within the confines of Crystal’s living 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 inquired, popping the bubbly. I rose and walked across her hardwood floor. I opened her bedroom door and leaned in the doorway with a grin, sipping from the bottle.

“Come on Crys, don’t be mad.” I said.

“Who do you think you are—Brando? Even Brando wasn’t as fucking mad as you are. There’s something wrong with you—like actually fucking wrong with you.” Assured Crystal, taking a drag of her cigarette with a trembling hand.

“Don’t I know it?” I said, shaking my head, “I mean, why did I come over here tonight? You wouldn’t even believe it if I explained it all—you’d never fucking guess.” I said, stepping over and joining her on the side of her bed, “So yeah…I guess you’re right…there is something wrong with me.”

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 an attempt at collecting herself, “Normal boys don’t hang out of a fourth-floor window…I worry about you.”

“C’mon.” I said, reaching up and pulling her down into my lap, “I shouldn’t have done that…it was a crass thing to do. But you need to just stop trying to figure me out—you never will.” I confessed, moved slightly by her concern, even if it was embellished.

Crystal resisted of course, like a perturbed tabby cat, but eventually, she gave in and allowed herself to relax. 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.

“Then I guess we’re quite a pair. Hey, where’s that old record you used to put on? That album by XTC…Black Sea?”

“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 and you gave it away. I would love to hear that record very loud right about now.”

“Maybe we can buy it back tomorrow.” she said softening up finally and placing a hand on my cheek, “Can you tell me why you came over tonight? Why your energy is so off? You said you want to talk to me about something…what is this all about? What the hell is going on with you tonight Nero?”

“Look, it was a temporary lapse of sanity. I’m better now.” I assured, not quite believing it.

“Come on Frank…you can’t fool me…I’m an empath. I can feel something very…” she leaned back to look deep into my eyes, “…off.”

I sighed deeply and peered back at her, “You got any cold beer?” I asked.

Crystal got up and a moment later returned with a cold bottle of beer for me which she swapped me for the cold bottle of champagne, which she sipped directly from the bottle, somehow making it look classy. I leaned back against her headboard, a position I was quite familiar with, while Crystal sat with her legs crossed beside me.

I sat there for a few long silent moments peering at the wall, knowing I was perhaps crossing a line that couldn’t be uncrossed. I started with Laura Lassiter, painting with the finest brush, the nuances of her shades and textures—as I’d experienced them all those years ago under the 1990s sun, and as I spoke, Crystal became very quiet and sullen and at one point it seemed her eyes might well up, and perhaps they slightly did. She was after all, the type who might see some blood red poetry in a Parisian suicide.

My story went on, as I drained my bottle of beer. Then Crystal and I started passing the prosecco back and forth. I walked her through the exact way in which it had happened, the way I’d come across a poster displaying the name of Laura’s sister Sarah…citing the systematic transference and how I’d been stricken with the most grotesquely potent fascination and how for the second time in my life, I couldn’t seem to easily navigate my way out of it. As I drained the last of the bubbly, Crystal stared back at me, squinting her eyes…she then closed them after nearly making a statement, then sighed deeply, before emerging from behind her closed eyelids with a glare of fury.

“Sarah, fucking, Lassiter?” she demanded, “That’s why you’ve come here tonight and hung out of my fucking window like a mad man and pulled at my fucking heartstrings…over Sarah fucking Lassiter?”

“You know her?” I asked, pretending I had no idea.

“You’re a…fucking…asshole.” She said, kicking up off the bed and standing beside it suddenly, pointing a stern finger at me and hollering suddenly, “You planned this all from the beginning…didn’t you…just to fuck with me. Just to mess with my head!”

“Mess with your head?” I asked, “Are you on ludes? How was I supposed to know you knew Sarah?”

“Get out of here…how dare you come to me, your lover—and expect I satisfy your sick curiosities about some…some…”

“Some what?” I asked, hoping for a tidbit.

“Fuck you Nero…I’m not going to satisfy your sick curiosity. Good luck with Sarah Lassiter though. Good fucking luck with that!”

“Look…you fucking asked—I was content to not tell you about this coincidental mind-fuck…but you needed to know, didn’t you? You always need to know everything don’t you?” I asked, “So you can break it all down and make your grand assessment of dismissal.”

“It seems you’re the one who wants to know everything…everything about Sarah fucking Lassiter. I really can’t believe you Nero…really, you’re impossible. And by the way, when you’re done trying to relive what you had with your dead ex-lover—who was obviously quite ill; you’ll realize that Sarah is just some spotlight chaser in designer dresses. God you’re a dope. I mean, to say that she’s the most stunning and mesmerizing woman you’ve ever encountered? Really? Are we talking about the same godam woman here? Anyway, I have a lot of writing to do tonight, so if you’ll please leave me to it.”

“I assume this means we’re not going to fuck.” I said, relighting the blunt I’d rolled from her stash.

“Just leave.” She said, “Or I will.”

I got up and looked at her, standing under her bedroom light looking wounded, her hair disheveled and her chest slightly heaving with anger. I realized she was hurt, perhaps for the wrong reasons. “Shit Crystal…I’m sorry. I’m sorry I bothered you tonight.” I shrugged as I stepped past her.

“This Brando thing you do doesn’t work on me—just so you know.” She sighed as I sauntered toward her bedroom door.

It was then that the buzzer sounded, and strangely 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.

“Probably a drunk visitor punched the wrong suite—happens all the time babe.” Crystal said—never a great liar.

“Well, let’s answer it and see who is ringing you at this hour.” I said.

When I headed for the buzzer, she bolted around me, moving surprisingly fast, trying suddenly to hold me back from the intercom that buzzed again, this time for a longer duration; whomever 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.

“Fine.” 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. 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 Tristan, 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.

“Tristan.” I laughed, “Is that even a real name?”

“We’ll finish this little conversation later.” She said, storming into her room and returning a moment later in a t-shirt and jeans.

“Oh, Tristan likes the Sears catalog look I see.” I grinned.

“You’re unbelievable.” She said, with less conviction; now that she’d been made.

“Well, I guess this concludes our evening.” I said, heading for the door, clicking it closed behind me before making my way down the stairs.

When I was on the ground floor and heading for the entrance doors, I noticed Tristan standing behind the glass, waiting to be buzzed up. He was as I’d expected; a soft-serve ponce with a barbered fade, a tender beard, androgynous jeans rolled up to display his delicate ankles, and a tender-boy smile. As I headed for my van which sat in a dim pool of streetlamp glow, I chuckled, “Have a mundane rest of your night Madame Canterbury!” I hollered up toward her open window as I slipped down into the warm confines of Cara the Caravan, turning the key and seeing Sarah’s face emerge, like a buoy on still waters, as if she’d been waiting for me.

“Shit.” I sighed with hopeless dread, as a wave of dopamine washed through me and through my mind chimed the Association’s Cherish.

The Palisades Ice Queen

Indeed, Sarah Lassiter’s face didn’t haunt me only during my waking hours. It seemed she was prone to making cameo appearances in my dreams. No matter how hard I tried to get a handle on the irritating preoccupation, which had now completely shifted from Laura onto her sister, Sarah’s face would eventually appear in my mind, aided by romantic, end-of-days scenarios, in which the planets had somehow aligned, specifically for us, as if we were the only two left on the planet. I found myself at a loss for words when trying to describe, in writing, how distressing it was to be a passenger on a runaway train piloted by my shameless obsession, that would not, as hard as I tried, listen to reason.

Whether or not I dreamed of Sarah Lassiter, she’d become my last thought before falling asleep and my first thought upon waking. As I’d groan in agony, having hoped the annoying obsession would leave me, I would rise to another day with the hollow certainty that unless I could know what it was to be wrapped in a mutually adoring, intimate entanglement with her; I’d be an incomplete entity. A hollow swell would then form in my chest as another wash of Sarah-induced dopamine would flood over me and at times the wash was so intense it was slightly nauseating. Indeed, it was a disconcerting scenario and one I begged the universe to release me from, for it had begun in a few months to take on the shape and form of cruel and unusual torture.

I was nearly resigned to the notion that this was an early sign of impending insanity. For you see dear reader, it seemed my conscious mind, which wanted no part of the morosely intriguing stigma surrounding the Lassiter sisters, was being directly sabotaged by my subconscious mind—which for whatever reasons, could simply not lose focus of Sarah. I could only hope—and I did so frequently—that I’d wake up one morning and the intrusive thoughts would subside, having packed up and abandoned their perpetual post. Indeed, with implemented distraction, 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 her last name would flash back at me from a street sign or would appear 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 The April Fools, a Catherine Deneuve special from the 1960s. Indeed, being that Deneuve looked particularly like Laura in the April Fools, the film inevitably brought my mind around to Laura, which inevitably led back to her sister Sarah. I wondered if such an instance was actually the universe once again demanding another installment—in payment of a karmic debt I’d perhaps racked up in a previous life. I wondered what I’d done, and to whom, to deserve such a haunting preoccupation with a woman I’d never met.

A couple of weeks after my ill-fated meeting with Crystal Canterbury, I met Paul Stanfield at the Tidbitz Bar on Fairfax. I’d known Stanfield for many years. He was, as they say, a jack of all trades and master of none. One of his latest endeavors was to become a record producer. He was young and industrious and he’d somehow managed to make money by charging dead-end singers large amounts of money to produce their lackluster projects. He’d invited me to the Tidbitz to watch a friend of his sing the blues one fine evening—a woman he was entertaining the idea of producing and I assume bedding. Though Stanfield was married, he kept a sordid cast of underworld women stashed all over Hollywood and I assumed his prick must have looked like a chilidog with extra guacamole on top. I’d met him there at 9 pm after I punched-out at the Davenport after a particularly mundane bartending shift. Upon arrival, I’d been told that the bands weren’t scheduled to start until 10:30 pm. Until the bands started, the bar hosted a stand-up comedy night on its stage, and as the lackluster comics ran through their bits and pieces, I told Stanfield about my ill-fated meeting with Crystal, whom he’d met several times.

“She’s a looker man…but there’s something twisted about that one.” Said Stanfield.

“Some guy out there would disagree with you.” I said.

“Sure, but it’s like my father used to say—no matter how beautiful a woman is; there’s a guy out there somewhere who’s sick of her shit.” Stanfield laughed, “People are work, right?”

“You know you should be up there talking your usual shit—I bet it would be more amusing than these boring sods.” I said, turning my attention to the stage upon which another comic was being introduced.

The comics performing were either too flat or too shock-value or too laugh-track or too arcane and Stanfield 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 mystical Norwegian soundscapes cool as blue ice—or at least that’s what it said in their bio. Indeed, I was half-interested in hearing what they had—which only made the stand-up night move even slower than it already seemed to be. That is until the MC jumped back up on the stage and uttered a name that sent a shockwave through my core.

“Ok folks, we’ve got a few more for you tonight…and we’ve saved the best for last—sorry to the earlier comics, but I’ve been paid well to say that.” Said the MC, stirring up some chuckles, “Will you please extend a warm welcome to the one and only, Palisades Ice-Queen, Sarah Leona Lassiter.”

As everyone in the room, including Stanfield, made it rain, I sat transfixed by shock, my pulse pounding in my temples as Sarah climbed the side-stage stairs and stepped out into the spotlights with a pouty sneer, peering across the darkened room toward the soundman. A moment of awkward silence followed as she shaded her eyes from the spotlight and addressed him in a confiding tone.

“Mr. Soundman…can I get some flange on my voice. Or better yet…give me a flange-delay. I want to hypnotize this crowd tonight.” She said, drawing a few curious chuckles from the audience of Fairfaxers out for the night at their legendary watering hole. One couldn’t exist in LA without standing on the shoulders of giants.

“What’s with you?” Stanfield asked me, “You look like you’ve seen a godam ghost.”

“I’m fine.” I assured, sitting there, marinating in a cold sweat and contemplating 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 Laura that was left. What’s more, I was dumbfounded by the sheer and utter coincidence of wandering unwittingly into her vicinity—as if the universe had willed it to be so…as if the law of attraction was an actual law. As she spoke to the audience, aiming for comedy, I sat motionless, contemplating the odds. Perhaps Hollywood had observed my excruciating predicament and had decided to cross our paths—and perhaps for the sole purpose of dispelling the unwarranted mythos I’d created around Sarah.

Her set wasn’t exactly comedy. Though there were moments of arcane amusement, Sarah’s act was a showcase of cutting criticisms and the displaying of her hard-thought persona. Beyond that her enigmatic satire was aimed a few feet too high…her references were too fringe for the audience to catch, such as her ill-fated story about spotting Seth Narcolepsy in a San Francisco laundromat, in effect shattering her image of him being a new-wave icon…for new-wave icons didn’t wash their garments at Suds on Sixth, with generic detergent—new wave icons were like superheroes; they didn’t do laundry. Perhaps I’d have grinned, had I not been slightly unraveled by Sarah’s unexpected appearance.

I sat there stunned, watching her move around the stage with a sarcastic air—hearing her words but not processing their meaning. I simply could focus on nothing beyond the history she was attached to. When her set was complete, I watched her darkly facetious and rather arcane stage persona fade away. After laughing with the MC out of microphone range for a few moments, Sarah joined her friends at a table beside the stage, where they offered her congratulations.

“I gotta go over there.” I told Stanfield.

“Over where?” he asked.

“I want to have a word with that last word-slammer.” I said.

“Really?” asked Stanfield with a curious grin, “It wasn’t that bad was it?”

“Don’t you think she’s stunning?” I said with a wonderous gaze.

“Uh…” said Stanfield, peering toward Sarah, who sat among her peers with a droll grin as they offered her accolades, “…not really.”

“She’s absolutely stunning.” I said, causing now the two women at our table to take inventory of Sarah Lassiter.

“I think you’re a fucking headcase Nero.” Laughed Stanfield, pointing to his temple.

“Don’t be rude Paul.” Said one of his K-Town songstresses, offering me her approval, “I think she’s cute in her own way.”

“How is that rude?” asked Stanfield.

“You really don’t see it?” I asked, peering across the room at Sarah, who smiled widely as she took a sip from her straw.

“Um,” he said, raising his brows, “…I’m going to have to go with, uh…not really.”

Without much contemplation, I left Stanfield sitting in the booth with his K-Town songstresses. As I crossed the small, crowded room and drew nearer to Sarah’s table, I noticed a gaunt-looking man who bared a striking resemblance to Ichabod Crane easing into the booth beside Sarah, he pulled her in close and pressed his lips against her cheek. On her other side sat another man, equally as gaunt but somehow more malnourished looking. He wore a skin-tight Molly Ringwald t-shirt, a wind-tunnel-tested pompadour, and a handlebar mustache. Beside him sat two women, covered in tattoos and rockabilly attire. They were drinking Margaritas from mason jars and clinking glasses with Sarah, who sat in the center of the table, looking quiet and lovely in her red Marimekko dress, raising her glass afterward, offering what I assumed was a brief thank-you speech. When she was finished and they all sipped at their drinks, I stepped up to the table.

“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. In person, a dimension was added, a seventh dimension made up of past lives and the secrets of which.

“Thanks for saying so.” said Sarah with a smile.

“Call me crazy…but I think fate crossed our paths tonight.” I told her, handing her my card, “I’ll tell you about it sometime if you want.”

Her smile faded as she processed the declaration, perhaps spotlight-searching my face for a sign of tomfoolery or more likely, madness. She’d never guess, not in a million years. 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 leave at any time. However, the need-to-know eclipsed whatever reservations I had about being indirect.

Feeling I’d finally done all I could do, and in doing so had earned my freedom from Sarah’s haunting face, I turned and left them all sitting there to doubtlessly shit-talk me. I assumed it would take a day for my statement to sink into her head, and either I’d hear from her out of her own sick curiosity, or she’d simply tear up my card—in which case my what-ifs would be answered. I was prepared for either but expected the latter and left it all in the hands of the universe, which had for some fucking reason decided to cross my path with Sarah’s word-slam poster the ill-fated night I’d been fired from the Davenport.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best approach to be direct. Perhaps a better approach would have been to strike it cool and gab the gab, throw a few nods and intensely interested poses…play the long game and work my way through her layers of acceptance until I was a trusted member of her coterie, which seemed quite unlikely being that Sarah’s inner circle all seemed to follow a designer-hipster template—and I wasn’t about to stock up on mustache wax. On so many levels, it simply wasn’t an option. Firstly, the amount of sheer dedication and thespianism such a method would take was too intricate and long of a haul for me to maintain; I wasn’t a strategic chess player, rather I was a slam-dancer in a china shop. As far as I was concerned, the direct approach had been my only option…for better or for worse.

A few days later, feeling my suspicions had been confirmed, I drove up to Burbank for a long-needed bike ride; there was very little a good bike ride wouldn’t cure. I’d gotten heavily smoked out and in the process of extracting my handsome Schwinn from my van; I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket. Wondering if it was perhaps Crystal, calling to apologize for her hyperdramatic reaction to my dark confession about Sarah Lassiter—whom she’d wished me with vindictive sarcasm, good luck; I retrieved my trusty black flip-up from my breast pocket.


“Hi, is this Frank Nero?” asked a female voice in an awkwardly distant tone.

“The one and only…who the hell is this?”

“It’s Sarah, Sarah Lassiter.”

I didn’t say anything…I merely stood on the sidewalk, transfixed in racing contemplation as I absently took note of a dog squatting its hind legs and squeezing out a long curling turd onto the sidewalk.


“Yeah, I’m here.” I said.

“Ok, not sure if you recall me—you seemed high as fuck…but I’m the woman you approached at the Tidbitz Room the other night. In case you’ve forgotten, allow me to jog your memory. You approached me in front of a table full of my friends and declared that destiny had crossed our paths. Do you remember—or is that what you say to all the women you cold-approach?” asked Sarah, leaving a deep pocket of silence in which I was meant to voice a response.

“I believe I used the word fate…that fate had crossed our paths.”

“Wow…my spoken-word act must have left quite an impression.” she said, leaving an awkward silence tethering behind her words and I wondered if the awkwardness was hers or mine. Certainly, at that point, I’d gone beyond awkwardness and delved into the realm of obsession-based madness, to which no apology or explanation could bring about redemption…so the awkwardness, I assumed, belonged to Sarah.

“It had nothing to do at all with your act.” I said, “Your act was a bit arcane actually.”

“Well, now I’m lost…because I’m not sure how a man who wasn’t down with my act could see me from across the room and start talking about fate crossing our paths.”

“I didn’t hate it. It was just a touch arcane.” I said.

“Look, I’m cute—but I’m no Elizabeth Taylor. 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 you seemed so genuine and I’m a curious kitty.” Said Sarah.

“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.

“I don’t know…what if you’re some kind of crazy person who wants to lock me in the trunk of his car?”

“I drive a minivan.” I said, “I don’t have a trunk.”

“Well, how can I turn down a man who drives a minivan? I guess I’ll meet somewhere public…I’m still not sure whether or not you plan to tie me up and store me in your basement though.” Laughed Sarah.

“I don’t have a basement—I live in an apartment.” I laughed.

“Well, what are you doing tonight?” she asked.

“What do you have in mind?” I asked.

“I’m doing some spoken word at café Exile tonight. I’ll be there around eight if you want to drop by. We can discuss it over a glass of champagne and pomegranate juice. Have you ever tried champagne and pomegranate? It’s very…crisp.”

“I prefer absinthe. Where is Café Exile?”

“It’s in Venice.”

“I’ll show up.” I assured.

“Ok, I’ll see you at Exile tonight—and no funny stuff okay. My friends all thought you were a psycho.” said Sarah.

“Why because I don’t use mustache wax?” I said with a droll grin.

“Hey…be nice. You’ll never get me into bed if you insult my friends.” She said before clicking off.

So, it was going to go down in Venice, I thought as I mounted my Schwinn and pushed off from the curb, ready to take the asphalt all the way over the I-5. As I cruised the Chandler Bikeway, I couldn’t help wondering what Laura would think of my meeting her little sister for a night of performance art. Of course, she’d think nothing—for she was dead. 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 the results of choices we make. If this was true, then I could essentially change my destiny by choosing not to show up at Café Exile. By challenging the cosmic odds and throwing a wrench into the design—I could perhaps recalibrate the trajectory, just as steering clear of Laura before my curiosity had bloomed into an infatuation all those years ago would have saved me the mind fuck I endured. Though something in me warned against meeting Sarah at Café Exile, I knew I’d never get to the other side unless I walked through the fire, which meant perhaps getting burned. I had come to believe that if I could at least sit with her face to face and explain my side of the Laura Lassiter saga; perhaps then I could move beyond the circular contemplation.

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 at first glance. As I scanned the place for Sarah, I noticed a lot of burlesque décor and red velvet curtains, and bad, mismatched art hanging from the walls. From the ceiling hung antique books on nylon strings, giving the place a flare of the surreal. The women were mostly Rockabilly, burlesque types who wore snot-crusted bull rings in their noses and Betty Boop hairstyles. The men mostly resembled street urchins with handlebar mustaches, 1880s beards, and colonial attire. As I stood there in my bomber jacket and torn jeans with an unlit blunt dangling from my mouth as I scanned 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. My trajectory, I realized then, had been changed by a poster, which begged to differ from my philosophy and suggested that perhaps there was a higher purpose to our meeting.

“You found it.” she said.

“I did.” I told her.

“Well, come join us…we have a booth.” she said, gesturing with her head for me to follow her toward a booth on the opposite side of the café.

We slid into the booth that was populated by her friends. They shifted over to make room for us, after which introductions went around. When she was pressed against me in the tight booth, Sarah made small talk, criticizing the parking situation in Venice and how the town had changed since Jim Morrison had lived there. She’d grown up in Pacific Palisades and had always seen Venice as a place where she could disappear into and not be judged. It was a mysterious picture and as her lips moved over her words, I longed to press mine against them. More so, I longed to ask her about Laura—which seemed an impossibly distant segue to make.

With some delicate maneuvering, I steered our conversation closer to the point—the point of disclosure on my part…for it was after all the reason I’d joined Sarah. However, as the conversation developed, 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 and how they differed from the weather patterns in 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 if I’d offended her by interrupting her weather report. 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, and skinny jeans that were rolled up to display his colorful socks. He wore a Micheal-Gross-from-Family-Ties type of tender beard and a corduroy blazer beneath which, the face of David Bowie stared back at us from his tattered t-shirt. He was perhaps in his early forties…his hair was receding, and his head was aerodynamic. This was the man who’d tamed Sarah Lassiter? Indeed, it was hard to believe.

“He’s been really nice about the break up…but some of his material is based on our relationship—it’s a bit awkward, to say the least. You may or may not have seen one of his art films.” said Sarah before looking up at her ex with the Velcro shoes.

“I highly doubt it.” I said.

“He ejaculated in his last film…he’s such a ground breaker.” Said Sarah.

“I can think of another word for him.” I said, peering back at her deviant geek.

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 and shaking her head. Meanwhile, her friends chuckled, as did most everyone else in the joint—except for me. I was still dumbfounded by the fact that Sarah had bedded such a creep.

When his set was done, he skipped femininely across the stage and disappeared behind the curtain, poking his head back out with a cross-eyed grin, which everyone applauded. As the conversations swelled around us, I leaned close to Sarah’s ear. I was about to mention Laura and the entire debacle when the MC 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 the Palisades Ice-Queen Lassiter, who slid out of the booth a second later and bounced up onto the stage where she took a bow under the glare of the spotlight which she adored.

Certainly, though it was an awkward position to be seated in a booth with complete strangers whom 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 among an audience of her peers. When her set was finished and the applause died down, the house lights came up, signaling an intermission and I sat there glancing at the rest of the people in the booth who started conversing with each other.

“Hi, I’m Genie.” said the woman next to me, offering her tattooed hand. I took it in hand and shook it for a moment, noticing on the top of her wrist a red devil with a hardon giving the middle finger.

“Frank.” I said, letting go of her clammy hand.

“So what is it that you do Frank?” asked Genie.

“Well, Genie, guess that kind of depends.” I told her and watched her synthetic grin fade away into contemplation.

My phone started to buzz and I was glad to be spared the arduousness of having to converse with Genie. It was a text from Ariel. As Genie continued to speak anyway, I opened the attached photo Ariel had sent, which was a photo she’d self-taken over her shoulder in her bathroom mirror. She was bent forward over the post-modern toilet, holding herself up with one hand while the other snapped the photo. She cast a sexy glance over her shoulder through her Debbie Harry tussle of blonde locks. Her legs were spread and though I’d seen them before from numerous angles the night we’d spent at the Palm Court, her bare buns still evoked some mystery as well as a few innovative plans. I checked the details of the photo, wondering if it was part of a stock set that she sent to men in the middle of the evening. Perhaps I wanted to be special. 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 and 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.

Looking back down at my phone I realized that the photo had been taken only minutes before Ariel had sent it. Perhaps I was special after all. As Genie rambled about the spoken-word scene in LA and how it had changed over the decades, I swilled down my gin and tonic and slammed the glass down in the center of the table, causing them all to jump slightly. Genie offered me a wide-eyed stare, “It’s been a slice, Genie…thanks for trying.” I said, with some sincerity, before heading for the door.

Passing Sarah on my way out, I offered her a small casual salute, which perhaps she read the wrong way. Wrinkling her brows, she broke her embrace with the anemic work camp survivor 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 speaking.

“So where are you rushing off to in such a hurry?”

“No hurry,” I shrugged, “I came here to talk to you.”

“Ok, then let’s sit.” she said, gesturing for me to take a chair at an empty table, which I did.

She sat across from me looking alluring, sipping at her drink and fluttering her lashes. She wore many large bracelets as well as a pair of large dangling earrings. She wore a sleeveless white turtleneck and between her breasts hung a locket and it was a great curiosity of mine what was in the locket. I didn’t ask however, I only sat there drinking in her femininity as she spoke. She was every bit as stunning as the portrait I’d painted of her in my mind. However, I’d not expected her to be so distracted. 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 as I tried to segue into the subject of Laura. However, it seemed the wrong place and the wrong time and I wasn’t sure if there would ever be a right place and a right time. I realized that in mentioning her long-lost sister, I risked Sarah suddenly coming apart at the seams, or perhaps tossing her drink in my face. Still, I took a shot.

“Listen, I need to talk to you about some shit that went down in the past.” I said as she scowled coldly at someone behind me. I turned to find who it was on the other end of her scowl and noticed a gobby-looking fellow—that is a fellow who seemed slightly touched by a mild bit of the syndrome. He was speaking with some people near the entrance and when he saw Sarah he offered her a wave and peered at me for a long intense moment. His wrinkled beige shirt was buttoned to the top and his matching slacks looked as if they’d been painted to his legs. He wore argyle socks 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 an eerily thin John Waters mustache.

“I hoped he wouldn’t be here.” growled Sarah, smiling and offering him back a wave of her own.

“I can see why.” I chuckled, “Who the hell is he?”

“Brice Munich. He’s an art dealer I dated for a while in the spring.” Said Sarah, “He hunted me down every night for weeks until I finally gave in. He’s from Alabama but you’d never guess it…I heard he took a diction course to lose his accent.”

“I think art dealers are bloodsuckers.” I said.

“Why is that?”

“Those who aren’t talented enough to make great art have to sell it, I guess.” I said.

“Well…he knows better than to come in here on my night.” Said Sarah with a crooked little grin.

“Well…it is a public establishment.” I shrugged.

“I think Brice prefers the chase more than the taste.” said Sarah and she proceeded to explain the nuances and various mishaps of her relationship with the gobby-looking art-salesman with the John Waters mustache. I wanted to interrupt her and crash through her laid-back façade…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 Her. I wanted to ask if Laura had ever mentioned me. Indeed, though I wanted to ask all of these jagged questions, Sarah left no openings in which to pose any questions. The timing was all wrong and I sat there across from her pretty mouth, accepting the fact that I would have to wait for another evening to have the conversation. As I drained my glass, Sarah peered at the entrance once again, this time squinting her eyes in contemplation.

“See that guy over there?” she said, her eyes motioning over my shoulder.

I turned and found a man leaning up against the bar…he had long hair and a steroid physique. He wore a muscle shirt and had been issued a curious paradox by nature—though he bared the chiseled features of a Sears catalog model, he happened to be also cross-eyed, and I noticed it as he offered Sarah a mirror-rehearsed nod as he carried three pints of beer back to a nearby table. When I looked back at Sarah, she was again, shaking her head and squinting her eyes.

“That’s Chad Du Boeuf…he was at one time a promising choreographer…he’s become quite the player around here. I made the mistake of falling into his player trap.” said Sarah.

“You don’t say.” I said.

“Anyway, 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 great, but there needs to be something more going on—don’t you find? I mean, the guy would confuse the spelling of words like your and you’re.” 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 this place you haven’t fucked?” 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 said.

“Firstly, whom 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 is that?”

“I’m just making small talk…after all, you’re just sitting there staring at me very intensely as if you’re peering into my soul.” said Sarah, closing her eyes as if frustrated, “I really don’t appreciate what you’re insinuating.”

“Look, I came down here tonight because I want to talk to you about some shit.” I sighed.

“Yes, that’s precisely why I invited you here.” Sarah spat, her frustration surfacing.

“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 glance, the man appeared to be an utter twat…he wore male camel-toe-inducing skinny pants as well as a polka dot short-sleeve shirt buttoned to the top over which he wore a loosely fastened empathy belly. He also wore a closely cropped Michael-Gross-from-Family-Ties type of beard. His lanky Adam’s apple bounced as he explained that his back was slightly strained from wearing the empathy belly for two weeks at the behest of his wife, who stood beside him, with a synthetic grin plastered to her vacantly blinking face—as if she were a cyborg with lip-filler.

The man opened his arms for Sarah who stood up and offered him an ass-out hug, as not to perturb the imaginary baby grown in his belly. Looking to the man’s wife, Sarah extended her arms widely and theatrically before embracing her tightly. The wife whinnied in a shrill tone and beamed with embellished enthusiasm as she hugged Sarah dramatically, declaring how magnificent it was to see her again.

“Frank, this is Kylee and Kyle. They run a hot yoga class…it’s on Melrose.” said Sarah, as if Melrose symbolized something very specific.

The man’s hand came first. It was warm, moist, and slimy. As I shook her husband’s hand, Kylee flashed me a half grin and spoke in a piercing tone, “Are you a fighter pilot Frank?” she chuckled ravenously taking note of my leather WWII bomber jacket.

“I don’t need a jet-plane Kylee—I’m going to bomb the commies with my air guitar.” I shrugged with a wry grin, causing both of their smiles to fade. If I could have made a career out of putting people off; I’d have been a millionaire.

“Please, sit with us for a few minutes.” said Sarah.

As Sarah chatted with the boisterous wife whose shrill cackle drew some glances from neighboring tables; the husband sat carefully smoothing a hand over the empathy belly, smiling politely and nodding as he sipped a cocktail through a straw.

“It’s a virgin.” He said to me.

“Sorry?” I asked.

“It’s a mocktail.” He said, raising the glass.

“Good job?” I shrugged.

“For all intents and purposes, I’m pregnant.” He said, smoothing his hand over the rubber belly.

“You’re really going all the way with that empathy belly, huh?” I said.

“Kylee isn’t due for another seven months, but I feel it can only strengthen our bond if I understand what it’s like to carry a baby in my belly. If she can’t drink—I can’t drink.” He smiled, rubbing the empathy belly with a proud grin.

“Do you have kids?” he inquired.

“Not that I know of…I sure hope not.” I laughed, and Kyle didn’t share my amusement, he only wrinkled his brows and sipped at his mocktail, “But I hear it’s cool to notice everything kids inherit from you…even personality traits.”

“Oh, the child is not mine.” Said Kyle.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“The pregnancy is from another relationship Kylee maintains.”


“We don’t believe in ownership. We do believe that as humans, we are able and should be free to love more than one person at a time.” Said Kyle, completely content to be a well-trained cuckold.

“Well, in that case, why do you have to wear the empathy belly? I would think the other dude should have to wear it…it’s his kid after all.” I said.

“It’s not a question of having to wear it, it’s a question of wanting to wear it…of wanting to understand what my wife is going to go through when she’s six months pregnant.” Said Kyle, “I think your comment is very crass.”

“Don’t get your empathy belly in a knot Ken, I’m just trying to save you the trouble.” I admitted and I looked at my watch, feeling I was late for something.

“It’s Kyle.”

“Ok.” I nodded, realizing this man and I could never come to any understanding in life—rendering it pointless to carry on with the conversation. I went back to watching the incidental comic that was blazing his way through a bland rant about online dating.

When the couple finally moved on, Sarah looked at me, “You didn’t have to be rude to Kyle.”

“How as I rude? I think she’s taking advantage of the guy…I mean it’s not even his kid, but she’s got him wearing a fucking empathy belly. Come on.” I chuckled.

“Kylee is an inspiration to all the women in my circle—she’s a very strong woman.” Said Sarah.

“Well, someone has to wear the pants in that relationship I guess.” I laughed.

“I’m not going to sit here and listen to you berate my friends.” Said Sarah.

“You’re pretty tightly wound for a stand-up comic.” I grinned.

“Comedy is supposed to be funny.” She said.

“Look, 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 tell you how this all came about…this intricate mind-fuck, the likes of which I could roam the earth for a thousand and one years and never encounter again.”

“What are you talking about? What mind-fuck?” asked Sarah.

“Look, it’s like this. I haven’t been able to get your enigmatic face out of my head. I’m haunted by you. I don’t know what else to tell you.” I shrugged.

“I don’t get it. I mean what—you caught my act one night and couldn’t get over me?” she grinned.

“Trust me—it’s not your act.” I said.

“Oh, so you’ve come to insult me.” She said, squinting her eyes.

“Listen Sarah, this is all about something in your past.” I told her.

“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, “Like do you have any fucking idea how bizarre this all is? You’re obviously mentally ill.”

“There’s a rational explanation to this all.” I said, “If you’d just let me tell you.”

“You haven’t said one rational thing all night.” 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. Perhaps she’d been over-coddled, over-loved, and over-embellished by her grief-stricken mother who’d unwittingly turned Sarah into an entitled kitten. Perhaps her mother couldn’t help herself after losing Laura—perhaps it had been too much for her and perhaps it had taken a lot for Sarah to become an only child.

“And besides, I’d never ever be with a man like you—firstly you’re nobody…nobody in my community has ever heard of you. Beyond that, you’re rude, crude, impulsive, and obscenely presumptuous. Do other women fall for this charade of yours? This end-of-days, tortured, brooding, psychotic-lover bit? Please…I’m a sensible girl.” Said Sarah, and having unloaded her cache of artillery on me, she crossed her arms and tilted her head, as if saying, your move asshole. I just looked back at her, realizing that she was missing an imperative piece of the puzzle, as was probably her habit. Indeed, she wasn’t Laura…I could see that plainly. Though she shared Laura’s flesh, blood, DNA and childhood upbringing; she was an entirely different woman—and I realized then what a mistake it had been to meet her; a mistake I’d had no choice but to make.

“Well, while we’re all sharing here; I wish I’d never seen your name on that poster…I’m not sure why the universe willed that to happen…perhaps the universe has a better sense of humor than anyone in this room.” I said with a deep sigh of surrender to the cold hard facts.

“Yes, well, I didn’t ask for the honor of your twisted preoccupation with me…and I don’t want it…so, you can just go back to incessantly thinking about me and wishing for something that’s never, ever going to happen.” Sarah shrugged, clicking her eyes up to me.

I nodded, glad that she’d made herself clear. I gave her a last look before rising from my chair and leaving her alone at the table, poking at her ice with a silver straw and staring at me as if she was dumbfounded by my audacity.

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. Perhaps she’d only called me because she’d recognized my name from the Rolodex in her mind containing suitors who’d called for her older sister, the enigmatic, the mysterious—Laura Lassiter.

I dialed my phone as I rolled along in traffic.

“Hello?” answered Ariel.

“Hey, I’m passing through Westwood…you want me to pick you up somewhere?” I asked her.

“I’ll be on the corner down the street from my mom’s place…give me fifteen minutes.” Said Ariel.

That night Ariel and I fell asleep in the back of my blacked-out campervan. We’d found a secluded spot and gave the shocks a workout and fell asleep on the foldable mattress as episodes of Twin Peaks played on the laptop. Though it was nice when Ariel snuggled in and wrapped me around her like a trusty old blanket; I felt removed as I replayed the scene with Sarah at Café Exile over and over in my mind. As I dozed off, feeling the darkness reaching out from the darkness, I pondered, to no avail, why my disappointment about Sarah was so profound. Still, I squeezed Ariel close to me, imagining she was Sarah.

Gentleman Suitor

The next night I showed up for my shift at the Davenport—a flask of absinthe deep and buzzing on a blunt worth of Emerald Dream. Though I was feeling a bit contemplative after the debacle with Sarah Lassiter, I was somehow ready to embark upon a grueling shift which on this night consisted of a plated, 7-course, French service gala dinner for 1500 rabid real-estate agents. This simply meant a long, impossibly rapid-paced night of dashing and ducking, bobbing, and weaving and rolling with the disorganization of ballroom captains who were in over their heads.

Down in the trenches amidst the exploding mortars and enemy gunfire—nobody was pulling a fallen comrade out of danger and to safety. In accordance with Davenport ethics, 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 multiple disasters that could result from a wrong call or a moment of hesitation.

Upon arrival, I was summoned to Radcliff’s office where she relayed to me a new Davenport policy—one I missed the implementation of on account of being fired. In Laymen’s terms, the policy stipulated that unless your lips were brown and speckled from kissing a lot of asshole rims and your knees were scuffed and dirty from bowing at the altar of upper management—one’s hours could most definitely be cut. In short; scheduling was now based on ‘productivity’. In my case, because I’d been fired and rehired, the Davenport reserved the right to start my seniority from ground zero…which put me at the very bottom of the seniority list, where nobody ever wanted to be.

Because I was now the lowest man on the totem pole, it seemed I’d be scheduled accordingly, which meant mainly on the weekends. Though the union agreement protected my hourly wage, rather than four or five shifts a week, I’d receive one, or two if I was lucky. It couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time, and I sat expressionless as usual, nodding to Radcliff and taking advantage of a break in her sermon on the virtues of productivity, to issue her a single question, “Are we done here? I want to smoke some shit and take a piss before my shift.”

Radcliff only peered back at me from behind her desk, squinting her eyes and assuring me that indeed this was no laughing matter and that she wasn’t above ordering urine tests for suspect staffers. I’d merely stood up, nodded, and placed a blunt between my lips as I bid her and Josie something or other a two-finger salute. As I emerged in the hallway that ran behind the massive ballrooms, 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 bodies, I noticed a large contingency of agency waiters who went from hotel to hotel as backup troops—fodder to fortify a company victory in the face of incredible odds.

Most 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 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 plated 7-course French service gala for 1500 ravenous narcissists. Us battle-hardened Davenport veterans knew though; we’d fought through the worst of it, and on a nightly basis. 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, anything that could have gone wrong with our operation did go wrong that night…and it derailed the train in such a way that everyone, even the boss man Quaid himself jumped on to help with dinner service, dropping entrees at tables in the far reaches of the massive grand ballroom. It was nearly surreal to see Quaid in his managerial turtleneck sweater and blazer, squeezing his fat ass around the chairs of guests, pouring wine, and penciling orders down in a small pad—weathering the mass chaos with gritty old-man toughness. So, the chubby old bastard did have it in him after all…even if it was only for one night.

Amid the onslaught, it still wasn’t enough that the Davenport’s A-list waiters had all been present. The night had spiraled into disaster anyway and it was mostly because of the inexperienced agency staff who perpetually fumbled and dropped entire oval trays of $200-a-plate entrees to the floor, where they smashed in a sloppy pile, inevitably tripping up other waiters, one of which who fell backward and gashed his arm on a broken plate. As first-aid worked to patch up his blood-coursing wound, a river of waiters washed by on either side, hauling hundreds of entrees into the ballroom at the crack of Mr. Q’s demanding whip. Captains barked orders, wine stewards fumbled full bottles of merlot which smashed against the floor…more commotion…six waiters abandoned their posts, unable to weather the storm…another waiter had fainted from the anxiety and exertion—collapsing on the ballroom floor atop his fallen entrees. He grabbed at my pantleg as I blew by with ten entrees stacked atop an oval tray which I balanced on my shoulder. I powered on toward my tables in the farthest reaches of the grand ballroom, only to find that a rushing agency waiter had knocked my side stands to the floor, creating a mess of spilled wine, splattered coffee, and more floored entrees scattered across the carpet among a pile of broken dishes. In short—a complete disaster.

Later in the evening, as we all sat out on the docks, taking a well-deserved smoke break, our bowties dangling, our bodies aching from the exertion, our ears ringing from the wailing of the crowd, the smashing of plates and the desperate orders hollered over our heads; 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, spattered in seagull shit and littered with cigarette butts—the docks were for grunts like us, not for a heavyweight 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, there was no such solidarity to be had.

Standing on an overturned wooden crate, Quaid used a small megaphone to project his voice over the small sea of heads that made up 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 strains and pains—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 our guests with. He went one 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 relay to their friends and families the horrible experience they’d suffered at the Davenport…that perhaps they’d not ever be able to enjoy another banquet again after being traumatized by the likes of our fourth-rate band of hacks, shit-wits, and charlatans; 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 something-or-other. The rest of us dispersed slowly, most everyone looking slightly dazed by the hard reprimand after working so hard and diligently. We’d all seen it…we all knew the truth—that the source of clusterfuck was the disorganization of the grimy, pierced, and tatted 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, Hotel Davenport’s executive chef, and resident cunt. I lit up a blunt right there in the loading bay, shaking my head at the irony of being chastised when for once I’d actually 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 as if they were surprised by it. I listened absently, smoking it up as I took note of the old-guard crew, sitting on crates of their own a few feet away, smoking cigarettes and talking their own trash about Quaid. They’d been at the Davenport since the swinging seventies and had devoted their lives to the place—they’d poured their best years into the old hotel and the thanks they got in the end was an ass chewing. We’d all heard the tales of their historical escapades, back when they were young and invincible and full of promise. They’d reached that point just over the hill and had kept going and were now pushing seventy and realized they could never retire—that they’d have to slug it out in the ballroom trenches until they eventually dropped dead on the burgundy carpet. They were old, ailing and what’s perhaps just as bad—they’d painted themselves into an uncomfortable corner by spending their strongest years—paying into a dead-end job with their backs.

“Ah, I pulled my back out again, these fucking trays are getting heavier each year.” said Jacques, a temperamental career waiter from Paris—who’d married for money but had been left high and dry and now lived in a tenement building where he had to share a shitter with meth-heads and heroin addicts.

“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 in 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 the Hotel Davenport 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 and claimed top-billing on the seniority list. Reynolds knew the job so well, he’d 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 Quaid with a vengeance and had turned down the management position just to spite him.

“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, finding the issue futile to discuss any further.

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 fucking place. They had me pushing a wooden bar, filled with beer, wine, champagne, ice, and glass bottles of Perrier! They had me push ten bars like that across the rug tonight—it’s how the pyramids were built.” he gritted, shaking his head in disbelief.

Time can pass a man by. He can look up one day and find that he’s old and grey and failing. He can find he’s looking back on a life filled with errors, mishaps, and ill-fated endeavors…it can creep up on a man if he’s not paying attention. Indeed, there is no fending off the relentless ticking of time, or the splitting of cells. However, a man can make moves to change his destiny. A man has freedom of choice and critical thought—and just then my critical thoughts were telling me that the situation was indeed critical. I’d spent my best years slinging trays and rubber chicken in the hotel circuit and needless to say, I had nothing to show for it beyond some great works and a distaste for crowded social events—which I’d come to associate with work.

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

O’Leary glanced up from the glowing screen of his phone and took inventory of the Davenport’s old-guard contingency, 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.

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

“But how wise are they? Look at them—they’re falling apart, and most of them don’t have a pot to piss in.” I said, “Old age is a shipwreck.”

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

“Field?” I chuckled, “A minefield maybe.”

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

“Yeah, they’re even too old to become gigolos.” Laughed Schroeder.

“That’s a shame man…some of these ladies are damn rich too.” Said Tyrell.

“That’s not a half-bad idea.” I said.

“What idea?” asked Schroeder.

“Maybe we ought to start an agency that caters to these rich, washed-up trophy wives.” I said.

“Yeah, like a catering company that caters dick.” Laughed Tyrell.

“In a word.” I shrugged.

“What are we talking about here?” Schroeder asked.

“That’s fucking brilliant Nero…for a madman, you got some great ideas.” 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 for? Why have they punished us with the etiquette classes and the wine-tasting seminars and the culinary torture camps…the lectures in diction and posture and social grace? Why did they make us learn all that shit?”

“To serve dinner in some fancy-ass hotel.” said Tyrell.

“Precisely. Etiquette. Class. Prestige. The bullshit charm they want us to sell—but what they’re really selling is the Davenport. 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 shithole every day? I ain’t no glamor boy.” said O’Leary, “Why not use the skills they’ve taught us for the greater good…or at least our own good?”

“You guys are dreaming.” said Schroeder.

“Look, we’re constantly surrounded by lonely, bored, neglected, and essentially wasted housewives of LA who get dragged in here by their rich and boring husbands who are most definitely cheating on them with younger broads. I mean how many times have we all seen it? How many times do these sexy older women give you the eye when you’re leaning in to pour them a chardonnay and they bust you scoping their cleavage? You don’t think they fantasize about having an affair with their waiter?” demanded O’Leary.

“I highly doubt it.” I laughed, “We’re not exactly the dream team…however, we’re the most accessible option, provided we can offer discretion.”

“Exactly,” agreed O’Leary, “We’re in the perfect setting 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 it. 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, “if the pay is there.”

“You know I’m game.” Shrugged O’Leary.

The three of them looked at me as 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.

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

“I say fuck it—let’s do it. These motherfuckers cut my hours today.” I said, “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.

“I’m seeing a logo—a black tuxedo jacket and a bowtie. It could say, Gentleman Suitor – 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 is everything—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 young guys? I mean, what if they want someone a little more…debonair? Like some dude who knows about operas and shit. We can’t open a bakery and sell only one kind of bread. We need some options.”

“Trust me…Jacques and Maurice will be down with this as well as a few of the others.” assured O’Leary, motioning with his head toward the group of Davenport veterans, sitting on their crates, massaging their aches and strains, and chatting amongst themselves.

“Those fossils? What the hell do they know?” demanded Schroeder.

“Listen, Jacque may not look like much, but he knows some shit.” Said O’Leary.

“Like what?” Laughed Tyrell.

“Jacques.” O’Leary called to Jacques, summoning him with a wave of his hand, to which Jacques shrugged and raised his brows.

“I move for you O’Leary?” he asked.

“I want you to address the boys.” Said O’Leary with a nod.

Reluctantly Jacques rose from his perch on two stacked crates and moved toward us. As he sauntered across the loading bay, he dragged a last drag on his cigarette, flicked it to the side, and grinned, exposing twin rows of nicotine-stained teeth before breaking into a bronchial cough which turned his face red.

“Ok, what the fuck do you dip shits want to know now?” asked Jacques in his heavy Parisian accent.

“Tell the boys what you told me yesterday evening while we were working the bar.” Instructed O’Leary.

Jacques scanned our faces, perhaps for a hint of tomfoolery, however, when he found that we were rapt and waiting for him to elaborate, he lit up another smoke and spoke, “So you want to learn from the king huh?” he grinned through a large puff of smoke.

“I don’t think I’d go that far,” Said Schroeder, “but O’Leary here is singing your praises…says you were a real stud in your day.”

“Stud? I was a fucking professional. They called me The Count. I got more pussy in a month than you’ll ever get in your life.”

“Tell them what you told me…about the croissant technique.” Urged O’Leary.

“So this dipshit here,” he said, gesturing toward O’Leary, who took it with an endearing grin, “I’m joking with him last week…telling him that Captain Kate wants a croissant. He thinks I’m talking about a pastry.”

“Say what?” Laughed Tyrell.

“Of course—you’re a young man who doesn’t know shit. But not anyone can master the technique.”

“What’s the technique?” Schroeder asked impatiently.

“The first part of the technique is to don’t be a dumb cunt. But it’s too late for you assholes by now.” Chuckled Jacques, “However, I’ll still explain it. First thing is…you use finesse…finesse is the key!” Jacques demanded, “Yeah?”

We all nodded, waiting for the punchline.

“You can use this technique when you’re taking your lover from behind. She can be standing or on all fours, or even giving you a backward squat job…as long as her ass is facing you; you’re in business. When she is about to come; suck your thumb for a few moments…then make a croissant with your left hand…it has to be the left hand. As she is coming, that’s when you make your move. From a 9:30 angle, slide your thumb into her derriere…do it gently, but with some firmness…as if your hand is a croissant…a nice crispy one.”

I couldn’t help chuckling and almost immediately was reprimanded by O’Leary who insisted that we were indeed being offered a valuable lesson in lovemaking from a man who ‘knew shit’.

“You must use finesse…finesse is the key!” Jacques said, now passionately demonstrating with his left hand the gentle but firm insertion motions, as other onlooking waiters wrinkled their brows with complexity, “And eventually, it pops in…et voila.”

“Shit man…for real?” asked Tyrell, “I think my girlfriend would put her boot up my ass if I tried that number on her.”

“As I say, not everyone can grasp this technique…it takes a lover, not a dipshit.” Shrugged Jacques apologetically, “End of lesson.” He said, before moseying back to the others.

“See? These old guys have skills man.” Said O’Leary, “They’ve been around.”

“Right, well,” I said, “Perhaps he should employ that croissant technique to his teeth with a fucking toothbrush once in a while.” I said.

“I’ll get him a bottle of mouthwash and some whitening toothpaste…whatever…small problem dude.” Shrugged O’Leary, “The bottom line is, we got the manpower…we got the talent…we got the plan…and soon we’ll have the business cards. I think we have a real shot at making some actual money here fellas.”

“Shit man…this is going to be even better than the locker room.” said Tyrell, clapping his hands and rubbing them together as if he was trying to make fire with his palms.

However, it was only a start. We realized in the coming days that we would need to recruit more members to Gentleman Suitor. We also realized that because the matter was of such a delicate and confidential nature, we’d need to proceed with extreme caution. This meant that all potential candidates needed to declare a morally binding oath, that all matters of Gentleman Suitor business would be kept strictly between its members and never discussed with anyone outside of the fold.

Though the conversations about whom we would invite into the fold were wrought with arguments and character-smearing; we eventually recruited three more men. Among them was our secret weapon; Remington—an import from Manchester who beyond being a former college-level soccer champ, was indeed a thrift-store Roger Moore knock-off. He was a child of privilege who’d been educated at private schools 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 Gentleman Suitor…it was Remington.

Still, though Remington was the golden boy, O’Leary was still the CEO, and it was he who called the meetings, thought up our pseudonyms, and printed out the Gentleman Suitor business cards, according to my initial design I might add. He brought the business cards to one of our meetings held at Remington’s pad in Palms and gave us all, gold, wafer-thin business card holders before passing the cards around. The holders were a thing of beauty—he’d gone with a gold matte finish, which gave them the look of small golden wafers that looked good enough to eat. The cards were eggshell-white and printed with slightly raised lettering, displaying a black tuxedo vest and bowtie in the top left corner…in the center was our company name, beneath which a slogan was printed in italic lettering ‘We cater to your needs’. We all looked around the room at each other, finding nothing but impressed grins and a few chuckles. 14 men…14 matte-gold business card holders…14 earners that would pioneer perhaps the most ingenious racket the DTLA, ballroom waiter circuit had ever seen.

After three weeks of planning, we were ready to roll. To make it official, O’Leary incorporated an online staffing app to make scheduling foolproof. Of course, availability was key, being that we all still officially worked at the Davenport and still held their schedule as priority. In any case, ready or not…the cards were being circulated at various Davenport events. Cocktail receptions, gala dinners, fundraisers, weddings…you name it—we were circulating the eggshell-white Gentleman Suitor cards. O’Leary may have been the CEO, but Garrison was our PR man, for he was a man of the people one could say, and his job as head bartender in the lounge was the perfect outlet for the distribution of the business cards. Beyond that, he already had a list of regular clientele, for Garrison was a natural-born gigolo and had been bedding wealthy older ladies for years. Frequently he’d show up with a new watch, a smart-looking tie, designer frames, or cufflinks that sparkled—all courtesy of his adoring public made up of bored, sultry, bitch-bosses who were trapped in lackluster marriages with lackluster millionaires. Having been born with the gift of gab, Garrison was a smooth talker and possessed the right concoction of snaz and sleaze to pass himself off as a charming gentleman. In three days, he’d reportedly circulated nearly forty cards, and out of those forty cards had received seven callbacks. From the seven call-backs, O’Leary had been able to arrange four dates, and one of those dates dear reader was assigned to me.

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 7 pm the following Saturday. O’Leary scheduled our dates exactly one day after the Davenport’s scheduling department sent out its own schedule. This was done so there could be no room for a double booking. O’Leary had thought of everything.

Because the app was an open scheduler that we could all view, I noticed the others being scheduled for dates as well. It was hard to believe that rich, once sexually dangerous trophy wives were actually going ahead with Gentleman Suitor—given the fact that we were all, for the most part, destitute waiters who knew very little about the finer elements of upper-crust living. What’s more, the meetings were blind dates and so the women had no idea who or what 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 I was handing out to bored and hungry harlots of the ballroom who offered suggestive glances while lifting a champagne flute from our gold platters and catching us admiring their tanned cleavage. Indeed, though it was hard to believe; the proof was evident in the scheduling app which was steadily filling up with highlighted dates, times, locations, and the pseudonyms O’Leary had devised to protect our identities.

O’Leary was Mr. James, Schroeder was TJ Hammersmith, Tyrell was Mr. Spice, Garrison was Mr. Roth and Remington was of course Mr. Moore, and so on and so forth. I was Mr. Frost for some reason. The names went on, down the column and eventually became blank squares—which I assumed O’Leary intended to fill with the names of new employees. I took note of the other names, Mr. Big, Mr. Gun, Mr. Flamenco, Mr. Flowers, Monsieur Lips…we all wondered who Monsieur Lips was, however, O’Leary’s lips were sealed on the matter. We eventually found out that Monsieur Lips was in fact, Jacques, perhaps the most disgruntled, chain-smoking, dirty joke telling, ex-morphine shooting, foul-mouthed bastard the Davenport had to offer. However, under the guise of Gentleman Suitor, Jacques took on the guise of a Monsieur—one with allegedly talented lips.

That week I’d been scheduled at the Davenport five nights in a row, and I’d 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 still haunted me…perhaps worse than before. I’d simply wished to fall madly, deeply, disgustingly in love with her, and experience for once in my life what the dead poets had written about. For up until then—I’d believed them to be full of shit.

I was 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 of the date. Perhaps she’d been drunk or desperate when she’d scheduled the date. 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 or her bikini line…perhaps she’d had last minute second-thoughts and was sitting on a post-modern sofa in her room, counting the reasons for canceling the date she herself had scheduled.

I ordered another Pellegrino 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 greying blonde hair was tied and propped up on her head, so it hung at a slight angle. Her eyes were clear blue, and her lipstick matched the pristine redness of her skirt. Her gold jewelry contrasted nicely with the caramel tan of her skin. She carried herself with the ease of a woman who’d once been beautiful and perpetually chased…it had never quite left her, though her youthful looks had, along with the affections of her husband who’d married her for the fairy-tale.

“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. Do I pay you now?” she asked.

“You’re my first actually.” 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 asked with a deliciously naughty grin, raising her brows.

“Be gentle with me.” I grinned.

Indeed, it was awkward for the first few minutes, but there was something inexplicable about Mrs. Rogers’ demeanor…a sincerity that made the awkwardness easy, and once her drink had arrived, the awkwardness 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 Gentleman Suitor as a financial scheme one evening after a particularly grueling gala dinner event and subsequent verbal tirade from Quaid.

Perhaps she didn’t want to know the gory details. Perhaps she wanted a storybook romp. Still, she seemed fascinated by the notion. 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. In a show of chivalry, I arose, and this time 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.

“So, isn’t the 14th floor, actually the 13th floor?” I inquired.

“It’s the 14th…” She said, thinking for a moment and seeing no 13th floor button, she looked back at me, widening her eyes. She’d been a luscious delicacy no doubt, and certainly she’d been chased by many men. There was still a much younger woman inside of her—and there would soon be a much younger man inside of her—whether or not she paid me. Her teeth were perfectly white against her deep red lipstick. I leaned in and wrapped my arm around her, pulling her against me as I pressed my lips against hers as the elevator climbed the floors.

Once out in the hallway of the 14th floor, I followed behind her voluptuous rear, which wagged like velvety red, sex magic, hypnotizing me with its awesome jiggle. She used her card key to open the door and we were inside her suite a moment later. Though not quite as elegant as the Davenport suites, the room was stately all the same. I was a bit surprised to find that despite the Pimpernel’s rustic façade and old-world charm; the 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 bathtub equipped with bubble jets, a flat-screen bolted to one wall, and a handsome view of Los Angeles through the 14th, or rather the 13th floor windows.

Once alone with her in the confines of the suite, Mrs. Rogers stood beside the bed, unpinning her large dangling earrings.

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

“Lady’s choice.” I said, removing my blazer and exposing my Dead Kennedys t-shirt.

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

My guess was that at some point, she’d been a devoted wife and mother, and perhaps her husband had forgotten what had attracted him to her in the first place…or perhaps she’d become disenchanted with him. The diamond wedding ring that she removed and set on the nightstand beside her earrings caught the light in tiny sparkles and 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, stepping toward me, “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.

When we were through, and the bed was a tussle of sheets and Mrs. Rogers was a tussle of hair, smudged makeup, and satisfied grins, I walked to the window and peered out of it…it faced southwest 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 whom she was doing it with, and what the hell it was about her that drove me so crazy. Having forgotten about her momentarily, it was sharply irritating to see her face in my mind again, standing in her masquerade ball costume and tipping a martini glass to her mouth. Though I was all for letting Sarah slip into the stark vast blue of faded memories; she lingered…like smoke among the pine trees, the image of her face refusing to vacate my mind. I let out a long, frustrated sigh and lightly tapped my forehead against the glass a few times.

“What’s wrong?” asked Mrs. Rogers from the bed, pulling me from my contemplation, “Was I that disappointing?”

“You’re great…it’s not you.” I said over my shoulder, turning my head slightly.

“So then why do you look as though your dog just died?” she chuckled.

“Too long a story.” I said.

“We’ve got some time left.” She said.

“I should go.” I said, slipping back into my Dead Kennedys t-shirt and pulling my pants back on, “Listen baby, you’ve got an amazing ass…I’m going to be thinking of it.” I assured with a grin.

I was pulling on my blazer when Mrs. Rogers got out of bed and let the silky sheet fall away from her silky-tanned skin. She turned her ass to me and bent forward, to retrieve money from her purse. As she did so I stepped up behind her and smoothed my hands over her hips. She responded, gyrating like an alley-cat in heat, reaching back and running her blood-red fingernails through my hair. We had another go at it there as she balanced against the nightstand, moaning so loudly the guests passing by in the hallway surely raised a brow. When we were through, I needed a drink and I mixed one at the mini bar in the corner of the room, adding a heavy pour of whisky to a small mountain of ice, over which I poured some root beer. I wasted no time in swilling it down before pouring another.

“Shit…” I chuckled, slumping back in one of the leather chairs, “I can’t keep up with you.”

“You look a bit surprised.” She said, still naked as she replaced her earrings.

“Why not?” I shrugged.

“You okay?”

“Sure.” I shrugged as I pulled on my shoes, “But probably I’m going mad.”

“Well, it’s perfect we met then.” grinned Mrs. Rogers, “I’m a psychiatrist.” She said, lighting a long thin cigarette.


“Really.” She nodded, shaking out the match.

“That’s crazy.” I said, with a grin.

“It really sort of is, isn’t it? I’m a great listener…if you feel like talking about it.”

“Wow…you’re good…to sense that I’m all fucked up inside right now…maybe we can talk sometime—when I know you a bit better.” I said, pushing up from my chair.

“Oh, wait.” she said, reaching for her purse that was strewn among her keys and jewelry on the nightstand. From the purse, she retracted three crisp hundred-dollar bills and handed them to me with a warm smile.

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

The following week was quiet; I had only three dates. One was with a mother of three from Pomona 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 traveled 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 seemed a bit corny. I couldn’t help feeling as if I was acting in a bad made-for-TV romcom—minus the com. 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; this world is full of damaged hearts. She was surrounded by sickness, death, hopelessness, middle age, and the dimming of the light; she’d come to the realization that life is bigger than everyone in the end and she’d gone the other way with it. 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’d all wind up in the same decaying landfill.

“I’m not the answer to your problems…this—is not the answer to your problems.” I said, gesturing to the sprawling coastline that disappeared into the darkness.

“What do you mean by that?” Mrs. Green asked.

“This is the answer.” I said, extracting a generously rolled blunt from the lapel pocket of my blazer. I lit it up and puffed a few times, then passed it to Mrs. Green.

“I don’t use that stuff.” She said.

“Come on…take a hit—you’re Mrs. Green after all.” I chuckled.

“I don’t know…last time I tried it, things got crazy.” She said.

“Take half a puff—or better yet…a quarter of a puff…build the buzz slowly. Don’t skyrocket to the penthouse.” I suggested and she indulged me, taking the blunt in hand and taking a small puff, which she coughed back up immediately.

We walked on, feeling the Emerald Dream settling in and glazing the night with mystical wonder, which switched our conversation to the tides, which were crashing heavily in the darkness. Once we were discussing the moon and its significance to ancient builders, Mrs. Green was taking her half-drag like a champ, holding it in for a while before blowing it out into the sea breeze. And it was then that the hilarity started. Mrs. Green simply started laughing and didn’t quite stop.

As we made our way back to her car which she’d parked in Venice, every passing person was reason enough for Mrs. Green to break out in laughter after which she’d rip them apart on grounds of attire, facial expression, and style of saunter, which only added to her laughter. We’d stopped in at a novelty store, where she’d nearly died from laughter, flipping through a dirty jokebook, hyperventilating, and needing to step outside for some fresh air. We’d gotten an ice cream bar from a corner store, and she’d laughed for two blocks about the dried warts covering the cashier’s leprosy-ridden hands.

Her laughter was contagious and I too began keeling over against mailboxes and clinging to streetlamps for balance as I chuckled skyward, unable to tell exactly why an old man rolling by on his bicycle with a cat on his shoulders was so riotously funny. Though to Mrs. Green the universe was full of fire and ice and death and a black indifferent void, there was a shred of solitude to find under the Venice streetlamps, in a world gone mad. It seemed we’d both needed a gargantuan laugh.

When our date concluded Mrs. Green wanted to sit in my van and chat for a while. The Emerald Dream had somewhat subsided, along with her laughter and now orbiting the radius of planet earth again, 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 sack on the black market. I chuckled, offering only a shrug and a succession of improvisational fiction which stoked the hilarity again, sending Mrs. Green into a gasping fit of laughter which she claimed hurt her stomach.

In the end, Mrs. Green thanked me for whatever it was I’d done for her. Before she got out of the van, she unbuttoned her handbag and produced a small red envelope containing payment for services rendered.

“Ah, keep it.” I said, waving it off as if the notion of accepting money from her was asinine.

“Are you sure?”

“Keep it.” I grinned and when she’d left me alone in the confines of my van, I started it up and drove north on Lincoln. It seemed a good plan to stop in at the VONS and pick up some soda water and some fruit and hole up in my beloved campervan on a serene and darkened Santa Monica street, with vintage cinema on the laptop while typing at the tenth chapter of my novel—which was turning out to be a masterpiece. It was a long drive back to East Hollywood and I felt like getting up close and personal with the prose just then.

I stopped at the VONS as planned, and picked up some soda water, a few oranges, a banana, two apples, and a bag of croissants. I was standing in line, minding my own business, not looking for trouble, when David Cassidy’s version of Cherish chimed through the overhead speakers. As a hypothetical fireplace-lit moment of intimacy crossed my mind like a fiery comet blazing a trail across the midnight sky, I felt a sinking feeling in my gut when Sarah’s face surfaced.

As Cherish played and I inched slowly forward in the checkout line, a dump of dopamine washed over me like warm water, lulling me into Sarah’s blue eyes and placing a sparkle in her smile. As always, the warm wash of dopamine was followed by a grim hollow that expanded in my core, like an opening void, threatening to swallow my sense of logic—which reminded me that Sarah was indeed nothing really more than what Crystal had called her; merely another broad with a penchant for designer dresses. This usually led to a reoccurring epiphany; it wasn’t about Sarah—it was about her sister, but more accurately, it was about my own neurotic obsession with them both. If I repeated this like a mantra, long enough and involved enough—eventually Sarah’s face would retreat into the peripheral…where it lurked, until the next time her face surfaced with a warm wash of dopamine-based longing. It was this footing in rational thought that I clung to in moments when Sarah came crashing through my mind in her sister’s clothing. Mainly though, the writing became a fortified wall, which very little could breach, and I spent the rest of the evening intently typing away, chiseling at the novel which at times seemed to be offering up its own brilliant insights regarding everything between love and death, birth and taxes, art and obsession.

The following Saturday I found myself sitting around the kitchen table at headquarters—Remington’s inherited condo in Palms. We’d had a Gentleman Suitor meeting that evening and some of us had hung around playing cards and waiting for some calls to come in; all dressed up with no place to hide. Remington 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.

“Frankly, I’d rather not get into it.” said Remington in his pristine English accent which somehow 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 Remington.

“What…she’s a sex fiend or something? Aw, is she too much for you to handle Remington old bean?” I chuckled.

“Maybe our man Remington isn’t all we thought he was.” grinned O’Leary, his face creased with sun and age, like a strap of old leather.

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

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

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

“Look man, she only wants to see you,” Said O’Leary, “She’s not interested in anyone else, and believe me, I’ve tried to offer her options.”

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


“Really what?”

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

“Organization? We’re male whores.” chuckled Remington.

“I see us as male studs.” Said Schroeder.

“Godamit Remington.” Chuckled O’Leary, “We’re professionally trained gentlemen suitors…it’s all in the name you shit-kicker.”

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

“Well, we’re all ears Paddington.” said O’Leary, putting his cigarette down in the ashtray, as if to squarely focus his attention, “Come on man—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.” Remington 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. This went on until the show started…so you could say that fucking Cats acted as my only sanctuary from this line of drivel. However, as soon as 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 and that it was actually Nixon who’d had JFK shot so he could get one step closer to the presidency. This is what I deal with every time I go out with her.” said Remington, 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, it seems that 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 Rogers woman? Just really what fucking difference does it make?” Remington asked with a hint of protest in his tone.

“Well, firstly, Spalding likes you Remington…and Rogers likes Frank. Also, Frank hasn’t been able to get paid for any of his dates so far.” Said O’Leary, causing everyone to stare at me suspiciously.

“Man, you better not be pocketing that dough Nero.” Demanded Schroeder.

“I’m not the one who skims money…that’s your territory, dickwad.” I said, prompting a below-the-belt grumble from the guys. It was widely known that when we had the locker room going, bills would go missing when the cashbox was in Schroeder’s care.

“Fuck you Nero…that missing money went out in tips…you have no idea how many palms I had to grease to keep us in the clear.” He spat.

“I checked it out with the clients—it seems that indeed, our benevolent Mr. Frost has been declining payment.” said O’Leary, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Sorry, come again?” asked Tyrell.

“He’s been declining payment.” Said O’Leary.

“Say what man?” Tyrell asked, clicking his widened eyes at me, “Have you finally lost your mind Nero?”

“Look…guys…I just couldn’t take their money—it seemed…tacky somehow.” I confessed.

“Yeah, well, this ain’t a pro bono…it’s a, they pay to get bonoed. You understand my friend?” grinned O’Leary.

“I’ll get them next time around.” I shrugged.

“Dude…start getting paid,” O’Leary chuckled before turning his attention back to Remington, “And you—be nice to Mrs. Spalding…she just might wind up helping you pay the mortgage on this place of yours.”

“It’s bought and paid for.” Said Remington.

“How so?” asked O’Leary.

“Divorce can be a lucrative business if you know what you’re doing.” Said Remington.

“Spalding is requesting you…it’s out of my hands.” Shrugged O’Leary, lighting up a cigarillo with a wide grin.

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

“That a threat?”

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

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 Remington, “you’re with Rogers…and I don’t want to hear any complaints about her…ok? I don’t care if she wants to put a gerbil up your ass…I don’t want to hear a word out of you.”

“Thank you.” Remington said with a sigh of relief before looking back at me and raising his glass, “Good luck Franky boy…you’re going to need it.”

The Atrium

It made little difference to me whether I saw Mrs. Spalding or Mrs. Rogers or Mrs. Jones or any of the clients Gentleman Suitor catered to. I was adaptable you could say. I was scheduled to meet Mrs. Spalding at a jazz lounge on Pico at 10 pm the following evening. I liked that Los Angeles women 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 Cara the Caravan with the warm Hollywood breeze blowing through my hair and The Replacements’ Let It Be jingling through the speakers.

I put a blunt between my lips and found that the dashboard lighter had stopped working. 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 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 Lifesavers, three dollars in parking change, someone’s business card, and a pleasant surprise—my long-lost backup flask, filled to the brim with murky green absinthe. The silver metal was warm from the afternoon LA heat. I uncapped the flask, knowing I shouldn’t drink absinthe before a date but decided I might just need it; especially after hearing Remington’s summary of his last date with Mrs. Spalding.

As I turned left and headed south on Highland, I smoked the blunt, listening to the album 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 spontaneity of knowing you’re involved in something truly legendary and banding against the dark void with a crooked smirk and a beat-up 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. However, it had burned bright, and The Replacements had captured it all on tape.

Indeed, the Emerald Dream 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 casual speed over the potholes. I wondered when they were going to fix the awful stretch of Highland that was murder on my suspension. I was a half blunt strong when I arrived at Venus, the jazz lounge Mrs. Spalding had specified, and I found that I was hopelessly adaptable. I was completely content to sit in my van parked on a side street listening to the rest of the Let It Be album as I sipped at the hefty flask of absinthe, which mixed quite nicely with the emerald dream. When the album was done and I was floating on a green buttercream lily pad, I played Sixteen Blue once again, allowing the melody to wash over me in a warm nostalgic wave. I made my way into the club and found Spalding sitting by herself in one of the red leather booths, wearing all white just as she’d specified. White skirt, white hat, white gloves…and I assumed a white lacy thong. She was drinking a Cosmo and 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 clutched her purse, pulling it from the tabletop and down into the safety of her lap.

“Relax…I’m Frank,” I said, “I’m Remington’s replacement.”

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

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

“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 Remington I guess I should call him now?” inquired Spalding before placing the straw neatly between her red, glossy lips.

“He had a mishap waxing his taint.” I chuckled.

“What really happened?” she asked.

“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, squinting 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, the absinthe loosening my joints and glazing the room in an electric tingle.

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…you have nice hands.” she said, “But please pass onto Mr. James, down at the cabstand…that I’d appreciate a bit more notice next time if Mr. Remington can’t make it. I mean, I should at least 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.” Said Lady Spalding.

“So, you’re saying I’m not worth as much as Remington?” I demanded.

“I didn’t once say that.” Mrs. Spalding said, pulling back her head and widening her eyes, realizing what she’d said.

“Yeah, you did…and let me tell you something lady; Remington plucks his eyebrows—the ponce.” I scoffed, pushing myself up and out of the booth and storming at a steady pace toward the door, feeling as if I was walking on a thin layer of lime jello, uncertain of why I felt a brilliant spark of anarchy flickering in my core—perhaps it was the full moon, messing with my tides, or perhaps it was The Replacements resonating in the catacombs of my mind.

“You better cool your heels buddy.” said the doorman, a hulking mass of tattoos and steroid injections in a ridiculously tight black shirt bearing the Venus logo in neon lettering.

“Just stick to checking IDs pal.” 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 van 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 and as I rounded 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 slightly. I spun around, raising my guard, assuming it was a marauder, looking to jack my wallet. However, it wasn’t a marauder…rather it was Mrs. Spalding standing there on the sidewalk in her white-on-white outfit, staring sternly at me.

“What the hell do you want?” I demanded.

“You don’t walk out on me!” she snapped.

“Listen lady, I do what I want, when I want.” I said, taking another haul of the absinthe that was soaking in nicely.

“Oh, big hero huh?” she asked, raising her brows and crossing her arms, “My name is Chelsea…not lady by the way.” 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 little white ass back to your booth—where you can sit miserably and order Cosmos for the rest of the night. 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. Feeling it deep, I leaned back and werewolf-howled hard into the sky, toward the end of the night that stretched out above in a star-spangled dome of darkness.

“Holy shit…what’s wrong with you?” she asked.

“I suppose I’m a little misunderstood.” I grinned.

“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 sure are sensitive.” she said with a little grin.

“Hardy-fucking-har.” I said, swilling back another haul of the absinthe.

“What is that you’re drinking?” she asked.

“The green muse…anyway—see you around Chelsea, you turned down a chance at true romance tonight.” I said and turned to leave.

“Not so fast…I ordered a suitor tonight and I’m certainly not going to spend the night alone now…I have a party in the hills and if I have to go alone, Mr. James is going to get an earful about you.” 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 asked, giving her head a small shake, “Are you on drugs?”

“I’m high on existence baby.” I chuckled, feeling my wide grin filling me with invincibly psychotic elation.

“Know what I think?” said Chelsea Spalding fishing a cigarette pack from her leather handbag.

“I’m not a mind-reader 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 great madman…in the movies I mean…you certainly look the part. Hey, that might work out for you—we’re going to a wrap party after all.”

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 as to order her own private dick and I didn’t care to know. However, it made me wonder if there was anyone out there who wasn’t fucked up. 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 much longer; it was hard enough keeping 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 a party in the Hollywood Hills she was expected to attend.

We stopped for a donut at Winchell’s first and sat beneath an unforgivingly piercing fluorescent light, chatting with an arcane air and sarcastic tones about whether or not the Egyptians had been instructed by extraterrestrials when constructing the pyramids—which I doubted; otherwise, why wouldn’t they have installed a satellite dish on the top? Spalding only grinned, rolled her eyes, and murmured the word jackass to herself before biting off another piece of her apple fritter. It seemed Lady Spalding and I hadn’t hit it off, but there might be room for a spot of mismatched hilarity if we managed not to declare war on each other. After the donut, which Mrs. Spalding ate only half of before abandoning it, citing that it was an abomination to her strict exercise regime, we got back into her car, where I swilled down some more absinthe and lit up the half-blunt, which Mrs. Spalding explicitly demanded I blow out the window which she opened all the way, so the warm LA breeze washed over my face, reminding me of where I was. We took Canyon drive skyward and navigated through a succession of narrow lanes populated by crookedly parked cars until we came to the house, which looked like a shoe box on stilts, balancing on the edge of a cliff that plummeted into the darkened canyon below.

“So,” I said, “who am I?”

“Certainly you’re not going to get philosophical on me now are you?” she sighed with a slight grin, having slightly warmed to my inner-city charm.

“I mean, who do you want me to be? Surf instructor? Plastic surgeon? Aspiring actor? Trained assassin?” I said, “Who do you want to make jealous in there?”

“Are those the only options?” she asked with a wry grin.

“I’ve got more.” I shrugged.

“Who do you want to be?” she asked.

“Why Mr. Frost of course…and by the way, I’m not trying to make anyone jealous…it’s more like I don’t want to give her the satisfaction.” She said.

“Who?” I asked.

“One of the mutual friends. Amber is her name. She’s always very condescending…and she’s one of those competitive women who’s always in everybody’s affairs.” Said Spalding.

“There must be more to it.” I said.

“Well…there is—the bitch married my ex-boyfriend. They claim they met after he broke it off with me…but I’ve heard otherwise. Some say they were having an affair for months.”

“You all work in film together?” I inquired.

“I don’t. My friend Monica works in film. She invited me and I wouldn’t want to show up without a dashing man on my arm when there are spiritual vampires like Amber Calder lurking about.” Said Spalding.

“You’re saying I’m dashing?” I laughed.

“Not quite…but you’ve got a certain je ne sais quoi, I suppose.”

We left Mrs. Spalding’s Subaru parked crookedly on the darkened street and made our way up the steep grade, toward the boxy house which was illuminated in every one of its windows and piping with the sound of incidental jazz music and poolside chatter.

“Seems like a rocking party.” I said, opening the gate for Mrs. Spalding.

“Be nice…this isn’t some punk rock club in Silverlake.” Spalding suggested.

“Too bad for that.” I said.

We climbed the winding stone steps that led up to the post-modern house that overlooked Los Feliz. It was a breathtaking view and I stood on the top step, taking it in…and through the elation I felt looking out at her, my beloved Hollywood, a dark cello croaked out a melancholic tune, and with it surfaced the face of Sarah Lassiter. She was out there somewhere…perhaps falling in love with some other man who would never be as curious about her as I was. Reminding myself that it was only a tick of neurosis, I followed Spalding into the house.

Inside, guests were scattered around the spacious rooms, drinking cocktails and casually mingling. There were many trophy wives wrapped in sexy gowns and fuck-me heels and there were many older men with greying temples, bald heads, and fat wallets. It occurred to me that I’d never been to a party in the Hollywood hills—and so, for all intents and purposes, was several leagues out of my own league, and I wondered just then what it would be like to own a luxurious home at the top of a Hollywood Canyon, as well as a fashion model wife and a plethora of collector automobiles, a real Picasso, and a yacht bigger than most people’s house. I drew a blank, having little understanding of the motivations that inspired such materialism. A man who was living that exact materialistic existence emerged just then from around a corner, greeting Mrs. Spalding and I with a removed smile he reserved for valet attendants and country-club waiters. He was perhaps 4’8”, dressed in a silver suit that matched his silver hair that was styled with so much putty that it looked like a plasticine wig. He was flanked by a tall skinny blonde who would have appeared to be his granddaughter had his hand not been attached to her ass.

“That’s Klaus Starlight.” Said Mrs. Spalding.

“Who the hell is he?” I inquired as we both watched the small man introduce his trophy wife to another couple with matching demographics.

“He’s the founder of Garner Row Films.” Said Spalding, studying the man with a fascinated squint of her eyes.

I took note of Starlight, holding his trophy wife tight around her waist, offering a cordial bow as he shook the hand of the trophy wife belonging to the other man.

“This looks like the makings of a swinger’s party.” I muttered to Spalding, grabbing a handful of her ass and squeezing, causing her to jump slightly and offer a passing caterer an awkward grin.

“You behave.” She warned, moving my hand from her rear and wrapping it around her waist where she held it firmly in place, illustrating her great charade.

Like this we moved around the room, Spalding commenting on works of art hanging from the walls or decorative ornaments set on pedestals or the ivory-white grand piano sitting in the center of the floor on the upper deck of the living room. Spalding led me to the piano at which a man sat, playing through a tired Cole Porter selection.

“Do you take requests?” Spalding asked, and the piano player grinned pleasantly and nodded.

“What do you want to hear?” she asked me, lifting a twenty from her purse.

“Do you know Such a Night by Dr. John?” I asked the pianist who grinned and ventured into the classic, conjuring the melody with his ringed fingers.

“Why do I recognize this one?” asked Spalding, dropping a twenty into the man’s large tip glass that was already filled with twenties.

As we stood there, admiring the pianist’s rendition, a couple appeared at Spalding’s side. The woman was extremely attractive and wrapped in a gown that wasn’t exactly flowing, but still appeared elegant, draped around her womanly figure. She glanced at me, offering a smile as she leaned in and wrapped Mrs. Spalding in a mechanical hug. The man stood by, grinning dumbly and awkwardly eating a mini quiche that crumbled in his fingers and fell to the floor. He grinned at me uncomfortably before squatting to pick up the fallen quiche with his napkin. With extra-strained energy, the three spoke of places and people I didn’t know and chuckled over a myriad of arcane references as if they were speaking another language.

As if he’d not played it, the piano man segued back into some free-form jazz once he was through with Dr. John, offering me a knowing wink which I responded to with a two-finger salute. Behind the piano singer was an antique painting depicting a Native American warrior scalping a man dressed in what appeared to be a soldier’s uniform. The warrior’s eyes peered back at me, offering a distant whisper I heard plain as day in the catacombs of my mind, calling my recollection back to an open plain, where the blue skies went on forever and a wolf-spirit guided me toward a destination, one I lost a second later when Spalding squeezed my arm.

“And this is Frank.” She said, pulling me from my green muse.

“I’m Amber.” Said the woman, extending her hand, which I shook, noticing the glimmering diamond ring on her matrimony finger.

“Hey Amber, nice rock.” I said.

“Oh, well…thanks?” she grinned awkwardly.

“This is my husband, Treat.” She said, introducing her husband—Spalding’s ex.

“Of course it is.” I grinned, offering a nod.

“How did you two meet?” she asked me, tilting her head curiously.

So, this was Amber—the boyfriend robber, so audacious in her entitlement that she felt absolutely no degree of shame in parading Spalding’s stolen boyfriend in front of her, like the captain of the winning team skating a victory lap past the losing team’s bench. Spalding was about to venture into what I assumed would be a nervously articulated fabrication when I intervened.

“Well, you see, Chelsea is a terrible driver—as we all know.” I interjected, “And, she backed her Subaru into my car one afternoon in the Gelson’s parking lot. She then proceeded to drive away.” I said, glancing at Spalding’s face which peered back at me with well-concealed terror, “…so I chased her down, caught her at Franklin and Highland drumming on her steering wheel to Carly Simon’s Jesse…which turns out to be both our favorite song. Evidently, her stereo was so loud that she hadn’t realized that she’d scraped my door with her bumper—but I’m sure glad she did.” I beamed down at Spalding then, giving her a squeeze, “I haven’t had that scrape repaired and I won’t—because it’s the best scrape I ever got.”

“Really?” said Amber, clicking her eyes back to Spalding who grinned awkwardly.

“That’s not all…” I grinned, “You see, for her birthday, I got us tickets to see Carly Simon live in concert…it took a shit-ton of palm greasing and begging, but I eventually got a message through to Carly Simon and she actually wished Chelsea a happy birthday before playing Jesse.”

“Really?” said Amber, her smile now faded, and her stolen husband suspended in an expression of deep contemplation as he stared back at me.

Spalding grinned and shrugged, “He’s always doing romantic things like that for me…”

“Well…aren’t you the lucky girl.” Said Amber, her smile now synthetic and forced somehow, her arms crossed beneath her pert, cupcake tits. My instincts had been spot-on, and I predicted she’d stand with us for four more minutes before moving on to another conversation. She was gone in three however and when she was gone, Mrs. Spalding only offered me a cross glance.

“Now why did you go and tell her that?” she asked.

“It worked, didn’t it?” I shrugged.

Spalding didn’t answer, she only offered me a suspicious grin as she interlocked her arm in mine. I followed Spalding out onto the hardwood patio that was centered by an oval-shaped swimming pool that was surrounded by mingling guests. Beyond the glass parapet was a drop-off and far below it, I could see streetlights and cars moving along the darkened and winding road, beyond which the magnificent city of Los Angeles stretched on to the end of the night, the world, the solar system. LA—I loved her like no other.

As I stood there admiring the sprawling lights below, Chelsea Spalding found her friend Monica who’d invited her to the party. The two chatted at length, as I refilled my champagne glass which had been offered to me by a white-gloved waiter I recognized from my days working at the Chateau Marnier in Burbank—a boutique hotel I’d stormed out of in the middle of a shift when the boredom and monotony had been simply too much. He didn’t recognize me when I nodded to him, he only walked on, his eyes blank and glassy with hopelessness.

The champagne was nice and went down smoothly, offering a charming glow, which I absorbed with a relaxed sigh, leaning against the parapet and basking in the presence of an ebbing absinthe buzz. When a man called out from the diving board, we all turned to look. He was perhaps Spalding’s age, 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 and sending a thin wall of pool water splashing against the deck, wetting Spalding and her friend in the process. They squealed, sharing a dropped-jaw stare of delight before breaking out in laughter. 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 Monica close, pressing his soaking body against her and humping at her like a dog, wetting her gown.

After toweling himself off, the man extended his hand, offering his name.

“I’m C. J. Walsh…Olympic diver extraordinaire.”

“Hey.” I said, shaking his wet hand, “I’m Frank.”

“Well you certainly look the part.” grinned Walsh.

“Curtis works in the movies.” Specified Spalding.

“Who doesn’t work in the movies in this town?” chuckled Monica.

“Well, I don’t do much work anymore. I’ve got assistants that handle everything for me. I mainly keep busy getting my taint and scrotum waxed.” he chuckled, garnering himself an elbow nudge from Monica. It appeared Walsh was well-rehearsed when it came to poolside socials.

After some more champagne and some more drunk dives, at Monica’s urging, we moved back inside and joined a small group headed by Klaus Starlight sitting around a table situated in an atrium complete with a rock fountain and several high-climbing plants.

The people sitting around the atrium table listened intently to a speech he was giving about global issues he was rich enough to become so passionate about. Lulled into a trance of boredom by his monotone sermon, I reached over and took one of the plants in hand, sifting the texture of the leaf between my fingers.

“They respond to human contact.” said Monica of the plant as a waiter refilled her glass of champagne before refilling mine.

“I was trying to feel whether it was fake or not.” I said.

“Don’t let Sandberg hear you saying that…he had to go through four divorces 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.

“But divorces build character.” Walsh sang, raising his glass, “To divorce and winning small battles with an ex-wife you’re forced to share a villa with!”

When Walsh next declared a toast to current wives and interlocked his arm in hers, Monica didn’t sip…she only grinned back at Walsh.

“I feel strange toasting to that…as if I’m your accomplice or something.” Laughed Monica and everyone joined her, privy obviously to Walsh’s marital situation I surmised entailed a pesky ex-wife who’d taken him for half of everything he had.

“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.”

“Bad sex with me? You must be dreaming.” She said, drawing a chuckle from the others.

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 goodnight. 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 flight but left his trophy wife with us as an extension of his hospitality, so she might entertain us in his absence. Sandberg was the owner of the house and the producer of the film that had recently wrapped, which I was told wasn’t going to be released in theaters…rather it was going to be released directly to the internet, where viewers could watch the film from the comfort of their own homes.

“To success.” Said Klaus Starlight, raising his glass, prompting everyone else to do the same.

When Sandberg was gone and the conversation turned to the conveniences of releasing a film online, there were differing opinions, some of which bordered on scathing. One guest cited that films released online weren’t films at all, rather they were made-for-TV movies, very few of which, he insisted, were really any good.

“You can’t stop progress…it’s the way of the future.” Said Klaus Starlight, “I mean, when the computer took over the typewriter, great stories didn’t stop getting written.”

“It does seem to be the way of the future and I get that. But there’s really nothing like seeing a film on a big screen—the way films were meant to be shown.” said Walsh.

“It’s all relative. Some people have TVs the size of one entire wall nowadays.” 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. Unfortunately, theaters will be a thing of the past in twenty years.” Walsh said with a sad shake of his head.

“There are no geniuses left in film. One might say that genius was an era…or rather a movement.” Said a man with a greying beard and tinted lenses.

“Certainly, there are cinematic geniuses somewhere in this town—they’re simply not getting the chance…the studios won’t touch them.” Said Klaus Starlight, “A studio after all can only say yes so many times a year…and they tend to say yes to the big money films…money always talks the loudest.”

“How sad.” said Mrs. Spalding.

“But that’s precisely the problem that’s killed cinema.” Said the bearded man.

“How do you know it’s dead? Great art never dies, it merely gets forgotten until there’s a resurgence.” Said Klaus.

“It may be alive and well in someone’s imagination—or in script form…but without the support of the studios—it won’t get made.” Said the bearded man whom I seemed to recognize, “So, the classics that the empire was built on can no longer get made, because of what the empire has become. Ironic isn’t it?”

“That new sci-fi movie that’s in theaters…it just grossed a hundred million dollars. Someone must be doing something right.” Chuckled Sandberg’s trophy wife.

“Commercial success and great art have rarely been on the same page, and we’ve seen that throughout history.” Said Monica, “But when great art starts to be vilified…that’s dangerous.”

“It’s entirely possible,” Walsh said, “to systematically dumb down an audience and lower the bar…and it’s happened…the audiences are different now…they have no gauge to spot cinematic genius—I have a girl working for me who has never seen Short Cuts—she’s never even heard of Altman…she’s working in production and has never fucking seen Short Cuts. I asked her to watch the film…she did so and the next day when I asked her if she’d watched it, she said she’d watched the first hour but fell asleep, citing that it was too long and too slow. Her entire generation seems to have some form of ADHD.”

This opened a discussion about 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 that led into many sub-topics but eventually merged back into the main point; cinema as we all knew it was barely breathing. It seemed a painfully ironic conversation to have at a wrap party.

Having been sitting quietly, sipping my bottomless flute of champagne and absorbing the debate, I offered an anecdote—my encounter with Monroe and his suite of horrors at the Hotel Vaudeville. Though Walsh and Monica had heard of Monroe, neither had ever met him and Walsh was stricken by a fit of hilarity as I explained the debacle and subsequent rejection of my screenplay on grounds of me not agreeing to join in on a Roman orgy with Monroe and a gang of doped up prostitutes. My anecdote left them wanting to hear more about Monroe…however, I wasn’t a puzzle solver. I was completely content to leave him unsolved; a policy I highly recommended.

“You’re funny.” Said the bearded man with the tinted lenses whom I vaguely recognized, but felt it would be crass to ask his name, “So did you ever hear back from Monroe?”

“No.” I said.

“What’s your screenplay about?” asked the bearded man.

“It’s about a writer who drives up to his hometown in upstate New York for the Christmas break. He only plans to stay overnight but gets snowed in for five days. We learn a lot about his past and why he originally left his hometown, and some very dark hilarity ensues.” I said.

“I like that idea…and I don’t see it being something set in roman times with roman orgies.” Chuckled the man.

“You’re speaking to a man who knows.” Said Walsh.


“I’m what you’d call a fossil.” Said the man, “Tony D’Amato…” he said offering his hand.

“You’re kidding.” I said, recognizing him finally. He’d been an indie sensation in the 90s when he was young and brash and reinventing film with his 90s indie film noir style. He’d been popular and influential because of his critical acclaim. He’d run with some of Hollywood’s hippest. Like a retired prizefighter however, Tony D’Amato had aged and now hid himself under a beard, tinted lenses, and perhaps 60 extra pounds. He’d become reclusive and had either stopped caring or had stopped trying. He hadn’t made a film in over twenty years. Perhaps he’d reached his pinnacle and had found it to be anticlimactic and so sought to enjoy a comfortable and satisfied descent into his golden years, which were just around the corner.

In his day he’d worn a signature leather jacket and kept his jet-black hair slicked back and shiny…he wore graphic punk t-shirts and converse runners to formal ceremonies. He now wore a button-up plaid shirt, golf pants, blue-tinted spectacles, and what looked like bowling shoes. He was greying and his face was swollen from too much wine and poolside barbecues and too many yacht drinks off the coast of Catalina Island. Time laughs.

“Man, you’re a fucking legend.” I said.

Widening his eyes with surprise, D’Amato laughed, “I’ve never heard that one, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.” He said, raising his glass.

“Your films had a bit of the Goddard to them.” I said.

“I can’t say I wasn’t influenced by Goddard. My main influences were all European…like the film Identikit—I saw that film and wanted to better it…not in an arrogant way but in a homage sort of way. This was a few years ago. The studios wouldn’t touch it though and it wasn’t that they didn’t like the idea…they just felt it wouldn’t sell…but those same studios would have given me the money to make it back in the 90s…you could do shit like that back in the 90s. You could do whatever you wanted back then…provided it was intelligent. You didn’t really need a narrative in the 90s. It was more about a sub-narrative…or no narrative at all.”

“I believe we called it ‘random’ back then.” Chuckled Monica.

“In any case, the studios aren’t going to touch those kinds of projects now. It’s a money thing.” Assured D’Amato.

“Well, then I guess I’m flat-out fucked.” I said.

“With a major studio—probably. But there are smaller studios. There wouldn’t be much money in it probably, but enough to get it made…and hopefully make a bit back.” Suggested D’Amato.

“I didn’t write the screenplay for money. I’m actually a novelist. I wanted to try a screenplay—as a contribution to a dying artform…and once I got going, it really sort of wrote itself.” I told him.

By now, the remaining guests congregated in the atrium had fallen into their own conversations, realizing that D’Amato and I were into a very specific conversation dealing with the subtle nuances of 90s cinematic counterculture which seemed to exclude the interests of our fellow atrium dwellers. D’Amato and I spoke for perhaps an hour, trudging back through time to the last great era when story and dialogue were still king and everything indie was the rage. As if we were excavating an archeological dig site, we pulled fossils from the sand, brushed them off, and studied them, commenting on their specific relevance. It seemed whatever great film I mentioned, D’Amato was well versed on it, as if we were communicating in another language and perhaps he found it uncanny that I maintained an active VHS collection—one which included some of his favorite titles. One I still referenced and one I still watched regularly on an old VHS machine with the bad tracking and all. In fact, it seemed this tidbit is what prompted D’Amato to admit his curiosity about my screenplay, now that he knew I’d never left the 90s. And it seemed my citing Hearts of Darkness, Crumb and The Leader, his driver, and the driver’s wife as being remarkably comedic documentaries of the era, had been too specific a citing for him to write me off as a simple lunatic.

Certainly, when D’Amato had asked what else I had in my collection of approximately 450 VHS cassettes, I named off some of the more notable in no particular order.

“Well Frank, I think you’d like my setup. I have films on reels…I play them in a viewing room. I’ve gotten my hands on some great ones and there’s really nothing like playing them on the big screen. You ever see Repulsion?”

“I have.” I said, the vision of Deneuve surfacing through the champagne buzz and pulling my mind back to her and eventually Sarah…I sighed, wondering where she got off haunting me the way she did. For perhaps a couple hours, the mindless and seemingly involuntary yearning in my chest had dissipated but had suddenly returned with the mention of a film—as if my mind wished to find any excuse to bring itself back to the subject of Sarah Lassiter—a woman I knew nothing about.

By the time dawn was slowly draining the night from the sky, the booze was starting to run out. It was time to make the drive back to Pico, where my van awaited—to whisk me back to the confines of my apartment where I could hole up for a few hours and write an installment in the novel I’d switched my focus to after being denied by Monroe. 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 me 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.

Before Spalding and I left, D’Amato slipped me his card, requesting that I text him the following week, for he was having some people over for some second-run screenings. Though it seemed all too surreal, I casually accepted the card and nodded, assuring him that I’d be in touch. After Spalding had made a drippy, long-winded farewell, Walsh and Monica walked us to Spalding’s Subaru, 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 to the street in a bleeding pulpy mess. Certainly, through the decades someone must have. Certainly, through the decades people had done everything imaginable in the houses that peppered the canyon ridges…houses that now innocently appeared as boxy silhouettes against the rising dawn.

When Mrs. Spalding and I were buckled in safely; Walsh leaned a forearm against the roof and gabbed a bit more, punctuating the conversation with a reminder of D’Amato’s invitation the following weekend, citing D’Amato’s viewing room as a thing of beauty with state-of-the-art sound. After punching my number into his wafer-thin phone, 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 and into Hollywood which was already coursing with early morning commuters. When we pulled up beside Cara the Caravan, Mrs. Spalding shifted the car into park and thanked me for behaving myself at her party and finally for concocting such an elaborate pile of bullshittery that had thrown envious Amber for a loop.

Before I got out of her Subaru, Chelsea Spalding opened her handbag and produced the payment for my services. I looked at the bills held 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.

“Nah.” 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 Remington was your man.” I said.

She leaned in and pressed her lips against mine, slipping me a bit of tired tongue. It was late and we both wanted to get back to our respective dwellings. When she was through apologizing for her discount remark, I bid her farewell and got out.

When I returned to my apartment the sun was already over the Glendale ridge and brilliantly illuminating the rooms. I closed the curtains and tried to sleep, feeling still a bit of the wormwood in my veins. However, thoughts of Sarah Lassiter’s face invaded my mind…conjuring warm scenarios, such as her legs wrapped around me in a beachside motel and her voice lulling me with blood-red poetry. As I teetered between slumber and consciousness, I pondered the pointlessness of obsession. One goes in circles, coming back to the same exact point over and over again without moving beyond it or ever solving the equation. It’s a rabbit hole with fangs. I wasn’t caught in the throes of a quirky and darkly romantic tale of coincidental obsession—it wasn’t a true Hollywood rom-com. The conclusion I drew was that I’d blown a fuse somewhere, deep in my psychological circuitry, and was now malfunctioning, seemingly caught in a loop of mindless infatuation with a woman I didn’t know anything about. Indeed it was a mystery, being that I’d never had so much trouble quitting a woman—especially one I knew virtually nothing about.

I realized I wasn’t going to get the girl in the end, there would be no Hollywood ending. It wasn’t that kind of story with Sarah. Rather it was a grim tale of infatuation…one which perhaps I was meant to write about. I wondered about all the artists who’d come before me and painted their lives in beautiful vivid madness. Certainly among us, there were sure to be at least a few who’d learned to live with an inexplicable infatuation as if it were a chronic health condition. I’d never suspected that desire could be so dreadful—mainly because it never had been with any other woman.

Before drifting up the river into slumber, I concluded that there was a real hope to shed my infatuation for Sarah through copious womanizing, hard boozing, and the writing of jagged, bruised prose. What might take years of analysis to weed through in a psychiatrist’s chalky office, I could most likely solve in a few months of hard, unapologetic living. A note about shrinks; one should be very wary of them, especially if one is half-mad. If a shrink finds out that you actually are mad, there is a chance you might be committed. In ways, a madman going to a shrink to discuss his madness is not unlike a felon telling a cop about the crimes he’s committed.

The Shootout

It had been a grand epiphany, and it illuminated my surroundings in the coming weeks like a wondrous ray of sunshine that had parted the dreary rains and pulled me back to the reality at large—and I’d dove into it with all caution thrown into the wind. Sometimes, it’s a man’s best-laid option to simply excuse himself from giving a flying fuck…to embrace emotional indifference and offer an indifferent shrug to karma itself…to chuckle as the sky crumbled. It is sometimes surprisingly easy to forfeit one’s concern—especially if the demands of creativity command the majority of one’s attention.

In the coming weeks, after my chance encounter with D’Amato and Walsh, the project became its own distraction of wondrous creative collaboration. I easily forfeited my concerns, which before that point had been orbiting a desperate yearning for Sarah Lassiter. I traded them for the very involved process of revising the screenplay to fit D’Amato’s vision for his film. It came to pass that a number of things fell into place in such a way that the chain of events changed the trajectory of my existence and did so on a daily basis as if I was watching the initial course being replotted by way of astronavigation. I’d always assumed my opportunity to make a grand contribution to contemporary storytelling would only come to me by way of toil and creative suffering. And though there was much toil and much suffering in the name of my art, which I lived in like a second skin—ironically, it had been a party in the Hollywood hills that had set it all in motion. I’d not expected that opportunity could be delivered so simply and quickly through a chance encounter while on a date I’d nearly quit. When dissected in retrospect, once the intricate design revealed itself, it was easy for me to cringe at the possibility that one small and simple choice may have very well derailed the chain of events, in which case, I’d be none the wiser. It had worked out how it had however, and it seemed that not only would I make a sincerely unapologetic and creative contribution to contemporary cinema in my own way; I just might make some money doing it. It seemed unbelievable…for I’d grown so used to losing that I hadn’t any idea how to handle a good hard win. However, it was something I could get used to quite easily.

In the following weeks, I spent quite a lot of my time with D’Amato, sitting in one café or another, discussing art, literature, cinema, and philosophy. Most of all we talked about the 90s and why it had been the last great creative era. Sometimes we wouldn’t speak at all about the screenplay and sometimes we’d speak only of the screenplay. Sometimes he’d call me early in the morning and demand I meet he and his family for breakfast, during which he’d let me in on the nuances of his directorial plans, which ranged in scale and complexity; from sprawling crane shots to up-close and personal hand-held shots, to hard pans, to slow-moving dolly shots taken from alternate angles. He’d suggest alterations in the dialogue that would sculpt with a finer definition the narrative, which seemed to be coming clearer and clearer with every meeting—in essence, refining the screenplay for a cinematic treatment.

Because D’Amato lived fairly close, in Hancock Park, I was frequently invited to his home (which also acted as his office) for casual meetings with a myriad of people who all seemed to be the odds and ends that made a film possible. I’d met so many people in D’Amato’s office that I’d lost track of names and titles. Mostly, I sat on the couch, sipping soda water and listening to them talk. Because I was in essence, out of touch with the latest trends and the latest gossip, D’Amato kept me posted, citing that word of our project was making its way through certain circles that I didn’t run in. People I’d never met and who a few months before would have bid me an indifferent go-fuck-yourself, were now curious about exactly what it was that D’Amato and I were cooking up. I was surprised by the speed and scale at which word traveled through Hollywood trade gossip circles regarding D’Amato—who as I say hadn’t directed a film since the late 90s. Since then, he’d mostly produced indie films and documentaries, perhaps content with the prolific body of work he’d created back in the late 80s and 90s. Nowadays, he frequently worked with Walsh on the TV side of the industry, having added his name to several shows, many of which I’d never heard of. Inspired by the screenplay I’d penned however, D’Amato was back on the indie film scene…having emerged for a project he felt he could get behind after so many years—and quite fittingly, one steeped in 90s indie retrospect. Though he’d reached the summit of his career just before the new millennium had arrived and had since then basically retired; his base was still there, and they still looked forward to his next work—perhaps more than they ever had, being inundated with the current mediocrity.

Walsh was involved as well, taking up a producer’s role which seemed enigmatic to me. Though I wondered what a producer did exactly, I didn’t bother to ask. I assumed he…produced. However, with Walsh, it wasn’t all business as it was with D’Amato. With Walsh, it was more informal. He was a legend in his own right, having gotten his start producing several iconic TV shows that had ushered in Gen X’s reality TV movement. In the current washed-out, plastic, instantaneous digital age he now helped produce TV shows he deemed as incidental, citing that though stories with a great premise still existed out there somewhere—the teams running studio sitcoms would go to the greatest of lengths to present only the broadest appeal. In short, somewhere along the line, film and television had become a no-fun zone that pandered to a base mentality that had been made base by the systematic lowering of the bar.

In this new lowered-bar era of narcissism, talent-bypassing, heavily abbreviated attention span, and intellectual bankruptcy; it seemed I’d become a castaway on an island inhabited by people like Walsh and D’Amato—fossils who’d earned their reputations in the thick of 90s innovation—when the industry was a different animal and spontaneously combusting craftsmanship still colored the dusk horizon a deeply endearing, imaginative shade. In our current era, which had been lost at sea for decades, they greeted me with hospitality that stemmed directly from the fact that we were an endangered species, and it was somehow the most important thing any of us could do to venerate the poetic rebellion of the 1990s before it was too late.

I didn’t expect it, but Walsh became a regular. He simply started showing up one day and eventually incorporated the visits into his routine. We could sit around my apartment for hours shooting the shit and puffing fat blunts while perusing my vast collection of video cassettes which we often watched on my restored VHS machine, basking in the cinematic greatness of unabridged 90s creativity. I could contently sit, listening to countless stories of 1990s Hollywood based on Walsh’s satirical recollections. I found it all thoroughly fascinating. The more I saw Walsh, the less he seemed a producer and the more he seemed like just another man who’d grown tired of his neighbors, city ordinances, the current crime wave, the panhandlers who would accost him outside Ralph’s, as well as the general lack that seemed to have infected the current generation to the point of creative and intellectual atrophy.

Walsh had been there, in the thick of it during the last great era. What struck me most about his life however, was the fact that he seemed to have been given everything he desired. One afternoon while basking in the sun at Malibu Lagoon with a couple ice cold cans, Walsh confessed to me how far off the deep end he’d gone for Monica, who at the time had been working in another producer’s office as an assistant. Upon discovering Monica, Walsh had pursued her, even though she’d been engaged to marry another man and he was married to Lindsay. Walsh had shamelessly begged, pleaded, and at one point cried, admitting to her that his life would be meaningless if she wasn’t a part of it. Perhaps it was his tears, or his offer of financial stability, or her age, which must have become more evident each day in her bathroom mirror…or perhaps it was, as Walsh called it, ‘destiny’. Whatever it was—she’d left her entire life to be with him and it was a heavy confession for a Tuesday afternoon. He stated in an ominous tone how little he could imagine the hell of existing in a dark alternate reality where Monica hadn’t left her fiancé to be with him.

Certainly, Walsh’s dark confession ran a chill through me, perhaps because it seemed I was living his dark alternate reality. I didn’t bother explaining my situation to him, though he may have understood the predicament to some degree. I just looked at him and grinned, feeling the hollow, which bared the face of Sarah Lassiter and the echoing of her declaration that we’d never happen.

“Some guys have all the luck.” I said, raising my can before swilling it back. Walsh nodded and gave me a contemplative look as if he might say something, perhaps recognizing the hollow around which I’d wrapped myself. He stopped short at the last second and peered out at the surf, sipping hard from his beer.

I can’t say for certain what happened at that moment. Perhaps a voice came to me out of the deep blue expanse of ocean, offering a second epiphany. Perhaps it was the whisper of the Native American warrior I’d seen in the portrait at Sandberg’s party and his ghostly revelation was finally echoing back to me the citing of an ancient birthright; a man isn’t born powerless against the spellbinding allure that feminine mystery evokes. Of course, there is a predisposed place for it in us—as men we come equipped with female-receptors, and it is because of this we find women so irresistible; our nature demands we chase them, fill our senses with them and surrender to them our deepest gratitude. However, our nature also allows us control over even the most intense emotions and romantic inclinations…innately, we can flip the switch and turn them off. This is because as men, we are designed for hunting and building megastructures of war—arenas in which emotions will only cause men great liability…and so, by nature, we are also equipped with a switch…one that shuts down specific grids of emotions and releases into the vessels, a testosterone elixir.

Sometimes one must refrain from keeping their inner werewolf at bay. Sometimes it is a novel action to let it roam the full moon lanes, taking what it will and leaving no prisoners behind. And so, dear reader, I made the decision then and there, innately and with an indifferent nod of acceptance, that I would flip the switch on Sarah Lassiter and give her no more. I’d simply place memories of the Lassiter sisters in a sarcophagus and send them out to sea and carry on my merry way.

It was a simple choice, and it seemed my epiphany on the beach had changed the current. I’d taken my longing for Sarah Lassiter and burned it in a porcelain bowl…along with my unanswered questions about Laura’s last days in Paris. I found great solace in quitting them…and I savored the defiant elation and the more I savored it, the more I craved rare bloody steak, uninvolved sex, and the sharp keys of my typewriter. Once a man figures out the best way to manage his obstacles is to smash through them with a sledgehammer, there is no stopping him and perhaps a man’s destiny is guided by the shade of his resolve. Mine was arctic blue and somehow it didn’t melt down in the furnace of my heart, rather it remained, blue and icy in the center of my core like a two hundred-and-fifty-thousand-year-old iceberg, floating on an ocean of fire—and not melting.

I’d seen Ariel that week, between marathon bouts of writes and rewrites and my involved meetings with D’Amato. It seemed Ariel had an insatiable appetite for lewd acts and sending lewd messages and photos. On the flip side of this, she would, after a torrid bout of fucking, sit cross-legged beside me on the floor or the bed or the couch and pull up her interests on her wafer-thin phone, displaying to me an old photo she’d seen that intrigued her, or a painting, a long lost novel, a clip from an old film she’d seen…she was young and the world was a vast wilderness of discovery to her and I felt it was my responsibility to give her hints and point her in certain directions, where she might discover a cache of brilliant art or mind-bending philosophical whimsy…after which, perhaps out of gratitude, she’d smother me with her breasts. She was a devilish darling and though I couldn’t quite make out the designs within her, it seemed Ariel just needed an outlet. Being a benevolent man of the people, I opted to oblige her whimsy. I think it could be said, dear reader, that the tides changed one day, and perhaps it had something to do with being oxygen deprived by Ariel’s rather large tits…or perhaps the planets had lined up in a certain way, or more likely deciding to shut down the grids had done the trick. Whatever the case, an innocent enough chain of events was about to unfold and throw a wrench into the gears and intercept the trajectory—or rather, set it back in its actual place.

I was driving home after a dreaded day shift at the Davenport. The streets were mad as usual and crawling with desert-maddened hordes wandering around in the sticky evening aftermath of another sweltering Los Angeles day. They 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 keychain 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 an old Hal Ashby film. I was sitting at a red light on Sunset when my phone started to vibrate. It was Walsh and his voice was shrouded in the sounds of a soiree; Walsh loved a good soiree. He didn’t stay on long…he merely asked me if I wanted to stop by, citing he had someone he wanted me to meet. He didn’t say who. It wasn’t like Walsh to divulge details…he simply invited you into his nightly circuit.

Walsh lived large, in a house on the summit of a rocky Malibu bluff 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 and whimsical purchases by Walsh; 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 Walsh’s half of the house anyway.

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, boasting the autograph of Ringo Starr. The top of the piano, which was always closed, acted as a makeshift bar and was littered with an array of fine liquor bottles varying in fullness and size, various mixers, several martini and highball glasses, shakers, garnishes, 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 casting agent 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. It was Ronstadt that Walsh had wanted me to meet. Perhaps because Isabel was currently single and had perhaps chased every other man off with her penchant for the sound of her own voice. I didn’t mind her voice however, it was soothing somehow—mainly because she didn’t greedily slash through her consonants with the croaky shrillness that was so commonly mimicked among her contemporaries. Isabel’s tone was informative rather than ravenous. I took note of her lips, which glistened with a thick shiny coat of candy red lipstick and 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 switched to autopilot, absently trading insights until the conversation shifted to what it was about Hollywood that brought us 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. It was in ways like existing among ancient ruins that had been restored to venerate the long-lost ghosts of Hollywood past who were buried in Forest Lawn in varying stages of decomposition; life was bigger than them all in the end.

“Don’t you just love this song?” Asked Isabel, moving her head to Clapton’s Layla, which piped from unseen speakers into the living room.

“It’s okay.” I shrugged.

“Okay? It’s so full of passion and desperation. From what I understand, it’s about Patty Boyd…whom he’d gone limerent over.” Said Isabel.


“It’s like obsession on steroids.” She said.

“Tell me about it.” I sighed, shaking my head.

“George Harrison also wrote a song about Patty Boyd; Something.”

“I can’t remember what she looked like.” I shrugged.

Aiding me in my foggy recollection, Isabel pulled up a photo of Boyd on the screen of her wafer-thin phone and displayed it to me.

“Really?” I inquired, assuming that if I’d passed by a young Patty Boyd on the streets of Hollywood, I’d certainly check her out and admire her 1960s attire and her accompanying 1960s wag-by but would forget about her soon after. However, something in the contours of her persona—or rather the sharp edges in Clapton’s mind had framed her with a certain magic—one he’d doubtlessly agonized over to the point of torture. Harrison had simply loved her in a husband’s capacity, so there was probably no desperate torture. Each man’s song illustrated his individual feelings for Boyd and they were certainly a stark contrast; one dark, begging, and desperate and the other a hauntingly beautiful ode. I stared at her photo which captured in time, an era of her life. She was elderly or dead now and all that remained were the songs, which had become more important to the world than their subject.

“You don’t think she’s absolutely gorgeous?” asked Isabel, taken aback somehow.

“I didn’t know her.” I shrugged, “Do I see myself writing a masterpiece about her? Probably not—but I’d have certainly bonned her I guess.”


“Boned.” I said with a grin, rolling my eyes.

“Heavens me…Bonned is so crass…somehow more crass than boned. Why not say make love to or simply say fuck? But bonned?” she laughed, tilting her head back, “That’s too funny.”

“You’re telling me.” I grinned, noticing Lindsay, Walsh’s ex, wander into the living room. She meticulously peered around the room, as if assessing for damages.

From what Walsh had told me, it had been a scorched earth divorce, one that ended up in a nasty court battle, for everything and anything; custody of their daughter, the family dog…their post-modern Malibu retreat, their two-bedroom apartment in NYC, automobiles, furniture, bank accounts, jewelry, heirlooms, even the antique novels handed down to Walsh by his grandfather. There were so many other nuances and nightmarish complexities that 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. Evidently, this was granted on grounds of Lindsay having rescued the antique house from utter disrepair sustained due to Walsh’s blatant neglect. 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 their side of the sunken living room, taking inventory of incurred damages, Walsh could be heard coming down the hallway. His chuckling resonated through the villa and seemed to grate directly on Dimitri’s patience, causing his jaw to grit slightly so a pulse formed in his darkly stubbled jawline.

“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 designer boyfriends. She still owned a condo in Marina Del Rey which she’d inherited from a previous divorce and spent the bulk 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; usually on nights when Walsh was entertaining guests.

“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 windowsills 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 flying overhead through the French windows…beyond which only darkness prevailed.

“Why don’t you take a picture?” I laughed, tilting my head back at Dimitri who continued to burn his gaze into me.

“And you haven’t tired of entertaining us.” Dimitri said, flashing a grin over his shoulder to Walsh, ignoring my comment. 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’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 awkwardly at their drinks.

“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, again turning his head slightly in Walsh’s direction but not looking directly at him.

“What did the notes say?” asked Isabel 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 countertop, “Dearest roommate…too noisy….blah, blah, blah…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, “blah, blah, blah, 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…blah, blah…perhaps you might enforce a simple rule, that your gold-digging wife removes her shoes before traipsing through the hallways at all hours of the night as the clicking tends to keep me awake?!…shit…” 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’m not the gold-digger here honey…” 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 did 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, the one she’d taken a diction class to lose but couldn’t quite shake.

“Yes.” said Dimitri suddenly turning to look 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 on the PCH?” 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. Quartz 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 haircut.” said Monica, finally looking up from her magazine to address Dimitri, “I like your haircut—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 4 am…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 ants I dumped on her bed a few minutes ago…Lindsay is terrified of ants.” assured Walsh offering us all a small nodding wink.

“You didn’t.” whined Monica, “What if those ants find their way to our room?”

“They won’t…they’ll be too attracted to the chocolate pudding Dimitri puts in his hairdo to hide the grey.” Chuckled Walsh.

After a while and a few more drinks, more guests arrived one directly after another, as if they’d all come from the same restaurant. Among the last batch of guests was Kenneth Ward, a well-known actor who’d built himself quite a mountain of roles and accompanying clout. As a child actor he’d worked with some of the most elite directors in Hollywood and though he’d succumbed to a life of sun damage, the A-list party life, and a grueling work schedule that aged him beyond his years; he was a made-man in Hollywood…and there was little he or anyone else could do to sully that now. He was shorter than I expected and there was a delicateness to him. Though he still acted; he was now well into his forties and one had to wonder what sort of psychological damage and narcissistic complexes he’d collected having grown up on film sets during those crucial years, making a living from pretending to be other people. I wondered about this as he sat across from me, nodding politely and sipping a glass of champagne. He was used to being looked at and was without a doubt in one character or another. He was a chameleon man and there were few greater at it than Kenneth Ward.

After a few more drinks, Walsh jumped on the piano and chopped away at some selections from the White Album, speculating in between songs, how many great albums Lennon would have given us if only he hadn’t been gunned down outside his apartment by a ‘Satanic cunt, with flabby man-tits’, which got everyone smiling, but also thinking, as the melody rose from the grand like an orchestra of ivory and reminded us what a real composition sounded like. Indeed, the notion gripped me…how many brilliant albums had we missed out on…on account of the great evil that reached out from the lurking darkness? Walsh played well, for a drunk man, and Isabel seemed to have the most interesting singing voice I’d heard in some time, and I’d suggested that she abandon her casting agency and move to Laurel Canyon and pick up where Joni Mitchell had left off.

In the haze of my drunkenness, I watched Walsh scoop up a basketball from the floor beside him and twirl it on his finger, as he attempted to play the intro to Imagine, which fell apart fast. He then attempted to make the basket from the piano stool, sending the basketball rebounding high and wide and landing beside a plant, knocking it over so some soil rolled across the floor. Walsh rushed over and reset the plant, scooping the soil back into the pot with his bare hands and pouring a bottle of lemon-flavored Perrier over it. As he did this Kenneth Ward retrieved the basketball and dribbled it a few times, attempting the same shot from a closer distance and sinking the ball through the hoop, drawing a cheer from the guests in attendance.

“You ought to buy a lottery ticket with that kind of luck.” Chuckled Walsh.

“No luck here.” Said Kenneth, sinking another basket.

“I’ve got fifty bucks says you can’t do that again.” Grinned Walsh.

“Oh, the pressure…I don’t know if I can handle that kind of pressure.” Grinned Kenneth, dribbling the ball a few times before taking the shot, which was slightly wide and bounced off the net nearly directly back to him.

“Looks like I just made a quick fifty.” Said Walsh.

“Say, why don’t we make this a bit more interesting?” Smiled Kenneth “Best of 5…loser pays 10,000 dollars to a charity of the winner’s choice.”

“You’re on.” Smiled Walsh, “Let’s flip on it.”

Sitting on the couch sipping my lime and gin, it seemed Isabel had climbed nearly into my lap to make room for a couple neither of us knew. For the hell of it, I slung my arm around her shoulders and she leaned back into me, making it official. As she writhed a bit deeper under my arm, giggling and cheering for Walsh and his charity, I took note of Walsh’s poor form. I wasn’t a hoop-shooting prodigy myself, however, it was crystal clear to me that Walsh was too drunk to balance long enough to aim well enough to sink his first two shots. Ward on the other hand missed his first and sunk his second. When Walsh’s turn was up again, he aimed with more precision and sent the ball through the hoop with a perfect whoosh sound, as if it hadn’t even touched the rim. A wave of applause reminiscent of those one might hear at a Wimbledon match moved through the room. Before either man could attempt another shot, the net and backboard, which were held to the wall with picture frame hooks, toppled to the dining room floor. After some riotous laughter, we all waited in anticipation as Walsh used a drill this time to fasten the Lakers backboard to the wall.

“It’s only drywall.” Walsh chuckled as the drilling created a small bit of white powder that fell to the floor, and it was then I noticed that many of the guests returned his chuckle from behind their phones that were poised and capturing the late-night, charity hoop-shoot. Noticing everyone else filming, Isabel produced her phone and started filming as well.

Once the net was fastened with certainty, Ward poised carefully and nailed his next shot, nearly as perfectly as Walsh had, and he bounced the ball back to Walsh with a grin, “Don’t miss.” He said when Walsh caught the ball and crouched into place.

Somehow, though teetering on one leg, Walsh made the basket…however, in all his drunkenness, he lost balance and fell to one side, breaking his fall with his elbow which collided against the hardwood with a hollow-sounding thud. At his side immediately Monica gently examined Walsh’s elbow, causing him to wince in pain.

“Is it broken?” Asked Isabel.

“I doubt it…it hurts too much to be broken.” Chuckled Walsh through his wincing, “I think it’s shattered.”

“Shit baby.” Said Monica, shaking her head endearingly as if Walsh was her child who’d fallen badly on the playground.

“Are we talking a forfeit?” asked Ward with a slight grin, dribbling the ball a few times.

“No way…no forfeiting in this house. Franky…take my shot for me will ya?” said Walsh, suddenly looking across the room to me and causing Isabel to jolt her head and flash me a big-moment stare of surprise.

“Yeah, sure.” I nodded, as I watched Kenneth Ward nail his jump shot which rebounded off the backboard slightly before slipping down into the net.

“Looks like we got ourselves a tiebreaker.” said Walsh, sitting in a chair now and tenderly massaging his elbow, “You ready Frank?”

I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t shot hoops since I was a teenager. Still, with all the cameras capturing every nuance, I decided to go with it and worry about the certain miss later. I gave him a nod and stood up, opening my palms for the ball, which Kenneth bounced toward me with a competitive grin. “Don’t miss.” He shrugged.

“I never miss.” I said, deciding to believe it.

I glanced around the room and saw that out of the approximately 25 guests in attendance, perhaps 15 had their phones drawn—it was a phone-cult and I’d fallen smack-dab in the middle of it. I saw that Ward was loving it…this was his domain…a man paid to remain perfectly in character before a room full of people pointing cameras at him, the thespian. I wondered who he was really and realized he probably didn’t even know. Standing there with his arms crossed, he smiled, gesturing for me to take the shot. I turned back to the hoop for a moment to line up the shot before turning back to Ward, “Easy…as…pie.” I said, letting the shot go as I looked him in the eye, drawing an explosion of cheers and whistles when the ball luckily traveled through the metal hoop with the familiar whoosh of the net. Ward only lit up with a genuine smile, knowing what this could mean.

“Nice shot.” He said, scooping the basketball up from the floor.

He stepped up to the point and concentrated, and Walsh, ever the card, mouthed a heart-thumping sound, which got everyone chuckling, even Ward, who, once the laughter subsided, let his shot go. We all watched the ball roll in mid-air as if it was traveling in cinematic slow motion. The shot had been great, but all the same slightly wide, and Walsh jumped up out of his seat with a fist raised high when Ward’s shot bounced off the rim, rendering him, for the first time in a long time—the loser.

“I’m happy to lose this one.” Assured Ward, angling himself so all the phones could pick up his words and perfectly lit form.

“That works out great because I’m happy to have won.” I shrugged, drawing a guffaw from the room and a playful forearm choke from Walsh.

We…he means we are happy to have won.” He corrected, also for the phones that were for some reason still poised and rolling, “And by the way, you can send that ten grand over to Hollywood Paws Animal Rescue.” Said Walsh, stepping forward to shake Ward’s hand.

The two posed for some photos as I returned to the couch, draping my arm around Isabel’s shoulders again as she placed her small hand on my knee, squeezing slightly. She leaned her lips up to my ear and whispered three words I adored.

The next morning seemed like any other morning. I woke up in my apartment as my mind sifted through the events of the previous night, which sometimes took a few minutes to surface, depending on how much I’d drank. I recalled the basketball challenge immediately, grinning to myself about winning 10,000 dollars for the local animal rescue, for it was nearly excruciating to see forgotten homeless dogs eating from garbage cans around Hollywood. Feeling a body stir beside me, a wash of recollection returned to me with naughty depictions of Isabel Ronstadt, the voluptuous casting agent, riding astride and running her blood-red nails down my chest as her moans ricocheted off the walls of my compact bedroom. When the recollections became downright filthy, I grinned, lit up a blunt, and slapped my hand against Isabel’s sleeping ass cheeks.

“Hey, good morning.” She said, curling up against me like a lithe cat in heat.

I set the blunt down in the ashtray before rolling on top of her, slipping it in, and going back to work. As the headboard of my bed banged against the wall, a jackhammer broke up the concrete down on the street just below my window, and a helicopter went by high above. I immersed myself in Isabel, feeling her legs squeeze around me and her nails run through my hair until they tightened up and started to pulsate as if she was having a seizure; a nice way to wake up.

After a warm shower, I checked my mail and found only bills and junk. After standing at the fridge swilling down ice-cold orange juice with added pulp, I poured myself a scotch on ice and sat at my desk, typing my way through a half chapter of Napalm Narrative, which bombed the jungles of contemporary prose with bludgeoned orange plumes of fire.

After a couple of hours, Isabel got out of bed and showered before joining me in the living room, where she sat quietly, sipping a bottle of seltzer as I finished a paragraph. When I was through, I peered over at her. Her hair was still wet and combed back, and her face was barren of makeup. Though she still looked great, she looked different without makeup. She was clad in a ratty old Cure t-shirt of mine and her red lacey panties. I recalled again how filthy it had gotten between us the previous night and it seemed hard to imagine now that the civilized daylight was upon us. Perhaps recognizing this, Isabel blushed.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she grinned.

“Just taking a mental snapshot baby. You want some blueberry pancakes?” I asked.

“Sure, that sounds great.” She said.

“There’s instant mix in the cupboard and frozen blueberries in the freezer.” I said, turning back to my laptop and returning to the Napalm Narrative.

“You expect me to make them?” she giggled, “Such a gentleman.”

“Pancakes are easy no?” I shrugged.

“Depends on who’s making them.” She said.

After a while, the noise of Isabel putting together the pancakes was too distracting and I joined her in the kitchen, realizing that the woman didn’t know her way around a kitchen any better than I did. Still, I commandeered the frying pan and managed to make us up a batch of pancakes that weren’t burned to a cinder. We sat afterward at the kitchen table, eating the pancakes in silence. It seemed without the aid of booze, we didn’t have much to say to one another—though the previous night, Isabel was a wealth of conversation. I didn’t press it, I sat comfortably, chewing at times with my eyes closed, savoring the pancakes as well as the slight hang-over which all mixed with the Emerald Dream quite nicely. Eventually though, Isabel broke the silence when she finally retrieved her phone from her purse and noticed several notifications that had added up in her absence.

“Oh my god.” She said, gawking up at me from her little illuminated screen, “He actually did it.”

“Who did what, exactly?” I inquired.

“Kenneth Ward posted a video of your little shoot-out last night. He posted it directly to his video feed. Oh my god Frank…it’s gotten 1.4 million views already.”

“Let me see.” I said, and Isabel handed me her phone.

On the tiny screen, I watched the shoot-out unfold from an entirely different vantage point as I’d remembered it happening. The video was edited into segments, the first of which showed Walsh drilling the backboard into his wall. The second showed Walsh missing his first two baskets. The third displayed the rest of the shoot-out, uncut, including Walsh’s terribly drunken fall, that had garnered more chuckles than I remembered. Then in a surreal fashion, I’d entered the frame, clad in my Public Image Happy t-shirt, sporting my torn jeans and unshaven façade. I chuckled slightly when I watched myself line up the shot and peer back at Kenneth Ward as I let the shot go, sinking it a second later. It could have gone down differently…the shot could have gone wide; in which case I’d be a laughingstock. However, the shot had been perfect and perhaps guided by angels and the on-the-spot indifference I’d felt in that moment—enough so to rub it in slightly, by cockily looking Ward in the eyes as I shot the ball and it whooshed through the net. It was a moment indeed, and I hadn’t recognized it as a great one until just then, sitting at my kitchen table with Isabel, a virtual stranger, with whom I’d done terribly filthy things the previous night.

In the following days, I received a number of texts and phone calls from my team of botched Davenport cohorts, as well as from friends I hadn’t heard from in some time. It seemed a few had seen the shoot-out video on their own accord and the word had spread like wildfire about their co-worker, colleague, and old friend, whom they’d written off as a wipe-out. I wondered how having a basketball shootout with a famous Hollywood actor somehow made me a social commodity; I was still the same Nero that I ever was. I returned O’Leary’s voicemail, which had commended me on such a lucky shot and also reminded me that I’d missed a date with Mrs. Rogers the previous evening.

Over the phone O’Leary’s tone was distant and his speech sanctimonious as he explained to me that Mrs. Rogers had waited at the Hotel Pimpernel for two hours, nursing martinis and becoming more distraught once she realized that she’d been stood up. She had called O’Leary at 11 pm, demanding to know where I was and if there had been a mix-up with the dates. Forwarding her number to me in the form of a text message as he continued to bitch at me, O’Leary eventually softened and pleaded for me to understand his position as CEO.

“Look man, everyone else is collecting money and really going the extra mile to make this operation a success. Even Schroeder…he endured Les Misérables with Spalding the other night…I mean, the guys are going the extra mile. Meanwhile, you’re declining payment and now you’re not even showing up. Where’s the spirit Nero?” he asked me.

“I’m sorry man…I’ll try to be a better male whore.” I laughed.

“It’s too late for that man. I hate to do this to you, but you’re fired.” He said.

“You’re firing me?” I chuckled, “How the fuck are you firing me?”

“I have to. It’s only business though man…don’t take it personally.” He said, apologetically.

“Am I eligible for severance?” I grinned.

“No, dickweed.” he laughed, “And please, call Rogers…she was really upset last night. You owe her at least a phone call. She’s asked to meet only you. I’m not sure what you did to her…but she’s under your spell Nero.”

I waited until the next day to call Mrs. Rogers. I was making rock-solid progress on the novel and decided to spend the entire night sitting at my desk, with the phone turned off and the lights down low, and the Emerald Dream swimming in my head. It truly seemed dear reader, as if in finally finishing the screenplay; a gateway to the novel had opened, and I’d stormed through it, in a fiery barrage of napalm blasts and commando stealth, taking no prisoners and blowing a giant hole in the bland landscape of contemporary prose. The screenplay had been an interesting detour…however, the novel is where my heart resided.

When I awoke the next afternoon, I decided to upload an excerpt of the new work to my webpage, which was basically a platform, unconnected to social media, where I mainly posted novels, short stories, links to great films, illustrious albums, and razor-sharp comedic rants, so that nobody would forget the real shit. I saw my page as a beacon of 1990s creativity that shined a light on the wayward and lost, who’d been seduced by contemporary pop culture and assumed they didn’t have a choice in the matter.

Checking my website email, which I did only a few times a week, I’d expected to see messages from the usual misfit existential prose addicts who normally commented on my content. However, I was baffled to notice dozens upon dozens of messages from complete strangers congratulating me on my winning basket; complete strangers who cared absolutely nothing for the prose I’d posted. A few of the messages were from senders claiming to be actresses. Some sent professional headshots, others sent naked photos, proposing in a roundabout way, a trade of sex for an exclusive audition with Kenneth Ward.

It offered a small glimpse into the circus that must have been Kenneth Ward’s daily existence. Certainly, having grown up being idolized like a golden calf must have had its psychological ramifications. Ward, I was convinced, must have surely been a madman. After sending the bulk of the messages to the junk folder, I noticed a number of messages from Ariel. I clicked on the last one, which detailed her last night at the Oceanic Resort. Evidently, she’d emptied a squeeze bottle of ketchup into her co-worker’s shoes in the locker room. She’d then left the premises, not bothering to tell anyone she’d quit. I was impressed and dialed her then and there. She answered on the third ring.


“Ariel.” I said.

“Is this Franky boy?” she asked.

“Ketchup? Brilliant.” I told her.

“I thought you hated me.” She said.


“Because you didn’t call me the other night…as you said you would.” She cooed, causing my pulse to jump.

“Baby, I’ve been inundated with master-building the prose. But, I’ve been thinking of you.” I said.

“Seems like you’ve been busy shooting baskets.” She said.

“You saw that shit?”

“Probably everyone you know saw it…Kenneth Ward sucks at basketball…maybe that’s a good thing.” Said Ariel, “Anyway, I wanted you to fuck me in a sleeping bag somewhere under the stars the other night…the night you failed to call…when you were thinking you were too important for me.”

“Yeah, did you have any epiphanies?” I asked.

“I guess I realized that all our heroes are dead. Anyway, I moved in with my friend Shelly.” Said Ariel.

“Where is that?”

“We’re sharing an apartment in West Hollywood now.” Said Ariel, “She’s OCD about everything and is always cleaning up and arranging the furniture. Fortunately, she’s in Palm Springs for the weekend and I happen to be horny as fuck.”

“You wanna meet?” I asked.

“Only if you promise to be like Richard Gere in Breathless.” Said Ariel.

“I’m not that pretty.” I laughed.

“I’d like to see what’s behind that enigmatic face of yours.” She said.

“Then meet me Saturday night.” I said.

“I’ll be working at my new job until 11 pm…it’s the Mirage Oasis on La Brea.” She said, clicking off before I could say anything. It was Ariel’s style to abruptly cut the conversation short, perhaps feeling that enough had been said.

When I was off the phone with Ariel, I dialed the number for Mrs. Rogers which O’Leary had promptly texted. When her voicemail picked up, I started to leave a message—when I was halfway through my message, Rogers dialed me on the other line.

“There you are.” I said.

“I just missed your call…what is this regarding?” asked Mrs. Rogers.

“It’s Mr. Frost.” I laughed.

“Mr. Frost…the man who decidedly stood me up last night? Do you have any idea how long I waited in that terrible lounge with the elevator music driving me mad?” she demanded.

“O’Leary gave me an idea.” I told her.

“Where were you? Who was so much more important than me?” she asked, “You realize that’s quite bad for your business. If you were legit, I’d leave a bad review.”

“Look, I’m not working with Gentleman Suitor anymore. But I’m sorry for leaving you sitting there with the elevator music.” I said.

“Since when are you not with Gentleman Suitor?” inquired Rogers.

“Since I was fired.” I chuckled.


“I’m not really cut out for it.” I admitted.

“Could have fooled me. I rather enjoyed our meeting. You remember our date correct?” Rogers asked defensively.

“How could I forget Mrs. Rogers?” I said.

“Call me Janet.”

“Ok, Janet.”

“Anyway, I think you owe me another date.” She said.

“That’s fair.” I said.

“Are you free this Saturday? Around 7 pm? Same hotel?” she asked, wasting no time.

“That’s fair.”

“Ok…seven it is.” She said, before clicking off.

The Weekender

By the time Friday rolled around, I wasn’t enthused about working a plated 6-course gala 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 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 had in some shape or form trickled down into the same trough of ballroom waiters. Of course, it goes without saying dear reader that when you congregate a mass workforce made up of bungled and botched misfits—management included; collective success is a hard thing to achieve. Because of this, all bets were called off. In the thick of such chaos, all safety and social protocols went out the window and along with them would go the sound direction of our management team. Corners were cut, important steps skipped, hazards ignored, and verbal abuse employed. If you couldn’t bob and weave your way through a riotous mass of salivating drunkards 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 would become a firing squad. The calamities were many and any would and could get one brutally chastised or even fired on the spot. Blunders such as spilling butternut squash soup on a guest’s $3000 suit…or dropping any of the $250 entrees on the floor could get you gagged and caned and voted off the island on such a night. Still, and rather inevitably, plates would hit the floor…sometimes full trays would hit the floor and those of us who were familiar with the sound knew that we’d never again see the waiter who just dropped $2500 worth of gourmet 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 and empty pop cans, 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.

“Did you notice what happened to Tyrell? He was working the mezzanine bar and then he just disappeared. They replaced him with one of the agency bartenders.” Said O’Leary.

“I saw Captain Kate talking to him…but it didn’t seem like much.” I shrugged.

“Maybe they finally caught onto his scam.” Chuckled Schroeder.

“What scam?” I inquired, puffing again on the blunt.

“You didn’t know? Tyrell and a few of the other bartenders have this ingenious racket they’re running. They smuggle in one of their own bottles, usually vodka. Every third drink they sell, they pour from their bottle, and they keep the cash.” said Schroeder.

“I knew that plan was going to get him pinched.” Sighed O’Leary, shaking his head and dropping his cigarette to the concrete, where he snuffed it with an impeccably polished dress shoe.

“How’s the payout?” I asked.

“Well, if he sells all 40 ounces, which is the goal, he makes 400 bucks. Not a bad profit for a 25-dollar bottle of vodka.” Said O’Leary.

When I returned to the ballroom, slightly dumbfounded that the bartenders were playing such a dangerous game right under the noses of upper management; Captain Kate was upon me suddenly, as if she’d been waiting. She was clad in her usual frumpy uniform, and she greeted me with an eerie, vacant grin.

“Frank. They want you in Quaid’s office.” she said, lifting her hotel-issued radio to her mouth, “Frank just returned from his break—six minutes late, I might add. Do you want me to send him up?”

There was a pause and then a crackle of static, through which Radcliff replied, “Send him directly up now please.”

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 darkened floor an eerie abandoned feel. I was met at the elevator by Radcliff 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, shrouded in ominous shadow. I’d never been to Quaid’s office, and it was said that most who visited it never returned to the Davenport afterward.

Once in the office I found Quaid had wrangled a small army of spectators—Radcliff, her protégé Josie something-or-other, Ben Tillman—union shop steward, and of course Kensington, the drunken, intercom cursing, fuckwad captain who’d written so many scathing reports about me; it seemed I was in for 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 tonight?” he asked.

“Cut the shit Quaid.” I said, “What’s this side show all about?”

Quaid looked up at me, his smile fading into a stern business-like glare, “I see…okay then…Miss Radcliff.” he nodded in Radcliff’s direction.

A second later Radcliff 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. I glanced at Tillman, the shop steward who only nodded in confirmation of something yet didn’t state exactly what.

“On what grounds?” I asked.

“No grounds.” said Radcliff.

“No grounds?”

“What Tanis means to say is no specific grounds…we feel you just aren’t a strong fit for the Davenport.” 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.”

“Like Kensington here?” I asked, throwing Kensington a glance.

“He and others like him.” assured Quaid.

“Look, we both know I’ve never been on board with your unoriginal 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 Radcliff had found a loophole in the employer/union agreement; one they were willing to pay for. Next, I was handed an envelope which I was told contained a severance check.

“Wait a second.” I said, “Are you telling me that you’re willing to actually pay me to not show up 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, “And on a personal note, off the record that is—now that you are no longer an employee, I feel I’d like to share my thoughts with you. I’ve never liked you Nero. It was my predecessor who hired you and I’ve always thought you were a bad apple and most likely a felon. I’m not sure what your personal life is like…or what sort of criminal background you come to us from. But I can tell you, I had once contemplated having your locker searched for a gun after Mr. Kensington here tipped us off to his suspicions about you…however, we were advised by the union that we needed more proof than just the hunch of a respected captain. But I can tell you Nero…I believed him and you know why I believed him?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged, “because he tosses your salad?”

Radcliff stared at me from her comfortable chair, looking down at her notebook in which she wrote something. Indeed this was a moment she’d been waiting for…a moment that was supposed to leave me speechless in the wake of their 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, “As charming of a thought that is, the bottom line here—off-the-record…is that the Davenport is one of the most respected hotels in the downtown core…on the west coast of the United States in fact. A letter of recommendation from us is a gold seal…likewise a scathing review is a career killer…especially in Los Angeles. Considering that, I hope you’ll kindly tell us who exactly was involved in your escort agency—one which I might add, you ran illegally here at the Davenport. Is there anything at all you’d like to tell me Frank?” she asked, clicking her eyes up at me.

“Yeah, blow me.” I said as I rose from my chair, taking the severance check with me, “And you,” I said, turning my attention back to Quaid, “turtleneck…you wouldn’t have found a gun in my locker, and that’s because I carry it with me…right here in my chest pocket—you dumb fuck.”

Quaid just sat, reclined in his chair, nibbling the end of his pen, trying to remain calm, though his hand was slightly trembling.

“You want to see a gun? I’ll show you a fucking gun.” I said, plunging my hand into my tuxedo jacket, “Let me introduce you to my little friend!” I boomed.

No sooner had I finished the sentence, did Quaid bolt into action, spinning in his chair and ducking for cover behind it. Radcliff meanwhile held her binder in front of her face as her protégé Josie, scrambled out of the office, trailing behind her a shrill squeal. Kensington hit the deck and wriggled himself behind Quaid’s desk begging me not to shoot him, reminding me that he was a father of three. Tillman only stared back at me with a wry grin, shaking his head and looking at his watch.

“See.” I said, removing my hand from the inside of my jacket, which gripped a pack of Black & Mild cigarillos and a small blowtorch lighter shaped like a luger, “Cool huh?” I said pulling a cigarillo from the pack with my lips and clicking the trigger of the luger, so the sharp blue flame appeared. As Quaid peered around from behind his chair, I lifted the flame to the cigarillo and offered him a wink, “Thanks for the severance shithead—I was going to quit anyway.” I said before seeing myself out of the office.

When I was waiting at the elevator, Tillman appeared behind me, looking livid, “Godamit Frank…I was about to negotiate more severance for you…how am I going to do that now? After that little stunt?”

“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…about $4500…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—how the hell did they find out about Gentleman Suitor?” I asked.

“They’re being very hush-hush about the details, but according to one of my sources, Quaid had a spy infiltrate your agency…once he was in, he gave up the whole operation, business cards, names, dates—even the password to some scheduling app you guys were using. Thing is, no real names were ever used in the scheduling app…so it would have been hard to physically link any of you to the escort thing indefinitely. That’s precisely why I believed we could get you more severance…but after the stunt you just pulled in there—you’ll be lucky if they don’t bar you from hotel property indefinitely.”

“No shit?” I said, wondering about the who and the how, and the where, before realizing I didn’t quite care.

The elevator doors parted just then revealing three familiar faces, O’Leary, Schroeder, and Remington 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…thwarting their attempt to turn me into a stool pigeon. In the aftermath, O’Leary, Garrison, Tyrell, Remington, Schroeder, Jacques, and myself were all fired, with severance. Evidently, Radcliff had extended to all of us, her threat of blacklisting and it was said that Jacques, who was nearing retirement, gave up the rest of the Gentleman Suitor staff list, which I assumed would lead to more firings.

As planned, I met Mrs. Rogers in her hotel room at the Pimpernel the following Saturday. We hadn’t wasted a lot of time with the small talk. Rather we’d gotten the torrid fucking out of the way first. She showed me a few new tricks she’d learned, and I’d been a willing student. To look at Mrs. Rogers standing at an intersection waiting for the walk signal, one would most likely size her up as an attractive older woman, who dressed conservatively and perhaps drove a Volvo. They might surmise that she had a couple of teenage kids at home and an indifferent husband who’d never recovered fully from his mid-life crisis. One might assume that Mrs. Rogers was the sort of woman who baked apple crumble and spent hours ordering household knick-knacks online. She may have been all that. I had no idea, and I didn’t care to find out. The Mrs. Rogers I knew was a ravenous harlot in red lipstick who exceeded at getting right filthy in her satin hotel sheets.

“I wish I could have met you twenty years ago.” She said afterward, as I sprawled on my back, ravaged, and sharing a smoke with her.


“I wish I could have given you a younger me.” She said.

“Babe…I don’t know if I could have handled it.” I chuckled toward the ceiling as she straddled me, pressing her lips against mine.

“Ready for another round?” she asked insatiably.

Indeed, I’d left the Pimpernel at 9:45 pm, with rugburn and knees like jello. Mrs. Rogers hadn’t allowed me out of her room until she’d gotten her money’s worth—money I didn’t accept. Needing to refuel, I stopped at the grocery store and picked up a vine of bananas, some oranges as well as an energy bar and a bottle of vitamin water. I stopped at home for a shower and to roll up a generous blunt before changing into clean clothes and splashing some Velvet Ice aftershave on my face. Feeling fresh and revitalized, I made my way in Saturday night traffic to the Oasis Mirage where Ariel worked. The Oasis Mirage was a boutique hotel and a strange one at that. I assumed the place was a front for a crime ring and I’d come to that assumption because the hotel was situated in an old office building that had been converted into a hotel, haphazardly I might add. It seemed the receptionist resided behind what may have previously been a yogurt counter. The cartoonish wall art depicted hot rods, beach scenes, and surfboards stuck in the sand. The light fixtures were made up of long fluorescent bulbs, the type commonly found in supermarkets and dental offices, and the floor wasn’t tile, rather it was grey office rug.  

As I made my way into the lounge, I noticed Ariel pouring a glass of wine for a couple sitting beside one of the plate-glass windows. As usual, her womanly figure struck a chord in me and I took a seat at the bar, watching her move around the room, oblivious to my arrival. Eventually however, she approached me and placed a coaster in front of me, along with a bottle of beer.

“You’re early.” She said.

“I don’t mind watching you work.” I said.

“Why?” she grinned, “Is it really that exciting to see?”

“I could watch you move all night baby…you’re built just perfect.” I said, leaning in and kissing her deeply, in front of her work colleagues who snickered slightly.

“Hold that thought.” She grinned.

As Ariel walked away, she smoothed out her apron and pulled her snug grey slacks up the deep crack of her lovely ass. When she glanced back at me to make sure I’d seen her move, I pressed my cold beer against my forehead and grinned, theatrically fanning my face with the coaster, just the way she liked it—like Richard Gere in Breathless; only not as pretty.

For the next hour, I sat at the bar, inundated by the slightly nauseating wash of modern pop culture that seemed to be thrown at me from all angles. To a perpetual drone of provolone-infused dance music, patrons came and went. As if different heads of the same unoriginal entity, they seemed to all be dressed the same and exude the exact same type of synthetic charisma—the sort they’d seen on mundane evening sitcoms, like one which played on one of the many screens fastened to the walls. On another screen, two men covered in similar tattoos beat each other senseless in a gladiator cage. Between rounds, the two sat in their respective corners, blowing bloody snot rockets and having their eyebrow lacerations greased down by a cut-man. On another screen, a man performed on a stage before a sea of adoring fans. He was baby-faced and covered in incidental tattoos and though he was perhaps 40, his hair had been styled to mimic that of an adolescent skateboarder. The man had no band, only sequined dancing girls who synchronized their lascivious dance moves with his. At one point, as he lip-synced into his astronaut microphone and dry-humped the air, he tipped his hat and imitated the jerky movements of a cyborg, before frisbeeing his fedora into the crowd…then the grand finale; fireworks and strobe lights, smoke and mirrors…but absolutely no talent.

On another screen, an incidentally styled man with an aerodynamic head and thick eyeliner, stood solemnly as a panel of judges critiqued his dance moves…the judges were vaguely familiar, in an infomercial sort of way, but their names escaped me. As one judge spoke hyperdramatically, the man with the aerodynamic head became emotional and his eyes welled up, giving way to a flood of tears that all the judges shared, dabbing at the corners of their eyes with tissues; evidently, his dance moves, (which I’d personally felt were ridiculous, as most dance moves are), had moved the judges to tears. I laughed, shook my head, and ordered another beer as the satellite music played what seemed like the same song over and over and over again. No wonder creative individuality had gone off into a cave to die.

As I sat there, easily resisting the force-fed drivel, I wondered where and how it had all gone so mundanely wrong, and how it was that only thirty years previous contemporary culture had at least been adequate; I turned my attention back to Ariel who sat guests, punched their orders into a computer screen and delivered them brightly colored cocktails and greasy bar food. It struck me as comical that though she’d been born into one of the most charismatically bankrupt eras, she’d not subscribed to any of it, as the bulk of her contemporaries had. Rather she read Bukowski, adored Robert Altman, preferred Swervedriver, and painted dark portraits of random hilarity and hung them on her bedroom wall for only a select few to view. That took something. To be a purveyor of creativity, a collector of the extraordinary, and a hunter of arcane brilliance was far easier to do back in the 90s when venerating the best of previous eras and building upon them was seen as a responsibility. Ariel however, and the handful of her contemporaries who declined to clone themselves, were lost at sea, floating on a life raft in deep murky waters and choosing to do so in the face of an awful lack that had swallowed up the world long before they’d been born. Certainly, that took something…and perhaps deserved some credit.

When Ariel was finally off work, I tossed her my keys, “You’re familiar with how to drive my van I presume.” I said with a grin before we made the short trek to Barnsdall Park. Because the park was closed at that hour, Ariel parked the van at a nearby curb in a dim pool cast by the street lamp. Careful not to be spotted, we entered the park and ascended the steep concrete steps to the summit, where we found a spot on the lawn that overlooked Hollywood, which sprawled like a blanket of lights rolled across the valley.

“Where is the house?” asked Ariel.

“There.” I gestured behind us.

Ariel turned and looked at it for a long time before cracking a can of beer and smiling back at me, “Where is it really?”

“That’s it.” I said.

“But it looks like a bunker.” She said.

“It’s what Aline Barnsdall wanted…it was what Frank Lloyd Wright was doing at the time.” I told her.

“Maybe that time he was Frank Lloyd Wrong.” She giggled.

“Anyone can be wrong—and that’s okay. They were just passing figures through this life—like us. This shit is all ours.” I said, gesturing toward the lights in the valley below; East Hollywood—the magic kingdom.

“There will be plenty enough time to think of death—when we’re dead.” Said Ariel, moving her lips to mine.

Rolled up in a sleeping bag, we did it on the lawn, in front of old Hollyhock, as the helicopters chopped high above, and the magnificent city below coursed with freeways, legends, and magic. As we finished and Ariel looked down at me with an expressionless gaze, a flickering appeared against the side of her face. We both turned and found a flashlight approaching in the distance. Not knowing if it was a rent-a-cop or the real thing, we collected ourselves and bolted, leaving the sleeping bag and four uncracked beers on the lawn. Though we were creatures of the night, Ariel and me—we weren’t the bad sort…however, the man with the flashlight didn’t know the difference and more than likely assumed the worst and perhaps had drawn a pistol according to his training; it took nothing to draw a pistol and even less to pull the trigger—but it always cost somebody something. As we fled down the hill, careful not to trip and tumble, a voice could be heard behind us, commanding that we stop…a command we disobeyed.

After taking the long way around the Hollyhock hill, we returned to my van, wishing we hadn’t left the beer on the lawn.

“Do you think the night watchman will drink it?” she asked.

“I believe he will, yes.” I said, “I have some more at home though. We could go back, get drunk and watch JFK.”

“I better go home.” Said Ariel.


“Why not?” she asked.

“I thought we were going to hang out.” I said.

“Didn’t we?”

“That? We only fucked.”

“Yeah, that’s what you wanted from me isn’t it?” Ariel asked.

“What am I? Your charity case?”

“Not at all…but you don’t play games with me…so I won’t play games with you?”

“What does that even mean?” I inquired.

“You got what you wanted tonight.”

“But maybe I want a little more now.”

“I know what you want me for.” She said, “And I’m fine with keeping it that way. I don’t fuck my friends and I’m not looking for someone to break my heart.”

“You think I’ll break your heart?” I asked.

“You would if I gave you the chance.” Said Ariel.

“What’s with the doom and gloom? Hey, let’s drive out to Vegas.” I said.

“You’re crazy.”

“Vegas is crazy?”

“When you say it, yes.”

“Let’s go for a few days. I’ve got 4500 burning a hole in my pocket.” I told her.

“I don’t have any of my things. I need my things to travel.”

“Like what things?”

“Toothbrush…shampoo…I like to wear some makeup too.” She said.

“I’ll buy all of that at Target…don’t worry baby.” I said, giving her sad cheek a little pinch, “We’ll get a room out in the desert…at some place that doesn’t even have satellite TV…where the pool has leaves and sand in it.”

Target? Who are you really?” she asked me with a grin.

“Come to Vegas and find out.” I grinned.

“I can’t. I have work tomorrow.”

“That place will corrupt your senses if you don’t get out of there…trust me.” I assured.

“It’s already corrupted my senses. Besides, like I say—you’re not getting at my heart. I’ve got it fortified behind four-inch-thick iron walls.” Said Ariel.

“Who hurt you?” I asked, looking at her out of the corner of my eyes, dramatically serious, suppressing a chuckle.

“You’re an asshole.” She smiled, shaking her head.

“Why because I wanna take you to Vegas on a Saturday night? What the hell do you think all this is for? Do you realize where we are? We’re in L fucking A. This is our time.”

“I thought your time was the 90s.”

“The 90s never die.” I said.

“It’s a romantic idea. But I have work tomorrow.” Ariel shrugged.

Realizing it was futile and that perhaps the one thing missing from Ariel that women of the 90s possessed was a sense of spontaneous carpe diem, I shifted the van into drive and made my way back to west Hollywood—where Ariel had moved. When we pulled up out front, I realized that Ariel was living large—in a towering building, the lobby of which looked posh.

“Wow…uptown digs.” I said.

“My mom pays most of my rent.” She said, “I’m trying to change that. Thus my new dedication to my jobs.”

“Hey,” I told her, “don’t let the zombies eat your brain—okay?”

“Okay…” she smiled.

“Seriously…that lounge you work in is a zombie apocalypse…never stop reading novels, making art…being fucking stellar—never give in to them.” I told her to which she replied by placing a hand on my cheek.

“I’ll call on you next week…be ready to fuck on Wednesday. I’m always horny on Wednesdays.”

“You said the right thing.” I told her, and she had. The phrasing of her last remark kept me intrigued and I waited until she was through the glass doors of her building to pull away. As I drove through the darkened side streets of west Hollywood, puffing on a blunt, wondering where I wanted to go now that my evening had ended earlier than I’d expected, I checked my trusty black flip-up phone and noticed I had three missed calls, all from Isabel Ronstadt.

I could have understood one missed call, but three in the space of a half hour seemed either irate or an emergency. Perhaps Lindsay had finally shot Walsh in their divided house on the hill and he’d left me his acrylic piano signed by Ringo Starr. I dialed her back.

“Frank.” She said, “I was calling you.”

“I saw that. What’s up Isabel?” I said imagining her small red lips and her slender hands and her round mocha ass.

“Are you at home?” she asked.

“On my way…”

“Did you happen to see a diamond earring in your bedroom anywhere?” she asked.

“I haven’t looked.”

“I’m missing one.”

“I can look.”

“I’m nearby, at a bar on Hillhurst…I tried to drop by when you weren’t answering your phone.” Said Isabel.

“You’re a long way from Monrovia Mrs. Ronstadt…well, how about you meet me at my place in 15?” I said.

“I’ve never been a Mrs., okay, I’ll see you soon.”

She was gone a moment later and I wondered why she insisted on helping me look for her earring. Perhaps she felt a lost diamond earring was something most men would lie about finding…so they might sell it to a pawn shop. I wondered if Isabel felt this way about me and for some reason, the possibility struck me with insult…and it was hard to insult me. My skin had become thicker than cured leather. I assumed Isabel’s opinion, for whatever reason, must have meant something to me. When she arrived at my apartment, dressed sexy as if she’d been on a date, I demanded answers.

“Wow, you look spiffy.” I said, “Big date night?”

“I was out with girlfriends having dinner—complaining about men; they’re all married to slugs.” Laughed Isabel.

“Sounds awful.” I laughed.

“Nothing like a little good old fashion misandry now and then.” She laughed, heading for my bedroom where she rummaged through my bedsheets. Isabel moved to the floor and kneeled to look under the bed. Her skirted ass looked luscious the way it balanced atop the heels of her pumps as she leaned forward, searching with the flashlight of her phone for the wayward earring.

“Gotcha.” She said, reaching under the bed and retrieving a small diamond sealed into a gold loop. She tipsily moved into an all-fours position to study the earring, looking for a chip perhaps.

I got on my knees and crawled over to her. I gave one of her cheeks a playful bite through the fabric of her skirt, realizing then that her cute ass had been sitting on dirty bar seats all night and who knew what else. I lifted the skirt and admired her red lace panties, before tearing through the delicate fabric and tossing them over my shoulder when they easily came apart. As an episode of Threes Company played on the living room TV, I gave Isabel what she’d been needing all night, until we both collapsed on the bedroom floor, which was warm from the desert heat.

“You tore my fave panties.” She said once she caught her breath.

“They served their purpose.” I replied, rolling off her onto my back, where the ancient lightbulb cover fastened to the ceiling stared back at me, holding in its basin the dried carcasses of insects past. I wondered about the insects, assuming some must have been decades old…perhaps older than I. It seemed a long time to be dead.

“How are you?” asked Isabel.

“Sore.” I confessed, realizing then that I’d been fucking all night and my groin had started to ache.

“I’m sorry to do this, but I have to get back to Hillhurst.” Said Isabel, “I really actually came for the earring.”

“Right.” I grinned.

“I’d ask you to come, but…I highly doubt you’d find it very interesting.” She said, lifting her torn panties from the hardwood and shaking her head slightly, “These were my favorite pair Frank.”

“I’m gonna stay here…watch some Tripper I guess.” I said, “I’ll get you another pair.” I told her, looking at her and taking hold of her wrist, “I’ll take you shopping at Beverly Center next week and buy you a few pairs that I can tear off of you.”

“Deal.” Said Isabel.

I remained sprawled across the floor, listening to her clean herself up in the bathroom before leaving. Staring at the ceiling, I wondered about the bugs in the lamp cover before closing my eyes and drifting off up a murky tranquil river of slumber, into the heart of darkness, where just before floating off into a dream, I saw in the dark water the rippling reflection of Sarah Lassiter’s face, peering back at me with disdain.

Uptown Slumming

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 scale-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 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 mornings, the air conditioner in my window was still broken, the sexy Spanish check-out 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 was that my screenplay was being passed around by D’Amato, whom I conferred with on a daily basis. 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 narrative 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—but more importantly, it seemed a genuine contribution to a dying art form.

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. During those deep summer days, I felt a warm flood of contentedness wash over the slightest nuances; the ocean breeze conjured long-lost reminiscence and whispered to me lulling tales of nostalgic beauty…oranges were delicious as taking a bite of the sun itself…and cruising along the ocean’s edge at dusk was nearly a religious experience…I saw the mystery of God in vermilion sunsets and noticed the intricacies of the cosmos in my teacup…the clicking of typing keys became a consoling sound and conjured an existential recognition; I was made for this life after all.

My fondest nights were spent parked high in the Palisades, curbside after midnight, with the blackout curtains drawn and 1970s cinema on the laptop as I typed away at the rewrites and innovative additions, allowing the Emerald Dream to pull me back in time so that I might absorb the residue of long lost summers that had ended, but hadn’t; the evidence of dead generations all around me and conjuring a heightened awareness. I was falling into orbit around these new and magnificent circumstances when one overcast afternoon, I was pulled from my wonderous reality by a simple phone call.


“Is this Frank?” a woman’s voice asked.

“It sure is baby doll…who the hell is this?”

“Hi Frank…it’s Sarah.”

I’d not quite recognized the voice—and perhaps it was because strangely, Sarah Lassiter had been miraculously sidelined by the runaway train of industriousness on which I’d hopped a ride—with the help of D’Amato’s offered hand. It struck me then, as I listened to the static silence, that I’d nearly forgotten about Sarah Lassiter in the course of a hectically busy two-month span. It was as though Sarah had blended into the peripheral, like a faded memory that had lost its context.

“Sarah…I didn’t recognize the number.” I told her.

“I changed phone companies…long story. I’ve been meaning to call you, but I’ve been inundated with work. How are you?” she asked.

“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…I really was.” I sighed, feeling a small wave of frustration crash over me.

“Well, that doesn’t make me feel very welcome.”

“Unwelcome? I know the feeling.” I told her.

“Listen, you weren’t the nicest either.”

“You made yourself pretty clear.” 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 was that all about?”

“What I was trying to say last time. You didn’t give me a chance to tell you.”

“Tell me what?” she asked.

“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, “You keep mentioning the past…and I don’t know what that could possibly mean.”

“It’s about some stuff that went down in the late 90s.” I said.

“Can you be a little less vague?”

“I can…but not over the phone. We need to talk—can you meet me today?” I asked her.

“Well…” said Sarah in a long sigh, “…uhm…I guess I could.”

Despite Sarah’s dramatic hesitancy, we made plans to meet at Fred 62 on Vermont. It was a favorite of mine and I had a tendency to schedule most meetings—social or other—with many people at the diner. I thought about the night I’d seen her at Café Exile as I sat at a streetside table; perhaps had we met at Fred 62 initially, there may have been no problem at all. 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.

“Am I interrupting something?” she asked me once she was seated.

“Nothing but the weather.” I said.

Once Sarah settled in and the woman with the dog went back to her book with a grinning shake of her head, 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 crisp and fresh…like perhaps an arugula salad with water chestnuts.” she sighed, 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 1980s.

“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 godam sunglasses?” I grinned, 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 crisp and fresh…I’m famished and I want something specific.” she said, slipping off her sunglasses and revealing her eyes which were clear and blue and stunning.

“Whatevz.” I said with a contemplative shrug.

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 when selecting vegetables somewhat adorable. 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 unhealthiest thought patterns, and again, I was struck by the coincidence of her calling me when I was finally feeling like I was out of her woods—as if she’d sensed it and pulled me back in. I thought about Laura and what she’d think of me strolling around Gelson’s with her sister and realized I didn’t quite care what Laura would have thought—it was about Sarah and me now…I’d made it that way, for some reason.

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 and rather than defend her—the audience had sat in silence, waiting to be entertained. 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 insecurity-based 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.

“That’s how you grew up?” she asked me as she diced some vegetables.

“I didn’t grow up in the Palisades…I’m from downtown.” I said.

“Is it really so different?”

“Only basically everything.” I laughed.

Sarah was a child of privilege…she and Laura had grown up in the cushy, upscale, picturesque lanes of the Palisades. 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 for 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 flip side, perhaps it was madness and I’d invented her persona in the laboratory of my mind in an hourglass-shaped beaker in a vain attempt to plant a lush oasis in the desert dunes my emotional landscape had become. 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 and 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.

“You look okay.” I told her.

“Only okay?” 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 at 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…far too long. I pulled Sarah close and pressed my lips against hers; fireworks.

Though I’d taken Sarah ravenously and with the sum of months behind me…something was missing. The inexplicable vibration I’d felt with Laura was simply absent…though it seemed as if it had been within an arm’s reach…though it seemed to be present just behind the silken veil of Sarah’s feminine mystery. Certainly, there was that—the mystery, which reached into me with some depth; however, what I sought, was simply not there. 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 with a long sigh.

“Listen, I should really tell you what I wanted to tell you.” I said.

I’d been so caught up in the moment, 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 know about Laura. I knew Laura a long time ago…back in the 90s…more accurately, I was infatuated with her…obsessed. Do you understand what I’m saying? We were lovers…but you know how she was; she’d disappear into the blue…on a plane…a boat…a train—on a whim. But I always thought I’d see her again, that we’d wind up together. We sent each other letters when she was in Paris…deep letters—she once wrote that she felt like she was writing her letters in blood. It was something that she’d say and something that I knew about her; most of the rest was a total mystery…but there were those things here and there that I knew about her.” I turned and looked at Sarah who was listening with an intensity in her eyes, “I really thought fate would put us together again…but when I heard that she ended her life in Paris, I had no choice but to crate it all up and forget about her. The curtain went down on Laura. I did just that…and she eventually joined the leagues of the forgotten. So…flash forward…to present day. Earlier this year I saw a poster with your name on it stuck to a lamp post—it was an advertisement for a word slam. I may have walked right by and never saw that poster…but I did see it—evidently, the universe had other plans. I searched your website for some inkling…something…anything…a photo of Laura…a mention…but there was nothing. By that time though, I realized that you’d crashed into me like a mighty, crested wave. To be perfectly honest, as best I understand it; over the course of a few months, 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…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, as if she may have just slept with a madman.

“What?” I asked.

Laura…who’s Laura?” she asked again.

“Your sister Laura…your older sister.”

“I never had a sister.” shrugged Sarah, still wearing her curious concern.

“Come on…it’s okay…you don’t have to pretend—I know all about what happened…I talked to you on the phone once even…way back in the 90s…you probably don’t remember though.” I said.

“Dude…I don’t have a sister. Not unless my mom isn’t telling my brother and me 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, “Your mother is Rachel Lassiter correct?”

“No, my mom is Elizabeth…you’re fucking high.” Laughed Sarah.

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? You’re saying you’re the wrong Sarah Lassiter?”

“I’ve never known a Laura Lassiter…and I’ve never had a sister.” said Sarah, “You’ve obviously gotten me confused with some other chick named Sarah Lassiter.”

“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?” I asked, “Don’t fuck with me…not now…not about this shit.”

“Frank, read my luscious lips…I’ve never had a fucking sister.” she said, her eyes fixed on mine, unwavering and blue and full of perplexity.

“I’m going to need a few minutes.” 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? And you transferred it all on me? That’s what this is all about? God that’s sick.” She laughed, “You really are a madman Nero.”

“Evidently.” I said, exhaling a long sigh.

“Well…there’s only one Sarah Lassiter who matters.” she said, a devilish grin curling the corners of her lips.

Though the memory of Sarah’s lips speaking the words with pristine clarity seemed to play on a loop in my mind during the following weeks, the notion hadn’t quite registered with my subconscious immediately. Because in a flood of dopamine I’d paired them together through a bond of genetic sisterhood, it took more than sensibility to accept that Sarah simply wasn’t related to Laura. Though I accepted it rather quickly, the files had still been transferred and it seemed that though my psyche understood the grave reality, my heart was reluctant to let go of the daydream. It seemed chalking it up to a pesky case of mistaken identity wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Perhaps to lend some modicum of higher meaning to the situation, I pondered the possibility of fate; for to be led to a woman by such an intricate succession of coincidences would certainly suggest that no matter the bloodline Sarah did or didn’t share—certainly the way I’d found her was the stuff epic love-stories were made of…which brought me around to the question of why it mattered to me—for I’d always found epic love stories to be cringe-worthy and laughable. Certainly, the situation was both cringe-worthy and laughable…which only reinforced the possibility that it was perhaps fate with Sarah.

This limbo lasted perhaps another week before something strange occurred…like the ebbing of a violent tide; the hollow yearning in my chest started to dissipate. At first, I wasn’t certain if this was because I lost myself in Sarah during the following weeks, indulging in the lewdest acts of intimacy and the relief was like a tall ice-cold glass of lemonade after trudging through miles of knee-deep desert sands. However, as the days wore on, I realized that it was actually my hope to ever gain closure with Laura that had ebbed away, back out to sea where it belonged, and I was left standing on the balmy shore with a calm in my core—a calm of acceptance; which was perhaps my sorry way of saying goodbye to the situation. I’d come so far and covered so much ground in my quest for thee Sarah Lassiter—finding I’d done it all for the wrong woman was too gloomy a notion to register as hilarious. Indeed, I finally decided that the passing poster hadn’t been fate at all…rather it had been an ill coincidence set forth by the universe, which evidently had a sense of humor more twisted than mine.

I’d entertained the possibility that it had all been a brilliantly devastating stroke of karma for perhaps unwittingly leaving a few broken hearts in my past. No one is innocent in love and war, but perhaps what goes around does come around. It had been my fault for allowing myself to go so far off the deep end for a complete and total stranger and so, all things Sarah Lassiter would always be stained by the grossness of an extremely unhealthy past obsession. There could never be any healthy connection between Sarah and me, beyond the botched, simply because our paths were never meant to cross; yet my mad obsession had made them cross. I’d forced it, believing wrongly that without Sarah, I would spend the rest of my days as an incomplete entity. However, I’d been wrong, and the reality of the situation registered to me, once the limerence eventually dissipated.

The reality—like fallout—kept occurring and it would grip me in moments of sheer clarity when I’d notice something about Sarah that seemed unbelievable or unconscionable; realizations I’d have never noticed in the eclipsing obsession Sarah inspired. One such realization came to me on an evening when Sarah invited me to a word-slam after-party in Venice. Though I had virtually no interest in going, Sarah insisted that if I was going to be with her, I would have to be with her friends as well—whom she deemed the most important facet of her life.

As we sat around a post-modern condo in Venice, I was introduced to her friends, particularly a malnourished man named Dirk, who was clad in a snug-fitting black t-shirt and covered in incidental tattoos. He wore sunglasses and a black leather painter’s cap on his head. There was a spiked band around his neck and a layer of sweat across his brow as 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 Kill-mobile 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 to being lewd Sarah.” laughed the woman who’d originally struck up the conversation.

“What Goldenberg design doesn’t border dangerously close to being lewd?” shrugged Sarah, causing the entire crew to break out in another bout of laughter. Missing the punchline, 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 ominously, as if I shouldn’t go.

“Why not?” I asked.

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. A moment later, 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, cut-outs from magazines, artwork, movie posters, album covers, and a giant oil portrait of Lucifer playing a Flying-V guitar…it was all haphazardly covering the foam soundproofing. There was a beaten-up drum set in one corner of the room and in another corner stood a large amplifier angled toward the drum kit. The opposite wall was lined with a row of guitars that varied in color, texture, and luster. Awkwardly, Dirk strapped one around his skinny neck and plugged it into the amp. He turned up the volume and started twanging away at it horribly with his skinny, knobby fingers, somehow making the guitar sound like a sick cat.

Indeed, he wasn’t only alarmingly skinny and sick looking…he was also pasty and moist and vine-like veins twisted up his bony tattooed forearms as if he were a walking cadaver—albeit one who couldn’t play electric guitar worth a fuck. When he removed his sunglasses, I noticed he was wearing a thick, flaky coating of mascara and his eyes were bloodshot and watery—it nearly made my own eyes water just looking at the bastard. Indeed, he reminded me of the patients in a plague documentary I’d once seen on BPS and the possibility ran a shiver through me. I stared at the satanic tattoos running down his bony forearms, looking for track marks in the protruding veins. As he told me about his guitars, I felt a tiny speckle of his 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 plague legions concealed under the thick coating of sweaty foundation he was wearing. Indeed, there seemed to be a large legion below his jaw, “What’s it to you?” I asked, studying the roughly textured patch of skin covered over with concealer, wondering if he’d perhaps caught anthrax from tainted meat.

“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 old chap.” I said, offering a wry grin.

“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.

“What does that even mean?” He asked, “Sarah and I have a romantic history.” he said.

“Say what?” I asked, nearly choking on my gin, a wave of terror chilling through my core.

“That’s right…Sarah and I have been romantically involved on and off for quite some time now.” Said Dirk, “We’re always orbiting each other.”

“Hold on…she actually slept with you?” I inquired, wondering about the various strains of disease coursing through the vine-like veins climbing his arms which I checked for track marks again, “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—most men do. 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…she goes wandering from time to time…but she always comes back to me.” he said.

“Latest up and comer?”

“Yeah, you’re the latest one—there’s been a lot of us.” said Dirk, sniffling hard and wiping his nose with his tattooed forearm.

“Are you sick?” I asked.

“I’m being sincere with you. She comes and goes, and she drives me crazy each time…but in the end, my life is better with Sarah in it…I understand her.” 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, “Have you had a full blood count recently?”

“Whatever.” said Dirk, rolling his eyes and flipping a long greasy lock of hair out of one eye, “I’m trying to give you a word of advice…you shoot hoops with Kenneth Ward…so right now, you’re hot on the scene…and so you’ve grabbed her attention…but don’t let it go to your head—you’re just another passing fancy.”

“I don’t know Kenneth Ward. He showed up at a party I was at. I’m a method writer, not a Hollywood scenester.”

“Like I say, you’re her latest up-and-comer.” Said Dirk with a vindictive grin.

“Listen, grease monkey—why are you telling me this?” I asked.

“I don’t care if you’re rude to me…but I don’t want you causing a scene and hurting Sarah’s feelings when she moves on—the only reason she even called you was because of the basketball video.”

“You see that kick drum over there?” I said, pointing to the beat-up drum kit in the corner of the room.


“How would you like me to stuff your head in it and make it stay there?” I inquired, taking a sip of the gin and hoping Dirk would give me a reason.

“I wouldn’t let Sarah hear you talking like that…she hates knuckle-draggers.” Said Dirk with a grin.

“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.

By the time I made my way back to Sarah, I was ready to leave…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?” She 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 we ought to both go to the clinic tomorrow—just to be sure.” I said, shaking my head with frustration.

“Pardon me?”

“We ought to get a full fucking blood count.”

“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 everything.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked, “What did Dirk say to you in there?”

Indeed, though Sarah had attempted to explain away Dirk’s ominous warning as ‘sour grapes’, I still wasn’t too hot on the fact that she’d given her most intimate self to him…and dozens of other designer street urchins who lurked around her dismal word-slam scene that to me seemed like an incestuous, inbred fuck-a-thon. I now harbored fears that I might come down with green pustulating blisters on my lips—like Stephen King at the end of Creepshow.

Certainly, every minor itch in my groin region became reason enough for me to venture into my bathroom and check my dick, under the harsh beam of a flashlight, for the early onset symptoms of gonosyphilaids. Perhaps it was this constant concern that prompted me a week later to visit a clinic and have everything checked thoroughly by a doctor who examined my dick and balls under the penetrating glare of a spotlight. She’d inserted a swab, took samples, massaged my prostate with a wrinkled rubber glove, and juggled my nuts in the palm of her small brown hand. It was degrading and I’d left the clinic feeling violated.

Still, despite my clean bill of genital health, I thought about Sarah’s promiscuous past and tried to recount the times we’d fucked, wondering if I’d ever not used protection. With a promiscuous woman however, sex is never quite safe; one never knows where they’ve just come to you from…perhaps another man’s den, an all-out orgy, or from the other side of a skid-row glory hole—the sky seemed to be the limit. Whatever the case, my visit to the nurse didn’t prevent my mind from wandering back to the ever-present fear that Sarah’s pesky relationship with diseased Dirk would inevitably infect us both with gonosyphilaids.

There was this side of my relationship with Sarah, and there was also another side, which consisted of her perpetual preoccupation with her attire and my inability to understand the fine nuances of color coordination. You see dear reader, I’d been invited by D’Amato and Walsh to Catalina Island for a weekend retreat where we might brainstorm on the screenplay and get wonderfully drunk. I’d decided to invite Sarah, who fawned over the opportunity for a relaxing getaway but had in fact turned the trip into a multifaceted work of organization and structuring, planning out and color-coordinating her outfits for each day and event before we even left LA. It was hard to believe. However, what I found more challenging to shoulder was her addiction to flirting which walked a fine line with social networking. There are men who accept such a phenomenon and perhaps concoct for themselves grandiose psychoanalytic explanations to appease their innate male instincts, which certainly wouldn’t agree with being a cuckold. Indeed, I had no problem warning her that if she chose to flirt with other men in front of me, I’d be forced to exact some fair-play revenge, which might entail pulling a pin from a proverbial grenade and tossing it into the foundation of our union—not bothering to watch the grand explosion.

Sarah, taking this as a threat would become argumentative in a passive-aggressive way, insisting that I shouldn’t mistake her friendliness for flirting, though it seemed every man she came into contact with managed to. One afternoon, while having lunch with D’Amato at his house in Hancock Park, he’d taken advantage of a break in our screenplay conversation to delicately inform me of a message he received.

“By the way man, your girlfriend messaged me over Face-Invader.”

“Sarah messaged you?” I inquired, slightly dumbfounded.

“She did.”

“What did her message say?”

“She sent me a link to her acting reel. I assume you’re aware of this.” Said D’Amato.

“First I’m hearing of it.” I said, “Was the reel any good or did it blow? I’ve never seen it.”

“I haven’t had time to watch it…also I’m not handling the casting if this thing ever gets off the ground. Where did you meet her?”

“Sarah is a long and complicated story…and maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime…you wouldn’t believe the coincidences and mind fucks in this desert life.” I said.

“I’ve had a few of my own…I’m just saying, be careful…it is Hollywood after all.” said D’Amato.

“You think Sarah is running some Hollywood game on me?” I asked, “I’m just some anti-hero method-writer. She’s gotta know that.”

“Yes, but when you’ve been tagged in a video posted on Kenneth Ward’s feed…it suggests something.” Shrugged D’Amato.

“I don’t know the fucking guy. I didn’t know anyone who was there—beyond Walsh that is.” I laughed, “And by the way, what sort of world is it when a 90-second video defines who I am more than my actual writing? You know, I received a ridiculous amount of messages over that video and I didn’t gain any readers. In fact, I think I lost some because the small band of misfits who read me would surely loathe a video like that.”

“Welcome to Hollywood man.” Grinned D’Amato, “Anyway—just be careful who you fall in love with in this town—or any town for that matter. Moving on, I spoke with Warner Diamond from San Andreas pictures yesterday. He’s been reading portions of the screenplay. I met him for some golf yesterday and really had a chance to explain our vision for this new project. I mean, thirty years ago I didn’t even have to ask. It’s a bit different nowadays—for everyone. Still, I got him interested. He’s basically sold…but there’s a catch…there’s always a catch with Warner Diamond.”

“What’s the catch?” I grinned.

“Well, he wants to set up a meet at your place.”

“My place? Why my place?” I asked.

“Out of any of the producers I’ve ever known, Diamond is the strangest. He’s weird like that…he likes to see where people live…he draws conclusions from the little things. He picks up on energy. I guess it gives him the best sense of who he’s bankrolling.”

“He wants to see where I live?” I laughed, “I live in a fucking closet man…why the hell would he want to have dinner with us in an apartment smaller than his bathroom?”

“I mean, it’s a bit bizarre yes. I think he just wants to get a feel for who you are. Back in the 90s my company was shopping a film around. I was in talks with Diamond and it was looking good, but I wanted to use an actor in the lead who was basically unknown. He was a stand-up comedian who’d been playing the open mic circuit for years and just never got a break. I caught is act one night at this club on Fairfax…I thought it was brilliant. I mean, I couldn’t believe that this guy had been turned down by every casting agent in town. I saw that he was the exact guy for the part though. Diamond wasn’t so sure and he insisted on meeting this guy, but he insisted on meeting at the guy’s hotel room; some ratbag hotel on Sepulveda…where the crackheads knifed each other and the hookers turned tricks. I mean, I never even met the guy in his hotel room—it was a pretty sketchy place. Diamond was adamant though. Diamond is a guy who’s worth a billion dollars, but yet he’s been driving the same Volvo for thirty years. Why? Because he feels comfortable and safe in that car. He wants to feel that same way when it comes to deals. He’s very particular like that. Strange old guy…but if it means we’ll get some backing from San Andreas pictures—it’s certainly worth it.”

“So, I guess it’s a pretty important meeting.” I said.

“Let me put it this way.” Said D’Amato, leaning back now in his chair, “It’s the most important meeting you’ll ever have…one of them anyway. It’s very important that you don’t fuck this up. Understand?”

“Whatever happened with the actor in the ratbag hotel?” I said.

“Diamond passed…but back then I just went to another studio. Eventually, Trapdoor Pictures picked up the film and we made it happen.” Said D’Amato.

“Which film?” I asked.

“That was The Guys from Van Nuys.” Said D’Amato.

“Great film…one of your best.” I said.

“It’s not the 90s anymore though…we need Diamond to sign on. You dig?”

“I dig.” I nodded, digging.

When I arrived home later that afternoon, I found that Sarah had been to my apartment. She’d left a note, scribbled with a mascara pencil on my door and I’d wondered how she’d gotten beyond the entrance doors of the building. Assuming she’d been let in by a tenant exiting the building, I shrugged, balled the note up, and dropped it in the trash can. I wasn’t exactly mad that she’d messaged D’Amato—I’d have sent her acting reel to him myself had I known. What irked me slightly was what Dirk had told me; I’d hoped it to be untrue…and certainly it felt untrue when I was wrapped in a blanket with Sarah as she made deep confessions to me without using words.

Indeed, I’d smoked an extra-copious amount of the Emerald Dream and got straight to work rewriting the scene D’Amato had asked for. As I sat at my desk, consumed by the oncoming dialogue, my phone started to ring and kept ringing every fifteen minutes. When I finally flipped it open and checked the screen, I saw that I’d racked up six missed calls, four of which were from Sarah. Because I took a break only to swill down a glass of orange juice and smoke another bowl of the Emerald Dream, I didn’t immediately return any of the calls, I had a tiger by its tail and wasn’t letting go. With sheer ferocity, I reeled off an oncoming wave of dialogue as the sun sank into the western skies and threw a bludgeoned orange hue against the wall.

When I was finally through, and basking in the sense of ease that always comes with creative conjuring, I lit up a cigarillo and turned on the TV. There were wildfires in Santa Clarita, a water rationing ordinance in LA county, six shot in a west Hollywood restaurant, three bodies found in the basement of a Culver City home, homeless encampments popping up in residential Palisades neighborhoods…singer Marcy Z in ICU with syphilis, another Chinese rocket ship breaks up in the atmosphere and plummets to earth.

I was contemplating this when the buzzer rang. I walked over to the intercom and pressed the button.


“It’s Sarah.”

When she was upstairs, she greeted me with a sideways hug and I noticed straightaway that something in her demeanor had changed, as if there was something stuck in her craw.

“Is everything okay?” I asked.

“I’ve only been trying to get a hold of you all day.” She said, “I left a note for you even. Didn’t you get my note?”

“I saw the note.” I said, “I got lost in rewrites though.” I explained.

“Yeah? Well, that doesn’t explain why you couldn’t at least call me.” Said Sarah, wrinkling her brows with preposterousness.

“I was just about to call you.” I assured.

“Where is my note?” she inquired.

“I don’t know.” I shrugged, “Why?”

Sarah stepped over to the garbage can and looked down into it. Finding her note balled up, she reached down into the trash can and held it up, “This is what you did with my note I see.”

“What was I supposed to do with it?” I asked.

Glaring at me slightly, she unrolled the paper and flattened it out against the counter, trying to smooth out the wrinkles. When it was as smooth as it could get, she held the paper close to my face, “You see…I asked you to call me when you got in.”

“Do you really want to turn this into a war? I’m not in the mood.” I told her.

“So this is your game? I mean the way I see it, for months you agonized over some sick obsession with your dead ex-lover’s sister—who you thought was me…you obsessed over me, you tortured yourself over me for months, you fucking stalked my Face-Invader page…you dropped all of this end of days tortured lover shit on me—you told me that the universe had lined up the planets for us—that man has never wanted a woman as much as you want me…you seemed so genuine—I believed it…I’m only human after all. So was this all just a conquest? Because now I can tell you’ve become very cold toward me. Why? Because I don’t measure up to the angelic, larger-than-life image you created in your head? That’s too much to measure up to…nobody can do it…especially not with a madman like you.” She said, stepping over to the sink now to pour herself a glass of water from the faucet.

“Is that what Dirk has been filling your head with?” I asked.

“Let’s get this straight…I’m not the girl you break plans with. If you make plans with me…you better damn well keep them.” She said, storming past me and across the living room floor.

“We didn’t have plans though.” I said.

“It was two weeks ago that I asked you to come to Exile with me because my ex-boyfriend Brendan was doing some new material and I didn’t want to sit through it alone…I needed some moral support. The show was last night and I had to sit there alone, as he told them all more secrets about our sex life.” Said Sarah.

“I’m sure your sex life with Brandon was a sacred mystery.” I chuckled, “By the way, did you message D’Amato on Face-Invader?” I asked her point-blank.

As the blood ran away from her face, and she contemplated the ramifications, Sarah tilted her head and spoke in a quieter tone, “He told you that?”


“I did message him.” She finally said with a nod, “But I only did so because I didn’t want to put you in an uncomfortable spot…I can do my own networking.”

“How’s that?”

“I didn’t want it to look a certain way.” She shrugged.

“I’d have given your reel to him.” I said.

“I didn’t want to bother you with all that. So what, he just out of the blue told you that I messaged him?” demanded Sarah.

“He mentioned it in passing.” I said.

“I didn’t mean to offend anyone.” She whimpered, quivering her chin a little and conjuring an innocent expression as I stood there, feeling it was a bad audition.

“He wasn’t offended…he just figured he’d let me know. I would have sent your godam acting reel to him…I understand ambition. But you should know something.” I said, sinking into the cushion beside her.

“Know what?” she asked.

“Well, for starters, I don’t know Kenneth Ward…he just showed up at a party I happened to be at. He’s a lot shorter than you’d think.” I said.


“I’m just saying, I’m not an insider…I’m not even a screenwriter. I’m a method writer…I highly doubt I can advance your career.” I told Sarah.

“Pardon me.” She said, glaring at me as if I was insane, “Could you be any more insulting?”

“I’m not trying to insult you. I’m not slagging you for following your dream—if that’s what your dream is. I’m just saying that I doubt I can be of much help to you.” I shrugged, not wanting to disappoint her.

“I need to go.” She said, standing up and straightening out her impeccably put together ensemble.

“You just got here.” I said.

“I need to be alone right now.” She said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I want to be alone.” She said before storming out and leaving me there on the couch, in the bludgeoned orange room, with the TV still running the news. Christine Rain was on, and she was as usual sharply dressed and flipping her blonde hair casually as she eloquently mocked the governor. As I watched her lips move and the casual way in which she flipped her hair. I wondered what it would be like to know her and to sit across from her and to get the full story. I wondered what it would be like to take a walk through historic downtown with her…or a flea market in Westlake…or a good Silverlake bookstore. I was certain she’d bend my mind with insight being the clever kitty she seemed to be. I then wondered what it would be like to have her bent over my kitchen counter with her panties pulled to one side. I was pulled from this contemplation by the ringing of my phone, which I answered on the second ring.

“Nero here.”

“Was he angry that I messaged him?” inquired Sarah, with street sounds slightly camouflaging her words.

“No Sarah…he wasn’t—he didn’t quite give a fuck.”

“Then why did he mention it?” she asked as if quietly panicked.

“He mentioned it in passing.”

“In what context did he mention my messages?”

“He just said he thought it was odd.”



“Why would that be odd?”

“Ask him, not me.” I said.

“I’m certainly not going to message him now.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it.” I said.


“Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m trying to hail a taxi. I’m going to a séance tonight in Atwater.”

“A séance? Like the sort where a ghost talks to you through a fucking Ouija board?”

“We use a medium.”

“A medium what?”

“Never mind.” Said Sarah.

“I thought you wanted to be alone.”

“I want to be with my people.” She said.

“I see…you mean you don’t want to be with me.” I laughed.

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

“I’m not the one being dramatic. I’m not the one rushing off to a fucking séance in Atwater.”

“I can go where I want.” She said in a pouty tone and hung up.

I looked at the clock, it read 8:34 pm. I turned off the TV, went back to my desk, and started typing.

The Great Cake Heist

Later that week I was invited to Remington’s inherited condo in Palms. Strangely the invite hadn’t come from Remington…rather it had been O’Leary who’d invited me. I didn’t spend much time in Palms. I’d once almost rented a room there, but didn’t quite fit the man-bun, tofu-eating, free-loving, communal vibe of the house. It seemed a strange place to have a meeting, and I assumed because it had been arranged at Remington’s place, the point of the meeting was to discuss the reforming of Gentleman Suitor—an endeavor I had no desire to be part of. Still, I’d driven down to Palms, perhaps because I missed their homely faces, or perhaps because I wanted full disclosure on the aftermath of the mass firing Quaid and his minions had orchestrated. When I arrived late, I found that O’Leary hadn’t started the meeting and in fact had waited for me to arrive. Around the long, oak dining room table sat, Remington, Schroeder, Tyrell, O’Leary, and his pastry-chef mistress Clare.

I took a seat opposite O’Leary who sat at the head of the table, smoking a cigar like a mob boss.

“Are you ever punctual Nero?” asked Remington.

“I didn’t realize I was on the clock here.” I said.

“It’s about common courtesy.” Said Remington.

“I didn’t realize this was so formal. What’s this all about anyway?” I asked.

“Well, because we’ve been waiting so long here…I’ll cut to the chase.” said O’Leary, “The night they fired us all, I was told by the union rep that Quaid had planted a spy in Gentleman Suitor.”

“Right…he told me that too…so fucking what?” I shrugged.

“We found out who the spy was.” Said Schroeder.

“Does anyone really care?” I laughed, leaning forward and lifting the bottle of cognac from the center of the table and pouring myself a few fingers into one of the glasses Remington had placed; ever the cordial host.

“Oh, I care.” Nodded O’Leary, “I care a lot. That job was my bread and butter…I have a wife and two kids to feed.”

“But they’re not your kids…they’re your wife’s kids.” I said before taking a tart sip of the cognac that warmed all the way down, “Doesn’t she get child support from her ex?”

“Point is Nero, we all got axed. Me, you, Tyrell, Schroeder, Remington here…they even got Garrison. Careful Garrison…guy was working the lounge bar for 12 years man…Quaid fired him in a second. You think that’s right? You think that’s just?”

“I was going to quit anyway…that place blew.” I said, addressing them all as they blinked back at me, processing my words in the echo chambers in their minds, “…that place was killing us…you saw the guys from the old guard…they’re falling apart. That was it for me man…I don’t want to be fucking 67 years old and pushing a massive stone up a hill. I’m glad to be out of that shit hole…and if you guys really thought about it—you’d be glad too.”

“Where you going to get paid?” asked O’Leary.

“I’ll get a job somewhere else.” I shrugged.

“Good luck doing that in any hotel in LA that’s worth a fuck. Word is that Quaid sent a letter to all the hotel chiefs in town, mentioning us all by name—he’s a real man of the people ain’t he? I have a friend who works over at the Worthington, that’s not even downtown and she even heard about what happened. You know how word spreads in this town.” Said O’Leary.

“My buddy Carlos works over at the Hotel Woodward; he told me that shit was front page news the next day bro…the next day. Nobody is going to forget about this shit any time soon.” Said Schroeder.

“Yeah, we did some legendary shit. That’s what happens when you do legendary shit. At least we went out on our terms. At least we’re not going to wind up like Jacques.” I said.

“We might be legends, but we’re legends without a clue and now we’re legends without jobs.” Said Schroeder.

“So what do you guys want to do about it?” I sighed.

“I say we strike back.” Said O’Leary.

“Strike back how?” I asked.

“The spy was Jean Francois.”

“Francois? That fat cunt with the sick red beard who works in the kitchen?” I asked.

“You got it.” Nodded O’Leary.

“Okay…” I said, waiting for more, “…so what’s the plan? You wanna egg his car? I mean what are you really going to do to him?”

“You’re familiar with the Gold Ribbon Cake Competition?” asked O’Leary.

“I think I heard something about it…” I shrugged, “It’s some lame contest where every head chef from every hotel in town submits a cake…so what?”

“Yeah well, Jean Francois has won that competition for the Davenport four years in a row.” Said O’Leary, “And I can guaran-fuckin-tee, he ain’t gonna win it this year…in fact, his cake ain’t even gonna make it into the contest this year—not if I have anything to do with it.”

“You diabolical son of a bitch.” I grinned, seeing where O’Leary was going with all of this.

“And then some.” O’Leary winked, “You see, Clare here has just been passed over as head pastry chef…and she’s been passed over for some broad who’s only been working at the Davenport for three months. Three fucking months! Clare has been there for three years…and it’s because Jean Francois promoted a chick he was banging.”

“That’s gotta hurt.” I nodded.

“I wasn’t hurt,” said Clare, “I was fucking livid. Working under that pig-fucker for three years was bad; but being told that I ‘don’t have the stuff’…I want that motherfucker’s head on a stick.”

“I recall being in the break room once and he was sitting at a table by himself…he was listening to dance music on his phone—fucking dance music. He had a coffee and a double chocolate donut…and the bastard had the audacity to slurp the coffee really slow and hard and then to make matters more grotesque, he would smack away at his donut as if he was trying to be as annoying as he could, and when he noticed me glaring at him with utter disdain, he peered up at me…and indeed, there was chocolate caked all around his red beard, as if his mouth had just taken a creamy shit.” I told them all and watched their expressions turn suddenly to inherent disgust.

“Yeah, he’s got to be stopped.” Said O’Leary, “And he will be stopped…by us.”

“But how?” I asked, “We’re barred from the property. We’re not even allowed in the lobby.”

O’Leary only smiled and rose from his chair, disappearing into the next room only to emerge a moment later with a whiteboard. The old chap had not only thought it out in detail…he’d incorporated diagrams and a laser pointer to illustrate his plan, which had been refined down to very exact windows of time, locations of hallway cameras and the timed rounds of security. Simply stated, the following Saturday—the night before the Gold Ribbon cake competition, which was slated to be held in the Davenport’s main ballroom; O’Leary, myself, and Remington would arrive on-site at 3 am exactly, after which Clare, our woman on the inside, would meet us at a rear exit of the hotel…one that happened to be 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, Remington, and I would file our way up a fire escape stairwell to the 2nd floor. From there we would take an unmonitored maintenance hallway to the southwest corner of the floor where we would eventually come to the dishwashing room, which was attached to the kitchen. Because the swinging door of the dishwashing room had a faulty lock and opened with a sturdy push, 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 the kitchen which, unfortunately for O’Leary, was perpetually monitored by a ceiling security camera. Clare however had 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, O’Leary would need to wriggle like a worm across the floor, concealing himself from the camera behind a long row of metal tables that formed the prepping line. Once on the other side of the kitchen, O’Leary was to turn off the lights and Remington was to lead himself and I across the darkened expanse of kitchen…all the way to the cooler in which Jean-François’ award-winning cake was locked, boxed, and wrapped in cellophane.

It was then that O’Leary would meet us at the cooler and use the key Clare had copied so that Remington and I could replace Jean Francois’ cake with one she’d made. Because there were no cameras inside the pastry cooler itself, we could work under the dim glow of its overhead bulb and not be seen. In short—it seemed a foolproof plan. However, it meant carrying Clare’s cake from O’Leary’s car a few blocks away, up the stairs and across the kitchen floor.

“So, Remington and I are carrying a cake this whole time?” I asked O’Leary who took a break in his explanation to guzzle down his whisky and soda.

“Well I can’t lead the way, open doors, slither across a fucking floor, and unlock a pastry cooler with a giant cake in my hands.” he said, “We need you and Remington to carry that cake in and swap it out with the one Francois made.”

“But why swap the cake? Why not just steal the cake?”

“Franky, Franky, Franky…you know as well as I do that revenge must be served chilled and with a diabolical wink.” he said winking at Clare who returned it with a lascivious smile, “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, “Francois and his number two are going to perfect that cake the night before. They’ll do some last-minute touch-ups, the way they always do…then they’re going to put that cake in a fancy 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 at the competition. But the cake that’s going to be unveiled isn’t the cake that Francois made. The cake that will actually be unveiled will be one I’ll make…a cake in the shape of a curled-up turd; a chocolate log if you will.” said Clare, pulling up a sketch she’d done on her wafer-thin phone and handing the phone to me.

“Looks like an actual turd—brilliant work.” I said handing the phone back…realizing the scope suddenly and the public shaming of one of the downtown core’s most esteemed pastry chefs and resident spy. It was going to be bigger than I thought.

I could understand in some way why it meant so much to O’Leary to exact revenge on the man who had essentially gotten us all fired. What I couldn’t quite grasp was how anyone could possibly want to wake up so early on a Sunday morning to attend a cake competition. It had nothing to do with me, however—for O’Leary, Remington, and I would be back at our respective dwellings by 4 am—give or take and as the great cake heist was being realized by Jean Francois, we’d all be sleeping sweet dreams. The entire timeline O’Leary had estimated would take no longer than a half hour, starting with Clare granting us access to the alleyway entrance at 3 am. According to O’Leary, we’d be long gone by the time the first kitchen staff arrived—which Clare specified would be 4 am at the very earliest. We had a one-hour window to get the job done—and to me, it seemed reasonable.

Indeed, when Saturday night rolled around, I’d spent most of it sitting in my apartment, typing away at the novel. I’d had plans to have dinner and beachside drinks in Santa Monica with Sarah, who’d at the last minute, changed our plans, demanding that I accompany her to a masquerade ball downtown. I’d confessed to her that though she was designed for masquerade balls, I wasn’t the masquerade ball sort of chap. Having expected her to stick to our original plan, I wasn’t quite surprised when she had a quiet tantrum and went MIA. Indeed, I’d lost track of time after that, sailing deep into a sea, green as an olive skin, chiseling away at the novel for a number of hours.

When the time came to meet my cohorts, I ventured out into the night, which was muggy and still warm from the long-gone afternoon sun that had baked a day’s worth of SoCal heat into the asphalt, rooftop shingles, and the upholstery of my van. When I arrived at the meeting place, I found O’Leary and Remington dressed in black, waiting for 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. After greeting me, O’Leary opened the trunk of his car, and the dim bulb illuminated a large powder blue cake box wrapped in cellophane. As we made our way through schools of skid-row walking dead carefully balancing the cake that was much heavier and larger than I’d expected, I glanced back at my van, hoping she would still be there by the time I returned to her—it was 2:45 am. By the time we made it to the specified alleyway door, it was 2:56 am. We were four minutes early.

As we waited for the door to open, I doubted it would. 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 apartment, doing some deep cleaning and rearranging for my big meeting with D’Amato and Warner Diamond. However, I was there, in the darkened crack-head alleyway beside a rat-infested dumpster with O’Leary and Remington, carefully balancing a decoy cake and wondering why the fuck O’Leary was putting on a ski mask.

“What’s with that?” I asked of the ski mask.

“You didn’t bring one?” He asked me.

“Not fucking really.” I laughed.

“I was under the assumption that you’d plotted a course that avoided all cameras.” Said Remington, who’d also not brought a ski mask.

Just then, the door clicked open, and from behind it emerged Clare. She stepped up to O’Leary and slithered her tongue through the mouth hole in his ski mask.

Remington rolled his eyes, “Can we please move along…this cake isn’t getting any fucking lighter.”

“Who the hell are you guys—the midnight cleaners?” Clare asked very seriously before breaking out into a wheezy chuckle a moment later.

Indeed, as planned, she’d let us in promptly at 3 am…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 Clare in the fire escape stairwell, she handed O’Leary her keys and again stepped up to him and slid her tongue through the mouth-hole in his mask.

“Can we move along please! I have a job interview at the Wentworth tomorrow morning.” hissed Remington, agitated perhaps by fatigue.

“What’s the matter Remy? Past your bedtime?” said O’Leary, “Relax…it’s already tomorrow morning.”

Before Clare disappeared through the doorway, she offered an ominous warning; Beckman was on duty—the militant night watchman who used to work as a mall cop in Torrance before he’d earned his big break at the Davenport as their most attentive watchdog. Beckman was said to be every bit as mean as any mall cop could get, suffering from little man’s syndrome and all.

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.

Remington led the way through the dark and we made it to the cooler a few moments later. The cake was starting to feel quite heavy in my hands and as O’Leary used Clare’s key to open the lock hanging upside down from the cooler latch, Remington and I wasted no time stepping 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.

Once we’d made the swap, Remington 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. Because the women in housekeeping wouldn’t be coming in that morning, O’Leary led Remington and me to a large linen chute at the end of the hallway. He opened the sliding metal door and Remington and I fed Jean Francois’ actual cake into the chute, which ate it with a silent gulp. Sliding the chute door closed, O’Leary froze, peering over our shoulders, his eyes wide behind the holes in his ski mask. Following his line of sight, Remington and I spun around and saw a short pudgy man clad in black fatigues with a silver mall cop badge glinting from his chest storming toward us and issuing a sudden command to halt.

Halting just then wasn’t an option however—and neither was our meticulously planned exit strategy. All at once, O’Leary invoked his emergency plan, “Split up!” he hollered, before bolting further down the hallway instead of ducking into the stairwell as planned. I opted for the stairwell, assuming there was a fifty-fifty chance of Beckman going after me or O’Leary. It seemed I’d played the odds wrong however, and behind Remington’s clacking footsteps at my heels that rapidly descended the stairwell, I heard Beckman again make the call for us to halt. I took the first door and sprinted out across a vast expanse of plush carpet—I was in the upper lobby, which at that hour was ghostly and abandoned, except for a man vacuuming the carpet. Humming along to the tune playing on his headphones, the man didn’t notice me sprinting by. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw neither Remington nor Beckman behind me; Beckman had gone after Remington, who’d kept descending the stairs. I slowed my strides as I came to the grand escalator. I stopped short however not wanting to cross Beckman’s path in the lower lobby. Crouching behind a plant situated between the escalators, I peered carefully through the waxy tropical leaves and saw that the coast was clear. Beyond the grand rock fountain in the center of the lower lobby was the front desk, behind which three attendants stood, graveyard-shift-bored and waiting for the next check-in. In my mind, I devised the best plan of action, assuming it would be smart to go for broke, rise from my crouching spot and sprint down the escalator, across the lower lobby, and through the tall oak doors, out into the anonymity of night.

I was about to make my mad dash when I noticed a couple making their way through the tall oak doors and across the lower lobby carpet. The man was tall, skinny, and gaunt and he reminded me of the patients in a plague documentary I’d once seen and I did a double take when I recognized him. He was dressed in a frilly masquerade ball outfit as was the woman he was with. The shock ran through me like a seismic tremor when I realized the man was indeed Dirk and the lithe catlike woman beneath his arm was none other than Sarah Lassiter.

I remained crouched behind the synthetic plant as I watched them walk, entwined like lovers, across the lobby, and to the gold elevator doors. Sarah pressed the small button which stayed illuminated and with a half pirouette, she stepped into Dirk’s arms, offering him a deep warm hug. They stood like this until the gold doors parted, at which point, Sarah broke their embrace and led Dirk by the hand into the carpeted confines of the elevator.

I was slightly dumbfounded, but not entirely; I’d had my suspicions about Sarah and her questionable suitors from the start. Sarah had secrets as most people do, but I got the feeling that she kept her secrets for the sake of having secrets…in an attempt to perpetuate her own mystery. There had been a time when I’d wanted all her secrets…when I’d obsessed about them, questioning the who and the where and the what. Witnessing it firsthand, from behind a waxy tropical plant now, her secret seemed self-indulgent and steeped with sleaze. Could it be that high society Sarah was only a spoiled sleaze from the Palisades? It seemed to measure up. What’s more, I had to wonder about the times I’d fucked her and whether or not the residue of Dirk-disease was lurking within her…perhaps it was vice versa on occasion, which would mean that Dirk, knowing of my so-called relationship with Sarah would obviously not have minded. The notion filled me with a quiet panic, which ebbed once I reminded myself that my STD tests had all come back negative. Still, what I was certainly positive of was the fact that Sarah Lassiter was a liability.

Gathering my faculties, I stood up and a moment later bolted down the escalator, across the lobby, and through the tall oak doors, pushing my way past the bellman and into the warm night beyond it. When I was outside and the coast was clear, I headed for my van which entailed walking around the side of the Davenport. As I strolled casually, I lit up a blunt and blew a plume of smoke skyward, shaking my head at the sheer coincidences that seemed to surround Sarah Lassiter. Or perhaps none of it was a coincidence. Perhaps all along it had been my beloved LA maneuvering me through a succession of coincidences which all led to a great epiphany and perhaps the unraveling of a decades long mystery. Perhaps LA was trying to offer me the closure I for some reason required. I was lost in these thoughts when I noticed O’Leary and Remington sprinting hard across the cracked Davenport parking lot, dodging wayward and wandering crackheads as they headed toward me.

“Franky boy!” hollered O’Leary as he sprinted, “He’s hot on our trail…boot it.”

Peering over his shoulder and noticing Beckman not far behind, I fell into step with O’Leary and Remington, not bothering to remove the blunt from my lips. Though I thought the jurisdictional motivation of our pursuing rent-a-cop would carry only to the perimeter of Davenport property; to my astonishment, Beckman remained in hot pursuit for several blocks, demanding that we stop and assuring us that we were in violation of trespassing laws. Though he had stamina, he had short legs and so didn’t have the speed; the longer we ran, the further away his voice became. We were nearing the jewelry district when he finally abandoned the chase and stood on a corner hollering at us across the intersection that was bustling with after-hours college-age drinkers, stone-cold killers, meth-head junkies looking for another fix, and shadowy homeless figures, peeking out at us from their tents and cardboard boxes.

When we were a safe distance away and in the clear, we took solace on the grand steps of a darkened office building. O’Leary coughed for a while, lying on his back and chuckling toward the dome of night that was starting to drain into the approaching dawn.

“That was fun as fuck.” O’Leary laughed.

“That was more arduous than swimming the English Channel.” Said Remington, producing a folded napkin and dabbing away the perspiration from his forehead.

“You swam the English Channel?” asked O’Leary.

“No you ninny…it’s a figure of speech.” Laughed Remington, slightly high from the rush of being chased.

“Do you think that rent-a-cop made us?” I asked.

“No way in hell. We were too far down the hall for him to recognize faces. To him, we were three suspicious-looking people down a dark hallway. He’ll never put together what we were up to tonight.” O’Leary assured, “And if he does, it will be too late by that time.”

I slumped down on the concrete steps, leaning against the railing and peering up into the sky, where stars could still be seen. The sun would be ablaze soon, and the streets would start to swelter; another day in paradise. “I wish I could see the look on the bastard’s face.” I said.

“You’ll get the chance. Clare is going to film it all on her phone.” Laughed O’Leary.

Looking at my watch I saw it was 3:45 am. We’d gotten it done with 15 minutes to spare.

Out Here in the Middle of Infinity

Indeed, the only thing better for a man than breaking the shackles of romantic obsession—is having one’s object of obsession break the shackles for you. Romantic obsession is the worst type of obsession—especially when one is obsessed with ghosts. It had been a sincere shame about Sarah Lassiter who wound up being so anticlimactic after such a grand build-up. In the shambles of fallout, I noticed a crystalline clarity slowly but surely returning to me, one that dispelled the dopamine-based sparkle around Sarah. 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 powder was dry…and my fiery heart was on the same proverbial page as my writing, rather than being distracted by beautiful ghosts.

I decided to spend a week existing in my beloved campervan, parked on the ocean’s edge, with the incense blowing in the sea breeze and the rolling crash of the waves mesmerizing me as I leaned back on a pile of cushions, typing away without anywhere else to be and nothing else to distract me. With my phone turned off, I spent the sun-soaked days moving between my novel and the screenplay rewrites, feeling that I was entirely locked into a zone of razor wit, haunting dialogue, and cutting psychological commentary. I would break, only to roam the aisles of Ralph’s or walk down to Malibu Lagoon, always returning to the creative confines of my campervan, for another stick of coconut incense and a hit of Emerald Dream. Often I’d fire up the alcohol stove and fry up a tender slab of steak in the small pan or boil up some couscous and vegetables in the small pot I kept on hand. At night, I’d find a quiet street, and have my Abraham Lincoln-style bath in the plastic container tub, after which I’d turn on the laptop and watch vintage cinema. Smoking it copiously, eating oranges, and sipping soda water with the blackout curtains on, I felt like a man careening aimlessly through the universe in an escape pod and I adored the waywardness of my existence during that week, completely cut off from the internet, my phone, the social circuit I maintained. It could be said that I was completely content to exist solely in the pages of my work.

Realistically, I assumed Sarah Lassiter would return to her wack-pack of pampered dilettantes and continue making the rounds with the likes of diseased Dirk and who knew who else. Indeed dear reader, it struck me as utterly amazing and perhaps slightly eerie how I’d gone from desiring Sarah in every atom of my body, mind, and soul, to feeling nothing but a deep and morose disappointment in how much she differed from the portrait I’d painted of her in my mind. Perhaps this was an easy achievement being that Sarah had absolutely nothing to do with the original Laura Lassater. I may just as well have picked a woman off the street, or from a lineup at the bank, or from the Ralph’s produce section. They’d all have as little in common with Laura as Sarah did. One consonant and a vowel had made all the difference—the difference between Sarah Lassiter and Sara Lassater. Having never actually seen Laura’s or Sara’s full name in writing, it was an honest mistake, however costly, and it was finally pointed out by Cheryl Bloom, a blast from the distant past who’d kept in touch with me through letters over the years. She’d been present during the red-letter days of the late 1990s and had known both Lassater sisters. Upon hearing that I’d discovered Sarah, she’d set me straight, citing the difference in spelling and also citing my utter madness in transferring all files of my infatuation with Laura, onto a woman who was in no way shape, or form related to her. “Classic Nero.” She’d laughed and once she’d checked out Sarah Lassiter’s page, out of sheer curiosity, she’d voiced her surprise, citing that she’d expected something else…taking into consideration Laura’s eloquent beauty. She’d subsequently cited Sarah as being just some chick in vintage makeup and attire. She’d then forwarded me the address of a website belonging to Laura’s actual sister; for reference, I suppose…or perhaps contrast. I’d not visited the page immediately however, not wanting to inadvertently transfer the files onto Laura’s actual sister—one mistake had been ample. Still, curiosity got the better of me perhaps a week later, and one evening I’d clicked on the link sent to me by Cheryl Bloom labeled ‘the real Sarah’.

Immediately I saw how wrong I’d been to spot a resemblance of Laura in word-slam-Sarah. Looking at the real Sarah’s photos, I recalled what Laura had actually looked like. It seemed that Laura’s image had faded over the years and in my mind had taken on inaccurate nuances. Looking at the real Sarah Lassiter, I saw the fine resemblance with her sister and it brought Laura’s face back to me in technicolor. I scrolled through her photos, finding no reference to Laura, aside from the haunting nuances in the contours of Sarah’s face. She was married now, with kids and a Spanish husband, living in Pamplona; she’d gotten herself some distance from her old life it seemed.

Strangely I felt nothing for Sarah Lassater…no desire to contact her, no dark curiosity about her inner workings, no interest whatsoever, which dear reader, only conjured a number of questions regarding word-slam-Sarah. Would she have flooded me in such a way if I’d found her under different circumstances? If I’d run into her in the market? Or been introduced to her in some seedy Hollywood tavern? I was certain that on her own, without the limerent glimmer afforded her by way of mistaken identity; I’d have not cannonballed into her deep end. However, one never knew—only my fiery heart knew; there was no point in trying to figure it out. One cannot change the past.

I found it strange that my obsession for Sarah Lassiter was put into perspective one afternoon by good old Cheryl Bloom…who now lived in Indiana with three teenage kids and a husband she no longer loved; my dark confession would be safe with her, mainly because despite her amusement, she understood those long-lost vermillion 1990s sunsets and the magnificent madness we’d all been born into.

The following Saturday, I was invited to Walsh’s place and was ushered into the living room by Monica—who always seemed genuinely happy to see me. Aside from Monica and Walsh, there were only four other people there. There was Alicia Melbourne, who’d been introduced to me before as a costume designer. There was Leslie Howe, who worked in the set-deck department at San Andreas pictures, and there was Alexandra Sims who worked as a production manager on a daytime talk show out of Burbank. With her was her assistant, who was introduced to me simply as Katie. Once I was settled in one of Walsh’s leather couches, Sims and Katie continued their conversation.

“Okay, it’s very important that you get this right Katie…because I don’t want Lex wine coolers. I want Orchard Valley cherry champagne. Got it?”

“Got it.” said Katie with a coy grin.

“Okay, as long as it’s understood that I won’t drink Lex wine coolers…I’d hate for you to make a trip all the way to the liquor store for nothing dear.” Sims said in a condescending tone.

Katie only peered back at me, offering a nod at my slightly astonished stare. Indeed, she was stunning—another one of God’s amazing works. There wasn’t a thing about her that didn’t immediately evoke a certain chivalry in me…which wasn’t a rarity, but something that usually required a bit of earning. She wore her long lustrous brunette hair in a side ponytail. She wore minimal makeup, but what she did wear was applied in the right places. Her breasts were exotic and her slender waist accentuated her shapely hips and voluptuous rear which struck me with a slight bit of awe. Though I realized what tumbled out of it regularly, it somehow had me spellbound. I’d seen many rears, in fact, they were everywhere in Hollywood, wagging by in painted-on jeans and short shorts, held snug in tight skirts, yoga pants, business class slacks, and certainly bikini bottoms. There was no shortage of luscious female behinds in Hollywood to intoxicate a man’s senses…but Katie’s was perhaps the most perfect I’d seen and the jeans she wore seemed to suggest that she knew so. Her energy was soft and feminine and her skin a light shade of caramel. Her smile peeled away her lips, so her perfectly placed and perfectly white teeth were revealed as she smiled at Walsh who offered to make the alcohol run in Katie’s place.

“I’m fine.” Assured Katie as Walsh approached me and extended his 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?”

“What?” I said, still spellbound by Katie.

“Do we have a problem Houston?” he asked snapping his fingers in front of my face, “Pictionary…do you want to join us?”

“I’ll be honest with you old chap—Pictionary isn’t my game.” I said as I watched Katie wrap herself in a black mini-leather jacket.

“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 you get what I’ve asked for. For the record—let it be known…Orchard Valley Cherry Champagne…or Orchard Valley Pear Champagne—either of those is fine with me.” said pretentious Alexandra Sims, her ever-present irritation mildly flaring her words.

“Well then…I should go.” smiled Katie moving toward the door.

“There’s a liquor store at the bottom of the hill—in a strip mall.” I interjected, causing both women to look at me.

“Monica babe…do you want something? Perhaps a Cherry Champagne?” asked Walsh.

“I think I’d rather drink gross light beer than cherry champagne.” Monica weighed in from her place on a red leather couch.

“Gross light beer it is.” said Katie, “Anything else…for anyone?”

“I suppose I’d like some strong beer…there’s a certain brand I like though. Perhaps I’ll chaperone…” I intervened, “…to lend a hand.”

“I don’t really 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 think I should really go with her…in case of marauders.” I said, raising my brows to offer him a message, which he caught immediately.

“Ok…well, you kids have fun out there…be careful…don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” He said.

Katie only nodded and headed for the door. 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.

“It’s fine…I just don’t know why you would want to waste your time.” 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.

“Waste my time?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Okay,” I said, “am I missing something here? Why all the clandestine?”

“How can you even ask me that?” she said stepping forward and crossing her slender arms under her breasts that were held snugly in her Stone Roses t-shirt.

“Ask you what?” I said, “Cool shirt by the way.”

“You’re telling me you don’t remember the last time? At the Dresden?” she asked.

“The Dresden…” I pondered, letting my eyes brush over the silhouette of her head. There was a cloudy association somewhere in my mind, perhaps a few moments of clarity coupled with the quiet alarm of having been so happily drunk that the events were fragmented and many of them in fact missing.

“Oh boy…what did I say?” I sighed.

“You mean you don’t remember?” she asked.

“I say shit all the time that I don’t remember.” I told her.

“You told me I looked like a thrift store, knock-off version of 1980s Meg Tilly. As if I should be set out on a discount shelf. Ring a bell?” she asked.

“What part about that is insulting? Sounds like a compliment to me.” I said.

“Thrift store?” Said Katie.

“But I thought thrift stores are where all the cool kids shop.” I said.

“Don’t try to wriggle out of what you said.” Said Katie.

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 slap my face or simply break out in a bout of laughter. Both energies seemed to exist simultaneously behind her intense gaze.

“Well, if I was able to go back in time and do a revision on that chapter, I’d change knock-off to knock-out.” I shrugged.

“And you’re going to try and sweet talk me now?” she asked with a perplexed expression.

“Probably…but if it’s true, then so what?” I said and took a couple of steps forward, holding her in a gaze of my own and addressing her directly. Her eyes dropped, and her lashes fluttered, perhaps a bit shy of my words, recognizing in my voice a tone of authenticity.

“You’re just trying to wriggle out of it now.” she nearly whispered as she clicked her eyes back up at me.

“But I’m not.” I said, “Why are you so suspicious?”

“It’s not suspicious…I just think you’re feeding me lines now.”

“I’m not.” I said.

Katie just stood there, offering a small unconvinced shrug.

I leaned in slow enough for her to pull her head back if she so wished. However, to my astonishment, she didn’t, and as I kissed her, wondering in the back of my mind if she was prone to cold sores, her hand came around the back of my neck and pulled my lips harder against hers. Her gum was Winter Mint and we kissed like this for a while, in the flickering candlelight of the narrow hallway, until a volley of laughter went up from the chattering group in the next room.

“What are you doing?” she finally asked.

“You have to ask?”

“We should go.” she said, pivoting with her arms still crossed, “I thought we might ride bikes…I’ve been drinking, and I can tell you have been too. I don’t condone drunk driving.”

“I concur.” I said.

We continued down the hall until we came to a darker hallway.

“Why does Lindsay keep her side of the house so poorly lit?” I asked.

“She doesn’t like roamers I assume.” Said Katie.

The flick of her pocket lighter splintered a spark into a solid flame that illuminated the soft curves of her face, setting two specks of light aglow in each of her dark eyes.

“Which way is the garage?” she asked, widening her eyes before turning and heading down the left-leading hallway.

“No idea.” I shrugged.

I followed in the darkness behind her, in the trail of her floral 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 Beemer, 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.

“I don’t think we can shift gears with these.” Katie said of the designer bikes leaning against the wall.

I produced a blunt from a half-full pack of Black & Mild cigarillos and lit it up, “Then we walk them back up the hill.” I said, puffing from it hard. I handed it to Katie who only grinned and rolled her eyes.

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 somehow found the switch to a small headlight 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 streetlamps.

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, rolling by the gates of other homes populated by wealthy fat cats 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. Thank God for art. 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 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 treetops in the distance; Malibu nights.

“There’s a strip mall just beyond that bend, I think.” said Katie, coasting smoothly with her long brunette hair blowing in the wind and wafting back at me a flowery scent.

“So where you from Katie?” I asked.

“I grew up in Connecticut.” she said, smiling back at me from the cushioned perch of her box spring bicycle seat.

“Can you spell that?” I asked.

“Connect…i…cut.” She said with a wry grin.

“What was that like?” I asked her, watching the streetlights caress her smooth face in soft moving shadows.

“They’re all academics who create their own moral universes and Elizabethan dramas.” Said Katie.

“Just like in a John Updike novel.” I said.

“I met Updike when I was a kid, actually.” Said Katie.

“How did that happen?” I asked.

“He knew my father…my father worked in publishing before he retired.” Said Katie.

“Wow, a child of intellectual privilege huh?”

“I suppose to some degree. But you know, these balding, middle-aged professor types who dress in cardigans and can site every footnote…they’re terribly repressed.” Said Katie.

“Is that so?”

“It is so…one of my professors—this very type of man—he was willing to ruin his marriage over me…” said Katie.

“A summer fling or a life-altering obsession?”

“It was beyond obsession…he kept showing up at my work and calling me on the phone…leaving love notes on my car. He hired a P.I. to follow me around and take photos of me and report back to him where I went and who I was with—even what I ate. I found that he bugged the apartment I shared with a roommate.” Said Katie, “He had both our rooms bugged…the kitchen, the living room, I even found one of the devices in the bathroom.”

“Shit.” I said.

“I wondered if he was trying to hear my roommate and I going pee.” Laughed Katie, “But seriously…I should never have slept with him. I knew better but did it anyway.”


“I don’t know…I think I just felt bad for him.” She said, “The last straw came one night when I was down the road having egg rolls with some friends. He broke into my apartment and stole my journals…that’s all that was missing; my journals…he always had to know everything.”

“Psycho boy…” I sighed, feeling a tad better about the lengths I’d gone to in search of Sarah Lassiter. I hadn’t even considered planting bugs, “So what did you do after that?”

“I moved out here…to LA.” Katie said.

“What a town huh?” I sighed.

“It’s like a carnival out in the desert…I’m still trying to figure out if it’s a mirage.”

There was a strip mall around the bend and its lights came into view suddenly from behind a giant wall of hedges. Mostly the mall 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.

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 the Orchard Valley Cherry champagne and a six-pack of German-brewed strong beer for myself. As I sauntered toward the cashier, 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, 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.

“Sorry, you’re driving me crazy.” I whispered in her ear, before breaking out in laughter, “I think I’m going to bug your bathroom so I can hear your piss splashing.”

“Well.” Katie giggled, “That’s probably what he wanted…why else would someone bug a bathroom?”

“I love the smell of your hair—what the hell are you doing to me? Did you cast a spell on me?” I asked her, holding her now at arm’s length, peering at her suspiciously.

“The spell is my body wash…it’s called Cleopatricide—a friend of mine gave it to me for my birthday.”

“Daddy issues?” I smiled.

“No…I get along swimmingly with my daddy. It’s my mom I don’t quite understand.” Said Katie.

“Mommy melancholy?”

“She buys outfits that color coordinate with her convertible—which happens to be blue.” Said Katie.

“Sassy.” I said, “You know this song?”

Katie listened for a moment, “Something is familiar about it.”

“Let me ask you a question; would you become a vampire if you had the chance?” I asked.

“An actual vampire?”


“Why would I want to do that?”

“Why not? Imagine it—we could walk the earth forever and never get old and never get sick and never die. We could live everywhere…do everything…we could watch the sun supernova.”

“Don’t you think you’d eventually get bored?” she asked absently, still scanning the display for something that suited her.

“Ah, where’s the romance?” I whined, letting go of her waist as the cashier smiled, setting the bottles in a doubled white plastic bag that bared Pablo’s liquor and off-sale in red and blue lettering.

Katie looked at me squarely suddenly, squinting her caramel eyes. “You think living forever and sucking people’s blood is 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? Technically I work for him.” 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.

“Why are you asking me about vampires?” she inquired, her tongue beckoning me, peeking slightly through the dark pink hollow between her perfectly set rows of porcelain-white teeth.

“I don’t know…maybe it’s this song.” I said, referring to Third Eye Blind’s I Want You, echoing in a dreamy way from the cashier’s ghetto blaster, “Do you really work for Ashcroft?”

“Well, he’s the boss of someone who is the boss of someone else, who is the boss of my boss…so, technically…I work for Ashcroft.”

“Well, you ever see him standing in direct sunlight?” I asked.

As we waited for the cashier to make change, Katie told me about the big man’s wife, Naomi Ashcroft. She explained to me how she’d gone over to drop off a mystery parcel and had wound up spending the afternoon on a waterfront condo sofa in Marina Del Rey, helping Naomi pick out wallpaper patterns for her granddaughter’s 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 many martinis, insulted her guests, and retched half-chewed 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; government officials, aeronautics engineers, brain surgeons, intelligence agents, commercial airline pilots…they were all just people; people who insulted their employees and retched martini olives into bathroom sinks.

Katie was grabbing my arm suddenly, pointing toward the barred window with the flashing neon sign. When I followed her line of sight, I noticed two dregs making off with Walsh’s collector bicycles. One 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, “I don’t believe it.”

I stood for a moment, still perplexed, still wrapping my mind around the audacity it took to steal bikes from outside of a Malibu off-sale. 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 our double-bagged booze, threw down a fifty, and told the cashier 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 the parking lot, she was liable to topple over in one of the many potholes and if she actually did catch up to 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 bicycle jackers bunny-hopping the curb running the perimeter of the parking lot. Over the pounding of my vans, I could make out Katie’s distant hollering as she frantically waved her arms, as if flagging an SOS to a 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 was 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, I saw that the two thieves were pinned to the asphalt across the white parking stall lines, 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 Lakers jersey. The blip crackle of a police radio confirmed the men were cops. It seemed they were a plainclothes 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 alongside us for a long while as Katie and I dissected the event, trying to find a possible reason for committing such petty theft. Eventually, I uncorked the cherry 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 tart bubbles.

“Do you think we should be drinking Alexandra’s cherry champagne?” asked Katie.

“Of course.” I assured, peering up into the night sky which sparkled dimly with constellations whose names I didn’t know.

“It doesn’t really taste like cherry.” Said Katie after taking the bottle in hand and tipping back a small sip.

“The people who built this town are all dead now. This had all been theirs at one point…and now it’s ours. Isn’t it the ultimate joke—that we’re all just passing through?” I said.

“I think it’s wonderful.” said Katie, before taking another haul of the cherry champagne, “Even the planets have each other to keep from getting lonely out here in the middle of infinity.”

“It’s true…we really are floating out here in the middle of infinity.” I said, the notion sending an eerie chill through me.

“It’s not all darkness though.” Katie assured, turning toward the lamplight slightly so the crucifix around her neck caught the light in a brilliant glint of gold, “There are barbecues, and Sunday afternoons at the beach…there’s surprise birthday parties and magnificent electrical storms…there’s cherry champagne.” She said with a giggle, tilting her head and peering at me under the streetlamp as she handed me the bottle.

We wound up walking the bikes all the way back up the hill that led to Walsh’s place and handing the bottle back and forth until it was empty. As we walked the incline casually, Katie told me more about Connecticut and the old house she’d grown up in, which pulled me back into a safe orbit, and by the time we were back at Walsh’s place, I was hopelessly adaptable.

When we returned to the living room, there were a few more people present, all of whom Katie told about the turn of events at Pablo’s off-sale. Sims who could have cared less, made a scene of concern, approaching Katie and looking her over as if for a scuffed knee or elbow, asking her in a dramatic tone if she was ok—then directly after complaining that we hadn’t brought her any cherry champagne. Walsh on the other hand was suspicious, speculating aloud that perhaps the reason we’d taken so long to return was that we’d been ‘humping in some bushes’, which earned him an elbow nudge from Monica.

As the women gasped and discussed 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 waved it off with a grin before leading the way to the backyard, which overlooked the ocean and the stretch of beachfront homes which dotted the shore with their tiny lights. On the deck speakers, Buffalo Tom’s Taillights Fade played, coloring the night with a certain 1990s longing. We stood there smoking a joint for a while, admiring the majesty of it all as an unseen helicopter chopped its 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’s got something early with Alexandra.”

“I’m gonna stay.” I said.

“Great idea…it’s too long a drive back to east Hollywood this time of night. Anyway man, if you see a UFO, don’t draw attention to yourself…I’m going back in. Have you ever felt that you couldn’t stand to be apart from a woman for more than five minutes?” he asked.

“Sounds like you’re whipped old chap.” I said, wondering if guys like me were ever allowed to experience such a sensation, or if guys like me were made too tough.

“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. She was dressed in a swimsuit; her long dark hair was 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 cars that were all on their way to somewhere, “I want to get in a swim before bed.”

“You’re killing me with that bikini.” I said, turning to her.

“Is it too loud?” she grinned.

“It’s just right.” I said.

“What a night.” said Katie averting her pretty eyes and smiling bashfully as she chewed the apple slowly. She took another bite of the apple and wiped her mouth off. She glanced at me and chewed, trying to contain her smile. She hadn’t offered me a bite of her apple and so I took it in hand and studied it for a moment before biting into it.

“It’s not poison, in case you’re wondering.” she laughed.

“Good to know.” I said, savoring the crispy juiciness, “That bikini suits you.”

“I got it for fifty percent off at this shop in Westlake Village.” Said Katie.

“Maybe after your swim, I can take it a hundred percent off.” I suggested.

“I wonder how much you actually mean the things you say to me.” She grinned, offering me a sideways glance.

“Does it bother you when I’m so honest with you?” I asked.

“No,” she shrugged, “I just wonder in the back of my head if it’s just sweet talk, and if I kissed you I’d be wondering if you meant any of it or if I was just some girl you met tonight and wanted to sweet talk.” she confessed.

“I say what I mean, and I do what I say—I call it like I see it. Maybe my words aren’t the best approach…I guess maybe I should use a different approach.” I said.

“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 into the water, 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. 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 me 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 realizing my trusty flip phone was weighing in my back pocket. Oh well.

The Law of Retraction

I woke up the next day wrapped up in Katie, her arms, her legs, her hair, and her Cleopatricide body wash. The night before, after she’d showered off the chlorine pool water, she’d offered me a place beside her in the only spare bed available on Walsh’s side of the Malibu estate. Though we hadn’t fucked, I felt that we may just as well have, for we’d slept entwined all night, like lovers. When the sun became too bright through the white curtains, Katie sat up and grinned down at me, her hair hanging over her face slightly.

“You talk in your sleep.” She said.

“What did I say?” I asked.

“I don’t know…something about a place called Psycho City.” She giggled, “Today seems like a great morning for pancakes, doesn’t it?”

“Pancakes would be art right now…along with some vintage cartoons.”

“They would.” Said Katie.

“Why don’t we go down to the pier and smoke one up. Maybe I can win you a teddy bear. I’m feeling chivalrous and lucky.”

“You know, I’ve never had a boy win a teddy bear for me before.” She confessed, with a nod, as if the notion suddenly occurred to her as intriguing, “But, I have to catch a silly plane in a few hours.”

“A plane to where?” I asked.

“I didn’t tell you?” Said Katie, “That’s why I stayed here last night. I’m flying to London with Alexandra—where she goes, I go.”

“London Ontario?”

“London England.” She giggled.

“What? That’s on the other side of the world. How long are you going for?” I asked.

“A few weeks, maybe a month.” Katie shrugged, peering down at me, “Is that going to be a problem for you?”

“Shit…you mean I have to wait a bunch of weeks to see you again?” I asked with a deflating sigh.

“Well, you know what they say—good things come to those who wait.” she said.

“But I was having such a great time with you.” I said as Katie peered out at the sea.

“I know…and we will again—when I get back. It’s so beautiful at the ocean’s edge.”

Her words trailed off into the deep blue that stretched on forever outside the window, where the tide crashed against the sandy shores with beautiful violence, “What are you thinking?” She asked me as I looked at her.

“What if all of that beauty wasn’t created for us…what if we were created for it…as if nature had demanded an audience for its spectacular light shows…so we might applaud for an encore and reflect it in our art?”

Katie only nodded and peered out the window, toward the horizon line between the ocean and sky that was blurred by a layer of mist. Though she didn’t have time to go to the Pier, she did have time for some pancakes, and we drove into Santa Monica and found a place with nice clean tablecloths and fresh maple syrup. The visit was too short though, and it seemed too soon to be driving back up the PCH to Walsh’s place…where I dropped Katie off, leaving her standing at the gates waving to me; it didn’t feel like a goodbye though.

I headed back to east Hollywood, where my novel awaited. It was a novel day, rather than a screenplay day and I longed to pour it out all over the page, my endearment for Los Angeles and the planetary reality of one’s own evolution. One day the oceans would swallow it all up and I was getting my fill before the waters came. My phone hadn’t resuscitated itself after being soaked in Walsh’s pool and I didn’t quite mind. After a few bowls of Emerald Dream and an ice-cold beer, I got to work on the novel. After perhaps an hour, the buzzer sounded, and I answered it.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“Sarah.” She said, and I buzzed her in and flopped down on the couch, rubbing my temples.

She was dressed like Holly Golightly—an unfair play. She sipped an iced mocha and smelled of coconut sunscreen. She’d hit on every tiny detail of her appearance so that her bangles matched her nail polish, and her bag matched her shoes. She was a designer hipster from Pacific Palisades who pooped chocolate truffles, peed gin and tonic, and who could afford to be so fashionably aloof. We sat on my balcony for a while, watching the cars cruise up and down Vermont. We sat like this for some time.

“You know, I love this town. No matter what they say about her…I love who she is deep down…under the cracked asphalt and the grime…I think I recognize her from a past life.” I said.

“Where have you been? You’ve been MIA for days.” she said, “Last night your phone went straight to voicemail. You know, I came by a few times.”

“You came by?”

“I came by. Then I called. Then I buzzed. I saw some friends and called you again. When you didn’t answer I came back quite late…perhaps after 2 am. I buzzed you again, but you weren’t here. I saw that your van wasn’t here either. So where do you go when you don’t come home at night?” She asked, removing her large Audrey Hepburn shades, and peering at me, as if through a microscope.

“I don’t even know why you’re asking…you don’t really care.” I said.

“Then why am I asking?”

“I suppose you must have your reasons.” I said.

“Why are you being so mysterious?”

“Mysterious,” I chuckle, “I was at Walsh’s place last night.” I said, “And any other night I’m not here I’m camping out in my van writing somewhere—usually in Santa Monica.”

“Why do you do that? You have a perfectly liveable apartment?” asked Sarah.

“The solitude, I guess.” I shrugged.

“Was it a social call or business?” inquired Sarah.

“Walsh? He invited me over for Pictionary.”

“And you didn’t think of inviting the woman you’re dating?” asked Sarah, grinning and peering off toward the downtown skyline that reflected the vermilion sunset like fiery obelisks, which she squinted against, “Are you seeing someone else?”

“What do you care?” I asked, “I’m not by the way, but what the fuck do you care? You don’t care about me. Dirk is your man…but he’s a bad bet because the plague is going to eat him soon and then you’ll be alone.”

“Very funny. Anyway, your actions show that you’re not only unintuitive but you’re also unempathetic. You think you can just fuck with people like that? Pull them into your twisted world, shower them with passion, then suddenly go cold? Turn your back…move on to the next obsession?” demanded Sarah, still wearing her grin, “Is that what you are, a serial obsesser?”

“Look, I know the score with you, Palisades Ice-Queen. Don’t forget you’re the one who said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘I could never be with you…you’re a nobody’.” I said.

“I never said that. Sarah wouldn’t say something like that.”

“But Sarah did say it. Just like Sarah took Dirk to the hotel Davenport for some after-hours sucky-fucky.” I told her, watching her expression focus on me.

“Have you been following me or something?” she asked.

“No…let’s just say a little bird told me…I know a lot of little birds at the Davenport—I used to work there, hot shot.” I said.

“Well for your information, little birdy, I was at the Davenport last Saturday night, but it’s not what you’d like to think. A friend of mine was in town and having people up to her room.” Said Sarah—a likely story.

“Right…and cuddling your plague-harboring lover Dirk outside the elevator was purely innocent, was it?” I inquired with a grin and a raise of my brows.

“Are you fucking spying on me? Let me tell you something…you don’t want to play that game with me.” Said Sarah, rising from her chair and peering down at me, “How would anyone you know even know who I am?”

“I was there…I saw you there myself.” I said.

“You were at the Davenport at three in the morning? Perhaps I should be asking who you were there with.”

“I have nothing to hide…I was with O’Leary and Remington.” I shrugged.

“Are those men or women?”

“They’re a couple of guys I worked with at the Davenport before we got canned.”

“Why were you there if you’ve been canned?”

“It was a clandestine cake heist.”

“Is that code for something?” asked Sarah.

“No…we actually heisted a cake…there was this cake contest thing going on the next morning…look…never mind, it’s a long story.” I said, “Point is, I saw you there, cuddling your cadaver-looking boy-toy…I saw the whole disgusting display…aw, you two looked so adorable, dressed in your matching masquerade ball costumes. By the way, what sort of self-respecting man wears a frilly masquerade ball costume…I guess you two are made for each other.”

“You have the wrong idea Frank—and it seems that’s a pattern with you. However, if you think you’re going to play games with me…you better think that over again. You don’t want to play games with me.” Sarah said, her glare unwavering.

“Listen, I’m not playing fucking games. All I wanted was to be caught in a Beatles song with you…and it turned out not to be what I was sure it would be.” I said.

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you to be careful what you wish for?” She said before leaving me sitting there on the balcony alone, looking at the cars cruising up and down Vermont.

When Sarah was gone, I sat at the desk and wrote for a few hours, chopping through the jungles of contemporary prose with a massive penknife…looking for a clearing in which to fire off some napalm. Eventually, I could no longer ignore the ravenous thirst I felt for the ice-cold bite of lemon-infused soda water, which would be best chased with some wine coolers. Abandoning the work, I rose from the chair, certain I wasn’t doing my back any favors by participating in such lengthy marathon writing sessions. After lighting a few heavy puffs of a generously rolled blunt, I headed downstairs and got into my van. When I illuminated the headlights against the carport wall, I realized words had been spelled against the windshield in lipstick. From the inside, the words appeared backward and I’d gotten out and walked around front to read them properly. The words ‘Careful what you wish for’ were etched in Sarah’s loopy lettering; indeed, she couldn’t have been more correct. After contemplating the lipstick words, I climbed the stairs for a wash rag and some Palmolive which only slightly erased the words, turning them into a smudged burgundy mess. I carefully made my way down sunset to the wand-wash where I gave my beloved Grand Caravan a good lathering down and rinse before stopping at Ralph’s in Hollywest Promenade. It wasn’t the most polished Ralph’s…but it was my Ralph’s…in the heart of Hollywood, the city I adored. As I roamed the isles, to the tune of Easy Lover, I contemplated Sarah. Her phone calls, her visits, her sudden preoccupation with my whereabouts—though she was carrying on clandestine hotel rendezvous with plague-harboring hipsters. It made little sense to me why Sarah would care at all where I’d been. As Dirk had assured me—I was Sarah’s latest…another in a long line and perhaps he’d filled me in on this tidbit so I’d not take his entire world apart when I eventually discovered their ongoing affair. From a young age, Sarah was used to getting what she wanted…and didn’t like to be told no. I wasn’t saying no however, I was simply forfeiting a quest of sheer madness I should have never begun in the first place. After seeing her at the Davenport, held in Dirk’s pasty embrace, I realized I’d never have Sarah to myself; she belonged to her community, and I wasn’t interested in sharing her with anyone.

After Ralph’s, I stopped at Target and bought a new flip phone, despite what the kid behind the counter said about flip phones. When I got in and was sitting comfortably on my couch, smoking a blunt and sipping on lemon soda water, I dialed Sarah. Though it rang, there was no answer. I dialed Katie next. It was early in London, but she answered.



“How are you?” she asked.

“Fine…how’s England?”

“It’s chilly at night…”

“I say, have you learned what a rotter is yet?” I asked her.

“A rotter?”

“I think there is a guy who lives in my building that perfectly embodies that moniker.”

“A rotter?” laughed Katie.

“A fucking rotter.” I said, giving it my best Steve Jones, “A dirty facka.”

“Well,” giggled Katie, “that certainly seems ominous.”

“When are you getting back? I’ve been thinking of you.” I said.

“I know. I’ll be home soon. I like it here…but I miss my attic room.”

“Tell me about your attic room.” I said.

“It’s got a pointy ceiling and a diamond-shaped stained-glass window.” Said Katie.

“A stained-glass scene, is it?” I asked, “Sounds magnificent.”

“How is the project coming along? I hear you guys are talking to San Andreas Pictures?”

“D’Amato is talking to them…I’m sort of a silent partner—like the retarded stepchild he keeps in the attic. However, this Warner Diamond chap might be slightly touched as well…can you believe the fucking dude wants to have dinner with D’Amato and I at my place next week? My place!” I said.

“Warner Diamond is going to your apartment?”

“That’s what they tell me…and I wish it wasn’t the case…my place is a mess…a multi-dimensional mess.”

“Warner Diamond is a big wig.” Said Katie, “That’s incredible.”

“D’Amato’s doing…not mine. Diamond wouldn’t give a squirt of piss for me otherwise.” I said.

“I mean, Warner Diamond…that’s really great. I’ve heard he’s very eccentric…so I’m not surprised he wants to have dinner at your place.” Said Katie.

“Great? I live in a closet space—which I haven’t deep cleaned in four years.” I admitted.

“Boys are so messy.” Laughed Katie.

“D’Amato said the guy likes to get a feel for people he invests in. I’m not sure if I should order pizzas or do a whole formal thing…maybe hire a caterer.” I said.

“I’d go with the caterer.” Laughed Katie, “Sounds like this is a hugely important meeting for you guys…no room for error—not sure if pizza is going to impress.”

“The whole thing seems like a recipe for disaster. I don’t know the first thing about hosting a dinner party.” I said.

“Tell you what; when I get back, I’ll come over and make us some spaghetti and we can talk over your dinner party.” Said Katie.

“I’ll save you the last meatball.” I said.

“Aw, that’s sweet.” She giggled.

When I was through talking to Katie, I swilled down the soda from Ralph’s and started in on the black cherry wine coolers. I sat down to write again and spent the rest of the night typing. In fact, it seemed that I spent the rest of the week typing. I found it hard to believe how quickly the time went by when I was stationed at my desk and typing away into the wee hours, as the city went by in awesome droves of cars, crowds, and roaring buses that shook my room like small earthquakes. I stood at the well, pouring into it, not knowing where it was going to wind up…but feeling there was some deeper purpose to it all. A man can’t live beyond his years…not really. However, he can leave behind books, which someone might read in a hundred and fifty years. In this case, the writer will be dusty bones and know no better, and so dear reader, it would seem to the true writer that writing is a compulsion; something he’d naturally do even if he were the last man on earth and there was no one left to read him. A writer, in the end, writes for the craft, no matter if it’s a dying or dead craft—he simply knows no other way.

The following week Katie did return, and she called me from her car, which held a distant and bad connection. She was stuck in traffic on the 405 heading out of Santa Monica and I’d just come off a jog through Barnsdall Park. There was nothing like being enveloped in East Hollywood. I loved the palm trees and the dry hills…the observatory and the tall boxy lettering of the Hollywood sign, standing like a beacon, marking the center of the universe. Katie’s call seemed to fit perfectly in the wonderful dance of it all, and I listened to her smooth voice as she explained her time in London. Though she’d come back full of great British accolades, her tone confessed how glad she was to be back home, in her beloved desert life.

We decided to meet at my apartment, which Katie had never seen I realized. I took advantage of her being tied up on the 405 to clean the place up, going as far as vacuuming the kitchen floor and mopping it. I’d not made so much effort even when Sarah had decided to finally join me in my abode, and I’d certainly not tidied up the place for Isabel Ronstadt who’d not seemed to mind. With Katie however, I felt compelled to vacuum and perhaps it was because she made me want to be a better sort of man. I wasn’t used to being a better man, so the notion seemed foreign, and a touch compartmentalized. However, it didn’t seem like a masquerade—rather it seemed the thing to do and once I’d vacuumed the living room floor, I moved to the bathroom where I took a soapy brush to the bathtub, sink, and toilet bowl, getting on my hands and knees to get at the hard to reach angles. Of course, the sudden appearance of sparkling porcelain accentuated the water spots on the mirror and so I scrubbed down the mirror and the surrounding wall, and then, because I’d done all of that, I mopped the floor and replaced the garbage with a new bag. I moved next to the kitchen, where a sink full of dishes awaited me. I washed them and wiped down the countertop…the stove, the inside of the refrigerator, the cupboards, the dining room table, my desk, and last but not least, my dusty old VHS player which, after a good wipe down, appeared new and young and ready to eat a collection of vintage videos. I fed into it a head cleaner and right after it Five Easy Pieces which went nicely with a cold beer and a few puffs of the good old Emerald Dream. As I was drawn deeper into the film, I’d seen a dozen times, the buzzer sounded. Assuming it was Katie, I buzzed the front door and ventured to the bathroom for a well needed piss.

When I returned to the living room to meet the sounds of movement. I was surprised to find Sarah standing in the center of my living room floor. She looked great as usual, put together from head to toe in an impeccable sort of way. As usual, she’d chosen matching colors and had combed her short blonde hair forward, so it hung slightly over her brows. She wore a black and white Marimekko skirt from the 1960s and struck a feminine pose as she took inventory of my rooms, which looked a damn sight different in all their afternoon cleanliness.

“Wow…I didn’t realize this place was so big.” She said.

“It’s amazing what a deep cleaning will do.” I said, surprised to see her.

“Were you expecting someone else?” she asked, and I wondered how women always seemed to know.

“No…I just felt that after you soiled my windshield with lipstick, I wouldn’t see you again.” I said, “That was pretty ominous.”

“I say when you’ll never see me again.” She said, “So what’s the occasion? Why is it so clean in here?”

“I have a dinner thing coming up this Saturday—I already told you that…but of course, you weren’t listening.” I said.

“I listen to everything you say—I don’t miss a thing.”

“Yeah…anyway, D’Amato is bringing Warner Diamond over to meet me. I’m not sure why they want to do it here when D’Amato has a giant house in Hancock Park. I think it’s a test.”

“Wow…sounds like an important night.” Said Sarah.

“If Diamond says yes, it’s game on.” I nodded.

“Well, congrats…you just might get everything you wished for…not just little old me. Aren’t you lucky?” She said, raising her brows as if there was an alternate meaning to her statement.

I was about to explain about Katie, which I felt I owed Sarah, when the buzzer sounded, doubtlessly signaling Katie’s arrival. It was too perfect a predicament for me not to greet it with a nod and a slight grin. Certainly, a man could experience much worse predicaments—but certainly not as comic.

“I wonder who that could be?” Sarah said, placing a finger on her chin.

“I wish you’d stop acting like you give a flying fuck.” I said.

“And I wish you’d stop insulting me.” Said Sarah.

“Like how you insulted me with your plague-harboring meth-head Dirk? I fucking saw you two together…I saw the way you fell into his skinny, boney, track-marked arms.”

“I already told you about that night. Dirk is a friend. Why do you insist on making it into a drama?”

“Why is it all so calculated and controlled with you? Well, I guess you are Sarah Leona Lassiter—the Palisades Ice Queen, after all.” I said, moving to the intercom and buzzing Katie in.

“I’m called the Ice Queen because I was once a figure skater—you jerk.” Said Sarah crossing her arms.

When Katie emerged from behind the door with a shy knock, she offered Sarah a smile of greeting before peering at me. Perhaps noticing my unamused expression Katie spoke, shattering the heavy silence, “Am I interrupting something?”

“Clearly I’m the one interrupting.” Said Sarah, glaring directly into my eyes before leaving Katie and I standing in the sunny, hardwood living room.

“Who was that?” asked Katie once Sarah was gone.

“You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” I said.

“Oh.” Said Katie, smoothing a lock of her brown hair behind one ear.

She looked great, another woman with another style, but one that hit me in a certain spot. She wore a mini leather jacket and a pair of bell-bottom jeans that got tight around her curvy hips. She wore a union jack t-shirt she’d obviously gotten in London and a pair of black shades which she removed, revealing her deep gaze.

“Take off your jacket—make yourself at home.” I told her, moving to the door and latching it.

After I made us a couple of drinks, Katie roamed my rooms with a slow curious saunter, darting her eyes around the portraits on my walls and taking inventory of the books on my shelves. She ran her small hand over the intricate designs sculpted into the fireplace surround before leaning on the windowsill and grinning widely at me.

“Nice pad Frank.” Said Katie, taking a small sip of her drink, “Needs a woman’s touch though.”

“Am I such a caveman?” I asked with a grin.

“Well for one, the bathroom door should be put back on its hinges…you sleep on a mattress with no sheet…I mean—at least put a sheet on it,” She laughed, “also, I’d lose those curtains—they’re awfully dirty. If we get a nice cover, we can cover the stains on your couch and probably we can pick up a nice area rug—something to bring the room together. Mostly, I think it just needs a good clean and some well-placed decorations.” Said Katie.

“Hey, that couch came with the apartment. Anyway, I just spent an hour cleaning this place up.” I chuckled.

“Really? Do you have plans tonight?” she asked.

“This is it.” I shrugged.

“Good, because this is going to take all night.” Laughed Katie.

Indeed, Katie was correct, and it occurred to me only then that I required a full home makeover. For the plaster was chipped and the wallpaper was peeling, and the kitchen linoleum was coming away from the walls, where the staples had given way. The paint was faded, and the curtains had been discolored by decades of cigarette smoke, air pollution, and forest fire haze. The ceiling tiles were cracking, and water stained in their crevices from a flood years before that had evidently taken out the electrical in the living room ceiling, rendering the light fixtures dead. It was a lifetime of wear and tear and though I’d been living among it for years, it had only become finely apparent once the dust was swept away.

With Katie in the driver’s seat, we drove around Hollywood, stopping in at discount stores and homewares centers for supplies. Katie filled our cart with screws, bolts, area rugs, velvety sheets, glue, lightbulbs, bleach, floor wax, soap, fluffy new towels, decorative ornaments, plastic plants, glassware, candles, potpourri, salt and pepper shakers, a new shower curtain, a toilet seat cover, new curtains and rods and some dishwashing detergent for the ancient dishwasher I was certain didn’t work and used as a junk storage space.

“The caterers should be able to provide everything else.” Said Katie, checking her list again to make sure we’d not left anything out.

“Caterer?” I asked.

“You should really get a caterer. They’ll take care of the details and that will free you up to do what you need to do; which is schmooze Warner Diamond. I mean Frank…opportunities like this don’t just fall into your lap every day.”

“But it’s all a ruse. It’s just smoke and mirrors. The guy lives in a mansion in Bel-Air I’m sure…he’s got a butler named Smedley probably and he probably has a water fountain in his john that sprays his ass down. I mean, how posh can I really pretend to be, living in a one-bedroom apartment in East Hollywood?” I laughed.

“As posh as you can be I suppose.” Shrugged Katie, “At this point, you’re going to need all the help you can get.”

Katie had been right. It took us until one in the morning to polish the place up, to a degree I never thought possible. My meager cleaning campaign had only skimmed the surface. I wound up emptying the vacuum bag three times. I hauled five Glad garbage bags out to the trash bins and had to sand down the edge of the bathroom door to fit it back onto the hinges. I had to get on my hands and knees and scrub the far corners of each room, where dust had accumulated over the decades into a hard black sludge. The kitchen was a work unto itself, but the bathroom was key, according to Katie, who insisted that I not only Pine-Sol the floor, toilet, sink, and bathtub…but also the walls and ceilings. As I did so, Katie hung the new curtains and set the area rugs in the best places. She unwrapped the velvety sheets and tucked them into my couch and loveseat, creating a dim, loungey feel, which was aided by the red bulb she screwed into a lamp beside the bookcase. The red was a nice contrast to the easy glow of the kitchen bulbs, all of which Katie had replaced with lower voltage frosted bulbs. She also placed colored scented candles around the dining room and living room in a strategic way, that appeared to be random. She’d moved my bar from the kitchen island to a large cabinet in the living room where the bottles fit nicely behind the glass cupboard. With the island cleared, the kitchen took on an entirely new dimension—and I recalled what the place had looked like before I’d moved in and filled it with piles of clutter and wear.

When all was said and done and Katie and I sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor, relaxing with some drinks in the fresh scent of a deep summer cleaning, I raised my glass of gin and tonic and looked at Katie who scanned the room with a small, satisfied nod.

“To cleaning out the cobwebs.” I said.

“To success.” Said Katie, raising her own glass and I could tell that she meant it, “We’ll find a reasonably priced caterer tomorrow and that ought to do it. This is a really nice little suite you have here.”

“Not bad. Let me guess, your apartment is impeccably clean and arranged and you probably even have magazines on the coffee table like in the dentist office.” I said.

“I knew we were forgetting something.” Katie said, snapping her fingers, “Some National Geographics are always a great bet.”

“Do people really read coffee table magazines?” I asked.

“Some might…they’re mainly for show though. I think you can tell a bit about a person by the magazines they keep.” Said Katie.

“But my bookshelf is a lesson in jagged contemporary prose.” I said, gesturing to the bookshelf.

“Look, I’m from Connecticut; I grew up with mind-bending dinner table conversations about prolific prose…but I also know that coffee table magazines offer a certain insight…and it seems Warner Diamond is going to be looking for those small insights.”

“In that case, I should find out what sort of magazines the old chap is into.” I said.

“It’s a tough call because if you buy some post-modern home-worship magazines, it might make him wonder why a man who lives in a beat-up, run-down East Hollywood apartment has such a fine taste for home-worship magazines, which will make the magazines seem strategically placed.”

“Wow, there’s a lot more than I thought to fucking coffee table mags.”

“At the same time, I wouldn’t buy race car magazines because that could suggest a redneck past…and I would stay away from fashion magazines because you don’t want to appear too delicate.”

“Well, I guess I could buy the sort of mags most gentlemen prefer.”

“Which ones are those?” asked Katie.

“Perhaps I’ll go down to Ravinder’s Grocery tomorrow and pick up some porno mags—for the articles of course.”

“Oh yeah, I’m sure the articles in those mags are super intriguing.” Grinned Katie with a roll of her eyes.

“I’d be smart to get a variety…because really, we don’t know how deep it goes with Warner Diamond…he may be a decadent old chap; he might be into pissing mags for all we know.”

“Pissing mags?” Katie laughed, “Tell me that’s not a thing…eeeew.”

“It’s not my thing…but it may be Diamond’s guilty pleasure.” I laughed.

“I hope not…he seems like such a nice old man…like a jolly grandpa…I’d hate to find out that he likes to take golden showers.”

“Maybe he’s not down with piss magazines…he might be into sweaty foot mags instead.”

“Eeeew…no.” Laughed Katie, with a shiver of disgust, “I really hope that’s not true.”

“You never know…Diamond could be a huge creeper…he could be down on Figueroa right now, nibbling some street walking hooker’s corns and bunions.” I shrugged matter of factly, “That old boy might be a foot-fucker.”

“That’s a rather macabre visual.” she laughed, “I’m probably going to have nightmares now about him going between some hooker’s corned-up feet.”

“He probably calls it corn on the knob.” I chuckled, causing Katie to lean sideways in a gasping chuckle. Evidently a little high from the cleaner fumes and the G&T. When our laughter subsided, the reality still remained; it was going to go down at my place…coffee table magazines or not.

“Are you coming to this dinner party?” I asked.

“Do you really want me to?” she asked, “That might be awkward for them.”

“Walsh is coming and he’s bringing Monica.” I said.

“I like Monica.” Said Katie, “She’s not fake nice—she’s real nice.”

“Nobody is going to mind a sharp, gorgeous baby like you being here…you can only add to the charm.” I said, sipping deep from my glass.

I looked around the apartment again. It had been occupied by one person or another since the 1920s. It seemed like a long time to be occupied. I wondered what the walls would whisper to me if they could and a moment later knew I’d never know. The vast majority of stories are never told, they are only experienced once by the parties involved and then fall away with time. I wondered where all the stories went and realized I’d never know. It was our time now…Katie and me.

The Dinner Party

Having everything set up a few days before the big night was a weight off my shoulders. I couldn’t have done it without Katie and for that, I’d forever owe her a debt of gratitude. However, not everything was within our control, and it seemed the universe was busy working in the absence of our mindfulness. I hadn’t thought much about the catering company Katie had found and I’d wound up hiring. As far as I was concerned everything was in place and waiting to go off without a hitch.

The day before my big dinner party with D’Amato, Walsh, and the brass from San Andreas, Mortimer’s Catering called. I assumed they wanted to go over some last-minute details at a most inopportune time…I answered anyway.

“Nero here.” I said.

“Hi Mr. Nero…this is Janice from Mortimer’s catering; I’m wondering if you have a minute to chat.”

“I guess. What’s up?” I asked.

“Well sir, it’s with great regret that I inform you of a small issue we’re currently experiencing.”

“Yeah, what’s that?” I asked.

“Well sir, it seems our kitchen purchased some vegetables from a supplier that currently has a listeria outbreak. We’ve been shut down until further notice.”

“Shutdown?” I demanded.

“Yes, unfortunately we’ve had to cancel all events for the next week. Our facility must be cleaned and inspected before we can re-open. State regulations…it’s out of our hands.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I wish I was sir. We can however offer a refund or if you choose to rebook with us, we can put what you’ve already paid toward a future event.”

“Rebook? You’re kidding right? You have no idea how badly you just fucked my shit up.” I said, “This dinner was everything…guys…come on…this can’t be happening.”

“I understand sir. Would you like the refund to be mailed to the address we have on file for you?” she asked.

“Obviously…I’m not going down there and catching whatever plague you guys have. Send the godam check.” I said, before flipping my phone shut.

A moment later I flipped up the phone and dialed Katie who didn’t answer. Rather she texted a few minutes later explaining that she was taking diction from her wicked witch boss and would call me when she was through at the office.

Certainly, there was no way of foreseeing a listeria outbreak…but I’d chosen Mortimer’s on the merit of their prices and was now paying for it. As I waited for Katie to call back, I dialed the caterers whom we’d passed on, based on their tacky names and mottos. Mortimer’s Catering had felt like a viable option not only because of their reasonable price packages. They also had a simplified yet classically elegant menu. Though I should have perhaps shopped around more than I did—I’d chosen Mortimer’s because they’d made it so simple to hire them and had assured me that I needed to worry about nothing; they would take care of the room setup, the dinner service, the bar set up as well as the end of event tear-down, which included toting away with them any garbage and recycling they generated—as if they’d never been in my apartment.

Now that Mortimer’s was off the table, I went down the short-list and was met each time with the same conclusion; 24 hours wasn’t nearly enough notice. One caterer laughed and asked me if I was kidding. Thank you, call again. Had they no mercy? Did they not comprehend that my dinner party would either make or break me? It seemed not and I was about to lose all hope when I came across Belinda’s Catering…a boutique caterer out of Altadena who specialized in small events. I promptly dialed them.

“Stella Garbo, how may I assist you?”

“Yo, Stella…do you guys have time to cater a small party tomorrow evening?” I asked.

“What time sir?”

“Dinner at seven I suppose.”

“How many guests?”

“I’d say eight…perhaps ten.”

“Plated, family style, or buffet?”

“Buffet I suppose.”

“Do you require liquor service?”

“Sure, let’s get smashed. Are you telling me that this is actually possible on such short notice?” I asked.

“We got you covered.” Said Stella.

“Just one thing. You didn’t order listeria-tainted vegetables, did you?” I asked.

“No sir…why do you ask?”

“I’m trying to keep listeria out of my dietary plan.”

“Roger that.” Said Stella, without missing a beat.

I was somewhat dumbfounded that I’d found a caterer on such short notice. The odds seemed insurmountable…however, Belinda’s Catering had come through with a monotone assurance that a van would pull up in front of my residence at 5 pm sharp the next day and expedite my party with a guarantee of professionalism. It seemed hard to believe that such a mishap could be so easily solved by dialing another caterer and paying by credit card over the phone. Like there is always another city, another lover, another job to quit or be fired from, and another project to disappear into…there is always another caterer. That fact sat well with me as I sat on my velvet-covered couch, admiring the fresh scent and the dustless air. I’d gotten it done, with time to spare.

The big day came sooner than expected. That is to say that I’d slept hard and awoken around noon. Katie had taken the day off and met me at the Pier where I tried to win her a teddy bear. I felt the games were rigged and wound up buying her one from a souvenir shop we came across on the way back to my van. I took the ten back to Hollywood, joining a coagulated mass of traffic that moved at a near stand-still speed. Katie’s sunscreen filled the van with a coconut aroma, intoxicating me slightly so the van began to weave ever so slightly, and I felt like curling up on her shoulder and taking a nap. I glanced at her face, the skin of which was smooth and slightly caramel. She applied a coat of lip-gloss after which she rolled her full, supple lips. She then tied her hair back and opened a bottle of mineral water, sipping from it a few times before offering me some. I took the bottle in hand and pressed it to my lips, tasting her lip gloss along with the water. I pulled her in close and she kissed me hard, slithering her warm tongue into my mouth as we moved at a crawl down the 10. Squinting at me, against the brightness that she’d gotten unaccustomed to all those weeks in the UK, she smiled and placed a hand on my arm.

“Are you going to be my man?” she asked.

“I was your man that night with the bikes.” I admitted.

“Though I think you were officially my man after I helped you clean up your messy apartment.” Katie said.

“Yeah, you didn’t actually have to do that…I’d have loved you anyway.” I said.

We both laughed and made our way along the 10 freeway toward the Silverlake Blvd exit. Katie lived in Silverlake. Initially, I wasn’t aware that she lived so close to me. I thought about this as we rolled down the 10. The whole time, Katie had been existing only five minutes from where I existed. Making it highly likely that we’d passed each other in traffic, or perhaps at the Ralph’s or I’d strolled by her as she sat at a street-side café on Hillhurst with her daiquiri-drinking friends. How had it taken a chance meeting in Walsh’s shared Malibu villa to bring Katie and I together? I wondered if we’d have eventually met somehow, living in the same neck of the woods. Perhaps you could live beside the girl of your dreams for years and never know she was there.

“I like it.” I said when we pulled up in front of the home she shared with her sister. It was a small, quaint home on Hyperion, that had belonged to her grandmother, who’d left it to Katie and her sister when she passed on a few years before.

“My sister painted the trim.” Said Katie, squinting across the cracked asphalt toward the house which stood, shrouded by foliage. The trim was desert tan and the house itself was purple and Katie tilted her head at the color coordination choice, “Somehow it doesn’t fit.”

I took inventory of the house, finding that it sat rather inconspicuously in its new color scheme, “Looks fine to me.” I said.

Katie led me to her attic bedroom, to which I climbed three flights of stairs. As she moved around the room tidying up, I slumped down on her bed among a pile of throw pillows. Propping myself up on one elbow and lighting a blunt, I took note of Katie’s window, the diamond-shaped pane of which was stained glass—a relic from a long-dead era that didn’t know any better and so kept on existing, dyeing the sunrays red, yellow and blue. Caught in a shard of red, I blew some smoke rings as Katie rearranged her shoes. When she was done, I’d had about all I could take of watching her move around the room, bending and squatting and kneeling to place a few pairs of her high heels on a floor rack beside her closet.

“You’re killing me with those pants.” I said, and Katie glanced over her shoulder at me with a naughty grin. She crawled across the hardwood toward me and pounced up onto the bed like a kitty, playfully clawing at me with tickling fingers.

“What’s happened to you?” she asked.


“I get a feeling…women know.” Said Katie.

“Baby, I can’t think straight around you sometimes.” I chuckled, massaging my temples.

“Okay, let’s take care of that…you need a clear head tonight.” She giggled before climbing on top of me a moment later and giving the springs in her frumpy bed a good hard working. Her sister was at work and the family cat was the only one present in the house aside from us. The cat moved into the room and watched us for a while, licking its paw; bored, it left us to our torrid exploration. I’d had many lovers… however, my senses were vigorously apprehended as if for the first time as Katie fit herself around me in several variations, moaning into her pillow and squeezing handfuls of bed sheets in her small fists. We were man and woman, born from the earth, and to which we’d one day return, leaving behind us our moans, words, and declarations, to haunt her grandmother’s attic with stained glass ecstasy.

It had been all that dear reader, and then some and as I lay beside her, slicked with her sweat and my own, I remembered that the caterer would be at my place in an hour. My watch, hanging heavily and loosely from my wrist ticked back at me with a small nod of urgency.

“Fuck, I gotta get back to my place. The caterer is going to be there soon.” I told Katie, who took hold of my wrist, tilting it toward her so she could see the time.

“Okay, let’s go now and shower at your place.” She said, sitting up and sliding back into her panties, “I should bring a change of clothes.”

Mine was a simple ensemble. Tattered jeans, Vans, and a thoroughly faded Sunnydale t-shirt, which I slipped into easily, and within moments, Katie and I were moving across the blistering cracked asphalt of Hyperion toward my van that sat under the shade of an ancient sycamore.

When we arrived at my building the caterer was already there. A white cargo van double parked outside the building with its hazard lights blinking sat with its contents exposed through the wide-open rear doors. From the van, a small, older man handed trays and boxes to two women, who stacked them neatly on a small cart. There were no smiles between them, only the dull routine of once again having to lug a vanload of equipment into a stranger’s den for minimum monetary compensation. From the look of the two women, it seemed they could have been actresses or models—the big payout. However, on this day they were caterers wrapped in tight white tuxedo shirts and thousand-yard stares.

Once I’d parked my van in its designated spot behind the building, I walked back around with Katie and we both greeted the Belinda’s Catering team who, though previously looking miserable about having to move a van full of equipment up to my 4th floor suite with no elevator to aid them, suddenly beamed back at us, introducing themselves and thanking me personally for choosing Belinda’s.

When the introductions were over, Katie and I went upstairs and I let us both into the cool confines. I’d left the air conditioner running, so the sweltering Los Angeles heat wouldn’t have an opportunity to permeate the surfaces; the contrast was nice.

As Katie showered and changed into her dinner party outfit. I settled into the couch, lighting a blunt and cracking an ice-cold beer. I flipped through the channels as the caterers carted in tables, large plastic containers, plastic crates filled with clean plates, silver chaffing dishes, racks of glassware, boxes of table linen, seat covers, and décor, crates of silverware, cocktail trays, cocktail napkins, martini shakers, lemons, limes, bottles of white wine, bottles of red wine, colorful bottles of vodka, gin, rum, and whisky, platters of appetizers and buckets of ice. They stacked it all neatly in the kitchen as the older man commenced setting it all up.

I wasn’t interested in taking note of his catering techniques. I’d worked the finest hotels in downtown LA and had rolled with the topmost level of managers, captains, and coordinators and had found in the end that it was all a sham, a heavily nuanced charade. Indeed, I’d seen it all in the catering trade and was glad to have finally been thrown out of the industry. It was all about the new industry, this business of show, where there most certainly lurked the exact same shade of shitheadery, elitism, and social lynch mobbing—only, with any luck, it would pay better. I sat, sipping at my beer, feeling the Emerald Dream warming my joints as the news ran. Supply-chain issues cause a shortage of groceries, Wallstreet experts predict another catastrophic crash, brain-eating virus found in pestilent third-world swamps, 45 poisoned by anthrax attack at pie eating contest, 3-year-old arrested for wounding two in grocery store shooting, homelessness reaches grim new record, nationwide police shortage leads to organized vigilante groups patrolling their neighborhoods with rifles, pitchforks, and baseball bats, flooding, earthquakes, and locusts attack west coast cities; it was the book of Revelation broadcast live on Prime Time news.

When Katie was out of the shower, we joined the caterers in the dining room. They’d brought in a plastic eight-foot table for the buffet, which consisted of three chaffing dishes for NY steak, creamed dill potatoes, and broccolini. At the far end of the table were placed fancy gold risers meant to hold salad bowls, a breadbasket, and a platter of butter balls.

The table that normally sat in the dining room was moved into the living room and made to double as a dessert station, upon which was also built a coffee station, complete with packets of instant hot chocolate and herbal teas. The caterers had brought with them a single round table with retractable legs. It took all three caterers to roll the table up the stairs and once it was draped in black table linen, to match the linens on the other tables, the two waitresses went to work setting the sparkling cutlery according to the 10 place settings. Plan for 8—set for 10, was the organizer’s advice.

When the tables were all set and the caterers were putting the finishing touches on the makeshift bar in the living room, the chef prepped the salads and hors devours and fired up the chaffing dishes before he went to work on the stove, preparing everything from scratch. Like a well-oiled machine designed for a single purpose, the servers congregated in the kitchen and reviewed their checklist. It seemed like quite a lot for an informal ten-person dinner, but I was infinitely glad that I’d taken Katie’s advice and hired the caterer. I’d paid for peace of mind and the advantage of putting the headache in someone else’s hands.

As the sun began to dip down into the western horizon and the violet glow of dusk drew an apocalyptic shade against the beaded underbelly of cloud cover, Katie and I walked through the room, admiring the profound metamorphosis the room had undergone. It no longer looked like my apartment. Rather it looked like a quaint Silverlake bistro—the décor had added exponentially to this dynamic and I raised my brows.

“Wow…they banged it up.” I nodded.

Katie stepped over to the bar and took inventory of the product, “Did you order champagne?”

“I don’t think I did.” I said, trying to recall the exact work order.

“You can’t have an important dinner like this without champagne…what will you toast with? Beer?” she chuckled.

“Why not?” I shrugged.

“Because it’s easy as pie to get some prosecco. I’ll run down to Vons and grab a bottle.” Said Katie, using the camera on her phone to apply her lipstick.

Moving back into the kitchen I retrieved the set of 12 champagne flutes we’d bought the night of our renovation run. I polished them with a dry towel and set one at each place setting.

“Nice,” I told the supervisor who squinted down at his checklist through spectacles that balanced on the tip of his nose, as if they might fall at any moment, “you guys killed this shit.”

“It’s our goal to take your event to the next level.” Said the man with well-rehearsed phrasing, staring back up at me with a synthetic grin that bordered on creepy. I assumed he was a company lifer who had, over the course of decades, become the job, taking it on as his purpose in life; somebody had to after all.

A moment later Katie was back in the dining room with her purse draped over her shoulder, she held her finger out like a hook, on which I hung the keys to my van, “I’ll be back in a jiff.” She smiled.

When I was through polishing and placing the champagne flutes, I checked my phone and saw that D’Amato had texted. They were on their way over with Walsh, Monica, Warner Diamond, and his wife Giselle, and of course D’Amato and his wife. Plan for 8, set for 10.

“Looks like we’re expecting eight tonight.” I told Steve, the supervisor, to which he nodded, writing the number 8 on his work order and circling it.

“Very well sir.” He smiled and began polishing his spectacles with a microfiber rag.

We were in the home stretch now. Only twenty minutes until show time…from there it would be all schmoozery and thespianism; something to which I wasn’t naturally akin, however, all the same, able to conjure if it meant getting backing for our epic little film. I opened another ice-cold beer and sipped it slowly as I peered out the bay window, gazing out at Hollywood…a town like no other. Her lights were like diamonds to me, and I basked in her for a few moments. It was then that a small knock came at the door. Turning around I found Sarah peeking into the apartment. Perhaps feeling she’d entered the wrong suite she slipped in cautiously.

“I’m looking for Frank’s apartment…it seems to be missing.” Said Sarah with a coy grin.

“Hey.” I said, wondering how she’d bypassed the entrance buzzer.

“Front door was propped open.” Said Sarah. Hearing this, Steve the supervisor shot his lead waitress a puckered purse of his lips and with an apologetic smile, made his way across the living room and out of the door through which Sarah had just come.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve been wondering the same about you.” She said, glancing around the room, “You’ve gone MIA…for some reason. Of course, I wouldn’t know what the reason is because I’m no longer valuable to you.”

“Pardon me?” I asked.

“Why should I?” asked Sarah, “You run your game on just me…or were there others too?”

“What game?” I asked.

“This game…the game you play. But let me tell you something Nero. Nobody runs a game on me…at least nobody gets away with it if they do…and I’m afraid it might be your time to pay the piper.”

“The piper?” I laughed, “My good lass, it seems you’ve maybe lost your mind.”

“I guess this is all very funny to you, isn’t it?”

“I can assure you—there’s been nothing funny about anything having to do with this situation; it’s all been fairly morose.” I confessed.

“Was there even really another Sarah Lassiter and a suicided older sister?” Said Sarah, moving from the living room into the kitchen now and taking inventory of the caterer’s handiwork, “Wow, the whole nine yards. I’m impressed,” Sarah said, turning back to me. Silhouetted by the brightness of the kitchen she stood in the doorway, clutching her bag, cocking her hip, and dressed to kill. There was a look in her eye I hadn’t seen before, though there may have been hints I’d wondered about but had dismissed in the throes of limerence.

“I’ve got guests coming tonight.” I said.

“Oh right…your big event. I suppose you’ll ride off into the sunset after this…and forget about all the inanimate people who meant something to you before; when you were just a love-crazed, obsessed psychopath.”

Over Sarah’s shoulder, I noticed the chef peer up at me and wrinkle his brows. As well the waitresses who leaned against the kitchen counter, texting on their phones, shot each other the same sort of glance. Perhaps they’d seen it all as caterers and expected what was to come next. I hadn’t, for I’d been preoccupied with the concern of Sarah creating an awkward moment if D’Amato and company arrived while she was still there. However, I couldn’t bring myself to ask her to leave. “I’m not sure what you mean…” I said instead.

“Oh, you know what I mean. How about for starters…you trying so desperately to turn me into your dead ex-lover. Perhaps you wanted me to style my hair like she did and dress like her and maybe even take on her name? Perhaps you’re that sick of a person.”

It was then that the waitresses vacated, communicating to the chef that they were going outside for a cigarette. The chef only nodded, pained perhaps that he wasn’t able to leave his post in the kitchen.

“Listen, Sarah, this isn’t the time or place for this conversation. Can we talk about this shit later?” I asked, “I really got to focus tonight—it’s a very important night. If this Diamond guy notices anything fucked—I’m fucked…you understand the gravity of tonight?”

“Oh, I see…you want me out of your hair now. I’m in the way now. It was quite a different story though when you were begging at my feet for a crumb of affection…wasn’t it? When you believed I was the sister of your dead ex-lover? It was an entirely different situation then, wasn’t it?”

“Sarah…it’s a business meeting…a very fucking important business meeting. Do you think I’d go to this much trouble otherwise? This meeting will make me or break me. Don’t you understand? You want to discuss this, we can discuss it at great length…but right now, I need to focus on selling this script. I need you acting crazy like I need a fucking hole in the head.” I told Sarah, feeling that sincerity was perhaps the best policy.

“Go away little doggy? That’s what you’re telling me?” she asked, tilting her head and throwing me an amazed grin, “Come back when you have time for me? I’m not a little doggy.”

“So dramatic.” I sighed.

“I’m nobody’s fool.”

Now, dear reader, I should mention at this point, I felt it could get no worse. It seemed, in my rough estimation, that Sarah emerging from her café life to lay a severe ball breaking on me served as a valuable lesson and perhaps an embarrassing episode, which I assumed would pass once she said her piece. However, she didn’t get the chance to say her piece. For it was then that Katie arrived, holding my keys in her mouth and holding a bottle of champagne in each hand. On both of her wrists were draped bags that seemed to contain more bottles.

“Hey, I got the champagne, and found some great hard seltzers.” Said Katie after dropping the keys from her mouth onto the couch. Oblivious to what she’d just walked in on, Katie set the bags down on the coffee table and removed one by one the attractive bottles she’d found.

“Black cherry, black currant—mmm, black currant…and I also found this pomegranate one…” she said, looking up and noticing Sarah standing there, gawking at her with what appeared to be a number of emotions wrapped in one.

“We forgot to order champagne. Got to have champagne…right?” Said Katie as she noticed Sarah standing there burning a glare into her, “Hi.” She offered awkwardly and Sarah only burned her glance into her, then focused it on me a moment later.

“You were saying…about needing to focus on selling your script…about needing to be with your business meeting. Looks like Franky boy has been mixing business with pleasure.” Said Sarah, raising her brows.

“I can’t believe you’re actually going to do this here and now.” I said.

“Maybe I better wait in the bedroom.” Said Katie, backing away, before turning and heading down the short hallway to the bedroom where she clicked the door shut behind her.

When I looked back at Sarah, I noticed the chef staring back at me, his expression dire as he ravenously stirred the dill into the cream, “She’s cute…young, but cute…and she seems to know exactly where your bedroom is.” Said Sarah.

“She’s a friend.” I said.

“Right…” laughed Sarah, “…you are such a fucking hypocrite. You chastise me…basically call me a slut…say you need a full blood count, because of Dirk—who is actually my friend…and yet you’re fucking every Hollywood strumpet you encounter.”

“I don’t care what you say about me…but you’re not going to insult Katie.” I said, “She’s helped me put this all together.”

“How chivalrous.” Sarah maliciously cooed, “Know what I think? I think it sucks. I think it’s gaudy as shit.” Said Sarah moving into the dining room and taking note of the table that was sparkling with fine silver and polished crystal, “How elegant.” She said, flashing me a grin over her shoulder as she stepped up to the table, “It’s gaudy as shit.”

It was then that I noticed a glint in her eye, something out of the blue, or rather out of the black of night. “There’s a spot on this tablecloth by the way. I mean, if you’re going to try impressing someone…you ought to use a clean tablecloth, wouldn’t you say?” asked Sarah. With a witchy cackle, she leaned forward and took hold of the tablecloth, ripping it from the table high and hard, so the glassware, side plates, polished silver, wine bottles, and centerpiece flew against the wall and ceiling, creating a fabulously loud smash that halted the chef’s stirring…but only for a second—he went back to it a moment later, throwing me another severe gaze. I stood there, transfixed by shock, at the sight of what was seconds before a handsomely arranged table and what was now spread across the floor in a thousand and one shards, catching the light from different angles.

I sipped at my beer as Sarah moved to the buffet table and used both arms to clear the chaffing dishes so they toppled to the floor with another loud smash, spilling their water across the hardwood. She stood beside the table, looking back at me for a defiant moment before sliding the stack of plates from the edge, so they too fell to the floor in a crashing topple. Lifting a large bowl of salad from one of the risers, Sarah catapulted it toward me and because of her terrible aim, the bowl careened toward the chef, who ducked behind the island just in time to avoid being caught in the explosion of glass and arugula. The dressing came next and collided with the cupboards in a thick splatter of strawberry vinaigrette. Moving to the coffee station, Sarah tore away the tablecloth, sending the entire sum of saucers, coffee cups, and spoons to the hardwood floor. I leaned against the wall, sipping my beer, shaking my head, and wondering how far she would take it. I was almost fascinated, but knew I needed to see it all happen…that I needed to let her show me her capabilities. When she made it to my TV which was still running the news, I nearly lunged to stop her…but stopped myself at the last moment and remained propped up against the wall like an old broom, sipping from my beer and feeling that the coldness and bite of it went down perfectly, even in the midst of Sarah’s scorned fury. Pulling the giant TV forward, Sarah threw it to the ground where it shorted out with blue sparks and went dark…then there was only the sound of her heels moving across the hardwood floor and absorbing into the eerie silence. When she was at the coffee table where Katie had left the beverages, I turned around and found the chef staring at Sarah, he’d given up on stirring now and was poised to duck for cover again. Turning back to Sarah I saw that she had a bottle of champagne in hand. She shrugged and casually tossed it over her shoulder, where it exploded with a pop against the floor. The other bottle met the same fate, only it was overhand pitched directly at a wall, with which it collided in a vast spray of thick foam. The hard seltzers, Sarah hurled into the kitchen where they exploded with much less extravagance than the champagne and when she was out of coolers, she moved to the six-pack of beer bottles Katie had bought. Sarah threw the entire six against the wall, so they shattered inside the box and the glass shot outward across the floor when it landed. When all was said and done, Sarah, looking infinitely relieved, offered a cordial grin and a creepy curtsy before addressing me, “Have a nice life asshole.” She then let herself out of the apartment, punctuating her visit with a quiet clicking shut of the door. When Sarah was gone, and I was left with a traumatized chef amidst a disastrous mess, I felt a small elation in my core. There was no coming back for Sarah—she’d made herself clear and I realized the elation I felt was what I’d been searching for; it was the closure I so desired and it moved over me in a warm wash of relief…it was over and for that fact I was glad.

I sank back into the hard lumpy hold of the couch, taking inventory of the damage. The shattered mess of glasses, wine bottles, beer bottles, plates, and vases caught the overhead lamp in a thousand and one sparkling points of light. The 70-inch TV I’d bought on a whim from a Walmart in Burbank, sat face-down on the living room floor most certainly broken. Knives, spoons, forks, and shattered plates soaking in pools of water and wine against the hardwood confirmed the fact that the dinner party I’d set up for wasn’t going to happen quite according to plan. I lit up a blunt and puffed easily on it, wondering how it had all come to this. When exactly had it all turned a corner? Indeed, it all seemed to have started the day I’d noticed a passing poster stuck to a lamp post. Could I even recall it? I tried, imagining what version of reality may have unfolded had my head been turned the other way instead.

It was then that the buzzer sounded, doubtlessly signaling the first guest of the evening. I considered remaining seated on the couch and simply not answering. What was it about a doorbell that summoned us immediately or at all? Perhaps, it was a healthy thing to ignore a doorbell now and then. Or perhaps I could concoct an emergency scenario that would excuse me from all social obligations—perhaps a sudden fever or a case of benign positional vertigo. Perhaps I could go one further, citing the sudden death of an imaginary friend. People love a great sob story. However, being a storyteller didn’t necessarily make me a tremendously talented liar. Abandoning the contemplation, 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.

“Ok.” I said and buzzed him up.

I left the door ajar and took two beers from the fridge. I tossed one to the chef, who hopelessly peered around the apartment, realizing there was no salvaging any of the food he’d prepared. He caught the can of beer and opened it, oblivious to the foam that sprayed his collar. I sank back down into the lumpy couch and sipped at my beer as I waited for D’Amato to make his way up the stairs. Scanning again the damage strewn across the floor, I thought of what I’d tell him. More importantly, I thought of what I’d tell Warner Diamond. In such a situation, what does one really tell a prolific film producer who’s on the verge of backing one’s screenplay? Whatever way it’s presented—a trashed apartment is never going to suggest to any partner in business or crime, that one is a picture of mental stability and sound judgment. However, I took small solace in recognizing that no writer worth a damn was ever sane. Perhaps it was a truth that would be inherently understood. As D’Amato pushed cautiously through the door, noticing the shambles strewn across the floor, I greeted him as if it was any other day.

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

“Looks, like the bad guys won.” he said offering a grin of absurdity, and the prevailing silence was broken by the sounds of Walsh and Monica echoing their chatter and laughter off the outer hallway walls. They were laughing with Warner Diamond and his wife who entered last, losing their grins immediately on noticing the state of the room. Their chatter ceased and took on the same ominous silence D’Amato stood there with, peering back at me intensely, expecting some type of explanation.

I sat there, peering back at them, puffing on my blunt, sipping from the beer, and contemplating whether or not I owed them an explanation. After all, it had become my dark secret—and perhaps the most complex mind-fuck I’d ever and would ever wander into, even though I’d have rather not gotten involved.

Love, hate, obsession, infatuation, 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 and complicated it can be.

“What the hell went on in here?” Walsh asked me, flashing a glance at the chef, who stood solemnly with his hands on his hips, assessing the disaster strewn across the floor of my apartment.

“What can I say?” I said, looking up at him and offering a cordial grin.

Nobody was grinning though…especially D’Amato; he only stood with a look of deep concern etched into his leathery face as he smoked his tobacco pipe and took inventory of the disastrous mess. He took another puff, removed the pipe from his mouth in a smoky plume, and squinted at me for a moment before speaking.

“I’m listening.” he said, and I realized they were all listening—waiting for a damn good explanation.

“Well, you may as well pull up a seat.” I told them, “This is a doozy.”

“Ok, just a sec, I want to get a beer for this one.” said Walsh, sliding over to the fridge and extracting from their box, two of the beers he’d brought with him. He cracked one and offered it to Monica and cracked the second for himself. He took a seat beside his woman; the one he’d fallen madly in love with and who loved him back just as madly. D’Amato meanwhile pulled up a chair from the kitchen table and sat intently, waiting for a cinematic explanation as Warner Diamond removed his wife’s coat and draped it over the back of one chair. Katie emerged from the bedroom just then smoking a cigarette. She leaned against the partition wall looking concerned and shaken. It was time to come clean. And come clean I did.

I started at the very beginning and cited the entire Laura Lassater saga; my obsession, the affair, her decampment to Paris and her subsequent suicide, the crating up of my feelings for her and the mistaken identity of Sarah decades later and the transference that ensued. I walked them all through the previous months I spent down at the bottom of Sarah’s well, who in the end, turned out to be the wrong Sarah—a simple case of mistaken identity. 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, and the caterers were carrying out their last pieces of salvageable equipment, pretending not to listen, though they too made sure to catch the end of the story. I assumed they’d send me a bill for the broken dishes, glassware and salad bowls. I peered at Warner Diamond and his wife who sat rapt and fascinated, staring at me intensely, “I just wanted to make this dinner memorable…everything I’ve ever done has been focused on making a real contribution to a dying artform…and somehow…I managed to fuck up even that.” I said, shaking my head with a small grin and sipping from my beer.

“Well, young man…for one, I think that’s actually one of the most darkly romantic stories I’ve ever heard.” said Diamond’s wife, “Crazy, but romantic.”

“I mean, the tragic love story with Laura…and her suicide in Paris…and then how you saw her sister’s name on a poster by sheer chance years later and how you fell for her—hoping to rekindle what you’d never have with Laura…then how it wound up not being her sister at all…how it was all an enigmatic coincidence and how quickly the obsession cleared away…and of course this young woman’s reaction to it all.” Said Diamond, finishing his wife’s thought, “It’s almost Elizabethan.”

“Maybe 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. But it sure does make for a compelling story.”

“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 a lot…it’s got balls and something more elusive—a certain pulse, you might call it. But this story…the story you just told us all…that’s the film 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 1990s love story…or at least obsession story.”

“I agree.” said D’Amato’s wife, with a strange and wondrous grin in her eyes, as if she was pleasantly amused by my predicament, “And young man, don’t you ever be ashamed of going off the deep end in such a way…we all do it now and then…but as a writer—as an artist—it’s your job to go off the deep end…I don’t think any writer worth his salt ever played it safe.” She said, hugging her arms around D’Amato’s arm.

I glanced up at Katie who was still leaning against the partition…she’d not moved through my entire account; she’d listened intently, witnessing the unveiling of my madness, and she hadn’t walked out on me; that took something. 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. God has a plan and we’re not really meant to understand what it is…we just have to have faith.”

“I’ve always said that Hollywood is one hell of a co-writer.” Diamond said, “I agree with Tony, I feel real good about this idea for a film…in fact I’m positive…it wasn’t a coincidence things went as they did tonight.”

“To an amazing film.” Walsh said, raising his bottle, “And to many more.”

“To many, many more.” Diamond concurred with a small bowing gesture as if he was a tuxedoed butler bidding me a good evening, “Are you ready for this?” he asked me with a knowing wink.

“And then some.” I nodded as I rose from the couch.

As Walsh and D’Amato discussed where they were going to order-in dinner from, I stepped over to the window and scanned the vast expanse of city lights that stretched toward the majestic downtown 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 stories out there…and wondered where they were all heading. Sarah was out there somewhere…and I wondered where…then realized it didn’t matter anymore.