"Fixed Odds in Tinseltown", pt.5
Updated: Jun 30, 2020
Clare shuffles a deck of naipes against a dry portion of the table. She fumbles, and the cards spill out of her grasp and clatter delicately against the rug.
“Do you feel like telling me about it?” I ask.
She nods to herself, chews on more ice, then slowly turns her face to me. It takes her seconds to locate my face with her boozy orbs. “If you promise just to listen to me.”
“I’m ears. I’m only ears.” I set down my glass where the table could be, only it falls to the floor with a dull thud. Maybe she takes it as a sign of solidarity because she leans back into the couch and turns her body toward me. If the glass has cracked, we don’t know about it. Neither of us look.
“I want to do it in the dark.” She says.
The fire has subsided, and she reaches to the lamp on the side table, extinguishing the remaining light with a click like the crack of a stick in a forest. There should be crickets, but all we have is the hum of a distant appliance.
“Dicky’s daddy made his fortune in the movies. It’s the only reason we were in the same circle. It’s why he always acted like he had something to prove. Didn’t help at all that his father hated women. But he told me that he thought differently. He even took my name when we got married.
“But he had a plan. I didn’t see it at first but it was the Overland he was after, not the Clare. He didn’t want to make movies, he said. He wanted to make cities, and the name still had a little panache left over. When Charlie was born, he was so happy. His little heir. But then Charlie was different, and I didn’t want to have any more kids. I wanted to give that little boy all of me, and then Dicky, well, he stopped looking at me. Unless he was deep into the drinks.
“Eventually Dicky started telling me I wasn’t fit to carry an empire. He used that word. Empire. Said it needed a guy like him to make it last.
“Hitting me, I guess, I could take. But when he got violent with Charlie. When the fucker. Excuse me. When the motherfucker pushed my little Charlie so hard that he broke his arm. Well, then I was done with Dicky. I was all the way done with Dicky.”
The flicker of a lighter against the end of her cigarette tells me she’s done speaking. I feel dizzy. I reach for her. She blows a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling.
“And that is that. Tell me, am I a monster?”
“You did what you had to do, Clare. I don’t judge you for that.” It feels true enough to say.
She squeezes my hand. I think of the sword hanging over the both of us.
“You have no idea how good it is to hear you say that. You’re my still point, too.”
“But Remy Hollar. Something’s got to be done about him.”
“Forget about him. He doesn’t matter.”
“He knows about you, and he knows about me. I want to handle him for the both of us.”
I imagine calling him, telling him I’ve got Clare with me, then running him over in the Wildcat. Wipe it down, walk away.
“That isn’t you, Ezra. You don’t hurt people.”
“I just need to hurt him bad enough to make him turn the other way, remember what’s really important to him.”
She reaches back to the lamp, clicks it on. “Don’t.”
Before I know it I’m standing, wind at my back.
“He wants me to take you to him tonight. He’s expecting my call. It’s the perfect time.”
“Stay and kiss me instead.”
“Make a pot of coffee, wait for me. I’ll be back before sunrise.” I lean toward the front door, let my legs do the catching. I have to earn this life that has just been offered, for the both of us, for the three of us.
“Ezra, stop it.” There’s something primal in her voice that halts me. I turn around slowly. She’s standing, wobbling above the couch. “You can’t go to Remy because Remy isn’t real. It’s a made-up name. He works for me.”
“What?” The blood’s thrumming in my ears. I must have misheard her. “What’d you say?”
“Remy Hollar isn’t a P.I., he isn’t a cop. He’s a friend of the family with a large debt. Wears a wicker fedora. Skin a bit like chewing gum.”
“Clare, what the fuck? Why would you do that?”
“I had to know what you’d do, what you’d think of me if you knew what I’d done. But you love me, and I see that now. I love you, too.”
“I’ve never lied to you. I wouldn’t do that.”
“But you’d— “a fire roars in my chest. “Is Dicky even dead?”
“Then I want to see him, his body.”
“He’s dead and buried.”
She doesn’t mean to, but I see. Clare’s eyes flick to the window with the big carpet of stars on the other side of it.
“If that’s a fact, then you’ve got a shovel.”
Clare just nods. Then her eyes get all wide.
“Mom?” The little tow-headed guy is rubbing sleep from his eyes with the arm that isn’t in a hammock. Clare goes to him, wraps him up in her arms. I start unbuttoning my shirt.
“What are you doing?” Clare says like she’s the one shocked.
“Digging out a hole is dirty work.”
When the shovel bites into a lone patch of peonies in the big yard, the dirt is soft. Clare pointed out the spot with her checkbook. Now, she’s over there on the veranda, sitting alone and fanning herself with what she said is a hefty sum.
I pitch a clod to the side and kick the shovel down again with the arch of my foot. I leverage a healthy pile. I repeat. It’s around knee deep when I feel the blisters start to come up on the webbing between my thumb and forefinger. By the time the hole’s up to my navel, the handle starts to darken and slip in my hands. All the pain does is make me work faster.
The smell of old meat works up out of the clod, and I know I’m getting close. When the shovel bites like a spoon into warm mochi, I start swiping at the dirt with my foot. After a few rounds I’ve got the basics sketched out: legs, torso, arms.
Six feet down, the lights from the house do nothing. It’s a body, that much is clear, but it could be anybody’s. I grasp at the grave’s precipice with my two stripped hands and pull myself up. Clare’s gone from the veranda, but I find what I need easily enough, one of those pretty little night lights. It’s like a lawn dart with the ass of a firefly. I yank it out of the sod and hop back in the grave. I hold it close to the face, forehead blooming like a bowl of beef bourguignon. The eyes are too close together. Beneath them, a soiled chin, tasteful salt and pepper stubble, frozen in time. I realize I am hungry, wickedly hungry, and my hands are on fire. Here’s a pure moment, here at last.
“Turn around.” Comes her voice from over my shoulder. I oblige and point my face at hers. I’m holding the lawn dart like a torch. I am a shirtless explorer, far from home. Yet this is my cave. The reappearing pistol is pointed at my face, rusty stock glimmering dully.
“I guess it works.”
“If Charlie was asleep, I’d maybe shoot you.” She tosses the gun my way, and I can’t help but catch it. “Now, if they come, I’ve got fresh prints. We’ll both go down together.”
“Or maybe I’ll just use this on you now.”
“Do it. I don’t care. But then you won’t have my signature on the check.” She shakes the thin sheaf of paper.
I look down at the pistol in my grip. Now it’s got my blood on it, too. When I open my grasp to drop it, the thing sticks. I have to pry it off with the lawn dart before it falls to the dirt next to a piece of Dicky’s mind.
She’s halfway to the veranda by the time I’ve climbed back out of the hole. She’s got her name etched out on a check with several zeros by the time I meet her there.
“Here,” she says, arm outstretched. I grin.
“You keep that. You need it more than I do.” I say.
“Don’t be silly.”
“There’s nothing silly about me. I’m satisfied.” I haven’t felt this good since I got old enough to forget being birthed.
“Then I guess this is goodbye.” She says.
“Should we hug?” Sweat has mingled with the soil covering my body. My pants are torn. My hands drip. She doesn’t find any of it funny.
As I make my way through the house, leaving muddy prints on the marble, her voice wanders to me once more.
“I hope you got what you wanted.” She says.
I think, well, I always did want to be a paleontologist, and walk out of the house without a word.
After a few turns of the key, the old Buick Wildcat shudders to life. I drive slowly between the spires of Cypress. I roll the windows down and let the cool air waft over my skin. The gate opens without incident, and I’m back on Benedict Canyon. Four yellow lines blur apart in the middle of the road. Two hula girls wave their hips along the dashes. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow will be a better day, the start of something new. I realize I need to call her, need to hear her voice. Not Clare. Her.
I peel a hand off the wheel and fish the phone out of my pocket. The screen is shattered. This foreign block I’m holding is deader than Dicky. I toss it to the floorboard and look up in time to see the red traffic light above and a stack of traffic on Santa Monica. A bulb flashes above me as I find enough room for the Wildcat behind a shiny SUV. Behind me in the rearview, a white compact. I breathe out, turn on the radio. It’s 12 a.m. and here we are, all of us, sitting in our bubbles together in the queue. It takes me a moment to get it, to put together why. Ahead, blaring blue and red lights: a checkpoint. Then my idling engine rattles and quits.
By the time the cop’s at my window, I’m ready for the bracelets. He pulls up on a motorbike and squawks his siren at the honking ride behind me, quieting them for now. When he asks me just what the fuck I think I’m doing, I tell him I’m trying to get home. He waves his flashlight over the dirt and the blood and puts his hand over his gun, tells me to step out of the car. I show him my bloody palms and the whitest smile I can muster.
The ride to the station is mostly quiet. Another officer asks me what I’ve done. I tell her I’m an escort, that I’m good at what I do.
And that’s all the detail they get.
When I wake up in the tank, really a cinderblock box, I’m shirtless and lying with my head next to a drain. A thin man with grease stains on his arms watches. He tells me his name is Santos, runs his finger and his thumb over his harelip like he’s smoothing out a mustache. There’s a bench running around the room and a metal toilet in the corner.
Around noon they bring us plastic trays holding bologna sandwiches and cartons of milk. Even bread hurts to hold but I swallow both happily and ask the guard to use the phone.
I dial the hospice and hope whoever answers takes a collect call from a jailhouse. Sure enough, they do. Soon enough, Mom’s on the other end of the line. She’s already fired up.
“Ezra, what the fuck is going on? Are you in jail?”
“No, mom. Not like that. It’s research for a role. Thought it’d be fun to use the phone.”
“You’re crazy, you know that?” Her voice calms as quickly as it kindles.
“Hey, you raised me.”
“I guess that’s true.” There’s a smile in her voice and I can feel her relax, even through the phone.
“How you doing today?” I ask, settling into the well-worn grooves of this conversation.
“Oh, you know. Nobody ever visits me these days.”
“I know, I’m sorry.” Really, I do feel guilty. But I know I could never visit her enough.
“So, I just make friends with the old farts. The ones who aren’t too busy dying.”
“Well, that’s good. How are you getting around?”
“Everything hurts, but I tell myself if I’m in pain, I’m alive.”
She asks if I’m making fun of her, and I tell her no. She tells me about her neighbor, the guy a room over, who bought himself a scooter. He raced it up and down the hallway until the staff took it away. Barbarians, she calls them.
Meet the Author
Jon grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the only child of a railroad worker and a jack-of-all-trades mystic. He is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz and currently resides in Los Angeles, where he writes stories in his free time and dreams of living life without a car.“Fixed Odds in Tinseltown”is his second publication.