"Fixed Odds in Tinsletown", pt. 1
Updated: Jun 30, 2020
I’m standing in the shade of a blue canopy, surveying the loaves of sourdough. A kid about yea high with a ring of ice cream around his mouth plucks at an unwatched loaf, his mother with her back to him, talking on the phone. He freezes when he notices me looking, and I give him a wink.
The baker wipes his hands on his apron before bagging up a double-order for a couple of Europeans, who say a slanted thank-you and shove the goods into a Gore-Tex backpack. It’s 80 degrees, easy. It comes my turn, and I make a two with my hand and reach for my wallet. My date tonight, she likes to cook for me. She adds the food onto my rate and doesn’t ask for receipts, so it’s one for us and one for me.
My head’s down when I turn around, so I almost run into the guy, just standing there with the head of an oversized infant, stuffed into a wicker fedora.
“Brady Chase, right?” He says my trade name in a nasally drawl. He’s got a runny nose and a mouth like the barrel of a shotgun; open, hairless, vaguely greasy. “You got a minute?”
“I’m not interested.” I move around the guy. He’s got sweat stains on the tits of his linen shirt.
“It’s about your future.” He says to my back.
I slip into the heave of the Santa Monica Farmers Market — a blizzard of conversations, the click of hard-soled shoes, a knife clopping atop a cutting board.
A toddler too big for her stroller drops an ice cream cone and screams. The back of my neck tingles and I scan behind me for a wicker fedora, keep moving.
A hunched Asian man in gold robes sings a rusty mantra and walks slowly with his arms out, rubbing a piece of polished jade in one hand, proffering an armful of prayer beads with the other. He smiles to a young white woman in sneakers and a university sweater, who presses her palms together and steps to him with her head low. The beads click together as he comes to a stop.
There is a kind of peace as she waits to be blessed and he waits for her to reach to where she keeps her money. Then he names his price, and she looks like she’s been smacked. I can’t blame her for wanting a pure moment. I believe in them, too, like chemtrails and Bigfoot, like prove to me they don’t exist and then we’ll talk. Still, I feel sick to my stomach and just wish she’d get the picture.
I spot an herb tent and cut through traffic. A bit of sun pokes at a pile of dill, $3 for a bunch, and I bend to smell its warmth; clean fur and bright mustard.
“I’m not fucking around, you know.” The man with the wicker fedora blocks the sun like a cartoon cut-out. I set down the shopping bag in my right hand, shake out the digits.
As a general rule, I don’t offer my services to married women. Even the remote husband is nosy and known to settle his injured ego in ways an escort can’t afford. But rules being rules and rent being, you know, fucking high, makes me wonder, is this Margot’s or Madeline’s, maybe Eleanor’s?
“I didn’t sleep with her, if that's a factor for you.” I wager, and he steps under the awning. His nostrils are chapped and red. He pats at them with a ball of tissue, then stuffs it back into his pocket without taking his eyes off me.
“I don’t give a shit about any of that. It’s about Clare Overland.”
“Doesn’t ring a bell.” Of all the names, he has to spit hers.
I pick up the bag again in my right hand and put my shoulder into his chest and hear the wind knock out of him in a murky cough. He follows me this time, closely.
“Look, I know you know her. I’ve been casing her place for a week. Caught you leaving there this morning.”
I keep my head forward. Faces blur together as I wedge my shoulder through the crowd. Voices and stray words whirl around me. My cells are all jacked up, wanting me to run.
“It’s just, you should know, things don’t go so good for the men in her life.” He gabs, and I turn on him.
“What makes you think you know the first thing about her?”
People ebb around us like we’re stones in a stream. His breath smells like a gym bag. “I got a reason to believe she offed her husband. Cold shot him in the back of the head.”
“You lie like a rug.” I say.
“Horror show aside, my employer’s got dough to spare, and you’ve got access. This could be a sweet deal for the both of us.”
“You should give him a refund and start worrying about what I got in my glovebox for you if you keep on following me.”
He shoots a hand for one of my bags, and I look down in time to see a business card trickle down into the crack between the salmon and the turnips.
“There’s an address on that card. Do yourself a favor and take her there, okay? All’s I want to do is talk.”
“You just about done?”
“Trust me.” He pokes at my chest with the pointer finger of his tissue hand. “You want to play ball with me.”
On the off chance he’s a cop, I don’t swing. Instead I aim my eyes at his face until he turns around and walks away, hands shoved into his cargo shorts, little slats of sun sliding against his pink skull through that wicker fedora.
I’m still shaking a little when I get back to the car, the muscular old Buick Wildcat, parked there on San Vicente. A ticket flickers against the windshield. I pluck it from under the wiper and drop it on the
The hinges whine when I turn the key and pop the trunk. In go the groceries, next to the jumper cables and a couple empty wine bottles. I should take those out, recycle them, I think, as I slam the trunk so hard it puts a crack in the rear window. I check the street for more wicker but all I see are plush homes and new cars, crouched like big cats.
I couldn’t tell you how long this ride’s been around. There’s a deep tear in the meat of the driver’s seat and a dusty hula girl glued to the dash. It was a gift from a client whose husband kept it for sentimental reasons until the day he died. I don’t even know if the revolver in the glovebox shoots. I figure I’ll take it out whenever I get the registration in my name.
The engine rumbles to life, and the girl on the dash starts waving her hips. Dapples of light slide across the big hood as I pull onto the street.
Traffic on the 10 is relatively light. Give it another hour and this route’s beef stew. I call Clare's cellphone, and it goes straight to voicemail. I don't know where to start, so I hang up without a word. The sun’s beginning to slip behind the palm trees on Avenue 53 when I find a parking spot and wrestle the groceries out of the trunk.
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.