"Fixed Odds in Tinsletown", pt. 2
Updated: Jun 30, 2020
My apartment’s on the second story with a door facing a little courtyard where nobody ever sits. Inside, there’s an air conditioner in the window and enough room in the fridge for the whole grocery bag to fit.
I sit at the desk in my bedroom and run enough weed through the grinder for a joint. It always gets me feeling absorbent. I take off my clothes and consult the mirror.
I’m not man-candy. You know the Chippendales type, washboard abs and Medio Litros in their speedos. Nor am I a cowboy, smoky and stoic like Japanese scotch. I’m what they call a social. They want my emotion, my presence. My clients need me to feel, to give them bits and pieces of my insides.
After a shower I pull a vial of Tuscan Leather fragrance from the top drawer of my dresser. It’s got a smell like peppers and gasoline that reminds me of cheap coke. I dab some on my wrists and on my neck, careful not to bathe in the stuff. When I was a kid, back when we all lived in the same house, before she was diagnosed, mom would make fun of us if we put on too much cologne. She’d tell us we smelled like French whores. She’d laugh now if I told her how I paid the rent. She’d laugh until I told her I was serious, so I don’t visit as much as I should.
My phone vibrates and lets me know my car has arrived. I pinch the rest of the joint into an ash tray and drench my assets with eyedrops. I hug the groceries out the door. Lingering on the street in the purple twilight is a shiny black car.
The driver’s name is Artin and he has a thick cross hanging from the rearview mirror. It waves back and forth as we pull onto the 110, toward downtown’s glimmering fingers. Artin’s a talker who gestures a lot with his palms, thrusting them out over the steering wheel.
As we drive up Broadway, between the old theaters, the cell phone stores and jewelry shops, I catch the name Lark + Overland on the side of a high-rise having work done. The sign hangs from a low rung of chipped scaffolding. Likely Dicky’s doing. But who’s this Lark? I tell myself to relax, focus on the client. I’d been doing such a fine job forgetting about the second-trimester motherfucker with the story I wish I hadn’t heard.
I get out with one arm around the groceries and with the other muss my hair a bit as I walk toward the awning of a seven-story Art Deco. I smile at the super who knows me and so hunches his shoulders up around his ears like he’s cold. He opens the door and breathes into his other fist, as if he’s giving himself an out if I want to shake.
When the elevator dings and opens, I find bare walls and the smell of cool cement. My footsteps echo in the hall as I round to a friendly door. Piano trickles out from underneath. I knock and there she is, Bella Gracie, or so she tells me, with silver hair kept close over the ears and finely etched features. Her nose is so small you’d think it was painted on.
“Ah, you made it.” She opens the door wide, mouth clipped into a taut smile, with a fresh crimson shine on her lips.
“Of course I did, my love. Where else would I be?”
The smile breaks open, and she loosens, slightly, before she tightens again and ushers me inside with a flick of her wrist. Nat King Cole spins on a record player, there against the brick wall and picture window, voice curling like smoke around the exposed beams in the ceiling.
She casts a glance back at me as she bounces, playfully, toward a kitchen deep in the corner of the wide-open loft.
“I hope you brought home something to go with the Marsanne.” Finely tuned fixtures stream down and pour a rich, warm glow onto a thickly veined granite island, catching the rims of two ice-thin flutes. Bella pours a crisp white wine that puts a sheen of perspiration on the outside of the glasses.
“Will a salmon do? Caught off the pier, just this morning.” I hang my coat and click across a section of barren cement floor. Really, the fish is from Oregon, and Bella always emails me the shopping list two days in advance. I set the bag on the counter and she peeks inside.
“I think that’ll do just fine. Did you find any dill?”
“It didn’t look very appetizing, so I thought we could skip it this evening.” I say, too quickly.
“You couldn’t get a white fish instead? They don’t want for dill, you know.” She yanks out the buxom turnips, the single loaf of bread, the red potatoes. The edges of her mouth curl toward her chin. I take a deep breath. I move toward her slowly, hoping to warm her once more.
“And what’s this?” I flinch at the creamy white business card she holds up in the light. She arches her eyebrow. “This is interesting.”
She holds the card out of my reach and picks up her wine glass, holding them out and over her shoulders, coquettish grin on her face.
“What are you, Brady Chase, doing with a private investigator? A certain, Remy Hollar.”
I take up my wine glass and look into it a moment. See, to Bella, I am a burgeoning filmmaker who tosses aside his busy schedule to see nothing in the world but her. To Bella, I am the husband who listens, who sets up shop beneath her feet. Her kink is partnership. I rest my hand on the cool granite of the island and lift my eyes to meet hers.
“I really shouldn’t tell you anything. The film is just getting off the ground as we speak. Development, early stages.”
“Ooh, the next big block buster? Or is this more of a —” she puts her eyes somewhere up in the rafters, “independent-treasure type?” “Somewhere in between. We’re in the research phase, though some very big names are circling. You know the deal.” I lift an eyebrow and take another sip of my wine.
“Indeed, I do.” She drops the card on the shined stone and sets down her glass. She saunters to me, reaches up. She grasps my jaw and smiles so bitterly that her eyes pinch shut. “If it’s a mystery, you should really screen it first at Tribeca. I have friends in the festival. We could really make a splash.”
“Bella… I was hoping you’d say as much. I don’t think I can do this one without you.”
“Oh, Brady.” She folds herself into my arms, and I hold her, eyeing the back of Remy Hollar’s card, the address in Sun Valley scrawled in red pen. Bella flinches when the phone in my pocket starts buzzing.
“Just a moment, love.” I say to Bella and click over to the loft’s far corner where the record spins. Out the window, yellow-marrow light splashes across the brick of the building next door.
“Hey, where are you?” I whisper sharply.
“Halfway to the bottom, saw you called.” Slurs Clare.
“Does the name Remy Hollar ring a bell to you?”
“Not a single one.”
“Well he’s a PI, sounds mean. He’s barking up your tree.”
“Barking how, Ezra? You might just be intriguing me.”
I eye Bella, who’s in the kitchen chopping carrots, pretending not to pay attention, then turn my back and speak clearly, quietly. “He’s saying you killed your husband.”
Clare sighs into the phone.
“And you believed him.”
“I don’t know. But he knew your name and he knew Dicky’s. Found me in the middle of Santa Monica.”
“Ah honey, do you need a hug?” She says it with the kind of sweetness I know is meant to bite.
“Look, even if he’s lying, he’s got some kind of angle on us. We should meet.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that? You want to make sure your neck’s protected?”
“It’s not about me. I care about you, Clare. I want you safe.”
“I’m the hand that feeds. Of course you care.”
That one puts a heat in my chest and on the back of my ears. Her voice comes through the phone before I can locate any words.
“But I’d like to see you, and hear about this Hollar gent. Would be a fun thing to drink about, don’t you think?”
“Sure.” I feel sick.
“You can come to the house tomorrow night, if your schedule allows.”
“Sure.” I hang up and head back to Bella in the kitchen.
After we eat on the reclaimed timber dining table, after I’ve performed a listening, we watch a film in black and white while I massage her feet with oil.
We get into bed and she falls asleep. I lay there, thinking of Clare, trying to locate why I care. I think about when we met, when all this started two years ago in a Rite Aid on Canon Drive.
I was high on half a joint and waiting in line to buy a cheap bottle of wine.
“S’cuse me, mister.” The voice had come from behind me. “Do you happen to have a phone charger?”
She had crow’s feet and eyes like twin volcanoes, hair a deep and roiling umber. Her clothes looked worn, expensive. She held her little son’s hand. He played with a plush green toy and never looked up. He had wanted this new Beanie Baby, so they hopped into an Uber. Fabulous, she’d said, until her phone died.
I told her I did, that my charger was in my car. I told her no when she offered to pay for my wine.
“Please, my bank account is fat, and you’d be helping her get skinny.” She said. I should have grabbed a better bottle.
Waiting for her phone to charge got uncomfortable, so I offered them a ride. She lived off Cielo Drive, in the big house, she called it. On the way there, winding between the trees on that narrow two-lane, she told me her boy had a superpower, that he was autistic, that he’d bitten another boy at school.
“We all have our own way of communicating.” I said without thinking much. She looked at me then. I mean she really looked at me.
“What do you do for a living?” She asked.
“I’m an actor. Well, that’s the goal.”
“Well, then I want to help you.” Clare Overland ran her fingers through her hair and touched my hand on the center console.
When I got home later that night, I asked the internet about her and it said her family had made its mark on Los Angeles in the bad old days. I remember thinking a guy like me could use a friend like her. I remember wanting to see her again, badly.
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.