• Spectrum Staff

"Fixed Odds in Tinsletown", pt. 4

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

I remember the rusty gun. There is a symmetry to the idea of bringing what may or may not be a dud shooter into a may or may-not-need-to-shoot situation. I open the glovebox. Apart from the old registration, the thing is empty. I shut the door and open it again. There is no gun. A side of me pops up, screams at me for all the drinking. What have I done with it? The silver-lining guy joins the chorus. Maybe there was no gun in the first place. Maybe I just made it up.

My boots crunch in the smooth pebbles as I step out of the old Buick. Wind slithers in the trees and along the mansion’s stone face. The front door hangs open.

I step into a billowing foyer. Grand staircases cascade around a rococo chandelier so fine it could melt. Inside it’s polished, quiet like a museum.

The furniture tends to be made of forged brass and cool white marble. An expensive set of keys lie in a deep alabaster bowl. I pick them up and drop them with a clank that disappears and then returns, echoing off the faraway ceiling.

“In the library!” Comes the honey-toned voice, and I steel myself before stepping toward it.

Beyond the foyer is an agonizingly tall room that swallows the kitchen and a sitting area. The whole wall in front of me is made of glass that looks out to a yard, now dark, dotted with tiny accent lights that give the impression of looking across the night sky.

I find Clare Overland seated in the corner of a deep leather couch, finely muscled arms tuned on either side of a red-bound book, reading. The gaping fireplace is alive with crackling madrone. On a low crystal table sits a silver ice tub holding an unlabeled magnum of vodka, I know from experience, and a carafe of tonic water. Lime wedges lounge on a simple bamboo serving board.

She doesn’t look up at first, but her perfume engulfs me where I stand, hints of rose petal and something sharp. She wears a bright satin dress that gets the cymbals in my head clashing. It holds her in confident hands, grasping her breasts and the bulge of her pot belly with affection. I clock it all in a second because I know the woman’s body. She’s the picture of beauty, but that’s not what has the blood pumping in my ears. This is the first time I’ve seen her dressed up. Our rendezvous, the business we conduct, has always been of the jeans and sweats variety. We’ve never done public.

When she looks up and shows me her cheekbones, the fire flickers in her eyes.

“Ezra, darling. You look a little drunk.”

“Well, I feel a little sober.”

“Then you’ve got some catching up to do.”

“What’s that you’ve got on?”

“I think I’ll call it gift-wrap.”

“For who?”

“That’s up to you. Did you have something in mind?”

“I want to talk about you-know-what. I need to know. But it seems like you’ve got plans.”

“Can’t a girl enjoy a quiet night in couture?”

“I just wish I’d gotten the memo. A guy like me wants to know the kind of night he’s getting into.”

“It’s not enough that the story’s about you, you need to be told what to do, too?”

I walk to the fire and bend to let it lick at my face.

“I should at least know who I’m playing with.”

Clare shuts her book, sets it on the table and with the same hand swipes up her tumbler. “You seem angry.”

“Just curious.” I say. The wood spits in the fire. The two of us stay still.

“Well then I guess we have something in common after all. Come, have a drink.” She finishes hers.

“Not until you tell me why I’m here.”

“Darling, you called me.” She says. I feel my face flush and a breath of heat in my chest.

I turn on her. “Did you kill him?”

She keeps my eyes and tips a chip of ice into her mouth, chews. Then she pulls the carafe of sparkling from the ice bath and starts making fresh drinks.

“Clare.” I say her name, willing the word to be solid, but my cords betray a crumbling inside. It comes hoarse, desperate. She hears it and freezes over the drink. Then slowly, she looks up. The eyes she gives me are those of a child, wide open, wanting to believe.

“Why do you care?” She asks, and there isn’t any coyness left in her words.

“Because you’re my still point. If something happened to you, I don’t know who I’d be.” Water seeps through the cracks around my eyes. Faulty construction, I think.

She drops her eyes back to the drink. Her hands act funny with the tongs before she drops them into the bucket.

“I did.” The words drop out of her like a nail through each of my feet, and now I’m stuck there, watching her come undone. “I killed Dicky. It was the only thing left to do.”

Her shoulders start to shake, eyes still aiming at the table. I pry my feet from the floor and join her on the couch. The plush leather accepts me with a sigh and I grab a glass. I quaff it gone in one pull, and she does the same. We share the quiet while I make another round. The acid in a lime wedge burns a tiny cut in my thumb I didn’t know was there.

We sit like that a while, trading off the task of making drinks as our particles rearrange themselves around new truths. I find I’ve been staring at the fire hard enough, I think for a moment, to make it go cold.

Meet the Author

Jon Huffman-Eddy

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.

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