Saturday, Noonish, Connie’s Frozen De-lites Truck / Venice Beach, CA
“Hey, Connie.” He smiled, raised his sunglasses.
“Hey, Stuart.” She smiled back, wiped her hands on a red and white striped towel. “The usual?”
“Yeah. Extra walnuts?”
“Got it. We ever gonna see another album out of you guys?”
“Not as soon as we wanted. This one was spread out all over the place. Had to keep Dooce and Freemont out of each other’s way. Dooce played the same freakin’ guitar solo on like three tunes. We didn’t catch it till last night.”
She pulled a scoop out of a small bucket of water, bent over into the freezer. “The same? Really?”
“Close enough. Bobcat sent him to the woodshed with a thermos of double expresso Starbucks, a stack of old Benny Goodman jazz albums and a bag of some different weed. He’s been smoking the same shit since the Super Bowl party where he brought in his crop. We all think he needs to change his channel.” He glanced up for a second. “Gulls are noisy as all hell this afternoon.”
“It’s the stale chips box-lunch tourists.” She looked over his head, pointed with her chin. He turned, sure enough. The smoked glass limo bus had unloaded for lunch on the beach and the air was full of seagulls and the ground covered in tossed stale potato chips.
“I liked it better when they went straight to Disneyland. If they’re going to stop, they could pull up closer to your ice cream coach.”
“No thanks. Tourists, no English, all the pointing, the gulls pooping on everything and all that? Foreigners don’t tip for shit, anyway. I’ll live.”
He nodded agreement, watched Connie the ice cream truck girl embed walnuts into his French Vanilla ice cream. Listened to her talk about her dogs while she hammered nuts and ice cream into coexistence on a piece of marble tile. She really enjoyed her job and smiled a lot, always made it an enjoyable experience to buy ice cream from her. She’d told him once it was because a lot of things in her life got worked out on that piece of marble.
He thanked her, took the cone handoff, put a dollar in the tip jar and didn’t bother to look up when he backed away onto the sidewalk.
He heard the scream just before a violent collision sent him off across the grass rolled up in a ball of asses, knees and elbows with someone. Ten yards from their point of impact they ricocheted off a fifty-five-gallon drum-turned-trash-can and came to rest a few yards from it. He and whoever, they seemed to be made out of nothing but lightly oiled caramel-colored velvet that smelled like coconut oil and flowers were twisted into a human Rubik’s cube. And his left shoulder? Gaw-awd dammit. A female voice with a mild Russian accent was talking to his nose. She hadn’t lost her Doublemint gum in the collision and was calm, in spite of whatever had happened. She had great teeth and her nose, all of her he could really see, looked like the rest of her felt. Slightly oily.
“Nice to meet you, too, ice cream no pay attention boy. Dangerous, your way you meet girls. Just to say ‘Hey, girl,’ is too much? For you? You wave. Maybe I stop. Only maybe.” She unhooked from him, one arm and one leg at a time, from under and around him. She rolled out and away and ended up sitting cross-legged and straight-armed, hands on her knees. He was on his back, one knee up, his left shoulder on fire. She looked at him like he was some curiosity that had fallen out of the sky. A block of frozen pee from an airliner, or maybe a piece of Sputnik. She held out her hand.
“Nice to meet you.”
“You said that.”
“You forgot the polite way of how to meet a girl, no pay attention, no apology ice cream boy. So I try again for you. Taisia. Nice to meet you?”
He raised his arm from the elbow, hand up. “Stuart.” She squeezed his hand like it had juice in it she needed for something healthy to drink. “Ow. Say that again. Twa-waw-ayzeeah?”
“Close. Taw-eezh-ee-uh. You should see in Cyrillic. It becomes more clear for you.”
“No, I shouldn’t.” He rolled onto his right side dragging his left arm and shoulder. “Fuckin’ ow! Jesus.” He stared for a split second. “Do you like wax your entire body?”
“No. Only where you should not be looking so close if you are hurt.” She squinted in brief appraisal. “For those places you should be one hundred percent of yourself. You? Maybe one hundred and ten. Or twenty.” She leaned forward, pushed him over on his back, sat on his chest and frowned while she worked her hands over his left shoulder. Her bikini was one of those three poker chips and a couple of shoelaces jobs, and she didn’t wax everywhere. He knew because he was so engrossed in the way the sun and her body fuzz were working together with the perfumed coconut oil that she had to tell him twice to rotate his arm and shoulder.
“With you I repeat everything? Why is that? Nothing is broken, you will live. Something hit you?”
“No. I am strong but I am a girl and not so hard to cause pain.”
He thought he might be getting that way and was glad when she stood and pulled him up by his right arm.
“Shirt.” She held out her hand, waited. He obeyed and she got right up on the non-bloody cross-shaped dark purple dent at the very top of his upper left arm. She walked off tip toe on her skates and re-set the trash barrel they’d knocked over, held his shirt sleeve up to where the welded angle iron support frame crossed in the front of the barrel, and nodded.
“Is here.” She pointed at her discovery and a rusty cross on his t-shirt sleeve, looked at him, pleased with her space case ice cream cone boy violently meets six-foot-four Amazon Russian skater girl train wreck forensics. She shook the shirt in his direction. “Is better you than me, no attention ice cream boy.”
“Any gentleman points for that?”
“Not today.” The backhanded t-shirt hit him in the face with some force. She bent over and started to pick up the trash scattered in their wreck. Jesus, she shouldn’t be…
He pulled the shirt on and squatted to help her with the trash, eyes wide. Sweet, sweet Jesus. He almost forgot about his shoulder before he suggested that she might follow his lead in the squat versus bend.
They dropped the last waxed coke cup and hot dog wrapper back in the can. She brushed her hands together, made a face, wiped and squeezed them on the back pockets of his Levis. Jeeeez-zus. She could charge for that.
“You have car? Mine is too far. I will drive. For X-rays. Come.”
She stitched her eyebrows together, looked at him like he was the most pathetic dumbass on the planet. “Of course, I remove them before. I am smart Russian girl, not Polak joke person.”
“You have a license somewhere?” No more bikini than she had on he didn’t want to start guessing.
“Commercial. In my skate.” She let a small grin run across her face, looked at him like she knew what he’d been thinking.
“Cool.” He handed her his keys. “It’s a stick. Can you handle it?”
“Stick?” She spun his key ring into her palm. “All the men, they say to me, ‘Taisia, is like tree, can you handle it?’” She gave him a slightly crooked smile. “Today is good because at last I meet one honest American ice cream boy. I like you too much already.” The open-palm whack between his shoulder blades rattled his teeth. Jee-eez-us. He had towels in the trunk. He’d find a way to get her to sit on one and not get that oily business all over his seats.
Sunday, 10:47 AM – La Brea, CA
Burke noted the shocky teenage girl in a white apron sitting on the curb with a plainclothes female from Hollywood Division, thought it best to leave them alone. He flashed his badge at the uniform on yellow tape duty and swam upstream against a small army of exiting haz-mat suited forensics people and into the back of the La Brea Haagen-Dazs.
“Morning, Burke.” His task force partner Laschelle, a young black woman from the FBI , handed him a coffee.
“They open already?”
“Nope. I worked at a Farrells up in the Bay in high school. All the coffee machines are the same. I’m Federal. Who’s gonna complain?” She motioned him closer, lifted the lid on a three-gallon ice cream bucket.
“You’re female and black so somebody’ll get – Holy fucking…Goddammit…” Burke jerked his head up and back, collected himself before he looked back down at the severed head covered with walnuts in an otherwise empty French Vanilla ice cream bucket. “Anyone we know?”
“Another musician. Stuart O’Connell? Keyboard player in a two guitar band.”
“So he won’t be missed, at least vocationally.” He hit his coffee. Hot and perfect. He looked past it, raised his eyebrows in question marks.
“Uniforms found his car burned out in a West Hollywood alley. The bucket came from yesterday’s trash. He’s fresh.”
Burke gave the bucket’s contents a sideways glance. “This is what, five?”
“Six, if you count that one on the cactus at the Harbor Freeway onramp.”
“No note on that one, I’m still not sure. Walnuts are a nice touch. Any reason, you think?” He popped a stick of clove gum, offered.
“No thanks. Shit smells like funked up old shoes, Burke. Too early in the morning.”
“Sorry. The walnuts?”
“Who knows. Do you think there’s a reason for any of these?”
“I’m starting to think one of you is unhappy with my side of the gender line’s manners. Note?”
“Shit.” She rolled her eyes, handed him the index card, the note written in deep pink lipstick.
He should have apologized – He shouldn’t have stared