The big overhead door to the back lot at Monterrey Mick’s Mad Mods was open most of the way. Warm, haze filtered Mid-Afternoon Saturday in L.A. sunshine flooded the area on both sides of the French drain that ran the width of the door. Bobby faced the sun on one side of the drain, Bernie on the other, each on one of the red and white Coleman coolers the jumbo shrimp had shipped in. They had a lazy rhythm pulling the shrimp out of a pile of ice on an aluminum cart for a slice and devein before they rinsed them under a propped-up garden hose over the French drain and tosed them in a big pot of ice water. The sixteen-gallon shrimp boil pot Bobby had rented, full of Bernie’s Trinity and spice, pearl onions and baby Yukon Gold potatoes simmered on a propane burner in the corner like a giant diffuser full of an aroma called “home.”
“This shrimp’s not too nasty for the Gulf, Boudreaux.” Bernie squinted, held one up and tossed it into the bucket of ice water, reached for another.
“Farm raised tigers. They shoulda been deveined before they left.”
“Farm raised explains the short on nasty. Deveined would drive the price way up. Think about paying you and me in Hollywood dollars for all the Sunday afternoons we did this for free when we were growing up.” She held up a hand sealed in a stainless-steel mesh glove. “You order the gloves with the shrimp?”
“Asked Senior to pick these up when he bought the knives.” He held up his own gloved hand, wiggled his fingers. “I knew he’d send the sharpest ones he could find. I’d like to keep my thumb.”
She shook her hair out of her face, not looking at him in the midst of a shrimp toss. Whatever was gnawing at her, the smell of home, the Trinity she put together in her sink, the easy talk, familiarity, the easy laughter over roach coach breakfast on the set…She couldn’t put her finger on it, but it forced out “Mick’s looking for a way into your money, Boudreaux.”
“So are you. You workin’ with him, or free lancin’?”
She kept up her end of the one for me, one for you deveining, let three cycles go by. “I’m waiting to see the where the eye tracks. How’d you know?”
“I didn’t come out here to learn about cars, I came to learn about people. I figured the place that would take me didn’t see me at all, they saw easy money.” He tossed a shrimp, looked over at her. “I asked a man who does background checks for a boat company I started to run everybody connected to this place. ‘Cause I wanted to see whatever the game was. He said if I saw it once when I could see it coming, understand it and get past feeling like a dumb redneck kid all the time.”
She waited for two more shrimp cycles, built up a little steam. “This man of yours decided, out of all these dime bags of fuck-everybody-and-everything narcissistic Hollywood types around here that I was the one?”
“No.” He wasn’t sure he could tell her she was the only star in the sky at Mad Mods yet. Or that he knew she’d spent every dime she made as a suntan oil and bikini model on UCLA and a diction coach to get her voice out of the bayou. “He said you had a degree in entertainment marketing, had told these people you were ready to rob a liquor store to get some investment money together for anything to get you out of TNA work, and they pulled you in. There’s you, Mick, and the suspension guy, so far. Suspension guy is a game show host poser with expensive teeth and about as much of a mechanic as I am. The skinny convict does his work.”
She stayed quiet, flipped another shrimp. She’d blown her future right out from under herself. Mother fu –
“Mick think I’d be lonely out here, need a friend?”
She took a deveining break, brushed some light sweat off her forehead with the back of her wrist and hit the cold, sweaty bottle of Dos XX sitting on the floor next to her.
“He’s in deep shit, Boudreaux. His wife drycleaned him before she loaded up the Bentley and found gone. His house is up for grabs. He lost most of his talent two years ago with the antiques series that cost him ratings and sponsors. He got behind with the pimp and steroid crowd last year. He needs cash. Bad.”
“I heard that one. The plan for me?”
“Nothing big. Somehow we get you to give up a couple of mill. Whoever gets it is supposed to split it. If I get it having you seduced, maybe you say something stupid that sounds contractual or a phony DNA test says it’s yours and you have to marry some girl I hook you up with, or pay your way out of not marrying her? I get the money. If that were to happen, then fuck all of them. I’m gone with the cash to be somebody besides another cute ass in cutoffs.”
Bobby saw her cloud up over losing her way out of being another cute ass in cutoffs. But she kept time with the shrimp toss, something that told him she’d done it since she was old enough to hold a knife.
“The game show host and Mick?”
“The game show host ‘mechanic’ gets to it by getting you dirty. Hookers, dope, some young dumb dude stunts with pictures.” She shook both her hands, palms out. “Big scare. Mick’s a TV star, Oh No! His reputation could get fucked up! All that costs money to fix! You buy your way out. But he’s tied to Mick some way, so he and Mick split it and they’ll shut me out.” She reached for the Dos XX again. “If Mick gets it by hiding all the debt and selling you the shop and the show, we all get the finger and he’s off fucking teenagers in Argentina before anyone knows he’s gone.” She looked at him, sadness and borderline desperation palpable. “C’est l’histoires, Boudreaux. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. Mick and the ‘mechanic’ are as obvious as balls on a tall dog. And you’re too old. I’m not stupid enough to think someone like you would have anything to do with me or go out of your way to find me professional girlfriends.”
“Goddammit, I’m twenty-six, I’m not ‘too old’.” Too old plus losing her way out of suntan lotion and bikini model and cute in cut offs edged up on too much for one day.
“So who’d you have lined up for me next?”
“The next girl I had in mind doesn’t matter now.” She tossed a shrimp at the pot with some velocity. “That plan is swirling with Mick and the others.”
“Nothing swirls unless you call them off. You and me can be buds off camera, game on under the lights ‘cause I need to see it. Otherwise I’ve wasted a butt-load of time learning car shit I could have gotten back home. Besides, I have an idea working that might make us some money by the time this is over.”
“Something legitimate? With longevity potential?”
“Does it involve cutoffs smaller than boy short undies?”
She tilted her head back, eyes toward heaven. “Thank God. And you and I,” her chin dropped, “We’re right, between us?”
She hesitated a split second in disbelief, held out a chainmail gloved hand. He reached out with his glove, they shook on it like two knights who’d just called off their joust.
“But I need you to do me one favor. I need to meet what y’all thought was hot enough to make my brain stop and mean enough to break my heart for money.”
“That’s all?” Relieved, she sat up straight, eyed him, shrimp in one hand, knife in the other. “This is Hollywood, Boudreuax.” She gestured over her shoulder with the knife. “Walk out that door, strike a pose like a part-time TV star with money in your pocket and they’ll start a line.”