White Lies and Dirty Laundry

Another cutting room floor editing casualty from The Hot Girl that I liked enough to rescue from the trash.

Roosevelt Junior High, October 20th, 1971

Deanna clung to her open locker door with her right hand, leaned her head on the shelf inside. She couldn’t go to home room. She didn’t want to talk, or smile or lead cheerleading practice or read the afternoon announcements or do anything at all. Just for a day she didn’t want to be who she was. All she wanted was to be alone, and maybe have just one real friend she could tell about Gramma Cora. Goddammit. Was that too much to ask, really?

“Morning, Jackson.” Coach Stephens raised his chin at the growth-spurt skinny eighth grade boy in his doorway. “Some geniuses clogged the shitter in the band room next door.” He tossed the blue nylon bag full of his laundry at the kid like it was a medicine ball. “I’ll get you out through the girl’s side. Grab a hall pass in case you meet a stranger on that side of the building.”

Jackson tore off several pre-signed hall passes from the pad, hefted the laundry bag on his shoulder and followed Stephens to the center of the basketball court, the invisible wall between the only non-coed homerooms at Roosevelt Junior High.

Stephens chirped his whistle. “Heads up, skirts down, legs crossed, ladies. Man on business, comin’ through.”

Jackson knew he’d turned red, shielded his head with the bag and sent his eyes to the floor for his trek through the minefield of girl’s gym homeroom. Damn. They sat on the floor cross legged, or laid on their backs with an ankle on their knee, skirts dropped to almost there. He heard them all shuffling positions, heard the giggles, the “is that Santa Claus” and “what’s with the bag” and “uh-oh, panty check” comments that followed him across the basketball court until he was out the double doors, up five steps and in the hall headed toward daylight.

He raised his eyes, and opposite where the janitor had half the hall blocked there was a locker open, but all he could see were sweat socks and girl’s saddle oxfords. Cheerleader gear. And Mr. Han, the asshole French teacher and hall pass Nazi, was coming down the hall from the other direction, on a collision course with him and the cheerleader at her open locker. Shit.

Bonjour, Mr. Han.”

“Always halfway clever, Monsieur Jackson. You and the bag say it’s Wednesday. Who do we have at their locker who should be in home room?”

Jackson stepped sideways into the narrow space between the girl and Mr. Han, swung his laundry bag around and knocked the unseen girl back inside her open locker. He was chest to chest and almost eye to eye with Han in zero personal space for all three of them. He lifted a hall pass out of his back pocket with his thumb and finger, held it under the bag and waited until he felt her grab it.

“She was with me, Mr. Han. There’s shit, uh, sewage all on the floor by the band room on our side and Coach sent her to escort me out the girl’s side. So I wouldn’t do anything stupid or talk to anybody. And, um, anyway, she needed a book, that’s why he sent her with me. And she ran ahead of me. To get her book.”

Han reached around Jackson, checked the crumpled pink paper the girl pushed past the blue bag.

“Don’t you have somewhere you’re supposed to be, Mr. Jackson?”

“Yes sir.” Jackson stepped off in a hurry, just under the ‘don’t run in the hall’ rule, didn’t look back. Han followed him with his eyes until Jackson and the blue bag were around the corner.

“Miss Collings, are you feeling alright?”

“Yes. My grandmother’s funeral was yesterday. I just didn’t want to talk to everyone…anyone. That’s why I, um, ran to my locker. I’ll be okay. Really.”

“I understand. There’s never a good time for a funeral. Or Jackson.” He flicked the pink pass in his hand with his middle finger, handed it back. “Tell Stephens even he needs to put names on his hall passes. Why he’d send you out with that kid and the bag is beyond me.”

“Well, there is some really gross stinky poop and stuff on the floor on their side and Jackson can get in trouble. I mean pretty easy, and kind of a lot. And I did need my book.”

“It’s a good thing for you, Miss Collings, that everything you have said is true.” He pushed her locker door closed. “Home room young lady. Now.”

“Yes sir.” She glanced at the hall pass on her way, smoothed it out and put it in the history book she wouldn’t need for four hours. Jackson, the guy with the big blue bag, had spare hall passes and covered her, huh? Cool.

Toothbrush

via Daily Prompt: Toothbrush

“If you’re about to apologize, don’t,” she said. “This was my idea.”

He watched Zanie brush her hair back into the signature bushy pony tail, adjust the perfect, store bought cantaloupes in a bra with six hooks under a silky t-shirt.

She checked herself in his mirror, shook her hair. “I wish I still smoked.”

“I keep some of Dash’s cigarillos around here somewhere. And some weed from Hawaii somebody gave me.”

“I told you I have a meeting in half an hour. No weed. Find the cigarillos. And a Coke or beer or something. Where did all that polite Coach Cowboy host shit go?”

“Polite host mask comes off with my other clothes. Coke or Heineken?”

“That’s it? Coke and Hiney?”

“Carbonated French fart water. And a couple of Michelob Lights that might be a year old.”

“Make mine Hiney.”

He left that alone. He came back, tossed the box of cigarillos on the bed between them, handed off her beer and pulled a lighter out of the nightstand.

“Thanks.” She held on to his lighter hand after she blew the smoke sideways. “I was thinking while you were gone.”

He lit his own cigarillo, waited.

“Thinking I should tell you the rest of the reason for ‘this’.”

“Your call. I don’t have to apologize, you don’t have to explain.”

“I’ve spent the last four years as cover for a gay jock. So when I walked my stringer gig I could get some career shit off the ground with no man interference. I saw all the holes I could plug if had a little time, didn’t have to worry about money for a couple of months and bought a set of serious Hollywood qualifications to fix…A problem. I thought when this move to the warehouse next to Dwight’s is done I might need to let someone in. Someone I could work with. And trust. Navarro told me about your Golden Rule number two. This afternoon has to be that way.”

“What afternoon?”

“Good.” She smashed the cigarillo down in the ashtray and chugged the rest of her beer. “Do you have a clean toothbrush I can use?”

“Depends on whether I can still brush my teeth with it when you’re done.”

“Charmingly perverse.”

“It’s a gift. There’s a new one in the drawer on the right side of the sink.”

“Kind of late to be worrying about germs.” She stuck her feet in her heels that immediately made her five inches taller than he was, walked past him and into the bathroom.

“Is this where I cue ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ and watch you drive down Ocean with the top down and your hair blowing around while a little bitty tear lets me down?”

“No.” She wiped her mouth on a hand towel, draped it over his shoulder. “I’m in my production van. And sad, whispery folk songs gag me. Your tear was a nice touch but I know it’s bullshit. Here is where we swear a blood oath to take ‘this’ to our graves.” She blew in her cupped hands, checked her breath. “So far you’ve gotten in my shit, told me a clown punching to old Playboys in your dad’s closet story, whined about the healthy crap all the ‘Oh my God if I gain an ounce or get a zit I’ll die’ girls eat and turned my idea of a quickie to find out who the hell you are into most of an afternoon. You’re a keeper.”

“I didn’t say anything about punching the clown.”

“I have brothers.” She shook out the ponytail again, got chest to chest with him. “You and I ate lunch, found out we have a lot in common that is mutually beneficial professionally, we’re production house neighbors, and we plan on working closely together on a number of projects. Can you repeat that on demand?” She got two inches from his eyes. “I don’t care if they pull out your fingernails. Lunch. Friends. Period. The end. You fuck anyone in this circle jerk mess of a softball team Little Miss Calimex handed you and I’ll be outside the door with a camera and crew. Professionals. Lunch. Friends. Period.”

“The end?”

“This is how good I look leaving. Remember to miss me.”

The Recruiter

Brian at Bonnywood Manor voiced some concern for what a female in one of his posts had done with a clown’s balloon animals. The following is an editing casualty from The Hot Girl, Part 3. Wherein a Valley Girl Prima Ballerina tells her deepest secrets and desires. Balloon animals are always safe with me.

Chix-Stix, Beach side of the 1, Central Malibu, CA (Less than a mile from Jim Rockford’s Trailer)

“Oh, awesome! Me? I would so like totally love to play softball with the TV ladies and Kenny and you and, um, like the queen of naked in a magazine girl. Which is, um, totally not right, really. I don’t think. I mean I couldn’t, even, ever…Okay.” Logan composed herself, used both hands to move her coconut chicken bites and broccoli basket half an inch.

“Like after you’re not a virgin anymore? But just because like, you know, you’ve shown it to somebody and that’s over, right, like whew, really, and maybe somebody else, too, but to totally show everybody? I mean I don’t wear much when I dance. And you can tell like how much of everything there is, boobs and butts. But you know you can’t like see them and, um, that, in leos and tights. I guess they all look alike, so what’s the big deal with me and mine, right? Unless they’re all different, boobs and butts and, um, those. But it’s like mine, okay? And, um, not everybody’s.” She moved the basket back the half inch, took a bite of broccoli.

“But it’s okay. I totally want to meet her and everything, because I’m not like prejudiced or anything as long as she’s not a for real mega whore. Is she? No, um, because you wouldn’t, I don’t think. Would you? No? Okay.” She dunked more broccoli in Ranch dressing, turned it around in her finger tips before taking a bite. “A softball team is like a corps de ballet thing, right? With all the same costumes and everything?”

“Jesus, Logan. She’s not a whore, she’s a psychologist now, and you’ll love her. You never played softball before?”

“Yes, I think. But if I haven’t? I can run and jump and they have costumes, so I can totally pretend I know how and be besties with it, ‘cause that’s what I do. Is it the one like baseball? With the boring hard bench thing? ‘Cause that’s like…Well, ewww. Fishing! Not as gross, but for real they both have like the same fun IQ as pavement. Have you ever been fishing?” She reached across the table and took his Coke. Her eyes waited politely for his answer while she drained his cup through the straw.

“My grampa was pretty into it, and we went when I —”

“I did. Once. To be nice, you know?” She set the cup back in front of him. “But what a total gross-out waste of time. This old forgot-to-shave man? He smelled really bad. Like old beer cans you pick up and throw away but sniff first? And like the dead-fish-on-ice place in the back of Safeway by the murdered cows? My dad, we went in a boat to fish with the beer can smelly man. It was like a dad and daughter thing that was totally lame. For me. Dad drank beer so I guess, um, he had fun ‘cause I had to stop talking to him after a while. And eww-my-gawd, Jax, the smelly man? He stabbed a baby fish with a big hook! Right in front of me! I was like get out baby fish murderer! Then I thought, and my dad got mad about this, that like we could go home and I didn’t have to fish anymore after that, right, ‘cause the man was putting a baby fish on my hook so dad could take a picture and be done. And because it was hot and the boat and the man were so-o stinker. And like the whole daughter fishing thing was a huge no-go for me. But dad and the man had beers left. So…”

He looked at her over his cup he’d popped the lid off of looking for anything left inside. “So?”

“So did you know that’s how they catch fish? For real! They totally murder a little baby fish and throw the whole hook thing with the murdered baby fish on it in the water! So some bigger fish will eat the murdered baby fish and get caught! ‘Hi, I’m a baby fish, just living in this bucket of water and old smelly beer and fish guy in rubber pants stabbed me and threw me out here to get eaten! That is so-o com-pletely horrible. So, um, I am like totally off fishing. For-ever. I still like shrimp ‘cause that’s like all about nets and stuff. But not lobster. Because I got in big trouble one time when I was little. This fat man my parents hired to cook lobsters for a dance reception? I told him to like go throw himself into big pot of hot water and see how he liked it. And that he was so-o lucky nobody had a humongous pot for fat lobster cooker men and he was safe until I grew up and got to be rich and had one made for him. But um, that was before I knew dancers don’t like get rich unless they marry one of those old tuxedo men with flowers. So anyway, they murder all kinds of stuff before we eat it! That’s why Kenny is like sort of a vegetarian person. She eats that noodle-y stuff and potatoes and soup. And way too many beans. And bacon. She likes that a lot. Bacon isn’t like a vegetable, it’s like pigs, I think, but she says it has a divine flavor she is totally down with, and —”

“Logan? Softball. Focus. No bench. We talk to people, they take pictures with the TV girls, which is why I need you to help when Randi and Lori —”

“That’s why! You know, why I want to be a softball girl. Because of all the TV ladies. They are so-o awesome. Can I like talk to them and everything, you know, and be like ‘Hey, TV ladies, I’m Logan Bevan-Burns and like I see you every morning inside my TV and you totally have the most amazing hair eh-ver!’ Because they like do. And like awesomeness teeth, too. Can I ask them if they like totally bummed on their braces like me?”

“Yeah, fine. But what we really need is you and Kenny to talk to the people in the bleachers, and bring that ballerina thing because little girls like that and —”

“I can dance in my softball costume? That is so off the…What do I say to them?”

“You tell the Perfectly You is Perfect story better than anyone. I can get you some cards with a good picture of you dancing and Perfectly You is Perfect on the other side. You could autograph them or write ‘keep up the hard work’ or something.”

“Borrrrrrrr-ing. More no fun IQ. What is wrong with you? When we’re little we want it like totally big, not some sweaty girl with a ‘go get’em, princess’ routine. That’s like what dads do. It’s all smelly beer cans and murdered fish and that is like duller than my rubber pirate princess knife. When my ankle was hurt and I was rehabbing and didn’t know what I wanted to do if I couldn’t dance? I worked at Disneyland. In a candy shop for, um…well, like not very long. I wanted to wear a princess costume so-o much, because, like especially Sleeping Beauty when I was there? She was such a snot! Like a ‘Now children, bee-have’ hair-sprayed TV mom and in the bathroom she called them a bunch of handsy little shits. And, well, I think they were, you know, doing that sneaky boy thing. Anyway, this really old man, they called him the princess wrangler? I made him so mad until he like cussed and everything. So I cussed back and said ‘I’m a ballerina, don’t tell me I can’t wear a princess costume because I talk too much! Like we can never, ever talk when we dance and it’s all about the costume, dancing and not talking, you know? So give me the fucking costume and I’ll shut up and show you how princess goes.’” She took a break, squirted some more ranch dressing out for the broccoli. “So. I don’t think I’ll ever be an official princess. Except in a ballet. Are they different? You know, official Disneyland and ballet princesses?”

“Princesses are princesses, I think. Ballet makes them a little more special.”

She frowned. “Only a little?”

“A lot. Softball?” All he could do was wait. “Yes” or “no” from Logan never came without a story. Several stories.

“I have a secret.”

“I’m good.” He gurgled the last of his Coke from the ice.

“So after Disneyland? I have a secret that is way more secret than even it was me who did the big SBD at Blanco’s last time we went and not the dishwasher man who came out of the bathroom that you said dropped a green bomb. I…Oh no! I told you!”

“Jesus, Logan. What secret can be more secret than you cut a weapon grade hungry ballerina fart at Blanco’s and let me blame it on an innocent dishwasher?”

“Sorr-eeee. Okay. I know Kenny paints faces ‘cause she is so like a totally talented painter and dancer person. My secret is I want to be a balloon man sculptor. In my almost official but can’t be because it would be illegal Snow White costume. I want to be an amazing, awesome, totally the best balloon man ever. Only a balloon man girl. Who tells little girls mega super big princess stories and makes them weener dogs and crowns. And flying saucers. And dragons. With balloons.”

“You want to wear a costume and make balloon things instead of play softball? I can live with —”

“No!” She reached over and knocked on his head. “Are you in there, duncemundo? I can like totally run and do that bat thing and everything in my softball costume and then change when you’re tired of me. I can’t be like boring splinter butt bench girl just talking. Mega bor-ing duh. But the balloons would make it so…” She drifted, held up a chicken strip like she was thinking about tying a knot in it. “I, um. I can’t, really. Yet. But, um…” Her secret balloon tying anxiety caused her to almost swallow the chicken bite whole. She separated the rest of her chicken bites and broccoli into neat piles on either side of the fresh squirt of Ranch, picked up one of each, dunked them and stuffed them in her mouth. He could see her thinking.

“But, um?”

“Okay. I found a man. Not like he was lost or anything, he was in the yellow pages. I went to meet him out in the Valley and everything? But he’s like a little weird and, well, mega weird squared, really. He does birthday parties for little kids and he’s like the ultra-est balloon man in the galaxy. His hands are all way ewww wrinkly and his mustache is like white but orange in the middle. And he totally smokes so much he like smokes when he’s not smoking! He said we could work something out for lessons? And I said that was like for real not happening in any universe and so then he said it’s two-hundred dollars for three nights. And I had to bring murdered cows hamburgers for his dinner. Every night! ‘Cause he said first I have to learn how to blow them, right, and then how to make them go bent when I do, and then how to make them look like something. That’s three nights? Yes! So, um, I thought you could go with me. We can take my car with the ‘thank you Jackson and Peach’ way stellar sounding tailpipe things you helped me put in.”

“You’ve thanked me like a hundred times for that when you did all the work. There were probably forty guys standing around Peach’s Garage waiting to see what a prima ballerina from Brentwood with jacked airshocks on a Firebird would do with a blow torch and pair of Cherry Bomb glasspaks. Peach couldn’t buy advertising like that. Let me get this straight, Logan.” He put everything of his on the tray and pushed it to the side. “I need to go with you to learn how to tie balloons into things like weener dogs and dragons because the balloon man is a creepy letch. And that’s two hundred bucks. After that you’re maybe going to bring an almost official Snow White costume to the games? Halfway through you’re going to stuff your pockets with balloons and make weird balloon things for everybody and tell princess stories? Probably based on ballets? Is that my picture of Logan and softball?”

“Yes! You way have it, amigo! Only like duh, Jackson. Ballets are totally based on princess stories, not the other way. And I have an apron from a wood store. You know, like the wood they build houses with? They have doors, too. At the wood store. You know, if you ever need one.” She caught his look. “A door, silly, not an apron. Anyway, the apron has biggo pockets for the balloons if Snow White is out ‘cause of the corps de ballet softball costumes. And that’s like totally okay, if it is. ‘Cause I can’t be like the only soloist, mega look-at-me ego bitch in a princess costume. That would be so-o totally wrong and I’m not, you know, like that. Unless, like when I am the soloist in the princess costume and then it’s okay if I’m a bitch ‘cause that’s for real like, um, you know, my job.” She reached over, set her pasteboard chicken and brocolli basket on his tray, took his last napkin and his wet wipe. “So now you have to kiss me out of my dress again quick before Saturday because I heard it’s like way big time against all your rules to cruise Big-O City with the softball team girls.”

“Logan, I can’t afford balloon lessons and another new coffee table. So —”

“Puh-leeze. You don’t have a coffee table, Jackson. That was at the French lady’s. You only have those like totally the best big pillows eh-ver.”

The Roommate

From ‘The Hot Girl’ Part Three

England was cold. A deep, set in cold. Not a big snowfall cold, just a background damp gets-in-your-bones cold. It was thirty-seven degrees, it had rained almost every day for the first two weeks she’d been there and tonight was no different.

“Come on. Goddammit, open.” The cold drip from the useless, narrow awning over the door was going straight between her collar and her neck. “If you don’t –” She bumped the stubborn door with her hip when she twisted the key and the solid wood door with a thousand coats of pain banged open, dropped her into the flat on her hands and knees. She crawled inside, shook off the rain like a wet Golden Retriever. A quick glance told her Merriam had a fire going, that was rare, and really nice. And music. A soft, folky kind of — “NOOOOOOO! NO NO NO! MERRIAM STOP!! I MEAN IT, DON’T. OH MY GOD. OH – MY – GOD!!” Deanna was about to bite a hole in her right index finger.

“Deanna? Lass? A ghost is it?”

“Just don’t, okay? Put it down, okay? Just…Don’t. Okay?”

“Don’t what okay?”

All Deanna could see was the straight razor in Merriam’s right hand and a guy’s rapidly failing erection in her left. He was stretched out on the nap mat in front of the fire, shirt and sweater still on, nothing below the waist. He’d rolled his head to the side to stare at her. Merriam was on the far side fully dressed, leaning on her hip, legs stretched out, working the now half-staff erection with her fingernails. There was a bottle of scotch sitting on the floor beside the guy on Deanna’s side, two short water glasses beside it. The big soap cup with JOHNSON on it that was usually on the sink in the bathroom that Deanna thought was weird but okay, if that’s how Merriam shaved her legs, was sitting on the left side of the guy’s abdomen. Kind of in the way of Deanna being able to see exactly what Merriam was doing.

The guy turned his head back to Merriam. “I’ll be seeing a knock down then, her having a look?”

“No, love, your money’s well spent. This is our American lass I told you as might be about. She’s not much for a drink or a shag or even a naughty bit of chat. Early days, though. He’s coming back, your lad. Never mind her. Sure as the sun rises she’s seen a todge or two and yours is naught to set in the record books.” She scratched his chest like a dog and giggled.

“True told but it pleasures me well enough. And thinking of her helps him along. A stunner of a drowned cat.” They both snort laughed. He raised his head more, sipped from one of the glasses.

“Lay back, love, I’ve Johnny’s full attention again.” Merriam dunked the beaver bristle brush in a bowl of water, spun it around in the JOHNSON soap cup and lathered up the floor guy’s fully recovered manhood while she held it from the tip, her fingers like a claw. She picked up the razor again, moved in with it.

Deanna screamed, banged into the end of the couch, spun off it into her room and slammed the door.

***

Twenty minutes later Merriam knocked lightly. “Deanna? All’s done.”

“I don’t want to see. I don’t want to know. I don’t.”

“Nothing to see, lass. He’s off down the pub.”

“Really? Gone? Did you clean up the blood? Oh, God. Am I in trouble just for being here?”

Merriam pushed the door open and sat on the bed next to her completely freaked out flat mate. “There was no blood. I’m a professional, lass. I’ll have an Italian peach shaved into a nectarine if I choose. Come out. The fire’s back up and your hands are ice.”

Deanna wrapped herself in a hunting scene throw from the back of Cat’s couch, sat cross legged off to the side of the fire and sipped warm, slightly scotch infused tea while she watched Merriam wipe the nap mat down with alcohol and a paper towel.

“So you just shave them? You don’t, you know, I thought you were going to, well…” she blushed. “You know, whack it off. Not like that, but…”

“A shave is all, and as some feel it they may ‘let go.’ I’ve no trouble with that unless it’s been too long and too much or they have the power of a fire hose. She held out her hands, mimicked holding a high pressure hose pulling them around. “That’s a mess as I’ve seen and cleaned and I’ll not wish for another.”

“God, Merriam, that’s disgusting.”

“The mess? It can be, but twenty quid, some double that for a shoulder or leg massage, all for a half hour spent. Nothing depraved in a shave, Cat’s ill thinking tossed. That’s my advert and that’s what I do. If they choose to bring their spunk to the mat that’s their doing, not mine.”

“No, all of it is disgusting. You played with it! Those nails of yours, I saw that. You can’t say you have nothing to do with it when he was, well, you know, all big and everything from you doing that stuff.”

“So I have a bit of play. And truth told that’s my fun in it. I rate myself a first in todger gardening without shame as I like to see a Johnny rise and bloom. There’s something for me in knowing that, and all stays free of romance or another sweaty hump and gone, mess in the bed shag. A bit of a chat and a stroke. I’m in control and I have my fun. They leave as a polished billiard’s cue and pair with a load off, and I’ve had mine.”

“But the police. What about the police, and you just sort of, well, you know doing that and everything?”

“I’ve never! I shave, I do.” She winked. “And that’s all. I’ve had a copper or two as well. One on his own and another to see as I was up to. The mug stays out and the lather goes on and it’s a shave. As told, they bring what they will, I bring a razor and cup. You truly believed me to be relieving him of his bits of man bother altogether?”

“Yes. Sorry. I just saw the razor, and him and, and…Yes.”

“Your worry was for the mess and the after, or for him?”

“No, not him. I was worried about your new rug and the blood and everything. You can cut them all off if you want, I don’t care.”

“The lad in the frame on your chest as well?”

“Especially him. Only maybe you could save it in a jar in the freezer or something and I can get it put back on him when I go home.”

Romantics

She reached out with her first two fingers, touched the painted plate at 17 Molton St, London, and  left them there as big, silent tears rolled down her cheeks. People stared, she didn’t care. Deanna had ridden the train, by herself, from Cambridge to London for this visit to the last of William Blake’s original residences, only to discover it was another commercial address, not a shrine. She finally dropped her fingers, lowered her head in disheartened resolution.

“‘I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet, Marks of weakness, marks of woe.’” A black wool coat covered arm ending in a manicured hand reached out, touched the plaque where Deanna’s fingers had been. She looked up and an elegant man, easily her father’s age or older, had taken up residence on the sidewalk beside her.

“You know about Blake? Really? That was him, the opening to London. I’ve always read it as bleak, but it was beautiful, how you quoted it. Sorry…I never…” She looked down again, the cloud over her returned.

“One needs to stand in a man’s shadow to understand his journey, and his poetry.” He handed Deanna a clean, folded, white handkerchief. “Dry your eyes. That was his story, his London. Commerce and need ruled the day in Old London Town, then as now. Blake knew that, as should you.” He took in all of Deanna, from the savage scissor attack of her hair to her ill fitting jeans and bulky sweater, the ski jacket tied around her waist and well worn running shoes, her pale complexion and sad eyes. “Student, or…” He wondered how a man his age should address a possible street girl or one of the thousands of foreign kids “finding themselves” by riding trains, smoking hash and sleeping in the growing number of hostels.

“Student. Newnham, Cambridge.” She turned, grabbed his coat behind his elbow, and glared at him. “It’s a bar, mister whoever you are. Blake’s house is a fucking bar! How can they do that?”

“It’s not him in Westminster Abbey, nor St. Mary’s. Nor any other place where they’ve hung a plaque with his name. Blake lives here,” he touched his chest over his heart. “Which I daresay is where he’d much prefer to reside with you.”

“Really?”

“Yes. As much as we can know a dead man’s wishes. Step inside. It’s a landmark, not a grave. My treat?”

“NO. It’s a —”

“Fucking bar. Yes, you’ve said. And I said one should trod the path of the man and salute his memory. Sandwiches and expensive drinks with a French flair make it no less Blake’s. I’m on my own today and it has been an age, several ages I might be obliged, since I’ve enjoyed a lively discussion of Blake with an overly serious young woman.”

“Are you a professor or something?”

“Or something. If it will put you at ease, I ask only for conversation. I am not, as is commonly observed when men my age seek to engage with young women, ‘a dirty old man.’”

Deanna could tell by the long wool coat, open scarf, creases, shiny shoes and hair cut he wasn’t dirty, or too old. Too old for that, but not too old to eat lunch with like a professor. And he had quoted Blake.

They followed the hostess to a small table at the back wall where he held her chair with one hand while he draped his coat over his own, sat down across from her.

“Okay.” Deanna felt trapped against the wall. “No funny business. I don’t do that.” She watched as he settled his napkin on his thigh and pushed his menu aside and she allowed herself to absorb some of his relaxed demeanor.

“A tired girl a long way from home, who has so obviously spent her food allowance on a train ticket to London only to arrive and discover desecration of what she thought Holy, then proceed to carry on crying about it, I wouldn’t think a ‘funny business’ type.”

“How do you know? Do you look for ‘funny business’ types?”

“No. I have daughters. One of them a hopeless romantic. I cried here myself when I was seventeen. Not so anyone would know, but there I was, just as you were. Would you prefer to sit on this side, and I on yours?”

“No. No that’s…I’m okay. Now.”

“Good. Blake and a double ham croissant are on order, I believe? Swiss or?”

“Yes. Yes, Swiss. Please. Did you know…”

***

Evan Drucker stood in the entryway of his Dawson Place home, handed his wife his coat and scarf, kissed her longer than the usual peck.

“So is it takeaway or some other mischief you fancy?”

“Takeaway? I might do. I took a walk and ate out once today.”

She dropped his coat over one arm and reached for a hanger in the closet she’d opened. “You’ll have me ask again?”

“No. Have you had a call from either of the girls?”

“Not midweek. I wouldn’t, would I? They have school and lives of their own.” She hung the scarf over the coat and closed the closet door. “Now I’ll have that ask, if you don’t mind.”

“I ate lunch with our Avey today.”

“Avianna? Where?”

“Having a quiet cry at Blake’s on Molton.”

“You took her there often enough. The two of you banging on like a pair of Romantic rabblers.” She picked up the faraway look in his eyes. “Our Avey’s away at school in the States, Evan. So who was it you saw shed tears for your Blake?”

“Her name was Deanna Collings, or so she said. An American girl studying in Cambridge, come to mourn at Blake’s. Seemed quite bright and deeply informed. She was a mess of a pretty young girl, though, and scared to death. Called what’s behind Blake’s plaque ‘a fucking bar.’”

“Ah, with the mess of a look and the language then it was our Avey.” She smiled, tugged on his tie. “I hope you’re both the better, having had Blake on for lunch. The kitchen’s cold and I fancy a curry. You?”

“I fancy a prayer for all our faraway romantic daughters, and a drink.” He reached one arm around her, leaned and kissed her on the forehead, checked her expression when he let her go. “Right. And a curry.”

Clean Your Glasses

Lamar reached over the bar, picked up the remote, pushed the “return to last” button and CNN changed to a Spanish Language soap opera. He read the subtitles long enough to find out Ramon, the guy in the jet-black hairpiece, had been sleeping around on a very exotic looking woman with big, pouty lips who was pushing near R rated breast exposure in a seriously flimsy blouse. He punched in the Weather Channel. He knew all about last night’s storms because that was all every local station covered with their roaming interns standing in front of trashed houses interviewing old ladies with pocket dogs and tattooed chainsaw men who spit tobacco. He pushed the number he thought would give him a Hart to Hart rerun on the oldies channel and got Mr. Rogers on PBS. He set the remote down.

Neeko reached in front of him, put the remote back behind the bar. “Reagan’s gonna look up, see that sweater and know it was you.”

“Only place I can think of where the neighborhood is having a lovely day. And he’s dead, so what’s that say?”

“Fred was a hell of a piano player. Always wanted a pair of his slippers.”

“My dad had his sweater. Not the same, somehow.”

“Would you have wanted Mr. Rogers for your dad?”

Lamar pushed the bowl of Low Sodium pretzels towards Neeko. “No. We had a train set, though. Wasn’t very magical. Dad kept changing up the layout and cussin’ when there was a short in the track somewhere. Only ran right about half the time.”

“Sounds like the government.” Neeko made a face and pushed the pretzels back. “Things taste like cardboard, Lamar. We didn’t have a train set at my house, but I was told by my mother that my sisters pooped rose petals and all girls were princesses. And that we should all try to get along and do something constructive with our day. I think she might have been Mrs. Rogers.”

“That’s it right there. Do something constructive.” Lamar waited until the handful of cardboard pretzels he’d popped were gone. “Damn I’m sick of politics. Everything is push back. People trying to push the culture back fifty years, people having duck shit hissy fits about keeping things they didn’t want five or ten or twenty years ago. Enough, you know? Shut up, put the phone down, go to work, fix it.”

Reagan draped her bar towel over her shoulder, leaned both hands on the bar. “I go to the kitchen to see why it was taking them fifteen minutes to get a gourmet hamburger out during business lunch and what do I find? You two still here and Mr. Rogers. Jesus, Lamar. I thought you were a Hart to Hart man.”

“I’m a Rockford man, actually.”

“A clumsy, inept, step on your dick then shoot yourself in the foot three times getting where you need to go man? Sounds like our government to me.” She looked around the bar, none of the lunch stragglers were paying attention to the televisions. She picked up the remote from behind the beer taps, pointed it at the cable box and switched back to the soap, set the remote down on the back bar out of reach. When she turned back she caught the looks from Neeko and Lamar. “What? They wear the best clothes on this one. I wonder if guys in Mexico really walk around in bullfighter pants like the Mariachi’s at El Fenix, only without shirts.”

“According to the girl with all the hair and not much blouse they all have one or two too many girlfriends.” Lamar drained his lemonade, picked up a few more low sodium pretzels.

“It’s the bullfighter pants.” Neeko winked at Reagan. “Makes them irresistible. Maybe we should get you a pair, Lamar. They’re so tight it would give you something to bitch about besides politics. And the extra girlfriends would put your wife right up your butt.”

“Funny guy. I’m not bitching about politics, I’m tired of hearing about politics. It sounds like an unsupervised grade school playground. Like they all need to watch Mr. Rogers, get on the train, get their shit sorted in the magic kingdom and realize they’re getting paid to run the country, not tweet their brain farts and refuse to engage in some kind of constructive dialogue. All the talking heads and their bullshit opinions and speculating and theorizing. They’re no better than the Ancient Aliens people. We don’t know how it got this fucked up, we can’t seem to fix it, so we’ll blame it on each other or little green men or immigrants or the Russians or the right or the left and it’s just a giant babbling blame fest.”

Reagan wiped the bar with one hand, gave Lamar a fresh lemonade with the other. “It’s all over the internet. People unfriending each other, claiming to turn off the TV and stop the constant barrage and getting sucked right back in. I read where depression has cranked way up. It really is almost too much non-information.”

Neeko held up his empty glass for a refill. “It is depressing when all you get from your leadership is drama and everywhere you look the ‘Oh me, oh my God, it’s the end of the world’ crowd gets into it. I unhooked from a lot of websites myself. Re-blogged hate and blame and conspiracies. Couldn’t handle it. Whine, whine, whine. The worst thing is nobody is trying to fix it. They just bitch and point fingers and whine. What’s so funny, Lamar?”

“I worked for a man one time…” He twirled the straw in his drink, slowly. “Let me back up. We had this guy, all he could do was complain. About everything. Manufacturing, marketing, admin. The dealers. Bitch, bitch, bitch. No solutions, just complaints. His whole world was a righteous, unproductive, incompetent mess that was everyone else’s fault and he let everybody know. He was a real no rainbows kind of guy. One day, after a couple years of that, we’re in a meeting and he doesn’t say a word. Not a damn thing except ‘thank you’. It was like we’d done a meeting and didn’t feel like we needed to Febreeze our brains when it was over.” Lamar hit his lemonade, chuckled a little.

“So?” Reagan cocked her head to the side. “A little long on fond workplace memories, way short on point. You need to take a nap, adjust your medication?”

“Right.” He pointed a finger pistol at Reagan, “Bang,” acted like it kicked. “I was in the owner’s office a couple of nights later, doing a midnight save-the-world over an expensive scotch meeting, and I mentioned Steve, the no rainbow guy’s, turnaround. Asked the boss if he had anything to do with it. He nodded, said ‘I told him a little story I like to tell when folks around here get all doomsday. When I’d just started this place we were broke, the bank here in town wouldn’t loan me the damn money to buy a van to run parts between two old barns we were using for plants back then. I was feelin’ mighty sorry for myself, close to throwin’ in the towel. I went to eat dinner out at my Daddy’s house. I bitched and moaned, told him how bleak my world was, how nobody gave a rat’s ass if I made it or not. I was just some crazy redneck boy with a soldering iron and I’d never amount to nothin’. Daddy, he thought a minute, said ‘Son, there’s always hope. You just have to figure out how to fix it.’ Well I bitched and moaned some considerable bit more and asked him, thinkin’ he’d tried to pass me on down the road with some light at the end of the tunnel platitude bullshit, ‘how the hell am I supposed figure that out, how to fix it?’ He looked at me like if was still young enough he’d have bent me over his knee, and he says ‘Don’t know how the hell you ever gonna see how to fix anything, boy.’ I was an upstart young smart aleck back then and I said ‘You know what my problem is, old man, why don’t you tell me?’ Well, Daddy just sat there, looked at me like I was dumbass personified. He popped the top on a nasty Falstaff, I remember this clear as the day it happened, and he pointed the foamy top of that can at me and said ‘You keep lookin’ at the world through shit colored glasses, son, what the hell do you expect to see?’”

The silence in their little circle was weightless. Reagan switched the television back to Mr. Rogers. “The only reason I put up with you two gents is the stories. You know that, right?”

“We tip okay, too. For disenfranchised old white guys who didn’t vote the way everyone thinks we did.”

“Voting is what matters. I need to put this place back together for dinner. Both of you, get out of here, put on your Mr. Rogers sweaters and go tell everyone what a lovely neighborhood it would be if they all voted.” She grinned, threw the bar towel at Lamar. “And clean their glasses while you’re at it.”

 

No small hat tip to Hartley Peavey
Photo from the internet. If it’s yours, holler.

Russian Interference

Saturday, Noonish, Connie’s Frozen De-lites – Venice Beach, CA

“Hey, Stuart.” She smiled, wiped her hands on a red and white striped towel. “The usual?”

“Hey, Connie. 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, keeping 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 expresso loaded 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 just needed 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 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 hand off, put a dollar in the tip jar and didn’t bother to look up when he stepped away and onto the sidewalk.

There was a scream. He heard it just before a violent collision sent him off across the grass rolled up in a ball of asses, knees and elbows with someone. They ricocheted off a fifty-five-gallon drum turned trash can ten yards from their point of impact and came to rest a few yards from the can. 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, ice cream no pay attention boy. Dangerous, your way you meet girls. Just to say ‘Hi, 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 maybe. 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. “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. 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 broken, you will live. Something hit you?”

“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 meets six-foot-four Amazon Russian skater girl train wreck forensics. “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.”

“In skates?”

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, a young woman from the FBI named Laschelle, 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.

“Holy…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?”

“Musician. Stuart O’Connell? Uniforms found his car burned out in a West Hollywood alley. The bucket came from yesterday’s trash. He’s fresh.”

“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?”

“Of course.” She handed him the index card, the note written in purple lipstick.

He should have apologized – He shouldn’t have stared