Fog Noir 58 Archive
6: Tarnished Angels
I dream strange dreams for a long time… nonsensical… then one more vivid… about a girl who has a harp with a broken string she wants fixed. I offer her a string from my pocket, but it isn’t long enough. I want to help her, and go to a shop that sells strings, only strings—the shop is filled with hundreds or thousands of strings hanging from the ceiling, like tendrils of moss hanging in a cave or from old Southern oaks. I search for one the right length. But it is taking too long and grab a string and the clerk puts it on my account. Now I’m outside and trying to return to the girl but the street looks different and I’m not sure which way to go. Finally I round a corner and see her sitting on the curb, talking to a fellow who’s standing over her. The guy seems to be threatening her by holding the harp over his head and looking like he is going to hit her. I run up and the guy tosses the harp upward and runs away. The girl catches the harp and I offer her my string. She says, “Too late,” and reaches up to touch my face.
I awake to find Etta beside me in a chair, her fingers caressing my neck.
I’m lying on my back on a bed. A table lamp glows dimly. The room is large and the windows dark.
With effort, I rise on my elbows. “Water,” I croak.
Etta hands me a glass. The water revives my vocal cords.
“Where am I?”
“Annabel’s house. The guest room.”
I finger my face and touch what seem to be tiny band-aids.
“Those are butterfly sutures. Dr. Fielding used them instead of stitches. But you’ve got 12 real stitches in your lip. And a broken tooth.”
“Nice of the doctor to fix me up. I thought he didn’t like me.”
“He doesn’t. Annabel made him.”
I tongue the gap to the left of my upper front teeth, and fall back on the pillow, giggling, but it hurts, so I try chuckling instead. “I feel silly, like I’m on drugs.”
“I’m crushed,” I chortle, since chuckling hurts too.
“No,” she smiles, “just bruised. Your ribs are bruised but not cracked. Dr. Fielding says you’ll recover quickly. They knew how to make it hurt without leaving too much lasting damage.”
“What time is it?”
“Four in the morning.”
“I feel dirty and yucky.”
“Well, you had die Scheisse beat out of you.”
“Uhh—not quite. I didn’t mess my pants, did I?”
She chuckles, “No, but your shirt was smeared with blood splotches, so I trashed it and brought you clean clothes from home.”
“You’re an angel.”
“My halo sparkles.”
“Sparkle Plenty, I need to pee and shower.”
“I’ll flap my wings and help you fly to the bathroom.”
Scooping up the clothing, Etta helps me out of bed and into the hallway. My midsection is sore as hell. Our room is next to the kitchen, and at the hallway’s end light spills brightly from the entrance to Annabel’s studio.
The bathroom adjoins our room, tucked beneath the rising staircase. To the left of the bathroom door is a large group of portraits of Lara, carefully arranged to fit the triangular space. They begin with her as a baby and proceed to maybe a couple of years ago—a display only a mother would hang. I imagine my new one will be added to the collection.
Glancing groggily in the mirror over the sink, I startle myself: Little adhesive strips sprinkle my face, interlaced with a bunch of bruises. One eye is so puffy it’s only partially open. My stitched lip is not exactly pretty. However, I decide not to feel as crummy as I look:
“Don’t you think my missing tooth gives me the definitive ‘What, me worry?’ look? Maybe Mad will print my picture as a real life Alfred E. Neuman?”
“Just whom I’ve always wanted to lovel,” she giggles.
“Alfred or Paul?”
After I use the toilet, Etta helps me into the tub. She adjusts the showerhead to keep the stream off my face and lightly washes me below my neck.
“Poor wand looks sad,” she says. “Did he hit you there?”
“I kept my legs crossed.”
Afterwards, we go into the kitchen, and I sink into one of the white, soft, swivel chairs surrounding the varnished, white oak table in the glass-enclosed eating nook, and nibble on a plate of cold roast beef, accompanied by a deliciously cold beer and Etta sitting across from me, sipping a glass of wine. The fog presses darkly against the surrounding windows.
Annabel enters softly from her studio. She gives a regal appearance despite her old jeans and a man’s white dress shirt streaked with artist oils.
Expressing her pleasure at seeing me functioning, and insisting I use her dentist, she lays a thin manila folder on the table. “This is the only copy of Capital Security’s report on you, and a duplicate of their report on Todd Perry, which I thought might interest you.” She removes a fresh pitcher of Seabreeze from the fridge and sits beside Etta. “Nathan Girrard, my attorney—”
I inject: “The cavalry colonel who charged in to save me. Thank you.”
She smiles, “I only regret his not getting there more quickly. Nate wants to sue the County, Sheriff Bailey and Underwood. I hope you will agree.”
I do with kazoos swinging and bells ringing, and she wants me to relate my interrogation while it is fresh, but my memory seems as nebulous as the black haze poking at the alcove windows, and I deliver the details in bits and fragments. Annabel says:
“Oscar maintains they had a legitimate informant, and denies they had anyone in custody.”
“A stenographer recorded the interrogation.”
“He also insists you attacked his deputy who merely defended himself, and several officers saw you strike Underwood, who claims you broke his jaw.” She smiles. “Nate says we can easily disprove their justifications. Regardless, we all need to be careful until Lara’s abductors are captured. I have 16 guards here on the property, and Xavier is using his full staff to hunt the criminals. You both have individual guards who will be with you until this is over, and another pair to watch your house. I am also insisting that Oscar return your gun.”
“How is Lara,” I ask.
“She is in her cabana tonight—her ‘house’ she calls it—beyond the pool.” Annabel gestures to the rear. “Her photos are wonderful. Thank you. The landscape of the little cove where Lara says she was abducted is exquisite. A portrait of stones that have no life, except they seem to live in your picture. I would love to see it in a larger print.”
Etta says, “Golden Shore Gallery has a blowup.”
I say, “I understand your husband treated me rather against his will. Thank you.”
Annabel says. “I insisted. He refused. It became…” She looks helplessly to Etta. “… theatrical.” She smiles. “You tell it, Etta.”
“Melodramatic,” Etta grins, “like a scene from Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind. Duane wants to throw you out. Annabel says, ‘No!—Sean stays—you go!’ He shouts, ‘The hell I will!’ She says, ‘You will because I am divorcing you.’ He says, ‘You don’t have the guts. At Melville, you always have some manager do your dirty work—and you sure don’t have the balls to fire me.’ You say quietly: ‘You see to Sean’s injuries, or I will have Xavier’s men remove you from this house this instant.’”
“Duane is a good doctor,” Annabel sighs. “One of the best in the county.” She pauses, drinks.
“It is one of the reasons I married him. It was Duane who came to our house in San Francisco when my first husband Richard had his accident. He was solicitous, and I have my own health problem—a bad heart. I now take an experimental drug. So far it is working, but I can die at any moment.”
“Shouldn’t you stop drinking?” Etta asks.
“Drinking is like sex for me,” she smiles, “I do not wish to stop.” Draining her glass, Annabel pours a refill and says to Etta, “Recently, Duane has been criticizing me—about everything. I sensed he was projecting—hiding something—but I was not sure. Do you and Sean have secrets?”
I shake my head, and Etta says, “Not that I know of,” and grins at me.
“Secrets kill relationships. They undermine trust in subtle insidious ways.” Annabel frowns.
“Tonight, I learned Duane’s secret. He accused me of having an affair with Sean last night, and I had a sudden insight: Duane’s jealousy derived from his own indiscretion—he was having intimate relations with a secret girl somewhere. I said so, and his face told me—the look he had for an instant. He said I was crazy, but I knew for certain, and I could no longer allow him to remain with me in this house. Fortunately, Xavier’s men are here, and Duane had no choice except to leave. I do not believe you will see him again.” She pauses to sip. “Your beating was entirely Duane’s fault. He infected the Sheriff with his ridiculous suspicions, and Oscar is given a few distorted facts and conjectures them into a preposterous plot, like a would-be chef who is given a live chicken and three spices and imagines producing a culinary feast. Duane is equally detestable.”
“Or indigestible?” I inject.
Annabel brightens. “Excuse me, I have something to give you.” Leaving the table, she goes to her studio and returns with a check. “This is for you both. Please accept it.”
The amount is $200,000. She reads our shock.
“You and Etta saved Lara. Her life has no price. Please do not refuse me.”
Astounded… and touched, we thank her.
“You know Bailey accused me of setting up Lara’s abduction for a reward?”
“We all agree Sheriff Bailey is a fool, do we not?” Annabel takes a long drink of Seabreeze, giving me trusting eyes.
“This is so… generous,” Etta says. “You’ve known Sean for less than two days, and you just met me tonight.”
“I live an isolated life,” Annabel says. “I have no close friends. The only social life I maintain is for business purposes. Some might say the bottle is my best friend,” she smiles, stares at her glass, then raises her head, blue eyes filled with emotion.
“It is said, a time of crisis bonds people together. They were going to kill Lara. You both saved her. You did what I believe no one else could have done. Xavier agrees. Lara believes they would have killed her, if Sean had not forced them to produce her when he delivered the diamonds. Thus… I consider you both my best friends.”
After we brush our teeth, Etta and I climb into bed. She says:
“Annabel’s quite a girl, and Lara’s something else. She’s like a girl of 13 who’s just discovered her willows are what guys want most, and thinks it’s her ticket to power in a society where girls are second class citizens inferior to guys in almost every department except kids and kitchen.”
“Maybe Lara’s the little lay who isn’t there.”
Etta giggles. “The Melville melodrama. You know, the best Sirk movie to symbolize this family is The Tarnished Angels.”
“The “Dees” of the damned: Drunken, disenchanted, disconnected, depressed, dysfunctional, destructive and downwardly destined, like a parachutist who may not make it.”
“Embracing William Faulkner’s gothic ambiance and shot in black and white—like this fog makes everything seem.”
I sink back on the pillow. “I’m wiped out.
Etta maneuvers herself atop my thighs. “Does this hurt?”
“I like it.”
“Lara would love to be where I am now.”
“Let’s be glad she got taken at the beach.”
“My willows await your wand if you waddle in the weeds.”
“Ho, ho,” I chortle, “you’re a poet and you know it—hope you don’t blow it.”
“No? Do you know the original title of Faulkner’s book is Pylon?”
Removing her jeans, T-shirt and bra, leaving on only her panties, Etta crawls under the covers. Her hand is soft, soothing and warm on my chest, her body against my side even warmer, her thighs against mine warmer still.
“I’ll be careful with you.” She begins removing my clothing.
We lovel gently and I fade out, her soft warm body pressing into mine, my arm about her bare shoulders, thankful she’s here, feeling how much I love her.
Afterwards, I feel wide awake, and wake Etta:
“Let’s go look at Todd Perry’s house.”
“Seems like a good idea.”
“We’re playing detectives?” Etta says.
“Hell, I don’t know what we’re doing.”
In the hazy darkness on the front veranda, dozing in soft outdoor chairs, we meet our personal guards Warren Blanchard and Johnny Johnson. Both are in their thirties, nattily dressed in classy sport jackets, tan slacks and sedate colored shirts—no neckties.
Warren is large and muscular, skin-deep erubescent ebony, with a square sculpted face, watery brown eyes, short-cut hair and sharp brows. Johnny is lanky, blue-eyed, sporting a thin mustache and wavy brown hair, resembling Errol Flynn in his dashing days. Their facial expressions reveal little, but their eyes are constantly moving, not guys to relax around—or mess with—Warren especially.
A dense, dark sheet rolls over us as we descend the hill into the San Geronimo Valley. The guard car closes the distance, keeping its hazy nose and headlamps tight in the rearview mirror.
Reaching the flats, we turn left onto the road into Woodacre—not a town exactly, more a cluster of dwellings—and find Todd Perry’s, a dingy, one-story clapboard cottage, badly in need of fresh yellow paint.
On each side of the concrete stoop, tiny windows stare out—blank eyes that refuse to see. We park behind an old Plymouth resting its last in the dirt driveway. Warren and Johnny remain on the road, exit their car, and gaze after us, their faces stoic, scrutinizing the grey haze for ripples of threat.
Shrouded in the fog, Todd’s house stands as a forlorn outpost in the weed-infested lot, the grass not mowed in a year—a place that would look desolate even when it’s sunny. Moreover, it gives the sensation of something haunted, as though only the dead live within, serving as obscure sentinels for Marin’s version of the Beat Generation and mourning for parties past.
We mount the concrete stoop, and instead of police tape across the door, there’s a crudely tacked-up eviction notice from the owner. There’s also no lock and Etta opens the door.
We’re greeted by ghosts of old celebrations. The front room and conjoining dining room are strewn with empty soda and quart beer bottles, empty wine bottles, crumpled paper sacks, ashtrays overflowing, garbage, beat-up sofas and tattered chairs, a couple of falling down end tables, lamps without shades, a coffee table littered with magazines and burnt out candles spilling onto the filthy carpet, a dining table piled with books, dirty plates strewn about and a couple of foul mattresses, one on the floor, the other sagging against the wall. In short, it’s a mess.
I pick up a Screen Stories magazine from the floor, the issue including Welles’ Touch of Evil. An 8×10 black and white photo tumbles out—a studio shot of Todd Perry posed in his black turtleneck, face half in light, half in shadow, looking handsome. The backside has an inked stamp reading: by Ziggy Ziegler / Tidewater Studios.
“Let’s leave,” Etta says. “If there’s anything else here, I don’t care. This place makes me want to vomit.”
On the front stoop, I show her Ziggy’s portrait.
“Todd Perry’s last testament, his image of himself, God bless him,” she says. “Pseudo Beat, pseudo-intellectual, pseudo hip, pseudo sexy, pseudo kidnapper—but really dead.”
I say, “One of his pseudo friends took all he had and all he was ever going to have.”
Our next stop is the only one of those friends we know, “pseudo” or otherwise: Ziggy at Tidewater.
Juliet greets us, blue eyes startled, I assume by my tattered face. She says,
“Mr. Chercheur, I just delivered your McClures Cove print to Golden Shore Gallery. Do you want us to file the negative with your others here?” and indicates Ziggy’s special file drawer in the counter behind her.
“Yes, please.” I request our blowup and to see Ziggy.
Juliet brings the foam-core mounted print wrapped in brown paper, and Ziggy wrapped in a frown, which deepens to a scowl.
“Wow, man, what happened to you?” he says.
“An unfortunate encounter with the County cops.”
“I’ve heard about Bailey and his Gestapo tactics. What did you do?”
“Refused to admit to something I didn’t do.”
“Have you seen the I-J?” He hands me the morning edition of the main local newspaper, the Independent Journal. A headline halfway down the front page reads: “Mystery in Mt Tam Murder.” A brief story states that Todd Perry of Woodacre died yesterday as the result of a shooting on Mount Tamalpais. “According to the Sheriff’s Department, who are withholding the names of everyone else involved, Perry was shot when a kidnapping plot and payoff were foiled. The victim was rescued and the police are seeking other members of the aborted scheme.”
Ziggy runs his hand roughly over his beard. “Strange. We were just talkin’ ‘bout Todd yesterday, too. Just hours before he was killed.”
I say, “It’s a shame.”
“A heavy bring down.” Ziggy frowns over his glasses. “The poor cat. I’ll miss him.” He strokes his beard. “I have trouble gettin’ kidnappin’ to coalesce in my consciousness. Todd wasn’t that kinda nut. I mean, The rap doesn’t track with his psyche. Got to be dope, man. A big H deal gone sour. Mob connected. Those cats play dirty. Todd got in with bad people—got goofy goin’ for a big score—got stabbed in the back. Poor friend.”
“You saw Todd a lot. Ever see the guys he might have been doing the deal with?”
“You mean like real gangsters? Naw, man. Just smokers an’ kitty lovers like me—hangin’ round, keepin’ high on his handouts. Chicks comin’ by to turn on. Wild. Good biz to give freebies, Todd figured. Eternal partyin’. Too bad you never made the scene.”
“Not my thing.”
“Now it’s gone.” Ziggy shakes his head despondently. “Him an’ his ‘big deal’ that was gonna set him up for life.”
“Yeah. But I thought he meant Lulu. That he was dreamin’ of takin’ off with her, get married maybe. But truth on tap, I couldn’t figure out what she saw in him. I mean, Lulu is—wow!—the most!—absolutely the coolest chick to the outer limits an’ the end of time.”
I smile. “By the way, the copy of my book I gave you… ever show it to anybody?”
“Oh, yeah, a bunch of bodies. Everybody who comes to my pad sees it. It’s got a prime place on the coffee table. I was thinkin’ to ask… can I get some copies to sell here?”
“Sure. I can arrange that.”
The phone rings and Juliet takes it. I ask:
“Did Todd see the book?”
Ziggy squeezes his forehead. “I’m not sure… why do you wanna know?”
“Todd was interested in the place on Tam where I shot the tree that’s on the cover.”
“Wow!… is that where he bought the farm? Like man, you mean he picked that spot on Tam to do his deal from seein’ your picture? Wow… this is heavy.”
“I guess so.”
“Alright,” he nods. “Todd was at my pad… when was the last time? Two weeks ago… yeah, but I’ve had your book for longer—maybe six weeks?”
“Then he saw it. He came by a few days after his big party. I was teachin’ him Go—the game, you know? Had to have seen your book. It was lyin’ a foot away from the board the whole evenin’.”
“Don’t know if I can look at your book now, without thinkin’ that’s where Todd bought it.” He reflects somberly. “A bring down.”
“Well, that doesn’t do anybody any good, does it?”
Juliet comes over. “Tidewater sold one of your prints and wants two more of the same. She already has a buyer for the second. It’s the picture you call ‘McClures Cove.’”
I say to put it on my account, and she smiles cutely.
“How do ya dig my new kitten?” Ziggy says, winking at Juliet.
Her smile turns coy.
“Efficient,” I say.
“Her purr’s the sweetest,” he grins, bidding us goodbye.
Outside, Etta puts the blowup in the trunk of Warren’s car, and giggles. “If Juliet’s hung up on Romeo Ziggy, I hope she doesn’t wind up drinking the fixer.”
7: The Bravados
Two black guard cars sit in the dark haze beneath the brass lions at the entrance of Annabel’s estate, teams of two inside each. Etta gives them a wave that is stonily unreturned.
Mounting the drive, I gaze at the hazy green grounds, soil areas newly mulched, the ferns weeded. Blending with the mist, spray from the underground sprinklers keeps the grass growing fresh, rising upward to greet a sun that will not appear. In the center of the expansive front lawn, a large Japanese maple glows red with eerie detachment.
Not so detached are the guards eyeing our approach. More vague figures appear as we near the house, the oval roundabout bumper to bumper with nondescript Capital Security cars.
In the foyer, we encounter a Hispanic woman with a kind, untroubled face. She’s about Annabel’s age and wears a bright print dress, her grey-streaked black hair styled in a straight cut parted in the center. Her large, brown eyes reflect a sincere caring.
“The photographer and Miss Etta, hello. I’m Ynez,” she says brightly without an accent. She compliments me on Lara’s pictures and my book, and expresses concern about my beating, for which I thank her. A genuinely nice person. Imparting a shy smile, she says, “I think Annabel is walking in the garden, and you may help yourself in the kitchen.”
Etta goes out to find Annabel and I go in the kitchen, take an Olympia from the refrigerator and settle at the table.
Lara prances in, wearing a sheer, one-piece, white swimsuit that leaves nothing to imagine about the shape of any part of her body.
“Good morning,” she grins. “Miss me?”
“How are you feeling?”
“Alive, thanks to you—but still a prisoner.”
“A kinder captivity.”
“Would you like coffee or something?”
“This cold beer is fine.”
Lara fetches herself one and leans against the counter, seemingly trying to look as sexy as possible, which is pretty sexy indeed. Fortunately, I’m immune, smile pleasantly, as pleasantly as possible, and take a long sip. The icy beer goes down wonderfully, and my body and spirit feel 100% better. I ask:
“Do you know… how Perry knew… where we’d be shooting on the beach?”
She tosses up her hands. “Mea culpa, mea culpa! We found the cove a couple of weeks ago.” She chuckles disparagingly and gazes about the room as if looking for a place to sit or stand comfortably. “We even replayed the scene in From Here to Eternity on the sand, and it’s a good trick not to get sand where it hurts. But cet enculé de porc… they say not to speak ill of the dead… but I’m glad he’s a blot.”
“Did you tell Sheriff Bailey that Todd knew about the cove?”
Lara sits up on the counter. “I don’t remember. But I’ll tell him now if it will help.”
“Bailey’s an idiot—of course, Duane didn’t help.”
“So, I gather.” I finish the beer.
The beer seems to be clearing my head and removing my aches. I want it to continue. Faster than a bargirl, Lara gives me the refill. I take a swig.
“Yeah, it’s clearing my aches and removing my head.”
She snorts a laugh. “Wish it would do that for me.” She pauses. “I’m still flashing on those scary black ghosts coming out of the fog—hoods over their heads and tiny holes for eyes. They had guns. A gruff voice said he’d shoot me if I made a sound. The other was disguising his voice, but I recognized his laugh—Todd le baiseur de porc.”
“I find it a little hard to see you and Todd together.”
“You mean because even at his best he didn’t seem to have a lot to offer?” She grins. “Well, when you’ve got money, all you want is sex, and the bottom line is that Todd was good at loving.”
Lara paces the linoleum, like a fashion model on an angry runway. “Beyond that, Todd was all talk and pretty useless. That’s why he sold grass. A way to make money without working. And staying high helped him maintain his illusions about himself.”
“How many kidnappers were there? Besides Todd?”
“Only two I know. They put a paper bag over my head before they shoved me into the car, but I listened. Gruff Voice was with me in back. The third in front with Todd talked low and car noise covered his voice. I wish I knew who les fouteurs de porcs are.” She considers. “Todd had a big Memorial Day bash at his shack … dozens of phony Beats showed up—cats Todd never saw before—Les fouteurs de porcs might have been there. Right now I just see a sea of leering faces.
Lulu—my play persona—was the star—did a long, cool dance—that I remember,” she grins, “but not much else. I was pretty stoned.”
Lara pauses, stares at me. I stare back.
“You guys saved my life. I overheard them. They were planning to kill me—and you too—after they got the diamonds.”
“We were lucky. Of course, you won’t forget I alone saved you.”
“And ‘I alone am escaped to tell thee.’ I remember… I remember…” she says in a sing-song,
“‘nothing can equal the power and the might of’ Moby’s dick,” and grins.
I down half the bottle, delightfully cold, and feel the beer refresh my body.
“You don’t ever wanna know how really awful it was…” She sinks into one of the alcove chairs. “I was living, like I was dying, in a dirty damp cellar with a stinky pot and a dim light… an old blanket and a smelly mattress… on the cold floor…waiting for a lousy sandwich to be tossed on the top step. I was starving all the time. It was less than a day but it felt like a year. I was so scared I peed myself a bunch of times.”
I recall how foul she smelled when we found her.
“You know,” she continues, “I’m deep into loving, good loving, but what baiseur un cochon did was disgusting. Not Todd. Cet enculé de porc probably didn’t because he was afraid I’d recognize him. But his merde breath baiseur de porc buddy raped me non-stop. I’ll get you another beer.”
Swinging back from the refrigerator, she says, “By the way, I love my photos. One of the few things Mother and I have agreed about. Besides throwing Duane out.” Lara grins. “I also think maybe it’s not so bad having Rodgers Rangers around, in case les fouteurs de porcs maudits come back.”
“Named for Xavier Rodgers, the boss of my babysitters. They’re supposed to kill the kidnappers if they try again—I hope they do.” Like a ballerina, she pivots on her bare toes and laughs. “Mother’s funny. She can’t say the ‘k’ word. To her I was ‘abducted.’ Hmmm… ‘abducted’ is a sexier word than ‘kidnapped’—maybe kidnapped is what only happens to little kids. Except it was the biggest turn off I’ve ever had. Hairy Ding-a-ling seems like Cinderella’s fellow compared with those creeps.”
“Who’s Harry Ding-a-ling?”
“Harry Bell and we spelled his name ‘h-a-i-r-y.’ A jerk off in sixth grade. My school wasn’t cheap. But his parents had a lot of money—from winning a lottery or something equally stupid—so they could afford the tuition. Hairy was over-developed for his age. He drooled and strutted round in tight jeans to show off his erection—really.”
Chuckling, she mimics the fellow with comic obscenity. “He was always licking his lips and sticking out his tongue. Jerking off is probably all he was ever good at. He was such an idiot he thought the way to turn on a girl was to grab her breast or crotch. There were only three or four of us who were lucky or unlucky enough to have enough of what he wanted. We’d always go in another direction when we saw him coming. All of us girls had to wear dresses. The school held fire drills every week, and Hairy Ding-a-ling would stand under the fire escape and look up to see everything he could. One day my best friend poured a bottle of blue writing ink in his eyes. We laughed ourselves silly when Hairy ran away screaming. He was so dumb he reported us. When we told the principal why we’d done it, Hairy was expelled. We heard later he’d been arrested for trying to rape a girl in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park—you know, it’s so open there you can see everything from either street running by, and a cop caught him in the act. Too bad all creeps aren’t that dumb. My Les fouteurs de porcs don’t seem to be.”
Lara drops her performance and slinks towards me.
Averting my eyes, I finish the beer.
She completes a full double pirouette by opening the fridge.
I down the fresh cold Olympia in two gulps.
“Chugalug Sean,” she grins. “Mother wants to show you something. Do you mind?”
“Hell, no,” I burp, “she sure saved my ass.”
“Nice ass.” Lara takes a playful swipe at it.
I dodge, “Sorry, it’s leased,” and pop into the bathroom for a pee, glancing at my ugly face in the mirror before returning to the hallway.
Lara is waiting at the entrance to Annabel’s studio, and giving her a grin—grotesque, I’m sure, because of my broken tooth and stitched lip—I slip into the kitchen for another beer. If nothing else, the alcohol is working wonders on my body, and I feel secure enough in Annabel’s house to allow myself the luxury of getting soused.
In Annabel’s studio, the glassy rear veranda glints with a translucent sheen. The grey light of noontime pours softly through the windows and skylight. Through the open French doors, mist drifts in from the back patio and hazy garden.
Wearing her paint-smeared shirt and jeans, Annabel stands before her easels, palette and brush in hand.
Easels, because there are two now, sitting side by side, one displaying her completed nude self-portrait with the background changed to a vibrantly light hue, and the second my blowup print of “McClures Cove.”
Annabel says, “I loved your small print so much, I phoned Golden Shore’s owner early this morning, and she delivered it. You see, I could not decide on which of the wonderful photos of Lara to paint…” Annabel looks away, as if searching for something she’ll never find, “…so I latched onto this instead. It’s an enticing landscape.”
“Well…!” I say, in imitation of Jack Benny, “thank you.”
Lara is studying her mother’s painting. “Like mother, like daughter,” she smirks and winks at me. “You can shoot me nude. Playboy will buy the pictures and my sex will be famous. It’ll win the Golden Pussy award.”
“Oh, Lara!” Annabel exclaims.
“I’m over 18. It’s my crack and a natural receptacle for dollars.”
“You would exploit your body for money?”
“What about your painting?”
“Paintings are different from photographs.”
“It’s even more explicit than what Playboy can print.”
“I have no intention of showing or selling it.”
“He’s seen it.” Lara gestures to me. “And Etta.”
“They understand my expression.”
“Well, why don’t you understand my expression?” Lara throws up her hands and heads out onto the patio, saying, “I’m going to my house and phone the Sheriff.” Lara disappears into the fog. The vague figures of two guards scurry after her.
I tell Annabel why Lara is phoning Bailey.
Ynez enters, saying, “Pardon me, please. Annabel, I finished transcribing last Monday’s meeting. It’s on your desk.”
“Thank you, Ynez.” Annabel introduces us, and Etta says we met earlier.
“The wonderful Ynez, my assistant in everything—managing the household, appointments, work.” She lives in the cottage beyond the garages. She’s been with me since Lara was born.”
“Her son is a manager in my company. Her daughter is a student at Berkeley, and will receive her PhD next year. She’s Lara’s age…” Annabel’s words trail off tinged with longing, and she sips her Seabreeze.
To me, Annabel says, “Nathan is filing your lawsuit today. He interviewed the stenographer this morning. She saw you after your ‘interview’, and Bailey fired her when she expressed disapproval of his methods. She has made Nate aware of other beatings and provided him with her original notes of interrogations. Sheriff Bailey will be forced to resign or be charged with misconduct of office and perhaps criminal behavior. Afterwards, he and Deputy Underwood will be lucky to find
work as night watchmen in a sanitation facility.” She attempts a smile. “Now, we’ll have some lunch.”
Annabel quietly confers with Ynez, as we follow them into the kitchen.
Etta says, “It’s not often I can be with a guy who’s just had his martyr complex beaten into shape.”
“Maybe I should ask Bailey for a rematch?”
“Your biggest challenge is keeping Lara out of your pants.”
“If you’re already in them, it’ll be too crowded.”
“I’m impressed how you resist her.”
“Like Paul Newman said, ‘Why eat hamburger out when I can have steak at home?’”
“Does that make Lara a double-burger? or only twice refused?”
“Neither. She’s a gourmet delight that awaits the selective connoisseur.”
Annabel hears the end of our exchange and utters a curdled chuckle, then downs pills with her Seabreeze.
Ynez sets a stack of corned beef slices into the huge chrome fixture by the fridge—the microwave—and sets the oven humming. The toaster pops, the microwave buzzes. Ynez removes the paper plate of steaming meat and begins making sandwiches.
The jingling of several phones reach us.
Her face a plethora of fear, Ynez says a rough-voiced man is demanding to speak to Annabel. I take the extension on its long cord outside onto the curved redwood patio.
“Shut up and listen.” The voice is gruff, like Lara described. “You will deliver the diamonds today. At 2 p.m. I will tell you where. We can kill your daughter anywhere and anytime. You cannot stop us. We will not take her again—we will kill her. Pay or Lara dies. Now we will give you a demonstration of our power. You have your place covered with guards, but they cannot protect Lara. To prove our power, you will find two dead guards in your back garden. We could have killed Lara. We were close enough to kill her NOW! Next time we will kill her if Lara does not deliver the diamonds today. We will call at two.” The caller hangs up.
Stumbling footsteps scuffle toward me on the gravel path and through the mist a figure breaks, pace jagged, waving his gun before him—a young heavy-set man—his face an angry white mask, jacket flung open, yellow dress shirt a mass of red. Abruptly, he drops the gun and pitches forward, tries to crawl, raises his head as if to speak and lies still at the edge of the step.
I’m stunned, phone still in hand, bend to help him. Several men converge from around the house. Our guard Warren Blanchard identifies the wounded man as Teddy Taylor.
The local cops are called and the second guard Abe Adams is found farther down, beside the cabanas, shot neatly in the head. Emergency med people pronounce Teddy dead. Ten minutes of pandemonium.
We meet Xavier Rodgers on the patio—a tall, heavy-set older man with a hawk nose, wearing an expensive, loose-fitting suit, walking in an easy gait. His tough, expressionless face looks like he’s seen his share of beatings but usually comes out on top. His large, sensitive brown eyes project deep empathy. Overall, he gives the impression of someone who can kill when he needs to, but would make sure the person needs killing first. What he shows now is restrained anger. He says to us:
“At last we meet… under circumstances… from Hell. The first men I’ve ever lost—and it’s my fault. I didn’t have enough coverage.”
“Crazy they tried to hit Lara here,” Warren says.
“Yes—crazy,” Xavier nods. “Crazy and clever. They didn’t want to kill Lara. Only show us they could. Yet, I don’t know how they managed it. The bastards had to come over the wall somewhere, snuck through the shrubs, avoided everyone, until they met up with Abe near the cabanas, killed him—one silenced shot to the forehead—put another into Lara’s cabana, left a note in the hole, and snuck out again meeting Teddy on the way. Lara was in the pool when the killer hit. Here’s a copy of their note.”
Using gloves, Xavier unrolls the note stuck in the hole in the door of Lara’s cabana, cut out letters, Scotch-taped on a sheet of typing paper.
LAST CHANCE…… NO COPS NO TRICKS
LARA SAFE NOWHERE…… COULD BE DEAD NOW
LARA DELIVERS…… NO ONE ELSE
NO DELIVERY LARA DIES…… PAY & LARA SAFE
CALL 2PM TODAY 20 JUN
“Real confident bastards,” he says. “They had to be sure they’d get far enough inside to leave their ready-made note and get away. Without the fog, they’d never have done it. But I still can’t see how the bastards got past a dozen other guys and kill only Abe and Teddy.
Everyone has their favored term for the anonymous gang: kidnappers, extortionists, killers, murderers, fiends, Annabel’s “Devils,” and Lara’s “fouteurs de porcs.” Xavier prefers “bastards,” and says:
“They’re using the same modus operandi as terrorists in Algeria, Egypt and Palestine, but their agenda is not political, it’s greed.”
“Whatever they are, their modus operandi makes them ‘monsters.’” Etta adds.
“There’re two killers we know, but someone is behind the scheme. We’re drawing a zero from bookstores. Maybe Perry did have good visual recall. Or—of course—there’s someone who could not have missed seeing your book. Duane Fielding.” Xavier announces. “We’re going to investigate the hell out of him, where he was during the kidnapping and ransom delivery. He’s a crack shot. I’ve seen his trophies. And he was out today when my men were killed. He has contacts from treating prisoners at San Quentin. But his timing and motive are iffy since he didn’t know about the divorce until last night. Meanwhile, his buddy Bailey is being a total jerk. He’s convinced the person who tipped the bastards is Sean.”
Etta says, “What do you think?”
“I think the Sheriff believes his anus smells like a rose.”
“You know,” I inject, “Bailey hasn’t checked Perry’s house for fingerprints. In fact, it doesn’t even look like they’ve been there.”
“That’s not only shoddy police work, that makes Bailey a liar,” he says in his odd Southern accent, “He’s not just a bad cop, who thinks he’s good, which makes him worse, he’s a bilious bully who secretes his not so secret sadism.” He considers. “Lara thinks she and her mom are the only people the bastards won’t kill. She’s right, of course. Kill either of them, and no money. Regardless, I’ve added another eight men on the property, in radio contact every minute instead of three. It’s dicey though… like I’m giving the bastards more targets.”
Etta and I find Annabel in the kitchen, and we sit in the alcove.
She gives Etta a rueful smile. “Welcome again to our personal hell.” Annabel sets down her Seabreeze and stares blankly at the glass pane glistening blackly beside her, reflecting plants thick and small and laced with mist, the lush greenery appears like a jungle transported from a lost continent, a place where one might disappear and never be found.
Still wearing her sheer white swimsuit, Lara bursts in. “Merde!” her green eyes flash. “I will not let ces fouteurs de porcs control my life. Damn them! Damn them all to hell!” With an anguished cry and vicious backhand, she sends her beer bottle crashing to the tile floor—shattering, liquid splashing—and bolts from the table, the slap of her bare feet beating down the hardwood hallway towards the front of the house.
As though a normal occurrence, Ynez sets about to clean up Lara’s mess, and Annabel moves to stop her.
“No, please, I do,” Ynez insists and continues. “It’s all right, dear, I know… I know.”
Annabel gives us a despondent sigh. “Lara does not understand.” Her eyes shift to the window and return slowly with a haunted blue gaze. “These Devils love terrorizing us.”
Sipping her Seabreeze, she attempts a glowing face that quickly crumbles, and seeing her so close, I note the tiny deep-etched lines that accompany either unrelenting worry or great determination, or both. The whites of her eyes are brushed by the redness acquired from heavy crying. She says: “You saved Lara—they would have killed her. Now the Devils only threaten, but are killing everyone else. And I will pay them to stop the killing. And to protect Lara. It is…” She laughs ruefully. “We have as much protection here as President Eisenhower has when he’s in the White House. It is preposterous. The killers insist Lara make the delivery. I hope Xavier can protect her. I have never known such fear.”
Abruptly, Annabel grips her chest, grabs the pill bottle from the condiment tray and gulps down three of the small white tablets. “Yes, I am drinking myself silly,” she smiles despondently. “The idea of Duane possibly…”
Annabel hoists her Seabreeze and drinks. “The ghost of Richard haunts us.” The garden outside looms imposingly close. Behind Annabel, the leafy frond of a giant fern presses against the glass pane—the hand of a green ghost trying to get in. Her confusion fills the room with an invisible fog, and it is as though the ghost has joined us for lunch.
“Richard’s death was accidental, I’ve heard,” Etta says.
“So, the inquest ruled. He pulled his radio into the tub when trying to change stations.” Annabel speaks in a flat, detached tone. “Lara heard him scream and pulled the cord from the wall, but it was too late. She was only 12. She was hysterical at first, and then spoke about it as a joke. Doctors—psychiatrists—were no help.”
Etta asks. “Could he have deliberately killed himself?”
“We began Melville Construction together, except more and more, I became the one who made decisions, and Richard drank more and more. Finally, it became important to keep him away from the business. Unconsciously, he might have wished to die. The thought has haunted me.”
Etta glances at me, our eyes meet: There are no ‘accidents.’ And Annabel seems haunted by many things. Draining her glass, she pours another. “Lara was truly attached to Richard. He was devoted to her. I was too involved with the business. I wanted Lara to see how a girl can succeed in the world, regardless of how men negate us. But my accomplishment meant nothing.” Annabel turns away, tearing. Annabel glances out at the garden, squinting as though to see through the haze, then stares at Etta, her eyes pained.
“I tried to give Lara a stable, normal life. I married Duane, and moved us from San Francisco. I reduced my involvement with the business, and remained home as much as possible. I entertained Lara’s high school friends. But the girls would turn against her, because Lara was always taking away their boyfriends. When she was sixteen, I suspected Lara was sexually active and decided my gynecologist should fit her for a diaphragm. Lara laughed, and told me a year earlier she had acquired the birth certificate of a boyfriend’s older sister and sold some of her jewelry and paid a shady doctor in San Francisco to make her sterile by tubal surgery. It is an illegal operation, and is supposed to be irreversible.” Annabel grimaces to stop her tears.
“Lara is so bright.. Extremely talented as an actress. I saw her play Medea in the Euripides at one of her colleges. She was brilliant, as she was as Lulu in the old German play by Frank Wedekind, which is the origin of her Lulu performing character now.”
“Maybe she believes she can die anytime, so commitment is pointless.”
“Or she makes commitments with impossible goals,” Annabel drinks. “Like the actor Paul Newman—Lara’s infatuation lasted years—she was crushed when he married Joanne Woodward in January. Her behavior became more erratic, but she also began writing. Five months—the longest she has ever been engaged in a serious pursuit. Some of her poetry is quite promising. She’s giving a reading here tonight.”
The door chimes, and anxious lines strike Annabel’s face. A minute later Ynez announces the visitor is Sheriff Bailey.
In the massive main room, Bailey is behind the bar, making himself a drink, as though he’s a perennial guest.
Lara is sitting on the ledge of the flagstone fireplace, staring at the Sheriff with an expression that seems to view him as a ripening hunk of road kill. She cocks her head at me, grins vacuously and waves her nearly empty glass. She’s drinking straight Scotch and showing her prowess in outdistancing me in the inebriation marathon.
Annabel scowls. “Why are you here, Mr. Bailey?”
“What’s he doing here?” The Sheriff gestures at me.
“Mr. Chercheur is my friend.”
“Oh? Who’s the girl?”
“Another friend, if it is any of your business.”
Bailey adjusts his body to its fullest belly-thrusting pomposity. “See here, Mrs. Fielding, I’m trying to protect you.”
“By having my friend nearly beaten to death?”
Bailey gives me a dismissive squint. “He looks OK as far as I can see. Maybe banged up a bit, but you know he viciously attacked my deputy.”
“That is contrary to facts we have verified. Are you aware you and your department are facing a lawsuit?”
The Sheriff looks shocked.
“It is inappropriate you are here.”
He gulps his drink. “We’re trying to get to the bottom of your daughter’s kidnapping.”
“Have you caught her abductors?” Annabel asks.
“No, but one of them just phoned you.”
“How do you know?”
“We tapped your phone line.”
Annabel looks furious. “Without informing me?”
“Dr. Fielding was informed and agreed.”
Lara stands livid. “You bugged my private line?”
“No.” Bailey says, “only your main phone. None of your private lines.”
“A while ago, you refused to take my call seriously.”
“Miss Melville,” Bailey says condescendingly, giving her sleek, swim-suited body a prolonged stare, “your information about Perry having knowledge of the little cove is inconsequential considering the circumstances. Chercheur here put you up to making that call, didn’t he?” Bailey casts a disapproving bulbous blue eye at me, and says to Annabel, “Let’s speak privately.”
Annabel says, “That would not serve any good purpose.”
“Where’s Dr. Fielding?”
“Not here, and he no longer has any authority here.” She fetches a Seabreeze from the bar, and joins Etta and me on the sofa, as though we’re a panel of judges preparing to rate the Sheriff’s performance. “Please get to the point.”
Drawing a beer from the bar’s refrigerator, Lara dances it over to me, playfully blows her Scotch-laden breath in my face, giggles, and returns to stand behind the bar.
Bailey’s eyes follow her, and Lara gives him a nasty leer while refilling her drink.
Annabel sighs. “Do you have any idea who these criminals are?”
He glares at me. “I’ve got my suspicions.”
“Yeah,” Lara leans over the bar with a sarcastic smirk, “we know about those.”
Annabel says, “What do you think, Sean?”
“Why are you asking him?” Bailey blurts. “How can you be sure he’s not one of them?”
“I thought that should be clear to you by now,” Annabel says.
“I think Mr. Chercheur is about as clear as mud.”
“I think you’re about as clear as the San Quentin sewer,” Lara says. “You’re a deluded,
patronizing S.O.B. slob who pretends he knows everything.”
“Oscar,” Annabel says more kindly,’ I’m afraid you are no longer well-thought-of nor trusted here, so it would be best if you leave. Regarding the payoff to the extortionists today, I think Mr. Rodgers has that under control and you should follow through on identifying the gang before they leave the area.” Annabel rises. “This is all for today.” She turns and marches back to her studio and we follow, leaving Bailey to leave in the manner he arrived.
“Come out see my house,” Lara begs.
“Well,” Etta asks me, “shall we?”
“Sure,” I say.
Annabel nods, her eyes tearing. “Thank you for trying. Will you please see me before you go? Your gun is being returned and should be here shortly.”
Beyond the patio, the path twists through the lushly growing greenery glowing in the dusky light, and ends at a huge blue, kidney-shaped swimming pool scooped out of the earth amidst another perfect lawn and a multitude of carefully tended shrubs, flowers and Japanese maples.
The pool is placid, and on its far side three nebulous windowless cabanas, painted green and brown, nestle softly within the vegetation. The one on the end nearest the pool appears larger and more substantial than the others, its door boasting an artfully hand-painted sign, fuzzy but readable in large, blood-red words:
Lara’s House / Private / Keep Out
The diaphanous forms of guards appear and disappear as we approach Lara’s cabana. Up close, the painted sign of “Lara’s House” shows wear and chipping from numerous seasons of weathering. A neat hole is in the center of the ‘O’ of “Keep Out.”
Lara swings open the door with a flourish. “Welcome to my prison cell. See my new peephole, Sean?” Giggling, she sticks a slim finger through the bullet hole and wiggles it. “Come in and view my ‘Newman Collection.’”
Inside, we take white plastic chairs across from the studio couch, cloth comforter covered, on which Lara sprawls seductively beneath a one-sheet poster for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, mimicking Elizabeth Taylor’s pose on the bed. The movie’s not coming out for months.
“MGM sent it to me. I’m an official Paul Newman fan club. For the moment,” Lara grins. Reaching under the mattress, she pulls out a lid of grass in a plastic baggy, a pack of Zig-Zag papers and expertly rolls a large joint. “Good thing I stocked up. This is all that’s kept me going.”
Lara’s cabana is actually an all-year cottage, twice as large and well-insulated, and in the rear the shower and toilet are sheltered in individual compartments. The interior is nicely finished with redwood panelling, a refrigerator, small electric stove and sink installed beside it.
The insulated walls are neatly and nearly totally plastered with pictures of Paul Newman and posters of his movies, including a huge color portrait with his blue eyes glowing. On the wall opposite the couch is a similarly sized black and white horizontal picture of a grinning Paul and a beaming Lara, their arms around each other.
The glass coffee table in the center is piled with movie fan magazines, a cover picture of Newman on top. A white telephone rests on the floor at the end of the bed. A Bell and Howell 16mm sound projector sits on a stand by the couch, aimed diagonally across at a 6×6-foot screen in the opposite corner, a low wood table beside it stacked with 16mm stainless steel film cans. A large electric space heater occupies a corner.
Lara’s private home, clubhouse and screening room, but with the ambiance of someone in transit—just moving in or about to move out—or of someone always displaced and never at home.
Lara drags deeply on her joint, lolls back ecstatically into the cushions, one leg thrust out, coughs, takes another drag, holding in the smoke. A slim, shiny, black leather book lies beside her on the couch.
“What are you reading?” Etta asks, indicating the book.
“Not reading,” she says in a squeezed tone, letting out the smoke. “That’s my journal, what I do my writing in.”
“May I see?”
Lara shakes her head. “No. I don’t let anyone see my work until it’s finished.” She tucks the journal into her big brown leather Hermès bag, takes another toke of her sweet marijuana.
“As you see,” she exhales, gesturing flamboyantly about the room, “I am or have been crazy about Paul Newman, ever since I saw him on Broadway five years ago in Picnic—Cliff Robertson’s part in the movie—and met him backstage. In The Desperate Hours, I loved him as the killer Humphrey Bogart played in the movie. I used to see Paul’s movies ten times in the theaters, and have Mother buy me 16mm prints. I have all his films before this year. I organized his biggest fan club, and met him again when was he making The Left Handed Gun. He liked me, but Joanne had him on her, and I couldn’t drag him off, then he married her in January and ruined everything. I haven’t decided yet whether I still love him.”
Lara puffs again, holds the smoke in, and extends the joint to Etta.
Waving her hand ‘no,’ she says: “You’re so incredibly beautiful, and obviously talented. Your mom said you studied acting?”
“Oh, yes. I was one of Preminger’s finalists for Saint Joan. But he chose Jean Seberg. The authoritarian Scheisse said I was ‘too worldly.’ I think he saw I was too strong for him to rule. I would have made Joan the warrior she was.”
“I bet you would have,” Etta says, touching her hair and glancing at me, indicating she’s noticing Lara’s short honey hairstyle is nearly identical to Seberg’s in Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse—slightly longer than the actress’s cut in Saint Joan.
“But I don’t care. Acting is silly. Playing somebody else is ridiculous. What’s cool is to play yourself, and be powerful.” Lara sinks back into the cushions, drops the joint, fumbles, finds it spent, and rolls another. “Anyway,” Lara continues, “it wouldn’t have been much fun working with Otto. I think the fascist only left Europe because he couldn’t compete with Hitler.”
“Uhhh…” Etta frowns, “you know he’s a Jew?”
“Of course. That’s a joke,” Lara smiles wryly.
Etta chuckles, “He does play a good Nazi.”
“His second nature,” Lara grins.
“Well,” I say, “whatever Preminger’s human failings, he’s done well challenging dumb parts of the production code, even if it’s mainly for self-promotion and selling his films.”
“You guys are sure into movies, aren’t you? I think they’re OK if you don’t have something more interesting to do, but I can’t take flicks seriously. I can write better scripts than most everything I’ve seen.”
“Maybe you should,” Etta says.
Lara smiles. “I’m considering—but still developing my skill, you know? I’m performing tonight. Lulu—my stage persona—is going to read my insane new poem in tribute to Allen Ginsberg. Will you come?” she asks eagerly.
“Sure,” Etta says.
“Great! It’s lovely having you visit me here.” Lara frowns. “Did you know Mother sent me to enough psychiatrists to analyze a dozen personalities?”
Etta smiles. “Well, I’ve only heard of three, and if you’ve got more, you hold the record.”
“I want to be noted for something,” she nods. “‘The 12 Faces of Lara.’ No one understood me. Hell, I don’t understand myself. I hope we can be friends. I don’t have many, but I hope you and Sean will be.”
“Of course,” Etta says. “Aren’t you worried about the killers—when you deliver the diamonds later?”
“Aww… they get me, they won’t get the loot,” Besides, Rodgers Rangers are looking after me. The rocks will get delivered and the whole mess will end.” She rolls her eyes. “But, wow, was I scared today. To be honest, I peed myself again. Disgusting. But les fouteurs de porcs made their point.”
Etta nods sadly. “They killed two people… to make a point.”
Lara shrugs. “Yeah. I’m sorry those guys died. I wish they hadn’t, but dead is dead and living is living. We could all die tomorrow.”
“What do you mean?” Etta asks.
“If the Russians drop the bomb the whole Bay Area will be a first place to go.”
“Nothing we can do about that,” I say.
“Move to Paris. Everybody loves Paris—nobody will bomb Paris.” Lara laughs and drags on her joint, again offers it to Etta, who refuses, and asks:
“Why do you smoke grass?”
Lara exhales, “It helps me see who I am and what I want… and stops all the nonsense.” She speaks softly with a gentle, oblivious smile.
Etta feels oddly disturbed by Lara’s detachment, and asks, “The nonsense?”
“What everyone wants of me, what they want me to do, their bugging me to be something other than what I am, trying to make me be what they want me to be, which is no good for me, but they don’t understand and keep bugging me, and if I don’t smoke I’ll go really nutty, wild and nuts, wilder and nuttier than I already seem, which will upset everybody totally, so I stay high and make nice and keep cool, and do as I like, and be what I love, and live freely and have fun being me, as you can see.” She grins broadly, glances at me sweetly, and stares seductively at Etta, saying:
“You ever make it with a girl?”
Etta laughs, but it’s forced. “No. Have you?”
“A girl knows what another girl likes,” Lara grins coquettishly, “Did you know Vicki—you know, Vittoria Kenyon—has a thing for Sean and you?” She reclines, spreads her legs wide, caresses her thigh, takes another long drag, “You know it was Vicki who put me onto Sean?” She exhales slowly with a squeezed tone, “I guess you can blame her for getting you into this mess.”
Etta says, “Well, I introduced Sean to Vicki.”
“Then you can blame yourself.” Lara sucks the joint and slowly blows out a mighty cloud. But maybe it was supposed to happen. Maybe it’s your destiny to be here now.”
“Maybe so,” Etta frowns.
“That’s the truth, if you believe the soothsayers. But—nah—we can write our lives to be whatever we want. We just have to decide what we want, and do the stuff to make it happen—if we know how.”
“Do you know how?” I say.
“I’m working on it,” she smiles cryptically, her eyes glassy. “Mind over matter, and all that matters is what we do with the mind to control the matter.”
“Well… I’m afraid we need to go,” Etta says.
“And I need to come,” Lara smirks.
“Don’t forget,” Etta smiles, “the sun also rises.”
“When the moon is full,” Lara grins.
“Be careful,” I say.
“I may be stoned, but I’m not stupid. This place airs out fast. Anyway, as long as I don’t blow smoke in Mother’s face, she ignores it.”
Outside, Etta gives me a grim look and squeezes my fingers, saying, “I need to pee.”
She uses the center cabana. I gaze at her, wanting to see a smile on her beautiful face. Sitting on the toilet, she makes a sour one.
“Frankly, I’m sick of Lara. As a friend, she’s a drag. Conversing with her is like talking to a cartoon character. I can’t find the real her behind the marijuana screen. This whole thing has gotten to me. We’re shot at, see people die, and we have to be her friend because her mom’s so generous. The past day feels like 10 years in hell. Worse than all the years we spent fearing the Nazis.”
In the kitchen, we find Annabel in the alcove, sipping her perpetual Seabreeze.
“This is for you.” Annabel hands me a small heavy, brown-paper wrapped parcel. It contains my .45 and the permits.
Annabel smiles, “Please return later for a swim and barbecued burgers and Lara will read her poetry. We’ll have a party. The delivery of the diamonds will be finished and the criminals gone, and we can make it a sort of celebration? If you are able?”
“No, I’m Cain,” Etta giggles, “but you are my sister and not my brother, so I think I ‘cain’ be able.”
Annabel chuckles. “This situation is insane, so is my invitation equally insane? Will you come, please?”
Of course, and outside we chuckle over Bailey’s signature on the permits allowing us to carry concealed weapons anywhere in California. With bullets from the MG’s trunk, I load both the .45 and Etta’s little Colt, which she stows in her bag.
The fog settles on us with a soothing moist simplicity, and from the open MG, we watch the sumptuous manor house fade into the grey of the early afternoon, blending hazily as another isolated, interconnected component within the fog’s twilight world, where everything is hidden from everything else, and everyone from everyone else. I can only thank God we hide nothing from each other.
In San Rafael, we stop for burgers at A&W drive-in on Second Street, an oasis of fuzzy colored lights in the dingy grey desert.
Etta says, “Isn’t it interesting how movies condense what takes place over days or even years into 2 hours? I’d like to do that to what we’ve lived through since yesterday.”
Warren and Johnny follow us into The Bravados, and in the nearly empty San Rafael Theatre, they sit several rows behind. I carry the .45 in my trench coat pocket, Etta the .32 in her bag.
Driving slowly home afterwards, the mid-afternoon fog thick and heavy, Etta says:
“A profound Western. Gregory Peck hunts down and kills the bandits he believes raped and murdered his wife, then discovers his neighbor did it, whom the bandits had already killed. He can only ask for forgiveness.”
“I could see Gregory Peck in almost anything, and Joan Collins is gorgeous. Maybe she’ll be lucky like your mom and have a long career.”
“Awww… her character hardly did anything, just be Greg’s girl. Someday… someday, there’ll be girls who’ll play hero roles only guys play today.”