Read an Excerpt
Seven years later
“God, I hate blondes,” said Tamra Monelli. “What’s the big whoop about pink nipples anyway?”
“What’s a blonde?” said Jimmy, standing with his arms around the Monelli twins, Tonya and Tamra, as Rollo checked the viewfinder of the camera,
making sure the hollywood sign was perfectly positioned behind them.
Tonya giggled and pinched Jimmy’s bare ass.
“Last week we lost a part in a slasher film,” complained Tamra. “Three callbacks, and at the last minute the director decides that the high-school shower scene is a blondes-only zone, because, and I quote,
‘Blood contrasts better against white skin, and besides, blondes look more innocent. That’s why everyone wants to fuck them.’ Innocent?” She cupped her breasts, her nipples dark as anthracite. “Do these look guilty to you, Jimmy?”
“Smile.” Jimmy Gage showed his teeth to the camera, dropping his hands to discreetly hold down his erection as the twins pressed against him,
warm and naked and perfect. Jane was going to flip when she found out about this.
Rollo hit the auto-timer and rushed back, making sure they were all in the frame. The rickety hollywood sign was behind them, paint peeling,
covered in graffiti, the letters dangerously canted from the last earthquake. California Stonehenge. The timer clicked, the flash blazed,
and a Polaroid slid out. Item number six on the scavenger hunt list of seven: nude group photo at a recognizable L.A. landmark. “I still don’t like this place, Jimmy.” He glanced around at the debris that littered the ground, winced at an air-conditioner half-buried from the impact.
“All kind of bad shit happens here.”
“Bad shit happens everywhere.” Jimmy checked the backdrop of dark sandstone bluffs above them; the hollywood sign was built near the top of a ridge, higher hills looming overhead. Dropping bowling balls off freeway overpasses was passé among young wannabees. Today’s future lifer took pride in hauling heavy objects up onto the bluffs and dropping them on the sight-seers below. A couple of months ago a tourist had been flattened by an empty fifty-gallon propane tank.
Rollo scooted over to where the camera was perched on a broken Styrofoam cooler, a nervous, twenty-year-old filmmaker with thick round glasses and a Trotsky goatee, wearing only a pair of two-tone bowling shoes.
The Monelli twins stretched and preened in the warm night air, smooth and sleek as weimaraner puppies.
Rollo watched the twins, fanning himself with the Polaroid to speed the development. “Do you think I look okay, Jimmy? Physically, I mean.”
“You’re a credit to the human genome.” Jimmy slipped on black pants and steel-tipped welder’s boots, a powder-blue ruffled tuxedo shirt completing the ensemble. He was tall and lanky, somewhere in his mid-thirties, with dark tangled hair and an open smile. If you didn’t know better, you’d think he was just another laid-back hipster–until you noticed his eyes, saw the edge there. A reporter for SLAP magazine,
Jimmy was a troublemaker by trade and inclination, with fast hands and too much curiosity for his own good. Fight or flight, it made no difference anymore.
“Do I really look okay?” Rollo examined the Polaroid, then stepped into a pair of tie-dyed shorts, almost falling over as he hopped on one skinny leg. He reached for his Hawaiian silky, an original aloha shirt from the 1920s, museum quality, worth more than the VW van he drove. “I
mean, if you were a woman, would you find me sexually attractive?”
“Sexually? So we’re past ‘physically’ now?”
“Yeah, it was sort of like a rolling stop. So would you? If you were a woman?”
“I’m not really in touch with my feminine side.”
Rollo glanced at the twins cavorting among the broken TVs and shattered microwave ovens. “I think I should start working out or something. Maybe get some B-twelve shots. Or human growth hormone. They say you can get cancer from that stuff, but it takes a long time. Five or ten years at least.”
Rollo glanced up at the bluffs. “We should get out of here.”
The four of them had spent the last few hours driving around Los Angeles trying to fill the scavenger hunt list that Napitano had passed out at his party. Antonin “Nino” Napitano was the autocratic publisher of SLAP
magazine, a smash-mouth monthly with a no-corrections, no-apologies editorial policy. Vanity Fair had perfected the art of the Hollywood air-kiss, fawning yet dignified, but SLAP’s kisses drew blood, its eviscerating profiles and critiques sending the rich and famous scuttling for their spin doctors and libel attorneys.
Invitations to Napitano’s lavish parties were sought after by bit actors and screenwriters with a P.O. box instead of an office, potential rock stars, and models-of-the-moment. Scavenger hunt winners had their faces splashed across the “Shock of the New” section of SLAP’s next issue, a guarantee that their phone numbers would be on speed-dials all over the city. For a month, anyway. Jimmy didn’t need the ink–he was Napitano’s favorite, the only writer who stood up to him–but Rollo and the Monelli twins could use all the help they could get.
Rollo tugged at his goatee as he stared at Tamra posing inside the giant letter O, back arched, her belly bronze in the moonlight. “Too bad
Jane’s not here, Jimmy. I’d like to scope out the goods.” He saw Jimmy’s expression and took a step back. “Jimmy’s girlfriend was supposed to come to the party,” he explained to the twins, “but she stiffed him when she heard I was on the guest list. She’s some hotshot detective with the
Laguna PD; real pretty too, but she doesn’t like me.”
“Jane got a call from the assistant DA. One of her cases is going south.
That’s why she had to back out of the party.”
“I’m glad she didn’t come,” flirted Tamra. “Out of sight, out of mind,
that’s my motto.”
“Why doesn’t Jane like me?” asked Rollo.
“She says that every time you come by, she feels that she should count the silverware afterward.” Jimmy grinned. “I convinced her to cut you some slack, but bringing the palm tree to her dinner party–that finished it.”
“You know what that tree was worth?” sputtered Rollo. “Dwarf sago palms are protected, man. I could have sold it to a collector for a thousand bucks.”
“He dug it up from a botanical garden,” Jimmy told the twins. “He arrived at Jane’s door with this palm tree in a shopping cart. All these lawyers and cops standing around drinking martinis, and here’s Rollo pushing the cart into the living room, wheels squeaking, dirt falling all over the carpet.” He shook his head. “I told you to bring flowers.”
“The greenhouse was locked,” explained Rollo.
“You told us you were a director.” Tonya looked at her sister.
“I am,” said Rollo.
“He is,” said Jimmy.
Jimmy and Rollo were the only people in L.A. who were convinced. His oddball documentaries devoid of commercial potential, Rollo financed his films with assorted scams and hustles: counterfeiting Disneyland tickets, peddling hot electronic gear, hacking into databases to improve credit histories. He was a gawky high-school dropout with an IQ over 140
and barely enough common sense to keep himself out of jail, and though he slept with a night-light on, he had risked his life for Jimmy and never mentioned it afterward. They were friends.
Rollo bent down and tossed Tonya her panties, the black silk rippling through the air like a fleeing octopus. “We should go. The last item on the list is the hardest.”
“Where we going to find an Oscar?” said Tamra.
“A real Oscar,” said Tonya, spinning her panties around one finger. “No best-costume or best-song crap.”
“Major-category gold,” finished Tamra. “That’s what the rules said.”
Jimmy reached into his pocket and answered his phone.
“How goes the hunt, dear boy?” cooed Napitano. “Did you get the rubbing?”
Jimmy could hear music at Nino’s end, and the tinkle of glassware.
“Yeah, we got it.”
“Splendid. Some of the other players had difficulties with that one.
Legal difficulties.” Napitano clucked his disapproval. “Most of the teams saw ‘A tombstone rubbing from a silent film star’ and headed directly to Forest Lawn, even though it’s after hours. Arrests have been made, Jimmy, it’s quite tragic.” He hummed softly. “I was wondering,
though, how the police knew that there was going to be a mass scaling of the gates.”
“I have no idea.”
“Bravo. ‘Admit nothing’–if that’s not on your family crest, it should be.” Napitano was chewing something. “Which star’s tombstone did you visit?”
“Rex the wonder dog. The pet cemetery in Encino is unguarded.”
Napitano’s laugh was a blubbery wheeze as Jimmy broke the connection.
“Get dressed. We’re being watched.”
Rollo craned his neck toward the bluffs.
“Don’t look,” said Jimmy. “Just move.”
The Monelli twins shimmied into their matching black dresses.
Rollo squinted. “I don’t see–” A portable TV crashed onto the ground about ten feet away, exploded in a spray of glass. He screamed, grabbed at his ankle.
War whoops sounded overhead.
“Head toward the van,” Jimmy said quietly. A cinder block thudded into the weeds right beside him. “Don’t run.” He watched Rollo race toward the van, arms folded over his head, the Monelli twins right behind him,
wobbling on their high heels. Jimmy smiled and ambled up the path, hands in his pockets, waiting for a grand piano to land on his head.
Rollo didn’t even wait for Jimmy to close the door to the VW van before peeling off. No one spoke for a long time. They were almost at the I-5
freeway before Tamra finally broke the silence. “So whose Oscar are we going to borrow?”
Rollo veered into the carpool lane. “It’s a surprise.”
“So is a cerebral hemorrhage,” said Jimmy, suspicious now. “Who are we going to see?”
Rollo cleared his throat. “Garrett Walsh.”
“Motherfucker,” said Jimmy.
“I knew you weren’t going to like it,” said Rollo, accelerating.
“Who’s Garrett Walsh?” said Tonya.
“He made that kinky movie from a long time ago. Firebug,” said Tamra.
“Firebug won two Academy Awards,” said Rollo, easing through late evening traffic. “It was his first movie, a cheapo thriller full of twists and reversals, with lousy distribution and no stars, but Mr.
Walsh walked away with two Oscars, best director and best screenplay.
Even Tarantino didn’t pull off a double play his first time out.” A
silver Lexus cut him off, and Rollo leaned on the horn. “And it wasn’t that long ago. Nine years, big deal.”
“He murdered a teenage girl,” said Jimmy. “Walsh was only released from prison a few months ago.”
“Heather Grimm,” said Tamra.
“Who?” said Rollo.
“The girl he killed,” said Tamra. “Her name was Heather Grimm.”
“Seven years for murder–he should have gotten seventy,” said Jimmy.
“I remember now, we were in junior high when it happened,” Tonya chirped to her twin. “There was a picture of her in Entertainment Weekly. She looked like a cheerleader.”
“Blonde, of course,” the twins said in unison, clasping pinkies.
“Where else are we going to get an Academy Award, Jimmy?” said Rollo.
“It’s not like there’s a black market in them.” He considered it. “At least not for the major ones.”
“You sure you know where we’re going?” Jimmy asked a half-hour later.
Rollo squinted through the cracked, dusty windshield. The VW’s lights barely illuminated the winding, two-lane road as the van lurched its way up Orange Hill, second gear slipping. There was a restaurant on the peak, and houses strung along the ridges of the Anaheim foothills,
million-dollar crackerboxes with views of the ocean ten miles away. On a good day at least.
Jimmy stuck his head out the window to get a better look. The air pollution cut off the stars, and it was the myriad glittering lights below that looked like the Milky Way, the rakish, cocked neon halo atop the A in the angels stadium sign shining brighter than Polaris. It was as though the world had flipped over, and they were not moving higher but lower, into the darkness.
“I ran into Mr. Walsh at the Strand’s midnight movie a few weeks ago,”
Rollo said to the twins. “He was getting–”
“What is this ‘Mr. Walsh’ crap?” said Jimmy.
“I was the only one who recognized him,” continued Rollo. “He didn’t want company, but I followed him to his car afterward anyway. It wouldn’t start, which I thought was a good omen, because it was three a.m. and he didn’t have money for a tow truck.”
“Walsh should have called O.J. and asked him for a lift,” said Jimmy.
“Killers helping killers–it sounds like a bumper sticker.”
“How could he not have any money?” said Tamra. “Firebug did over seventy million domestic. That’s a cost-return ratio of almost fifty to one.
He’s got to be sitting on a pile.”
Jimmy turned around and stared at her.
“What?” said Tamra. “I majored in business at community college.”
“Mr. Walsh was pretty nervous that night,” said Rollo. “Pretty drunk too. He kept asking me to run red lights and dodge through alleys. I
think he was scared we were being followed. Fans can be pretty aggressive.” The van lurched, and he fed it more gas, then suddenly veered off the main road and onto a barely visible gravel path, the wheels spitting up stones. “Mr. Walsh told me to stay on the paved road,
then had me drop him off in front of this big house. He said it was his place, but I watched him in my rearview as I pulled away and saw him pretending to unlock the gate.” Rollo grinned. “He’s a tricky guy. I
guess you have to be when you’re famous.” The van hit a pothole, and
Rollo’s chin banged against the steering wheel, but he was so pleased with himself that he didn’t seem to notice. “So I started back down the hill, then cut my lights, parked on the shoulder, and waited. Sure enough, ten minutes later I see Mr. Walsh walking up this path. I tagged along on foot. He had to stop a couple of times to throw up, and I
thought once he heard me, but now I know where he lives. Smart, huh?”