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Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies 15


  Then my phone buzzes and I get something I’ve never gotten before. A Facebook message from Love: Ok I am a total stalker but I found you here. I’m going to Malibu. It’s too hot and I think it would be wrong of me to leave you here in this heat. So this is my good deed of the day. In?

  It’s like she knew about my day, my Village nightmare. Like she sensed that all I wanted was a way out, a break. I write back all caps YES. She responds: Literally in front of your building. #psychokillercesquase

  She writes again: My French spelling sucks but my French kissing is good hahha

  I write back: Nothing about you sucks.

  And of course it’s the truth.

  I pack a bag and think about Delilah’s vacuum mouth and Amy’s hungry-hungry-hippo, all-hands-on-deck enthusiasm. I will not be getting my dick sucked in Malibu but I won’t have to deal with Delilah. I bring my clothes and my underwear and my computer. I picture Harvey explaining to some new Angeleno that this apartment is cursed. The first girl took off, jettisoned her furniture. The next guy, one day he was here and the next day he was popping pills (allegedly) and then poof, gone. Still, I can’t be too needy; I take out a few pairs of jeans.

  Outside, I search for Love’s Tesla but it’s not here. I hear honking and she’s down the street, waving from a Ferrari. I walk to her and she smiles when I get in. She isn’t mad that I bailed on her this morning because of a work thing. She doesn’t see it that way at all. “I know you have a life,” she says. “We were in the zone. I had to send like a million e-mails this morning so believe me. I get it. Did you get your shit done?”

  “Yep,” I say.

  “Good,” she says. “Then you can focus on this Pantry mix I made for you.”

  It starts with Charles Mingus and I feel like a Fresh Air kid on his way out of the ghetto as we pass Hollywood Lawns and head toward Malibu. I text Calvin: I’m gonna need a few days. I feel like shit. Sorry I was such a dick earlier. Delilah, ugh. You know the drill. Anyway I gotta take off for a while. Let me know if anything happens with GFT. Fingers be crossing, C Money. Talk in a few.

  In New York, when I ran a bookshop, if anyone talked that way to me, they would have been fired. In LA, I blow off my boss over text and get this in return: Dude I think I smoked too much weed whoa peace out talk soon.

  Living is so easy in LA and Love tells me to hang on as we veer onto the 101. Hundreds of cars clog the arteries and it reminds me of that SNL sketch where they talk about the 101 and the 405. I can’t imagine growing up in this madness, in cars.

  Love’s mom calls and I look at pictures of Love on Facebook. She’s at the beach a lot, but she doesn’t post full body shots. She drinks but she never looks wasted. I think I was wrong this morning. I think maybe this is my lucky day.

  23

  PEOPLE who pay thousands of dollars to board Glamorous Germ Boats (aka cruise ships) are trying to embrace a philosophy about life, the idea that it’s about the journey, not the destination so you best enjoy the ride. I have always had a hard time with that philosophy. I am goal oriented. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a productive member of society. Even now, I do my best. I keep one hand in Love’s vagina and one hand on my phone. I am a multitasker. I don’t bask. While Love drives, I review my accomplishments. Because of me, Benji’s Home Soda label was dissolved. Because of me, no publishing houses are wasting electronic ink writing to Guinevere Beck to say no to her stories, and because of me, someone more deserving has Peach Salinger’s job. Because of me, Dr. Nicky Angevine is not practicing, not licensed to manipulate patients into blowing him. Because of me, Henderson’s talk show does not go on and someday this moment will be remembered as the initial end of the age of narcissism in America. Because of me, Mr. Mooney was inspired to go away too. He’s in Pompano Beach, happy as fuck, banging a broad named Eileen.

  I also deserve a vacation. I came all the way out here and as the wind burns my cheeks and pulls my hair back and as we get closer to the ocean, I decide that this is the road away from everything bad, from Amy, from my self-destructive pursuit of her, from my paranoia and my lies. Everything with Love is good and everything bad is in the past. I look out the window and I let Amy go. Let her fall off a ladder into a chute or let her hang herself with a resistance band. I have better things to do with my time. I put down my phone.

  “Finally!” Love says. “I was starting to worry your eyes were gonna pop out of your head from looking at that thing so much!”

  “I know,” I say. “I had to take care of some work stuff. But fuck it. Ima be here now.”

  She laughs. “I like this plan.”

  “I like this view,” I say.

  “So beautiful, right? I love the Pacific. You’ve been out here, right?”

  “No,” I say. “Not yet.”

  “What?” she shrieks. “Wait, wait, wait. This is your first Pacific Ocean experience?”

  I admit that she is correct and I love the way Love is like love itself, boundlessly enthusiastic. My first time here is her first time here and she is crazed with joy, veering into the left lane, gunning it and blocking traffic to squeeze into a space on the shoulder.

  “I thought we were going to your parents’ house?”

  “We’ll go after,” she says.

  “After what?”

  “After you put your toes in the Pacific, of course!”

  She opens the car and strips off her tiny T-shirt. “I’ll race ya,” she says and all this time, my whole life, I thought horny white people in bathing suits only raced each other to the water in movies and Don Henley music videos. I let her win and when I get there, she takes my hand in hers and pulls me in for a kiss.

  “Close your eyes,” she says.

  I hold her hand and close my eyes and it’s not like I’m some poor farm kid from Nebraska. I’ve been in the ocean. But never like this. The stretch at the shore is so wide. The waves are loud. The seaweed is oversized, like the ocean itself. And then a wave comes and hits us and I pick her up and run through the wall of white water into the thick of it.

  “Have you been to the Maldives?” she asks, when we resurface.

  “Don’t do that,” I say.

  She looks at me. She wipes her mouth. “Do what?”

  “You know I haven’t been to the Maldives,” I say. “So don’t ask me if I’ve been to the Maldives.”

  “How do I know you’ve never been to the Maldives?” she asks, and she’s not being sarcastic. Love Quinn must be the least judgmental woman alive. She swims up to me and embraces me before leading me back to shore. She has towels in the trunk—are rich people always prepared to get in the water?—and puts on a new Pantry playlist. The first song is Eric Carmen’s “Make Me Lose Control.” I tell her I love this song and she says she knows. She says she took some of my songs and some of her songs and made a bunch of infinite musical nesting dolls. I don’t know what this means, but she explains that each song mentions other songs.

  “Oh, so after this comes ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Back in My Arms Again,’” I say.

  She nods. “You really are the Professor.”

  I wish we could keep going, all the way up north, through summer, away from Amy, from Henderson, from Delilah, from LA. But then she puts on her turn signal and veers off the highway, and we take one dirt road to another dirt road until we approach a gate. Hanging over it is a brass sign in the shape of a half-moon: The Aisles.

  “Your home has a name?”

  She laughs. “You know I like to name everything.”

  Love smiles into a camera and the gates open and I hear Elvis— “Never Been to Spain”—and holy fuck, wow. The road is paved with patchy grass and seashells and white sand that must have been shipped in from Bermuda, and is shaded by canopies of trees they don’t have in Hollywood. We crunch along, passing Maybachs and Ferraris.

  “Are your parents having a party?” I ask.

  “Not exactly,” Love says as she dabs her lips with gloss. “Forty’s in tonight’s episode of
True Detective so my parents got the family together to watch it in the screening room.”

  “He’s an actor?”

  “I mean, not an actor-actor,” she says. “He doesn’t work that much. Just once in a while. I think he and Milo have a friend who is doing music on it and got him on? I don’t know.” She sighs and puts her gloss away. “I can’t keep up and I don’t try to keep up.” She pats my leg. “Don’t look so nervous.”

  “I’m not nervous,” I say. But I am nervous. I know how to worry about getting betrayed by Amy Adam or judged by the police. I do not know how to worry about being a bookseller on an estate.

  “You don’t have anything to worry about,” Love assures me. “Everybody already loves you.”

  A little barefoot girl with a popped collar chases a barefoot boy who will never work in retail or file for unemployment. We’ve entered some upscale Rob Reiner world of Rich White People and I don’t think I’ve seen children since I was in New York. What strikes me more is the safety. In New York, you’re constantly vulnerable. There could always be a psycho on the subway, on the fire escape, in the dark near the stoop. I’ve had my fair share of mentally ill, potentially violent patrons in the shop. My Hollywood apartment is on the first floor with bars on the window and I walk to and from work. I get into Uber cars and Lyfts with drivers I don’t know and they could always be crazy. But this is so safe and it’s gonna take me a minute to get used to it, the total absence of criminals.

  We pull over to a sandy embankment and she leaves the keys on the dash. I offer to help with the bags but she says the helpers can do that and she takes my hand and leads me onto a path that’s been landscaped to perfection, to make it seem like God and wind made this when really, it was Mexican laborers.

  We are closer to the water, bright and blue, impossibly close, just beyond the grass tennis court, green, bright, and Love tells me about The Aisles. There are four houses on the property, one grass tennis court, one clay court near the main gate, and two swimming pools. There is a boathouse and I see the Donzi Love’s dad told me about and I want to drive that thing. I will drive that thing! They have a private beach and a shed that appears to be made of actual gingerbread cookies. A sign on the thatched roof reads mini pantry.

  “Mini pantry?” I ask.

  “Nothing mini going on in these parts.” She squeezes my balls and begins to give me a hand job right here, right now, about fifty feet away from where the kids have set up a lemonade stand. She gets down and feels me up and maybe this will be when she blows me. We could get caught at any second. I tell her this and she grins, Cheshire.

  Love strokes me and cups my balls and I am her clay and she works her fingers to my bone and her face is so close. I put a hand on her head but I don’t push. I won’t push. I will take the hand job but the hands make me want the mouth and I push the littlest bit and she takes a hand away and opens her mouth. Yes. Yes. On the tennis court someone calls: Out! She licks her fingers and palm instead of licking my dick and she takes that wet hand back to my cock and I come. She wipes her hands on a palm frond and I pull my shorts up.

  “You okay? You seem a little tense,” she says.

  I shake my head. “Of course I am. I was just worried about those kids.”

  She smacks my ass. “Well, even if they did see, they gotta grow up sometime, right?”

  We walk. No wonder Forty calls me Old Sport. This place is The Great Gatsby, new and improved. Paul Simon sings; only it’s actually Paul Simon, the human being. He’s sitting on a lawn chair strumming a guitar for Barry Stein and Forty, a strange sight in so many ways, three men, one guitar, no Garfunkel.

  “Barry Stein knows him,” Love explains. “Barry Stein knows everybody. I think that’s why my parents put up with him.”

  “What do you mean?”

  She tells me that Barry Stein is kind of a self-important douche, but her parents love the movies. Her dad wishes he were in that business but they don’t invest in movies because they’re too risky.

  One of the million maids on staff emerges with a tray of vodka lemonades in Mason jars and Forty is quick to grab two. He offers one to Barry Stein, who shakes him off and Paul Simon says no too. Nobody wants to drink with Forty and Love sighs. “I wish Forty would get it. He always thinks Barry is gonna produce one of our stories. And it’s not going to happen.”

  “Why not?” I ask.

  She laughs. “Cuz they suck.”

  I love that Love isn’t self-deprecating or self-aggrandizing. What I don’t love is how she pulls my head toward hers and lifts her iPhone.

  “Afternoon selfie,” she cheers. “Hashtag, Summer of Love.”

  I smile. “Cheese!”

  24

  PAUL Simon left while we were settling into our suite upstairs in the main house and I’m not used to it, any of it.

  “Where’s the bathroom?” I ask Love.

  “There are some in the cabana and some in the main house but I love the ones in the blue house,” she says.

  I try not to seem so astounded, but sometimes, the difference is too much. The French doors of the blue house are open and the bathroom is straight ahead and it’s the size of a studio apartment. A fat tabby cat meows and exits.

  I can try, but I will never be at ease in this. I look outside and watch Dottie hug Pierce Fucking Brosnan. A fat child picks his nose. I close the door and sit on the toilet. When I was a kid, my mom used to leave me at Key Foods. Literally just fucking dump me there. She would say we were playing hide-and-seek and I knew we weren’t but I would play along. I would hide in the bathroom or sneak upstairs where they paid people to watch out for shoplifters, like ghetto Casino. The managers all knew me. They knew my mom. They didn’t call the cops on her. The nice manager would make me my favorite meal, On-Cor Veal Parmigiana.

  Eventually my mom would come back and slap me hard on the face and scream at me not to run away or pull that shit again. I promised to be a good boy and the people who worked at the store went along with the charade.

  I flush and splash cold water on my face. I leave the bathroom and “helpers” (Love’s word, not mine) circle in Bermuda shorts, can I help you, do you want anything? Love changed into tennis whites and she’s on the patio by the courts. Forty waves me over and hands me a caipirinha. Milo is here now too. He’s talking to Love, making her laugh. Barry Stein looks up Love’s skirt. Fucker.

  Forty shakes his head. “I told you not to worry about that.”

  “What’s Wianno?” I ask, nodding toward Milo and his stupid tattered T-shirt.

  “Wianno Club,” he says. “And, Old Sport, I promise you that there is nothing to worry about over there.”

  “Where’s Wianno?”

  Forty sighs. “It’s nowhere.” He claps. “So you got any ideas for movies, Professor?”

  “Not really,” I say. I watch Milo, the blond hair on his arms, his Chiclet white teeth. The violence in me is like the marketing campaign for Carl’s Jr., the way the signs change when they have some new jalapeño fat burger to promote. Instead of killing Amy I want to kill Milo.

  Forty crunches on an ice cube. “Oh, come on,” he says. “You gottta have one idea. Everybody’s got one. What’s the last great thing you saw?”

  “Nothing,” I reply. “This guy I work with always forces me to watch all this crap on Funny or Die.”

  “You ever have anything produced?” Forty asks.

  “No,” I say, and it would be socially inappropriate to pull Milo by his shirt into the water and drown him. Instead, I play along. I tell Forty about an idea I have, where you would show that part of Love Actually where Liam Neeson tells his stepkid that they need Kate and Leo.

  “And then,” I say, hoping that Love can hear me, that she’ll leave Milo to see what she’s missing. “Then, they’re on the couch, only instead of showing that scene from Titanic, you show the scene from Revolutionary Road where Kate and Leo are fucking in the kitchen.”

  Forty cackles. Love doesn’t notice.

&
nbsp; “That is genius. Old Sport, you need to make that.” Forty looks to see if Barry Stein has been eavesdropping but he hasn’t.

  I shrug. “It’s just something I think would be funny.”

  “You gotta think, it’s something that will be funny, Old Sport.”

  And then Forty has to go field some calls and he leaves. Love comes over and sits on my lap. “You having fun?”

  “Yes,” I say, and I am. With Love on my lap, I am calmer. I can love it here now that she’s not talking to Milo. The light in Malibu has power that you can’t buy on Instagram. Everyone looks more alive than they did at Chateau, clearer yet grainier. The Aisles isn’t a home; it is a village and I wonder if any of the people who work at the Pantry know about this place and if they want to get together and storm the gates. I can picture them all shrieking, WE DON’T WANT LOVE—GIVE US MONEY!

  Dottie says we’ve got to get ready for dinner and I didn’t realize time was passing. Love says that happens in Malibu. “Beach brain.”

  Forty returns, iPad in hand. “Check it out, Old Sport,” he says.

  And it’s like Calvin redux. I recognize the Funny or Die logo and I groan but Forty promises this is gold. The opening titles roll, followed by Liam Neeson and son in Love Actually and my heart rate quickens—that’s my idea—and they’re on the couch, watching Kate and Leo in Revolutionary Road—my idea!—and the screen rolls black and I see words I like, words that belong together, the way happily married people do:

  Written and Directed by Joe Goldberg

  Love is laughing and clapping and I hug Forty and shake his hand and thank him but he tells me not to thank him. “This was all you, Old Sport!”

  “But I didn’t do anything,” I protest. “I just had an idea.”

  “Bullshit,” he says. “You had an ending. Everyone has a beginning, but you are the guy who knew how it ended.”

  He hands off my film to Barry Stein. A new life is possible for me and I see how it is possible to become infected with aspirations. I might be discovered like Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights before he fucks it all up. But Barry Stein calls my video cute. I seethe. Once upon a time in New York I was