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Hidden Bodies 26
Ray calls from downstairs. “I got eggs!”
Yesterday it was I got French toasties and the day before that it was I got huevos rancheros and Love gets out of bed without looking at me. She slips into her robe and helps her mother off the bed and they walk away, telling each other how wonderful they are, how great a daughter Love is, how loving a mother Dottie is.
Downstairs, Ray tells me to have a seat and now it begins again, his questions about my business. Ray loves me. Ray wants to invest in me. Ray believes in books. Once upon a time, before Forty got a two-picture deal and disappeared, Dottie loved me too, but now she resents me. She doesn’t like Ray treating me with such love and acceptance. She doesn’t eat her eggs. Ray sighs. “Whatsa matter now?”
“Sometimes you don’t sound like someone whose son is missing,” she says. “Sometimes you sound downright chipper.”
“Pardon me for not being surprised,” he says. “I missed the memo where we were told to act as if there’s anything surprising about this mess.”
“You shut it,” she says. She looks at me, at her husband. “Have some respect for your son.”
Ray slams the refrigerator door shut and Forty has destroyed them. They were so happy before and the only thing that makes them stop fighting is Love, who starts crying and banging her fists and begging them to stop. “I can’t take this! You can’t do this now, you just can’t!”
And now her mother is soothing her and her father has them both in a bear hug and they promise her it’s going to be okay. “We’ll get through this as a family, Love bug,” he says. “We always do.”
I learn that Forty’s favorite game as a child was hide-and-seek. He never stopped playing. When things go well for him, he self-destructs. He hides. The day he got into grad school at UCLA, he went to a racetrack and drove his car into the wall. It was an accident, but at the same time, we all know what’s possible when we get into a fucking sports car. Two days before Love’s wedding, a happy time for all, Forty took off to go skiing via helicopter. He fell, of course, and no one could locate him for days. Love’s wedding had to be postponed. Forty was found in the woods and he claimed he was too disoriented to use his phone. One of the guys on the rescue squad lost a finger trying to find him.
After breakfast, Love and I go outside so she can water her plants. “Love,” I say. “Maybe we should get out of the house, you know, go to a movie or something.”
“A movie?” She lashes out at me, brandishing her hose. “How can I go to a movie when my brother is missing?”
“Because he always turns up.”
“You don’t get it because you’re not . . . close with your family,” she says. “I don’t mean that in a bad way, but just, just please don’t say things like how about we go to a movie? I need to be here. I can’t be in a movie theater and get a call that he’s . . .”
And she’s crying again, and I swear, she’s crying because she feels guilty because she wishes he would die and leave her alone already. He is tedious and he lacks imagination and he stole from me and he is a vampire, sucking the life out of his sister. I hold her.
“Joe,” Love says. Here we go again.
“When he showed up and we found out about his deal, you didn’t look happy.”
“Love, we were in the fucking pool. We were literally in the fucking pool.”
She tosses her hose. “No,” she says. “It’s not about that. You looked mad.”
“I wasn’t mad,” I say, and I want so badly to tell her I wrote those scripts, but if I tell her now, while Forty is gone, she will bury me.
She sprays her cactuses, as if they need water. “No,” she says. “You were definitely mad.”
I have no choice here. “Okay,” I say. “You’re right. You just told me how you’re done with the business and you don’t want to act and he walks in and he sold his movies and I was like, well, there goes that. Now you’re gonna wanna be in his movies.”
“Because I can’t think for myself?”
“No,” I say. “Because you’re twins. Because you work together, because of course he’d want his sister to be in his movies.”
“But I literally just told you I was done with that,” she says. “I literally told you I never want to act again. Just tell me why you weren’t happy for him, why you went off and skulked into the house. I mean, there’s something going on.”
“I love your brother,” I lie.
“Then why didn’t you hug him and be like yes?” She drops the hose. She paces. “Never mind,” she says. “This happens every time I go out with someone. At first you act like you love my brother and it’s cool and you want to be friends but then the minute he, I don’t know, needs something from you, you turn your back on him.”
“He didn’t need anything from me,” I say. “He got a fucking deal.”
“He needed you to be happy for him.” She sniffles. “He needed you to love him. I mean, why couldn’t you have just hugged him and been there for him? Why did you have to run away?”
So now it’s my fault that Forty ran away and Love’s father is calling us in for another feeding. I try to talk to Love but she says now isn’t the time. She isn’t the same girl she was four days ago and if this keeps up, she won’t love me anymore. She is a snowman melting, a phone dying, a plant wilting. I go inside and eat my guac and talk about books with her parents and I am a limp dick. Her parents decide to go to a movie—ha!—and I don’t say see I told you so. They go and we’re alone and we sit on her giant sectional and once again whatever I say is wrong.
If I tell her it’s going to be okay, she says I have no way of knowing that.
If I tell her I love her, she says she can’t deal with me right now.
If I ask her what I can do, she tells me there’s nothing anyone can do.
If I try to make her laugh, she says she doesn’t want to laugh.
If I get upset, she says she can’t deal with one more person losing their shit.
Her parents come back. “Any word?” Ray asks.
“No,” Love says.
Dottie tells us that it finally hit Ray. They didn’t make it to a movie theater. They just went to Forty’s condo above Sunset. They think he’s dead. They can feel it. I try to be positive because that’s what they say to do in these situations, but it doesn’t work. I try to cheer up Ray and watch Fast Five with him and Love says I’m abandoning her. I leave Ray and the movie and follow her and she snaps at me. “Well, now you’re abandoning him.”
I can’t cure Love when she’s sick like this, sitting in the dark with her headphones on, blocking out the world, watching things, as she was when we met, and I understand now that she was sad that day too. She had just had sex with Milo; she was hating herself, blaming herself for leading him on. And right now, Forty is the one who ran away, and he did that, but she is blaming herself, as if his fuck-ups are her fault. There is a codependency between twins that can’t be broken. And then I get a text.
The first thing I do is look around to make sure Love and Ray and Dottie are all far away from me and they are. I unlock my phone. I read: Feel like grabbing some grub, Old Sport?
Unfuckingbelievable. His family is on a vigil and he doesn’t offer any explanation. Does he not care about them? Does he not remember when he stole intellectual property from me?
I write back: Where and when?
He writes back: Now and the 101!
I put my hands on Love’s shoulders. She takes her headphones off and looks up at me.
“I’m going to go find Forty. I can’t just sit here and do nothing.”
She reaches out to me. “How?” she asks. “What do you even mean?”
“I mean I’ll find him,” I say. “I’ll drive around. I’ll go to his haunts.”
“Joe,” she says, brightening. “You’re amazing. Thank you.”
“You don’t need to say that,” I say, and I kiss her hand. “You’re the amazing one and the l
east I can do is get in the car and try and bring him home.”
Love nods. “I’m so sorry. I know I’m being a royal fucking bitch. I don’t know how to control it and I hate myself for not having figured out how to control it yet. Thirty-five fucking years.”
I kiss the top of her perfect head. “Life is long,” I tell her. “You’re gonna be fine. I’m going to find him and sober him up, whatever it takes, I’m gonna be with him. And then we’re gonna come back here and he’s gonna be with us and I’m gonna take care of him so I can take care of you.”
“I love you, be safe,” she calls as I leave the house.
The person she should worry about is her brother. He’s hit my last nerve and if he isn’t calling to apologize for stealing my scripts, fucking me over, and torturing his family, then he is going to be roadkill on the fucking 101.
I drive fast and when I get to the 101 Diner from Swingers, Forty’s already in a booth, red-faced and high, feet up, dirty toes in old huaraches and he’s flirting with a waitress and nursing a beer. My least favorite song in the world comes on, the song that was playing in LAX when I arrived, that stupid fucking Tom Tom Club song, and as I walk to Forty’s table, the song feels like an omen. Just the same, I am a fair person. I give Forty the benefit of the doubt. Surely he’s been squirreled away, wracked with guilt over what he’s done to his family, to me. Surely this is the scene in his sad life when he comes to Jesus, when he begs for forgiveness.
“Forty,” I say as I sit down in the booth. “We’re all having a nervous breakdown looking for you. What the fuck?”
“Whoa,” he says. “I sense a little hostility.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Call your sister.”
“You look a little piquant, Old Sport.”
Only assholes say piquant and I know that this is not the moment where he sees the light, where he becomes a human and cops to his horrible behavior. He called me here because he’s full of cocaine and he hums along to the frothy, bratty pop as he peruses the menu. I order a blackened chicken sandwich and he orders a BBB—bacon, bacon, and bacon sandwich—and puts down his menu.
“Joe,” he begins. “I have to say that I’m hurt.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say. “But do me a favor. Before we get into anything, call your sister.”
He shakes his head. “I know you think I screwed you over somehow, but you need to remember that I’ve been working on these scripts for years.”
“Let’s not get into that now,” I say. “I just want your family to know you’re okay.”
“Well, I’m not okay,” he snaps. “You couldn’t even congratulate me properly. I get the news of my life and you turn into a jealous little bitch.”
“Forty, we had a deal . . .” I stop, I take a deep breath. This is not why I came here. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is call your sister.”
But he’s exasperated. “A deal? Do you know how many people have pitched in on these projects over the years? That’s what this business is. We read each other’s shit. There was no deal. A deal is what I have with Megan.”
Every time he says Megan my aspirations flare. I won’t let them do me in and distract me. I’m here for one reason: He either gets to call his family and have one more shot at life or he gets to abuse his family and suffer the consequences.
The music is too loud and he goes off on how the scripts are his. He paints a picture, wherein I am the shady one, the one who didn’t even want to tell Love that we were talking about maybe doing something together.
“You know, I’m actually kind of impressed. Separation of church and state.” He winks. “My dad would have told my mom in a fucking heartbeat. But you didn’t let your dick get in the way of your brain.” He smacks my shoulder.
“Whoa,” I say. I want to bash his face in and set him straight. I count to three. “Love has nothing to do with the deal we made.”
And I should have told Love; I regret not telling her. I want a time machine. Secrets erode trust and that’s how I got into this mess. Had I told Love about Forty’s proposal she would have lifted her little hand to her chest and said ooh, Joe, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. But you can’t go back in time; I know this from the mug of fucking piss.
“Old Sport, can you fucking just believe it?” Forty says. “How cool is it, right? Megan Fucking Ellison! I still can’t believe it. But at the same time, I can, you know how that is? How unlike the lottery it is, meaning that there’s nothing random about the good fortune. You do the work. Eventually, you get paid. Then you get laid!” He twiddles his thumbs and looks at me so directly, like a bear facing a human in a backyard in New Hampshire.
“You maybe want to call your sister?” I ask him.
“I never use my phone during a meal,” he says.
Forty whistles at the waitress and asks her for a bottle of their worst champagne and she laughs, as if he’s so funny and comes back to us with two small bottles of white wine. “What are we toasting?” she asks.
“My career,” he says. “I’m blowing up.”
She says the drinks are on her and she winks. “I would eat that ass,” Forty says. “And I generally don’t do that.”
I slam the table. “Forty.”
He looks at me and moans. “Old Sport, I did not invite you here to be lame,” he says. “Now, you should be thanking me. You did some beautiful tweaks on my work. You’re well on your way to a great career.”
“I didn’t tweak anything,” I snarl.
He slumps, like I’m so boring, like I’m stupid. “When Harry Met Sally. Jaws. Do you know what these movies have in common?”
“Fuck off,” I snap. I know where he’s going.
“I’ll tell you what they have in common,” he says. And he tells me what I already know: The famous lines about orgasms and big boats were improvised. “But do the actors get credit? Hell, no. Do they get cowriting accolades? Fuck, no. Are they earning royalties on that gold? Hell, no.”
“That’s different and you know it.”
He shakes his head. “You just don’t get it,” he says. “You waltz into this town and you think it owes you something because what? Because you fuck my sister and you have a flair for dialogue?”
The waitress brings beers. “These are for you guys to keep up the celebration.”
Forty grins. “You are a doll. Porcelain doll.”
She smiles. “No,” she says. “I’m slightly more flexible.”
She leaves and his eyes are gone. “Wouldn’t it be aces if the waitresses in here were on Rollerblades?” He squirts ketchup on a napkin for seemingly no reason. “You should work that into something. Roller skates are killer on film. Boogie Nights meets I dunno, you know.”
The waitress returns with a shake. “On the house,” she says. “The chef read about you in the Hollywood Reporter.”
Hollywood, where the rich don’t have to pay for anything and Forty thanks her and lowers his chin and nods. He pulls his straw out of the case and sips his shake. “I drink my milkshake,” he says. “Get it? Like, you think I’m drinking your milkshake but see, the chef knows, the waitress knows. They know what’s up.”
“Fuck you,” I snap.
He shakes his head and tells me I need to watch out for my ego. He says I didn’t kiss Barry Stein’s ass the right way. He preaches about my lack of respect. I don’t know what it is to pitch and pitch and hear the word no and go back and try again.
“Fifteen years I’ve been at this,” he says. “For fifteen years I have been developing my brand. Getting my name out there. Generating buzz. Fifteen years of driving to studios and telling my stories to executives and producers who have told me they love me and they love it and they want it and then a week, two weeks later, nothing.” He’s fuming now. Give a miserable person an ice cream cone and the miserable person will nosh, digest, and go back to being miserable. “I just can’t wait to see the look on Milo’s face. Right?”
“You should really call Lo
ve,” I say. “She’s literally worried sick.”
He’s brittle, pissed. “She’s fine,” he says. “They’re all fine.”
The food comes. He’s happy again. He plows into his bacon sandwich and I don’t touch mine. He’s failed his test, and I tried, I really did. But this codependent twin saga existed before I got here, Forty fucking with Love, Love forgiving him, no matter what. My job is to end it. I see that. I will do that, for Love, as an apology for the mess I made, the way I enabled this selfish louse.
I can’t decide how I’m going to kill him but I do know that when rich people die, the cops actually care. The first thing they try to figure out is the motivation. I can’t risk those e-mails we exchanged biting me in the ass. “Forty,” I say. “You should delete all of our e-mails, you know, about the scripts. Just in case someone were to hack into your account. You want to make sure that there’s nothing, well, you know what I mean.”
He laughs and chokes and sips beer. “See, only someone fresh off the boat would say something like that,” he says. “You can go to a lawyer right now. Have fun. Good luck paying the retainer. Oh, and good luck finding anyone who wants to work with a guy who lawyers up like a fucking baby when his girlfriend’s brother gets a sweet deal.” He burps. “You can be litigious or you can be creative but you can’t be litigious and creative. Nobody wants to get in the sandbox with the guy who sues people.”
I tell him I’m just looking out for him. “I know a reporter who tries to hack into shit all the time,” I explain. “You don’t want a paper trail.”
He nods. “I do see your point,” he says.
Now he’s in his phone, swiping. The waitress comes back with a platter of sweet potato fries just because. Forty is sobering up. “That was good advice,” he says. “But it’s also a bummer. This is the kind of shit you learn from a lawyer, not a writer. We could get something going together but then I’m not bringing a litigious prick anywhere. I don’t like litigious pricks. You need to tell me that you’re not going to be a litigious prick.”