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Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies 32


  “Brilliant,” I say. “But there’s one problem.”

  She wipes her cheeks with her napkin. “What’s that?”

  “When Boots and Puppies comes out . . .”

  She rolls her eyes. “You mean when it’s dumped on Netflix.”

  “Either way,” I say. “They’re going to recognize you.”

  “Who the fuck cares? I never said who I was or how I knew Peach, and I can say I am bi or something. I don’t care. The girl is dead and we were secret lovers. What can you ever do about that?”

  There is no more baklava left and I get a Google alert and the Salingers are preparing to ask the Little Compton Police Department to stop the investigation for personal family reasons that have come to light. There is light, fluttering Greek guitar on the stereo and the goblets on all the tables are New England blue. My belly is full. My love is real.

  “We should talk baby stuff,” I say. “I don’t know the first thing.”

  “You seem to know how to make ’em pretty good.”

  I know what she wants and I want it too and we pay the check and sneak into the bathroom and it’s the strongest sex we’ve ever had.

  Outside, we pass the Brown Bookstore and college kids walk and we are so lucky to be older. They are all either drunk or nervous and I can’t imagine having homework. I put my arm around Love and she pulls me tighter.

  “Should we get one of those What to Expect books?” I ask.

  Love says yes but holds up a finger. Her dad is calling. “Hi, Daddy,” she says, and it hits me. Someday my child will call me and say that, hi, Daddy.

  The crosswalk turns white. It’s our turn to go. But we don’t go. Love trembles. “Daddy, Daddy, wait,” she says. “One second.” She puts her hand over the phone. She looks like she’s had a stroke and her face is a battlefield. Her muscles spasm.

  “Are you okay?”

  “Joe,” she says. “They found him. They found Forty! He’s alive!”

  I hear her dad faintly coming through the phone, Love! Love!

  And now I feel like I’m having a stroke, but I have to fake it or else I’ll seem like a psycho and I grin and pull her into a hug. “Yes!”

  We run back to the car, no books for us, no time. Forty’s alive. Alive! I may as well be back in that bathroom hurling my body at the door. He’s alive. How? I picture a couple of shrooming college kids imitating Boyhood and roaming the desert, finding the hot springs. He’s alive. I picture one spotting the body, unsure if it was a hallucination or if the body was real.

  She tells me it’s a miracle. “Some girl found him and he’s in a hospital in Reno and he’s fine.” She smacks her lips. “He’s fine. This is so Forty, just like the time he disappeared in Russia.”

  “Reno?” I say.

  Love nods. “Apparently this girl found him in the desert, I don’t know where. She picked him up, he was passed out, dehydrated, and she brought him to the hospital and they put him on an IV and he’s gonna be fine.”

  It’s the worst diagnosis in the world. And I am not gonna be fine. I am fucked. I think of my acting manuals. I must not ask questions. Love unlocks the car. “The guy has nine lives,” she says. “And I mean phew.”

  “I can’t wait to talk to him,” I say.

  “Well, you will,” she says. “My dad says he’s talking up a storm.”

  “That’s crazy,” I observe, in my peppiest voice.

  “Right?” she asks. “I mean, of course he doesn’t remember a damn thing about how he got there and his last memory is at the Bellagio but, you know, that’s my brother.”

  We drive to the airport. We don’t talk about our baby. We just gush over Forty. And this is my fault. I did not check for a pulse. I did not finish my job. In spite of everything I’ve learned from the mug of piss, I didn’t put that knowledge into action. I’m like an asshole in a sitcom who learns the same fucking lesson every week and this is my life.

  My phone buzzes. It’s Forty:

  See you soon, Professor.

  51

  IT’S a long flight to Reno. I pretend to read Mr. Mercedes and we talk intermittently about the baby but mostly it’s all about Forty. Love shares the good news on Facebook and writes back to various worried friends. Love e-mails with her mom about whether or not he needs rehab. The answer is no. Ha.

  I don’t mention Roosevelt; it’s like our conversation never happened. It is unbearable, the way she smiles about him surviving, the way he sits in a room in Reno, conscious, aware that I am the one who put him there, who left him in the hot water to die.

  We arrive in Reno and there is a car waiting for us at the airport and the driver says it won’t be long until we get to the hospital and I pray for a crash or an earthquake on the inside and I deserve an Oscar because I’m so good.

  Love says we shouldn’t tell anyone about the baby just yet and I say okay and my prayers are unanswered when we reach the fourth floor. The building doesn’t crumble or shake and I can already hear him in the room, loud, cognizant, on the phone. “Reese is interested? That’s bananas!”

  I smell hand sanitizer and chicken broth as we walk toward his room. Love squeezes my hand. “Yay!”

  “Yay!” I say.

  Dottie steps into the hallway and does a double take. “Lovey!” she says.

  Love runs to her and they hug and I stand in the hall trying not to stare into the room where an old man screams help me. Dottie whistles. I hug Dottie as Love disappears into Forty’s room. My heart pounds. “You feel hot,” Dottie says. She puts her hand on my forehead. “Are you sick?”

  “No,” I say. “It’s just the desert, I guess.”

  “Well,” she says, linking her arm through mine. “We have to talk. Forty has the most wonderful idea about what we can do with you.”

  Murdermefeedmealivetodogstrapmedrown­meinapoolintheocean­tiemeupstarveme

  “Really?” I say. “What, um, what did you two have in mind and, my God, how is he?”

  “Come see for yourself,” she says, and leads me into Forty’s room. Music plays and trays of food abound and Ray must have brought his own chair because he’s in a recliner and Forty sits up in bed laughing with Milo, who sits in the other bed.

  I walk toward Forty Quinn and he meets my eyes and he smiles. “There he is,” he says. “Good to see you, Old Sport. Have a seat if you can. Settle in for story hour.”

  Ray stands, yawns. “I don’t think I need to hear it again,” he says. And whatever the story is, it’s bullshit and Ray would rather leave than go on indulging his son. Dottie takes the recliner and Love joins Forty in his bed. I sit in a shitty, hospital-issued folding chair.

  “Well,” Forty says. “The first thing you guys have to understand about me, going forward, is that I’m a writer.”

  I might vomit. “Okay.”

  Forty takes a pompous breath. “What this means, is that writers write. We shut off our phones. We take off. We get lost in the narrative. You guys, I know I have pulled some crazy shit in the past, but that was then. This is now. Now I’m a working writer, which means I didn’t wanna fucking stay in LA and rest on my laurels and pat myself on the back. I wanted to hunker down in a quiet hotel room and think and do and make.”

  Dottie moans. “Sweetie, I’m on your side and I love you. But you could have called.”

  Love: “Mom! Enough.”

  Forty: “And next time I will call. I was just dying to start in on a new script because that’s how this town is. You’re only as good as what you’ve got coming up.”

  Milo now with an amen, brother. I might faint.

  “What were you writing?” Love asks.

  He looks at me now, intently. He smiles. “Another kidnapping story,” he says. “I pretty much sold it in the room at Paramount a while back, but they got cold feet and now that I’m a thing, you know, they want in again. So I promised them I’ll have a script soon.”

  Love is perplexed. “Well, how the hell did you wind up in the desert? Mom says you’re starting
to remember more? That a girl found you?”

  My heart pounds. He looks up at the TV. “I went on a walkabout,” he says. “I needed to do research. Sometimes, you just have to get out there and see shit if you want to write about it, you know? If you want to write about the outer reaches of the desert, where there’s nobody around, you have to see it.”

  Maybe I could get a nurse to kill him and why can’t anyone ask what we all want to ask: Where is the new script? He can’t explain what happened to his computer or his notes because he didn’t bring notes and a computer. He brought cash and coke.

  My brain hurts. My palms sweat. “Who found you?”

  He smiles. “That’s the thing, Old Sport,” he says. “It’s all kind of a blur. One minute, I’m sitting in the buffet, giving five grand to a couple of newlywed kids who look like they can’t afford to eat in a real restaurant”—FUCKING LIAR—“and the next minute, boom”—MOTHERFUCKING LIAR—“I’m in the desert and this blond girl.” He sighs. He fails. “I just got a flash of her.”

  Dottie runs across the room. “What did you see?”

  “A sweatshirt,” he says.

  Dottie pleads with Forty—try, try to remember—but he can’t remember anything. All he can see is the girl, her shirt.

  “And then I woke up here,” he says. “Splat.”

  Love kisses his hand. “We need to give her five thousand dollars.”

  “We can’t,” Forty says. “She’s gone. The nurses say she took off. She didn’t even come in. They found me outside.”

  Dottie starts to cry and Milo puts an arm around her. Love asks Forty how the staff has been here and he says it’s not the Ritz and he looks at me and asks how I’ve been. I look him dead in the eye: “Worried about you,” I say.

  “We were so scared,” Dottie says, and she stands. A nurse appears and says she can come back later when everyone is gone and Love runs after her and it’s just me and Milo and Forty and Dottie, who is pacing, worked up, wrung out, hands on hips. Imagine how well I would have done had I had a mother like this, the kind who cares, the kind who is here, no makeup, bags under her eyes from worrying. “Well, remember this,” she says. “You can’t write anything if you’re dead and your father and I need to know where you are.”

  “I’m thirty-five years old,” he says. “Where does it end?”

  “Not in a desert!” she says, and now she is sobbing. Forty crumples up a paper towel and throws it at Milo. He points toward the door.

  Milo obliges. “Come on, Dot,” he says. “Let’s go for a walk.”

  “Joe can stay here with me, right, Old Sport?” Forty offers.

  I feel myself being murdered, slowly, the way they used to drain the blood out of people. “Sure thing,” I say. “You guys take a break.”

  Dottie kisses her son on the head. “Don’t make it so hard for me,” she says. “I love you. Daddy loves you. Let us love you. Let us be there.”

  “Mom,” he says. “It was a few days.”

  Milo ushers Dottie out of the room and when they’re gone I turn to Forty. “Shut it,” he says. “First the door, then your mouth.”

  I get up and walk to the door and I close the door and I return to my shitty chair. He does not encourage me to sit in the recliner and he does not suggest I get in the bed. He points to the chair next to the bed. “Here,” he says. “I’m suffering from exhaustion and dehydration and I don’t need to be yelling.”

  I sit in my chair. On the muted television, The Cosby Show begins. Forty opens a drawer in the tray table and pulls out two open bags of M&M’s. He reaches into one for candy. He reaches into the other bag for pills. Fucking Forty. He pops a bottle of Veuve. He pours his apple juice onto the floor, as if he’s in a parking lot and he pours champagne into his cup.

  I don’t want to be the first to speak, but I can’t help it. “Is that gonna help with your dehydration?”

  “No,” he says. “It won’t help with my exhaustion either, but it’s fine. I’m not the one with work to do.”

  I look at him. “Did you call the cops?”

  He ignores my question. He looks at the TV. He laughs, demented fucking sicko. “I love this episode,” he says. “You know this one, right, where Theo wants the fucking shirt? Never gets old. He wants that shirt. His fucking know-it-all dad wants him to work for that shirt and his sister tries to make him the shirt at home but at the end of the day, the only way to get that fucking shirt is to pony up and buy it.”

  “Forty,” I say. “Maybe we can talk.”

  He snaps and throws an M&M at me. It hits my nose. “You fucker. You left me in the desert, in the middle of fucking nowhere.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “I could have died.”

  “I know, I’m sorry.”

  “Maybe we can talk?” He pours M&M’s into this mouth. “Maybe you can go fuck yourself.”

  “Did you call the cops?”

  “None of your business,” he says.

  “Look,” I say. “Obviously, we’re both upset.”

  He is exasperated. “Did you seriously just say that we both have reason to be upset?”

  “Just hold on.”

  “Look, psycho, I know you’re from a broken home and I know you came here with no friends and no family and no nothing, but my God, Professor, you are not a fucking retard.”

  “Don’t use that word, Forty.”

  “You’re right,” he says. “Professors graduate from college. They work at colleges. You never even went to college.”

  I seethe. Forty eats another M&M. “What the fuck do you want?”

  “Number one rule of Hollywood,” he says. “Shit I learned when I was an intern at CAA for two weeks.” Only Forty would have a two-week-long internship. “Don’t burn bridges.”

  “Just tell me what you want.”

  “I want you to listen,” he says. “You can’t burn bridges because LA is not like a hospital. The fucker mopping up this floor, he’s not gonna be operating on you next month. It doesn’t work that way. In this business, people get places and you don’t know how they got there but they get there. And then the guy wiping the floor, he’s running the studio.”

  I hate it when he has a point. “Forty, they’re all gonna be back any minute,” I say. “What do you want?

  “I’ve always wanted a dog,” he says. Roosevelt. “A white fluffy dog but my mom is allergic. That’s where the title of Boots and Puppies really comes from. We had this puppy for like a minute, and we loved the shit out her. We named her Boots and Mom made us get rid of her because Mom was allergic. Fucking broke Love’s heart.”

  Liars lie and I can’t betray Love and families do this. Each person gets to invent a history, a version of the injustices, the pets, the names. I will never know the Quinns the way Milo does, Milo who is probably sitting in a Quinn sandwich right now. “What are you trying to say?” I ask.

  “That I’m a fucking grown-up,” he says. “A hot shit screenwriter and I’m my own person making my own bucks so I’m getting a dog. And you know what I’m gonna call that fucking dog?”

  I know what he’s going to call the fucking dog and I don’t want to say it out loud. But I think of my child. This is what parents do. They sacrifice. “You’re calling it Professor,” I say.

  He nods. “Professor,” he repeats. “Prof for short. Here’s the deal, Prof. You are gonna write what I tell you to write, when I tell you to write it.”

  “Forty—”

  He talks through me. “You are gonna churn out shit like you’re the guy in Misery fucking chained to the bed by the fat chick,” he says. “You will write and I will earn and if you ever even so much as think about telling my sister what we’re doing, you fucking dog, I will put your ass in prison so fast you won’t know what hit you.” He barks at me, as if he’s the dog, and he’s too fucked up from pills and Veuve to keep his analogies straight. “And you will be fucking loyal or I will kick your ass. I own you now. The end.”

  I try to breathe. Forty
throws another M&M at me.

  “I said, did you hear me?” he asks.

  I look at him. “You expect me to believe you’re not going to the cops?”

  “I hate cops,” he says. “It’s tedious and there are so many questions and lawyers.”

  “You could have died out there and you want to work with me? You expect me to believe that?” I shake my head. “Forty, here’s what I expect. I expect to walk out of this room and get clocked and come to in an hour tied up in some fucking basement.”

  He grins. “There it is,” he says. “That imagination.”

  “I left you in the desert,” I say. “So don’t fucking tell me we’re gonna be business partners.”

  “You’re not a good killer,” he says. “Obviously. But you’re a hell of a good writer.” The sick fuck eats more M&M’s and proceeds to tell me that I’m worth more alive than dead. “Look,” he says. “I don’t care about any of this shit. I don’t care about getting sick and getting better and I don’t care about getting married and having kids and getting healthy.” He breaks. Choking. He’s back. “All I care about is gold. I want an Oscar. I’ve wanted one my whole fucking life. You can’t buy ’em, I mean, not technically. And I sure as hell didn’t come close to getting one for the last fifteen years and now you, motherfucker, you’re gonna get me my Oscar.”

  And he goes back to his Cosbys. He really doesn’t care about Love, about any of the Hallmark human joys we’re programmed to want, family and holidays, joy. He knows what I am, what I did. And he would still allow me to fuck his sister, but then, his sister knows about me too and still she wants me and of course she does. Of course he does. “I’d fuck Denise,” he says. And of course he would. Twins. And my child shares his genetic coding and this is why we have war, because no gene pool is perfect.

  A nursing assistant barges in to take Forty’s vitals and she is cheery and pretty and she thinks it’s so amazing how Forty has such a big and loving family. “I wish everyone could have what you guys have,” she says. “It’s so sad when people are here and they don’t have anybody.”

  “You know what I’d like to do?” Forty asks.