Being neurotic in broad daylight takes energy and resolve and a certain focus to keep moving in order to hide it. Falling into a heap – which I’m teetering on doing now, and continually reminding myself to breathe to keep from freaking – means I’m done, means I never was worthy, means I never got my turn to go for The Brass Ring. Means I never make it to the top of . . .
I pray that’s not me. A washed out one-race-streaker, who’s let horse’s asses – like Jenny, Aaron, and William – fuck me at the starting gate.
I bite my lip, a facial tic I know I have that betrays my lack of confidence. I need more days to maneuver before Aaron gets his knees broken – one by one – by a giant scary man, The Enforcer for The Bookie, who I hear is coming by on Friday.
On my end of grabbing onto Aaron’s woes, I’d like to catch my Studio Chief sneaking money for himself out of the free-flowing catering accounts, or from transpo, or locations. All places I’ve flagged and know to watch . . . but I want someone to ride shotgun with me. A partner to test my strategies, and run my five-steps-ahead-of-the-game theories by.
I need someone borderline crazy, and evilly smart. I need Bette, but I know she’ll never agree.
It might be Helena.
Recently out of Federal custody, and away from exotic fruit plantations, and Dusty, her jailhouse lover — Helena’s very possibly a wise casting choice for my Hollywood Mobster drama.
My mind dials three lovers back, and Helena’s fuck-out-of-doors, in the most barely hidden, and unusual kinds of places, returns to me in a body memory, I blush at remembering.
Leaving Peggy’s hotel suite in San Francisco one night, instead of the spacious rooftop garden – where I thought we were headed – Helena took me to the edges of the bay, then into a park where a labyrinth was glowing threaded through the trees.
In the maze under the cliffs, at first I’d thought I’d be chilled by the breezes coming off the water. The lights surrounding us had flickered and seemed to swim out in all directions. My dress had disappeared over my head, and my eyes had closed to the possibilities of hidden onlookers, and I’d given myself over to the rolling spasms of my rawest desires.
Those were the months I’d seen Bette as the most perplexed. Her hating me, but fighting for me anyway, had sent Helena into overdrive, and anything I could dream up – even things I didn’t want – were mine, regardless of the hour.
Maybe Bette and I had gotten what we came for, out of the bloodsport of trying to conquer each other willfully, and as painful as it was, living alone now I had sometimes wondered, if the consuming chaos of Helena, and my elliptical trip to another land with Henry, weren’t spotlights on how my loneliness had replaced our intimacy? How dinnertime had become TV, how bestsellers by my bedside had replaced sex, and that I’d had about all that I could take, when I’d seen the cracks first appearing between her and Jodi.
First, I’d glossed over any offhanded mentions or any gripes that things weren’t going well between them. Next, I’d gathered intel, and Alice had plotted Jodi’s relationships on The Chart, so we could see the names of her exes fanned out around her own. Those we’d interviewed for clues.
After a few emails, Alice had compiled our notes, and a picture had emerged, along with a timetable that I knew I could exploit. Jodi’s, set your clock to it wanderlust – always about six months in – had been confirmed by the many women she’d left behind. By my calculations, the suggestion to keep their relationship open would be ‘Coming Soon’ to a volcano near me, and I’d laughed out loud all the way home — just thinking about it.
To have been a fly on Bette’s wall, as Jodi’s sign language and hand gestures had insinuated . . . that her necessary infidelities were coming soon . . . and to have seen Bette’s face, as it had dawned on her that Jodi – the also Alpha-lover – by way of signing with her fingers and otherwise, intended to fuck someone else . . . to this day, I’m still sorry that I missed.
Yet, I’d worried anyway that maybe they did have great chemistry in bed, or that unbeknownst to me Bette had somehow changed, and possessiveness wasn’t her ‘go to’ leach any longer for control. Maybe, they’d get into threesomes to liven things up, and that image had unnerved me.
They were an interesting couple to be sure. They could’ve certainly pulled it off, and drawn in lots of takers for the sex, and the nude skinny dipping in what I’d still thought of – as my and Angelica’s swimming pool. Their ménage à trois could’ve gone on for years, with Bette having the time of her life, with her tongue that I had wanted back with me.
In my own fog of possessiveness, I’d returned to doubting how the many women, coming and going and coming again – but mostly her sharing them all with Jodi – was really possible in the closed universe of her being The Star, and the only one who could ring her lovers far out past the farthest moons of Saturn, before bringing them shivering back to Earth again.
When my haze had lifted, I was able to see this scenario as never working, and I’d consoled myself that she’d never endanger her sexual prowess, but I’d gone to the Gypsy’s house in Hancock Park, and I’d left there with a Love Charm — just to be sure.
It’s not that I wanted Bette returned to me twisted off and wracked with pain and confusion, but that she would be miserable was step four, and step five would be her home with me. My plotting – alongside her swings from certain to uncertain behavior – had made me trust in my readings with the Gypsy more and more.
When the spell had been cast, and a piece of silk had been wound around the magical ingredients and tightened, to draw in the magnetism I’d been assured still existed, but was yet to come; I’d secreted the Love Charm behind a zipper in her luggage packed for Big Bear, and had waved so-long with utter confidence, as she drove away.
Since then, I’ve wondered more than a few times, if I should tell her about the Gypsy. Let her know – in words – that I’d wanted her back, just as much as she did in the end? Or if I should let it be, and let it go, and let us roll on with my secret kept for a little while longer?
As I walk myself back through my treacherous steps, and how I’d waited for the right combinations of things to appear in my love life, I’m convinced I have the same cunningness for the movie business. My takeover of Shaolin feels imminent, and I need Joyce for a new contract, and me, and everybody else? Needs to have a little faith.
I stop by the studio canteen for an iced latte, and taking a deep breath I call James. When seven had been inked into Bette’s calendar, Joyce’s battle-hardened gatekeeper, Jean, was my next call.
“Joyce Wischnia’s office, Jean Rawlins speaking.”
“Ms. Rawlins, Tina Kennard calling. It’s last minute I know, but is Joyce free for dinner tonight?”
“Oh, let’s see Tina. She doesn’t tell me everything.” I hear Jean tapping keys, and I have a hard time believing she’s in the dark – for even one minute – when it comes to Joyce’s billable time. “What did you have in mind?”
“Joyce loves which red wine again?”
“Oof! Tina that stuff’s hard to find, and very expensive,” Jean emphasizes.
“Consider me warned. What’s her favorite though?”
“They’re two of them actually. From consecutive years, 1968 and 69.”
“Any clue who carries it?”
“At two hundred and fifty dollars a bottle? The Wine Shoppe on Beverly.”
“I’m on it. I have an account there. Can you get her to my house by seven?”
“Yours and Bette’s place, right?”
“God, yes! I’m back home!” I realize I’m shouting. ”Can she come? At seven?”
Jean’s voice sounds amused. “She’s nodding her head, yes, Tina. So, looks like she’ll see you then.”
Bette and Tina’s House – 7:15 pm – Tina
The closer to three hundred dollar bottle of wine is breathing, Bette is late, and Joyce and I are touring the garden with Angelica. ”Did you know I have a house in Santa Fe?” Joyce asks.
”Did I? No.”
”I was there last month, and I gotta ask you . . . what was Bette’s mother like? I can’t imagine.”
”Lovely, really. A very talented, interesting woman with, as you know, a very unusual story.”
”No signs of shadowy gangsters disguised as Indians?” Joyce smiles down at Angelica who spins streams of bubbles out of a wand.
Then one lands inches from me, and I stare into it amazed and whisper, ”Bette’s mother’s an older lady painting in the desert, and friendly with the Native Americans. She fits in.”
”A perfect camouflage!” Joyce booms, which makes Angelica rush up to her, and the bubble bursts.
”I don’t know about that.” Joyce laughs. ”Can’t you think of something scarier?”
”Alley-ga-tor! Alley gator took a bite out of Mommy.” Angelica pats her stomach three times.
Inside the house Bette throws open the front door, and Joyce looks at me puzzled. ”That sounds impossible,” Joyce muses, “even for her.”
I wave away my daughter’s indiscretions. ”Should we try the wine?”
”I’m home! God! I’m so sorry I’m late!” Bette calls from somewhere inside.
”Let’s go in.” I motion Joyce toward the French doors that lead into the kitchen.
”The wine’s not the only reason I came tonight.” Joyce lifts up her goblet for a sip. ”But this is very nice of you. I’m curious what’s up? Wasn’t that her coming in?”
”Actually, I need to talk to you both about . . .”
From around the corner, Bette zooms into the kitchen with a vase full of flowers for me, and placing them on the counter, after a warm hello to Joyce, she sweeps me into a kiss.
”How are you?! I had the most incredible day! I got a Building Fund check for so much money! ” Then, she lets me loose, and over her shoulder calls, ”Hang on, there’s more, but wait! There’s a crate of cantaloupes in the car.”
”Why a crate?” My voice sails out after her.
Leaning against my kitchen counter, with a look of amusement on her face, Joyce asks, ”What’s for dinner? I don’t smell anything cooking.”
Bette kicks back open the front door, and sure enough, she’s hauling in a crate of cantaloupes. ”Joyce, please take some home.” Then to me, ”Baby, I’m thirsty, and I’m starved. What’s for dinner?”
Joyce pours her a glass of wine, and then winks toward the label. ”Take it slow, not your speed I know, but try to savor it.”
Bette blows back a lock of hair from her face, then locks her eyes onto Joyce. ”You do not need to lecture me about how to drink wine.”
”We’re ordering in from Puccini’s. I hope that’s alright.” I fetch the menus from the drawer.
”Puccini’s?” Joyce opens the refrigerator, and sticks her head inside. ”Do you mind if I see what you’ve got in here? I’m a great cook.”
”Actually, so am I.” Bette opens the door wider, and standing side by side, I can sense between them a developing competition. Joyce tosses a package of uncooked pasta onto the counter, while Bette unloads produce from the drawer.
”What are you thinking Porter?”
”Hmm.” Bette takes a sip of wine. ”I challenge you to a linguine. You can make any kind you want, but mine is clams. What’s yours?”
”I’ll run get whatever you guys want,” I offer.
”You’re on, and you’re going down.” Joyce rolls up her sleeves. ”Tina, one second before you go. I’ve got a few things for your list.”
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