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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Michael was sitting on the step outside his apartment when Cody arrived.

“She in there?” Cody asked, not sure where the car was or what was next.

“Nope,” Michael said, staring at the play of light on the fountain.

“You know where she is?”

“Nope.”

“You want to tell me what happened.”

“Nope.”

“Tell me anyway.”

“Not much to tell,” Michael said with a shrug.  “Milan came blowing in here like Katrina.  She and Gianni took her car and her driver and her stash and took off.”

“Did she say anything?”

“Yep.”

“What?”

“She said you should ask Fab for your old job back,” Michael said, careful to repeat it exactly.  “Does that make sense? I didn’t know you were a decorator.”

“I’m not,” Cody said.   Michael didn’t ask, so he didn’t have to lie.

They remained where they were for a moment.  Michael sitting, Cody standing, both silent in the moonlit courtyard.

“You holding?”

“Nope.”

“Gianni, huh? I thought he was on your team.”

“It’s a highest bidder kind of thing.”

“Yep,” Cody nodded, getting it.

Silence.

A door slammed above them.  Ric came thundering down the stairs at full gallop.

“Ric, come back here and talk to me,” Cat screamed down at him from their living room window.  “Just tell me what’s going on.”

Ric didn’t look back as he bolted through the gates, the motor court and out onto the street without ever breaking stride.

“See you,” Cody said to Michael after a second’s hesitation.  He ran after Ric.

“Hey, Cat,” Michael called up to her after a minute or two.

“Hi, Michael,” she said. “You want a drink?”

“I could use one,” Michael said, rising.

“Martini?”

“That’s what they call the last shot of the day,” Michael said, taking his time as he climbed the stairs.

“What is?”

“The martini.”

“This place is crazy,” she said.  “We should run away and be pirates, Huck.”

“What? And give up show business?”

“I suppose you’re right.”

~

Ric was waiting for the light at Fountain and Sweezter when Cody caught up to him.

“Where you heading?” Cody asked.

“This is your fault,” Ric said.  “What is your game?”

“My fault?”

“She doesn’t know.”

“About your movie career?”

“I didn’t tell her.”

“Did you tell her you were gay?”

“I’m not.”

“Then you deserve an Oscar.”

“Funny.”

The light changed.  Ric crossed Fountain.  Cody followed.

“Where you headed?”

“I don’t know.  A bar.”

“On Sunset?”

“A bar where I won’t be recognized.”

“Because no one in the bars on Sunset ever watches gay porn.”

“Fuck off.”

“I’m buying.”

“Then you pick the place.”

“Bar Marmont makes a great martini.”

“Long as you’re buying.”

“I’ve got Milan’s black card.”

“Martinis at the Marmont.”

“That should get the evening started.”

 

. . . to be continued

 

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Brighton’s arrival on set, like everything about Brighton, was the opposite of Milan.

Where her sister made a show of everything she did, coming and going to fanfare for lighting checks and costume fittings, Brighton parked her own car on the street, strolled past the paps and showed up on set like a crew member.

“Hi,” she said to Sans who was adding a few last minute angels and high contrast photos to the ormolu-pastel-French-baroque-expressionism that was Fab Fads’ trademark.  “Do you know where Richard is? Or Milan?”

“Oh, hi,” Sans said extending his hand in greeting.  He didn’t recognize her without a People magazine logo over her head.  “I’m Sans.  Are you here for the makeup crew?”

“Kind of,” Brighton grinned, delighted by his informality.  “I’m Brighton.”

“Oh god, don’t get me fired,” Sans said.  “I really need this job.  I didn’t mean to . . .”

“Relax,” Brighton laughed.  “I’m not my sister.  Where is everybody?”

“You’re sister is getting ready, uh, somewhere,” Sans said.  “I think the director is at some kind of lunch meeting.  My bosses are all on some other job, I’m not sure where exactly.  And I’m not much help, right?”

“No, I guess I’m early,” she suggested, checking her watch even though she knew she was on time.

“I do know where your dressing room is,” Sans suggested.  “That could help.”

“Perfect,” she said.  “I’ll just get set up and wait in there.”

“I’ll let them know you’re here,” Sans said, leading the way as he fished his cell out of his pocket.

“Thank you so much, Sans,” she said, unaware that she was the first person to say that to him since he’d started working there.

He beamed as he did not say “you’re NOTHING like your sister.”

~

“She’s here,” the voice crackled over the walkie-talkie.

“Perfect,” Milan said checking her makeup in the mirror they’d been snorting lines off of.  “I’ve got to go get a touch up.  Cody, you wait here.  Robert or whoever will call you on that thing when we’re ready for Brightie’s little surprise.”

“Gotcha babe,” he said, giving her the thumbs up.

“No more party,” Milan said.  “You’ve got to be on camera.  Gianni, you and Michael keep him honest.  Oh, what am I talking about?  Cody, come with me.”

“Do I need makeup?” Cody asked.

“You mean, do you need more?” she said leading her sex tape co-star to the door.  “We’ll be back boys.  Gianni, you might want to get some more supplies for later?”  She handed him some bills and then led Cody out the door and across the garden court to the stairs opposite Michael’s.

“You’ll be safer hanging out at Cat’s than with those two,” Milan said as he followed her up.  She pounded on Cat’s door.

“So, do I have to say anything when I get there or what?” Cody asked.  “Like maybe I should say something about how Brighton and I used to date until the whole sex tape thing with you?”

“You mean what are your lines?” Milan said, looking at him like a parent trying to be patient with a slow child she was fond of.  “Do you understand how reality television works? It’s not actually real.  It’s just unscripted.”

“Hi Milan,” Ric said, opening the door in his usual painting costume – t-shirt and boxers with paint spattered over-shirt. “Cat’s already gone over to the set.  Do want me to call her?”

Cody stared at Ric, brow furrowed.

“No, no,” Milan said.  “There’s security to walk me over, thanks to your crazy landlord.  What’s that all about?”

“No idea,” Ric shrugged.  “He can be a little formal, but he’s usually pretty easy going.”

“Maybe he’s a Nazi war criminal and doesn’t want his picture taken,” Cody suggested unexpectedly.

Ric and Milan turned and stared at him silently for a moment.

“May-be.”  Milan nodded and spoke slowly.  “Look, Ric this is Cody.  I’m wondering if he can hang out over here with you for a bit before the shoot.  We’re trying to surprise my sister.  They used to date, she doesn’t know he’s here and it would really help out with the whole surprise thing if she didn’t till we’re ready.”

“You look really familiar to me,” Cody said to Ric.

“Wow, I should have cut you off sooner,” Milan said, half under her breath.  “Maybe you could make a pot of coffee?” she suggested to Ric as she pushed Cody inside.

“I feel like we’ve met before,” Cody said, still looking at Ric under knitted brows.

Ric began avoiding the look.

“Are you an actor?” Cody suggested.  “Or maybe a commercial? I just feel like I’ve seen your face somewhere.”

“Cody, honey,” Milan said giving him a little shove.  “Knock it off.”

“I’ll go make us some coffee,” Ric said, darting out of the room.

“Here,” Milan said thrusting the walkie-talkie into Cody’s hand.  “Keep this on and come over  when we call for you.  Okay?”

“Sure babe,” Cody said, looking past her to Ric in the kitchen.

“Ric,” Milan called.  “If you could, listen out for his call on the Walkie and bring him over.  That’d be great.   I’ll get you paid for a day on the shoot, kay?”

“Thanks Milan,” Ric answered.  He looked back over his shoulder, caught Cody’s stare and looked away again.  “We’ll see you there.”

~

It was the first day of shooting.

They spent a couple of hours “seeing” the apartment for the “first time.”  Fab gave them a tour as Milan tried to pick a fight with Brighton over his work.

“Well, I know this isn’t really your cup of tea, Brightie but I love it,” Milan said hurling herself onto the lime damask Louis Quatorze sofa with the ornate, matte white woodwork and gesturing to the black crystal chandeliers.

Brighton thought it was a horror show, but knew how to get under her sister’s skin.

“Oh, I think it’s really bright and sunny,” she said, with a sweeping look at a  room better suited to Morticia Addams than a house plant.  “I’m going to love it here.”

“Really?” Milan said, playing to the cameras.  “Well, I guess you’ve changed your opinion since the last time you saw one of Fabs’ projects.”

Cameras followed as Fab stormed off the set.  He doubled back and hung out off camera at the craft services table, not wanting to miss the fireworks.

Milan tried a little bait-and-switch.  She showed Brighton her room.  Then they filmed Brighton unpacking suitcases the crew had filled with product placement clothes and cosmetics Brighton had never seen before.  Once she was settled, Milan returned and made a fuss saying Brighton’s was the room she wanted.

“Why don’t we share like when were little girls?” Brighton suggested brightly.  They had never shared a room in their lives, not even a wing. “I’m sure Fab can get us twin versions of this yummy black canopy bed.  Can’t we Fab?” she called to him off camera.

“Fab had to, um, leave,” Milan said, as though it was a secret they were keeping from Brighton.  “But his assistant is still here.  Sam,” she called gesturing to Sans to come over.

Bobbi rolled his eyes in disgust.

“This is his assistant, Sam,” Milan said, introducing a terrified Sans to her sister.

“Hey,” Sans said.  Nervous, his drawl was worse than usual and the word picked up a couple of extra syllables.  Ryan, who was beaming from off camera, gave him a thumbs up Sans couldn’t see.

“Oh yes, I met Sans earlier,” Brighton said.  “We’re old friends.  He helped pick out this outfit.  What do you think?”

Milan did a take for the camera.  “Oh, it’s, er, great.  Hot.  Mean it.  Really.”  It was the catch phrase she was trying out for the show.  “Listen.  I’ve got a date tonight.  So I’m going be going out soon.  Will you be okay here by yourself?”

“With just the film crew to keep me company?” Brighton said, putting her arm around Sans and giving Milan a look.  “It’ll be hot.  Mean it.  Really.”

And so it was with great relish that Milan staged the arrival of her date for the evening with Brighton’s ex.

At Milan’s on camera urging, they spent time picking out an outfit for Milan to wear on her date: “Just like they used to do when we were girls at home together.”  As if.

Brighton first insisted on changing into a pair of Cowboy-and-Indian-patterned footed pajamas “Since I’m just staying in tonight for a quiet evening on my own with the camera and lighting people.”  Then she tormented Milan by only picking things that either looked too small or were overly matronly.

“This suit is perfect,” she shrieked at Milan.  “You’ll look just like Jackie O in Dallas.”

Milan was closing fast on high-coke-whore-hissy-fit by the time they broke to reset for the date arrives scene.

“Is he here yet?” Milan hissed at Cat as the costumer struggled to zip her into the red rubber dress Brighton had “helped” her pick out.

“I’m not . . .” Cat said, uncertainly, picking up the walkie-talkie to check on Cody’s progress.

“Give me that,” Milan said snatching it from her and opening a channel accidentally.

Gang Bang Detention Hall, that’s it,” Cody’s voice filled the air.

“I don’t know what you’re . . .” Ric mumbled, then gave a little cry Cat recognized.  It was the little whimper Ric couldn’t control when he was tickled.

“The preppie boy with all those bad boys.  I knew, I knew where . . .”

Milan flipped the switch and snarled into the device. “Where the hell are you two?”

Cat’s spidey senses had been tingling since their odd encounter with Sans’ date, Ryan.  She couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something up with Ric lately, since the black eye.  He wasn’t telling her something.  They’d barely spoken since the shoot started and so the tension between them was worse than if they’d gone on and had the fight.  The tone of the overheard conversation had her head spinning.

“Places,” Richard called, with a certain reluctance.

Milan and Brighton sat on the lime green sofa sipping pomegranate champagne cocktails as they “awaited” the arrival of Milan’s date.

“Well, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you about my date,” Milan said, when Richard gave her the signal from off camera.

The stage manager pushed Cody through the door.  He stumbled and almost fell.

“I’ve been seeing . . .” Milan said rising triumphantly.

“Cody,” Brighton screamed.  She leapt to her feet.

Milan’s smug look of victory dissolved as Brighton ran into Cody’s arms.

Uncertain how to proceed, Cody returned Brighton passionate embrace and kisses.  The two made out on camera for an uncomfortably long period of time.  The crew squirmed as they watched Milan come to a boil and then, apoplectic with rage, run off the set and out of the building.

Ric, unable to endure Cat’s glare, ran after her.  She tried to resist for breath, but ran after him.

“And cut,” Brighton said, unceremoniously breaking the embrace.  She gave her ex-boyfriend a friendly pat on the ass.  “Nice to see you Cody.  See you boys tomorrow,” she called waving to the crew.  “Sans? Do you and Ryan want to go grab a bite?”

. . . to be continued

 

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Sans was almost out of money.

The Southern California job market had collapsed along with the real estate market and just about everything else.  The kinds of jobs he’d hoped would tide him over were the only ones anyone could get.  Mortgage bankers and real estate developers were working as waiters and clerks, so the clerks and the waiters were out of luck if they couldn’t get temp, part time or an acting gig.  And Sans was worse off than the waiters and the clerks.

He’d applied at every place on the boulevard and been turned down at least once.

About the only thing he had to look forward to was a date with Ryan, the porn star he’d met at Mickey’s a few nights earlier.  They’d exchanged a few phone calls during which Sans had found out little more than that his name was really Bryan, but that now everyone called him by his nom de porn, Ryan.  Sans hadn’t bothered to point out that if he was looking for anonymity, Ryan Candler still came up when you Googled Bryan Candler.  It didn’t seem to matter to Ryan and Sans was just glad that something was going right.

Sans hadn’t seen him since that night.  He also hadn’t seen much of his neighbor Ric.  The black eye that Ryan had given Ric had faded but the questions Sans had for Ric were still in sharp focus.

He was working on cleaning up just in case Ryan wanted to come by for a late night glass of Chateau du Two Bucks after their date.  On a final trip down to the dumpster, he ran into his new friend Bobbi crossing the motor court.

“Bobbi?” Sans said, uncertain it was.

“Florence!” Bobbi said, stopping short.  “What are you doing here?”

“I live here,” Sans said pointing to his open door.  “What are you doing here?”

“Running off ten pounds trying to please a client,” Bobbi said, rolling his eyes.

“What?”

“Oh, my boss is a designer,” Bobbi shrugged.  “He got this gig doing some crap reality show.  Translation I’m ruining a perfectly good pair of shoes running back and forth between my boss and the “Star” with swatches, chips and snippy remarks.”

“Milan,” Sans nodded, having heard about the show and their now frequent famous visitor.  “I’ve heard she was around but I haven’t seen her.  The landlord went berserk when the paparazzi followed her.”

“Tell me about it,” Bobbi said, holding up the laminated ID hanging around his neck.  “We have to post security whenever she’s over here or he’ll shut the production down or something.”

“I’ve only ever seen this kind of stuff on TMZ,” Sans said his brows arched.  “I have to put my visitor’s names on a list.   I guess she’s really famous, hunh?”

“Well, I’m counting the bitch as cardio,” Bobbi said, with Cher-toss of his imaginary mane.  “I’m here till two every night so I can do my actual job, once she’s outta here.”

“Are they at Cat’s?” Sans asked, laughing.

“Cat lives here?” Bobbi asked.  “I talk to her more than Milan, but I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, I thought that’s why Milan . . .”

“Some writer guy, Michael?” Bobbi shrugged.  “When she’s not on set, she’s over at his place.  We haven’t really started shooting yet, just  a few pick-ups here and there for B-Roll and background.  So, she’s here a lot.”

“I don’t know him, but I haven’t lived here long,” Sans nodded, thinking better of mentioning that Bobbi’s favorite porn star lived with Cat.

“How’s the job search going?” Bobbi said, suddenly giving Sans a laser beam look.

Sans mimed taking a spear to the chest and made apropos gurgling noises.

“Not so good, hunh?” Bobbi asked, hands on hips.

Sans staggered back as he continued to go after the scenery with his hammy death scene.

“So you want a job?” Bobbi asked.  “To be fair, do you want this job?”

“It’s a miracle,” Sans said, pulling the invisible spear from his chest and finding no wound.

“No, it most definitely is not,” Bobbi said waving him off.

“So, you’re quitting?”

“Hell no,” Bobbi snorted.  “Fab is the only designer who hasn’t laid everyone off.  I don’t know where he gets the money.  Design trade is dead.  With the economy in the toilet, everyone in Beverly Hills is content to sit their fat rich asses on last year’s sofa.  But somehow we’re thriving.”

“But if I do this job . . .” Bobbi said, still not understanding.

“Then I can just do the job I actually got hired to do,” Bobbi said, putting an arm around Sans’ shoulders.  “And you can be Milan’s butt boy.  Come and meet your dominatrix.”

“Umm, there’s only one thing,” Ryan said, bringing them to a halt.  “I’ve got a date tonight I don’t want to miss.”

“Oh?’

“Ryan, from the other night,” Sans explained.

“Oh honey, I’ll do the donkey act with Milan for one more night for that,” Bobbi said.  “But you have to give me full details.  Everyone in town wants a lick of that Creamsicle.”

“My hero,” Sans said, giving Bobbi a peck on the cheek.  As he allowed himself to be lead to his doom.

The door opened only a crack when they knocked at Michael’s door, back right, garden court.

“Yes, what is?” the lanky man asked in his Eastern European patois.

He gave Sans the creeps.  He’d seen him around a couple of times and had only ever gotten the man’s wild eyed stare in answer to his pleasantries.

“Swatches,” Bobbi answered, undaunted.

“I’ll see,” he answered before closing the door in their face.

“Is that Michael?” Sans asked.

“No, I think it’s something Italian,” Bobbi said, head cocked skeptically.

“Italian?” Sans echoed Bobbi’s tone.

“Right?” Bobbi nodded.  “I just call him Lurch.  Take a seat, it’ll be a while.”

“What do you suppose they’re doing in there?” Sans considered, sitting next to his friend on the brick steps that surrounded the courtyard.

“Well, the trailer’s not rocking,” Bobbi said, turning his hands up.  “But then, it’s not a trailer.”

“What?” Sans asked, clueless.

“You are sooooo new in town,” Bobbi smiled.

“Hi Bobbi,” Cat said coming down the stairs.  “It’s Sans, right?”

“Hey Ca . . .” Bobbi began, his voice dying in his throat as Ric followed her down the stairs.

“Bobbi, this is Ric, Cat’s boyfriend,” Sans said, grabbing Bobbi’s arm.

“Who is?” Bobbi asked, incredulous.  “Boyfriend?”

“Yeah Bob,” Cat said, good naturedly.  “I bat for the other team.  I’m just tall.”

“And good at basketball,” Ric added with a twinkle in his not so blackened eyes.  He shot Sans a look of gratitude.

“That’s not exacatly . . .” Bobbi began again.

“I’m going to be working on the show,” Sans said, cutting him off and trying to kick Bobbi as he stepped between them.  “Bobbi just hired me to do shit work for his design firm.”

“That’s great, Sans,” Cat said.  “I know you’ve been looking.  With the shoot just across the street it’ll be perfect.”

“Any job will be perfect,” Sans said, laughing and trying to keep the conversation going in any direction other than Bobbi.

“Sans?” the familiar voice cut their mirth short.

“Hi, Ryan,” Sans said, wanting to run to him but afraid to leave Bobbi unattended.

“What’s up with all the security?” Ryan asked.  His expression changed and he stopped dead when he spotted Ric.  “What is he doing here?” he demanded, pointing at Ric as he advanced in Ric’s direction.

“This is Ric, my neighbor,” Sans said, stepping between them and dragging Bobbi along.  “And his girlfriend, Cat.  You’ve met Bobbi.  Say hi, Bobbi.”

“Deja, moi,” Bobbi said with a grin.

 

. . . to be continued.

 

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He liked the King Tut headdress best.  He thought it gave him a regal air.  The jester’s hat had bells for festive occasions.  The pith helmet connoted authority.  And the jockey’s cap was the perfect compliment for his velvet riding livery.  But the purple and gold striped pharaoh’s nemes spoke his authority best.  Tut paused to admire his reflection in the dusty plate glass window of the cleaners just as the woman folded back the iron accordion metal grating for another day of dry cleaning to the stars. They exchanged a looked filled with unspoken meaning.  Their relationship over the years was rich and storied

“Don’t come in here again or I call the police,” she said, her harsh Korean English spoken as though she was perpetually angry.

“We are not amused, bitch,” Tut said grandly.  “I could crush you with a thought if I wanted to, my child.  But I have mercy.  Forgive them father for they know not what they do,” he shouted to the heavens.

The Korean woman spit, gave him the eye and turned to go begin her day.  “Don’t come in again.”

Pulling himself up, he took up his place on the bus bench.  Tut liked to comment on the Insect People as he took in the morning sun on the north side of Santa Monica Boulevard.  He could see who they really were.  The business suits and school clothes might deceive lesser mortals like the dry cleaner bitch, but he knew.

As he waited amidst the insects, he let them know that he was not like the others.

“I see your antennae,” he told a young woman, who was communicating to her hive through one of the hand held communicators they’d flooded the world with so that they might conduct their affairs openly.  “Tell the queen that I am still here and her days are numbered.  Time and space are no barrier to the league.  It is written.”

The young woman saw his lips moving, but her ear buds protected her from his words.

“Hey King Tut.”

Tut looked away from his Insecta prey at the bus stop to see who called to him so profanely.  The man stood across the boulevard in the shadow of West Hollywood City Hall.  Tut recognized the thick Russian accent, the Salvador Dali mustache and the crazed face of the man.  It was Tut’s nemesis and, he suspected, an insect sympathizer sent by the queen to torment him.

“You got my shit?” Salvadorsky demanded, waving his fist at Tut over the heads of the west bound bus commuters milling around the impossible bench on the south side of the street.  Salvadorsky hated that bench almost as much as he hated Tut.  The bench had been designed to prevent anyone lying on it.  More and more benches were being remade to reject people, to command them, to force them to sit the way the bench wanted.  Benches had become more important than people like Salvadorsky and he knew it.

He despised the tyrannical benches, but his hate for Tut was special.  When the battle visions were upon Sal and he could do nothing to stop him, Tut had stolen his cart with all his things.  But there were no visions that morning.  Sal would have his revenge.

“I’ll kill you, Tut,” Salvadorsky said waving his fist.

The horns bloomed in the morning sun as Salvadorsky ran into slow moving rush hour traffic.

Tut decided that it would be unwise to allow his true power to be seen by the insect invaders.  So, instead of destroying the traitor Salvadorsky with his mind, he opted to leap over the back of the bench and run east down the boulevard.  The light at Sweetzer was in Tut’s favor and he was well down the next block of Santa Monica before Salvadorsky could wade through traffic and give chase.  Tut caught a glimpse of the alien collaborator over his shoulder.  The light at Sweetzer had changed to green and Sal was once again fighting against traffic.

Tut heard the horns in the distance.  Using his mind, and the cross walk button, he caused the light to change at La Jolla and made his way south across Santa Monica.  The horns caught Tut’s attention.  He looked west and saw his adversary crossing through traffic at mid-block, narrowing the distance between them.  His advantage lost, Tut fled down La Jolla past the displays of wicked mansex, leather wear, dildos and greeting cards in the show windows of the Circus of Books Adult Bookstore and Apartments.

Checking behind to be sure he wasn’t seen, Tut doubled back, heading west down Vaseline Alley.

The narrow paved alleyway separated the businesses on the boulevard from the residences just to the south.  Famed as a convenient venue for impromptu assignations, there was what you’d expect to find in an alley.  Some business parking, dumpsters, some residential parking that opened onto the alleyway and Markie kneeling in the shadows behind the still shuttered Bark/Williams pet spa.  He was blowing one last client before making his way home to the motel room off Sunset he shared with a half dozen associates.

Tut saw him squatted in the shade of a ficus tree exchanging life forces with the unsuspecting human. “I see you, little cockroach,” Tut shouted as he passed them.

“I gotta go,” the client say, pushing Markie away and zipping up.

Markie tried to catch himself on his hands but only succeeding in twisting his wrist before falling into the dirt.

“Wait,” he called after the client.  “You forgot my forty dollars.  Goddamnit it, Tut!”

Crazy PTSD Russian Guy raced by.

“Run Tut, run,” Markie shouted after them.  He rose, vainly dusting off the borrowed jeans he was going get a beating for soiling.  “Goddamn it.”  No money for rock or rent in someone else’s stolen jeans, he really couldn’t go home.  Frustrated, he joined the chase.  There might be rock or a few bucks for stampeding his trick.  He could hang out at the Los Tacos by the Laundromat and get something to eat while he waited on the jeans to run through the wash cycle.

Markie looked west and saw Tut turn back up Sweetzer behind Hamburger Mary’s and race north.  Crazy Russsian Guy followed.  Markie lit out after them.

As he followed up Sweetzer, Markie remembered the street but wasn’t sure why.

The light changed just in time to save Tut’s skinny neck for another block at least.  The two ran through.  Markie made it across on yellow, the flashing red hand waving him safe as he hit the curb.  The chase continued past the early morning sidewalk diners at Joey’s and north up Sweetzer.

“Come back here you crazy thief,” Salvadorsky shouted as they continued up the tree shrouded avenue.  The disturbance attracted the attention of the off duty West Hollywood Sherriff’s Deputies guarding the perimeter of the Sisters shoot.  Heavily armed with strong coffee in paper Starbucks containers and loaded breakfast sandwiches, they kept the shoot secure and in compliance with city film commission crowd control and traffic requirements.

With amused disinterest they watched Twitchy Twink and Ratty Rasputin pursue Pharaoh north up Sweetzer.

“Give me my shit or I’ll kill you,” Sal screamed.

“Run, Tut!” one of the Deputies shouted throwing a punch in the air.

“Five says Tut goes down,” the other Sherriff said, munching ruminatively on her pastry.

But before the bet could be made, Milan and her entourage emerged from the entry archway of Sweetzer Court.  Tut missed Cat but hit Milan.  Both went down in a haze of headdresses, hair extensions and screaming.  Cat stepped in to assist, just in time to get taken out by the charging Salvadorsky.  The two fell on the struggling Milan and Tut.   Cody stood texting, ear buds in, oblivious.

The film crew and the three obligatory paparazzo who’d been awaiting Milan’s arrival sprang to life and joined the deputies rushing onto the scene.

Badges and cameras flashed as the little group became a big deal.

“I think my arm is broken,” Milan mugged for the cameras.  “Call an ambulance.”

“Where’s my cart, you thieving little pharaoh?”

“It’s the arthropod police,” Tut screamed as one of the deputies tried to cuff him.  “Watch out for their stingers.  Don’t let them tag you.  This was not in the prophesy.”

Dolph, headed to Gelson’s with his black cloth shopping bag, emerged from the building and stumbled into the mayhem on his stoop.  At first he was stunned silent, but when he spotted the cameras he screamed in terror.

Everyone froze for an instant, uncertain.

“Shoo, shoo,” Dolph shrieked, holding his hat over his face.  “You’ve no permit to film here.  Move on.  You may not photograph here.”

Mindful of the shot and concerned about permits, the second AD tried to get everyone to restage across the street.  “Okay, everyone, let’s just take this up in front of the condo.  Try to remember what you said so we have something to edit to.”

Dolph hurried off down the street shielding his face with the shopping bag.

Markie walked up just as things in front of the court were quieting down.

“Hey Cody,” he said, pausing.  “What’s going on? You partying or working?”

 

. . . to be continued

 

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He lifted one of the blades in the mini-blinds to check.

Again.

As soon as he’d let the flake of metal fall back into place, he longed to peer into the darkness of the courtyard once more.  Where was Gianni? Had he stolen the money again? Did he get busted? Had it really been that long?

He checked the clock.

Again.

3:17.  Four minutes later than the last time he checked.  Over an hour since Gianni had taken all the cash in the house and left with the promise of more “product” as he insisted on calling it in case the place was bugged.  When they weren’t high he just called it rock.

Michael swore to himself that this was the last time.

Again.

He wondered how he would ever get rid of Gianni.  He wondered what he’d do if he did.  He checked through the blinds.

Again.

Where was he? Gianni was all about promises, mostly unkept.

Gianni had arrived on a promise, three Valentine’s Days ago.  Michael was working for a Real Estate agent friend of Dolph’s who lived in the absurdly named Mt. Olympus neighborhood, just north of West Hollywood.  The market had just crashed, again.  D’wayne, the real estate guy, was trying to start a business out of his decidedly non-Olympian, Brady-Bunch-Split-Level house.  He was picking the bone of the corpse, brokering foreclosures and short sales to  help people get out of the homes and condos he’d shoehorned them into.

Michael was a writer, so he always needed work.  He did light typing, mail merges and wrote ad copy as needed to market the firm.

In sneering tribute to the a Valentine’s none of them felt like celebrating, D’wayne took the “staff” – i.e. Michael and D’wayne’s roommate Doob – out for a celebratory dinner at Numbers.  At the time, Michael had still been pretty new in town and unfamiliar with Number’s storied history as gay bar, restaurant and a soupcon more.  They had a great French meal, a bottle of champagne and a number of drinks – a large number.

As the night progressed, the tables were cleared, the lights were dimmed and the bar became the center of activity.  Michael could not help but notice the blond kid eyeing him from the bar.  It was Valentine’s Day and Michael was that most unfortunate combination — at gay bars at least — he was gay and really smart.  He had not been given-the-eye often in his life.  Encouraged and hopeful, he remained when the rest of his party said their good-byes.

“I think I’ll just stay for another drink,” Michael said, as he excused himself.

D’wayne and Doob exchanged a look.

“Here?” Doob asked.

“Why not?” Michael said.

“Sure, why not,” D’wayne said with a curious smile.  “Come on Doob.”

“Michael, are you sure you know . . .” Doob began.

“Let’s leave Michael to enjoy himself,” D’wayne cut him off, yanking Doob’s arm.  “See you tomorrow, Michael.”

Awkwardly, Michael made his way over to the bar.  He found a place near the guy who’d been eye-fucking him for a half-hour.  Michael took a bar stool and ordered a martini.  Eye-fucker wasted no time.  He got right up and walked right over to Michael.

“Hey, you on your own?” he asked, shoving in beside Michael.  He captured one of Michael’s legs between his own and took a little ride.

“I was,” Michael grinned.  His heart swelled with hope and optimism.  He began to imagine the story of how they had met on Valentine’s Day.  “I’m Michael.”

“Hi Michael.  I’m Markie.”

For the next hour, as Michael bought them drinks, Markie hung on Michael’s every word.  He took an interest in what Michael did, cared about, dreamed of.  But more than anything, he never once looked over Michael’s shoulder at any of the many hot guys surrounding them.

“It’s a school night for me,” Michael said, noticing the time.  “I don’t live far.  If you’d like a night cap? Or, something.”

“Or something sounds great,” Markie said with his usual enthusiastic nod.  “How much did you want to spend?”

“On what?” Michael asked, confused by the question.

“Me,” Markie said with a laugh.

“Oh,” Michael said, his heart on the sticky bar floor at his feet.  “I didn’t . . . I don’t . . . I’m sorry to have wasted your . . .  I see.”  He understood again that the only way a guy who looked like Markie would talk to him was for profit.  Michael gave Markie a brave smile as he tried not to cry at the hustler bar where he suddenly realized he’d been drinking alone for that past hour.  He began to rise.

“Don’t go, yet,” Markie said, grabbing his hand.  Same smile, but for free.  “I like you.  Maybe we can work something out.”

The grin was irresistible to a man with a broken heart, Markie knew.  He knew when he floated the idea of Michael financing a drug buy, it wouldn’t seem quite the same.  The sex would just be a gift with purchase.  A couple more martinis and it seem like a positively great idea to Michael.

They drove into darkest Hollywood.  Michael was more nervous about driving on so many martinis than he was in the neighborhood.  He waited outside of the frowsy residential hotel after foolishly giving Markie the cash.  Michael lucked out.  Markie needed a place to stay that night and, more important, a place to use.  He came back.

“Listen,” Markie said as soon as he got back in Michael’s car.  “There’s this guy who can party with us, if you want.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Michael said, reaching up and stroking Markie’s deceptively sweet face.  “I kinda think just the two of us . . .”

“He’s got more stuff,” Markie shrugged.  “So, I could stay a lot longer.  All night.”

“Well,” Michael said, considering.  He still thought they were talking about marijuana.

“And he’s got the biggest cock in Hollywood,” Markie said, with a nasty little giggle.  “You can watch him use it on me.”

The blood left Michael’s brain.

“Sounds great,” he said.  It did sound great.  It turned out it was the biggest, but everything else turned out to be a lie.

Gianni arrived at Michael’s apartment that night and never left.  He didn’t live with Michael.  He disappeared for days and weeks at a time.  But there was something about Michael that just kept bringing him back.  Michael thought it was the fact that he was a soft touch, but he was wrong.  Gianni kept coming back because Michael was the only person he’d met in America who treated him like a person.

There had been no sex that night Michael brought Markie and Gianni home from the drug buy.  With the promise of good times yet to come they kept convincing Michael to spend more and more on the little rocks they smoked on bits of steel wool jammed into glass tubes.  Gianni even got Michael to try some.  Michael thought it tasted like dirt and refused to do more.  He experienced none of the euphoria so seductive that the lives of his two guests had been consumed in its pursuit.

When they finally left, Michael felt as much relief as sadness.  He called in sick and chalked it up to experience.

D’wayne waited to laugh after he hung up the phone.

Gianni returned again and again.  He used.  Michael watched and hoped.  Determined that they use together, Gianni gave Michael lessons on how to “smoke up,” as he called it.

“Suck,” Gianni teased.  “You gay boys know how to do that.  Suck that pipe.  Hold the smoke till I tell you.”’

Michael struggled to hold the smoke in his lungs until the cocaine exploded there and blew his brains out.  It was as though he’d been granted super powers.  Every sound was magnified.  He seemed suddenly to appear where he’d been all along and to be present there for the first time.  He wanted sex with complete abandon.  Gianni, twice his size, had to fight him off.

“Be cool,” Gianni said, laughing as he held Michael in his chair.  “You know I’m not into that gay shit.  Just be cool.”

Their romance was born of a love that neither understood and which neither of them could shake.  The getting and the sharing of “product” was how they expressed their feelings.  Gianni used his sexuality to string Michael along.  Michael offered home and hearth without judgment to a man who lived on the streets, when he wasn’t in jail.  They slept together in Michael’s bed, cuddled like puppies, sure of each other.

The scratching on the door woke Michael from his dozing.

Again.

Michael’s heart raced with fear and anticipation as he went to open it.

“Did you know they’re making a TV show across the street?” Gianni said stepping in and holding the door open.  “Look what I brought you.”

Michael recognized them from their sex video.

“Hi, you must be Michael,” the blonde woman said, her words as smeared as her makeup.  “I’m Milan.  Close the door Cody.”

 

. . . to be continued.

 

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“I was never popular in school, like Brightie,” Milan said, with an earnest sigh.  “I guess that’s why I work so hard to get noticed, now.”  She wiped nervously at an unseen tear and looked at the camera with a fragile smile.

She held the smile until she felt they had enough to cover a voice edit cutaway if needed.

“How was that?” she asked the director, the vulnerable Milan gone.  “Are we good? I’ve got a . . . Where am I supposed to be?”

“You’ve got an appearance at Walmart for the new fragrance . . .” Cat answered from well out of Milan’s eyeline.

“And this is Cody Stetzen,” Milan went on, ignoring Cat.  “Cody this is Robert . . .”

“Richard,” the director corrected her.

“. . .Banner . . .”

“Bonner.”

“Our director and a very dear friend of mine,” Milan said without a note of irony as she took  Cody’s delicate, well-manicured hand in hers.  “Richard, this is Cody.”

“Great admirer of your work,” Richard said, with enough sincerity to bury the nastiness of the remark.  The only work of Cody’s anyone had seen was A Night In Milan, the best selling sex tape they’d made while he was still dating her sister Brighton.

“And I yours, Robert,” Cody said with a mean smile, not missing the insult and happy to offer one in return.  Richard’s only work had been other reality shows.  Most notably, the last two seasons of Reel Life, the show Milan had “starred” in with her now “F” BFF Cissy.  Their FF and the series had endured for three years until Milan slept with Cissy’s soon-to-be-former husband in a sort of season finale.

“Let’s play nice, a least while the cameras are off,” Milan said in a conspiratorial tone.

“Speaking of which,” Richard said.  “Have you told Brighton about Cody being on the show, yet?”

“Are you kidding?” Milan laughed coarsely as the three made their way through the still largely empty condo.  “We wanted her to do the show, right?”

“So, when’s the reveal?”

“Not until it’s too late for her to get out of it,” Milan said.  “Once we start shooting, Cody can hide at my assistant’s place across the street until we need him.  She won’t suspect a thing.”

“This is your sister, right?” Richard asked, a little chilled.

“So, this place is going to be ready by next week?” Milan asked, bored with the topic and looking around at the empty, unfinished condo.

“We’ve got a decorator coming . . .” Richard began.

“It had better be Fab Fads,” Milan said emphatically, wheeling on him and shaking a finger in his face.

“Darling, it will be the latest, the hottest . . .”

“No,” she shouted.  “I mean the designer, Fabio Fads.  I’ll be damned if I’ll take hind tit to that Kardashian bitch again.  I discovered him and now I hear she’s talking about hiring him . . .”

“All right, all right,” Richard said, raising his hands in surrender.  “I’ll get his number from Cat and we’ll get him over here.”

“Chill, babe,” Cody said, looking up from his iPhone.  “You’re harshing my tweets.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m just sick of that woman nipping at my heels, no matter how fast I run,” Milan said with her Cher-iest hair toss of her long bleached locks.  It was true.  Milan had been the first to make a brand out of being “The” Rich-Spoiled-LA-Party-Bitch and the pack had been after her ever since.

Her Manolos echoed as she stalked down the stairs of the empty building.  It was one of many abandoned new condo projects that dotted the West Hollywood landscape, thanks to the real estate bust.  The uber-luxe buildings had been slotted into the places of single family teardowns all over the little town like fat women into size zeros.  At the height of the boom people were making a living trading homes and properties, heedless of the inevitable next crash in the regular California boom-and-bust real estate cycle.  The current collapse was the second in less than 20 years.  Milan was already trying to create a market for location leases on the scores of empties for film and TV shoots.  She’d gotten partial financing for the show from a real estate developer pitching it as advertising for the idea.

Just inside the main door she paused and turned to Cody, who was ignoring her again.  She snapped her fingers, but he didn’t look up from his texting.  “Cat,” she said wheeling on her assistant who was also texting as she caught up to the pair.  Milan made an exasperated noise.

“Yes?” Cat said, looking up with a tight smile.  “Just getting Fab’s contact details to the production office.  He should be here later today.  Do you want a meet?”

“Don’t we have to go sell Hot?”

“Haute.”

“What?”

“Your signature fragrance.  It’s called Haute,” Cat said.

“What’s the difference?”

“One means high.  The other is kind of the opposite.”

“I’m in, who’s holding?” Cody asked, looking up.

“How do I look? Camera ready?” Milan asked spinning before her audience.

“Weren’t you just on camera, babe?”

With a petulant harrumph, Milan hit the crash bar.  She flung the big doors open and quick marched to the black SUV idling by the curb burning premium at three mpg.

A couple of paparazzi stepped up and snapped a few weary shots of her.  At the sound of cameras, Cody sprang instinctively into action, grabbed her under one arm and push through to the car, though in truth no one actually got in their way.

Cat shut their door and hurried around to hop in front with the driver.

“What the hell was that?” Milan shrieked at Cat as they made their getaway unpursued.

“I’m sorry,” Cat said.

“I’ve seen more photographers at a CIA mixer,” Milan ranted.

“I called.  I faxed your itinerary,” Cat explained over her shoulder from the front seat.  “But it’s a big day.  A-Rod and Cameron are hanging out together on Sunset.  Lindsey’s back in court.  And god only knows what Charlie Sheen’s up to.”

“What does a girl have to do to get a little coverage in this town?” Milan demanded, slipping her underwear off and into her purse.  “Maybe this will get us some snaps at the Hot appearance.”

“Haute.”  Cat shrugged and turned around, returning to her Blackberry.

The little party rode in silence for a bit.

“Babe?” Cody said, looking up from his iPhone game of Bird Brains.

“Yeah,” Milan answered, not looking up from her email.

“Were you really unpopular at school,” he asked, concerned.

“What?” she said, looking up, shocked.

“Well, back at the shoot you said . . .”

“Oh, that,” she laughed.  “That’s just for the show.  No, I was the richest so I was the most popular at school.  This is still America . . .”

“What about Brighton?”

“What about her?”

“Was she popular?”

“Of course,” Milan shrugged.  “She was just jealous of the people who weren’t.  She’s always wanted what she didn’t have.”

. . . to be continued.

 

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Cat ignored her Blackberry.  It was the only way she could get anything done.

She knew who it would be.

Her life as a personal assistant meant two things.  First, the pay was pretty good.  Second, she had no life of her own.  Her time with Ric, when she could get it, was the only part of her life that was still her own.

When she’d first started, being an assistant seemed like such a great head start on her own career aspirations.  She got to spend her days and her nights in the company of the rich and famous in the VIP lounges and velvet-roped preserves to which only wealth and/or stardom earned access.  It was a charmed life for a few months and a long way from her life as Catherine Novotny of the Nobody’s-Ever-Heard-of-Them, Pittsburgh Novotnys.  But after a while in the lounge-of-enchantment, she began to long for life on the right ride of the looking glass.

It was a delicious trap.  On the one hand she lived the life of her famous employer, but on the other she no longer had a life of her own.  It had advantages.  Ric’s career as a painter was exploding.  He not only had time on his own to paint, but his paintings were finally selling.  He was paying his share of the rent and more.  Ric wasn’t caught up on back rent yet, but if he kept selling the way he had been, they’d be equal partners for the first time since they had moved in together.

Cat didn’t care all that much.  She loved Ric and believed in his work.  Still, it was some consolation for spending so much time apart.

She hadn’t seen him conscious in days.  Ric had been out at some gallery opening the night before.  She’d gone to bed, following her grueling sober club crawl fetching drinks and fending off bad publicity for her self-indulgent boss.  He came in even after her.  She left without waking him so she could get an early start on her errands before Troll-a-rina emerged from her crypt.

It had been a very productive, boss-free morning.  She was taking Lil’Me-Me to the nail salon, the last errand on her list from the day before.  Technically, it was Lil’Me-Me the second as Lil’Me-Me the former had fallen victim to an unfortunate coyote incident.

The fashionable Hollywood Hills, where both Lil’Me-Me’s had resided with Le Terrible and many of her rich and famous peers, were actually a part of the Santa Monica Mountain range.  The wilderness area stretched right through the heart of much of the city, bounded West Hollywood on the north and offered a home to a surprising amount of wildlife in the midst of such a decidedly urban setting.  Coyote, deer, raccoons, possums and skunks were commonly seen amidst the tony shops and residences along Sunset Boulevard.  Even the odd mountain lion sighting was reported, tough they were greatly outnumbered by the two legged cougars more common to the region.

She exchanged a look with Lil’Me-Me who sat on the seat beside hers.  Dripping with diamonds, the two year old Chihuahua, sighed wearily as she glittered in the sun.  Me-me’s life as fashion accessory offered her little in the way of canine pleasures.

“Sorry, Lil,” Cat said.  “Your nails don’t match the dress your mommy’s wearing tonight.  You have to go to the salon.”

Me-me sighed in answer and looked longing out the window of the lime green bug.

As Cat followed her gaze, she realized where they were.

An evil grin split her face.

“Nooner,” she shouted, punching a triumphant fist through the open sun roof.

The woman in the yellow Corniche convertible beside Cat at the light gave her a shocked look and then a conspiratorial grin.

They exchanged thumbs up as the light changed and Cat sped toward home.

Once Me-Me was left at the Bark/Williams dog spa with a fabric swatch and strict instructions that her nails match Mommie’s outfit, Cat was on her way to surprise Ric with a little afternoon delight.  She slipped on the faux-fur-full-length her boss would be wearing on the red carpet that night and slipped off everything else.  The clothes came off one red light at a time and she was down to skin and satin lining by the time she pulled into the motor courtyard at Sweetzer Court.

She could see Ric’s outline in the turret windows of his studio as she crossed the garden court.  The grin returned as she sneaked up the stairs.  She held a finger to her lips in answer to Dolph who waved when he spotted her through his front windows.  He replied with a knowing wink.  The only sounds were the splashing of the fountain and a door creaking open a crack to allow the resident opposite to spy on her before slamming it shut.  The city noises were somehow so remote.

Turning her key carefully in the lock, she was able to get inside with hardly a sound.  She left the door ajar to avoid the creak and the click but needn’t have bothered.  Ric had on his iPod and was pleasantly oblivious, sitting in the sun in paint spattered t-shirt and boxers.  She stole forward.  He was irresistible, singing off key, unable to hear himself as he painted in big violent strokes.  Two naked men sprawled across the canvas, either in classical wrestling pose or one sodomizing the other – she couldn’t tell which, given Ric’s style.  Whichever, it was also, much to Cat’s surprise, a life study.  So, when she dropped the fur coat and sprang through the archway with a shout to pounce on her lover, she terrified the two nude models, crouched on the platform opposite.

There was a good deal of screaming before everyone wound up rolling around the studio floor, convulsed with laughter.  Cat managed to recover the coat, if not her dignity.

“Well, looks like that’s lunch everyone,” Ric said when he’d regained his breath at last.

“You must be Ric’s girlfriend,” one of the models giggled, remaining behind as he slipped on a robe and offered his hand.  “That is soooo, cute.  Ric is always talking about you.  We wondered if you were real or just for publicity.  I’m Jack.”

“Cat.  Have you modeled for Ric before?” she asked, trying not to look at the substantial manhood peeking through the gap in the robe Jack had only just bothered to drape over his shoulders.

“Modeled? Yes, that’s it,” he said, batting his eyes at Ric.  Jack’s charming, queeny manner was in pointed contrast to his rather obvious masculinity and well sculpted body.  “I’ve modeled the shit out of Ric any number of times.  Why once, a bunch of us modeled him sooo hard . . .”

“Okay then,” Ric cut him off.  “Why don’t you boys take a long lunch.  You’re home for a long lunch, I’m hoping?” he asked taking Cat’s hand and trying to peek under the coat.

“I might eat something later,” she said, the grin back and then fading.  “What happened to your eye?”

“Oh,” Ric scoffed, dropping her hand and waving her away.  “It’s a funny story.”

“It doesn’t look funny,” Cat pressed as she moved in for a closer look.  “It looks like a black eye.”

“With concealer on it,” Jack put in, folding his arms.

Ric avoided her touch and her gaze.

“What happened?” Cat demanded.

“It’s embarrassing,” Ric said, cornered and shrugging her off.  “Aren’t you going to lunch, Jack?”

“And miss this?”

“What happened?” Cat insisted, turning him to face her.

“I got gay bashed,” Ric said rolling his eyes.  “If you must know.”

“You’re not gay,” Cat said.

Jack shot Ric a look over her shoulder.

“No, no,” Ric said, waving them both off.  “Not like that.  I was talking to a this guy at a bar and his boyfriend got the wrong impression and punched me out.”

“I don’t think getting bashed by a gay man counts as gay bashing,” Cat said laughing.

“Okay, Jack,” Ric said, grabbing Cat and turning her to face him.  “You punch her in the face and we’ll see if she thinks it’s gay bashing or not.”

The three struggled, laughing.  Ric made a half-hearted effort to hold Cat in place.  Jack took playful swings at her.  They lost their balance.  In the tussle Cat’s coat fell open and Jack lost his robe, leaving the two of them in a rather compromising position as they fell at Ric’s feel.

“That doesn’t look like gay bashing to me,” Ric said, laughing too hard to fight off Cat.  She managed to get onto her hands and knees.  Jack was still on her back as she yanked down Ric’s flimsy boxer shorts.

“There,” Cat crowed.  “Now who’s the bigger man?”

Ric fell to his knees as the three wrestled a moment longer, each trying harder to keep the other unclothed than to gain the upper hand.

“So this is why you’re not answering your Blackberry.”

“Milan,” Cat said, trying to conceal the borrowed coat and only making matters worse.  “What are you doing here?”

“Well, I could ask why you’re not at work,” Milan said folding her arms.  “But obviously, you’ve got a hotter lunch date than I do.  Is that my coat?”

“Oh, my god,” Jack said leaping to his feet and closing the distance.  “You’re Milan Carlton!”

“And you’re a naked man,” Milan said, shielding herself with the door.

“I didn’t know you knew where I lived,” Cat said, slipping on Jack’s robe and draping Milan’s coat daintily over an upholstered chair.

“Nice to meet you,” Ric said, pulling up his boxers and heading out.  “I’ll make coffee.  Come on Jack.”

“I didn’t,” Milan said, reluctantly shaking Jack’s hand for fear of what else he might offer.  “I mean I don’t.  I saw you come in here from across the street.  Your name was on the mailbox.”

“Jack, come on,” Ric called from the kitchen.

“Across the street?” Cat said, still confused.

“This will work out perfectly,” Milan said, the earlier scene forgotten.  “That empty condo building where we’re going to shoot the reality show? Turns out its across the street. Perfect, right?”

“Perfect,” Cat said, mentally kissing what remained of her life good-bye.

. . . to be continued.

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“So, Dolph,” Sans began.  He paused to formulate his question.

Though he’d never said, Sans assumed the building manager was gay.  Sans’ gaydar wasn’t good.  With men from the South or England it’s hard to tell.  Having only recently escaped from the former, Sans had had little opportunity to hone his skills.  The minister at his Mom’s church back home seemed as gay as a holiday tablecloth.  But Sans had met the man’s wife and gone to school with his kids.  Neither was the last word – particularly in the South – but it was the kind of background interference that fuzzed a clear gaydar signal.

Being part of an invisible minority was a big part of the reason Sans moved to Los Angeles in general and West Hollywood in particular.  He’d had enough of guessing and tiptoeing around the question.  He’d developed more than a few crushes on guys who turned out to be straight, despite their product and fashion sense.  Sans wanted to be certain somewhere besides gay bars.  He wanted not to have to be certain.  He wanted the chance to let his heart decide.

So far, the move had made very little difference.  He was still too shy to ask and too southern to assume.

He was all moved in and wanted to avail himself of one of the principle amenities of his new apartment – the highest gay population density in the world.  There were lots more gay residents in New York, say, or even Atlanta, but they’re all mixed in with everyone else.  Nearly half the small town of West Hollywood is gay.  Despite the promising percentages though, Sans still found that, unless you asked or observed someone engaged in a fairly intimate act, there was no way to tell for sure, even in West Hollywood.

This invisibility, combined with the absurd gay notion of being “straight acting,” further clouded the  issue.  The gym-to-population ratio in West Hollywood was as high as the gay population percentage.  Local residents, gay and straight, looked and dressed like He-Man — without his sword.

Sans’ fantasy was that there, like straight people everywhere else, he would be able to meet his great love at large in the world — albeit a very small West-Hollywood-sized world.   What he’d discovered was that he wasn’t bold enough for that and, even with its positive demographics, West Hollywood offered no more assurances than anywhere else, just a higher probability.  Resigned, Sans had decided to go back to the dark, smelly, second class recesses of the still smaller, more limited world he knew – the gay bars.

He ran into his building manager at the mailboxes, screwed his courage to the sticking place and resolved to find out what he needed to know — or at least to ask.  Engaging with Dolph, Sans had discovered, meant listening to him wax rhapsodic about tales of old Hollywood.  It was as though he was giving Sans a crash course in something.  To move things along, Sans pretended to know who Norma Shearer was and laughed at the lines he vaguely recalled from his one viewing of the movie The Women.  The fact that Dolph seemed to know the entire film verbatim offered further assurance as Sans prepared to make his inquiry.

Dolph bid him adieu.  He turned to walk back across the garden court with his copy of Vanity Fair and coupon mailers.  Sans spoke and stopped him.

Dolph turned and looked back at Sans expectantly, but with a gentle smile.

“Dolph, which of the bars on Santa Monica are the gay ones? Do you know?”

Dolph’s eyes grew wide and wet.  There was a moment’s awkward pause.  Sans feared a repeat of the horrible afternoon he’d decided to confide in his mom’s preacher about his sexuality.  Dolph’s lip quivered.  Sans considered running.  There was a clear shot to the street.

Suddenly, Dolph was laughing uncontrollably.  He staggered to a nearby bench.  Sans caught him by the elbow and helped him to sit.

“I’m sorry,” Sans said.  “I didn’t mean to presume.  I just thought, being a local and all, you might know which bars are the gay ones.”

“My dear boy,” Dolph said, putting his hand over Sans’.  “All of them.”

Sans sat on the bench beside him.

It was more than he could take in.  Back home there were usually two gay bars in a town.  The hot one and the one that used to be hot but was going out of business cause everyone had gone to the hot one.  Sometimes there was a small one for the elder tribe members, but that was for more cosmopolitan places like the state capital.  There were tons in places like Atlanta or New York, but there was nowhere Sans knew of where all the bars were gay.

He began to laugh, too.

In the end, he decided to go on a one man bar parade.  Like General Sherman’s march to the sea, Sans planned work his way east down the boulevard, hitting each bar along the way.  He would have one drink at each stop.  There were enough bars that he’d decided to walk, or possibly stagger there and back.  He began at the westernmost bar, Mother Lode.

He made it as far as a place called Mickey’s.

It was Meet the Porn Stars night at Mickey’s and, well, Sans just figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and those other bars would always be there.

The “stars” were not only appearing and signing videos and pictures and such, they were dancing in next to nothing on the stages scattered throughout the place.  Sans had seen gay porn, they had internet in South Carolina and flush toilets, too.  He’d never been a huge fan.  He’d seen quite a few films and liked what he saw.  But, aside from one or two guys, he would have been hard pressed to identify any of the actual performers by name.

He had friends who followed porn like sports.  They had their favorites, followed the blogs about industry performance drug scandals, knew who played what position and spoke with authority about the real names, identities and stats of performers past and present.  Sans just felt like the videos were filled with good looking men who were naked and up to something.  Who cared what their names were?

Despite his professed lack of interest, he took root on a bar stool, intent on staying for the whole event.

“Hellooooo,” the drag queen with the enormous head screamed into the microphone.

“Hellooooo,” the crowd screamed back.

Tuna Manhattan – aka Steven Swartz – was literally a local institution.  Tuna was not only a fixture at every local event, fundraiser and street fair, she was the name sake of TMI (Tuna Manhattan, Inc.) Productions.  The small film company had grown from Steven’s documentary film crew for his senior film school project into one of the largest porn production houses in the country.  As a local business owner and tireless self-promoter, Tuna/Steven was as ubiquitous in West Hollywood as rainbow flags.

“Are you ready to meet the stars?” Tuna screamed.

The answer was raucous and affirmative.  The “stars” were herded onto the main stage area to be presented to the crowd.  As each was introduced they danced a bit on stage and then into the crowd, through the room and onto the various bars and boxes around the place.  Eventually there was a steady flow of beautiful, half-naked men parading down the bar where Sans had been wise enough to stake out his seat.

Sans got kisses and hair musses that he wouldn’t soon forget, in exchange for the thrill of the furtive contact that a dollar in the g-string buys.

“You’re beautiful,” one particularly vacuum-packed looking bleach blond giant said.  The bronze god grabbed him and planted a full Rhett and Scarlett on Sans’ shocked lips.

The bar cheered.

“Here’s my number,” the giant said, snitching a pen from behind the bartender’s ear and writing on Sans’ left palm.  He closed Sans’ hand into a fist and kissed his knuckles.  “Hang on to that and call me.”  He tossed the pen to the bartender and sashayed down the bar.

Sans tried not to pass out and fall off his stool.  He watched as the giant danced away blowing kisses.

“Who that hell was that?” Sans said, more to himself, but aloud nonetheless.

“Don’t you know!?” the man on the next barstool demanded over the din.

“No, idea,” Sans said, shaking his head.

“That was Ryan Candler,” his bar mate squealed, like a kid with the game ball.  “Only the hottest and biggest gay star at TMI.”

“Yeah, he looked pretty big,” Sans said, staring.

Ryan turned and winked at him as he proceeded down the bar, leaving a tide of broken hearts in his wake.

“He looks even bigger without the g-string,” the man said, with a cackling laughed. “Hi, I’m Bobbi, by the way.”  The i was implied.

“Golly,” Sans said, laughing nervously.

“Golly?” Bobbi howled louder.  “Are you blushing?”

“Well, I just can’t account for that,” Sans said.  “I don’t usually get that kind of attention.  Or any attention.”

“I can’t believe that,” Bobbi said.  “Where have you been hanging out?”

“Florence,” Sans said with a sigh.

“Benvenuto!”

“Florence, South Carolina.”

“More grits, y’all?”

“Nice,” Sans grinned.

“Oh, don’t look now,” Bobbi said, taking Sans’ hand.  “Here comes my favorite.  Billy Blake.”

Sans shrugged.

“Perhaps you’ve seen him in Gang Bang Paperboy? Or Gang Bang Bike Messenger? Or maybe in his Adult Video nominated Gang Bang Office Boy?”

Sans only laughed and shook his head.  “I’m sensing a theme, though.”

“I guess it’s more of a specialty,” Bobbi said, wiggling his eyebrows.  “Like Meryl Streep and her dental appliances. His record is twenty-two, in Office Boy.  Hence the nom.”

Sans was still laughing when Billy reached their spot at the bar.

Bobbi held up a twenty and, before Sans could turn around, Billy was on his back, his legs aloft and his nether end up in the air.  Bobbi all but stood on his barstool as he flossed the twenty into Billy’s thong.  Billy threw his head back over the edge of the bar.  His unkempt mane of trademark surfer boy hair spilled into Sans’ lap.

Their eyes met.  The shock was mutual.

“Ric?” Sans said, recognizing his neighbor.

“It’s Billy,” Ric hissed.

“But I . . .” Sans managed.  Billy threw his arms around Sans’ neck and sealed Sans’ lips with his own and an upside down Spiderman kiss.

“Unhand him, bitch!” Ryan shrieked bounding back down the bar in their direction.

“What cologne are you wearing?” Bobbi said, dropping back onto his stool.

.  .  . to be continued

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Brighton parked her Prius on the far side of the lot at Sunset Plaza.

She stared through the window at the amazing view of the city.  The best views at Sunset Plaza were in the parking lot.  The odd collection of designer shops, restaurants, salons and Eurotrash hangouts was perched on a ridge along the south side of Sunset Boulevard.  The tables and the show windows were all on the streetside so that the patrons could be seen.  The parking lots, at the back, faced a majestic view of the Los Angeles basin over the rooftops of West Hollywood.

Using the mirrors and a ruse of checking her makeup, Brighton surveyed the parking lot to make sure she hadn’t been followed.

No sign.

Warily, she emerged from the little black car.  Shouldering her oversized black bag, she again scanned the lot.  A couple of girls in impossible heels and blackout sunglasses, their hands filled with shopping bags, clattered down the stairs and across the pavement to their Bentley.  A few rows over, a couple emerged from their standard-tourist-issue-looky-loo-rental-red-Mustang-convertible.

Brighton smiled.  The couple, like most tourists to Los Angeles, were dressed as they thought people from Los Angeles dressed.  The girl’s gold-chainmail off-the-shoulder-handkerchief top hung precariously from her breasts.  Her companion’s hyper-embroidered designer jean pockets drooped well below his butt cheeks.  The sight lifted Brighton’s spirit’s.

Lowering her guard, she took a couple of tentative steps.  Persols shielding her eyes, she moved out from under the shade of the tree she was parked beside and into the lot.  The garish out-of-towners and the giggling Bentley girls, lifted her mood.

She smiled.

It was a perfect LA afternoon.  Sunny, cloudless, cool, a breeze rustled the leaves overhead.

Brighton flinched.  A black SUV with darkened windows had somehow managed to steal up behind her.  She saw the reflection of the Darthmobile in the window of a nearby Austin-Martin.  Pretending to search her pocketbook, she stepped into the shadowy alley between a nearby Hummer and a Range Rover.  Risking it, she turned to look.  The Darth was driven by a bleached-blonde-Beverly-Hills-shiksa-housefrau orbiting the parking lot.  She would burn up half a tank of gas waiting for a space ten feet closer to the door and was oblivious to Brighton and anything other than a prime space or someone leaving one.

Though relieved, Brighton’s spider senses still tingled.  She darted between parked cars erratically to avoid becoming an easy target.  She hit the back door of Chin Chin and raced up the tiled stairs to the street level dining room above.  A booth in the back was negotiated with the host in hushed tones.  Brighton settled in, her back to the wall, out of sight but with a view of the nearly empty room.  It was late for lunch, even in LA and early for dinner for those under 80.  She liked the quiet.

Convinced of her safety for the moment, her breath became steady.  She relaxed on the uncomfortable wooden banquette.  She surveyed the tall skinny menu.  Visions of shrimp toast danced in her head.  It was a long ago luxury she had eschewed along with most carbs, but in such proximity of her crispy fantasy she dreamt shrimp toast dreams.

Her crustacean meditation was shattered by lightning flashes and chaotic, frenzied, familiar shouts.

“Over here, Milan.”

“This way, Milan.  One for me.”

“Hey Milan, how much have you earned from the video?”

The video was called A Weekend in Milan.  It was a home movie of Brighton’s sister, Milan, engaging in a Karma Sutra’s worth of sexual antics with Brighton’s ex-boyfriend, Cody, all over the Carlton family vacation home in Aspen.  The commercial release of the video had been a key cause of Brighton’s break-up with Cody.  She hadn’t spoken to Milan until she could no longer stand to read about her not speaking to Milan every time she went to the grocery store or passed a newsstand.  She managed to patch things up with her sister but she never again ate at the breakfast table in their Aspen house.

“Naughty, naughty,” Milan giggled, shaking a finger at the photographer who asked the offending question.  With a photogenic toss of her fake blonde hair, she disappeared through the glass door and stepped behind the wall of plate glass.  Milan waved at Brighton as she runway-walked across the fishbowl of a restaurant.  “Brighton,” she shouted for the benefit of at least the photogs plastered against the windows like flies on a screen door on garbage day.

Milan was the sort of person who did everything as though someone was watching.

Brighton lifted the outsized black leather menu over her face and pretended not to see her sister or the swarm of paparazzi buzzing behind her.  She knew her sister had set her up.  She knew Milan had either tipped off the paps or found them and allowed herself to get “caught” and lead them there.

“I thought we were here to have lunch,” Brighton said, unsuccessfully trying to avoid the showy kisses her sister planted on both Brighton’s cheeks (and the pages of the next week’s tab mags.)

“We’re at Chin Chin,” Milan said, tossing herself into the both, clearly frustrated that her back would be to the windows.  “I thought you liked Chinese.”

“This is a photo op,” Brighton said with a sigh.  Giving up, she put down her menu.  “What do you want?”

“Why do I have to want something?” Milan said, straddling the banquette and turning so she was in profile to the cameras.  “Can’t I just have lunch with my sister?”

“Since when do you eat lunch?” Brighton asked with a laugh, amused at the idea.  “I can’t remember seeing you eat at all.  Not since we were kids.  Are you a vampire? So, trendy.”

“Don’t be like that, Brightie,” Milan said.

“Okay, Millie,” Brighton answered with a look that Milan returned.  Both hated the nicknames and would not use them again at that lunch unless there was a fight.  “Shrimp toast?”

“Just some tea,” Milan said, drumming her thick, fake nails on the menu.

“Tea is not lunch,” Brighton sniped.

“And a Chinois Chicken Salad.  Half.  Or we could split half.  Are you hungry?   I’m really not that…”

“What do you want, Milan?” Brighton enunciated firmly, cutting her sister short.

“What do you want?” Milan huffed.

“Shrimp toast.”

Another look.

“A pot of jasmine tea and two cups,” Brighton called to a member of the staff, most of whom were trying to look busy and get in the shot with Milan at the same time.  The trick was to not to block Milan but to get close enough into the frame that you couldn’t be easily cropped out.

Four of the black-apron-wrapped waiters scurried at the sound of Brighton’s voice.  Two collided.  One jumped a chair to be first to fill the order.

“Well?” Brighton said.  She fixed Milan with her patented And-That-Is-The-End stare and held Milan in it until her sister squirmed and looked away.  Milan may have gotten most of the press and all of Brighton’s boyfriends, but the look-could-kill event went to Brighton every time.

“They want me to do a reality show and I thought it would be great for your clothing line if you were in it.”  Milan blurted it out so abruptly that a nearby waiter, pretending to attend to planter of bamboo, gasped.  Caught he blushed and fled.

“Just thinking of me, eh?” Brighton said.  The look.

“I thought it would more interesting if we were both in it,” Milan winced under the glare.

The waiter arrived with the tea but was frightened by the way Brighton was looking at Milan and left before he could get his picture taken or ask them if they wanted to order.

“You’re smarter than me and it’ll just be . . .” Milan sighed.  “They won’t do it unless we’re both in it.  They want to capitalize on the fight over Co. . .”

“No.”

“Oh, come on,” Milan pleaded getting up and squeezing in on Brighton’s side of the booth.  It not only allowed her to wheedle Brighton more directly, she was once again facing the camera and, best of all, out of Brighton’s creepy-look eye line.  “It’ll be fun.  They’ll get us a place in West Hollywood and decorate it all up . . .”

“We both already live in West Hollywood.”

“Not a real place,” Milan explained petulantly.  “Something fun and hip and authentic.  And then they follow us around for a few days . . .”

“Just like the show you already did with Cissy?”

“Not exactly,” Milan said, putting her head on Brighton’s shoulder.  “We’ll call it Sisters.  Hot, right?”

“Why not just get Cissy to do it with you?”

“She’s mad at me.”

“I understand that make these kinds of things more popular.”

“She won’t speak to me.”

“Oh my God, Milan,” Brighton said turning and trying to catch her sister with the glare.  “Did you sleep with Cissy’s husband.”

“Ex-husband.”

“Since when?”

“Since I slept with him.”

 

. . . to be continued.

 

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Sans moved to West Hollywood by UPS.

He packed his few belongings before he left South Carolina.  He figured once he found an apartment, all he’d have to do was schedule a pick up and get a friend to address the boxes.

Before Sans got a tour of Sweetzer Court, he got tea – they actually had tea – in Randolph’s grand and stunning apartment.  Randolph never mentioned his last name and insisted on being called Dolph.  He talked mostly about the history of the building and the apartments available while he wheedled information out of Sans.  All Sans found out about his host was that he was the building’s resident manager in accordance with West Hollywood ordinance.  The Court’s owner, Dolph informed him, was crazy, French and a former circus performer.  She was also the bane of Dolph’s existence.  He told stories about her as he rattled around the kitchen preparing the tea.

“She inherited the building from her husband,” Dolph explained of the building dowager.  “But even before the old man died, Griselda – that’s really her name – moved in this terrifying Russian dyke business manager to tend to their affairs.  The girls still live together.  Sus-PI-cious!” he sang.

Sans looked around the perfect, set piece of a room as he half listened to Dolph’s voice drifting in through the open kitchen door.  Oil paintings in ormolu frames, bronze nudes and richly upholstered furniture filled the rooms to bursting.  A gold fan screen stood on the marble hearth before what was clearly a working fireplace.  Sans took a seat in one of a pair of matching wing chairs that flanked the fireplace.  He listened to the steady rhythm of the mantle clock played in counterpoint to the arpeggio of Dolph’s stories.

“So when he still didn’t pay, she had all of his things burned!” Dolph exalted, triumphantly.

Through the window, Sans could see a tall, angular man moving down the wall in the gallery opposite, leaning against the windows of one of the ground floor apartments.  A longhaired man, in a bathrobe with a chopstick carelessly holding his tresses up in a messy heap, hustled his visitor inside, casting nervous glances toward Dolph’s windows.  Then both men disappeared inside and the blinds fell abruptly.  Sans delighted as humming birds appeared in the tangles of vines around the garden in the absence of human company.  A rare treat back home, the little birds danced from blossom to blossom in the garden as Sans watched them at their lazy late lunch.

Tea was served properly on a table between them.  Dolph poured.

“So, dear boy,” Dolph began, turning his focus and the subject to his guest at last.  He settled back into his yellow velvet wingchair, his delicate porcelain tea cup and saucer balanced on the tips of three fingers.  He fixed Sans with a hunter’s gaze.  “What will you do here in Los Angeles?”

“I’m not sure yet,” Sans said, missing the landlord’s real question.

Dolph’s eyebrows arched.

Sans realized, too late, and tried to save himself.  “I’ve got some freelance clients still, so I’ll probably work from home a good deal at first.  But, I’m not sure what I’ll pursue here, in the end.”  Translation: I don’t have a job or even a prayer of one and will take anything I can get.

Dolph smiled , satisfied with the answer and amused by the artless subterfuge.

“What sort of freelance work?” the coy inquisitor asked, pushing the cookie plate nearer his guest with a perfectly manicured finger.

“Writing,” Sans explained, helping himself to a second shortbread.

“Ah, the songs of Calliope,” Dolph sighed.

“Well, it’s more advertising than epic poetry,” Sans blushed.

And the apartment was Sans’.  Dolph looked at him as though waking up.  “You know your muses.”

“I hope to,” Sans grinned.  “I’m not sure if direct mail and social media updates are the best way to pay court to even a demigod.”

“You’ll find yourself in good company here at Sweetzer Court,” Dolph said, rising balletically and gesturing expansively.  “There are artists of every discipline among us and many famed and beloved have come before.”

“Who?”

“Let us go and find a studio where you may ‘pay court’ as you say,” Dolph said, gesturing grandly toward the door.  “Like many buildings in West Hollywood, this one was built by the studios to house the stars when they were here on work visits from New York and the theatrical capitals of the world.  Marlene Dietrich lived in that front unit there.  Nick Nolte burrowed over there under the stairs.  And Faye Dunaway’s best friend lived over there, so she visited here a lot.  There’s even a rumor Greta Garbo may have stayed here briefly, though I’ve yet to prove it.”

Dolph spoke the names of former famous tenants reverently, as though invoking the names of local saints as he led Sans on an expedition.  The apartments around the garden court, as Dolph called it, were as grand as Dolph’s.  The two that were available had hardwood floors and fireplaces, one even had a loft in one of the building’s turrets.

The kitchens had tile counters, black and white floors and swinging doors into their dining rooms.  The bathroom tiles were surprisingly bright and so individual as to seem eccentric.  One big vibrant bathroom was lined with bright yellow tiles and white ceramic trim.  The bath in the second was purple with pink accents.  Both had a tub and a separate shower, something Sans had only ever seen in really fancy houses and hotel rooms.

The units above the motor court were more humble and, Sans hoped, affordable.  He followed Dolph up one of a pair of stairways that flanked the garden court and led to each of the two facing motor court galleries.

“These were the quarters for the star’s servants, back in the day,” Dolph said, breathlessly scaling the steep wooden stairs.  “But we’ve converted them into fetching little bachelors.”

Sans nodded knowingly at the unfamiliar term.

“Bachelors,” it turned out, was the Hollywood word for “studio apartment” and was applied just about as carelessly.  Bachelor apartments, like bachelors themselves, varied widely from building to building.  In the case of Sweetzer Court, a bachelor was one big room with a bath, a dressing area and a little alcove about the size of a closet into which a sink, a dorm fridge and a hot plate were jammed like they were stored there.  More important than the floor plan, the bachelors at Sweetzer Court rented in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

Sans settled on a sunny unit with a view of the motor court.  All but the facing bachelor overlooked the street, but Sans thought the courtside unit would be quieter.  It was also larger than the only bachelor above the street.

He moved in a couple of days later, after the place was freshly painted.  Dolph offered to re-carpet but San’s begged him to leave the wood floor bare.  It wasn’t in great shape but it was still hardwood.  Dolph relented easily.

Sans bought a new comforter and pillows and slept on the hardwood floor.  When he wasn’t writing, he used his battered old laptop to look online for work once the phone line was installed.  He waved and nodded to a couple of his neighbors, but had yet to meet anyone other than Dolph by the time his UPS bonanza arrived from Florence.

He unpacked the CD player and put on an old Steve Winwood disc to accompany his work.  A cool breeze blew in through the open door.  The sun shone on the hardwood floor Sans had been hand polishing for want of anything more to do.  He felt a happiness that he hadn’t felt since his school days.  It was the thrill of uncertainty and the promise of the unexpected.  Like the beginning of a new school year, anything was possible.  Maybe his writing could be more than thirty second radio spots and brochures.  Maybe he would get the chance to act again.  Maybe there would be love.

Dancing and singing and unpacking along with the music, he was midway through a box of books and a particularly spirited performance of Higher Love.  He spun to the refrain, gliding across the hardwood in his socks.  As he turned he realized there was someone dancing, spinning, next to him.

The shock and the beauty of his unexpected dance partner took his breath away.  Unable to speak, he could only stare at the unkempt hair and paint spattered clothes of the man with whom he unexpectedly found himself dancing.  The phantom’s eyes were closed and he was oblivious to all but the music that had taken him.  A dictionary, Sans had plucked from the box, fell from his hands and hit the wood floor.  The sound was like a gun shot.

The stranger cried out.  The two were suddenly staring into each other’s eyes.

“Hi,” the intruder shouted over the music, his face lighting up.  “I’m your neighbor, Ric.”

Sans lowered the volume.

“I’m Sans,” he said, extending his hand.

Ric grasped Sans hand firmly, drew him in, embraced him and kissed him on both cheeks.

“Welcome to Sweetzer Court,” Ric said, still holding Sans’ hand.  “I heard your music and thought it sounded like a celebration.  I haven’t heard Winwood in a while.  Then I saw you and realized that it was time to celebrate your arrival.  Come over, have some wine.  Let’s make it a night to remember.”

Sans wondered if this was love already.  If Ric had proposed marriage,  Sans would have accepted.  He nodded dumbly in answer to the invitation, unable to speak or to look away from Ric’s eyes.

Ric took his hand and led him down the gallery and into the garden.

Sans allowed himself to be led along the upper gallery overlooking the koi pond and the garden.  He memorized the angle of the sun and the sound of the softly plashing water below as he breathed in the smell of the eucalyptus trees.  Would this be the moment that his life changed? Had destiny literally taken him by the hand?

Stumbling along on the painted wooden floorboards of the gallery, Sans made his way behind Ric to the apartment above Dolph’s.  The door stood open as they arrived.

“I’ll get the wine,” Ric said, releasing Sans’ hand as they stepped inside.

The room was as magical as its occupant.  The hardwood floor gleamed in the afternoon sun pouring in through the many windows.  An old green sofa, heaped with pillows and throws offered a silent invitation to sit there, by the fireplace, and take up one of the many, many books littering the floor.  Canvases were heaped around the room.  Some were on easels, some hung crooked on the walls and some leaned in thick phalanx against the walls.  Nudes mostly, men and women draped themselves languorously and seductively across most of the painted surfaces.

The dining room was through an arch on one side of the room.  An arch opposite opened into a turret room that had been turned into a painter’s studio.  A woman sprawled prettily across the green sofa looked out at Sans from the canvas displayed prominently on the studio’s lone easel.

Sans began mentally putting his things into this wonderful apartment that he and Ric would share even after Sans became a famous novelist and Ric’s canvases began selling for tens of thousands – and that just for the smallest ones.  They would buy the building from the crazy French owner and become colorful, eccentric and noted members of the community, hosting Sunday brunches peopled with a coterie of famous and infamous guests in the garden court each month.

“Here we are,” Ric said, startling Sans from his fantasy.

Sans turned and found himself looking into the face of the man for whom he was destined.  Ric had with him a bottle of wine, glasses and the woman Sans had only just seen naked on canvas in the studio.

He couldn’t help but blush.

“This is my girlfriend, Cat,” Ric said, brushing the books, magazines, papers and drawing pencils off a nearby table and setting out three mismatched wine glasses.  “Cat, this is our new neighbor, Sam.”

To be continued . . .

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