Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chapter 24

At the Formosa, I had to valet my car. When I stepped inside the bar, it was packed. I scanned around the noisy room for Harshy and settled on Britney Murphy and that kid from that Roswell show. I took a second look at the crowd and saw that I was in thick entertainment industry people. Fuck! Everyone turned to check me out and see if I was someone they should be talking to. I smiled at them and they all turned away. Suddenly, someone pulled at my skirt and I turned to see Harshy and Guy in the booth I was pushed up against.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here. This is crazy,” she yell-whispered in my ear. I agreed and we all snaked and scooted outside.

“My car’s just around the corner,” said Guy. “Where’s yours?”

“Its valet'd. I can come back for it later. Let’s all go together,” I suggested. “Where should we go?”

“Let’s go to Damiano’s. It has large booths. And it’s dark and quiet so we can talk in private,” said Guy.

“Oh, God, do we have to?” I protested. “I got sick from their pizza once. Bad scene, bad pepperoni.” Although they did have the best beer selection in all of Los Angeles and that was very impressive to this native Northwesterner. Then I changed my mind, “OK, lets go. I’m only eating what’s fresh out of the oven though.”

“Are you sure you weren’t downing cat antibiotics that time?” quizzed Harshy.

“No, no that wasn’t that incident. And, hey, those antibiotics saved my life," I admonished her.

I had had this terrible flu one year, but was still the loyal party girl so I took some hot liquid flu medicine before I hit the billiard bar to hang with my gang of Friday night friends. While partying and playing eight ball, I had forgotten about the medicine I’d taken earlier and drank a six pack of beer to myself. Back at home, at the witching hour of 3 am, my guts were trying to rip me in half. I was dry-heaving and I thought I was going to die. Correction, I wanted to die. The pain was so intense that it felt like I had been poisoned. I pleaded with my boyfriend at the time to help me, but he was of no help. In hindsight, I was pretty sure that he was sleeping off his heroin fix and I was only a bother to him. Only much later would I discover his addiction, but that’s another story.

I had scrambled around my bathroom looking for any sort of painkiller or something that would knock me out. I needed a one-two punch! I wanted to sleep and ride the medical debacle
out. Searching the medicine cabinet and vanity drawers, the only thing I found were Kashmew’s antibiotics for when he’d had an abscessed tooth pulled. I knocked back three of those and curled up on the bathroom floor, at peace with my life, fully clothed, and waiting for death to take me. The next day I woke up in bed, totally fine and not dead. My boyfriend had pulled me from the floor after he’d almost peed on me in the early hours of the morning and put me to bed. God has a plan for me, yes, he does. But who knows what it could possibly be?

We slid into a booth at the back of Damiano’s, ordered the freshest pepperoni, olive, and mushroom pizza and bottles of Jubel Ale for everyone. While we waited for our order and Paul, Guy got down to business. He was buzzing. I’d never seen him like this before. Guy also kept looking over at Harshy, almost gushing. I had to kick him in the shins a couple of times under the table because Harshy was giving me “what’s his deal” looks over the table. Guy calmed down a bit and took out his BlackBerry.

“You want me to start now or wait for Paul?” he asked.

“I know we should wait for Paul, but I can’t stand the suspense,” I bleated. After our initial phone call, I had been on pins and needles.

“Okay, while we wait for Paul, I’ll give you the reason for my trip down to the OC.” Guy beamed, his vast, gossipy knowledge locked inside his pearly whites. Wow, he must be using that teeth whitening gel because his tan is starting to look orange. “It all came together when I was hanging out in Rudy’s barbershop waiting for my haircut and I started reading an article about Charlene Dietz in an old tabloid. Naturally, because she’s Faraday’s ex-wife, I read with more interest than normal. Turned out she was originally from Riverside. Total white trash, but not unexpected. The article showed pictures of her when she was young, her first movies, publicity photos and the like. Well, as I was studying the pictures….” Guy paused for longer than was necessary (at least to my thinking).

“Well, come on. Don’t do this to us!”

Guy was looking over my shoulder. I turned around to see Paul come in. He waved at the owner and continued to our table. Paul seemed to know everyone in LA. I sometimes wondered how that was possible given how much time he spent over at the estate. After Faraday’s death and when we had gone public with our relationship, I had met most of his friends and gone to a few parties, but we still spent a lot of time alone together. Where did Paul have the time to meet all of these people? Maybe I should start tailing him. I scooted over and made room on my side of the booth.

“I see you warmed up my seat for me.” He nodded hello to Harshy and Guy and kissed me full on the lips. He smelled like fresh aftershave. Electricity shot down my body.

“Are you saying I have a big ass?” I asked, teasingly.

“Are you suggesting that I have no ass?” Paul replied.

“Oh, God, you two. Stop it or I am going to barf! I can’t stand you people in love,” Harshy chided.

I watched Guy go a little pale and sweat formed on his brow. He looked over at Harshy who wasn’t paying attention to him at all. “So, Paul, how goes the eulogy?”

“Well, it’s done. Fuckin’ hard. How do you talk about your dead best friend without sounding like a sap or constantly confirming I wasn’t his life partner.” Paul was obviously exhausted. I had tried to help him with the eulogy for the past few days, but he didn’t like the way it was turning out. It was difficult for him and I didn’t have enough history with either of them to make many good suggestions.

“Well, at least it’s done. The memorial service is tomorrow. After that we can take a break from all of this mess for a while,” I suggested.

Paul wrapped his arm around me, kissed the top of my head and turned to Guy, “So, what’s all the hubbub about? What’d you find out?”

“Good. I can finally get to the juicy part. I was telling the ladies why I was in the OC,” Guy continued. “I was reading about Charlene in an old People and how she was from the OC. No big deal until I was scanning each picture of her in her younger days before she started acting.” Guy was a big tease, pausing again for drama.

“Yes, enough already!” Harshy yelled. Guy jumped out of his seat like a tampon had rolled close to his thigh.

“Geez, calm down. What do you care? You’re not implicated in the murder,” said Guy, steadying himself in the booth with both hands. I swear he was pulsating from being both excited by his news and his proximity to Harshy..

Harshy shot him a “duh” look. “You know how I love celebrity scandal.”

Guy shook his head at her. “Anyway, who should I find in a couple pictures with her, but Bruce Hansen!”

Paul and I looked at each other, stunned. Guy smirked and continued, “So, I decide to make my little journey to Riverside ‘cause that’s the town she’s from, and stop by her old apartment complex. Well, none of her family live there anymore so I pretend I’m a reporter from People magazine and start knocking on her neighbors’ doors. I tell ‘em I’m fact checking an article and going to write a follow-up – do they want to be quoted? Suckers. So, I show them the pictures of Charlene and Bruce and I finally get a neighbor who grew up with them. Not just Charlene, but Bruce, too.”

My jaw dropped. I looked over Paul. He was rubbing his hand over his mouth and stubble. He took off his baseball cap, smoothed back his hair and replaced his hat. I took a big swig of my beer and was about to comment when our food came.

“Hey, Sal,” said Paul to the server. He waved his arm around to all of us, “Everyone this is Sal, he owns the place.” We all nodded at him.

“I’m sorry to hear about Mr. Faraday, man,” said Sal, putting down the pie and setting us up with plates, napkins, and cutlery. “How ya dealin’?”

“I’m OK, man. One day at a time. Thanks,” said Paul. Every condolence was making Faraday’s death more real for him. I think he was beginning to wrap his brain around it.

“Pie’s on the house. I’ll run a tab for your drinks,” offered Sal and he left to toss more dough. I leaned over to sniff the freshness of the pie. Smelled like it was right out of the oven. I helped myself to a slice and made up a plate for Paul. Harshy and Guy took their pieces, which were momentarily bound together with mozzarella strands. I watched them lock eyes briefly. I saw a rare softness in Harshy’s brow. Then she cut the strands with a knife, releasing Guy’s slice. I think he was hoping for more of a Lady and the Tramp moment.

“Cool beans. I like this place,” said Guy, recovering his composure. “Anyhoo, this guy, he says that Bruce and Charlene are cousins and that Bruce lived with her and her family when he was a teenager because his mom found out he was gay and kicked him out. Real nice. Quite the start in life, huh?”

“So," I said, obvious to the fact that Bruce was gay, “Bruce and Charlene are cousins. Then how are Bruce and Charlene connected with her marriage to Faraday and to his employment at the estate?”

“Well, Bruce worked for Faraday many years, Paul?” asked Guy scanning his BlackBerry in case he had missed the information.

“Well, let’s see.” Paul mumbled under his breath and counted his fingers back and forth. ”I’d say about six years. I know he was there three years already before Charlene showed up and started dating Kip. If you could call it dating.”

“Here’s my theory,” explained Guy. “Small-town, poor-girl Charlene is trying to make it in Hollywood and complains to her cousin, who is her best friend, and also lives in LA. She whines to him that if she could just get the right exposure, she could be a star. After three years of being his assistant, Bruce is now pretty hip to Faraday’s weaknesses and knows the kinks in his emotional makeup. So the two of them put their blonde heads together and concoct a scheme to get both Faraday’s money and make Charlene a star. Bruce works the inside, getting Charlene invited to Faraday’s parties, events he’ll be attending, and so forth. Then he cues Charlene on how to dress and act around Faraday to get him interested. Charlene puts her acting skills to the test. And Faraday falls for her, hook, line, and sinker.”

I swallowed my bite of pizza. “You’re a genius! That is, if the theory’s correct?” I looked over to Paul for his opinion.

Paul nodded his head. “It’s entirely plausible. That relationship accelerated fast and was a done deal before a lot of people realized what was going on. Everyone made it out to be a whirlwind romance, but I could see how Kip could be duped. He had a huge ego when it came to closing any sort of deal. And Charlene was a gorgeous prize; a geek’s ultimate trophy. Kip’s emotional intelligence was retarded when it came to romantic relationships. Still acted like a thirteen year old for the most part. The one area of life he couldn’t beat his colleagues. His Achilles heel. ”

“So Faraday thought that he had shown everyone up when Charlene agreed to marry him. Do you think that he found out about the scheme and that was why he divorced her?” I asked.

“If that was the case, Bruce would’ve been way fired, if not permanently maimed in his privates,” said Paul. That was true. Bruce had continued to work there even after the Faradays divorced. Oh, weird – Charlene Dietz as Mrs. Faraday.

Why had I never known that Charlene ever was Mrs. Faraday? I looked over at Harshy. Maybe Harshy had gushed it out one day and I mentally dismissed her celebrity gossip. Funny that she hadn’t brought it up again when I told her he was my client or even when he died. I had forgotten to ask her about Charlene’s ill-fated cosmetics line as well.

“Harshy, did you know about Charlene and Faraday?” I asked.

“Well, now that it’s been brought up, I do remember it being in the tabloids a few years ago. I really am not into Charlene Dietz and don’t follow her,” confessed Harshy. “I hadn’t even thought about a connection between her and Faraday even after his murder.”

And why would she? It suddenly dawned on me that no one had made the connection that Guy was making regarding the Faraday’s marriage. Had there been no tabloid reports delving into their marriage and a possible connection that Charlene was involved in Kip’s death? Could the E Channel have really missed a scoop as big as that?

“Harshy, what magazines are you reading these days?” I asked her pointedly.

“The usual, Us, People, Latino People, Star, OK…”

I interrupted her litany, “OK, fine. Your usual complement then? Has nothing been written about the Faraday marriage in any of those tabloids?”

Harshy suddenly looked very shocked, “No! Nothing.” She paused, looking as if she were searching the corners of her brain. “That’s weird. It seems as if all the talk for the past few years has always about Britney, Paris and Nicole. Oh, and Anna Nicole.”

I was having a brain cramp. Could he? Would he? How? Yes, it was possible. He would have enough money and enough power to accomplish it. Especially if he had dirt on all of the people and their families. Scary.

“What is going on in the brain of yours?” asked Paul. “I can almost smell something burning.”

“I think I know why nothing has been written about Charlene’s marriage to Faraday in the wake of his murder.” I blurted out.

“I am all ears.” Harshy leaned onto the table and grabbed my agitated hands to calm me down.
Paul and Guy all gathered in on the table for this revelation as well. Looking at them all, I suddenly felt stupid and that my epiphany was preposterous.

“Well, babe, what is it?” asked Paul, slightly bemused at my sudden muteness.

“My theory is Faraday used his wealth and influence to preempt any scandal by strong-arming the tabloids into never discussing his marriage and subsequent divorce with Charlene. And I think I have figured out why Paris and Nicole are so famous now.” I explained.

Everyone raised their eyebrows at this. We all wanted to know why those two had such notoriety for a life about nothing.

“I think Faraday gave those girls over to the tabloids for gossip fodder to keep the papers quiet. I think Kip had something on the Hilton and Ritchie families and forced them to serve their daughters up for the media slaughter in exchange for his silence on their hush-hush matters. He made a deal with the tabloids that they could never resist or they would risk what? Derision? Death? He had to make sure no one ever wrote about Charlene and his relationship ever again.” I continued.

Now everyone’s eyes were as big as saucers, especially Harshy’s. I don’t know if it was because I suddenly had explained the theory of the universe or if they thought I had gone completely bonkers.

“It has all been a distraction like the invasion of Grenada was a distraction from the Iran-Contra affair. Charlene is Ollie North. No one writes about Faraday and Charlene because the house of cards would collapse and everyone would be exposed!” I finished my theory. “Kip had something on everyone in this town and he was so humiliated by his failed marriage that he pulled every ace he had to protect himself and the situation.”

“So you’re saying this is why Paris and Nicole are famous today?” asked Harshy.

“Yes, they’re decoys set up by Faraday so that no one writes, reports or discusses his failed marriage to Charlene. Those two are constant daily reminders to the press, tabloids, and paparazzi that they are never to tread in Faraday waters for fear of great and terrible retribution by Kip Faraday.

“You make him sound like Rupert Murdoch,” said Paul, looking incredulously at me like I had two heads and one spoke a perfect Klingon dialect.

I looked at him, very seriously, “Kip was just as wealthy if not more than Mr. Murdoch.”

Guy broke in. “But now Faraday’s gone. Doesn’t that free everyone up to talk about him and Charlene? To start making the connections that we are? That Charlene could very well be involved to the extent we think she is?”

“I think all of Kip’s secrets on all of those people are locked up somewhere and they are still afraid that the secrets will be revealed if they focus attention on the relationship. Plus, now that Paris and Nicole have their new found fame, they don’t want to be revealed as total media puppets. I wouldn’t think their families would want to be exposed for being a party to it as well. The media would start digging deeper into their secrets that Faraday knew.”

Paul tugged at his ear and looked at me closely, “You’re serious about this theory aren’t you?”

“Well, with all of the weird things I have experienced with you, I’m inclined to entertain the validity of it,” confirmed Paul.

“Me, too. Wow, girl, you have got quite the imagination, but it’s good.” Harshy was studying my face to see if I would reveal any more juicy information. “I believe you. You can’t make that shit up.”

Guy shook his head, “Next you’ll be telling me you were once abducted by aliens.”

I stuck my tongue out at him. “Watch it or I’ll steal your mojo.”

I turned to Harshy, “I guess this lets you off the hook with your lack of celebrity gossip connections in this case.”

“Thank God! I was beginning to think I was in an alternate universe.”

“I guess we could’ve gotten to this point sooner if I had remembered to talk to Harshy about Charlene’s cosmetics line,” I said, looking at Guy and Paul.

“Her cosmetics line? Now I do remember that fiasco! What a stupid bitch to think she could succeed in scenting cosmetics with patchouli.” Harshy laughed, throwing her hands into the air. “Who would want their face or body to smell like mildew? Except hippies, of course.”

Harshy looked back over at me. “How did you know about her cosmetics line? You don’t wear anything, but mascara, eyebrow powder, and lip gloss.”

Paul answered in my defense, “I knew about the cosmetics line. I told Lois about it after we were interviewed by the cops. When Lois started working at the estate, it was the week that Faraday had incinerated Charlene’s entire product line that she had stored on the grounds. The scent was obnoxious and nauseating. We also smelled it again when we broke into the estate a few weeks ago.”

“What? You broke in to the estate?” She turned to Guy, “Did you know about this?”
Guy nodded his head “I drove the getaway car.”

Harshy punched him in the arm. “You all could’ve been caught! Are you all idiots?!”

“Hey, it helped me with my lead and we eventually got here,” explained Guy, rubbing his arm. He was a big guy, but Harshy had pointy knuckles.

“So, to summarize, Bruce is a person of major interest to us right now. Charlene is, as well, if she indeed was in the house the night of the murder which seems likely, given that her perfume aroma was recently noticed by us at the estate,” affirmed Guy. He closed his BlackBerry. "There has to be a reason why she was at the estate the night of Faraday’s death, and it’s got to be about Bruce and Charlene’s old scheme.”

“Unless she was being framed by someone,” added Harshy. “Maybe Bruce is really our only person of interest?”

“That may be so, but how are we going to find Bruce? Or Charlene, for that matter?” I asked, mozzarella hanging from my lower lip. This pizza is so damn good. I prayed to God I wouldn’t get sick that night as I slurped the cheese into my mouth and took yet another slice.

“Lets not discount Trevor,” brought up Paul. “He may have found out what we found out, killed Kip, and then used the information to frame Charlene and Bruce.”

“But why would he want to kill Faraday? I think he’s too small potatoes and too much of a pea brain to be a criminal mastermind,” I countered, “He freely admits to just being a petty thief.”

“Bruce and Charlene devised a plan. So why not Trevor?” asked Guy.

“I just don’t think he did it. I have a feeling.”

“So what are we going to do next?” Paul asked Guy.

“We are not going to do anything. I’m taking this information to Detective Patrick,” said Guy. “You two are going home to get a good night’s rest before the memorial service.”

“Good point. We should be going. I’ll have Sal’s boys box up the pizza,” said Paul. “I’m gonna sleep like timber.”

“Do you mind if we give the rest to Brian?” I asked. “I’m sure he’s fallen asleep in front of the TV again without eating.”

“What are you? His mother?” asked Paul.

“No, I’m his friend. Besides, he looks out for me.” I shot him a ‘Don’t you mess with what you don’t know” look. Paul feigned fear and started to open his mouth. “And don’t say “whatever.”

We grabbed the box on the way out. Paul and I got into his truck to go pick up my ride up at the Formosa. Harshy and Guy left toward his car parked down the street. She actually rides in his car? Will wonders never cease? I watched the two of them go. They really did look good together. I was relieved to see that Guy had finally gotten a decent haircut even if he still did needed to work on his transportation. I wondered if Harshy had actually said something to him? Before I turned to get into the car, I saw Harshy slide her arm into Guys. He looked at her in profile, obviously stunned, and then broke into a big smile, his whitened teeth reflecting in the lamp light. She kicked him in the bum from behind across her left leg, school-yard style.

I smiled and closed the passenger door of the truck. Paul looked over at me, took my hand and kissed the top of it. I leaned over and kissed him, running my hand up his thigh and pulling the hair at the nape of his neck. We kissed for a long time, like horny kids in high school, ‘til the windows fogged up. When we’d satisfied ourselves for the moment, we broke apart and, laughing, started the defogger. As I wiped my side window with my sleeve, I looked beyond the steam and saw Sal waving and giving us the thumbs-up through the storefront. I waved back. I slid in my Steve Miller CD and, all the way to the Formosa parking lot, mused about shaking Paul’s peaches that night.

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