Rabbit hole? What rabbit hole?
So, it may be time for a reality check. Or maybe even a few harsh realities, but we’ll see…
Regardless, time for tea, anyone? Or coffee, perhaps…with a side of Maltese Falcon…?
“Who knows?” said Mr. Cairo. “You better call Sam Spade, while there’s still time.”
(America \\ Daisy Jane)
(The Dream Academy \\ The Love Parade)
Part IV: The Music of the Spheres
Beverly Hills, California 7 June 2002
Ted Sorensen picked up the telephone and dialed Deb’s number at the house in Aspen – and still it just rang and rang. After twelve rings he gently replaced the receiver and wondered what to do next. The private detectives he’d hired to run her down had followed the trail to Seattle Tacoma International, but the trail had gone cold right there at the airport and that had been weeks ago. And that meant she’d been in contact with that fucking computer geek, Mr. Know-it-all Henry Fucking Taggart – but then that trail had led nowhere, too – and fast. A quick check at the start-up he was working for had produced no leads, only that he’d taken an indefinite leave of absence.
So…she was with Taggart but they were both otherwise “off the grid” – using cash and doing whatever they could to keep it that way.
And he had to admit…he really didn’t give a shit what she did, or who she did it with, but she was living in his house and keeping him “out of the loop” like this was, in effect, a declaration of independence. “So be it,” he sighed angrily, looking up the number for the largest realtor in Aspen, before he decided to call Dina Marlowe.
“She’s vanished?” Dina said, chuckling a little. “Imagine that.”
“Look, I don’t appreciate you laughing like that,” he snapped.
“Oh, Ted, I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you…”
“With me!?” he snarled. “What’s so funny about this?”
“Well, for one…you are, at least the way you’re overreacting to this – is kind of funny.”
He wanted to slam the receiver down but in truth Dina was about the only person left in LA he considered a friend, and you didn’t do that to friends. “You think I’m overreacting to all this?”
“Ted, she’s a big girl now. No more pony rides at her birthday party, okay? She’s stretching her wings, learning to fly, so just let her be. She’s been needing to do this for years, so just sit back, take a deep breath and let her fly for a while. Everything will be alright.”
He took a deep breath and shook his head, not sure how to proceed now. “Look, I called because I’m angry about the whole thing and I was thinking about selling the house in Aspen…”
“What! Don’t you dare!”
“No, Ted. That’s almost…infantile! Punish her for trying to grow up? What are you trying to accomplish? Keep her in diapers? Maybe hire a nanny to breast feed her for a few more years!”
“Really, Ted…seriously, just let it be. She’ll be okay with Henry. He’s good people, and you know that as well as anyone here in LA.”
“You think Taggart is a good person?”
“Are you kidding? He saved her life, Ted, in case you’ve forgotten all that crap in Bora-Bora, and I’m not even supposed to mention Catalina but he saved her life again out there…”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Look, I promised Deb I wouldn’t tell you so just take my word for it. Henry Taggart is a decent human being and leave it at that, okay?”
He sighed and involuntarily shivered, and then his right hand started to tremble. “How does a late lunch sound?”
“I’m free if you are.”
“Gladstone’s? In an hour?”
“As long as I don’t have to have that damn She Crab soup…”
“I love that stuff…”
“What’s not to love? It’s nothing but butter, heavy cream and sherry…”
“God, I love it when you talk dirty to me like that…”
SV AquaTarkus Little Refuge Cove, Desolation Sound, BC 7 June 2002
Deb stood on deck, taking the fuel hose from Henry down on the dock, slipping the fill nozzle into the opening with practiced ease.
“God, I love it up here,” she sighed, standing now and taking a deep breath.
“Yeah, I love diesel fumes as much as the next guy, but I think I smell cinnamon rolls.”
There was a fishing boat at the other fuel dock and a passing fisherman heard that and stopped to chat. “Great place up there on the hill, in case you don’t know Annie.”
“Good cinnamon rolls?”
“Yup. And I oughta know. I married the cook thirty years ago because of those damn things,” he said, rubbing his ample gut.
Henry grinned at that. “We’ll go check ‘em out. You wouldn’t happen to know anyplace around here to pick up some salmon, would you?”
“I got some fresh if you don’t mind cleaning ‘em yourself. How much you need?”
“Oh, two or three ought to do us for a few days.”
“I’ll go get you a couple. Out of the water this morning, too.”
“Excellent!” He looked up at Deb – who had out of habit turned away so the fisherman’s aura wouldn’t bombard her senses – but she turned around now and smiled.
“Sounds good,” she added.
Daisy Jane sleepily bounded up the companionway and took a quick look around, then settled into her perch in the cockpit, secure as she surveyed her new domain.
“Hear that, Daisy-Jane? Fresh salmon!”
Daisy’s tail started to thump-thump, indicating her solid approval of the measure, and when the fuel filler snapped Deb topped off the tank with two more quick squirts then handed the hose back to Henry. The fisherman came by with three fish as long as Taggart’s arm and he pulled out his wallet and settled up.
“You can leave your boat here if you’re just gonna run up to the store for a few minutes,” the fisherman added.
“Thanks,” Henry said as he turned to Daisy. “You ready for a long walk, girl?”
Daisy grabbed her leash and hopped over the lifelines in one fluid motion, and the fisherman stood still and gasped at that display.
“You teach her to do that?” he asked.
“No, no we didn’t. She’s just a bright dog.”
“Bright? Hell, I’ve never seen any dog do that before.”
“Well, you’ve never met Daisy Jane then, have you?” Henry leaned over and snapped the leash to her collar then he turned to her. “Daisy, say hello to the nice man, would you?”
Daisy ambled over and sat down in front of the fisherman, then she extended her right hand as she looked up at him.
“I’ll be,” he said as he leaned over and took her paw. “You’re right. Never seen anything like that before.”
“She’s a good girl.”
Daisy turned and “woofed” once, then looked at a trail that led into the woods, and she looked excited, too.
“Alright, alright, don’t get your panties in a wad. I hear you, let’s go…”
They anchored out and Henry filleted one of the salmon, slicing up some sashimi with the best cuts and cutting up a few filets to broil that evening, and about that time Deb called out that she and Daisy were going to take the Zodiac over to the waterfall and go for a walk.
“Take the bear spray, okay?”
“Got it already.”
He heard her start the outboard and smiled. She really was getting into the groove of life on the water – almost as much as Daisy Jane had. But that was a different story altogether.
The pup was different after her night with the orcas. Different, as in smarter. Different, in that Deb reported her aura had changed – significantly. It wasn’t just brighter, no, she displayed more colors now, too, like the range of her emotional expressiveness had changed, had somehow been expanded. Had her base of emotional understanding been changed, as well? There was no way to know for sure, but where interaction with this pod of orcas was concerned Henry was learning to question his assumptions, because something more than a little odd was going on.
Still, this idyll had to come to an end, and soon. He couldn’t just quit work, at least not yet, but on the other hand he wasn’t sure he wanted this thing with Deb to end just yet. She’d made it clear she loved him and he was pretty sure he loved her too, but then again that really wasn’t the problem.
Her father was. He always had been, and until she changed that dynamic, until she declared her independence from him – to his face – she’d always be compromised emotionally…and as far as Taggart was concerned Ted Sorensen was too dangerous to cross twice.
Because, yes, he’d already crossed the man once, and because Sorensen had enemies, Sorensen usually had people to do his dirty work for him. At least…that was the rumor…
After Papeete and after sorting through all the bogus claims about Ted wanting to get a boat, Sorensen had asked Henry to come to work for him at Paramount. And his offer was staggeringly generous, too. So he’d done his due diligence, had asked around about Sorensen and what he’d learned had been enough. He declined the offer, and in declining he had, apparently, offended Sorensen. Soon after that his dad had called and warned him off, told him to leave town and let things blow over, so Henry had quietly returned to Seattle. He’d only come down to do the dive class with Deb and the Kid because she almost begged him to, but he’d left LA as soon as he got Spree III docked and washed down.
Then she’d called two months ago and this time her call was really unexpected, like out of the blue unexpected, but it was the sound of her voice that had gotten to him most of all. Like there was some kind of damage involved, like she was pleading for help, for rescue…but then again he realized that was what he’d been doing ever since he’d met her. Maybe that was all he was supposed to be, too. Her knight in shining armor, on call to ride in to the rescue, to save her from her father.
“And that’s not the role I want to live,” he realized.
Taggart was also smart enough to understand he was getting on in years and Deb was probably his last chance to do the whole settle down with a wife and have kids kind of thing, yet it just didn’t feel right. Yeah, he loved her. Yeah, she was cute in a measured kind of way, even if she was a little frumpy – at least according to the standards of Hollywood royalty she seemed to always compare herself to.
And yeah, the whole aura thing was pretty confusing, if only because her ability made for a kind of lopsided view of things. He was, comparatively speaking, almost blind where her abilities were concerned, and he’d found it more than a little unnerving to find her staring at him and then feeling like he was being analyzed – probably because he was!
And now he wasn’t so sure that Daisy didn’t have the same sort of ability – or abilities. Ever since her night with the orcas he’d caught her staring at him, too – and he could literally see her reacting to him…even when he was sitting perfectly still. Then he’d found a paperback and started reading, his emotions tracking along with the story’s ups and downs, and he’d watched as Daisy reacted right along with him. After that he’d felt like he was under continuous scrutiny from them both, and he really didn’t like the way that felt – which of course created a whole new feedback loop of observation and assessment…so where would it stop? Indeed, could it stop? And if not, what kind of future was there for a relationship grounded in such iniquity?
The little Refuge Cove market had great produce and he’d gone wild buying pears and Brussels sprouts, but with sprouts on hand he’d had to buy cherries…so now he had everything he needed for dinner. He diced some bacon and put it on a low heat, then he cleaned and halved the sprouts and put them in the skillet face down with the bacon…and with a little butter and some brandy, too. He pitted and halved a handful of cherries and added them to the skillet; he covered the skillet and lowered the heat to a bare simmer while he prepped the salmon with soy and freshly grated ginger, then he waited for Deb to get back, opening a fresh bottle of riesling and slicing some kind of local cheese the owner had recommended. He heard the dingy arrive and set the salmon under the broiler just as Deb cried a miserable sounding “Help!”
Because Daisy had found a skunk. And Daisy had decided the skunk needed to be investigated, and before Deb knew what had happened Daisy came running out of the woods smelling like, well, just the secretions secreted by a skunk’s anal glands.
And he could smell the true dimensions of the problem even before he made it up the companionway steps. So…he stopped and turned off the broiler and the fire under the sprouts, found the box of baking soda he’d put in the ‘fridge and two large bottles of tomato juice he used to make Bloody Marys – then pinched his nose and crawled out to the swim platform.
“What do you expect me to do with that stuff?” Deb squalled.
“Give her a bath!”
“Right there. And for God’s sake don’t let her get below or one of us will have to buy this boat! You can’t get that smell out once it gets down below…!”
“I don’t know how to do that!”
Henry shook his head – because he realized there was no getting out of this one – then he took off his t-shirt and hopped down into the dingy. He poured one bottle of the tomato juice all over Daisy and let that soak in for a bit, then he grabbed her by the cuff and dipped her into the sea. He pulled her up and took the baking soda and massaged it into the skin where the skunk’s spray had hit, then a few minutes later he dunked her again. “Okay. That was round one. You do round two.”
“But you’ve already got that stuff all over you now…”
“Yeah? So do you. So you might go for a swim right now…before I toss you in…”
“You wouldn’t dare!” She looked at him for a moment – then said: “Oh yes you would!”
“Hmm. That worked out rather well, I think.”
Malibu, California 7 June 2002
Ted leaned back and sighed. “Damn if that didn’t hit the spot!”
“Which one?” Dina quipped, grinning.
“You and your Caesar salads…are you always watching your weight?”
“Doesn’t that get boring?”
“Fat is boring, Ted. And fat means no more dating and probably no more clients.”
“You’re not serious.”
“Oh Hell yes I am. Architecture is all about appearances, Ted, and my personal appearance is just one part of the overall package.”
“You sound like you’re selling yourself, Dina.”
“And don’t you think for one moment that I’m not, Ted. From the moment a potential client walks in my door until my proposal is accepted and signed-off on, everything I say and do is judged, as is the way I look, and you know better than anyone that’s especially true in this town.”
He nodded. “Do you sleep with many of your clients?”
“Never, at least not until I met you.”
“Oh? And to what do I owe this honor?”
“Because we’re simpatico, darlin’. In case you didn’t know that already.”
“And you say that because…?”
“Just a feelin’ I had when we met. That’s why I invited you and Deb down to the house, and that’s why whenever you have a problem you can’t get a handle on you call me.”
“Do I do that? Really?”
The waiter brought his credit card receipt and he signed it and took his copy, then he looked up at Dina. “Wanna take a walk?”
“What? Down there?” she said, nodding at the beach.
“What’s wrong, Ted? Is it Deb?”
“Huh? Oh, no, not really. I was thinking about us while I was driving down here.”
“Us? As in you and me?”
“Yes. As in.”
“Uh-oh…this sounds serious,” she sighed.
“You know, in a way I think it kind of is. You’re the only real friend I have, Dina. You’re the only person I know who isn’t working an angle on me, who doesn’t want something from me…you know?”
“I’m just curious, but does that mean anything to you?”
“Yes, it does, Ted. It means the world to me, actually.”
“Come on, let’s hit the sand.”
She nodded and slid out her side of the booth, and he casually came up and took her hand as they walked out through the massed throngs of diners and people waiting in a long line to get in…and this was something new, something that hadn’t happened before…and never had when they were out in public. He wasn’t on the usual paparazzis’ radar, but they staked out this place and he knew that…so…what was he up to…?
He took off his shoes and she held on to him while she slipped out of hers, and they started down the beach towards Santa Monica among the last of the day’s sun-seekers and die-hard surfer-dudes.
“LA wouldn’t be LA without all this,” he sighed, watching a surfer riding a little two-footer into shore.
She squeezed his hand gently, felt the return pressure and smiled. “You sure it’s not the She Crab soup?”
“That’s a Carolina thing. I never knew that, but there you go.”
“Something’s bothering you today, Ted. You want to talk about it?”
“Oh, I was just thinking, you know. I woke up this morning worried about Deb so I called you. And yeah, you talked me down. But then again, you usually do. Maybe I’m a hot-head, I don’t know…”
“You do have a temper, Ted.”
“I know. But the point is, well,” but then he stopped talking – and then he looked down, almost like he was gathering his thoughts. “I woke up this morning and it was like I looked around and here I was in this huge house but now it’s just me in there. No wife. No kids. And no grandkids. And yeah, I know four other people live there but, yeah, they’re on the payroll so that doesn’t quite count, does it?”
“I think it’s the empty bed, Dina. Waking up to an empty bed, in that empty bedroom. That house. It’s like an insinuation now, an open sore that won’t heal.”
“And yeah, I remember you tried to talk me out of building it, that a more open plan would have made more sense, but right then it didn’t…”
“And now it does?”
“I don’t know. I’m not a romantic, at least not in the classical sense of the word, but I think I’m realist enough to admit that a house, any house, doesn’t keep someone from loving. Or even keep out all the prying eyes. Maybe that was naive…”
“Or wishful thinking?” she added.
“Or wishful thinking. Yeah. But every now and then I ask myself what impact that house has had on me. And on Debra.”
“I’m not sure you’ll ever find an answer to that question, Ted. It was always going to be an inward looking design – because you were turning in on yourself after Kathy passed, and even Deb was old enough to see that. And who knows, she probably even understood why you felt that way. I doubt she understood why the house is the way it is, at least not at the time, but I bet she does now.”
“That’s right. You two talk a lot, don’t you?”
“I wouldn’t say a lot, but…”
“But she trusts you, right?”
“I think so, Ted. Why? Is that so important?”
“In a way, yes.” He started walking along again, but he moved a little closer to the water’s edge, and every now and then the remnants of a wave made it far enough to cover their feet for a moment.
“In a way?”
“Well, say we were to, well, suppose, just for the sake of discussion, say we were together. She wouldn’t exactly rebel against the idea, would she?”
“Together? Like what, married?”
“Married, living together…whatever…she would accept that, right?”
“You might ask her, Ted, but I think she’d be okay with that.”
“What about you?”
“Yeah, I’d be okay with that, too,” she said, squeezing his hand again. “Have you ever ridden the ferris wheel at the pier?” she asked, looking down the beach to the Santa Monica Pier.
“You know, we never went, even when Deb was little.”
“Your mom never took you?”
“My mom was a shrink, Dina. There was no talk about amusement parks around our house.”
“Then your mom probably needs a shrink.”
“Probably, but she was always been concerned about appearances. The front lawn had to be immaculate but who cared what the kitchen looked like. Unless company was coming over, that is.”
“Ah, that explains why you’re so neat and tidy.”
“Yeah, maybe, but more than anything else I think I crave order. Everything in its place…”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, Ted.”
He nodded. “I know.” He shuffled his feet through the surf a little, then he turned and looked at the setting sun. “You know, when that kid came here for William’s birthday, his brother…he asked if, no, he invited me to come along to Disneyland…and the funny thing is I think I wanted to…”
“You have been, right?”
He shook his head. “I think there was a class trip every year when I was at Harvard-Westlake, but Mom never signed off on it.”
“So…you’ve never been?”
“I’ve seen the Matterhorn from the Interstate…does that count?”
Dina sighed. “Well, that settles that. I know what we’re doing this weekend.”
“Dina…I’m not sure I know how to laugh anymore.”
She stopped in her tracks and pulled him around until they were standing face to face. “Well then, Mr. Sorensen…I think it’s high time you learned again.” And she pulled him closer still, until there was no room at all left between them.
And off in the distance they heard someone call out “Get a room!” and they both had a good laugh at that.
“The idea has merit, don’t you think?” she whispered in his ear.
“We could drive to Vegas, you know? Go to one of those wedding chapels on the strip?”
“Oh Ted, when all is said and done you really are a wild-eyed romantic!”
“What can I say? You bring out the Elvis in me…”
“What is it…a five hour drive?”
“Something like that.”
“You really want to?”
“No more empty bedrooms for me, Dina. I’ve had enough of all that.”
“Let’s drop off my car at your place,” she said.
“Our place,” he corrected in his best Bogart voice. “As in…just you and me, kid.”
They turned to walk back to their cars, still holding hands, still lost in the moment. Speaking to the silence of their need, friends for so long now that words hardly mattered. Her skin felt so good on his and that seemed to be the measure of the moment and the moment had nothing more to ask of him. They walked up to the valet parking stand and he paid their fares and then they stood in the little line there, waiting. Waiting…
He turned to the sound of the voice like some might turn when it’s time to face the music and he almost had time to recognize the man, to put the face to the voice, before the first shot rang out. People scattered, a woman screamed, then he heard a second shot and he felt that one. ‘I’m burning,’ the little voice trapped inside said. ‘I feel hot.’ His eyes were wide open now but everything was white and that didn’t make sense.
No, nothing made sense now. ‘Why am I laying down?’
There were two more shots, then came the sirens. ‘Just like in the movies…’
“Dina?” he managed to say before the darkness came for him, but all he heard was a deafening silence beyond the gentle roar of all his yesterdays.
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.
Recommend you read the lyric to this one, preferably as you listen.
(Jon and Vangelis \\ The Friends of Mr Cairo)