“There’s some heartbreak here, old wounds,” I said, staring at the palm of her hand. “You’re recovering, in transition. Spiraling. In and out of love. The cycle is endless.” She had to be twenty-something. Black t-shirt, Baby Doll in sequin script. “You need to jump off the merry go round. Get your shit together.” I watched her. Cleavage to the max, jet black hair, pure white skin, eyebrows arched over hollow eyes.
“Fire, burning,” I said. Sandalwood incense drifted up the Venice beach boardwalk. “I’m feeling smoke, not like curling trails from the end of a joint.” She gripped my fingers. “Walls burning, an entire room of a house. Catastrophe. I’m feeling catastrophic fire, fueled by your love desire.”
She winced, one eye shut.
“Fire.” I rubbed my thumb across her palm in a tight circle. “I’m really feeling it.”
“Last fire for me,” she said, “was in the fireplace. Two years ago. Me and the cat watching American Idol. The little Asian kid couldn’t sing but he won over that crowd.”
I looked around. “Water. Ocean. You’re traveling to water. Big water. Open water.” She glanced at a big diver’s watch on her left wrist.
“Flooding. Tsunami. Big, rushing water. Diving, scuba diving, off the coast, in a boat—rocking gently, you dive in, cold, wet, deep. . .big, really big water.” I squeezed my eyes closed.
She shrugged her shoulders. “My toilet flooded last week.”
“That’s what I’m talking about.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
“Yeah. Set up here in Venice Beach.”
“Today. My first day is today.”
“Your first day is today? How many fortunes have you told?”
“Two. One before you.”
“What were you doing before today?”
“Selling used cars at Hodge Chevrolet. Down in Torrance.”
“You sold used cars?”
“Sometimes I sold new. Mostly I worked used. Lot of Hondas. Some reason, people trade up from Honda, they go Chevy. A nice Accord, ‘98, 22 to 25 miles per gallon. Five, maybe six grand depending on the mileage, above or below a hundred thousand.”
“Before you sold used cars, what were you doing?”
“Immediately before the car gig?”
She nodded. I held her thumb with the tips of my fingers, pink polish with glitter on her nail.
“Well, I sold cars for six months.”
“That’s a career for some people. Six months ago, where were you?”
“I managed a chain of medical marijuana clinics.” I jabbed a finger pointing north.
“Two. People want to smoke pot, they come in and talk to the doc. Mostly I’m outside on the sidewalk. Bringing in the patients. ‘The doctor is waiting to see you now. Highest quality, let me show you the way’. Glossy flyers, clean rooms. Beats the hell out of that socialized medicine shit. At least our doctor’s always taking patients. Basically, you tell the doctor you have some chronic illness. I mean, they have a list on the wall, posters that tell you what to say. Symptoms, ailments, pre-menopausal, post-menopausal, migraines, gastric disorders are big, peptic ulcers, duodenal blockage.”
“That covers a lot of ground.”
“Shit, one old boy came in and said he ran a karaoke bar a couple nights a week. Said this dude always came in, thought he was Aretha Franklin. Not a tranny, just a guy who liked Aretha. He’d come in and sing ‘Say A Little Prayer’, like every week. The guy that ran the karaoke gig, he’s talking to our clinician─I can’t say he was a real doctor─he’s complaining about nightmares of Aretha Franklin eating gooey pizza and singing with her mouth full—R-E-S-P-E-C-T—vocals powered with Papa John’s pizza. Doctor prescribed a standard dosage of M&M. Medical marijuana. You want your money back?”
“’Say A Little Prayer’ and ‘Respect’ are two different songs.”
“Pretty sure it was Papa John’s, though.”
“Where was this karaoke night?”
“Dive bar here in Venice.”
“The medical marijuana clinic?”
“Right next door.”
“On Venice Beach?”
“Right up here,” I said, pointing north.
“Three, four blocks.”
“Yeah. I’m feeling a little pre-menopausal.”
She could be perfect. Busting out in black and white, looking to score, looking for the cool. I packed the cardboard stand I’d put up an hour ago. A red plastic milk carton crate, fake Navajo print rugs a hawker threw behind my camper last night, the cracked white plastic chair pulled from a King Taco dumpster in Baldwin Park at 1:15 AM. The cash box. With three thousand one hundred and twenty dollars. I laid the box inside the red crate, stuffed the Navajo rugs around it so I could hold the whole thing under one arm.
“Someone can have the chair,” I said.
We fell in behind a roller skating dude with ripped brown muscles in a black thong and disappeared in a crowd, squeezing around a gold-plated mime hustling his half-true Michael Jackson act; the real King of Pop was turning white, but his music was solid gold. Tattoo artists were looking for skin, musicians—legends in their own tunes strumming guitars, vintage RV’s sprayed in pastel graffiti, their generators purring in harmony, off-limits restrooms were wrapped in yellow tape next to make-do port-o-potty stalls and palm trees, palm trees, palm trees—Southern California’s horizon—and we came across the asphalt lot to the sand and the beach and the very edge of the continent, to my car, a ’98 Accord with just over a hundred thousand miles.
“You pick up this from the Chevy lot?” she said.
“Got if from a guy who did. He couldn’t make the payments, sold it to me for the balance.”
“No plates yet, huh?”
“I got ‘em, they’re in the trunk.” I opened the passenger door. “You mind driving a little bit? Something I got to do first.”
“Sure.” She opened the door, sat down, slammed the door and rolled the window down by hand. I put the milk crate stuffed with the blankets and the cash box in the trunk. I opened the passenger door and leaned in.
“Can you wait here a minute? Just one moment. Something I forgot. Just take a second.”
“Can I listen to the radio or something? Leave me the keys?”
“Just one second.”
There was a jewelry stand on the concrete boardwalk across the wall from where the RV’s camped out, an old beat-up guy selling Jamaican knit caps and smoking accessories. His eyes were closed when I got to his table. Bob Marley T-shirts, red yellow and green and black knit hats, a hand written sign said bongs were on sale if you bought two, next to bracelets made of black and brown nuts drilled with a leather thong threaded through. The old man’s eyes snapped open when I rapped on the table.
“How much for this thing?” I pointed to what I thought would work. Leather thong and a wooden medallion.
“Six bucks.” Dread locks danced down to his neck.
“Give you three.’
He took three bills, asked if I needed a bag, but I was around the side and over the brick wall past the humming generators, putting the leather through the hole on the Honda ignition key, swinging it by the thong by the time I got to the car. I sat down, closed the door, fastened the seatbelt.
“Cops here are big on seatbelts,” I said. “Driver’s got to do it too, if they’re driving my car.” I handed her the key.
She turned the key in the ignition, but nothing happened. The dashboard was dark.
“Hit the lights,” I said.
“Where are the lights?”
I leaned over, my head almost touching the tips of her nipples poking against her black t-shirt. A light coconut fragrance. Could’ve buried my head in there right then, smothered myself and the pain and the shame in those beautiful creamy stacks. I pointed to the turn lever, the light switch on the end, swung my torso through the coconut haze and back to my side of the car. She twisted the stalk, trying to get the lights to come on, the dash, anything.
“Open the door,” I said. She popped the door open. The ceiling lights were dead.
“Okay,” I said. “We can fix this. Battery’s dead.”
“Can’t we just walk to the clinic?” she said. “Fix the battery later?”
“That’s a good idea. You know, I don’t think I told you my name. I’m Vance.”
“Vince? Or Vance?”
“Vance. Like advance, without the ad.”
“Cool. They call me Pinkie. Don’t ask me why. Just call me Pinkie, or Pink.”
“Pinkie, I’m not a real big car guy. But here’s what I need you to do. I’ll show you. Get out of the car and I’ll walk you through this.” We both got out and met in front of the hood. I told her to wait a second and I opened the driver’s door, found the hood latch and released the hood. I came back to the front of the car and pointed to wires that were held in place with a Velcro collar.
“See these? Hold them in your hand like this.” I put my hand around the wire, without touching the grimy rubberized coating. “I’ll try and start the car, you jiggle the wires. Easy.”
I got in the car, left the driver’s door open, and looked at Pinkie. She nodded when I asked if she was ready. I turned the key, gave her a finger point, and she jiggled the wires. Nothing.
“Try it again,” I said.
I turned the key the other way, she rattled the wiring in her hands for ten seconds.
“Might be a fuse,” I said. “Let me check something.” I reached in to the glove compartment. The raised hood blocked Pinkie’s view. I pulled the .45 Colt out of the glove compartment, slid it down into my lap, pulled out a box of tissues I’d put under the driver’s seat and tore out a handful of extra-soft CVS’ best and wiped down the Colt. The barrel, the slide rack, trigger guard, very careful with the trigger, the safety, the back of the slide rack with the serrations, finally the grips. I put the tissues around the gun and put it back in the glove compartment, slipped the tissues off and wadded them up. Reached under the seat for the half-pint bottle of Jim Beam and jammed it in the glove box. I wiped down the steering wheel, stuffed the tissues in my jeans pocket and leaned out the window.
“It’s not a fuse.” I said. “Should’ve got that battery on sale at Pep Boys last week.” I got out and met Pinkie standing in front of the hood, told her to lower it for me while I looked around for a jump. She followed instructions nicely.
I moved down the lot. The old lady in the last RV with the tie-died paint job said she’d be able to jump the car when her old man got back. “Maybe an hour”, she’d said. “Maybe more?” Perfect, I thought. Perfect.
Pinkie was standing in front of the Honda holding a cigarette. “Think you were right,” I said. “It’s going to be at least an hour before we get some booster cables. Let’s walk. You need a light?”
“I’ll wait. Need me a good toke. Smoke this little guy later. You say these guys at the clinic are real ganja heads?” She had a funny way of walking, holding everything up high and tight like she knew what came first was the best she had. I couldn’t say, trying to drop back a half step and look. The Venice Beach regulars had a way of looking wind-burned, dried out. Couldn’t tell if they were in Junior High trying to look tough beyond their years, or prowling for a sailboat ride to Ensenada with bored executives on a mid-life crisis. Her pockets buttoned down over slim cheeks rustling in the fabric and it all looked fine. Pinkie. Some kind of name.
“What’s your real name, hon? Pinkie, it’s cute, like an email logon, Twitter maybe, your password so you won’t lose it? Keep it close at all times?”
“You weren’t supposed to ask me.”
“Come on, you figured me out. You need to trust me.”
“Not a matter of trust. It reminds me of things, that’s all.”
“It’s me, isn’t it? Sitting there with your hand, telling you that stuff. Hard to trust a person after that, huh?”
“I trust you. I don’t know why, but I do. You didn’t get all defensive, like, when I got you on that fortune telling thing.”
“I don’t have many defenses anymore.”
“That’s something. It’s a start. Right?”
“An old boyfriend gave me the name Pinkie. He used to snort coke off my fingernail.” She held up her right hand, the left still fingering the filter tipped cigarette. She stuck her little finger my way, and I touched it again. We walked like that for a few steps, while I nodded to the woman at the tie-die van, getting her to smile when she saw me pulling Pinkie by her little finger.
“So if it reminds you of bad times, why do you still go by Pinkie?”
“It’s better than my real name. I don’t know. You ask all these questions. Like, can’t we just go get checked out, score some pot and get high or something? Shit. Then I got to find a place to stay tonight.”
“We’ll work on that.”
“I had to do a guy last night. Stayed in his dorm room over at USC. Right in front of his roommate, like he was trying to sleep next to us while we’re doing shit. He gave me twenty bucks.”
The beach crowd had thinned out on the north end of the strand, the meandering concrete beach walk that went from one end of Southern California to another, almost continuous, if you tried to connect the different parts.
“So what is it?” I said.
“I’ll call you whatever you want. I just want to know, that’s all. If you don’t want to tell me, that’s okay. We’ve confided in each other now, you know.” I let her finger go.
“Beautiful. I had you for Karen. Michelle, Maggy, I was seeing mid-alphabet, Marnie, Mary Beth, Bethany even. Helen. That’s a cool name. You know, you hear a nickname and you start guessing.”
“In and out of love,” she said. “Heartbreak. Fueled by your love desire. I liked it. You were pretty good.”
We walked past the Boardwalk Café, the Jewish Center, a bicycle rental shop with old fat-tire heavy-framed two-wheelers that made your legs feel heavy in five minutes if you did more than coast.
“The love inferno,” she said, brushing my hand with her little finger. “Is that nearby?”
“Come on, that was just some bullshit I had written out. Smoke, boardwalk, fire, raging blaze, the burning desire. Cheap tricks.”
“I wanted to believe it.”
“You can believe it. You can believe anything, if you want it bad enough.” I swung my left hand out like I was turning, looking at something, trying to brush her hand again without setting off an emotional disturbance, giving it away, that I wanted in to those rustling layers of slinky fabric. Tight, smooth, black and white swirls ready to lick up and down the cone like soft ice cream. Pinkie, Helen, I fucking wanted to dive in, taste test, test drive, parallel park right up tight against the curb and turn all the knobs and switches until the heat came on and the windows steamed.
Dr. Yogesh Paliwal looked as white as me, spoke perfect English, and took Pinkie in right away. The guy outside with mohawk hair wore a skull and bones t-shirt that said “The Dead Never Die”. Dr. Paliwal’s background was dubious, at best. Studied in Pakistan, the mohawk hair guy said. Found out there was a clinical shortage of alternative medical practitioners in Southern California, he said, and he came west.
“He’s not from Pakistan, is he?” I said.
“He’s from New York City,” I said. “South Bronx, I bet.” Mohawk handed out some glossy flyers to a couple of guys checking out the pharmaceutical dispensary sign on the peeling yellow wall.
“Come on in boys,” Mohawk said. “The doctor wants to make you feel better.”
Pinkie came out twenty minutes later holding a small brown paper bag. She took my arm and pushed me back down the strand towards the parking lot. She shook her head when I asked how it went. She lit her cigarette with a red plastic Bic lighter, passed the filter tipped cigarette to me and I waved it off.
“Fucking guy,” she said. “He’s not even a doctor.”
“How do you know?”
“I told him my problem. Female thing. Just to see what he would say. He told me to drop my panties and bend over and he’d check me out.”
“We should report him.”
“To who? The medical marijuana police? Nobody going in there gives a damn. Who cares? A girl goes in there to get some weed and she gets fingered by some gray haired old guy? Fuck, Vance, this is Venice Beach. Nobody gives a shit down here.”
Maybe I’d go back and take care of him later, after we did our business. After I got the car going, got to where I needed to go, did what I had to do. But I didn’t need any more attention pointed my way. Pinkie wouldn’t spill anything, she was getting comfortable with the idea of being with me, with the idea of trading secrets, coming clean. When we got to the car she got in the driver’s side.
“Go ahead and roll one, Pinkie. There’s papers in the glove compartment.”
“You got a pipe? It’s easier.”
I said I thought I had one in the trunk. She pulled the trunk latch from under the dash and I went around to the back of the car. I made some noise rumbling around in the trunk and found the collection of pipes. Crack pipes, hash pipes, marijuana pipes. I sometimes smoked grass out of the hash pipes, it didn’t really make any difference, except the glass hash pipe was a lot smaller than my two wooden grass pipes. And under the trunk, in the spare tire well, were three, fully packed, one pound ziploc bags of coke. Pure Colombian. I undid the butterfly screw-on nut and lifted up the panel, grabbed two of the bags and put them in the red plastic crate under the fake Navajo blankets, then got the third bag and did the same. I packed the blankets around the three Ziploc bags and re-set the bottom panel in place over the spare tire and fastened the butterfly bolt. I opened the passenger door and sat down. I handed the glass pipe to Pinkie.
“This medical grade marijuana they say is twice as strong as the street stuff. You know, long as I worked that clinic, I never got a free sample? The weirdest thing.”
Pinkie packed the pipe with the pot she’d scored, right out of a small glass jar from the brown bag.
“Did you have to pay for that?” I said.
“I put it on a credit card. I don’t have insurance. I don’t think insurance pays for that anyway. Government’s going to change all that, if they fix health care. I’m glad they’re changing that time-worn old system. Get the treatments you need, doctors you can trust. Then you don’t have to go see some dirty old man who wants to finger your cooze just so you can score some dope.”
Pinkie took the book of matches from me and struck one, held it over the bowl, sucked smoke and held it in. She handed me the pipe. Fresh, fragrant, verdant, the sweet smell of mother nature. The high life was coming our way. I held the pipe and drew on it. I held it out for Pinkie.
“Let me check the back seat for a second.” I got out and opened the rear door and leaned in, like I was checking something from the floor. “Check the glove compartment, there’s a bottle in there. Jim Beam. Have some if you want.”
I heard the glove compartment door open.
“What the hell is this? Oh, my goodness.”
“It’s bourbon. Jim Beam.”
“No. I mean this.” I looked up. She was holding it. The Colt.
“Shit. Forgot that was there. Keeping it for a guy I know.”
“Loaded?” she said.
“You know how to check?”
“Okay, don’t do anything. Put your fingers on the barrel. So you don’t touch the trigger. Shit, I’m sorry. Point the barrel away from you.” She put her left hand around the bottom of the barrel, her palm against the bottom of the trigger guard.
“Good,” I said. “Easy.”
“Come on, is the thing loaded?”
“I don’t know. Let’s not take chances, okay?” Pinkie was holding it by the end of the barrel with three fingers, like she was extracting a piece of silverware from the dishwasher.
“Shit, Vance, what do I do now?”
“Easy, girl, take it easy. Put it on the seat. I’ll put it in the glove compartment. Set it on the seat.” She put the pistol on the passenger seat. I could hear her breathing. I came back to the passenger door, leaned in and opened the glove compartment door. I held the bottle of Jim Beam, twisted open the cap, looked behind me in the parking lot to see who was around, faked like I was taking a swig, then leaned in to the car and handed the bottle to Pinkie. “Take a drink, just a little nip, you’ll feel better.” She took the bottle, slugged back a huge swallow and put the twist cap on and the bottle on the console.
“Don’t want this to be a traumatic experience or anything,” I said. “Go ahead and put the pistol back in the glove compartment. Believe me, you don’t want your last experience with a gun to be some memory that stays with you like a mark for the rest of your life. You just hold it by the handle, don’t touch the trigger, point the gun away from both of us, down at the floor, and set it in the glove compartment. I’ll close the door, we’ll drink, and we’ll be good. Simple enough?”
She followed instructions. She was good at that. Fingers wrapped around the wooden grips, she kept the gun pointed down, reached across the center console, and laid it in the glove compartment. Slow, smooth, quiet. I latched the door. Reached out for the pipe, took the Jim Beam and put it between my legs and twisted the cap off, pulled it to my mouth and felt the cool burn on my lips and down my throat. Stuck the cap back on and lifted the pipe to my lips and pulled a sharp puff of smoke down hard, felt the Jim Beam and the medical grade marijuana fueling my foggy lift off and I looked at Pinkie, scooting towards me in her seat, everything tight and smooth and breathless. I sank back in to the seat.
“I think he wanted me to blow him.”
“Dr. Palamino, whatever his fucking name was. That guy in the clinic.”
“I don’t think he’s even a doctor.”
“He said something about ‘orally administered medication’ and he had this grin on his face. Like I’m supposed to drop down and be a research subject or something. Find the prize in his pants, something like that. Can you believe it?”
“Pinkie, that’s the part about being a girl, I think I’d freak. Getting hit on all the time.”
“I had these in junior high,” she said, looking down at the thin line between black and white, no grey area. “Guys didn’t know what was going on, but they liked what they saw. You get used to it.”
“It’s not going to stop.”
“Didn’t say I wanted it to stop. I got ‘em, so be proud, I say. Don’t hog the pipe, man.”
I sucked in a breath, held the pipe over to Pinkie. She gave her lips a little tongue swirl before laying the end of the pipe in there, and I wondered where they learned that shit. How to turn a guy on with some un-rehearsed gesture, some little thing they didn’t even think about, all the hours of makeup sessions and hair salons and close-up time in front of mirrors, it was some little thing that sent a guy over the moon. A birthmark, a hickey on a girl’s neck, a run in her pantyhose, hair all piled up going nowhere and everywhere, like she’d just gotten thrashed in bed and needed to sleep, one missed fingernail out of ten, red-glossed blinking digits—hot buttons in the worst way. Some chick with a couple of extra pounds that somehow all fit perfectly, yet she’s complaining about gym time and diets and dress sizes and all you want to do is squeeze all of it in your palms, polish it, wax it, shine and buff and tell her ‘don’t do a thing, don’t do a thing’, but girls don’t think that way. Guys do.
“Nice stuff,” Pinkie said. I handed her the Jim Beam. She slugged a swallow.
“I need to jump this car.” I need to jump Pinkie’s bones.
“Okay,” she said. Hot glittered nails on ceramic pipe, glowing smoking coals of pot, a 1982 Honda Accord. All hot. Too hot.
The woman at the tie-died RV had changed her cammo T-shirt for a light blue flowered dress, limp and clinging to her sagging frame. But she had cables. I showed Pinkie how to clamp them on both batteries, red to red, black to black, and I fired up the Honda. Pointed to the red cable on the Honda, and Pinkie pulled it off. Then the black, same thing on the old hippie RV, handed the cables back to the woman smiling through missing teeth and the light blue dress ruffled in the breeze. She winked at me. I shot my eyebrows up, my salute to age and experience and the wisdom of the sixties and all that ‘where were you in ’62?’ shit that used to be hip and now seemed pre-Vietnam and Nixonian, all the fucked up crap that bogged us down and put us where we are now, some new politician promising how to fix it with global-protectionism and ‘can’t we all just get along?’ diplomacy. Pinkie grabbed my hand and held on all the way across the sand swept asphalt crunching under our feet, the beach blowing and drifting under whispering palms.
“Gotta stop at my trailer,” I said. “Glad you don’t mind driving. My license is expired. Sort of forgot when my birthday was coming around. Nobody sends cards no more to remind me. Got a guy staying at my place that owes me rent money. Make sure that pipe is cleaned out and covered up. This isn’t the time to get pulled over with no plates and a car full of pot.” She wrapped up the pipe in the tissue from the box under the driver’s seat and handed it to me. I put it in the glove compartment. We pulled out through the Rose Avenue gate and turned down Main street going south.
“Even if it’s medical?” Pinkie said. She had sunglasses on, looked straight ahead, both hands on the steering wheel.
“I don’t want to take any chances. Cops don’t care if you have a prescription or not. Bust you now, ask questions later. LAPD.” We picked up speed past Venice Boulevard, turning east on Washington down to Lincoln Boulevard south. Pinkie drove well, taking each turn, following instructions, exactly as I said. She drove slowly, too, giving me time to think, each step, like numbered diagrams saved to my hard-drive brain. I opened the window, took in some ocean breeze. My head needed to be clear. I’d taken only one real hit on the pipe, just a half-swallow of Jim Beam. Pinkie wanted music so I played with the radio dial until we got something that made her slap her palm against the steering wheel.
“What is that?” I said.
“I don’t know, baby. Just feeling it.” Glittery nails drumming the wheel, she slid one hand down, landed it on my thigh, slid it up and down, letting it rest. Her fingers fluttered on my thigh, her hot buttons making me come alive, five hard nails digging in, letting up, circling around.
“You live down here?” she said. She pulled her hand away, gripped the wheel with two hands and turned the Accord into Dockweiler State Beach.
“Been staying down her for a couple of weeks.”
“Cool.” She pulled to the right, down the back row until I told her where to pull in and park, backing up behind the pickup with the cab-over camper shell. The curtains were drawn on the camper windows. It was parked alone in the back north corner. There wouldn’t be much noise anyone could hear, crashing of waves, the wind picking up.
Pinkie left the engine running, put her hands on the volume and turned up the music. Slapped her palm against the steering wheel, turning to me, the white V swallowed up in the black fabric of the T-shirt, and it wasn’t the innocent move this time. Her hair was clean and straight, her nails bright and glossy, lips pale, leaning forward.
“I need a place to stay for a couple of days,” she said. “Is it real crowded in there?”
“Won’t be after I take care of some business.”
Her fingers rested on my thigh. She led with her best, lips touching mine, fingers squeezing a muscle that had some power but no sign of conscience. We kissed like teenagers in a salty dream, where it fills up and spills over and you can’t help any of it, drawn over the falls like a rubber raft without a rudder, going where it takes you on that wild ride. She was wet and warm and she pulled me in to the fold, into the nest, taking little breaths that sounded like little sighs—you never know—and when we broke away she held me an inch away from her, and whispered.
“Do what you need to do. I’ll be here.” The music had been loud, the song was ending now, the beat fading, and another little beep-beep played on. Pinkie slapped her purse.
“Cell phone,” she said. “Don’t need that, do we?” She pinched my thigh up tight and close, smiled and kissed my cheek.
“I’m going to need some more of that, baby,” I said. She squeezed again, harder, firmer. “I get done here, everything’s going to be good, smooth sailing. Promise. Every doctor will be licensed, everything will be under control. No nonsense.”
I could feel her little breaths now, the ones that sounded like sighs. “Don’t stop all the nonsense,” she said in a whisper, as if she was talking to my eyelids. “Keep a little around, use it sparingly, you know. Like a precious resource.”
“I was right, wasn’t I? Old wounds, heartbreak, the cycle. Swirling around, love desire.”
“Yeah. You had it going. I never believed that stuff, but I just needed to sit down. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t want that hocus pocus. I’ve had lines thrown at me my whole life. Like you were saying a minute ago. But you, you had style, and I was alright with that. You didn’t fight when I busted you.”
“Couldn’t. Shit, couldn’t, with you. Listen, Pinkie. Can I call you Helen?”
Helen. Helen of Troy. She wrapped me in her arms, sequin Baby Dolls rubbing against my chest, launching a thousand ships.
“Sure. Call me Helen.”
“Let me take care of this business. This guy’s on his way out. Sun’s going down, we’ll have the beach all alone. You won’t have to go anywhere. Okay?”
“Okay.” Her eyes were filling up, straight on me. Next to me, between the seat and the door, a golf glove was wrapped in a rubber band. I put my right hand down and moved it under the front of the seat, Helen smiling with those wet eyes.
“One drink?” I said. Helen nodded. I opened the glove compartment, pulled the Jim Beam out, twisted off the cap, handed it to Helen. She took a long pull. I reached for the golf glove, snapped the rubber band off and had it half over my right hand when she handed me the bottle.
“You going to kill that guy?” she said. Her smile was gone.
“What did you say?”
Her hands were in her lap. Then one hand moved up to the radio knob, the car still running, her fingers moving the knob around, turning the volume, up, loud.
My left hand was on the Jim Beam, right hand half-gloved, Pinkie moving her hand to the shift on the console, the car revving in park, Reggae beat click-throbbing.
“Turn that shit down,” I said.
Pinkie didn’t move. She kept her hand on the shift lever, the glove compartment door hanging open. The Colt wasn’t there.
“Where’s the gun,” I said.
“With my fingerprints all over it?” She pressed the gas pedal, the engine roared, the little Honda shaking, the four cylinder doing what it could, holding in place behind the camper shell pickup.
“Hey,” I said. “Okay, let’s work through this. Work with me.” Wind was blowing through the windows, smelling like the sea, driftwood and kelp, forgotten forms of life washed up on shore to die. “It’s not my gun. Belongs to the guy in the camper, okay? I’m helping you here, okay? Trusting each other, right?”
All the smooth tight skin gave way to the cold blue Colt she’d had somewhere, and now it was pointed at me, the bore bigger when you were looking into it, a black hole that could come to life and end mine.
“Hey, hey, hey,” I said. “It’s not loaded.”
The muzzle hardly moved, she just pulled the slide back, released it in one pure motion. “Oh yeah,” she said. “Now it is.”
“Come on, Pinkie.” I leaned towards her, keeping my eyes on hers. “Helen.”
“No, no, stay right there. Don’t move.”
“I’ll fix this thing up,” I pointed to the camper shell pickup in front of the car. “You don’t know anything about this. Believe me. Let me wipe it down. You weren’t even here. You got it all wrong.”
“Manager of two marijuana clinics. Used cars. I was getting kind of hungry when you got to Aretha Franklin and Papa John’s pizza. Now I got the munchies.”
“That part was all true. I didn’t bullshit you, except the fire stuff, the big water, that shit I told you, goddamnit. Fuck, you’re getting rough on me now.”
“Okay, you were charming. I give you that. Me? I’m not so charming. Got thrown out of my house three months ago. I don’t know much about staying alive except I gotta stay true, you know, stay out of shit like this, guys getting me to hold guns. What the fuck kind of scum do you think we are? Huh? Venice Beach, there’s a million chicks going up and down all day, everyday, you think we’re all suckers? Ready for your line of bullshit so they can drop down and kiss your fat ass? Suck your little dick?” Colt barrel had a little jiggle to it, like it was getting nervous.
“This is my camper,” I said. “It’s all I own. Okay? Let me go in there, give him his gun, get what he owes, we hang out and, I don’t know, get to know each other, I guess. You’re right. We both been on the streets too long, and we’re too young for this.”
“No, I’m too old for this. Maybe you’re too young. I got to get on with life. Go on up there, get your money, but you’re not going with this gun. Go on. I’ll wait.”
“You’ll wait here?”
She nodded her head. I pulled the glove tight, opened the door, stepped out and felt the wind right up in my face, hard, thought I could feel those little sighs Pinkie was letting me have, breathless wonder dancing on my blind eyes. The Honda pulled up its windows, stayed where it was, and I heard the beep-beep of Helen’s cell phone, the same time the camper shell door opened.
Two black uniformed LAPD officers jumped out. Big guys.
I heard ‘hands up, turn around, don’t move’ and the black cop, big guy with some cheap aftershave that cut the salt air, wrapped the cuffs around my wrists and turned me around so my back was against the steel wall of the camper and read me the rights.
“Seth McAllister. Possession of narcotics,” the black one said. “For sale or distribution, un-registered firearm, stolen vehicle.”
Pinkie was talking in the cell phone. I could see her through the windshield. The big cop went up in the camper and came back with a folding camp chair. Green canvas stretched between folding black tubes of steel. He motioned to me to sit.
“Gonna be here a while,” he said. Pinkie was looking at me through the windshield. She wasn’t holding the cell phone.
“You know her?” One of the cops pointed at the Honda.
“Met her today,” I said. Everything can and will be used against you.
The Honda revved up, cranked into gear, scratched up some sand when Pinkie gave it gas, and it rolled fast out of the parking space and down the asphalt to the Dockweiler State Beach entrance, and then it was gone.
“Know her name?” the cop said.
I shook my head.