Hello my angels, the days are flying by and on Monday I have a very big day, book-wise. So I’ll leave you with this savory morsel over the weekend and reappear next week to let you know what happened…
An excerpt from: It’s in His Kiss, by Vickie Lester
I’LL BUILD A STAIRWAY TO PARADISE
Anne pulled up to her father’s house on Crescent Drive, her mind teeming with thoughts of Becky who now seemed like a clone of him, or worse, his spiritual daughter, molded in his fierce potty-mouthed image and somehow capable of stirring up feelings of sibling rivalry never caused by her own sister. She was trying to calm herself when she noticed a Town Car idling at the curb…
“I’m Fal Loa. Mr. Starkey’s driver.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Loa.”
“I have Mr. Starkey in the car, and he was wondering if you would accept an invitation to his home.”
“Yes,” Fal Loa turned a little to the side so Anne could see past him. Through the car’s back window she could see Starkey; he appeared to be nodding off.
Stoned or narcoleptic, thought Anne… She raised her keys and pointed to the front door of the house. “Wouldn’t you just like to come in?” She wondered how much Mr. Loa was paid to baby-sit Mr. Starkey.
“That’s very kind, but Mr. Starkey doesn’t like to impose.”
This was all becoming a bit too Sunset Boulevard for Anne. “I see. When would Mr. Starkey like me to come over?”
“Now would be fine.”
“Well, where?” She paused; she wanted more than anything to go inside, take a shower, sit at the kitchen table, and look out into the backyard, where the first spring flowers were blooming. She just wanted time to herself, time to reflect. “I guess I could follow you in my car.” She was driving a car of her father’s, a fifteen-year-old gas-guzzling Benz that she couldn’t help associating with a particular kind of stodgy affluent conservative, for which reason she hated to be seen driving it. But whether she liked it or not, some of L.A.’s car culture was written into her genetic code.
“I’d be happy to drive you and bring you back. It’s no trouble, Miss Brown.”
She considered asking them to wait while she told her father where she was going, when Cole Starkey roused himself and leaned out the window. “Annie dear, it’s just four blocks,” he said, waving his hand in an indeterminate direction and jabbing the air with an unlit cigarette, “And, heaven knows, I don’t bite.” It was the first time Anne had really heard him talk… She recognized the voice, it was Cliff’s, but more ragged and with a very slight, decidedly not posh, English accent. Her response was purely visceral but she found his voice sad, soothing, and compelling. Perhaps it was this that caused her to climb into the back of the car next to him. Fal Loa put the car in gear and they cruised up the street.
Starkey was dressed in several layers, black T-shirt under a blue button-down cotton shirt, under a Savile Row tailored jacket, jeans, and high-top Converse sneakers. Even so, it failed to bulk out his long, angular frame, and he looked chilled to the bone. One of his elbows was clutched in tight to his body, and the hand brandishing the cigarette was thrust up in the air in a peculiar fashion like the forelimb of a T. rex. To Anne’s surprise, his other hand appeared as if from nowhere and tipped her glasses so they cleared the bridge of her nose and bumped up against her eyebrows. This happened so quickly she didn’t have time to register annoyance, or even feel any. “Vous êtes ravissante,” he pronounced. He squinted at her critically and continued, “Why would a girl such as you insist on wearing those ridiculous things?”
“Contacts irritate my eyes.”
“Hmph,” he said in disbelief and added, “that’s likely.”
Anne caught Mr. Loa’s eye in the rearview mirror. He shrugged minutely. “I just got back from the police station.”
“I know y’did!” Starkey interrupted, rocking forward from the waist, eyes wide. “Exactly why I wanted to see you. Those fuckin’ morons, those arses, say my boy was taking drugs. Ha!” He barked a laugh devoid of amusement and continued rocking.
“You don’t believe it?”
Starkey lit his cigarette and pulled the smoke deep into his lungs, opened his window and exhaled into the twilight. “Believe it? Believe. I—fer fuck’s sake—know that’s the biggest bunch of bullshit since Nixon said he was not a crook!” Starkey was getting so agitated now that he seemed to be suffering some kind of minor seizure, unconsciously juddering his glowing cigarette up and down so much that Anne had to stop herself from flinching. “Clifford takin’ drugs! CLIFF? Do you know what my self-righteous son of blessed memory, my self-righteous son, he of the completely unaltered states, did to me because of my indulgences?”
“No, sir,” Anne replied.
“Don’t call me sir!” he fumed. Anne said nothing. She didn’t want to trigger another explosion. Starkey flicked the cigarette out the window then took Anne’s small, graceful hands in his large, bony paws. He was long-fingered, with octave-spanning hands like his son; his skin was dry and papery, his grip light and almost fragile. “He had me committed! Twice! Thrown into the psych ward. Under lock and key for seventy-two hours with the white coats hemming and hawing about my destructive tendencies.” He let go and leaned back into his seat with a tremor of spent energy.
Starkey waved her apology away as if he were batting at an insect. “No, dear. No apologies needed. What I’m meaning to tell you, what I’m trying to tell you is my boy didn’t favor the pills, or the needles, or the powders. He didn’t. It’s preposterous.”
“Excuse me, s—”
“Don’t say it!”
“I, I’m sorry. Are you saying the police, that the blood tests are incorrect?”
“Blood tests? I don’t care about the bloody blood tests! What I’m saying, what I’m telling you is that I know my boy’s habits,” he paused briefly, “and taking meth and Viagra wasn’t among them.” The Town Car turned up a long drive and stopped in front of an overwrought half-timbered Tudor. He nodded toward the house. “Behold, my humble fucking abode. Come on.”
“It was only four blocks.”
“I’ve said so, didn’t I?” He patted his hands against his jacket frantically, like he’d lost something. He removed a pack of cigarettes from his pocket with trembling hands, withdrew a cigarette, found a Dunhill lighter in his other pocket, and lit up. Starkey sucked in prodigiously as an ember fell from the cigarette’s tip onto his lapel, where it began to smolder; he didn’t notice. His expression, wreathed in a gray mist as he exhaled, indicated to Anne that he was somewhere else entirely.
“You set yourself on f—”
Starkey cringed, a look of pure astonishment on his face. “God fucking Christ! That’s it! Set myself aflame. What next?” For all his histrionics, he was still smoldering. Anne slapped the ember out. “Bloody fucking marvelous… Fal, you may take the child locks off the doors now. At least one of us has retained their sensibilities.” Starkey stared at hisstill-burning cigarette and dropped it, then ground it into the floor of the Town Car. Mr. Loa hefted himself out of the car and opened Anne’s door for her while Mr. Starkey darted to the house as if avoiding being photographed. Anne, baffled and bemused, followed, and Fal Loa drove the car around to the garage.
Anne stepped under a carved stone lintel and into the home’s soaring, groin-vaulted, churchlike entryway, where she continued to pursue this strange gentleman down three wide stairs to a cavern of a room with two fireplaces, three enormous if tattered Persian rugs, and four not insignificantly large couches scattered with throws and pillows, books and newspapers, vinyl albums in worn covers and CDs—some in plastic jewel cases, others loose—envelopes festooned with indecipherable scribbles and similarly inscribed paper napkins, and pack upon pack of cigarettes. She gingerly elbowed a pillow aside, revealing clustered cigarette burns in the couch’s upholstery and a handful of vividly colored capsules and pills wedged in the seam between the back of the couch and the seat cushion. Starkey rummaged through the crumpled packs in hopeful search of an undamaged smoke. Having found one that wasn’t crushed or snapped in two, he first offered the cigarette to Anne, and when she declined, he placed it between his lips and didn’t apply a match. “Oral fixation, one of my lesser vices. At least the contentious bitch…” he noted Anne’s puzzled expression… “The Contentious Bitch, alias my-soon- to-be ex-wife, at least she got me to stop lighting up. Well, she had until recent events, but I do try. Not that it’s worth half my estate. Where were we?”
“You were talking about Cliff and drugs.”
“Of course we were. That’s right. Now, I’ve heard of mixing Viagra and ecstasy — Sextasy—it’s real popular, and I, for one, find much to recommend in it—but Viagra and Ritalin? Ritalin? A drug you give amped-up kids to calm the little bastards down? Nah. The drug of choice would be methamphetamine. Viagra and meth. Whatever, it’s a club thing, and it’s not Cliff.
Anne fixed on his last statement. “Not Cliff, the club thing? Or, not Cliff, the drug thing?”
“Take your pick, sweetheart. Take your pick.” He jerked upright, suddenly possessed by an imperative urge, immediately Anne was reminded of his son. “Now. There’s something you have to see. This way!” He led her down a coffered-ceilinged hallway to a library that instead of books shelved innumerable CDs and obscure LPs then through a door out onto an emerald expanse of lawn to a building with a six-car garage below and a chauffeur’s apartment above. Fal Loa stood, sentry-like, outside his apartment’s door at the top of a stairwell, as if this was his natural position.
“Fal, who has the keys to the Ferrari?” Fal Loa’s face remained impassive but Anne detected the slightest ironic flicker in his expression as he started down the stairs and dug in his pocket retrieving a set of keys, which he then handed wordlessly to Starkey. Without any further comment Loa rolled open one of the coach-style garage doors. Once the garage was opened, Starkey stepped into the gloom and leaned—arms folded on his chest, cigarette dangling from his fingers—against the gleaming car within. “Police brought it back this morning.” He tossed the keys in the air. “Look sharp!” Anne caught them. “It’s yours now.”
Anne stared. “I beg your pardon? I, we, we only—”
“A word of caution, love. It handles like a rocket. So be careful, right?”
Anne held the keys out at arm’s length. “Sir, I can’t accept this; it isn’t mine and…”
He clamped his hands over his ears and made a face as if someone had sounded a car horn in the middle of an aria. “Sir? Sir!”
“Mr. Starkey, this is not my car. Your son, I, we just met, and—”
“Yes, you just met. And. Plenty of and...
© Vickie Lester and Beguiling Books, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (text) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vickie Lester and Beguiling Books with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.