I’LL BUILD A STAIRWAY TO PARADISE
…“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. If you’re concerned, I know he didn’t die in it, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m sure we’ll have all kinds of things to sort out later; just take the car now.”
Anne drew in a breath deeply and centered herself. “Mr. Starkey, I can’t accept this car, and I would like—I need you to clarify what kind of things we have to sort out.”
“You were with Cliff all weekend; he told me so, Annie. Was he taking drugs?”
“Well, that’s something that needs sorting out, don’t you think? I mean… You were there, you say Cliff wasn’t on anything and yet…”
“Fuck me! If you aren’t the most formal little thing?”
“Now, don’t shrink up like that. My son loved you. He told me so. Fit to light up the world, he was. So excited.”
Anne’s breath seared her throat and she felt a strange sensation in her chest, as if something was clutching her heart.
“So excited, so elated, and then… Hey, presto! He’s dead. And you can be abso-lute-ly sure that one of those others who was there with you, out in that fucking desert, knows the whys and wherefores. You can bet on it!” This time the more agitated in speech he got, the more focused and still became his demeanor; his limbs had stopped their constant motion, his gaze locked on Anne. “Christ! I need a Xanax. Do you want one?”
“No, thank you.” Anne was mortified to realize her cheeks were wet with tears and her jaw was trembling. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…” She shook her head and wiped her eyes.
Cole reared back like a falcon settling on its perch as he saw her distress. He paused. His head bobbed slightly from side to side, increasing the avian resemblance, then he swooped forward, enfolded her in his arms and cradled her head to his narrow breast with one huge yet kindly hand. “Shh. Shh. Baby girl. Don’t cry, sweetheart, don’t cry. There now, it’s all right. There.”
Anne squeezed her eyes shut until all she saw was black, all she smelled was French milled soap, burnt lapel, and a whiff of tobacco; all she heard was a consoling murmur so much like Cliff’s; and abruptly she stopped crying, as swiftly as silence seems to fall in a forest after a single gunshot…
Looks like Nighy has been crossed with Eastwood!
I love this book – it hits ALL the right notes!
Love all the British lead up posts to this post. 🙂
I have waited too long to tell you that I thought your book was fantastic. You have quite a voice, which you should share by writing another book. I broke down and bought it on kindle when I read that some hackers had wronged you. I have had no regrets. I also enjoy your blog, the pictures are amazing.
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