An excerpt from “It’s in His Kiss” by Vickie Lester
One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)
Anne found her comfort zone in her pajamas, sitting in her father’s kitchen watching him make dinner, which on this evening was chopped grapefruit and oranges and mango, pancakes, and sausage. Breakfast, nothing could be more perfect, plus another glass of milk. She couldn’t get enough. Anne knew she was in a regressive state, but after the day she’d had, what she was beginning to think of as a near-death experience, and long conversations with the following: a former ballet dancer that ran a fastidious sex club, a tight-lipped detective, a mother in deep denial, and a weepy unrequited screenwriter, she felt in need of a little coddling. Or the kind of coddling her father was capable of: he didn’t interpret or question events; he dealt with them, often with an acerbic tongue, but in the meantime his was a business-as-usual approach. As Bob Brown flipped pancakes, she went to the refrigerator and got out a bottle of maple syrup and a stick of butter, then she set the table and made her father a pot of decaf.
Her father plated the food and they sat. Neither had said a word in a very long time.
“Hey, champ. Why so quiet?” asked Bob.
“Daddy? What do you think of Steve Nelson?”
“He’s an agreeable guy. Interior designer or something.”
“Uncle Manny thinks he’s gay.”
“Honey, Uncle Manny thinks everybody’s gay. You know? And what goes on in other people’s bedrooms has never been any of my business. It’s simply not my business. Lemme heat up the syrup.” Bob stood up and popped open the microwave.
Anne pondered this statement while studying her father’s back. He was wearing a navy sweater vest over a tan cotton shirt. Who wore sweater vests besides her father?
“If Steve Nelson knew something incriminating about somebody, do you think he’d tell the police?”
“Jesus H. Christ,” groused her father as he poured syrup over both their plates. “I don’t know, kiddo. Did you talk to the police today? Oh, that’s right. You did, and then I did,” he glowered.
“I’m sorry, Dad. Did you talk to Detective Vasquez?”
“Don’t ‘sorry’ me, young lady. I talked to somebody I know here in Beverly Hills. You’re knee-deep in this shit already. Could you dial it back a little?”
Anne was about to insist that being chased down by a madman had nothing to do with her dialing anybody, when her train of thought was derailed by the chiming of bells, in the style of a miniature Big Ben. Her father continued to bluster, “What the hell!” He slammed the syrup down on the table. The hell was, in fact, the front doorbell and Beverly Hills was not a neighborhood where people dropped by. He made his way, grumbling, to the front door with Anne trailing behind. Bob Brown’s low-tech surveillance system consisted of a small hatch behind an iron grille through which he could peer at his visitors. Opening the hatch, he muttered so Anne could barely make it out, “Goddamn cocksucking bastard,” then opened the door with a grand smile, “Cole!”
Cole Starkey stood at the threshold, a bottle of Oban Scotch thrust out before him. “Hello, Bob. This is for you. I was wondering if…” Anne stepped into view. “Oh, there you are!”
Bob took the bottle from Cole and said grudgingly, “Yes. Here she is. Come in.”
Cole stepped inside and glanced around. Pop Art hanging from the walls, shining hardwood mahogany at his feet, he commented, “I always coveted your Warhol; didn’t it used to be…”
“In my study. Yup. We were just having supper. Why don’t you come into the kitchen?”
Cole noticed Anne’s bare feet and striped flannel pajamas. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was so late.”
“It’s not late,” said Bob. “You like pancakes?” He asked almost accusingly then without waiting for a reply, stated, “Well. That’s what we’re having.” He turned and walked into the kitchen. Cole and Anne followed.
At the table, Anne ate a cold stack of pancakes then refilled her plate with a fresh stack that was warming in the oven. Carbohydrates made her feel friendly and relaxed. Cole declined breakfast-for-dinner but Bob poured a generous splash of scotch for them both. Cole warmed his tumbler between his hands. Anne chewed. Bob eyed Cole over the rim of his tumbler as he sipped the smoky beverage and let it warm his throat.
Cole raised his tumbler to them both. “Yes. Well. Cheers!” Anne clinked her glass of milk against his and then her father’s.
“Didn’t see your car in the driveway, Cole,” said Bob. “You walk?”
“You’re always getting lonesome-loaded. Thought you had a driver since you wrapped that bathtub Porsche around a tree last year.”
“I have a driver for my convenience. Funny thing is, I often find it more convenient just to drive myself. For instance, when I picked up this scotch over at that new Pavilions on Santa Monica, it was so much easier to slip in and out without that great, hulking fellah dogging my every step. And who do you suppose was in front of me at the checkout but Ben Haber and another shockingly pretty-boy actor…can’t remember his name. Such serendipity.” At the mention of Ben, Anne set down her fork. She tried to visualize the driver of the Escalade. He was big, in shirtsleeves, not a trendy young actor just out of puberty. “And they had the oddest assortment of things, not in a cart, but in one of those little red handbaskets: wine coolers, a pack of disposable razors, and two white tapers, you know, candles, two white candles. Doesn’t leave much to the imagination, does it?”
Bob took another swallow of scotch. “Your convenience or court order?” he asked gruffly.
Cole smiled indulgently. “Sorry, what? I didn’t catch that, Bobbo; all these years catching too many decibels played havoc with the old lugholes. Never mind, it doesn’t matter. Don’t you worry about me, Mr. Bob. You and I are about to become grandfathers,” he raised his glass again. “To Anne and our first grandchild.”
Not exactly fighting words. But before Anne and Cole had a chance to react, Bob Brown was up like lightning, knocking his chair back, flipping it onto the floor with a resounding crack! With one hand he took Cole’s tumbler of scotch and hurled it across the room, where it exploded against the black-and-white tiles in a shower of liquid gold and glinting glass; with the other he grabbed Cole by the scruff of his neck (something Anne had never seen happen to a human being, as opposed to, say, a cat) and slammed his head with a thud, cheek first, against the kitchen table, and pinned him there.
Cole stared up at Bob with one baleful eye and said out of the corner of his mouth with as much aplomb as a squashed face could allow, “Don’t tell me you don’t feel old enough to be a grandfather.”
Bob leaned in close and replied so quietly Anne had to strain to hear. “My daughter. Always, my daughter. If I see one lawyer, receive one writ of inquiry, get one phone call implying anything to the contrary, my happy shining face will be the last you ever see. We clear on that? Are we clear?”
“And furthermore—if you ever want to see this baby without serious supervision—you’ll be going cold turkey. I’ve known you for the better part of forty years and for at least twenty you’ve been in an addlepated, drugged-out haze, and I’m not havin’ it. You understand? I. Will. Not. Have. It. Not around my daughter. Not around my grandchild.”
Bob tightened his grip on Cole’s neck. “I’m gonna let you in on something eighty years of experience have taught me. For the better part, whatever the circumstances were that led you here in this life, whatever the past was, and whatever excuses you can come up with—this is it. This is a philosophy you can live by: Nobody cares, you have to get over it, and grow a pair.” With that, Bob released his hold. Cole sat up rubbing his jaw. Anne looked from one to the other and realized why one had lost a recording empire and the other had exerted his authority for more years than she’d been alive. Again, Anne’s mind was swirling. We are such stuff as dreams… She made a slight course correction—we are such stuff as studio heads are made on.
She pondered applying her father’s philosophy to her own life and found it doable—except growing a pair—and decided not to sweat it. Furthermore, her inclination, should somebody have smacked her head against a table, would have been physical and retaliatory. Did Cole carry guns, or did he just tinker with them? Were Shamari and Keir’s stories based on fact or were they just Hollywood rumors? Recording tycoon rebuilds Berettas to mend broken heart? Cole seemed completely nonchalant. He must have had more residual medication calming his nervous system than even she would ever have thought possible. Bob righted his chair and sat down. Cole, seemingly unflustered, observed, “Ah, family night at the Brown’s.”
“Get used to it,” snapped Bob.
“I intend to,” answered Cole. “Coffee?”
Anne watched Cole walk to the coffeepot. He reminded her of an egret, tall and thin and showy and a little wobbly. She wasn’t fazed by her father’s anger; it was something she’d witnessed her entire life, never directed at her—always lambasting someone else, usually a colleague, one of his vice presidents, or a troublesome director. “That boy is a wart on the rear end of progress,” was a description she particularly enjoyed, or this summation of the efforts of an unloved screenwriter: “A million chimpanzees typing for a thousand years couldn’t come up with anything as putrid and shitty as this—unless they were typing with their asses.” She did wonder how Cole managed to be so indifferent to Bob’s volcanic temper. Maybe they had related to each other in this fashion for as long as they’d known each other. Her assumption was they’d once been friends; they had that familiarity, although they were obviously estranged. She’d have to ask…
© It’s in His Kiss by Vickie Lester
One of my very favorite scenes in a truly excellent book…
I owe you an email, we’re having a cold snap—temperature: seventy degrees 😉 .
“(L)onesome-loaded”, I like that phrase! “(A) million chimpanzees…couldn’t come up with something as putrid and shitty as this…unless they were typing with their asses” Bwahahaha! Bob Brown and Cole Starkey’s vocab is killingly funny. Well done, Vickie!
I was raised by curmudgeons, and then what do I do? But write about curmudgeons. And for the record “lonesome loaded” I stole for the great and much esteemed director, William A. Wellman.
Great kitchen! (Is that tile on the CEILING?)
Oh yes, and great excerpt, too! 🙂
Yes, tile on the ceiling! They did it a lot in the 1930s. And merci beaucoup 🙂 !
Well, Vickie, they (whoever “they” are) do say “write what you know”! And another quotation that seems apt is “talent borrows, genius steals”, Ms Genius. *winks* Bob and Cole are very entertaining and their hearts are – for the most part – in the right place, at least when it comes to their children.
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