Somebody is Killing
the Trophy Wives
of Beverly Hills
Copyright © 2012 by John Kane, all rights reserved.
No portion of this novel may be duplicated, transmitted, or stored in any form without the express written permission of the author.
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and locations are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people is coincidental.
“A woman who does not wear perfume has no future.”
“Big girls need big diamonds.”
People say if life hands you lemons, make lemonade. I say if life hands you olives, make a dirty martini. If you’re given an opportunity, make the most of it. Don’t just stick that olive on a toothpick and use it as an appetizer. Surround it with some top shelf gin, a splash of olive juice, then sit back, relax, and start sipping.
I’m Nikki Tyler and if you don’t know me, then you must not have taken a plane lately. After all, my books are in every airport in America, right next to the Cinnabuns. In fact, I like to think of my books as literary Cinnabuns, fast food treats pumped up with melodrama and drizzled with a thick icing of sex. They may not be good for you, but they’re hard to resist and perfect for a direct flight from Dallas to New York. Reviewing my last book, “The Girl from Oz,” the totally fictional account of a young Australian actress who marries an American superstar, divorces him over a cult religion, and then finds happiness in the arms of hunky country singer, People Magazine referred to me as “the Jane Austen of the orgasm.”
Like everyone else in this town, I started out as an actress, but you really can’t earn yourself much more than a condo in West Hollywood when you’re doing direct to video thrillers like Top Gun Nurses and Blood Orgy. So I went into writing about ten years ago, just when the marriage went kaput, and I’m not bashful about saying that I’ve done quite well for myself.
I write about Hollywood because it’s where I live and it’s what I know. Besides, everybody wants to know about Hollywood, so if you’re selling that, and sex, you’ve got an audience. Right now I’m slaving away on “Malibu Bad Boy,” the story of an aging action star who ditches his wife, joins an anti-Semitic cult of Holocaust deniers, and then sees the light when he falls in love with a gorgeous Israeli secret agent. Ever wonder where I get my ideas from? (Hey, I make ‘em up!)
I’d been working all morning on my big love scene, the first time the hero and the secret agent go to bed, and had just tapped out the following on my trusty old computer: “He entered her softly, thrusting into her and then holding still, his member swelling inside her like a hungry python devouring its prey in one greedy gulp.”
“That’s it!” I whooped.
“That’s what?” inquired my assistant Madison who’s all of twenty three, fresh out of Dartmouth and determined to make it in publishing. When Madison’s not working for me, she freelances as a correspondent for TMZ, everyone’s favorite gossip website.
“I just did it,” I said. “Pulled off another of my killer sentences.” I love it when it just flows out of me and I see it on the page and know that my readers are going to eat it up with a spoon.
“Let’s see.” Madison walked over from her desk where she was updating my web site and peered over my shoulder.
“What do you think?”
“Joan Didion is slitting her wrists as we speak.”
That’s what I love about Madison. She doesn’t take my stuff any more seriously than I do. It’s entertainment, it’s fun, and nobody’s getting hurt.
“I’m celebrating.” I got up from my chair and grabbed my keys and my purse.
“But Lynn wants to see some pages by the end of the week.” Lynn is my editor back in New York, has been ever since I started writing, and I love her. But even she knows a writer needs a break. I’d been in front of the computer all morning and now I wanted lunch. A nice lunch.
“If she calls, tell her I’ll be back by three.”
“What if she wants to see something?” persisted Madison. These college girls, no sense of humor.
“Send her some pages. Write them yourself!” I grabbed my bag, my Ray Bans and was out the door and into my gold Bentley in a flash. Around noon, it just about directs itself automatically to the Polo Lounge, always my definition of a good lunch and just a few blocks away from my place.
I swung up the driveway of the Beverly Hills Hotel, valeted my car—there’s a Los Angeles verb for you—and walked into the lobby. I love the Beverly Hills; it’s plush and cozy and old Hollywood. You feel safe there.
I always sit outside on the terrace. It’s lovely and private, white wrought iron furniture and fresh flowers on every table. Makes you feel like you’re in the South of France. On my way through the indoor dining room I saw Dr. Phil at one table and Jack Black at another. And, sitting in a corner, looking elusive, Mr. Old Hollywood himself, Warren Beatty. There were also some Middle Eastern women, courtesy of all the Saudi money that had come into Beverly Hills in the late eighties. Like the characters in my books, the ladies were all thinly veiled.
Sitting at a center table on the patio was Joel Osmond, whose only relation to Marie was that Nutri System hadn’t worked that well for him either. But for sixty plus, Joel was looking pretty good, black turtleneck, Armani jacket and all his thick silver hair slicked back. Joel and I go all the way back to the late eighties when he produced some of the truly tacky movies I appeared in. He’s moved up since then; his most recent film, Astro Man: Salvation of the Universe was the second highest grossing film of last year. Joel got his start in show business as a magician in the Bronx; now he can afford to have lunch every day at the Polo Lounge.
“Nikki,” he said. “Join us.” I noticed he was sitting with his daughter Chloe, always a bit of a problem. Bone thin, her hair wrapped in a Jesse Kamm scarf, Chloe had that sullen look you see on angry young women and hungry Chihuahuas. She’d been daddy’s little girl all her life, which had led inevitably to her feeling entitled. Young women in Beverly Hills spoil faster than avocados.
“Joel,” I cried, giving him a hug, “you look wonderful. But I just popped in for a bite. Don’t want to disturb you.”
“I’m leaving soon,” announced Chloe. “I have to get back to the shop.” Joel had put up the money for a boutique on Robertson that Chloe ran; it carried a bunch of overpriced rags by designers I’d never heard of. It wasn’t really a serious business; more of a ploy by Joel to keep Chloe off drugs, which she’d had a long relationship with during her adolescence. In a fit of inspiration, she’d named the place Chlothes.
“Okay.” I slipped into the seat next to Joel. “I love those,” I said, noticing the gold hoop earrings Chloe was wearing. A small brass monkey hung from each hoop. They actually were pretty jazzy looking.
“Thanks. Just got them in at the store. Drop by and try on a pair.”
“She can use the business,” added Joel.
I no sooner sat down than the waiter, Javier, was at my side. “What can I get you today, Miss Tyler?”
“I’ll have the McCarthy Salad and some passion fruit ice tea. But I want the dressing on the side.”
“You never change,” he said.
Why should I? The McCarthy salad is the best thing on the menu at the Polo Lounge and, in fact, it’s the best salad I’ve ever eaten. I mean, it’s so good, it doesn’t even taste like salad. It’s just a Cobb salad, but like everything at the Polo Lounge, it’s the way they do it. The lettuce is crisp, the chicken freshly broiled, there’s wonderful cheddar cheese, and, for a bit of surprise, some chopped beets. I always order the McCarthy salad.
Trying for a good start, I leaned over to Joel and said, “I Netflixed Astro Man last week and I adored it. Just adored it.”
“Daddy makes movies for the unwashed masses,” said Chloe, pushing the food on her plate around like a reluctant seven year old. Borderline anorexia is a hard master.
Joel reached over and patted her hand affectionately. “Those masses help keep me afloat.” He loved her; I had to give him that.
“I wish they could help keep me afloat,” Chloe sulked. Joel did his best to ignore her, so she turned to me. “Angelina Jolie came in to the store last week.”
“What did she buy, a new child?” I asked. That at least got her to smile.
“And so did Leonardo Di Caprio,” she continued.
“Chloe gets all the stars,” Joel said proudly.
“I always thought I could have had something with Leo,” she murmured, her eyes misting over ever so slightly. Somewhere in the distance, I heard the Titanic slowly splitting in two and sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic.
“He’s too old for you, sweetheart,” said Joel. “You need a guy your age.”
“You mean, like the women you marry?” she shot back.
It was no secret that Chloe hated Joel’s second wife, Tamara. I never thought it was because Joel divorced her mother, Beverly, for Tamara; more because Chloe felt she had been supplanted. When Beverly and Joel had been married, Chloe was daddy’s little girl. That changed when he married Tamara.
The odd thing was, though, that Joel and Tamara had divorced earlier this year. So why was Chloe still bearing a grudge? I couldn’t tell by looking at Joel. A producer is a master of pretense; Joel smiled tightly as if his daughter’s bitchy remark meant nothing to him.
“Ugh!” Chloe exclaimed, taking a bite of her food and dropping her fork on the table. “This tastes fishy.”
“That’s because it’s tilapia,” replied Joel.
Watch out for the salmon, sweetheart, I thought. It’s got fins too.
“I need to get back,” she said, jumping out of her chair. “Thanks for lunch, Daddy.”
If Joel was hurt, he hid it under his smile. “I love you, Chloe.”
“Me too.” She gave him a hug and she was gone.
“She’s looking good,” I said, trying to apply the gloss.
“It’s the heroin.”
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding.” He waved his hand in the air. “She hasn’t done it for two years now. I’m very proud of her. God knows I’ve practically underwritten her entire store. She’s angry with me now because I won’t give her more money for it. I just don’t understand why she has to knock Tamara all the time. She knows how much it hurts me.”
Joel, Chloe and Tamara all lived in the same household; Tamara in the main house along with Chloe, who had refused to give up her bedroom, and Joel in the pool house in the rear. He was looking for his own place, but not very hard. Wanted to stay close to Tamara, I figured.
“Still carrying the torch?”
Joel stared off into the distance, at the beautiful green lawn that stretched before us, and ignored my question. A man who makes his living as a film producer is not accustomed to telling the truth. He’s more likely to feel comfortable shading things to his advantage. A white lie here, an exaggeration there, whatever it takes to make things go his way. Producing movies, like politics, is the art of the possible.
But Joel must have been feeling uncommonly vulnerable today, because he pulled off his reading glasses, rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. “I think about her all the time, Nikki.”
He looked so vulnerable. I reached out and squeezed his hand. “Oh Joel, that’s so sweet. You really loved her.”
“Yeah, I did. And she loved me. Until she went crazy this winter and decided to restart her entire life.”
Joel and Tamara had met on the set of one of his late 90s epics, “Galaxy Match,” a sci-fi thriller about a wrestling match between an astronaut and an alien. Sylvester Stallone and Mickey Rourke starred in that bit of celluloid immortality; no fair asking which one played the alien. Tamara had a small role as a “space maiden,” and spent most of the picture running around in a Mylar bikini. Perfect role for the sweet, spacey blond that was Tamara. Joel fell hard for her. We all thought it was just another mid-life fling, and Beverly, with no pre-nup and the California community property laws that guarantee a wife half her husband’s fortune after ten years of marriage, hung tough waiting for Joel to come home. But he never did. I had managed to stay friendly with both Beverly and Tamara, something of prerequisite for living in this community
Joel just looked so sad. “Oh come on, there are lots of other fish in the sea,” I said. “It’s not all tilapia.” That brought a smile. And Javier brought my McCarthy salad, a big, gorgeous green mountain that I dove right into.
“We ought to make a film together again,” he said.
“Oh Joel, please. There are enough problems in the world!”
Remember it? I’d been trying to forget “Bathsheba, Queen of Blood” for close to two decades now. Demi Moore, right before she hit it big in the Brat Pack, played an ancient lady vampire mistakenly brought back to life by Andrew McCarthy, courtesy of one of those ancient curses that only happen in movies this bad. I played one of Demi’s hand maidens, not unlike the space maiden Tamara had played, and the two of us feasted on blood until midway through the picture when Gary Busey slammed a stake through my heart. Roger Ebert actually mentioned me in his notice, but only, I’m sure, because I bared my breasts in the blood sucking scenes. Sadly, “Bathsheba” turns up fairly regularly on AMC.
“Well, I guess you are doing fairly well with the writing,” he said.
“I hit twenty million copies this year,” I said proudly. “And that’s not counting the audio cassettes.” Demi, who’s a sweetheart and still a friend, had been nice enough to record a few of the audio versions of my books.
“So, since you’re so successful, maybe you can give me some advice.” Instantly, I sensed a change in the air. Joel the producer, the shaper of the truth, the master manipulator, was back on the scene.
“What would that be?” I asked cautiously.
“Oh, I just thought maybe you could offer some advice to a friend of mine. She’s been toying with a book.” He was oh so casual, which made my guard go up even higher.
“Toying? Writing is hard work. It’s not toying.”
“Well of course not. Who would know that better than you? I just thought you could offer some guidance to a first time author.”
“Who is she, Joel?” I said, having finished my salad.
* * * *
Tamara’s book arrived the next morning by messenger from Joel’s office. I looked at the title page. Revenge of the Trophy Wives. Then I looked at the first sentence: “Rain fell on Beverly Hills as twenty year old Amber Biscotti opened her blouse, bared her breasts, and let God’s tears wash over her.”
Skimming through the first few pages it was clear that Tamara had written a book about all the trout-lipped ladies in town who are addicted to trying to inject their age away. Botox for the forehead, Collagen for the lips, Juvederm for the wrinkles around the eyes. Sometimes Beverly Hills seems like Shangri-La with a Platinum Visa card.
It amazes me what the women out here will put in their faces. Everybody wants to have a face as smooth as a baby’s bottom, so what you wind up with are a whole lot of forty-five-year-old babies. Some of the ladies you see shopping on Rodeo Drive have been spackled into place, their faces are like retaining walls. And what are they trying to retain? Age? Good luck, darlings.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not crazy about aging either, especially since I’m in the public eye courtesy of television talk shows and book tours. And I am, well, over forty. There, I said it! But I don’t want to turn my face into a pincushion. My solution? Make up! It worked for the Egyptians, and it’s working for me. And as for my actual age, if anybody asks I just say I remember the Beatles but I’ve forgotten The Knack. That usually covers it.
I put Tamara’s book aside and returned to mine. Sometimes writing is easier than reading. I’d been at it for two hours when I finally hit save on the computer and turned to Madison.
“I think I’ve earned a snack,” I said. “There are some Little Debbie Cakes in the pantry.”
“You finished the love scene?”
“Well, you finished it. And very well too. I read what you wrote this morning, before you got here.”
Madison blushed. “You said I could take a crack at it yesterday. I just kind of made some notes.’
“And they were very good ones. You understood the characters and brought their scene to a fitting resolution. You have talent, Madison.”
She blushed again and headed into the kitchen. Madison was a good kid and I loved helping her out. I should have been as smart as she is when I was her age, instead of running around falling out of my halter in vampire movies and marrying a rock star. But that is a whole other story. Madison came back from the kitchen holding an apple.
“Where are my Little Debbie Cakes?” I demanded.
“When you came back from the last book tour you told me you wanted to lose ten pounds.”
“Well, yes. But I don’t want to have to diet to do it!”
Madison held out the apple. “This is one hundred calories.”
“One hundred calories I’m never going to enjoy. I’ve been writing all morning!”
“Do you want to look heavy when you go on Charlie Rose?”
“Well then?” The apple danced before my eyes.
“I’ve got a better idea,” I replied. “If I can’t eat, I’ll shop. I’m going to Barneys.” Barneys is one of the best stores in Beverly Hills, and if you shop it correctly, it can help your diet. By which I mean, an apple will help you lose weight, but I have a secret: Blazers!
That’s right. A good blazer, black satin, cut on a bias, roomy at the waist, hangs over the hips, does a woman a world of good. Button it up and no one can see last night’s éclairs. Which frees you up until you can get to the gym, or whatever form of torture you favor. For me it’s usually a month with a personal trainer who’s merciless with me before I head out on the road to sell a book.
As I walked in the front door of Barneys who should I see but a fellow writer: Tamara Osmond. And if nothing else, she was the best looking first novelists in Barneys that afternoon. Her blond hair had been cut in a page boy that framed her snub-nosed face perfectly, making her look like she was still in her late twenties.
“Tamara, how are you?” Arms outstretched, I approached her and we exchanged air kisses, the Girl Scout handshake of Beverly Hills.
“Nikki! I’m so glad to see you.” She flashed me a big smile. I felt instantly guilty about her book, but what could I do?
Tamara was with her best friend, Wendy Strasser. Wendy was much more your standard issue trophy wife: long blond hair extensions with bangs, anorectic body and huge boobs, courtesy of implants. In fact, Wendy’s hair was so long, and her boobs were so big that her chest resembled a theatre proscenium with the curtain parting to reveal a huge military tank charging towards the audience. Wendy had poured herself into a skintight pair of True Religion jeans and a pair of Ugg boots, topped with a white James Perse T-shirt. She was “hot” if you liked that kind of look: pushing forty, dressing twenty. No blazers for her. By comparison, Tamara, in a flowing peasant skirt so retro that it looked like it came from a 70s Greenpeace fund raiser and a Bebe top, was simple and compelling. Her look seemed thrown together, even if it had taken her hours.
“Joel just mentioned you to me,” said Tamara.
“Yes, we caught up with each other yesterday at the Polo Lounge.”
“He told me. And I’m so…. Do you want to grab some lunch?” she asked. I could tell that we would soon be talking about her first literary effort, but there was no escape.
Within minutes we were sitting in Barney Greengrass, the lovely café located on the back terrace of the store. In keeping with her Greenpeace motif, Tamara ordered a chopped vegetable salad. With Madison not around to stop me I went for the cheeseburger and shoestring fries.
“I brought some rice cakes with me,” said Wendy. “I’ll just nibble on them.” I wondered if she had been moonlighting as Chloe’s nutritionist.
“You’ve been shopping?” I noticed the twin Barneys bags at their feet.
“Oh yes.” Tamara held hers up. “Something new.” Inside was a Chanel belt with a red leather buckle that was studded with rhinestones.
“Something new,” giggled Wendy, holding up a bag with the exact same belt in it.
Our orders arrived. Tamara and I tore into our food while Wendy munched sporadically on a very sad looking rice cake. At one point I held up a French fry on my fork and wiggled it in front of her. She screamed. I think she was joking.
I haven’t had a chance to read your book,” I said to Tamara.
“It’s really wonderful,” chimed in Wendy.
“You’ve read it?”
“The book is money,” said Wendy firmly. “Absolute money.” Which might have sounded a bit crass, but then Wendy was married to Lev Strasser, one of the biggest agents in town. How big? Well, he handled me, or at least his agency, Zeitgeist, did. Wendy had come to Hollywood from Australia to pursue acting, but had wound up marrying Rod Stewart instead, pretty much a requirement for any blond young thing who turns up here. When that ten minutes was up, she went back to acting. And when that ten minutes was up she was lucky enough to become the second Mrs. Lev Strasser. The first Mrs. Strasser had prevailed in a messy divorce, moved to Santa Barbara and opened a candle shop.
“Have you shown it to Lev?” I asked, hoping to deflect the conversation away from me.
“This is not for Lev,” she replied with an air of finality. “He’s too square to get it.” How could Wendy be so sure? And what did she have against her husband?
“I’d hate for people to think I got a publishing deal just because I’m well connected,” said Tamara.
As if people out here get them any other way, I thought.
“Well, a big agent like Lev can be quite an asset. He certainly has been for me.” And I’ll always be grateful to Lev Strasser for that. His literary department has kept me in my house, my Bentley, and my lifestyle, thanks to foreign rights, reprint rights and, most of all, those gorgeous Lifetime movie deals.
“We were hoping you might want to show the book to Lynn,” said Wendy, mustering up her first real smile of the afternoon.
There it was. Tamara wanted to get to Lynn Mosson, my editor at Bravestone Books. And why not? Lynn had edited everyone from Stephen King to Danielle Steel during her career; she probably had the best commercial sense in the book business. People begged to be handled by Lynn. I had been lucky enough to hook up with her years ago, and, as much as anyone, it was Lynn who had helped me become the real thing, a brand name author who could sell in all territories and all media. And here were these two darling Beverly Hills trophy wives figuring they could walk right through that door on my dime. Typical.
I turned to Tamara. “Joel loves the book?”
“Totally. He thinks there might even be a movie in it.”
“It’s so nice the way you two have been able to manage things.”
“Yes,” Tamara sighed. “In some ways our divorce is turning out better than our marriage.”
“Ever think of… trying again?” I figured I might as well give remarriage a plug, since Joel was clearly in favor of it.
“Why would Tamara want to do that?” Wendy gave me a sharp look. “She’s moved on.”
“Yes, I’ve moved on.”
“After all,” Wendy continued, “a woman has her needs.” There was something in her voice, along with the way she had just talked about Lev, that made me wonder what kind of shape her marriage was in. Lev, after all, was in his mid-sixties. Wendy wouldn’t have been the first trophy wife to tire of geezer sex and stray off the reservation for an afternoon or two with the pool boy. Happens all the time when the husbands are away making the money.
“You really should talk to Lynn,” insisted Wendy.
“Tell me about the book,” I said to Tamara, feeling trapped.
“Well, it is a trophy wife novel, but I do think it’s different. There’s this young girl who moves to Beverly Hills to become an actress. She starts to sleep with all these married men, and then she begins to blackmail them. Their wives get wind of the scheme and they start plotting their revenge. And then someone kills her.”
“Oh, it’s a murder mystery.”
“Or an autobiography,” Wendy said. That sent them into giggles.
“It’s very true to life, Nikki,” Tamara continued. “You’ll recognize people and situations from our lives. I mean, I changed the names, but I based my characters on people we all know.”
“Who’d you base the young girl on?” I asked. I had a good idea who it might be, but I wanted to see how much Tamara was willing to reveal.
“I have experience with bitchy young women,” she replied. She had to be referring to Chloe. Wendy’s face seemed to darken at the remark; I guess she didn’t like Joel’s daughter that much either.
“It’s sweet of you to volunteer to look at it,” said Wendy. Volunteer! Between the two of them and Joel this was a forced march.
“When do you think we can talk?” asked Tamara.
“Well, I’ll need a few days. I’ve been working on my own book, but I can sneak this in. Can you wait till over the weekend, say, Monday?”
“That would be great,” Tamara squealed, giving me a hug that felt very genuine. “It’s so sweet of you to look at my first novel.”
“Well, I can’t wait to read it,” I said, lying through my teeth, a phrase Lynn had told me years ago I should never use. Too clichéd.
I started Tamara’s book the next morning.
It was just as bad as I’d feared: tons of shopping, sex every twenty pages and a plot that got lost somewhere on the 405. When the phone rang I jumped for it, grateful for the interruption.
It was Lynn, my editor. “How are you, love?” Lynn wasn’t British, but like a lot of people in New York publishing, she adored letting others think she might be.
“I’m fine. Things good with you?”
“Just ducky here. Spring finally showed up and I may go to Central Park and buy a hot dog to celebrate.”
So why was she calling?
“Have you got a minute?”
“Lynn, I’m reading a terrible book right now. I’ve got a lifetime.”
“Well I got the strangest gift today, and I wanted to talk to you before I responded to it.”
“What was it?”
“This morning this enormous gift basket from Dean and DeLuca was delivered right to my desk. There was a twenty pound turkey the size of Rhode Island, and it was surrounded by dried fruit and squash and onions and boxes of cornmeal. I thought the Pilgrims had landed or something. And here’s the weird part. The card with the basket said “Nikki mentioned you. Love, Lev and Wendy Strasser”. Can you think of any reason why he and his wife would send me all this?”
That witch, she was clever all right. “No I can’t Lynn.” I hated lying to her, but I didn’t want to go into a long explanation about Tamara and her book and Wendy’s plans for it. That had clearly been Wendy’s scheme, to get me to talk to Lynn about “Revenge of the Trophy Wives,” but I didn’t want to buy into it until I had time to think.
“I’m not sure how to respond,” mused Lynn.
“Why not send them back some Indian pudding and forty dollars in wampum? That’s what the Indians did the first Thanksgiving.”
She whooped with laughter. “You’re no help at all.”
“Everything else okay?”
“Everything else is fine, love. Thank you for asking. Send me the pages when you finish up.”
“Bye Lynn.” I clicked off my cell phone, threw “Revenge of the Trophy Wives” on the sofa, and turned on my computer. Might as well get some of my own work done.
* * * *
I picked up the book again the next morning.
“Good or bad?” inquired Madison.
“Evil,” I replied.
“But you keep on reading.”
“I’m seeing Tamara Friday. I’ve got to be able to tell her something about it, preferably something positive. Especially after what Wendy pulled with that gift basket to Lynn.”
My cell phone rang. “Hey babe.”
It was the ex-husband. Travis Tyler is his name, and I know you remember him. Certainly I do; we were married for twelve years. I met Travis when I was still an actress and he was the lead singer for the 80s metal/hair band Nausea. And I’ll bet you can still sing the chorus of their big MTV hit, Your Love is Poison: “You got me dyin’/My heart is fryin’/Your love is poison to me” ( I always thought if the writing thing dried up I could make ends meet as a heavy metal lyricist.)
Travis was half American Indian, half Scottish, a combination that turned our lovemaking into something caught midway between a war dance and a Highland fling. At six two and one ninety, with deep set eyes, a shaved chest and a head full of teased black hair that looked like five pounds of licorice strings during an earthquake, he was the sexiest man I’d ever seen. My girlfriend Maria and I saw him perform with Nausea at the Universal Amphitheatre and I talked my way back stage so I could meet him. He was dating Pat Benatar at the time, but I had a foolproof way of getting him to call. It was the 80s and networking was at its height. Everywhere you went people handed you business cards with their contact information. I did them one better. When Travis asked me for my number, I reached under my skirt, pulled down my panties and handed them to him. I’d crocheted my phone number in the crotch.
That one always worked for me, and, yes, I had some wild and crazy times when I was a kid. Why not, that’s what being a kid is for. Those panties got me a call the following night, and by the next week Pat Benatar was just a memory. We got married in Vegas two months later. Dee Snyder was our best man and Heather Locklear was my maid of honor.
Now, every girl should marry a rock star at least once in her life. But then every girl needs to grow up, say about the time she hits her early thirties, and move on. Otherwise you wind up like Sharon Osbourne, dyed orange hair and trolling for gigs on second rate reality shows. Travis and I stuck it out through two international tours, a new record deal and half the band going into rehab. Along the way we saw Europe and Asia, I retired from acting (no loss there, Martin Scorsese never sent a card), and we collaborated on our most important project, our son Max. But when you’re “just kids’ when you get married, it makes it harder to hang together when you turn into adults. Travis and I split up seven years ago. Max is a kind of wonderful glue that keeps us together at all the important times.
“Need your help with something, babe.”
“And what would that be?” I purred. I still liked my ex-husband, everybody does.
“It’s not so much for me. It’s for Heidi.” Heidi was the new Mrs. Travis Tyler, his trophy wife. And she was some trophy, twenty four and a former Playmate of the Year. Heidi had a body that did not stop, for anything. And she was sweet, there was no bad blood between us. But… can I say this without being catty?... let’s face it: she had the I.Q. of a gummy bear.
“Heidi has some questions about nursery school,” continued Travis.
“Which one was she thinking of attending?”
“Ha, ha, ha,” he chuckled. “If you’re so funny, how come you’re not on Jimmy Kimmel?”
“Because my audience watches The View. Is this about Divinity?” Heidi, a sugarholic, had named her child after her favorite candy.
“Yeah. Heidi’s been looking at schools for her.”
“There’s the Little Red School House on Highland,” I said. “Remember? Max went there.”
“That’s the place that barred me from the premises.”
“Well, darling, you arrived for the Parent/Teacher Conference wearing a loincloth and carrying a buzzsaw.”
“I was coming from rehearsal! What did they expect? All the lawyers probably arrived wearing suits. Same thing for me.”
“There are some good Montessori schools in West Hollywood. Why don’t you have Heidi call me. I don’t bite. Not yet, anyway.”
“I can do that. But I wanted to talk to you about Max.”
And of course, my stomach tightened. I don’t care how old your child is – Max just turned nineteen—he’s still your baby. They don’t tell you this when you give birth, but a mother never stops worrying, it’s one of the job requirements. So, in a flash, I began to consider every terrible thing that my son could have been involved in: drugs, drugs, and more drugs.
“He wants to go to Hawaii for spring break. And I told him he should speak to you.”
Sweet relief. “You mean you didn’t just hand him an American Express card with five thousand dollars credited to it and tell him to send a postcard when he got there?”
“Not after the whupping you gave me when I bought him the Jeep”
I always worried that Travis and his rock star life would spoil our son. Max was a sweet funny kid with his own angle on things; he could play soccer all afternoon but still spend the evening working on his own cartoon characters, all created in the anime style. I didn’t understand half his work, but it was his and I was proud of it. It might lead to something bigger someday, and I didn’t want to see that drowned out by all the affluence the kids are swamped with out here. You can’t raise a child by handing them an Amex card and a Porsche when they turn 18. Look what it did for Paris Hilton.
“I’ll give him the cash,” said Travis. “I just need it to be okay with you.”
“I want him to have fun. But don’t you think he should start paying for his fun sometime soon?”
“Sure, babe. But where’s a UCLA sophomore gonna find a couple thou to get to the Big Island?”
“So why hasn’t he called me?”
“I think he’s trying to play us off against each other.”
“Seems like he’s done a good job.” We both laughed. Max was at the stage of his life where I was his Mom, but no longer his mother. He didn’t need me to pack his lunch, check his homework or schedule his haircuts. I had only two uses left now, lasagna and laundry. About every third weekend, desperate for home cooking and a break from campus, my son showed up for the afternoon. I would cook him up a huge tray of my genuinely tasty lasagna—I use chopped sirloin in the meat sauce—and he would eat about half of it, stowing the other half for the week ahead at school. Meanwhile I did his laundry. Then he would disappear and I’d wait for his next sighting in three more weeks. It was working for me.
“Okay, let’s give him the dough.”
“You’re a peach.”
“But have him call me. And Heidi too. I’ll give her some school suggestions.”
* * * *
I finished Tamara’s book the next morning. Well, not exactly finished it, let’s say I flipped through it, surveying the pages as they flew by. I did read the end though, which was a big disappointment. Instead of revealing who the killer was, Tamara pulled a switcheroo and announced that Amber had committed suicide, apparently because she felt guilty for sleeping with the husbands of all the trophy wives. This had to be wishful thinking on the scale of the Grand Canyon.
Knowing I had to do this, I called her and we made a date for lunch the next day at her house. Come morning I did some writing, some exercise, and then jumped into the Bentley. I was winding up Beverly Drive to where the houses get very large and the driveways get very long when my cell phone rang. The caller ID said Max so I picked it up, illegal here in California, but when your kid calls, your kid calls.
“Yes my love”
“So, how are you Mom?”
“You called to ask me how I am?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“Well that’s good. What else is new?”
“Nothing much. I’m just chilling out, hanging with some of my buds.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“And they’re all talking about spring break, but I’m like, you know, who cares about that, it’s like so much money and a big hassle.”
“Uh huh.” He was fishing, but I wasn’t ready to let him off the hook yet.
“I mean, I suppose I could go somewhere with them if it isn’t really lame or something. You know?”
“Tell me, Max, have you ever considered abandoning irony for the pleasures of real life?” For the money we both paid to put him through school, he should have had a better come on.
“If you want to ask me something, ask me something.”
“Can I go to Hawaii over spring break?”
“You’re nineteen, Max. You can do what you want. We established that when you left for college.”
“Well, there’s, like, this little matter of the money involved.”
“Ah, the money.” Finally, the heart of the matter.
“I don’t suppose you’d be up to lend me any?”
Why play games? He was my kid, I loved him, and I wanted him to have fun on spring break. “You don’t have to worry about hitting me up, Max. Your father has already promised to bankroll you.”
“Of course it’s awesome. Be sure you call him and thank him.”
“I will, right now.”
“Do I get to see you before you leave?”
“Probably this weekend. That cool?
“Cool, very cool.
“Got any lasagna?”
“I love you, Mom.”
He hung up before I got to tell him I loved him back, but that’s what being 19 is about.
I switched off my phone, happy that Max was happy, and swung into Tamara’s driveway. Her gray Mercedes was the only car in the driveway, so Joel and Chloe were apparently not at home. I raised the brass knocker on the front door and banged it three times. No answer. So I tried the knob and opened the door.
“Tamara? It’s Nikki.” Still no answer, but I wasn’t convinced that Tamara wasn’t there. Aside from her car in the driveway, she was simply too wound up about the book to blow me off this way. I headed down the front hallway to the kitchen.
“Tamara, are you there?”
She was. Sort of. She was dead, but she was there in the kitchen.
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