by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 9: Los Angeles, California
part 1 of 3
Steve Shenner and his troupe of five had set to the rest of their task with renewed vigour (or in Phil Doreza’s case, still-undisguised dismay) the previous Wednesday morning.
By the time of their regular conference call that evening, they had between them converted two more clients to the new cause. And twenty-four hours later, when they gathered again at Shenner’s house, there was further good news for Phil to worry about.
‘So, another two today! Fine job, everyone. OK, checkpoint time. Ten ladies and four gents now in the fold — and still five not yet approached this week. We’ll stick with the plan and take them out between now and Saturday noon. After that I’ll see if I can do anything about the remaining strays before we meet Raymond on Sunday. I guess he’ll call us with the details soon. OK, any questions?’
‘I have one for Nick. Can we increase the size of the offer? I reckon several of them are holding out for more cash.’
‘I agree, Walter — it’s a game of poker. But Raymond warned us not to go too far, or it all falls apart. I want to present him with a solid set of closed conversions at a cost I judge to be acceptable. If he agrees we’ve shown good discipline, and his people really want a full house, they can give us a little more leeway, right? We’re on a loser anyway, but they’re the ones who really need the jackpot, and they’ll raise the stakes when the time is right, believe me ...’
* * *
On the Wednesday, Maelene and Toni awoke to a very sunny morning, and decided it was time to discover Downtown LA for themselves.
But the traffic was heavy, of course, and over two hours had slipped away before they reached the exit off the Hollywood Freeway and aimed at the nearest parking lot. Toni was studying a small city map.
‘Well, I’d like to have a long stroll up and down these big avenues, and see all the different faces of the city.’
‘Fair enough, baby, but I ain’t wearing walking shoes today. We can start off at the top of Broadway, if you like, but when we reach 8th Street I’m going shopping!’
But before Maelene made it to the Fashion District, they came across the huge International House of Music, close to 4th Street.
‘Now that’s what I call a music store! Shall we give LA a taste of what we gave Santa Monica?’
‘Sure, why not? Can’t stop too long, though ...’
* * *
‘Well, that was fun!’
‘Yeah, but you’ll have to start learning the chords to my songs. It’s all very well trying to do impromptu accompaniments, but ...’
‘It raised a few smiles, Maelene.’
‘I guess so. OK, now I need to find me those fashion stores!’
‘Why do you need another long shopping session?’
‘Because I still don’t have all the right clothes.’
‘For what? I love everything you have already.’
‘Oh, you just don’t understand, do you?’
* * *
‘How much longer are you going to be?’
‘I’ve hardly started.’
‘OK, I’m going for a proper walk. I’ll see you at the corner of Hill Street and 9th at one-thirty.’
Right ... an hour and a half to myself. Make a plan, Stan.
Seen most of Broadway and the Jewelry District already today. Not wasting any more time in the Fashion District, so I’ll move west, away from Main Street and Los Angeles Street. And when I was here two weeks ago, at the Brighter Vale building, I saw a few of the sights around Olive and 8th. But Carla ordered me not to wander too far away that day. I can go wherever I like, this time ...
So — back along 9th, then all the way up Grand Avenue to Temple. That should take about forty minutes, with stops for photos. Then across to Figueroa, all the way down again, and back to Hill Street. Here we go!
* * *
‘So-so. Had yourself a lovely time?’
‘Yes. I saw some incredible skyscrapers, especially a wonderful group at Grand and 4th Street — all totally different styles! And the Disney Concert Hall is stunning. And there are so many other amazing buildings here, new and not-so-new. I even saw the Pantry Café again — I had lunch there the first time I was in LA. But my feet are getting blisters now!’
‘You poor little boy. Right, I need a cab back to the parking lot ...’
* * *
It was nearly three when they reached the hotel after an almost silent drive, and they went straight into the bistro for a late and equally silent lunch.
Toni finally had to say something.
‘So you did buy lots more clothes, then ...’
‘Yeah. Wanna see them?’
‘No. You already have more than enough. I bet you’re only buying them because the Mater is paying for everything ...’
‘They’re exploiting us, so we deserve a bit of compensation.’
‘We’re already getting plenty, as far as I can see.’
‘Don’t be such a pain!’
‘Well, frankly, it seems a bit hypocritical. I’d have thought you’d be feeling guilty about all the money we’re already spending, let alone splashing out on more clothes ...’
‘That’s not fair, Murano!’
‘Just home truths, Maelene. You’re very good at pointing them out yourself whenever you fancy it ...’
‘Well, smartass, what you don’t know is, when we’re finished with this whole business, I’m planning to haul all these clothes back to Columbia and give them away to the needy.’
‘How long did it take you to think up that one?’
‘That does it!’
She threw down her fork, grabbed all her shopping bags, stormed out of the restaurant, went straight up to their room, changed into her brand-new skimpy red bikini, picked up her suntan oil, and strode back down to the outdoor pool.
Toni did not bother to go upstairs. He finished his lunch with very mixed emotions, then pushed back his chair, wandered outside, and began to walk aimlessly down Ocean Avenue towards Venice Beach. After fifteen minutes he found himself on Main Street, and soon afterwards he dived into Finn McCool’s Irish Pub.
* * *
‘Hey! Nice bikini!’
‘Thanks. It’s certainly nicer than your shorts.’
‘That just means you have better taste than I do.’
‘That’s a new one!’
‘You look like you need a little more sun oil, Maelene ...’
‘Can’t be bothered to move.’
‘Can I do it for you?’
‘You staying here?’
‘Yeah. Real nice, isn’t it?’
‘Wouldn’t know. I have a condo two blocks back ...’
‘Rich kid, eh?’
‘Not really. Daddy’s money, you know ...’
‘Yeah. It’s very relaxing. You have nice hands.’
‘Thanks. And ...’
‘And if you don’t take them out of there within two seconds, I’m gonna scream very loud indeed. One ... two ...’
‘Just in time, eh?’
‘No, far too fast, you jerk. Now get lost.’
* * *
‘She just doeshn’t understand me, Bill.’
‘I know. They’re all the same.’
‘Haven’t met very many, acshally ... but you’re probably right.’
‘Hey, you take care, now!’
‘Sh’all right, I just slipped ...’
‘Hey, Karen! Usual?’
‘Sure. Nah, make it a double. I’m feeling lucky!’
‘You got it.’
‘Hi, my name’s Karen.’
‘Oh, hello. I’m ... Toni.’
‘You from Mexico?’
‘No, I’m Shpanish ...’
‘What, from real Spain?’
‘Yesh. Have you ever been there?’
‘Nah, never left Southern California. You can take me back with you, if you like!’
‘Don’t think there’sh room in my shuitcase ....’
‘Hah! Hey, you be careful ...’
‘Sh’all right, I just shlipped again ...’
‘You do that often?’
‘No, only in front of beautiful women ...’
‘You crease me up! Wanna buy me another tequila?’
‘Courshe I do. Jusht need to find my ........’
‘Hey, Bill, the guy fell off his stool. Don’t think he hit his head ...’
‘I’m on it, Karen.’
‘Fine. I’ll seeya later then.’
* * *
Toni woke up on a sofa in the hotel lobby, clutching a scrap of paper. He peered at it and finally made out the words. “Good thing you were carrying your hotel card. The cab cost $10. Pay me back the day you get lucky. Bill.”
He stumbled upstairs and spent thirty seconds trying to unlock the door to their hotel room before Maelene helped him out from inside.
‘Only a little bit.’
‘Nice of you to wake up again.’
‘Sorry. Had a couple of beers earlier today.’
‘That was after the first couple, and the second couple, and the rest, right?’
‘Oh, please don’t start on me again. Hey, is that a new nightdress? It’s really nice ....’
‘I didn’t start on you before. You’re the one who was nagging me about my shopping!’
‘Oh, does it really matter?’
‘Yes it does! Listen, Sal ... Oh shit, why ever did I say that? I’m sorry, Toni!’
‘Look, you’re nothing like Sal, believe me. There’s no comparison! I’m just almost as annoyed with you as I used to be with him — all the time! Please forgive me, baby.’
‘Of course. But you do get annoyed an awful lot. It’s very hard work, you know.’
‘Oh, no more of your home truths today, please!’
Toni stopped caring, climbed into bed still fully clothed, and turned out the light.
* * *
They spent the whole of Thursday on the beach. If there had been many square yards of broken glass encircling them throughout the day, they still could not have trodden more carefully.
‘Like some oil?’
‘Is that OK?’
‘It’s fine. Want some yourself?’
‘No, I need a long swim.’
‘Still cold, but good, thanks.’
‘Some oil now?’
‘How’s the headache?’
‘I’m going up for some lunch. Coming?’
‘No, I’ll stay here and look after the bags. I’ll get something later.’
‘What d’ya wanna do for dinner?’
‘So, eat in the bar, then maybe watch TV in the room?’
‘Fancy some music?’
‘Always fancy some music.’
‘It says here that O’Brien’s has live bands every night.’
‘Sure, let’s do it.’
‘And I can drop into that bar and pay Bill back for the taxi ride.’
‘What about tomorrow?’
‘I’d like to drive down to San Diego and Tijuana.’
* * *
The weather was still fine, but they set out rather late after a slow start and a solid, touring day’s breakfast.
They picked up I-405 and headed down through Long Beach towards Santa Ana. Then, soon after passing John Wayne Airport, they left the last of the urban sprawl behind them, merged onto I-5, and turned gently towards the coast.
‘Doesn’t the ocean look great against that beautiful morning sky!’
‘It certainly does.’
Toni risked his first smile in nearly forty-eight hours. The lady missed it.
The scenery was all Maelene had hoped it would be. The freeway took them right down to Capistrano Beach, and then stayed very close to the sea. The view got really picturesque after Carlsbad, so Toni consulted their guidebook and quickly recommended a turn off onto the real coast road, and a stop at Swami’s in Encinitas.
‘It has some beautiful gardens and a little temple, right up on the cliffs.’
And so it did. And a little Koi carp pond to complete the tranquil mood.
‘Good call, Toni.’
He smiled again. She caught this one, but did not send it back.
They stopped again soon afterwards, to watch the surfers way down below on Solana Beach. Then they carried on to Del Mar, had a quick coffee on Via de la Valle, picked up the freeway again and headed towards the city.
‘So, do you really wanna see San Diego, or shall we stay out in the country?’
‘I don’t mind, Maelene. I saw plenty of LA on Wednesday, and you’re doing all the driving as usual. You choose.’
‘OK, thanks. We’ll stay by the coast. Find us a good place for lunch.’
It did not take him long to do that.
‘Got it! Turn off right in a few minutes’ time. You’re looking for the sign to La Jolla.’
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd