Secrets of the Lottery Winner
CHAPTER 30: FISSURES
When the fresh plume of blue smoke appeared, the crowd, operating at a low buzz like a giant machine on idle, shifted into the high gear of rampant speculation and excitement. Surging through it was the rumor that the great star had returned, the great Nickelson was back in the room and everybody again had a chance of meeting him, bathing in his aura, seizing the opportunity to solicit him for their special projects, and the huge body seemed to surge in the direction of the smoky corner.
Loretta entered the Sunset Ballroom at this precise moment and the rumor enveloped her instantly. Working her way through the room, she passed three groups of revelers and in each group the topic preoccupying them was the presence of Nickelson and how to get close to him and what they would do if they got into his presence.
Producers and directors were her usual targets. If only she could get close to one of either class, she might have a chance of obtaining a role. She’d settle for anything, even a small walk on with one line. The right walk on and the right line and next she’d win a bit part, and from there, who knew? She could be a star. She’d be happy as a little star.
But actors, the right actors, they could be as good as, perhaps better than, producers and directors. After all, they practiced the profession she aspired to and they would recognize her talent. And maybe she wouldn’t have to sleep with them, though she suffered no qualms about doing so. Gari could wait. Her objective became the smoky corner.
* * *
Emily smiled as she passed through the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Three middle-aged women, who by her estimation could easily have been from Mundelein, whispered about her as she sauntered past them, speculating that she was a star, each trying her best to recall her name or characters, in the process offering up names and roles, all of whom and which Emily found complimentary. The real stars seemed to hate recognition. They squawked continuously of respect for their privacy. Emily couldn’t image not enjoying the admiration of women like those she’d passed. The experience exhilarated her.
She found the Sunset Ballroom. Since her appearance marked her as an obvious guest—and if she wasn’t an invitee, then no doubt the party sponsors had made a grievous error—she entered with hardly the bat of an eyelash. And no sooner was she over the threshold than was she caught up in the fervor over the assumed presence of Jack Nickelson.
Emily adored Jack. She’d transformed into a daytime movie watcher, visiting the Pasadena Public Library frequently, where she checked out books and magazines and music and movies. She was far less frugal than she’d been when Gari had been a mere cog in the Lefton & Associates wheel; however, she couldn’t dismiss a lifetime of penny pinching in a couple of months, though she’d made an encouraging beginning. Why pay Blockbuster for something the library would give you for free as long as you had the good sense to return the materials by their due dates? By picking up movies weekly and watching them while the boys were in school or later as she waited for Gari to come home from his ever-lengthening days at the office, she’d managed to see scores of films, and all of Jack’s. She cried when he was bludgeoned to death in “Easy Rider.” She cheered him on when he ordered in “Five Easy Pieces.” He mesmerized her as the devil in “The Witches of Eastwich.” But her favorite was Jack as the Melvin the neurotic writer in “As Good As It Gets.” He was a lovable curmudgeon, and exactly as she imagined him—or hoped he was—in life.
This is why she decided on the spot that Gari could wait for a few moments, while she followed the smoke signals broadcasting the location of her favorite actor. She might not have another chance like this to meet him.
* * *
Larry and Darlene Lefton circumnavigated the room, skirting the edge of the crowd like old mariners, avoiding the crowd for fear of losing their way and ultimately being consumed in the utter bizarreness of Hollywood types. Larry wasn’t the problem, as he wanted nothing more than to plunge in and hook up with Gari, but Darlene was as good as an anchor. She’d clamored for the Hollywood experience. The reality of striking women, boisterous men, strange dress, and in some cases hardly any dress, frightened her. She expected glamour of the sort she saw in the Star and the Inquirer, stars she could recognize in wonderful gowns, who had manners, and who moved demurely and spoke quietly, who were polite to each other. In other words, she’d expected the opposite of this Hollywood party, which exhibited not a one of those qualities.
Several times Larry asked if she wanted to return to their outrageously priced room. At least he’d derive a bit of value from the expense; also, he could return to the party and kick up his heels. Clearly, Gari had been right giving into his wife and taking her with him had been a mistake.
When the second plume of smoke appeared and the rumor that Jack Nickelson was again in the ballroom began circulating, Darlene perked up. She hated smoking and forbade Larry from smoking his noxious cigars in their home. But she adored Jack Nickelson, who she considered a real star. She was in Hollywood, at a big Hollywood party, and her mission since setting foot in L.A. had been to see big stars. Here, at last, was her opportunity. She wasn’t about to miss it. She overcame her disgust and tugged Larry’s sleeve, pointed to the hazy corner, and launched him in front of her like her personal icebreaker, the mission to shake the great star’s hand and hear him speak in person.
* * *
Marvin T. Freeman stood six-foot two. He weighted two-hundred fifty-eight pounds. His complexion was a pleasing shade of milk chocolate. He wore a well-cut blue conservative suit and a red power tie over a crisp white shirt. He carried a two-way radio on his hip. He’d been the fellow who had escorted Jack Nickelson in and out of the ballroom. After that, he worked the room, scanning nervously for anything untoward. When he discovered it in the form of plumes of blue smoke, he charged the location in the far corner as quickly as he could manage.
This was simple: Jack Nickelson was an exception. Wasn’t it the rule? The exception proved the rule. And the rule was: No Smoking. No smoking in the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Sunset Ballroom, or lobby, or any other enclosed public area. And that meant everybody, except of course for those exceptions who made the rule good as gold in the mind of Marvin T. Freeman.
* * *
Newberry was mid-way through breathing a sigh of relief, exhaling a rather large cloud of smoke, when he sensed himself lifting off the ballroom floor, jetting ceiling-ward, until, still wondering what the hell was going on, he reached apogee and began his descent.
He could have landed badly and broken a part of his anatomy. Marvin T. Freeman, though, in addition to bulk and speed, had played semipro ball after college and was adept, when he wanted to be, at placing the quarterback’s ass gently on the turf. In Newberry’s case, the soft landing was on the hardwood floor of the ballroom, and it almost cracked his coccyx, and absolutely elicited a howl of shock and pain from him.
“You aboriginal fool. What do you think you’re doing?” His was scream was somewhat on the order of a war cry. He attempted two or three slashing blows to Marvin’s arm, which would have quite comfortably supported a goalpost.
Marvin grabbed the flailing arm after satisfying himself that the offender was quelled and safe. “Who’s the fool here anyway?” he growled. “The rule is no smoking.”
* * *
Darlene arrived as Marvin was in the process of tackling Newberry. From behind her, Larry observed, “Looks like he played pro ball.” Spotting Gari, he asked, “You know who he is?”
Darlene cried, “How can they allow somebody out of the blue to assault Jack Nickelson?” Of Gari she asked, “Why is Jack wearing a pink suit? Is it some bizarre Hollywood thing they don’t tell us about?”
“It’s not Jack Nickelson,” he informed. “That man is our new client. And this is his partner.”
Larry sidled next to Patricia. He extended his hand, which she accepted with uncertainty, taken aback either by the flattening of her husband or the thorough retro tackiness of the man wishing to clasp her hand. She gave Larry a limp hand, which he shook vigorously.
Pumping, as if well water was a good ten minutes away, he proclaimed, “We’re going to do a great job for you.”
“Gari, I’m so very happy for you,” said a voice from behind.
Gari swung around. “Loretta, what are you doing here?”
She closed the gap between them and pecked his cheek. “I wanted to surprise you. Are you surprised?”
“Shitless,” he blurted.
And now, like a team of the ridiculous, Patricia, Larry, Gari, and Loretta were in an obscene huddle.
Larry, with enlarging eyes, asked as subtly as possible in a room in which the buzz was grown to ear splitting volume, “Who’s your friend?”
“Yes, Gari, who is your friend?”
After cinching the deal, Gari had experienced elation. Not an inordinate amount; but a quantity appropriate to the win, which was okay in his book. Larry’s appearance was off-putting, for who with all his sensibilities intact would want to be around the president and his wife, no darling by any measure. But the man’s presence occurred at the right time and Gari regarded his comments approbation of his deed. Though this didn’t elevate him to a higher level of elation. Reality was he considered Larry an idiot when it came to advertising, and praise from a numbskull was no worthy commendation. Thus his elation level was status quo, though still quite pleasant, just not euphoric.
Consequently, his mood didn’t have far to fall to reach normal, to plunge to fright, and to collapse into utter terror, all of which if did the second those last words fluttered through his cochlea and banged into his brain.
“Why, Emily, what are you doing here?”
“The question, Gari, is what are you doing here, there, and everywhere?” she demanded.
Loretta twirled to confront the inquiring woman face to face, only to be left mouthing her question behind Gari’s quick response: “Emily, dear wife, this is Loretta. She was my real estate agent.”
“Our real restate agent was mousy brown and on the dumpy side,” said Emily, scrutinizing Loretta head to toe, and not liking the least bit of what she was seeing.
Gari laughed heartily. “Sandra showed us our house, Emily. Loretta was my commercial agent.”
“Hmmm,” she muttered, a sound he knew to mean “I’ll just see about that.” Pointedly to Loretta, who’d released Gari, as if the question unfolded like a switchblade and cut him loose, “So where did you find my husband offices?”
Gari’s betrayal stunned Loretta into momentary dumbness. Her impulse to this revelation in the form of a very much alive wife was to blurt the truth that Gari had been blithely cheating and had come close to fathering a child. But her minute passed and she understood there was no advantage to her in revealing Gari’s knavery. She would have enjoyed his discomfort and perhaps the revenge of a possible divorce and all if would cost him. But the pleasure would have been short lived. No, there was no advantage for her. And the truth was though he was a scoundrel of the first order, she liked him. He’d treated her better than most. He seemed interested in renewing his relationship with her. She might gain something playing along.
Staring at Gari, she adopted a faint pomp she thought reflected the attitude of a Beverly Hills realtor. “My idea for Gari was in the heart of the action, an office on Sunset. But he’s a conservative type. Probably a result of his Midwestern upbringing.”
Larry Lefton, who in Gari’s opinion hardly ever did anything right, unknowingly galloped to his rescue. “Well, I’m grateful for his Midwestern sensibility. Century City is the perfect location for Lefton & Associates, West Coast Division. No disrespect intended, Ms. –“
“Heavencrest,” she replied. “None taken.”
“I’m Larry Lefton,” Larry said, dressing the introduction with real and practiced pomposity. “I’m chairman of Lefton & Associates.”
Gari smirked. Here was another example of Larry’s ridiculous compulsion for stating the obvious badly. Honestly, if this man hadn’t begun life with money, he’d be calling a GE refrigerator box under Wacker Drive home sweet home. Who believed things happened for a reason, that there was order in the universe, that the all-knowing eye in the sky had a plan for us, each and every one of us, and it was a good plan, too? This was bullshit to rival the crap churned out by Gyl and Kennie and every other so-called creative coast to shining coast. But Gari couldn’t afford bitterness or something worse would befall him while he luxuriated in recrimination. So he slid into a smile that implied admiration, praise, and other beatitudes toward el jeffe.
But then as far as Loretta and Larry were concerned, Gari had vanished. The entire ballroom might have for that matter. Gari saw the look on Larry’s face. He knew it. It was the look and feeling he’d experienced perhaps a bit too often the past several months.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a chairman before,” she said.
Gari cranked an ear closer to be certain: Loretta was cooing. And the idiot was melting.
“And if I have, certainly not one as young as you, Mr. Lefton.”
She’d done that with him, called him Mr. Garibaldi. He had to lower himself to regular guy status by insisting she address him as plain old ah shucks Gari.
“No need for formality, Loretta. Larry, please.”
Gari glanced at Darlene to see how she was reacting. She wasn’t, at least not to Larry’s antics. She was occupied with orally assailing Marvin T. Freeman.
“Jack Nickelson is a superstar. He certainly can smoke wherever he likes.”
“Shit, lady, if this was Jack Nickelson, do you think I’d be wrestling him? Christ sakes, you think the Jackster would be caught dead in pink?” And to facilitate the correct answer, he hoisted Newberry by the collar by way of illustration and reinforcement.
“You’re not Jack,” she exclaimed.
“No shit,” mumbled Brian.
By this time, Larry Lefton was a lost cause and Gari could see his life in L.A. would no longer be sunny. Larry would be visiting frequently. This elicited a groan audible even in that sound chamber. And a glance in Emily’s direction confirmed he wouldn’t be seeing much California sunshine, unless it was from his backyard.
When Gari had landed again in reality, he learned the inevitable worst would be consuming him posthaste. With a big new account, Larry had decided the office would be growing, new staff and all that. The question was should they expand in the space, which was expensive, or grow in an emerging, trendy location, at less money too. This seemed to make perfect sense to Darlene who, while lamenting leaving Larry alone in L.A., expressed perfect understanding of the requirements of business. And Loretta acted as if she might know a thing or two about commercial real estate, though Gari suspected she was a better actress than he’d suspected.
It was when Marvin brought Newberry to an upright position and Newberry swore to refrain from fogging the ballroom and Darlene realized that she’d missed her opportunity to meet one of her favorites and Loretta had discovered a new career with Larry and also found herself knowing the score before the game ensued—it was then that Catherine, who during the melee had stepped outside the ring of turmoil, approached Emily, who in turn occupied herself by glaring at Gary and speculating how Teddy and Sammy might respond to her booting their father from the Pasadena house, perhaps even chucking the house and returning to safe and steady and perfectly predictable Mundelein.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Mrs. Garibaldi,” she said, thrusting a beautifully manicured hand toward Emily.
Hesitantly, Emily limply accepted Catherine’s hand. “Don’t tell me you’re another of Gary’s real estate friends.”
Catherine laughed. “I’m sure she is who she says she is. I’ve only been here a little while and found them all to be a little like her. No, I’m your husband’s banker, his business banker from Chicago. Catherine Lourdes.”
“I didn’t know Gari had a banker,” Emily said.
Confused? thought Catherine. Well, that’s perfect.
“Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I’m the banker for his business.”
“But this is California and you said you’re from Chicago.”
“Mrs. Garibaldi, these days banking knows no boundaries.”
Gari, partially recovered from the turmoil and already concocting a story for the benefit of Emily, then discovered his wife and Catherine going head to head. He felt for an instant that he might soon take the place Newberry had vacated on the floor.
“Gari,” said Catherine, entwining Gari’s arm. “I called him Mr. Garibaldi for the longest time,” patting his hand as if he was a recalcitrant child, as she held Emily’s gaze, establishing a connection that set off in him a mild, nervous syncopated motion. “Your husband is such a dear, really a regular guy. Don’t you think that’s a big part of his success? Just one of the boys, so clients can identify with him and like him, you know, person to person. He absolutely insisted I address him as Gari. ‘I’m plain old Gari,’ he said so many times, well I can’t count all of them. Dozens of times I’m sure.”
Gari swayed under this big wind of—what? He couldn’t figure: praise, sarcasm, prelude to a gigantic hurt? And as bad, he was blushing until his face matched the predominate color of the evening.
“Gari’s a regular guy,” Emily sneered.
Gari caught himself moving and worked hard to stop and keep still. Excessive movement, he’d once read somewhere, the source was long lost to him, indicated the gyrator had something to hide or was untruthful or had committed an act otherwise nefarious. It was a tell for something bad. He knew he was on dangerous ground, like perching on a Pacific palisade before two women, either of whom could launch him into oblivion.
“Regular as rain,” Catherine amplified.
This worried Gari. Rain was anything but regular in L.A. It hardly ever rained there, and when it did it come in torrents that washed whole portions of the city away, causing huge consternation for the residents. Was she sending a signal to Emily, subtly hinting he was anything but regular, and if Emily had an ounce of wit about her she would realize it?
Emily shifted her gaze between Catherine and Gari. Gari couldn’t discern what might be running through her mind. Suspicion probably. He had to allay whatever evil was brewing behind those eyes.
“Catherine put me onto the movie deal,” he offered.
“Is that right?” Emily smirked.
“Yes,” chimed Catherine. “I knew Pink Productions—that’s the name of the outfit producing the movie. Odd, don’t you think. But then most things about the movie business are. Pink—that’s why Patricia and Brian are dressed in pink. Thematic, you know. It’s supposed to get everybody in the spirit of things. Anyway, I knew Patricia and Brian needed marketing help. And who better than your husband?”
“A shoe salesman,” said Emily, the sarcasm thicker, the blink intensifying on Gari’s scope, the klaxon ready to trip.
“Mrs. Garibaldi –“
“See, there I go again. Emily, I think you’re selling your husband short. He’s an advertising man, a very good one. Look what he’s done here in L.A. Ask Larry.”
Emily might have, except Larry was preoccupied with the real estate agent, while Darlene was casting eyes about the room, no doubt searching for a star of some luster. “Gari,” she said, “I’m exhausted. I’d like to leave.”
“Sure,” he said, certain execution awaited him.