An artist, his dealer and a studio mogul begin the most shocking of negotiations. 2,606 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
“No! No! It can’t be done. The Post Office changed the rules and they can’t be sent through the mail any longer.” Why did I pick up the fucking phone? “Going through the U.S. Mail was an essential part of each artwork.”
Sue comes stumbling down the hall, half asleep and half naked. I’m staring at her pussy when I realize she is mouthing, “Who is it?” The bull shit on the phone continues.
“I don’t give a fuck how rich the S.O.B. is. I’m not in the movie business and never heard of the dude.” Doug, my art dealer, has some studio mogul on the hook and is determined to land him. I continue trying to explain why this simply can’t happen. “The Post Office changed the rules ages ago. It can’t be done. Final! End of conversation!”
I return the phone to its cradle with a crash. Can’t do that with a cell phone. I grab my shirt from the hook and feel around for rolled joints in the pocket. One left. Perfect.
Sue is now grinding coffee at the sink, wearing just a tee shirt. The water on the hot plate is steaming and so am I. She looks over her shoulder and asks, “Who was that?”
“Guess. What time is it?” I ask, shaking my head to jar my brain into consciousness. I pull up my jeans and can’t help but laugh. “That cocksucker must be truly desperate to call here this early.”
Sue smiles and nods knowingly. She pours the boiling spring water through the fresh grounds. I light the joint, lean against the sink and hold it up to her lips. She tilts her head forward and has a pull, still pouring water.
“Doug has some studio big spender who just has to have one of my envelopes. It’s like trying to reason with a dog. All he knows is what he wants. Fuck reality.”
“That’s Doug. You were warned. And often.”
The artwork was my personal response to Richard Nixon asking the American people to do something to solve the Seventies energy crisis. I was inspired. Each piece was cut out of sheet lead using an unglued, opened up, letter-sized envelope as a template. Names and addresses were stamped into the lead, one letter or number at a time, and then folded back into an envelope. I put a Eugene O’Neill one dollar stamp onto the envelope, had it hand-cancelled, and in days it was delivered all over the country. But I had to quit when the clerk at the U.S. Post Office handed me a new sheet of rules and regulations and refused my latest envelope.
The damn things had started out as a joke but ended up being commissioned by clients for more than I was getting paid for a small painting. Good riddance. And now, over a decade later, this rich S.O.B. just has to have one. Bullshit!
About two weeks later my asshole dealer calls again. He has made a point of withholding money since our last conversation to make me hungry and easier to deal with. Now he is running his rap on me.
“Look, I know we need to make a sale and I have one. But I need a little help. Just a quick lunch at the house and if we can set something up I can spot you a grand or two on the spot. It’s so close that I can hear the ‘ka-ching’ of an old cash register.”
I am flat broke, living on the small balance left on this or that card. I’m over a barrel and we both know it.
“When?” I ask.
We agree to meet the following day at one. He’ll call back if there are any changes. The things I do for dollars.
As the appointed hour approaches, Sue and I buff and polish our way out the door. I have rolled three fatties for this big adventure. It is an hour drive to Beverly Hills, and I light the first just as I am pulling onto the freeway. Pot heightens the humor quotient in almost everything, allowing me to smile through just about anything. I am all smiles by the time the car reaches the top of Coldwater. Sue checks the address and I turn onto Mulholland as instructed. We soon arrive at an immense gate set in an overwhelming wall of bougainvillea. I pull up to the speaker, push the button, wait for a response and announce myself. The right side of the huge gate begins to slowly open. I proceed up the driveway to the too large hangar of a house. There are a few large dark Mercedes and Doug’s Jeep.
“Do we really want to do this?” I ask.
Sue, checking her hair in the visor mirror, turns to me and smiles. Then she gives me Gary Gilmore’s very last words. “Let’s do it.”
At the top of the steps, I ring the bell and, magically, a huge man dressed entirely in white, from loafers to too tight t-shirt, is standing before us.
“Welcome. My name is Robert. Will you please follow me?” He spins and heads off into the gigantic structure. We follow, glad to have a guide.
The house is the most amazing pastiche of whatever struck the mogul’s fancy. Sue and I can’t help but look in every open door as we pass, totally awed by the diversity of styles and the abundance of bad taste. He has large paintings by Stella, Warhol, and Johns hung on flocked floral wallpaper. There are suits of armor, tapestries, Persian rugs, Navajo blankets, medieval weapons and way too many big game trophies. Sue is particularly disgusted by the full Siberian tiger. I am feeling sick to my stomach with shame just for being here.
As we enter the main living room, Robert stops and announces us. He steps aside and gestures towards the circle of three Italian leather sofas that surround a seven-foot square glass cocktail table in the middle.
Doug and Mr. Maurice stand to greet us.
“Richard, I would like to introduce you to James and Susan.”
“Call me Dick,” the studio mogul says, offering his hand to Sue, “and I’ll call you Sue and Jim.” His eyes are locked on Sue.
“Nice to meet you,” she says, her hand still in his. She coolly withdraws her hand from his.
Dick turns to me and asks, “What do you think of the house?”
I thought everyone understood that, when you ask an artist a question, you run the risk of a truthful answer. “Is there an indoor polo field?”
Dick smiles, patient as a proud parent. “We did go a bit overboard, but Doug tells me you painters just love big walls.”
“Big is slowly losing its charm,” I hear myself saying. “It’s just like having too much money. Any asshole can understand coin but not life, except on the most simplistic of levels.”
Doug intercedes, “Easy, Jim. Dick just wants your ideas for a few large walls. He’s been to the gallery and loves your work.” The look on Doug’s face is that of a mother trying to quiet an unruly child.
Dick is a dapper little prick with an indoor tan. Snappy as a show dog and just as lean, manicured, and perfumed, his wavy gray hair is coiffed like one of Burt Reynolds’s toupees and his moustache trimmed. All this in a red silk jacquard jumpsuit with matching loafers and no socks. I wear neither cologne nor jewelry, preferring both on women. Dick is layered in cologne and jewelry, from his king-sized Rolex to a pinky ring with a diamond the size of a pea. This is not my kind of guy, but then I’m not here to get married. Clients can be forgiven just about anything.
My remarks have Dick almost as red as his jumpsuit. As Robert returns with ale, chilled glasses and appetizers, Dick looks about to explode. He jumps up from the sofas and says, “I’ll show you how much I love ya.”
He proceeds to the fireplace mantle, above which two gigantic medieval axes are crossed, and takes a small object from the ledge. He returns and hands me a lead envelope addressed to him. It looks like one of mine but isn’t. Wrong stamps, no postmark, somebody else’s return address.
I turn to Doug, look him in the eye, and shake my head from side to side. I pull my pen from my jacket pocket and start to copy down the return address. I catch a glimpse of Dick, his eyes burning bright again.
“Take that from him,” Dick orders Robert, who has been standing off to my right. Robert moves immediately forward, but seems unsure of what he is supposed to take as he slowly reaches toward me.
Without thinking, I grab Robert’s fingers with both my hands and bend back with all my strength. The bones crackle like dry brush beneath hiking boots. He grimaces and reaches for me with his other hand. I sit back, yank hard, and pull him off balance. He lurches forward face first through the huge glass coffee table. It splits in two beneath the weight of Robert’s torso, which continues its inevitable fall to the floor. In slow motion, a huge shard of the glass falls across the side of Robert’s neck, severing it almost through. Quickly, his head disappears in a sea of red.
In silence and disbelief, everyone comes to their feet as if somehow moved by the loss of Robert. I turn to Sue and ask her to call 9-1-1, hoping to distract her from the horror. She slowly sinks back into the sofa and starts dialing.
And then I notice Dick racing towards Sue. He slaps the phone from her face, knocking her sideways as the phone skids across the room.
Instantaneously, I move behind him. My left foot plants and my right leg swings like I am attempting a sixty-yard field goal only my target is much closer. My foot comes up between his legs as I make full contact.
Dick huffs hard, exhaling heavily, trying to scream, eyes bulging, face contorting, blowing bubbles in his own drool, as he falls face first, hands clutching at his mangled manhood.
I lean over to help Sue.
“Are you okay?”
“Just scared and a little faint,” she replies.
As she looks up to answer, I see the trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth. I whirl and bury my boot deep into Dick’s ribs.
I turn to Doug, who has gone catatonic. “We’re going. I suggest you call 9-1-1.” He stands motionless, speechless, eyes glazed over.
I gently take Sue by the arm and start for the front door. As we are about to leave the living room, I hear footsteps running towards us: yet another large attendant, all in white, with a handful of blue steel automatic, and still another about to arrive behind him.
I spin and bring my left leg full force, belly high, and it meets the second bodyguard in the gut as he too races in, gun drawn. The blow stops him just as his predecessor turns and opens fire. Pop-pop-pop!”
I grab the huge huffing bodyguard from behind, holding tight, and I can feel his body shudder as each bullet impacts. I don’t have the strength to hold him up. Desperately, I reach for the weapon still in his hand, but I can’t pull it from his grasp. So I frantically squeeze his huge fingers trying to discharge the damn thing. The first man is continuing to fire.
A miracle. The bodyguard is hit and pirouettes clumsily backward, firing into the carpet, then up the wall. Running out of ammo and time almost simultaneously, he crashes at Doug’s feet.
My heart is attempting to beat its way out of my chest. There is no spit in my mouth and words seem impossible yet I yell, “Let’s get the fuck out of here!” Sue needs no further encouragement and is moving towards the front door ahead of me.
Then, Dick, still lying on the carpet and clutching his balls. breaks the sacred silence with a softly mumbled threat.
“You’re dead. Your wife’s dead. Your entire family’s dead.”
His words, though soft and muffled by a mouthful of spit, are believable enough to stop me in my tracks. I return to hear him repeating his mantra of mayhem. My mind goes blank, my gaze floating slowly about the room, until it falls upon the crossed medieval axes above the fireplace.
Without reflection or hesitation, I move to the mantle, lift one axe free, raise it above my head and bring it down on Dick’s neck. The momentum buries the blade deep in the shag carpet. Dick’s head rocks and rolls as his body oozes and twitches. I grab Dick by by his pretty curls and carry his head to the bathroom by the front door. I whisper,"One last whirly for the road, mother fucker," as I drop his head into the toilet bowl and flush. That’s a first.
I turn to Doug, who has wet himself. "Fun day," I remark. "Let’s do it again real soon". He looks at me, then at headless Dick now so still and quiet.
Doug is trying to say something but can’t make the words, so I say it for him. "This is no way to treat a client, is it?"
This time I really am leaving. I feel in my shirt pocket for my joints and head for the door. Sue is slumped against the wall in the hall.She raises her head and slowly turns to me, flashing a weak smile. I tell her to go to the truck. She nods and disappears around the corner. I soon follow.
Sue has Hendrix’s version of "All Along the Watchtower" playing wonderfully loud and fires up a roach from the ashtray. I light a fatty and pass it to her while trying to figure out my next move. We are slowly rolling down the driveway and trip some invisible trigger which opens the gate. A sign from God that it is time to go.
We are back on Mulholland. It is still the same sunny day. Then Inspiration.
"Have you ever been to the Polo Lounge?" I ask Sue. Hendrix is now doing "Hey Joe" which seems perfect. I pass the joint back to her and say, "It’s close," and head south on Coldwater. We slide off the hill and onto Sunset within minutes. When we arrive at valet parking, our vehicle is filled with the sweetest smelling cloud this side of Maui. The attendants inhale deeply, laughing as they drive away.
"I’ve always wanted to stop here for drinks," Sue whispers. "But why now?"
"I remember hearing that you could get a phone at your table, and I have a call to make."
We’re shown to our seats. The waiter takes our drink order and leaves us alone with a menu and a phone. I call information to get the number of a lawyer pal, Jack, who lives nearby. If he is home, he can be here in a few minutes. Maybe even before Doug manages to call the cops.
The phone is ringing.
"What time is it?"
"Who the hell can be calling at this hour?"
Sue picks up the phone. "It’s Doug," she says handing me the receiver.
I tell him, "I just had the most amazing dream and you were in it." I relate the entire plot. When I finish, he says, "That’s better than the last three films I have seen. Write it down and I bet I can sell it for you."
I never did. Until now.