Hanging out with this new crowd, Jack begins to understand the important part played by costumery. Any drugstore psychiatrist could tell you that dressing like a pimp, for someone in Jack’s situation, is a natural reaction to circumstance. Having gone from two pale relationships in ten years to two gorgeous redheads in two weeks, Jack feels an unprecedented ease with his body, and the pleasurable use of same. Thus: pimp.
The accessories are easy. Ever since adults took possession of Halloween, the classic funkadelic pimp has become fair game to every nerdy white boy in the country, and the fly-by-night costume shops are littered with the accoutrements: dollar-sign pendants, bling-rings, bejeweled walking sticks, leopard-print fedoras, and, just in case the message has not yet penetrated, a golden goblet with sparkly letters spelling PIMP. Throw in a pair of big-ass blue-tint Elton John sunglasses and snow-white platform shoes and he’s in business. (Jack passes on the fake gold teeth, for considerations both aesthetic and hygienic.) For the capper, he ventures into the women’s section of a Salvation Army and comes away with a fake-fur coat the color of butterscotch. It’s a little tight in the shoulders, a little short on the sleeves, but he doesn’t imagine that he will be wearing it more than once.
He waits for Ben at Big Brown (culture of tolerance or not, he is not going to hang out in this getup at the coffeehouse). When the Miata pulls up, its driver appears to be dressed as a housepainter. Jack slides in and is greeted by Ben’s amused expression.
“Wow! I’m impressed. You sure you haven’t worn this ensemble in a professional capacity?”
“F’shizzle, my mizzle,” says Jack, trying hard not to laugh. “So what are you?”
“I am a blank canvas,” he answers. “I found this wonderful set of paper overalls and cap at Home Depot, and I also bought these.” He holds up a six-pack of Magic Markers. “It’s up to the rest of the party to illustrate me.”
“Fantastic!” Jack takes off his fedora, which is butting against the ceiling of Ben’s hardtop. “Remind me to make my contribution before all the non-erogenous areas are taken.”
Ben wheels the Miata backward and heads for the security gate. “You have found me out. What I’m really after is an all-night massage. So not to be a drugstore psychiatrist but… might your costume be inspired by recent events?”
Jack finds himself growing embarrassed, and realizes that these are the kinds of conversations that standard-issue males have all the time in locker rooms and bars. Kiss and tell. Details, details. He gazes at the orange-festooned RVs along the beach road.
“Ben? Am I being a dog?”
“I’d say you were making up for lost time.”
“This is new for me. I’m not used to… multi-tasking.”
Ben cracks up at the choice of words, then grows silent as he re-assumes his mentorly aura.
“These are unusual situations, my friend. These are two lovely, oversexed women who pretty much dropped out of the sky. I would shout some hallelujahs and count your blessings. And I’ve got news for you: chances are, this little doubleheader will not last. They never do. So for God’s sake, enjoy yourself.”
“But I feel like… with Brigit, I feel like there’s an emotional investment.”
Ben salutes the ranger as they pass his kiosk.
“And whose emotions were those?”
“Um…” Jack squints, trying to understand the question. “Well. The one who really went through all the trauma was… Brigit.”
“So the emotional investment on your part is largely empathy. God bless you for having the capacity to get inside someone else’s pain -–but don't equate that with anything resembling a normal relationship. You need to give her some time to nurse that broken heart, and then maybe go up to Portland for a visit. Right now, though, you need to keep your head down here, where, need I remind you, you are attempting to create a new vision for your life. I might add, as far as tonight goes… I know Audrey’s a wildcat, but don’t think she’s promiscuous. She’s got a thing for you, young man, and over the past ten years I’ve seen that she picks her lovers very carefully. Also, please remember that she asked for some freedom in your budding relationship, so guess what? You get some freedom in return. For God’s sake don’t tell her about Brigit, because true confessions is such a buzzkill, and I’d really like you to enjoy yourself. Audrey’s well-known for her sexy Halloween costumes, so I think you’re in for quite a treat. In fact, I’m pretty freakin’ jealous. Just respond to her in a real fashion, and don’t tell any big, whopping lies. You are most decidedly not a dog – even in that sleazy getup.”
Jack hadn’t quite believed that they were actually going to put on this party out-of-doors, but the fall coast weather has lived up to its reputation, a mite chill but clear as a bell, the stars like tiny shards of glass over the Salinas hills. Ben pulls past the hangar and parks along the dirt road, which is lined with cars. When Jack gets out, he notices a large dirt oval scattered with fences and hedges, like some sort of obstacle course. They walk a good hundred yards to the end of the drive, and find the lawn lorded over by an open-air tent, thirty feet long and twenty wide. A gaggle of figures gathers at one end, working over an assemblage of speakers, mic stands and amplifiers.
“Wow,” says Jack. “All of this for a drum circle?”
“Tonight is different,” says Ben. “For tonight we rock.”
“Our friend Ivan has a secret life. He runs a recording studio out of the extra bedroom – the one nobody goes into? He’s developed quite the reputation for doing live recordings of beginning bands – who tend to find the one-instrument-at-a-time approach a little intimidating. We’ll have three of those bands here tonight, and the rest of us have only to listen and dance and maybe play cowbell. Manny!”
Ben hops away to greet a thin Asian man with long, straight hair. Jack tails behind, anticipating the usual introduction.
“Manny Lee, this is Jack Teagarden.”
“Hi.” Manny gives Jack a calm, blissful smile. “You are quite the pimp!”
Manny chuckles at a private thought. “I may require your services later.” Jack doesn’t bother asking for an explanation, and Manny doesn’t offer one.
“Manny does all the set-up for a music camp at Burning Man,” says Ben. “So he’s definitely the man to pull off a farm jam.”
Manny laughs. “Sometimes I wish I could get rid of that reputation. Makes for a shitload of work.”
“They’ve got your number,” says Ben. “You’re a music whore.”
“Nono. I’m a music slut. Whores get paid.”
Ben unleashes his primo laugh, a husky bark that shakes his chest.
“Come along, young Jack. Let’s go inside and see what’s cookin’.”
They enter the house and discover the number of people at the last two parties times ten, gathered in clumps around a long buffet table, chatting and chowing at an Olympian pace. Ben lifts a whole roast chicken from his grocery bag, tucks it under his arm like a football and breaks through the crowd to leave it on the table. He retreats quickly before someone mistakes his hand for a drumstick.
“Jumpin’ Geehosaphat!” he says, wiping his forehead. “If I did not know better, I would suspect that these people were ingesting some sort of mysterious substance that arouses the appetite.”
Jack feels a tug at his pantsleg and immediately imagines that some unfortunate partygoer has fallen and is being trampled underfoot. In reality, it’s Jack the border collie, who has been forced to wear a leprechaun hat left over from St. Patrick’s.
“Well look at that!” says Ben. “He knows his namesake.”
Jack Sr. attempts to give Jack Jr. a decent rubdown, wary of a real-looking battle axe dangling from the belt of a nearby Viking. Easing his way back up, he finds that he is being closely observed by someone wearing a genuinely hideous zombie mask. The pale visage sports several jagged scars and hideous fleshy projections.
“Hi,” says Jack. “Should I have any idea who you are?”
The zombie nods and grunts, which really doesn’t help.
“I think I have an idea,” says Ben. “Oh Spirit of Halloween Present, might I ask you to lift your shirt just a tad?”
The zombie gives him a blank look (having no other choice) then lifts the hem of his shirt, an oversized white button-down ripped and stained with blood. The motion reveals a pair of white polyester pants; Ben scoots around to study the zombie’s rear-end.
“Constance! How nice to see you and your fine ass.”
“Damn you, Ben!” she mutters. “But on the other hand, thanks!” She gives herself a playful spank.
“Hey! That’s my job.” Willie looms near, dressed in full Star Trek regalia, his face powdered white.
“Willie!” says Ben. “You’re Data, right?”
“Yeh. Check out the eyes.”
Willie has gone to the extreme of wearing contact lenses that remove all color from his irises.
“Well!” says Ben. “Don’t I feel like a piker.”
“Bosh!” says Willie. “You’re a fine, um… housepainter?”
“I’d better get someone started on this. Come on, Jack, draw something on my arm while we check out the first band.”
“Oh boy!” says Willie. He claps his hands together in a very non-android fashion.
By the time they tunnel out of the house-crowd and into the stage-crowd, they find that a hot Japanese anime girl in a miniskirt and go-go boots is playing the theme from Sesame Street on a large saxophone. She’s backed on bass by a long-haired blond man dressed like a Cossack, and on drums by a stout cowboy in a red suede jacket with fringes. Once “Sesame Street” has played out, the drummer clicks a four-count, the anime girl grabs an acoustic guitar and a blue witch runs in to sing “I’m a Believer.”
Jack is busy turning Ben’s left bicep into a field of green fish-scales, as Ben gives him the full narration.
“Dire Mozzarella. They are comic deconstructionists of pop music. They take the cheesiest songs they can find and do very odd things to them. Musically, they are absolute beginners, but it’s always fun to see what they’ll try next.”
After “Believer,” the band takes up an odd assortment of percussion instruments – cabasa, claves, a shaker shaped like a potato – while the anime girl plays a salsa version of George Michael’s “Faith.” Then comes a medley of “Funkytown” and “Play That Funky Music,” followed by “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” and the unlikely pairing of “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’” and the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun.” The blue witch has a deep voice like dark coffee, reminding Jack of Grace Slick and Jewel. For the finale, she hands it over to anime girl, who sings “Brandy.” Her voice isn’t quite so deep as the blue witch, but there’s something about it that’s oddly boyish.
“Isn’t this a guy’s song?” asks Jack.
“Yes it is,” answers Ben. “Nice job on the fish-scales.”
“Something I used to doodle in English class. Pages and pages of fish-scales.”
“Now I know why you’re so good with words.”
Up to this point, the crowd has been more of the stand-and-bob variety, but after the final chorus, they’re inspired to grant the band a solid round of hooting and screaming. Once they’re spent, they scatter to the corners of the property, visiting the horses, gazing at the stars or heading inside for another round of food and booze. Ben leads Jack to a fence across from the stable, opening a gate onto a dimly lit garden. As his eyes adjust, Jack makes out a statue, an exotic-looking human figure.
“Welcome to the Spirit Garden,” says Ben. “That’s Lakshmi, the Hindu god of prosperity. We also have a Madonna and child by the lavender bushes, a seated Buddha next to the roses, and at the center there’s a Wiccan pentagram etched in concrete.”
“Impressive,” says Jack.
“It’s all very Unitarian. But that’s Terra’s reading of paganism – accepting all good thoughts and ideas, no matter their origins. Here – join me.”
He settles onto a bench and lights a joint.
“Ah,” says Jack. “I was beginning to wonder.”
“Yes. Although, I am limiting you to one good puff, because tonight I want you to see and hear things clearly. And perhaps, judging by our last visit, to keep your clothes on for a while.”
“You should eventually check out the hot tub, though. The water is orange.”
“No kidding!” Jack takes his single drag, proud that it doesn’t make him cough, and hands it back to Ben. Were it not for the rumble of laughter and talk rolling over the fence, one could look out on the dark farmlands next door, stretching out to a far-off string of lights representing Salinas proper, and imagine that they were quite isolated. Jack feels something mournful in the empty fields and waits for the thought to reach his lips.
“Ben?” he asks. “How do you… deal?”
Ben finishes his drag, the smoke leaking from his mouth as he speaks. “My loss? My loss was awful, Jack. Unimaginably awful. You hear sometimes about the remains of people being identified by their teeth. That’s how they identified my wife, my children – these whole, amazing personages, these creatures I loved more than breath, reduced to an extracted bicuspid, a capped canine. Bits of bone.
“Now keep that thought in your head and consider the phrase ‘Time heals all wounds.’ The hell it does. Wounds like that become part of us. We incorporate them. How do we build muscles? We exercise them until we’re sore – we damage them, and the body rebuilds them, makes them stronger. You apply friction to the skin – you damage the skin – and it forms a callus, which makes it better able to withstand friction.
“Before my loss, I would meet people who had suffered tragedy, and you know what? I would subtly avoid them. As if their grief were a contagious disease. I think if people were more honest, they would admit that this is a natural instinct, operating almost on the reptilian, evolutionary level.
“Now, when I meet someone who has suffered, I see a fellow traveler, and I ask them to tell me about it. Many times they do, because the reactions of those who don’t understand have taught them that they are not to speak of their tragedies in polite company. That they are almost to be ashamed of their tragedies. And they are literally dying to talk about it, because it is, after all, the most powerful thing in their lives – and there I am, with my muscles and my calluses, ready to listen.”
Jack catches the smell of the Madonna’s lavender. “You are a profoundly good man, Ben.”
“So… is there a lesson plan for tonight?”
“No lesson. Music. Music is good for everything, in ways that we have yet to figure out. When you reduce it to physics, it’s really quite a wacky enterprise. I stand over here with some instrument and, through the force of wind, percussion or electrified plucking, send a set of vibrations sailing through the air. You stand over there and receive these vibrations with your little set of divinely constructed sensors, and it either pleases you, makes you cringe, maybe even scares you. Maybe it’s really a long-distance cousin to tactile sensations. We use the medium of air to touch each other.”
He takes another drag and follows the lights of a plane drifting over the valley.
“I don’t actually know what I’m doing with you anymore, Jack. Maybe this is just another expansion on the life perspective program. Maybe I just wanted you to come as my friend. Or maybe you’re a Monkey now, and you just belong here. Tell you what: stay here, see what there is to see, to hear, to touch, and then you tell me what it’s about. Maybe I’ll learn something. Uh-oh. I believe I hear drums. Let’s head back.”
The crowd has returned to the tent. Jack hears the click of the drumsticks and an explosion of cymbal and guitar, settling into a funky groove that vaguely reminds him of the Red Hot Chili Peppers: slapped-up bass, slippery guitar, little punches of ‘70s-style arena keyboards. A female voice comes in, sounding urgently pissed off, in a pleasing way.
“I don’t recognize this.”
“Nothing but originals,” says Ben. “They call themselves Exit Wonderland – ‘Wonderland’ being the last exit on the way to Burning Man. This one’s about Bush and American jingoism, which is why Pamela sounds so pissed off.”
They manage to find a gap to the side of the stage where they can stand and watch the band. The drummer is a large man with a broad face and a fiercely thick head of dark hair. He’s dressed like a samurai and he plays like one, reeling off long fills on the toms, punching the cymbals like a boxer. Halfway through the first song he’s already shining with sweat. The guitarist is a thin man dressed as a scarecrow, bits of straw drifting from his outfit as he plays. The singer is a lithe brunette done up as a butterfly, her eye-shadow matching the iridescent greens and purples of her wings. She sways in place, working up energy for the next entrance, then hops twice and attacks the mic. The bassist is a woman with fair skin and gray-blonde hair who appears to be dressed as a martini – an outfit that seriously constricts her movement. She seems very intent on the rest of the band, as if she’s taking careful geopositional readings of their place in the song.
Jack is so intent on his analysis that he doesn’t even notice the ending of the song until he hears the applause. The singer begins the next song by herself, a sultry line of blues that is then picked up by the bass and drums. The song has a gentle swing to it, and when the chorus arrives, the keyboard player, a Scandinavian blonde dressed as the St. Pauli girl, kicks in with a rich harmony. Jack didn’t really expect something like this, not from a band playing on a farm.
“This one’s called ‘Burden,’” says Ben, whose back is being scribbled upon by a tall black woman. “It’s actually about credit card debt. I love that about these guys – their subject matter is so unexpected. A little to the left, Leticia – oh! That’s the spot.”
Jack’s paying little attention, too busy pushing down his expectations. Where the hell is she? He’s been having red-flame visions all evening, and finally it drives him to seek a healthy distraction. The band kicks into a surfer tune, and Jack takes off his fur coat, setting it atop a speaker.
“See you, Ben. Time to dance.”
He knows he’s probably left Ben astonished. He slides his way into a no-partners dance party at the front of the stage and loses himself in the hoi polloi. He feels the boundaries of his person dissipating, which is just what he was after. He also suspects that the single drag of marijuana is having its effect. The band breaks into a punk polka, and the dancers begin hopping and bumping into each other. Jack catches a blur going by, a blur wearing an eyepatch, and suspects that it’s Ivan. All the rest is a cubist painting – bits of Indian, medieval knight, a fireman, a can-can dancer, kings, drag queens, the Artist formerly known as Prince, Dolly Parton, Elvises, Einsteins, mafiosi, Harry Potter, all of them stuck in a blender and spat back out as a big ol’ pop-culture Margarita.
The punk song ends with a punch and gives way to a rock ballad, a cinnamon sweep of guitar over a restive heartbeat of drum and bass, thump-thump thump-thump. The crowd filters into couples, and Jack makes his way back to Ben but Ben’s no longer there, so he stands and listens. The song has the forlorn quality of a last cigarette, which is not helping matters. The scarecrow plays a long, sinewy solo, single notes swimming in a soup of ether. The band cuts down to bass and drums, leaving the singer exposed as she mourns her fate, then she lands on the word “alone” and everything disappears but the bass drum thump-thump thump-thump. Jack spots a black feather cruising above the dancers like a periscope. It turns into a red satin tricorner hat as the guitar comes back in, then a spookhouse groan of keyboards, then comes Audrey full-blown in a pirate’s outfit, red satin waistcoat, black velvet trim, a corset topped by vanilla scoops of cleavage, and a miniskirt of torn red strips over gartered hose and vinyl black boots up to her knees. She spies Jack, breaks into a buccaneer’s grin and charges, clamping onto his lips and driving him backward into a sub-woofer that vibrates all over his backside. A yell rises up from the dancers, who have witnessed the whole sequence. Audrey releases her liplock and smiles coyly.
She smiles. “Your answers are getting better. Come on, dance with me. Get reacquainted.”
They turn to find the anime girl holding their hats. “Nice performance,” she says.
Her voice is getting deeper, thinks Jack.
“Manny!” says Audrey. “You are delicious.”
“Oh thank you.” Manny covers his mouth, geisha-style, and attempts a giggle. “I’ve already had three men ask me out.”
“Two words: Crying Game.” Audrey puts on the pimp-hat and hands the tricorner to Jack as she pulls him into the crowd.
Jack is still staring at anime girl. “My God. That’s Manny?”
“His girlfriend is a makeup artist. But the smooth, girlish legs are all Manny’s. And stop looking at them!”
She turns his face back her direction, and keeps it there with a kiss.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to hell now,” says Jack.
“Hangin’ with this crowd, yes. Oh God, Jack.” She nuzzles her face against his. “I shouldn’t say this at all, I really shouldn’t. I can’t stop thinking about you. What have you done to me?”
“Believe me, I have no idea.”
“Have you been thinking about me?”
“From the moment you left me on that roadside.”
The scary thing is, this is true, and it surprises him how easy it is to say. Even when he was with Brigit, Audrey was never more than an inch from his thoughts.
She slaps him on the ass. “Oh! I am so going to…”
The band heads quickly into another song, something fast and funky. Jack tries to pull away into an appropriate freestyle stance, but Audrey pulls him back.
“Fuck the tempo; we’re slow-dancing.”
“You got it.” Jack pulls her closer and feels a burst of happiness frothing into his brain like a shaken soda. Three fast songs later they’re still entwined, Audrey’s pheromones painting streaks of heat up and down his frame. He’s already having flashbacks of his first sight of her in the pirate outfit. He wants to do things to her.
Just then, he recognizes the pattern: he’s waiting for Audrey to make a move. Respond to things in a real fashion, said Ben. Well, right now he’s incredibly horny, so perhaps it’s time that he became the aggressor. As the crowd breaks into an applause, he takes her hand and leads her away.
The Spirit Garden is dark and unoccupied. It could be that few people actually know about it. He considers finding some way to lock the gate, but realizes that he doesn’t really care. He takes Audrey to the pentagram, motions for her to kneel and undoes his pants, unleashing a steel rod resembling his penis. Audrey gives it a lick and smiles.
“My God, honey, it’s like something on a marble statue. Did I do this?”
“You and that outfit.” Jack looks down to take in the sight: a wicked red-headed pirate girl sucking off a pimp at the center of a pagan garden. The combination is dizzying. He looks out over the long rows of soil next door, hears snatches of conversation and music floating over the fence. It’s all so almost-public, so free and nasty. Audrey has a hand on him now, is pumping his cock into her mouth. He’s tempted to let himself go right now, but decides that he wants even more.
He takes her hands and pulls her up, guiding her to the statue of Lakshmi. Audrey takes the god’s upraised hands in her own and arches her back, extending her ass toward Jack. Jack collects the vision, the curve of Audrey’s cheeks peeking out from beneath her skirt, then runs a hand underneath, happy to discover nothing but flesh and moisture. He dips two fingers into her pussy, rubbing her juices over her labia, then takes his cock in his hand and slowly slides forward. Audrey takes a quick inhale and sways her hips, savoring the feeling.
Jack brings the camera back again and takes in the whole scene: the eaves of the stables across the way, the insect buzz of a motorcycle on a far-off road, the aura of light from the far side of the house and the upwelling thunder of a song’s ending, rolling bass, growling guitar, a screaming singer and the large drummer hammering everything in sight. He brings the focus back to the strange menage with Lakshmi, Audrey’s thin arms held in a skyward plea, the satin folds of her outfit, the white frame of her ass-cheeks surrounding his cock, his hands around her waist, the pimp-rings spelling out SEX and THUG in blingy sparkles.
This is the absolute peak moment of my life, he thinks. He thrusts forward and arches his back, discovering a half-moon in the sky behind him, then bends back forward, reaching around to rub Audrey’s clit. Her legs begin to shake in orgasm, and that’s all he needs; he pours himself into her as the tricorner falls from his head and lands on Audrey’s back. The plume tickles his face and makes him laugh. The mix of sensations is too much; he loses his legs and settles back onto the pentagram.
Noting that he’s still hard, Audrey comes over to plant herself on top of him, happy just to stay there and soak him in. She’s suddenly overcome by laughter, and bends forward to rub her face against his. Jack looks up and finds Cygnus the swan, flying over Salinas. He remembers this from Boy Scouts. Now he is Cygnus, hovering over the valley, looking down on the couple fucking on a pentagram, the two hundred people gathered at a tent nearby.
“Mr. Pimp, you are an outrageously nasty boy.”
“I am, you know. I really am. But I swear, I have never done anything like that in my life!”
“Like this,” she says, squeezing his cock with her pussy. “But you should know, if I have my way, I expect to hear you say that many more times. Mr. Teagarden.”
They hear voices, and the sound of the gate opening – and the sound of the gate closing.
The hot tub seems like the next logical step, and though Jack might be getting used to the idea of public nudity he’s happy to see that it’s walled off by bamboo screens, which at least allows him not to feel like a painting at the Louvre. There’s a strategic gap between the screens that provides a view of the stage. He hears an acoustic guitar and is surprised to see Terra standing before the mic in a gypsy outfit, layers of yellow and red festooned with copper ornaments. She sings with the high, spooky tone he heard at Ben’s mourning ritual. Willie/Data stands beside her, walking a steady bass line as Ivan, a much more ragged, working-class pirate than Audrey, etches in some chocolate leads on electric guitar. The figure at the drums is hard to identify, but finally Jack realizes it’s Constance, zombie mask firmly in place. The song has a straight-ahead folk structure, but it begins to grow in an organic fashion over long, sinewy vocal lines and tidal wellings of sound. Over the top of the wave appears high-pitched squeals that seem strangely familiar.
Audrey squeezes his hand beneath the water. “That’s whalesong. They were messing around one day and Ivan figured out he could mimic it with his guitar, almost like a conversation. Pretty trippy stuff.”
Jack closes his eyes and drinks it in. “I’m just… overwhelmed.”
Audrey chuckles at the choice of word. “What do you mean?”
“I’m surrounded by all these talented people. What am I even doing here?”
“Oh you’re talented, honey. For one thing, you plow like a farmer.”
He smiles. “I owe it all to the richness of the soil.”
“Our euphemisms are getting a little sticky.”
“I’m also in an enormous tub of orange Kool-Aid with a naked pirate,” he adds. “Life is getting weirder by the minute.”
Audrey leans over and pockets her face in the hollow of his collarbone. “Life is weird to begin with, sweetie. We just spend an awful lot of time and energy trying to force it to be normal.”
“Oh my G… Shit! Damn!”
It’s disconcerting enough to wake in a forest of mic stands and amplifiers – Bob Dylan staring from the ceiling. The swearing doesn’t help. Jack rolls over and rubs his eyes into working condition. His gaze lands on a naked woman, so he assumes he’s still dreaming, but then the woman flips a lightswitch and turns orange.
“Holy shit!” Jack declares. He takes away his blanket and discovers that he, too, has become a human tangerine.
“What the fuck!” says Audrey.
A knock arrives on the door, along with a female voice. “Everything okay in there?”
Jack covers himself, but not Audrey, who intends to serve herself up as Exhibit A. Terra walks in and freezes in place.
“Terra! You have turned us into pumpkins!”
“Oh my God,” says Terra. “I am so…” But she doesn’t make it any further before bursting into laughter.
“Christ!” says Audrey. “Don’t you people do some fucking research before you go dipping your guests in food dye?”
Terra can’t answer, because she’s being consumed by an attack of titters and snorts. She squeals as Audrey hurls a cushion at her, then rushes back through the doorway.
They’re lucky enough to find that Ivan’s studio has an adjoining shower, and although their mutual scrubdown leads to another sessions of lovemaking, it does little to restore their skin color. Terra delivers a pair of old trench coats, and soon they’re picking their way through tents and outdoor sleepers, feeling like KGB operatives.
“You be Agent Tangerine,” says Jack. “I’ll be Agent Orange.”
He feels like he’s really come up with a good one, but Audrey is determined to maintain her grumpiness. They arrive at her car – a hunter-green VW Jetta – and she waves him in.
“Wait a minute,” says Jack. “I came with Ben.”
“Screw Ben. I’ll drive you home. Maybe a couple hours in a normal hot tub will steam this shit off.”
They take the coastal route, which keeps them cool despite the coats. The vistas of the ocean, cobalt blue under the midday sun, seems to lighten Audrey’s mood, and the road grants them a welcome isolation. They pull up to Big Brown, not a neighbor in sight, and sneak up the front steps, but before Jack can get to the thumbprint lock, the door clicks open. It’s a tall man in gray sweatpants and a food-stained T-shirt, scratching at a three-day beard, eyes bloodshot, dark hair in a frazzled mop.
It is, in fact, Thompson Flores. He manages a weak smile.
“Jack, I don’t know what kinda tanning salon you signed up for, but ya look like an Oompah-Loompah.”
Photo: The Author