In response to some small demand, I took up the story of Riley Mansfield, the main character in my first novel, The Audacity of Dope. The first three episodes, in order, were “Seven Years If It’s a Day,” “Like Old Times,” and “High in La-La Land.” This is the fourth episode.
Some adjustments had to be made. Riley told his trusty chauffeur, Boris, that he would catch a ride with Hayley LoBianco to the party. Hayley gave him the address, which he, in turn, passed along to Boris along with another five twenties. Boris said he slept during the morning, anyway, and that the best time for business was during the wee hours because there was no shortage of luminaries who needed assistance getting home. Boris gave Riley a business card.
NITSCHKE BROTHERS LIMOUSINE SERVICE
“Is my brother and me,” Boris said. “I handle several network talk shows, personally. Mr. Passineau, he been good to me and my brother Vaclev. You call me, and I come. Don’t matter. Four in the morning, six, don’t matter. After six, maybe you can catch a ride, but, no matter. If you need to wake me up, wake me up. Cell number is there for your convenience.”
Another ride, another five twenties. Boris knew he had a live one.
The next problem was getting Riley and his guitar into Hayley’s Lexus convertible, whose trunk didn’t have enough space for the Taylor Riley had selected for his trip to the coast. In fact, the trunk wouldn’t have had room for any guitar because the hard top folded into it. Riley’s long legs were tough to fold under the glove compartment. Fortunately, the IS 350 C had a cramped back seat that really wasn’t fit for much other than Riley’s hard case and overnight bag.
Riley noted the car had a six-speed, automatic transmission and thought to himself, What a shame. What’s the use of a car like this if you can’t really drive it?
The party was at the home of a prominent television producer, Jerry Huntingdon, and perhaps the reason he didn’t look like a Jerry Huntingdon was that he was born Jakob Rubinowicz, or so said Hayley LoBianco, whose name was really Holly McLintock. Rubinowicz was from the Bronx, McLintock from just off the Natchez Trace. They were equally above their raising. Riley took pride in being himself. In that, it seemed he stood alone at the mid-grade Hollywood party. The signs of cocaine were prevalent. Men with sweaty faces, smoking cigarettes nervously next to the pool. Beautiful women made no more beautiful, really, from breast enhancement and facial tightening, sniffing involuntarily from too many snorts. A gay sitcom star from one of the cable networks told Riley he’d like to play guitar with him. He said he had his. Hayley left to get one of the valets to go fetch the Taylor, though he wasn’t wild about the idea. He was fairly confident he’d be playing to an audience too wired to pay attention. The sitcom star was named Ronny, or maybe Lonny, and maybe he wasn’t gay, but the way he looked at Riley sure did suggest it. Riley wanted to get high but not with Ronny/Lonny. Intellectually, Riley believed “to each his own,” but it was a bit more complicated in personal interaction. Riley wasn’t gay, not even a little.
Dude gave him the creeps. He hated it, but he couldn’t transcend his prejudices. He felt mildly threatened by Ronny/Lonny and ashamed of himself for feeling so. Meanwhile, he needed someone to speak to Ronny/Lonny by name so that he could remember which was right. It was one more source of awkwardness. Riley tried to be friendly, perhaps to excess. What he needed to do was chill, and he knew exactly how to do that, and he also knew there were minor stars of stage, screen, and Hollywood outside, willing to help. He excused himself from Ronny/Lonny, walked out to the pool, and may have been there a good thirty seconds before Hale Berwick, who had portrayed Joe Don Looney in a biopic produced by a sports network, passed him a spewing joint, tightly rolled.
It hit the spot, but Berwick seemed to think it was only good manners for Riley to snort some cocaine with him, and Riley had to say politely that it wasn’t his thing. These people talked about cocaine as if it came with a Boy Scout merit badge.
“Oh, okay,” said Berwick, who thankfully wasn’t in character as Joe Don Looney, the late, great pro football nutcase.
Riley knew a little about Looney and asked Berwick if the movie included that anecdote about how Looney hit a towering punt during practice, looked up, and screamed to the heavens, “How’d you like that’un, God?”
“Oh, yeah,” Berwick said. “I killed it.”
Riley walked back inside, wondering whether the actor was talking about the scene or the punt. The timing was right. His guitar had just preceded him, but the valet had lingered so that Riley could give him a couple twenties. By Hollywood standards, it was probably cheap. Riley figured the ATMs of Hollywood and Beverly Hills must do more business than a McDonald’s drive-through. Then again, who would go to McDonald’s in Beverly Hills? Riley might if he didn’t have a chance to smoke a cigarette. Food was plentiful, but lots of it Riley couldn’t identify.
The gay actor’s name was Ronny Marsch, which Riley learned when Hayley told someone to go get him. He was a good guitarist, so much so that Riley could barely relate. Ronny had had the lessons, probably piano before guitar, and Riley had learned how to play by going to a pawn shop and strumming away at a beat-up Ovation as it gradually sucked less and less. Their musical tastes were dissimilar. Fortunately, Riley had a couple of harps in his guitar case, and he could muddle along, flitting in and out of Ronny’s songs with long bursts, rising and falling. He’d never tried to play harmonica along with covers of Prince, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John, but he endeared himself further to Marsch by playing a couple country-flavored John tunes that he just happened to know. He sang “Texan Love Song” and “Danny Bailey,” which caused Marsch to gush with compliments that would have made Riley more uncomfortable had he not wisely smoked the weed. A modest crowd had gathered, there around another fake Hollywood fireplace, and some of them even paid attention when Riley played a couple of his own stoner songs, “Wake and Bake” and “Stoned at the Crack of Dawn.”
“I am somewhat unique in that I have written not one, but two, songs about getting up early in the morning and smoking weed,” Riley said. “Of course, I’ve never actually done that myself.”
Riley settled into a comfortable buzz of wine, weed, cheese, and crackers. As it turned out, he needn’t be concerned about masculine weakness. Hayley might as well have brought him for “show and tell.” Once her discovery proved a hit, playing music for all the people she wanted to impress, she left Riley to his own devices. Riley could have gotten laid, but he wasn’t going after it. It would have been tough had it been lying in his lap, but he thought it important to be loyal to Melissa and went outside again to call her and let her know as much.
Melissa answered, sounding a bit agitated.
“Oh, I just … hauled a hamper of clothes I just folded to the bedroom,” she said. “I’m a little winded. You?”
“Oh, I got drug along to this Hollywood party where half the people you’ve seen but don’t know their names are standing around trying to be cool after snorting way too much cocaine,” Riley said. “Fortunately, they got ample quantities of weed. I don’t play that serious shit.”
“I miss you,” she said. “I miss South Carolina, too. I want to go home.”
“Get semi-packed. We’ll drive back the next morning after I get back.”
“What’s the party like?”
“Oh, I gotta get back to it in a minute. I’m playing songs. This dude in a TV sitcom – I’d have to go online and figure out which one it is – wants to be my gay lover, I think. You needn’t worry, my dear. The only folks out here interested in taking me to bed are apple-cheeked lads who just love my Southern accent.”
“Take some pictures with your phone of the fake boobs,” Melissa said, laughing.
“If it gets a little wilder, and some of these gals start letting ‘em hang loose, I’ll be sure to wade in there and be amateur paparazzi. I gotta get back inside and play a few more songs, Melissa. I’m trying to hustle some songs tomorrow. I’ll be home late Sunday night.”
Melissa would never love the hills. Eric Hays was never going to leave them. It could never be more than a harmless fling, she thought, as she climbed back in bed with Riley’s dear, dear friend.
In the unlikely event that you haven’t read The Audacity of Dope, it’s available along with most of my other books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1