Make the World Go Away
Audrey drove. Lloyd held on. “Where or When” was on the radio, some Wop doo-wop version that Lloyd suddenly decided was the best thing he’d ever heard, that and the morning sun streaming through the T-bird’s windows. Life knit together in ways he’d never felt before, while it seemed torn beyond mending in other ways. His brain still felt like an Alka-Seltzer was dissolving in it; the Sunset Boulevard asphalt shimmered like oil on a puddle in moiré patterns; as they passed the statue of Bullwinkle Moose, it shook against the streaky clouds in the sky like someone was playing bass on the Richter Scale.
After shifting into second, Audrey rested her hand on his thigh. It startled him—he was still watching Bullwinkle quake—but her palm’s steady pressure stayed, and it calmed him.
“How are you? Near normal?”
“In and out. Normal doesn’t feel very normal right now. Shouldn’t I be eating some hash browns or something to sop up the LSD that’s left in my system?”
“I don’t think acid works like that. But if you’re hungry, it’s a quick U-turn to Ben Frank’s.”
“Is there anything to eat at your place?” Lloyd didn’t feel like being anywhere near anybody yet.
“I can probably throw together some eggs or a sandwich. I haven’t done a proper marketing for a while. If nothing else, we could eat cereal.”
“That’s good for me.”
They had Cheerios, dry out of the box because her milk had gone bad, and grapefruit from her yard. Then they made love. That didn’t feel normal, either, but it felt right. They could be in a rocket’s nosecone plummeting to Jupiter, and Audrey would feel right to him.
They napped, entwined in her bedding. The day stayed outside, doing without them. Lloyd fell into a deep slumber, and dreamed he was swimming in the ocean, and the dwarf, Barney, from the homeless encampment was swimming beside him, doing the breaststroke and explaining, “Salt water cauterizes my wounds.” As he spoke, the charred parts of his skin flaked off, revealing a baby’s face underneath. The baby began to cry and to founder in the surf.
Lloyd struggled to reach the baby and console him. Even after he woke up, sliding off Audrey’s bed and hitting the floor with a thump, he continued to struggle toward him. It’s a dream. Let it go, he had to tell himself.
Audrey sat up and looked at him bemused.
“Having trouble with gravity, are we?”
Lloyd was unaccountably grouchy. She should know he was trying to save a baby. He said, “I have to make a phone call.”
She pointed to a turquoise Princess phone beside the bed, then excused herself to the bathroom.
Lloyd called Roy Narawamu, who confirmed what Lloyd had feared. Dr. Ted had Roy check with the stage employees’ union, and they had Nolan Bentine’s medical insurance records. He’d worked as recently as 1965, getting $125 for a motorcycle crash in a biker flick called The Inconsiderate Ones. Bentine broke his right wrist in the fall. That and his other career fractures lined up with the corpse’s. It was Bentine on the slab, the second of Lloyd’s recent acquaintances to wind up tortured and murdered.
“Where are you Lloyd?” Roy asked. “Your voice sounds different.”
No need to mention the LSD. “I’m talking on a Princess phone.”
“You boldly go where no man has gone before. I just read that in TV Guide. There’s some new show that does that in a rocket ship.”
“You and your Martians.”
Audrey bounded out of the bathroom. “Done? Take a shower with me.”
It was a large, walk-in shower with a frosted glass door. Lloyd had never been in one before, nor had he made love in one, pressing Audrey up against the tiles, her legs wrapped around him. There were little colored sprinkles of LSD still topping the chocolate donut of his consciousness, but he was feeling pretty good. But the thought of Bentine’s friend, the dwarf, kept crossing his mind. Even though he was a near stranger, and Lloyd was repulsed by him, picturing the dwarf wretched and alone atop his cardboard home made him sad. It also proved to be a great tool for delaying his orgasm until he felt Audrey shuddering with hers.
As they dressed, Audrey asked if he was coming back that evening. He begged off, saying he needed to start pulling in the loose ends of his investigation before they unraveled. He wanted to talk to her about his LSD “trip” but he needed to think about it himself first.
Screwing her in the shower stall, it hadn’t seemed like a good time to mention his phone call telling him the latest dismembered corpse in the morgue definitely wasn’t Artie. It seemed just as awkward post-coitially. He determined to call her with that news in a bit.
“You’re sure you’re all right to drive?”
“I’m feeling pretty stable now. If I can be trusted with your body, I’m probably good to handle a car.”
Audrey feigned anger. “So I was like Driver’s Ed for you just now?”
“And wood shop, too. I could turn you on a lathe all day.”
She blushed—always a fresh surprise to Lloyd—and said, “If you’re coming up with lines like that, you’re probably good to drive.” Then, out of nowhere, she asked, “Will you take me to the Beatles concert Sunday? I’ve got tickets.”
“I’d rather drown baby ducks. But if that’s where you want to be, I’ll take you.”
“Will you see me before then?”
“I’ll see you every minute you want me to. But I won’t feel right if I’m not doing my job.” Finding your inconvenient husband, he didn’t have to say.
“I understand. I wouldn’t feel right either, and I want us to feel right.”
“I’ll call you later. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
He wasn’t halfway down Beachwood before he wasn’t fine. The shift knob felt alive in his hand, and the street had taken on an oily madras sheen again. Down the hill, Los Angeles looked like an ugly, dirty machine, the reverse of the pulsing, glittering entity he’d seen hours before.
He pulled to the curb and shut the engine off. He concentrated and forced the street to return to normal. That panicked him more; the realization that he had some control over the world he saw, with the implication that if there was a flaw in his character—and he knew there was—and he allowed a moment of weakness, he could spend the rest of his life seeing swirly streets and hell in a bag of BBQ potato chips.
He didn’t understand the impulse to use drugs, to willingly scramble the mind man had worked so hard to elevate from its simian beginnings. Maybe not so hard: He had an image of Cochise and his chimpanzee companion throwing back a six-pack in a stolen red station wagon.
The brief time he’d assisted the Narco Squad, he’d seen a heroin addict nodding out with a hypodermic still dangling from her arm; he’d seen potheads who thought it was hilarious to be handcuffed in the back of a black and white.
He’d been given a manual, citing drug addicts’ telltale signs and habits, and where they were apt to stash their stash: inside furniture, heater ducts, saxophone bells, panties, jewelry boxes: it basically gave a Narco cop license to dismantle the world.
Lloyd was once part of a roust of a touring rock band. Looking for contraband, he’d unscrewed the metal pickguard of a cheap Japanese electric guitar. There were no drugs, but on the underside of the pickguard, a bored factory worker half a world away had written some Japanese characters, and in clear block letters: “USA — FUCK YOU.”
Aside from the lecture he’d sat through about LSD, he didn’t know more than he’d read in magazines. He’d never come across a suspect who was on it, and, unless they were breaking some other law, there was no cause to arrest them. Somehow the stuff was as legal as rainwater.
He thought about his head resting on Audrey’s thigh that night, his brain buzzing with a million bumblebees. There’s your new Pieta for the swinging ’60s.
Audrey had taken it, she said. Cary Grant had taken it. Neither of them was falling off the planet. If they could manage, so could he, he told himself. He had a dwarf to visit, to deliver the bad news, and, he felt, to do penance, for being such a fuckup while others were holding their lives together living in a cardboard box.
He restarted the MG and drove down into the waiting machine.