Read Lunch Online

Authors: Karen Moline


BOOK: Lunch
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To another M



Yet every man has inward longings

and sweeping, skyward aspirations

when up above, forlorn in azure space,

the lark sends out a lusty melody;

when over jagged mountains, soaring over pines,

the outstretched eagle draws his circles,

and high above the plains and oceans

the cranes press onward, homeward bound.




t never would have happened had she not been late for lunch.

Trust me when I say it is so. I've had nothing but time to think about it. An endless, slow looping replay of time, ticking calmly, oblivious.

She was late because the phone rang. A simple thing, choosing that exact moment to call, his voice crackling across miles of fiber optics. She speaks, longer than she means to; she misses him, he is far away. She runs out into a day so gray it is an insult to bring color into it, the sky drooping, about to unleash a storm. There are no taxis on Queens Gate. She paces, waving her hand. Impatient, she ties a scarf, all mauve and green and deeper purples, over her hair and yanks it in a loose knot under her chin. Finally a cab stops. She leans back in the taxi, sighing, and glances at her watch. She hates to be late, she has no patience for ­people who keep her waiting. They move, they stop, they move again. It is a conspiracy of fate: tempers shortened by sodden skies, the oil-­slicked road, the cars' idling puffs of sooty exhaust; an engine stalls, brakes slam, drivers curse. She gets out as soon as she can, into cold sleeting rain. She has forgotten her umbrella. She walks fast, faster, she slips, scraping her palm on a brick wall as she scrambles to right herself. Her scarf slides off her hair, dangling down her back. ­People pass, heads down, oblivious. She is not the kind of woman who makes heads turn on a damp rainy day. On any day. Not unless they are really looking.

Or rather, that they know what to look for.

She hurries down a long staircase into the restaurant, angry at herself, and the weather, and the disruption of her day. She does not mean to be late when at last she joins her impatient friend at the table next to ours, shaking the rain out of her tangled thicket of hair that glows like molten copper in the flesh-­softening lighting of the room, and we saw her for the first time, and it began.




Chapter 1

eople call me the Major.

Who I really am is irrelevant. I am known, notorious, in fact, to anyone who deals with Nick Muncie out of the familiarity of the limelight that illuminates him so brilliantly. So many ­people see Nick, millions
him because he is so famous, but they don't
him as I do, as all the ingratiating, night-­crawling Hollywood hangers-­on arid professional ass-­wipes with wide eyes and wider mouths do, as the producers and publicists and business managers and accountants and lawyers on his payroll do. To them I am the majordomo. A major nuisance, running interference. They must get by me to get to Nick, and that makes them angry, and vicious behind my back.

If any of these ­people are more frightened of me than usual, which most are due to the imposing size and solidity of my body, large yet not bulky, honed by daily boxing bouts in our home gym, and by the ferocious thick scars crisscrossing my cheeks, the left one a scimitar curving from my half-­shuttered eyelid to the outside of my lip to give it an unduly sinister expression, they call me Mr. Major. Nick laughs whenever he hears that. It is our own private joke.

Call him M, he says. M'll do. M is enough.

Think of me as Nick's right arm, his true self, his slave, although we both have acknowledged that he is the slave to my skills of organizational authority, and to the knowledge I keep to myself behind my habitual subdued blank mask. I know more about him than he knows himself. Because Nick lives for the moment, and then chooses to forget. It is easier that way, for him. I choose to remember. It is etched, cuneiform-­like, on my face. Besides, what may have temporarily slipped my mind is still all there, stacked in neatly labeled rows of black cassettes, preserved on videotape, just in case.

I am the procurer.

Mr. Fix-­it.


I like to watch.

I watch because Nick wants me by him when he's watching, especially during the endless loops of replays. We have done it together for so long in the blue room I'd had soundproofed in the pool house that it is as habitual as the molten Blue Mountain java we gulp in the morning, or the fans who trawl behind Nick like gulls shrieking in wild circles after a garbage barge. ­People have wondered about us, why we are always together, Nick and his shadow, the weird big man with the appalling scars on his appalling face. We hear their whispers, see the avid curiosity alive in their faces. But we are not lovers, never have been, never will be. We are brothers of the blood, conjoined for life in a symbiosis of necessity and habit.

We never talk about why we are or what happened to make it so. It hovers behind a scrim in the back of our minds, as centuries of soot and grime and waxy varnish will dull the brilliant colors of a wet last-­suppered fresco. We wake up to it every morning, for one brief sleepy second it bites us awake, we push it away, we disregard its calling, we play our games. Nick is very famous. Everyone wants to be with him. Everyone wants to be him.

He can afford to play. He can afford to pay, although not even Nick's fervid imagination could have envisioned the incalculable cost of this lunch.

toying with his
sipping champagne. Jamie is busy talking, James Toledo, the director who has brought Nick to London, confounding Nick's critics who say yes, well, so what if he is the most popular actor in the world, yes he is top of the pops at the box office, can open any picture, any country, can guarantee those grosses, please let him be in my movie we'll give him anything he wants. Confounding those bold enough to state the knowledge that he can't act, what does he have to prove, he just has to open his mouth and bare his pecs and flash the butt shot, there, like that, do it again, thank you very much, with those few seconds you've just packed a few million more of those fat behinds into the theaters, squirming with wet desire.

Jamie keeps babbling, but Nick is not listening. He can give every impression of paying attention while behind that potently familiar facade is a raptor seeking its prey. The room is a delirious morass of pheromones igniting in spontaneous combustion because Nick is there, and Nick means to be noticed, even if he is sitting at a table with Jamie and me, near the back. His seeming oblivion to stares and titters fuels speculation; he feeds off this by-­product more nourishing than any stew, as necessary a fix to his daily routine as shaving and jerking off. Every woman's eyes are drawn helplessly to his, their lips are moistened between dainty bites of
willing him, willing Nick Muncie, superstar, to notice them, look at me, please, look, take me home, take me now, I'll do anything you want, you are the most beautiful man I have ever seen.

These well-­bred, well-­dressed ladies sit dreaming of Nick's kisses over extra-­virgin olive oil. Let them dream. More satisfying these impulses of sweet romance than the debauched reality Nick would impose upon them, even had he found any of them remotely appealing.

Like the rest of London, the lunchtime crowd has only seen Nick's face presenting awards to his colleagues, the packed sardines of the Hollywood elite at popularity contests disguised as official ceremonies, or on the cover of so many magazines, or forty feet high up on a movie screen, the celluloid embodiment of their wildest fantasies. His dark blue eyes seem so familiar to them. Unfathomable, his fans call them. It is also a word that journalists, smitten against their better judgment, are fond of writing, although to me the snickering irony was that the only mystery lurking in their depths was the wonder that no one had yet discovered the utterly banal single-­mindedness of Nick's ambition.

What brings Nick Muncie here, a self-­launched one-­man invasion of the soundstages at Pinewood and the grimy sheets of Shoreditch, is Dr. Faustus, of all things, the legend updated, transported to Edwardian England, the tormented soul slinking with his hellish guide into smoky dark corners of East End slums, setting up the number-­one box-­office draw for mocking scorn and muffled snickers.

What are you, crazy?” said McAllister, Nick's agent on one of the infrequent and priceless occasions where I saw him literally blanch, and then try to dissuade Nick from working. “Whose idiotic idea is that? And what the hell reason do you want to play Faust for? He's just some character in a book written by a dead German with a name no one can pronounce.” He shook his head in bewilderment, then stopped and paled further when he saw the grim, intractable grin on Nick's face. “Suit yourself,” he said, trying for an insouciant shrug, knowing his client well enough to let it drop. He'd be working the phones for the next year, or more, he realized, trying to sort out this nightmare of negotiating anywhere close to Nick's usual megamillion fee as healthy insulation, pay or play, against the inevitable industry disbelief. “It's your funeral,” he sighed. “You could've at least done Mephisto.”

“Too predictable,” Nick said.

“Are you kidding?” McAllister countered. “Like Faust fits in your repertoire of the classics? I can see the poster now:
‘FAUST: The Movie!
He Sold His Soul to the Devil! Rated R!'”

“Just set it up,” Nick said.

Particularly vehement in her disapproval was Belinda Beverley, the she-­devil of Southern California, Nick's infrequent leading lady and caustic companion. She'd protested the risk to his stature with much flouncing until I locked her in Nick's sauna one balmy afternoon, and only let her out when she'd stopped screaming and was more amenable to my politely worded request for peace and quiet.

Such a pair, they are, she so svelte and gilded, all flowing blond mane and liquid legs, he so sleekly dark and chiseled, the epitome of the bad boy, brooding as is his wont, both impossibly beautiful, draped around each other at premieres, at watering holes so exclusively trendy they have neither telephone nor identifiable entrances, at A-­list parties, out dancing. Catch them flying around town on his Harley, Belinda trying not to scream at every bump Nick speeds over with deliberate skill. He knows exactly where to place the welts that will hurt the most when Belinda parks her perfectly toned and liposuctioned posterior on the back of his bike, wincing in pleasurable pain because she likes the whip, that is her dirty little secret, their dirty little playtime fun. She eggs him on, so eager, he lets her beg and he lets her have it where it will never show. Nick knew he'd never find another Hollywood specimen so pliable, so presentable, the ideal living twin to the peculiarities of his demands, and she knew she'd always be able to jump-­start her teetering career as long as she remained available to give Nick whatever he wanted.

Belinda is far away where she belongs, stuck shooting a remake of
Grand Hotel
in a heat wave in Hollywood, far from the damp seeping chill of cobblestoned streets slick with manure from the misbehaving stallions pulling the carriages of shivering extras, and far from Nick's suite, the Sinatra suite they gave him, the Thames roiling gray underneath his window, at the Savoy. I expect that at this hour she is not sleeping, wired awake by a multicolored supplement from her usual stash to help her through an abominably early call. Instead she will be lying under the supple ministrations of Ivan, her masseur. He makes house calls, of course, anything for Belinda. He also keeps his mouth very shut, anything for the Major. Belinda's welts have healed into snaking thin white lines she lets Ivan trace gently with neroli oil as she plots revenge for Nick's professional infidelity, wondering when he will return to the sprawling ranch house of his fortified compound high in the Hollywood Hills that she often visits, only to be chained to the bed, screaming behind her gag because she likes it so, yes, just so, a little lower, please please, do it there, you bastard, and then do it again.

A flick of a gold lighter, the quick inhale of a Turkish cigarette. The mindless signals we exchange when all eyes pretend not to be on us. Jamie is blathering about Faust's quest for knowledge, the sacrifice he owes to hell, the alluring, potent force of seduction by the devil himself. Actually, he's done his research and his comments are interesting, but I will not give him the pleasure of acknowledgment and my fascination with the story because he is still afraid of me even after all the preproduction work we've coordinated together, deferential in his worry that he'd offend me with an inadvertent implication that I might not understand the intricacies of Walpurgisnacht.

He should be worrying about Nick, instead. Nick is pretending to listen, being nice since he knows enough not to antagonize his director before the shooting starts, when he is really floating off on the billowing waves of adulation coasting airily by. He smiles dreamily at the impeccably soignée woman sitting at the next table without even seeing the pleasing evenness of her features, or that her edgy impatience with the lateness of whomever she's expecting is clearly tempered by proximity to the world's most famous bachelor, almost close enough to touch. She smiles back, surprised by his casual interest, and as a blush spreads over the flawless cream of her cheeks she pats a nonexistent stray hair from her blond chignon.

I am just beginning to wonder who she is, comparing her understated elegance with Belinda's streaked vulgarity, when her friend arrives suddenly, a whoosh of breathless wet, her back to me, shaking the drops out of her hair.

“I am so sorry,” this woman says. “On days like this I almost wish I were back in Chicago. This weather is so incredibly disgusting.” Her accent is American. “First no taxis, and then we got stuck, and I couldn't stand it so I got out and ran.” She looks down at her palm, surprised to see faint traces of blood where the bricks had scratched it.

“Darling, I
apologize for dragging you out of the house during your witching hour,” says the chic blond with great affection, clearly accustomed to such extravagant outbursts, “and am therefore prepared to forgive you for being late.”

“You can't even let me be a bitch,” says the American.

Nick is listening, idly curious, until his eyes alight on the stigmata scrape, and he sits up at attention. The woman runs her fingers through the mass of her hair again, so much of it curling that it is almost a living thing, a twisted ringleted creature. Her fingers arc very long, one sparkling with the light of a diamond ring, the nails cut short and blunt, a kaleidoscope of colored pellets dotting them.

I cannot see her face.

“Olivia,” Jamie says.

She turns to him, surprised to hear her name. “Jamie,” she says, smiling tightly and leaning over to kiss his cheeks. “Mr. Toledo. How are you. I haven't seen you in ages.”

She is not beautiful, this Olivia, her face is too round, her features slightly off-­center, but the color of her eyes is irresistibly peculiar, the queerest I've ever seen. Pale gray, like fog, flecks of green dancing inside, a ring of gold around the iris. I suspect they shift in hue to match her moods, and they make me wonder who she is and why she is here.

They make me want to look.

They didn't match her coloring, these eyes, nor her darker eyebrows, nor the pallor of a face that should have been freckled to match the fire of her hair.

“I've been working in L.A., but we're just about to start shooting here now,” Jamie says. “Do you know Nick?”

Cut to the chase, I've seen it a thousand times. She will melt, he will shrug, and then pounce, if he so chooses. She is faceless, he is Nick Muncie, superstar.

“No, I'm afraid I don't,” she says. She is not pretending. There is no quickening interest in her queer eyes, no curiosity in her voice. These are words Nick has not heard in many years. I see him stiffen imperceptibly with the trained reflex of the vain, intrigued by what he perceives as a slight. The curiosity is fomenting, the plot to seduce a Muncie virgin too compelling, by the time he is finished with her she'll never forget just exactly who he is.

BOOK: Lunch
10.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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