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Authors: Lee Goldberg

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Three Ways to Die

BOOK: Three Ways to Die
11.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
By Lee Goldberg
Three Ways To Die
Copyright ©2009 by Lee Goldberg. All Rights Reserved.
"Jack Webb's Star" originally appeared in the anthology
Hollywood and Crime.
"Bumsickle" originally appeared in the anthology
Fedora III.
"Remaindered" originally appeared in
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Jack Webb's Star
About The Author

"The story you are about to hear is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent."
When it comes to sex, everyone is wired differently. You just can't predict what will get some people excited. I knew a guy who got a hard-on any time he licked an envelope. He couldn't tell you why it turned him on, it just did.
For my wife Carly, it's Jack Webb. He was an actor who played this cop named Joe Friday on a TV show called
t that ran in the Fifties and Sixties. Later, they made a Tom Hanks movie out of it that sucked and another TV series, with that Al Bundy guy from
Married With Children
, and it also sucked, but I'm digressing.
Jack Webb had a turtle face and moved like he was in a full body cast. The cop he played was just as stiff, physically, politically, and morally. His trademark was the dry, almost robotic way he spoke, a rat-a-tat-tat of short sentences, a style that could be summed up by his favorite phrase: "Just the facts, ma'am."
Carly was too young to have seen
on-the-air. Her exposure to Jack Webb came from her grandfather, a retired cop who showed her episodes whenever she visited his place up in Big Bear. He thought it would teach her to respect the law and abide by a strict moral code. It didn't work out that way.
For whatever reason, Jack Webb made a strong, erotic impression on her, completely rewiring her sexual synapses. All she had to do was watch Jack question somebody for thirty seconds and she was ready to fuck anything warm-blooded that was within reach.
was rarely rerun on TV so we had the whole series on video. That was my wife's porn stash.
I was thinking of Jack Webb on that fateful day for a couple of reasons. One, because I hadn't had sex with my wife in weeks and two, because Jack Webb's star on the Walk of Fame was right outside of the building at Hollywood & Vine where I was stuck in traffic school for a speeding ticket.
I picked traffic school run by a local comedy club and taught by a stand-up comic. I figured that a few laughs would make the eight hours of highlights from the California Vehicle Code easier to take. If I was smart, which I think I've already established that I'm not, I would have asked myself "How good can this stand-up comic be if the best gig he can get is in a traffic school class?"
There were two dozen of us traffic offenders crammed into a second-floor room in the Taft Building. That was twice the maximum room occupancy allowed by the fire department, at least according to the sign above the door that, in my boredom, I'd re-read six times.
We all sat on folding chairs, except for a fat guy in an electric wheelchair with two red flags duct-taped to his seat-back. The walls of the room were water-stained and it smelled like a gym, maybe because the windows had been nailed shut since the days when Charlie Chaplin and Will Rogers had offices in the building.
The windows looked out on the old Broadway department store, which was surrounded by scaffolding because it was being converted into lofts. Big banners offered the opportunity to live at "the original address for glamour." Just below the banner, I could see a homeless guy urinating in one of the doorways. I wouldn't call that glamorous, but I'm not in advertising.
Our teacher was a comedienne named Irma, who introduced herself as a
, a "young urban comic." She was the only one who laughed at that. Everything about her drooped, from her eyelids to her ass, a sad fact made painfully obvious by the pink tank-top and black leotards she'd unwisely chosen to wear. She'd been teaching traffic school for a decade, though she was quick to point out that she'd just done a pilot.
"Me, too," said a twentysomething, African-American woman in the back of the room. "Mine flew for Southwest Airlines."
That was the funniest joke of the day, maybe because it wasn't meant to be. The clueless twentysomething was apparently the only twentysomething in L.A. who wasn't trying to get into the industry and didn't know that a "pilot" was TV-speak for a sample episode of a proposed TV show.
Her name was LeSabre and she was a telemarketer for skin care products. I knew that because Irma started the day by asking everyone to introduce themselves, say what they did for a living, and how they got their ticket.
A lot of people got ticketed through the mail, nabbed by intersection cameras that caught them running a red light. LeSabre was one of them.
"I was in the intersection, making a left turn, when the light turned red," LeSabre said. "Everybody knows the rule is three cars."
"That's the accepted practice, but it's not the law," Irma said. "Like talking on your cell phone during sex."
It was a joke that made no sense and went a long way towards explaining why Irma was still teaching traffic school instead of starring in a sitcom.
The guy in the wheelchair was named Morris and he fixed watches. His traffic violation was a D.U.I.
"You were drunk-driving?" Irma asked incredulously.
"In my wheelchair," Morris said. "I had a few too many beers and got ticketed weaving in an erratic and dangerous manner outside the boundaries of the crosswalk."
"And a cop wrote you up for that?" The guy next to me said.
He had a deeply tanned, pock-marked face and wore a t-shirt with no sleeves, presumably so he could show off his muscles and the tattoo on his right arm of a big-boobed woman with hard nipples.
"What the officer did was ridiculous, but legal," Irma said. "Like guys who wear toupees."
Eight more hours of this, I thought. Kill me now.
"What an asshole," the tattoo guy said.
Morris nodded. "The judge took pity on me, knocked it down to a minor traffic violation, and let me come here to get it off my record."
"He should have thrown out the fucking ticket," the tattoo guy shook his head with disgust.
Irma turned to him. "And you are?"
"Titus Watkins," he said.
"What do you do for a living, Titus?"
"I'm in construction," Titus said.
"How did you get your ticket?"
"I got it driving in the car pool lane. Then the cop got me for crossing a single yellow line instead of waiting to exit at a broken white line. Then he cited me for not wearing a seat-belt."
"How much did the ticket cost?" asked Richie Nakamura, a 16-year-old who was cited doing 50-miles-per-hour on a residential street in his Dad's BMW.
"Twelve hundred bucks," Titus said.
"You must have done something to piss the cop off," Richie said.
"I did a few years in prison for armed robbery," he said. "After that, the cops shit on you forever."
Irma quickly turned to me, eager to change the subject. She asked me my name and profession.
"Kevin Dangler, I'm a writer."
"Books or screenplays?" Irma asked.
"Both," I said.
"Anything we would have read or seen?"
"An episode of
," I said.
"That show was cancelled five years ago," a lady behind me said. The bitch.
"Yeah, I know," I said.
"So what have you written lately?" Irma said.
"This and that," I said.
I still liked to think of myself as a writer, but the truth is, the only money I was making at it was as a reporter for The Acorn, which I don't tell people, because it sounds like a kid's magazine with a cartoon squirrel on the cover.
Actually, that would be a step up.
The Acorn is a freebie community newspaper in the valley that covers the big stories that the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News are afraid to touch. Like the spat between the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District and the Triunfo Sanitation District over a proposal to share a water storage tank. Or the theft of a portable CD player and case full of John Denver CDS from the passenger seat of an unlocked Mazda 626. Those were my big stories that week.
Perhaps Irma, who probably spent a lot of time being ashamed of herself, sensed my shame. She dropped the line of questioning and asked me how I got my ticket.
I told her was caught doing 80 miles-per-hour on the Ventura Freeway and she moved on through the rest of the class, which included a stockbroker, a corporate safari booker, a basketball referee, a hair dresser, and a 17-year-old girl pulled over for text messaging while driving.
We had a ten-minute break at 11 and I practically ran out of the classroom onto Hollywood Boulevard. It was drizzling outside, but I didn't care. I needed air and I hoped the rain would wake me up.
The streets were virtually deserted, the wet weather driving the bums into alcoves, the hookers into their motel rooms, and the tourists into the trams at the Universal Studios tour. The black terrazzo sidewalks were shiny and slick, the water washing away the accumulated cigarette butts, dog crap, french fries, and chewing gum from the Walk of Fame.
I stood on Jack Webb's pink star, hands shoved in my pockets, and looked around. The Metrorail station was next door. The Pantages Theatre, a dive bar, a hotdog stand and a donut shop were across the street.
Jack's star was near the entrance to a parking lot and beside what was once a phone booth, until the coin box was ripped out, the receiver was torn off, and people started using the post as urinal. If having a star there was one of the rewards of fame, I was glad I was unknown.
I took a Krispee Kreme napkin out of my pocket, bent down, and wiped some dirt off the bronze letters of Jack's name. It was the least I could do, considering what Jack meant to my wife. I sensed somebody standing beside me. It was Titus, smoking a cigarette.
"So what's worse," I said, standing up. "Prison or traffic school?"
I didn't really care, I was talking to cover my embarrassment at being caught buffing Jack's star.
Titus snorted derisively. "This makes solitary confinement seem appealing. You aren't scared of me?"
"Should I be?"
He shrugged. "Everybody else in class is keeping their distance."
"Maybe they just don't want to get wet."
Titus flicked his cigarette butt on Jack's star. "Which episode of
did you write?"
I kicked the butt off of Jack's star and into the gutter. Titus noticed.
"The one with the evil twin lesbian hit women," I said.
"You wrote that? Shit. That's my all-time favorite episode."
"You saw it?"
was big in prison," he said.
I motioned towards his tattoo. "Nice tattoo. Is she an old girlfriend?"
"Don't you recognize her?" he flexed his muscles creating the illusion that the tattooed woman's boobs were bouncing. "It's Pamela."
I studied the tattoo. Yeah, I suppose it could have been Pamela Anderson. It could also have been my wife.
* * * * * *
We spent the next two hours taking a multiple choice traffic law quiz and going over the answers. The last question was: Is it permissible to have an open alcoholic beverage in a) the glove compartment, b) the back seat, or c) the trunk."
"The correct answer is 'c,' the trunk," Irma said. "Unless you're in it at the time."
We broke for lunch at 1:00 and were told to be back in forty-five minutes. Titus and I ended up at a pizza-by-the-slice joint that was next-door to a sex shop. I thought about going into the shop and browsing. It was our fifth wedding anniversary on Tuesday and I still hadn't found anything for Carly. Maybe if I got her something kinky she'd think it was cute. Or not. Nothing I did seemed to please her anymore.
When I couldn't land another script assignment, and had to take a job at The Acorn to pay the bills, she was disappointed in me. That disappointment turned into resentment and was edging towards hate. She was talking about leaving me and "jump-starting her life." I'm not Dr. Phil, but I think it was a whole lot easier to be disappointed in me than in herself.
I wanted her to love me again. I wanted to save our marriage. I just had no clue how to do it.
"You want to stop by the sex shop before we go back?" Titus asked between loud slurps of his extra large coke.
"Why do you ask?"
"The way you looked at the place when we walked past it."
"My fifth wedding anniversary is coming up," I said. "I can't figure out what to get my wife."
"What's she do?"
"She's an actress," I said.
He nodded as if he should have known. "Have I seen her in anything?"
Carly was the TV queen of female discomfort. Sweaty armpits, vaginal itch, irritable bowels, awful breath, menstrual cramps, she's been afflicted by all that and more in commercials, only to be cured by some miracle product. It wasn't exactly the acting career she dreamed of and for some reason, it was my fucking fault.
"Not unless you like watching commercials for feminine hygiene products," I said. "She's only been in one movie."
"Give me the title," he said.
The Endless Spiral.
"Was that the thing with Christopher Walken as a pimp?"
"Yeah." I was amazed he'd seen it. The movie wasn't released theatrically and instead of going straight-to-video it went straight-to-obscurity.
"Was she the girl Christopher Walken finger-fucked in the taxi?"
BOOK: Three Ways to Die
11.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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