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‘Surely nobody believes that,’ Burrows said.
Todd summoned Marco. ‘Where are those tabloids you brought in?’ he asked. ‘The doctor’s not been reading the trash in his waiting-room recently.’
Marco left the room and re-appeared with five magazines, dropping them on the table beside Burrows. The top one had a blurred, black and white photograph of a burial procession, obviously taken with an extremely long-distance lens. The headline read: Superstar Todd Pickett Buried in Secret Ceremony. The magazine beneath had an unsmiling picture of Todd’s ex-girlfriend, Wilhemina Bosch, and announced, as though from her grieving lips: ‘I never even had a chance to tell him good-bye.’ And underneath, a third magazine boasted that it contained Todd Pickett’s Last Words! ‘I saw Christ standing at his death-bed, claims nurse.’ Burrows didn’t bother with the others.
‘Who starts bullshit like this?’
‘You tell me,’ Todd replied.
‘I hope you’re not implying that it was somebody in my surgery, because I assure you we’ve been vigorous –’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ Todd said. ‘You’re not responsible for anything. I know. See? I finally got smart. I read the small print.’
‘Frankly, I don’t see where your problem lies. All you’d have to do is make one call, tell them who you are, and the rumours would be laid to rest.’
‘And what would he say?’ Marco asked.
‘It’s obvious. He’d say: I’m Todd Pickett and I’m alive and well, thank you very much.’
‘And then what?’ Todd said. ‘When they want to come to take a photograph to confirm that everything’s fine? Or they want an interview, face-to-face. Face. To. Face. With this?’
His face was presently unbandaged. He stood up and went to the mirror. ‘I look like I went ten rounds with a heavyweight.’
‘I can only assure you that the swelling is definitely going down. It’s just going to take time. And the quality of the new epidermis is first-rate. I believe you’re going to be very pleased at the end of everything.’
Todd said nothing for a moment. Then, with a kind of simple sincerity he’d seldom – if ever – achieved in front of a camera, he turned and said to Burrows: ‘You know what I wish?’ Burrows shook his head. ‘I wish I’d never laid eyes on you, you dickhead.’
Tammy knew only a very few people in Los Angeles, all of them members of the Appreciation Society, but she decided not to alert anybody to the fact that she’d come into town. They’d all want to help her with her investigations, and this was something she preferred to do alone, at least at the outset.
She checked herself into the little hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, within a few hundred yards of the Westwood Memorial Park, where a host of stars and almost-stars were buried or interred. She’d made her rounds of the famous who rested there on her last visit. Donna Reed and Natalie Wood were amongst them, so was Darryl F. Zanuck and Oscar Levant. But the Park’s real claim to fame – the presence that brought sightseers from all over the world – was Marilyn Monroe, who was laid to rest in a bland concrete crypt distinguished only by the number of floral tributes it attracted. The crypt beside it was still empty, kept – so it was said – for the mortal remains of Hugh Hefner.
Tammy had not much enjoyed her visit to the Park. In fact it had depressed her a little. She certainly had no intention of going back this time. It was the living she was concerned with on this visit, not the dead.
When she was settled in she called Arnie, gave him her room number in case of emergency, and told him she’d be back in a couple of days at most. She heard him pop a can of beer while she was talking – not, to judge by his slightly slurred speech, his first of the night. He’d be fine without her, she thought. Probably happier.
She ordered up some room-service food, and then sat plotting how she’d proceed the next day. Her first line of enquiry would be the most direct: she’d go up to Todd’s home in Bel Air and try to find out whether or not he was there. His address was no secret. In fact she had pictures of every room in the house, including the ensuite bathroom with the sunken tub, taken by the realtor when the house was still on the market, though it had been remodelled since and its layout had probably changed. Of course, her chances of even getting to the front door – much less of seeing him – were remote. But it would be foolish of her not to try. Maybe she’d catch him going out for a jog, or spot him standing at a window. Then all her concerns would be laid to rest and she would be able to go back to Sacramento happy, knowing that he was alive and well.
She’d hired a car at the airport, and had planned to drive up to Bel Air the evening she arrived, but after the hassles of the delayed flight she was simply too tired, so she went to bed at ten and rose bright and early. The room service offered at the hotel was nothing special – and she liked a good breakfast – so she crossed over Wilshire and went into Westwood Village, found herself a diner, and ate heartily: scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, white toast and coffee. While she ate she skimmed People and USA Today. Both had pieces about the up-coming Oscars, which were now only three days away. Todd had never won an Oscar (which Tammy believed to be absolute proof of the corruption of the Academy) but he’d been nominated four years ago for Lost Rites, one of his less popular pictures. She’d been very proud of him: he’d done fine work in the movie and she’d though the had a crack at winning. Watching the ceremony had been nearly impossible. Her heart had hammered so hard as Susan Sarandon, who’d been presenting the award, had fumbled with the envelope; Tammy thought she was going to pass out from anticipation before the winner was even named. And then of course, Sarandon had named the winner, and it hadn’t been Todd. The cameras had been on him throughout the whole envelope-fumbling routine, and there’d been a moment between the naming of the winner and his applauding when his disappointment had been perfectly clear: at least to someone who knew the language of his face as well as Tammy.
She’d only seen one of the movies in this year’s race, and she’d only gone to that because Tom Hanks was in it, and he seemed such a likable man.She skimmed the articles rather than reading them, hoping maybe there’d be some reassuring mention of Todd. But there was nothing.
Breakfast finished, she walked back to the hotel, left a message for Arnie at the airport, just to say all was fine, and then picked up a map at the front desk in case her sense of direction failed her. Thus prepared, she set off for Todd’s home.
It took twenty-five minutes driving through the heavy morning traffic to get up into the narrow, winding streets of Bel Air. There wasn’t much to see; most of the mansions were hidden behind high walls, bristling with spikes and video cameras. But there was no doubting the fact that she was in a very select neighbourhood. The cars parked on the narrow thoroughfares were all expensive (in one spot she manoeuvred past a coffee-and-cream Rolls Royce on the left and a red Porsche on the right). On another street she encountered some glamorously-hooded superstar out running, a black limo following close behind, presumably carrying the bottled water and the granola bars.
What must it be like, she wondered as she drove, to be so pampered and cosseted? To know that if there was no toilet paper in the house, no ice cream in the freezer, then it was somebody else’s damn job to go and get it. Never to have to worry about taxes or mortgage payments. Never to wake up at three in the morning and think: Who am I? I’m nobody. If I died tomorrow nobody would really notice, nobody would really care.
Of course she knew there were plenty of responsibilities that came along with all this wealth and comfort. And they took their toll on some folks: it drove them to drink and drugs and adultery. It was hard to be idolized and scrutinized. But she’d never had much sympathy for the complainers. So, people paid you millions to see you smile, and it made you feel inadequate. Tough shit.
She found Todd’s house readily enough. There was no number, but she recognized the castellated wall and the square lamps on either side of the gate. She drove on up the street, found a parking spot, and wandered back towards the house, trying to look as inconspicuous as any two hundred and three-pound woman in orange polyester pants could. When she reached the gates she saw that there was a car parked in the driveway, twenty yards inside the gates, its trunk open. There was no sign of anyone loading or unloading. She watched from the street for a minute or two, her courage alternately rising then failing her. She couldn’t just go up to the gate and ring the bell. What would she say? Hello, I’m Todd’s Number One Fan, and I was wondering if he was feeling okay? Ridiculous! They’d think she was a stalker and have her arrested. In fact they might be watching her right now, on a hidden camera: calling the police.
She stood there, quietly cursing herself for not having thought this through properly before she came up here. She didn’t know whether to stand her ground, and make the best of this nightmarish situation, or attempt to casually slip away.
Then a door slammed, somewhere out of sight. She wanted to make a run for it, but she was too far from the car to make a quick retreat. All she could do was stand there and hope to God there was nobody looking at the security monitors at that particular moment.
Now came the sound of somebody whistling, and seconds later the whistler himself stepped into view. Tammy recognized him instantly. It was Marco Caputo, Todd’s assistant and body-guard. She’d encountered the man twice before, once at the premiere party for The Burning Year, and the second time in Las Vegas, when Todd had been named Actor of the Year at ShoWest. She’d very politely presented her credentials as the President of the Appreciation Society, and politely asked Caputo if she could have a minute to talk with Todd. On both occasions he’d been rude to her. The second time, in fact, he’d called her ‘a crazy bitch’, which she’d complained to Maxine Frizelle about. Maxine had apologized in a half-hearted way, and said it would never happen again, but Tammy wasn’t about to put Caputo’s temper to the test a third time, especially under these dubious circumstances.
Before he could look up and see her she backed off into the thicket of blackberry bushes that grew unchecked on the other side of the street. She kept her eyes on him at all times; he was too busy with his present labours to notice her, thank God; and now, hidden in the bushes, she had the perfect vantage point from which to observe him as he went back and forth between the house and the car. He was loading his vehicle up with an odd assortment of things: including several awards she knew belonged to Todd. He was also removing some other items: a variety of fancy ornaments, a marijuana plant in a pot, some framed photographs. All this, plus nine or ten sealed cardboard boxes, carefully placed in the trunk or on the back seat of his car. There was no sign of Todd through the process; nor did she hear any exchange from inside the house. If Todd was here, he was not engaged in conversation with Marco. But her instincts told her he was not here.
For fully a quarter of an hour she watched him work and finally – putting all the evidence together – she came to the conclusion that she was witnessing an act of theft. Of course, her dislike of the thief factored into her assessment, but there was no doubt that Caputo looked furtive as he went about his labours. Every now and then he’d glance up as if he was afraid he was being watched (perhaps he sensed that he was); and when he did she saw that his face was ill-shaven, and his eyes heavy. Sleep wasn’t coming too easily of late.
She had already decided what she was going to do well before he’d finished with his felony. She’d follow him when he departed and find out where he was dropping off all his booty. Then she’d call the police and have him arrested. Hopefully that would improve Maxine’s low opinion of her. She might even find herself trusted enough to be invited into the charmed circle around Todd. Well, perhaps that was a little too much to hope for. But at the very least she’d be stopping Caputo profiting from his theft.
With the car now filled to capacity, Caputo slammed the trunk, and headed back to the house, presumably to lock up. Once he’d gone Tammy disentangled herself from the blackberry bushes and hurried back to her own car. It was getting warm. She felt sweat running from beneath her breasts, and her underwear was bunched in the groove of her butt. She turned the air-conditioning to its coldest setting, then drove on up the street a little way until she had sufficient room to turn around, and came back down in time to see Caputo’s black Lexus easing out of the driveway. He was the only occupant of the vehicle.
Keeping her distance, she followed the Lexus down through the maze of Bel Air’s walls and cameras to Sunset Boulevard. She almost lost her quarry at the lights, but luckily the eastbound traffic on Sunset was heavy, and with a little discourteous driving she was able to keep him in sight, finally catching up with him again. He drove with ease and impatience, slipping lanes to overtake tardy drivers; but she was a match for him. Wherever he was going, she was going to be on his thieving tail.
She had no time to consult the maps she’d picked up, she was too busy keeping her eyes on him. So when he suddenly swung a left, and took off up into the hills again, she instantly lost all sense of where they were headed. The traffic soon grew sparse, the streets narrow and serpentine.
Once he halted at a stop sign and he looked back over his shoulder. She was certain he’d realized he was being followed, and prepared herself for a confrontation. But no; something he’d laid on the back seat had moved, it seemed, and he was simply leaning over to reposition it. The job done he then proceeded on his way, and she continued to follow, at a discreet distance.
The road wound so tightly on itself as it ascended that she let him slip out of sight several times rather than risk his realizing he was being pursued. But she didn’t fear losing him. Unlike Bel Air, which was made up of a warren of small streets, the Canyon into which they were climbing seemed to have only one thoroughfare, and they were both on it. What little sign of habitation she saw – a wall, and occasionally a gate in a wall – suggested this was not particularly well-fancied real estate, which was surprising given its location. The trees had been allowed to grow over the road, in some places intertwining their branches to form a leafy vault overhead. In one spot, where a number of tall palm trees grew close to the road, fallen fronds lay in a brittle carpet on the pot-holed tarmac.
She began to get just a little anxious. Although she reassured herself that she was just a couple of minutes’ drive away from Sunset, this felt like a very different world; a backwater, where who knew what went on? That very fact, of course, supported her shadier suspicions. This was a perfect place for an illegal transaction: there didn’t appear to be anybody here to witness Caputo’s dealing. Except, of course, herself.
The black Lexus had been out of sight for quite a while when, as she turned a corner, she came upon it parked so badly that she might have ploughed into the back of it had she not acted quickly to avert the collision. She swung wide of it, glancing back to see Caputo manually opening a pair of immense gates. The thief started to look round at her, but she put her foot on the accelerator and was out of sight before he could fix his gaze. She drove on a considerable distance, but the road came to a dead-end, which left her with two options. One, to turn round and make a conspicuous retreat past the gates, so that he was certain she’d gone; or to hope that the urgency of his mission would make him careless about her presence, and by the time she’d trekked back to his thieves’ lair she would have been forgotten. She decided on the latter. She’d come too far to turn and run off now with her tail between her legs.
The first thing she noticed when she got out of her car was the deep hush of the Canyon. Though the Bel Air house was nicely situated, away from the din of any major thoroughfare, she’d still been aware that she was in the middle of a city. But here the only sound was the music of birds, and insects in the grass. She was careful not to slam the door. Leaving the key in the car, and the door just slightly ajar in case she needed to make a fast getaway, she headed back down the street to the gate.
There were no cameras mounted along the perimeter this time, which surprised her; but then perhaps she was walking into a nest of infamous felons, and everyone in the vicinity knew to keep their distance. If so – if the people Marco was doing business with were real villains – then she was in trouble. She was alone up here; and nobody knew where she’d gone.
This is insanity, she thought to herself as she walked. But she kept on walking. The prospect of coming out of this the unlikely heroine was simply too attractive to be turned down. Yes, there was a risk. But then perhaps it was time she took a few, instead of hiding away in her house and doting on her picture collection. She was in the thick of things now, and she wasn’t going to allow herself to turn her back on this adventure. If she did – if she got in her car and drove away – wouldn’t she always wonder how different things might have been if for once in her life she’d had the courage of her instincts?
Arnie had always called her a dreamer, and maybe he was right about that. Maybe she’d been living in a dream world for too long, with her little museum of photographs to dote on; hoping – though it could never happen, of course – that one day, when she flicked through the pictures, Todd would look at her and smile at her and invite her into his world, to stay. It was a silly dream, and she knew it. Whereas being here now, walking on the hard street in the hot sun, with an old cracked wall to the left of her – all that was real, perfectly real. So perhaps today was the day when the photographs became real too; the day when she finally found her way to a man of flesh and blood; to a Todd who would return her look, finally; see her and smile at her.
The thought made her quicken her step; and she arrived at the gates breathing a little faster, exhilarated by the prospect that with the hazards she imagined the house contained there was one possibility she could not properly imagine (though Lord knows she’d tried to conjure it over and over): the image of her idol, appearing before her, and her with so much to say she wouldn’t know where to begin.
She scanned the area around the gates (the bars of which were exquisitely interwoven with both wrought iron vines and the living variety), in search of the inevitable security cameras, but to her surprise found none. They were either extremely well concealed, or else the owners of this house were so certain that their Canyon was safe from visitors that they didn’t feel the need of them. More surprisingly still, the gates had no locks; she was able to push one of them open wide enough for her to slip through.
She could see some of the house from where she stood, though it was mostly hidden by the great riot of shrubs and trees that lined the curving driveway. Caputo’s car was parked close to the front door. The trunk was open, and he was now unloading his loot. She wished she’d brought a camera; then she could have simply photographed him in the middle of his illicit transaction, and left with her evidence. But as it was, she felt obliged to get a little closer, and find out who he was dealing with. If she didn’t have some further evidence, it was going to end up being his word against hers; and she, after all, was the trespasser here. Her accusations weren’t going to carry much weight unless she could be very specific about what she had witnessed. She waited until Caputo had gone into the house, and then crept towards the front door, covering perhaps half the distance between door and gate before the thief strode out of the house again, and returned to the car. She ducked for cover behind a Bird of Paradise, its sickly sap gummy beneath her heels. From there she watched while Caputo hauled another load of booty up out of the trunk. As he did so there was a shout from inside the house; the voice curiously muted.
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