A rustic little mock tudor house with leaded windows and drought-mandated desert landscaping sat between two mid century modern flips on North Beachwood Drive. Forty steps led up to the Tudor and another sixteen led around to the tiny back yard where a one room guest house snuggled against a stone retaining wall that held back part of the hill below the Hollywood sign. A tortoise named josefina lived in a little bunker built into the wall. A grate covered the opening. The bunker was big and safe and she had plenty of flowers and celery to eat. But she liked to get out and walk around and hang out in the sun for a few hours a day. Seeing as those hills were home to dozens of coyotes who roamed them freely looking for mice. Rats. Squirrels. Rabbits. lizards. Cats and small dogs to eat, most definitely they would have snacked on Josefina if they found her out sunning some afternoon. Josefina had been raised for thirteen years by a friend of Sakuri’s named Halina Siwilop, a hollywood set designer who owned the house and had built the bunker. She traveled alot and needed someone to live in the guest house, look after Josefina and keep the coyotes away from her. All RHea had to do was pay utilities. She took it.
Physically Moving out of her Laurel studio was easy for Rhea- everything she owned fit into her LeBaron. Emotionally it was surprisingly hard. She hated emotions – except anger which she considered to be more of a logical reaction than a real emotion. So when she got a little weepy walking past Strickland’s apartment for the last time – the apartment where she’d lived for so many years – she crumpled. Had to sit down. She’d found some comfort there. But a stop at the Bristol Farms bakery three blocks away for a cheddar bacon croissant studded with puffs of ricotta helped her stuff that feeling away.
Rhea settled into the little guest house. She fed Josefina and let her out of the bunker for two or three hours a day. While she sat in the garden watching out for her, she wrote… about donuts and tortas and men. And she fantasized – The half dozen stuffed custard logs she bought at 24 hr. Joint on Sunset by fountain called Tangs turned into a sticky little midnight roll in the Elysian Park hills with a street cop with a freckled dick. The donuts (real!) came to $4.80 – under five bucks!. She was learning. The cop she made up.
It felt a little tame, a little like she was cheating and the review was still a little short at 416 words but she got paid more than last time and was learning to add easy wordy details like “open twenty four hours and popular with chess players and actors, Tangs can be stimulating even if you don’t score. ”
As for her other writing, her shrink writing, her homework… thinking then writing about fucking a nice forty year old man… she didn’t know where to begin. She couldn’t even focus on what a forty year old looked like. Strickland was sixty now… so he was probably almost forty when she’d moved into his place at seventeen. She could remember him rearranging all the potted succulents on his enclosed balcony, making room for a little bed and night stand and desk for her. He’d cooked for her, made her go to school, taught her self defense, became her guardian, then her mentor at LAPD. She could clearly remember the sweat pouring from his brow and the smooth muscles on his arms as they punched dummy bags at Gold’s Gym and ran laps at Fairfax High as she trained to get into the academy but…. was he sexy? Possibly. Did he turn her on? No way. Try as she might to imagine kissing him – to imagine kneeling down and unbuckling that old jimi Hendrix belt buckle he always wore then unzipping his fly and reaching in through the slit in his boxers – smelling that musk as she eased out the just bulging arch of his dick and licking the folded skin until it pulled taught and smooth… No. Every time she got that far in her mind he got younger and younger until it was no longer Strickland but some young nameless faceless hunk who then grabbed her head and eased her mouth onto him. That was home to her. Comfort. Escape. That and a slice of Vons banana cream pie or the warm stuffed grape leaves at Carnival on Lankershim. Or the ox tails from Madame Matisse’s or Tam ‘o Shan’s corn fritters or, or, or…
Though that was hard, Rhea’s sixth night in the guest house was downright unnerving. At almost three AM, she was asleep on the little fold out sofa. The windows were closed. But the howling that woke her sounded like a pack of coyotes was surrounding her bed. She shot up, terrified as something big moved past her, ruffling her hair with a flapping before it disappeared. Jesus! she yelled as she batted at the dark air and backed away from the howls. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness she saw she was alone and her door was locked and her windows were still closed. A dream? Yes. No. The howls continued… Josefina! She had to save Josefina. She grabbed a flashlight, her gun and ran outside. She shined a beam into the bunker. Josefina was safe. Sound asleep. She aimed the beam up the hill and across seven coyotes perched there. They looked right into her light. And the air around them and around her rippled like it was full of a thousand softly beating wings…
“Aggie–” she whispered into the nearby night, surprising herself with the hope in her voice and the tears on her face. After a minute or so, the coyotes retreated and Rhea went back inside.
She stayed awake until dawn, slept for an hour then got dressed and walked a few minutes down Beachwood Drive to the Village Cafe.
The cozy eatery was pretty, quiet, shaded by massive pines and bouganvillea vines and part of the little Beachwood village that included a market, the Hollywoodland realty, an antique and watch repair shop and a dry cleaners.
Rhea took a seat at the counter and blew her budget on a cup of coffee and a polenta scone. She looked around. Upscale and rustic, the café was a hangout for locals and the aging freelance hipsters who occasionally still worked in the movie biz. They were cool, fit, established. They liked their eggs without yokes, their salads undressed and their oatmeal steel cut. And most of them – at least the men – looked forty or older. She started hanging out there a few mornings a week and tried to imagine fucking these guys. She ate most of her meals at home – canned soup, frozen burritos, mac and cheese then once a week she ventured down the hill for work – for a falafal sandwich, a bacon burger, an octopus taco or two or a five buck slice of asiago pizza from Gelsons’ deli on Franklin. She ate, wrote, and made up sex. She was not happy. Then she slipped. On a Monday. It was about seven thirty. She was driving home down Sunset after a nasty bout with Dr. Gallows when two things caught her attention: There was an inordinate amount of fine young men out and about and – in an effort to stay open – Barragan’s on Sunset had brought back “Dollar Taco Mondays”. Time to get her groove back.