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The Fast Shuffle...Chapter Three

by  twister

Posted: Monday, September 13, 2004
Word Count: 3698
Summary: A US-set crime/comedy novel in the vein of Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard.




Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.


CHAPTER THREE
Born with a gold-plated silver spoon in his mouth, Ray tried everything in his power to distance himself from his asset-stripping family.
Known as the blackest of black sheep in haughty LA circles, Ray Goldstein rebelled against the megalomaniacal behaviour of his own kith and kin in favour of a life spent foraging in the underbelly of the city.
Let's get this straight, Ray was or never has been a James Dean type figure, more Ron Jeremy if anything. When papa croaked, Ray was surprised as anyone to find a mansion in Brentwood in his name. The fact he couldn't sell it on until he reached 70 was his father's final fuck you for a lifetime spent apologising for his errant son.
I used to ride on up to "Casa del Goldstein", no joke, with the wind rustling through my hair. After a drunken excursion though into the brush near Rockingham Avenue, I figured a helmet could grant me a few more years of tomfoolery on this earth.
I pulled up abruptly to the imposing wrought-iron gate on Mandeville Canyon Road that stood tall at the entrance to Ray's property. I punched in the entry code on the keypad on the right pillar and lo and behold the gates swung ominously open allowing me to enter. A curved driveway wound its way up to the house that bordered the domicile Bonanza's very own Lorne Greene once presided over back in the day.
I set the Triumph down outside the house, the lawns and flowerbeds long since gone to ruin thanks to Ray's penchant for grunge over gardening. One glance up to take in the front of the mock Tudor property, with historically incorrect turrets protruding from the roof, and I quickly ascertained that Ray had completely lost the plot.
Every single window had been boarded up from the inside with what looked like a haphazard combination of plywood, tables, mattresses and assorted sheeting.
Something flickered in one such window up to my left. I swear I caught a glimpse of Ray's unruly mop of curly black hair.
I trundled round the side of the house to the gazebo out back where the sight was exactly the same. A wall of debris blanketed window upon window, together with the huge glass patio doors that stretched the length of the ground floor.
Meanwhile the Olympic size pool behind me had seen better days, rotten leaves piled high on the ripped tarpaulin that only covered about a third of the piss-coloured water.
"Get the hell away from here Jimmy!"
I diverted my attention to the source of the command, which appeared to be coming from a loudhailer poking out a skylight at the very top of the castled abode.
"Ray I refuse to answer to a fucking loudhailer. Get the hell down here and letís talk."
"No way partner, my life's on the line. I'm not going to ask you again."
"What, you're going to shout me off the property? Yeah that'll work."
"Itís not safe I tell you, now haul ass while you've still got one."
"I'm afraid I can't do that Ray. Not until you tell me exactly what's got you so spooked out that you're acting like a latter-day Howard Hughes."
There was a pause. A loud clatter from inside was followed a grunt of pain.
"Ray, you OK hombre?"
I didn't fancy scaling the outside of the ivy-covered wall to investigate, so I waited hands on hips until I heard from Ray again.
I didn't have to wait long. The loudhailer emerged again into view.
"Fucking ladder."
"What's that buddy?"
"Nothing. Look Jimmy I appreciate the concern, but I'm in a heap of shit and I'd rather you got out while you can."
"Too late Ray. Vlad left a message on my answering machine and he sounded real pissed."
"Motherfucking Russian motherfucker!"
"I take it from that outburst that Vlad is the reason behind this lunacy?"
There was another pause as Ray chewed his fist, head butted the wall or whatever other forms of self-harm he was beginning to practice.
Finally.
"What did he say?"
"Pay up in two days or else. He's never been one for over elaboration, you know what I mean?"
"Did anyone tail you over here?"
"Not as far as I could see."
"OK wait there a minute."
At least it looked like he was going to grant me a few moments in the flesh; I was getting fed up talking to a disembodied robot voice.
One by one, the dense layer of powder puff protection Ray had constructed peeled away until a paranoid shadowy figure emerged into view crouching at the foot of the glass door.
Ray scanned the back of the property, the Medusa like black curls shooting out from his head flailing around in the air, until he was satisfied the surrounding area was free from crack shot Russian snipers.
His eyes eventually settled on me. He waved his hands spasmodically in an effort to beckon me to come to the door.
I rose to my feet and stretched my arms up to the sky to try and get some stiffness out of my shoulder. Ray didn't take too kindly to this and banged frantically on the glass door. I sauntered over, unwilling to push him over what appeared to be a rapidly approaching precipice of sanity.
He opened the door, then dashed back into the shadows of the darkened kitchen as if I was Van Helsing come to hammer a stake into his heart.
"Shut the door! Quick!" he commanded with a disturbing edge in his voice.
"OK, OK, chill out man."
I closed the door, but Ray remained poised in the shadows.
"Push the mattress back over the door. I can't take any chances."
I rolled my eyes at the paranoia overkill emanating from him and hauled the mattress off the far wall until it rested firmly over the door.
"Is that OK now Ray? I can dig a moat if you want, maybe throw in a drawbridge as well if you ask nicely."
"This isn't a fucking joke Jimmy. I know they're out there."
Ray edged into what little light had managed to creep into the kitchen. I squinted hard to try and make him out better. From what I could ascertain, Ray had opted to go with the classic military and couch potato ensemble favoured by fruitcakes the world over.
A pair of skin-tight black boxers, white high-top sneakers and a metallic grey bullet-proof vest strapped to his torso that looked capable of repelling a Tomahawk missile let alone a bullet from a high-powered rifle.
"Nice Ray, real nice. I hear that look is all the rage on the catwalks of Paris and Milan. Chuck in a feather boa and you'd be the star of the show."
Faced with one of my wisecracks Ray would usually make an effort to counter with one of his own, nevertheless this wasn't any ordinary day. He sloped over to a high backed chair at the large oak table in the middle of the room and slumped down, his head planted in his hands.
"I'm done for Jimmy."
I fumbled my way in the near dark to a chair opposite him, flipped it round the wrong way and sat down with my arms crossed on the top.
"Ray it can't be that bad. Whatever hole you've dug yourself this time, you're bound to get out. You always do."
"This isn't a hole Jimmy, it's a fucking abyss."
"Hey come on maestro that ain't the fighting talk I'm used to hearing. Where's the old Goldstein rope-a-dope I've come to know and love?"
"This isn't a lousy punch Jimmy, itís a bullet with my shonk name on it."
"Can't you talk it over with Vlad? He's a reasonable man, I'm sure he'd cut you some slack if you laid it all out for him."
His head shot up.
"Reasonable! What planet have you been living on? Since when has Vlad ever listened to reason? He probably doesn't even know how to spell the fucking word."
"Granted he has been known to shoot first and ask questions later, but, and hear me out here, you and him go way back. Unless you've killed his father and spat on his mother's grave, there's every chance he would be willing to work something out."
"I owe him five mill Jimmy."
Even though light was at a premium, Ray spotted the shocked expression that spread across my face like wildfire.
"Yeah five big ones. Now do you see my predicament?"
"You could say that. May I ask how?"
"No you may not, but I'll tell you anyway because as far as I can see you're my last hope."
And with that Ray proceeded to tell me the tale of how he managed to stumble into life-threatening hock to a crazy-arse Siberian operator.
Pacing around like a mad professor, he opened with the gambit that Vlad had entrusted a mountain of funny money to him in order to invest in the stock market. With Ray's family connections still holding a modicum of sway, Ray made discreet inquiries however soon got distracted when he learned of an investment opportunity in an upcoming Hollywood slasher movie.
The film's producers claimed it had "HIT" written all over it and Ray hungrily took the bait without informing Vlad of his ill-fated decision. Instead he fed Vlad some phony story about investing in Vivendi stock, which at the time was headed serenely upwards.
Months later when the slasher movie opened to a family of tumbleweeds at the box office on its way to a discount bin at the video store, Ray's failed five million gamble left him in a rather awkward position. Add the fact that the Vivendi stock had taken a nosedive in the intervening time and it didn't take a genius to work out that Vlad was going to come knocking for his money.
When Ray had stopped pacing and resumed the head in hands posture he adopted so memorably earlier on, I let out a sigh and grilled my brain for something comforting to say.
"You're fucked Ray."
Probably not what he wanted to hear, but it was the first thing that came to mind.
"Gee you think so?" Ray opined with a deserved heavy dose of sarcasm.
"Did you invest all of the money?" I responded meekly.
Ray looked me up and down with a quizzical eye, his left eyebrow arched in a curious manner. I held his stare and it seemed to do the trick because he relaxed and leaned back in his chair.
"I kept five hundred thou for a rainy day and Jimmy, you know what?"
"What?Ē
"Its raining biblical proportions on my ass and I need that money."
"And?"
"And I need you to go and get it for me."
I stood up from the chair and took a second to gather my thoughts with my back to Ray. It was a no-brainer though and I quickly turned back to face him.
"Look Ray I appreciate you're skating on thin ice here, but last time I looked I didn't have a beef with Vlad or Oro. After all the crap that's gone down in the past year, I just want a quiet life plus Iím quite fond of my four functioning arms and legs."
Ray leapt to his feet and raced round the side of the table towards me. I backed off a little when he grabbed my shoulders, an unhinged look playing on his sweaty face.
"You don't understand Jimmy. If I don't get that money and find a way to make five mill off of it, I'm a dead man. Counting worms Jimmy! Come on, give me a break man. I helped you out when you hit rock bottom, itís the least you can do for me."
"You're hurting my bum shoulder Ray."
"Sorry."
Ray let go of me and slumped down in the chair I had just vacated. I rubbed my left shoulder, a sharp, shooting pain coursing through the muscle, tendons and bone.
When the pain had passed, I sized up the pathetic figure in front of me.
"Where's the loot?"
He catapulted to his feet again, a smile borne of desperation flashing from ear to ear.
"You mean you're going to do it?"
"I mean where's the loot?"
"Buried in a greenside bunker on the 16th hole at Riviera Country Club."
"You're kidding me right?"
"Straight up."
"What on earth possessed you to bury it there for fuck sake? I'm not the world's foremost expert on golf, but don't they rake bunkers Ray?"
Ray's smile soon faded to a look of annoyance after I had questioned his choice of hiding place.
"You really think I'm a stupid son-of-a-bitch don't you?"
"Itís just a question Ray, keep your shirt on man."
Not the best use of a phrase considering his shirt consisted of a top-of-the-line bulletproof vest.
"OK I'm sorry, I'm losing my mind cooped up in here." A pregnant pause then, "Itís buried ten feet down. I spent half the night digging the damn thing."
On reflection, it wasn't such a bad place after all, especially with Oro more likely to be welcomed for afternoon tea at the White House than by the members over at Pacific Palisades.
"How many bunkers are there?"
"Three. It's in the one on the right-hand side."
"Any security?"
"Not if you start digging in the early hours and don't make a noise."
"I thought I'd bring the Jackson Five along as well Ray, jazz it up a little."
Ray couldn't even find the energy to respond, his frazzled mind and body slumped back down in the chair again. If I had to guess, I reckon Ray had been awake for the best part of two days. I put my hand on his shoulder and he looked up wearily.
"Hang in here buddy and I'll go take a look at the Palisades tonight. What are friends for right?"
"Thanks Jimmy."
I made for the door and heaved the mattress to one side.
"Hey Jimmy."
"Yeah."
"Watch your back."
"No-one else is," I replied with a tinge of self-pity in my own voice to rival that of the broken man sitting before me.
With Ray's intense paranoia rubbing off, I checked to make sure the coast was clear then opened the door and inched outside. Before I even had a chance to close it, Ray hauled it shut and dragged the mattress back in place.
Five minutes later I was sat astride my Triumph round the corner from Ray's outside 27 Oakmont Drive, where I occasionally paid tribute to my boyhood idol.
McQueen had lived here once. He'd ridden his classic collection of motorbikes over the very spot where I was now reflecting.
I could feel an aura lift off the tarmac and hit me between the eyes, now misty from my memories of the man I idolised and the boy I used to be. Anyone driving past would no doubt think I was sizing up the property for a robbery. To hell with them, it was just ďThe Cooler KingĒ and me.
Well it was until my cellular started its electronic rendition of the "CHIPS" theme tune. As much as I loved Baker and Poncherello, they were barging in on some quality time with my posthumous buddy and that pissed me off. It carried over in my tone when I answered on the fourth ring.
"Hi. What is it?"
"Is that any way to speak to a lady Jimmy Jones?" purred Maxine on the other end of the line.
"Shit. I mean, how's it hanging? I mean. You know what I mean."
The word "smooth" had once been associated with me in my youth, however along with most things in my life it had taken a wicked turn for the worse in the last year or so. In my effort to get into a vocal groove, I'd resorted to adolescent mumbling.
"Count to ten and relax there sugar, I think I know what you mean. Is it a bad time? I can call back later if you want."
"Yes, I mean no."
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
"What can I do for you Maxine?"
"Can't a friend just call to say hi these days?"
"I guess so."
"Wait a minute, how did you get my number?"
"You'd be surprised at what I can and can't get JJ. You don't mind if I call you that?"
I did mind as it happens. My father took to calling me that when I was a kid. It usually preceded a whiskey-soaked attempt to extract some cash from me so he could hook up with whatever bunch of gambling degenerates he'd fallen in with round our neighbourhood.
"I'd prefer it if you didn't. Jimmy's fine."
Maxine instantly picked up on the sudden steeliness in my voice, because she dropped the singsong playfulness in her next line.
"Being a New Age woman and all, I figured it was my duty to take the pressure off the opposite sex and ask you out on a date."
This was an unexpected turn of events. It also sounded too good to be true.
"A date."
"Yeah, a date Jimmy. You know how it goes. Boy asks girl out. Girl accepts. Boy meets girl. Girl falls for boy. Boy gets some cheap sex, dumps girl and moves on to the next one. Except this time Iím going to reverse the roles."
What a piece of work. Without even knowing it, she'd managed to make me feel giddy again and boy did it feel great.
"Cynical as well as charming, what a fascinating combination. What makes you think this particular boy would fall for the girl in question?"
"A hunch."
"A hunch eh. Like a gut instinct, that sort of thing."
"You're one clever boy Mr Jones, anyone ever told you that?"
"More than I care to remember Miss Moolay."
Despite the fact that I was starting to enjoy myself, she seemed determined to get a quick answer.
"Are you in then or not? There's plenty other guys who'd be willing to jump in the sack with me and go straight to the cheap sex if you have other plans."
"Of that I have no doubt sugar. What did you have in mind?"
"Seeming as I made the first move if you like, I think itís only fair that you choose the venue."
Fair enough. I hadn't been out on a date though for quite some time and my idea of a good time recently revolved around the all-you-can-eat night at "Bangkok Banana".
Then again there was one particular party that very evening that I dreaded going to alone and it happened to be right outside my door.
"How's about a pool party?"
"Groovy. Where?
"This isn't any ordinary pool party mademoiselle, oh no, this is the crŤme de la crŤme, the piece de resistance of the LA party scene."
"It better not be Charlie Sheens Jimmy. I've been there, done that and got the T-shirt."
"No nothing like that, he's off the market now anyway. No this just happens to be at my motel down on Wallace Avenue."
"What time?"
"How about I pick you up at eight?"
"Sounds great."
"I kind of need an address though, my telepathic powers are a bit out of sync today."
"Yeah of course, sorry what a klutz. I'll meet you on the corner of Roxton Avenue and Rodeo Road."
"You living out of a cardboard box or something?"
"The place is a mess, I can't possibly let you see it. And anyway it isn't much to look at."
"Your call. Eight it is then."
"Eight it is."
"See you then."
"Apparently so."
This was turning into the longest goodbye on record. Someone had to end it and end it soon.
"Ciao."
She got there a fraction ahead of me as I mouthed my reply to the dial tone. I slipped the cellular back in my shirt pocket, revved up the bad boy between my legs and headed out into the open road with a spring in my step and a smile a mile wide.
I let the bike out up in the cliff-top roads round Malibu for the rest of the day, stopping off here and there for a bite to eat or to stretch my legs.
Most of all, I needed time to think over the bizarre chain of events that had blindsided me during the past 24 hours.
Nothing quite beats the open road. Is it better than sex? Itís a question often heard in biker bars across the land and forever bleated in my ear whenever a hot dame accosted me at a red light.
The truth is I'd yet to come across a woman who had given me as much satisfaction as a few hours spent in the saddle of my priceless Triumph Bonneville.
Leaning into the corners along the sweeping curves of the steep-edged roads, then accelerating out again in a heady rush of exhilaration I could get some sense of the feeling women entertain when they harp on about multiple orgasms. I thought it was a load of bull myself, something the female gender made up to cast a mind trip on guys the world over, but hey what do I know.
One thing was for certain, I had a decision to make regarding Rayís request. Could I let a friend down after he came through for me when the shit hit my fan? What would happen if Vlad found out I was helping him?
The sad thing is though, with my mortality facing an imminent date with destiny, all I could think about was a sassy broad I hardly knew called Maxine Moolay.
And the only question I could pose in my mind was whether Maxine was the girl of my dreams or just another bad break waiting to kick me in the balls. I knew this much. Iíd have a hell of a fun time finding out.

Copyright, Matthew Ogborn 2003