Flawed (first chapter)
Heather watched her parents from the archway between the dining and living room, weeks before her first date, weeks before her first kill, dressed in snug jeans and a loose sweater, hair resting on her shoulders, detached, as if studying the birds nesting in the back yard, a way of being probably learned from her father. She was observing a ritual that repeated several time each week. Her father, Marvin, was sitting at his computer, text on the screen, a pen in his right hand, his left resting on a open book, lost in some meta analysis of studies about something or other. Her mother, Tina, was getting ready to go out for the evening again, dressed in tight jeans, thin, low cut shirt, loads of bright red lipstick, eye makeup and high heals, her dark brown hair piled high upon her head.
“Marv, this is my book club night. We’ll go out for a snack and drinks after, so I’ll probably be late.”
Marvin didn’t even look up, and Heather wondered if he would have even seen how incongruous her outfit seemed for a book club meeting. Probably not. He just lifted a hand in a partial wave and said, “Have a good time dear. I’ll probably be asleep when you get home.”
There was a time when Heather considered trying to explain to her father that mom was doing something far different than going to book clubs, garden clubs, political gatherings and all the other excuses she used. There was a time, but now, at fourteen, she had pretty much lost respect for her father, a man kind enough but rarely present. He talked to her, much as he talked to his students, but she doubted he even actually saw her.
If he had, he would have noticed the changes in his daughter over the last year. At thirteen she was a skinny kid, breasts barely budding. A year later she was curvaceous, full breasted with flawless skin and flowing blond hair. She was still petite, still growing, but what one would consider the perfect cheerleader, even though she wasn't into things like that.
Heather didn't think of herself in those terms, a cute, sexy girl. As she watched the familiar scene play out in the living room, one she'd watched many times, she thought about how she disliked her name, not because of the name itself, but because it was common, probably a half dozen more in her school alone. Her name made her common, much as she supposed that the name “Tina” was likely common when her mom was in school. She would rather have been named something like her great grandmother Gertrude, indeed like her or Gertrude Stein. Yes, that would make her unique, likely not another Gertrude in the school system, perhaps not in any high school in California. She wanted to be set apart, to be one of a kind, to not be ordinary, not to be in this trap of boredom and indifference.
While her father was hardly ever present, her mom was always present, always straddling the line between mom and best friend. Heather would rather have all mom and no friend. Tina was clever, street smart, and she knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to go after it. But then it was hard to respect someone so promiscuous. Heather tried to deny the obvious for years, but now she was resigned to the fact that mom was a slut. The whole business with her parents made her doubt she’d ever get involved with boys or men. The whole male female thing seemed so sorted, so tacky. But just for something to do, she decided to ask her father about dating, with the vague idea that since she was of dating age and that most other kids in school date, that it would be logical to try it once. Perhaps, she thought, sex might be enjoyable enough to outweigh the bothersome parts of the dating business.
“Dad, can I ask you a question?” She's obviously startled him, and she realized that he'd been unaware that she was even in the room.
“Of course, I’m always here to give you advice on anything.” He glanced quickly up at her before hitting “save” on the computer.
“I’m wondering if you think I’m old enough to start dating?”
This time he did turn to take a look at her. “Oh my, you are thirteen now.”
“Actually I’m fourteen.”
“Yes, yes, the birthday party, the weekend in Palm Springs. Fourteen, my, my, almost a grown woman.”
“Grown up enough to date?” She was starting to become impatient.
Her father put his glasses on and stared at her for a moment, ignoring as usual everything else in the room, a room almost shouting indifference, assembled on the cheap by an unimaginative interior decorator. “Well, dating is a process that is designed to lead to marriage and children. Things should be done in a reasonable order. Dating as friendship, leading to what they call going steady, and then to levels of intimacy. Now, it’s not wise to start out with intimacy. That’s rather like putting the horse before the cart, and it can be quite confusing for a young person. Best to following logical steps in the process.”
“So, what about me? Think I’m old enough to start this so called process?”
“Well, everyone matures at their own rate, so I guess you would know when you are ready to take this first step. I hope that has helped.”
“So, if I feel I’m ready to go out with a boy, I should do it.”
“I suppose. I trust your maturity and judgment. I think your mother and I should meet whatever boy you decide to go out with. You may not yet be a good judge of male character.”
“Well, thanks Dad for all that wisdom and sage advice. Oh, yes, was that how it went with mom?”
“Not exactly. I was a grad student, teaching assistant, and she was a student. We became friends before having a romance, and then, well, you know.”
Marvin started to turn back to the computer, but stopped and looked at Heather one more time, his pretty, blond, slender child was indeed starting to become a woman. “Is this academic, or do you have someone in mind?”
“Not really. Just asking before I start looking.”
“Talk to your mom. She is probably better equipped to advise you.” With that his attention shifted back to his research, and she had obviously drifted to the back of his mind. She went to her room, picked up a book to try to read herself to sleep, taking pride in resisting the urge to tell him the truth about mom.
After a few minutes, her mind drifted, first to her room, and her mother’s idea of what a young girl’s room should look like. Pink walls and stuffed animals might be mom’s thing, but it wasn’t hers. She’d be happy with white walls, one or two pictures and no dust-catching junk on shelves, table tops or on the bed.
Then she thought about dating, which she was fairly sure she wanted to try. The problem was that she was attracted to guys but didn’t like them. It seemed that most of them were either like her father, detached or they were too pushy, expecting a girl to fit in whatever niche he wanted her in. She had what she figured were normal urges, but she realized that indulging in them would include being subject to the annoying male personalty.
There was an upscale hotel in town that catered to businessmen, well-dressed men with money. It was Tina’s favorite pick up spot. The lights in the bar, with the red motif, were low, and with the clothes and makeup, she easily looked ten years younger than her thirty-six years. Tina thought about how much her life had changed, how she'd gone from a loyal and loving wife to a serial cheater, how the cold reality of life had slowly erased her girlish fantasies. She had finally realized how addicted she was to attention, both sexual and emotional. Marvin gave her all that in the beginning, wanting to make love almost every night, always telling her how beautiful and special she was. Was she that vain, her need so great? Everything had changed after Heather was born. Marvin lost himself in his work, rarely noticing her any longer. Their sexual life was relegated to Saturday nights, an almost scripted half hour, not particularly satisfying either emotionally or sexually. First it was a casual affair with a guy at work, slowly evolving into this, picking up strange men in a bar.
The guy down the bar was eyeing her, and he looked somehow familiar. She smiled at him in her way that said she was available.
Predictably, he hoisted his drink and smiled, and when she smiled in return, he walked toward her like a predator on the hunt and sat next to her. “Good evening. My name’s Steve.” After she told him her name, she did a double take. “your name and that familiar face. I think I’ve got it. Steve Longwood.”
“Guilty as charged. Guess it’s hard to not be recognized.” Without looking away, he signaled the bartender to bring two more.
“Wow. Are you here making a movie?” She was thrilled, being a big fan of his films.
“Not at the moment. I’ve got a ranch near Santa Barbara, but I keep a room at this hotel, kind of the opposite of getting away from it all. It can get pretty lonely out there at times. Tell me about yourself.”
“I’m in real estate, and believe it or not, I have a small child.”
“well yes. Is that a problem?”
“Not for me, unless your husband is lurking nearby with a gun. They both got a laugh out of that, and she assured him that her husband neither knew or cared where she was or when she'd get home. Then she asked him about his work, the roles he liked and the people he worked with.
That was an easy subject, himself, for Steve, and she was obviously interested in every boring detail, so he took the time to give her play by play accounts. And, when she asked about his leading ladies, he grinned and shyly admitted that there had been some pretty hot affairs. Naturally she asked for names, and he gave her a few, the ones that wouldn't sue him if it got in the tabloids. These were women Tina envied, glamorous gals, and it looked like she was about to be come part of a very exclusive club. They finished their drinks, and the bartender came over. He was about to order, but instead said, “There is a bottle of really good wine in my room, if you’d care to.”
I’ve going to get so lucky, she thought, as she gave him her best smile. “Sadly, I do have to get home sometime tonight. You understand?”
“Not a problem. Child huh. You look young.”
“Thanks. She’s in kindergarten. Got to dress her for school in the morning.” Then she thought about his films. “You play womanizers, playboys a lot. I guess that's pretty much like the real you?
“Let’s just say, not much acting going on there.” He got up, extended his hand, and they went toward the elevator.
Steve Longwood was forty-two, but didn’t like to date anyone over thirty. Not wanting trouble with the law, not from any moral reasons, he drew the lower line at eighteen. He both like the challenge of these quick encounters and that they filled a gaping hole in his life.
Tina got home late that night with a great story and no one to tell it to.
Lisa Bird had more important cases to try than assault and battery, but this was an interesting case. The perp was a rather famous actor, probably someone who felt he could get away with anything because of his position. She hated anyone who thought he was above the law. She thought she’d enjoy slapping him down, even though she was already too damn busy. Well, she'd kept him waiting in the interrogation room for some time, mostly because she could. She opened the door and got her first impression of the actor.
Longwood was sprawled casually in the chair, something resembling a smirk on his rather good looking face. His chestnut hair was just long enough to flip absently over his ears, and his eyes were gray. He had a two or three day growth of beard. “Mr. Longwood. I’m Lisa Bird, assistant DA.
“My pleasure. Now, lady, how do we make this go away? If I gotta pay a fine, my checkbook’s right here.”
“First I need to hear your side of what this is. So tell me, did you deck some guy in a bar fight?”
“Yes, but the asshole provoked me.”
Lisa dropped into the chair on the other side of the big desk, took a deep breath and said, “Ok, from the start, short version. What happened?”
“I was at the bar by myself, and these guys were having a conversation about politics. I listened and found I shared their point of view, so I offered to buy a round and join them.”
“So far innocent enough. Go on.”
“This one guy was rude. He recognized me and said something like, “you celebrities think you can just butt in anywhere, spend some money and get everyone to make a big fucking fuss over you. Well, you’re not welcome here. Get lost.”
“So then you hit him?” She thought she was seeing how this went down and was anxious to end the interview.
“No, no. I was still trying to be nice. Lady, I was lonesome, no single women in the room, just wanted to have friendly conversation. I tried to tell him that, real friendly like, but he just called me a rude jerk and said he had half a mind to punch me out. I mean, like I’m being really nice, just wanted to talk, you know.”
“So that’s when you hit him?”
“Yeah, just round housed him. He went down like a load of bricks, and one of his buddies called for security. The rest is history. So, how do I make this go away. A fine is cool. Jail isn’t.”
“A fine means going to court, facing a judge. Maybe we can find another way and save me a bullshit court appearance. But first, your story doesn’t seem right. You’re famous, apparently have lots of women, probably hundreds of friends, so why crash a group that doesn’t want you?”
“Look lady. Everyone thinks, oh this guy is a movie star, lots of friends and all that. Truth is I’ve got no friends. Been told I’m an asshole, repeatedly. I guess I'm kind of self centered and probably rude. Lots of hangers on, people who want to use the fact that they know a star, but these are not friends. The women, mostly one night stands or short term things, broads that want to say they fucked a star. You wouldn’t understand. Everyone knows me, but none of them are friends, none of them give a flying fuck about me.”
That touched a nerve with Lisa, and she did something totally uncharacteristic, let a bit of herself show. “Actually I do know what it’s like. Everyone around here respects me professionally, but none of them are friends. I’m considered a bitch. I guess for that stupid reason I’m actually feeling a bit sorry for you.”
As a keen observer and judge of character, Lisa noticed small differences, the way people moved their eyes, subtle changes in their expressions, and she noticed the quick, fleeting changes that came over Longwood after her last comment, the sudden letting down of his guard, his public persona, the mask that hides the insecurity.
“Thank you for that. Now what?” He seemed to be seeing her for the first time, sizing her up. She didn’t look like the women in his films or super models. She was tall and rangy, not fat, but sturdily built. It was obvious that she worked out at the gym regularly and was in good shape for a woman over forty. He didn't buy that she had no friends or that work, exercise, watching a movie on TV, were pretty much her life, although he seemed to be sensing some of that.
“I came in here planning to teach you a lesson, drag you into court, give you a couple days in jail, but now, well, I have a solution that is good for both of us. You pick up the bill from the ER, even though we both know he didn’t need medical attention. And you write an apology. He’s going to get some bragging rights from a signed apology from a movie star. You do that and I’m almost certain he’ll drop all charges.”
“Apologize? Shit, he started it.”
“Yeah, but you hit him, and you want it to go away. This is how you do it.” She pushed a note pad in front of him and handed him a pen.
“I suppose.” He quickly scribbled an apology and slid the paper back toward Lisa, who took a quick look at it.
“I think that will do it. I’ll hand it to him and tell him to have the ER bill sent to you if he agrees to drop it. He’s actually down the hall giving a deposition. Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
As she walked out the door, Longwood thought that she didn’t seem like a bitch. She was actually kind of considerate, in a cold business-like way. She wasn’t a threat like the young broads who were always trying to get something from him. He could actually talk to her without thinking about sex.
In less than ten minutes she was back. “He went for it. You’ll get a bill for a few hundred bucks, and he’s got your apology to frame and hang on his wall. You can walk out a free man, and I have one less case to prepare. Everyone wins, and we cut through all the usual bullshit.”
Without thinking Longwood blurted out, “I’d like to thank you. Can I buy you dinner tonight?”
“Hold on. I’m not going to be one of your girls. I’m not interested.”
“No, nothing like that. Actually, and please don’t take offense, but I only go out with younger women, not that you’re not attractive and all that, but you know, it’s just the way I am. Seriously, for some reason I think we could be friends, just friends,” and he waved his hands to emphasize the word. “And what the hell, it’s just a dinner, a really good dinner with some very good wine. It can be a one-time thing or maybe the beginning of a friendship. So, what do you have to lose?”
She hadn’t been out to dinner with someone, male or female for months. “Okay, but best I meet you there, no uncomfortable moments at my front door.”
“Agreed. The same place where I got into that fight. Great food, and I keep a room there, so I don’t have to drive drunk, which will save you another interview with me.”
After he walked out, Lisa wondered why she’d said yes to dinner. Star power didn’t interest a damn bit, and he wasn’t her type, although it had been so long that she wasn't really certain what her type was. But, like he said, it was just dinner, and it would be nice to just have a conversation outside the office, something other than about the latest case. She put the directions into her phone and continued her busy day.
Lisa prided herself on being prompt, and she hoped Longwood would also be on time, although she doubted it, him being a spoiled shit and all. To her surprise, as she entered the dining room, he was there at a booth, waving her over, bottle of red wine, vase of flowers and two glasses on the table.
He looked at his watch. “Right on time. I appreciate that.” He was wearing jeans a blue dress shirt, no tie and a sport jacket. That was good, as she was wearing the woman’s version of the same outfit. She slid into the booth, looked him up and down and said. “You look nice.”
He said the same went for her, and he poured the wine. “I hope you don’t mind that I selected a wine. I happen to know this is exceptional. However, if you don’t like it, the wine list is right here, and you can order something else.”
Nice gesture, she thought, as she picked up the glass, put it under her nose and took a sip. “Yes indeed. That will do just fine. And, after the day I had, I really needed this.”
“So, tell me about your day.” That set her off for about ten minutes, relaying all the crises she had to deal with., realizing that she couldn't remember the last time someone asked her about her day. Then, suddenly, she realized what she was doing, stopped and asked him what he’d been doing.
It didn’t take any prompting. He started in about the negotiations for a new film, about how they were trying to get him cheap, no artistic control and a bunch of other movie stuff she could hardly follow.
After a half hour and through the appetizers, she realized what was happening. They were taking turns talking at each other. “Stop. This isn’t working. This isn’t a conversation, more like two monologues. It doesn’t seem we have any common interests. I’m not much into the movie industry.”
“I’m not just about movies. Before I got into acting, I was studying psych and minoring paleontology.”
That perked her up. “Really, paleontology, what period?”
“Mesozoic. Know anything about it?”
“That figures. I’ll bet you relate to those pterosaurs with the oversized heads but small brains.”
That caught him by surprise, and he started to roar with laughter. “I don’t know what I like better, that you know about these creatures or that you made me laugh for the first time in ages.”
Then Lisa added, “Psych was my undergrad major, and I think it comes in handy in my work.”
“Actually, Lisa, in my work too. If I can get into the head of my character, I can make him convincing, make him a whole person. I think that's the key to my success.”
The ice was broken, and suddenly they were having a lively conversation about things that happened millions of years in the past, and about human nature. By the time they’d finished their salads and the main course arrived, the bottle of wine was empty. Longwood held it up. “More of the same?”
“Why not.” By the time that bottle was empty it was getting late and both were feeling it.
“I’ve got to be up early in the morning,” Lisa said.
Longwood pulled out his phone. I’m calling for ride sharing. I know I’m in no shape to drive, and I’m sure you are not.”
“I’ll need my car in the morning.”
We’ll have someone from the hotel deliver your car. I spend a lot of money here, so no problem. We’ll give the desk your address and the time you need the car. Then you’ll get home without getting a DUI, which would mean you’d have to prosecute yourself.” They both laughed.
She was surprised that he didn’t ask her up to his room. Perhaps this guy is more on the level than I thought, she mused as she rode home in the back of someone’s car.
Heather had decided to try dating, even though she wasn’t sure how she’d like being stuck with some boy all evening. It was a reasoned decision, not based on emotion, on being attracted to a particular boy. It's just that she decided that it is something one does at her age, something she ought to do it, find out what it's like, decide if she liked it, if she even wanted to have a relationship. There must be at least one boy out there who would make a good partner. One boy, an upper class guy had been asking her out, so she accepted. He picked her up, dressed like he was going to hang out with his pals, obviously not trying to impress a girl. One point against him. He took her to a cheap burger place; two points. They went to a dumb action movie which bored her silly. That’s three points. Throughout the evening he talked about the movie, the food, school and stuff she forgot almost immediately. Not once did he ask her anything about herself. Then he drove to the bluff over the beach and parked. “Great moon tonight. Come on, let’s check it out.”
Before she got out of the car, she asked him why he'd asked her out.
“You're kind of cute, and you seem nice enough, so I figured why not, you know.”
They got out of the car and walked to the edge of the bluff. She stopped. This was crumbly, sandy stuff, and it could collapse. The bottom of the bluff was sixty or eighty feet down. “Come on,” he said. “Come to the edge. Better view.”
“Too dangerous. I’ll stay back here.” What she thought was instead of this stupid close to the edge game, perhaps you could have bothered to get to know me. I'm a person, you asshole. She took a step back
“Scared little girl. Oh, boo hoo. Look, no problem.” He walked right to the edge, toes almost over, and then he laughed. “You got to learn to live a little and not be so wimpy.” He laughed again as he gestured as if he were going to fall. Fine, she thought; if that’s how he wants it. You want to make yourself the big man at my expense, fine. Now, when you get to the hospital, you might rethink how you treat girls. She walked up behind him and gave him a little shove, which pitched him over the edge. There was one short scream as he tumbled down the cliff. And then there was silence. “I wonder if he’s dead or alive. Guess I’d better find out. Using the flashlight on her phone, she walked along the bluff and found the stairs and carefully and slowly walked down to the bottom, which took her nearly ten minutes. There he was crumpled and not moving. She knelt down, looked him over and wasn’t sure one way or the other. She didn’t think to check his breath or pulse. I guess, she thought, I’ll have to call 911. She slowly dialed 911, and when someone answered, she said, “There’s been an accident. My date fell off the cliff down at Pacific Palisades.” The operator answered, wanting the exact location. “Not sure exactly. He was driving. Let me see. Oh, yes, I can see the pier from here, just a few blocks away.” Another question, and she answered, “South, yes south of here, just a few blocks. No, can’t see much around here, some houses I think. Actually he’s at the bottom, you know. The car is on top. No, not sure if he’s alive. Not moving, so doesn’t look good. Okay. I’ll keep the phone ready. You probably should hurry or something. Should I wait down here or up at the car? Fine, thanks.”