Wayne awakes around noon, fully clothed and sweating under the Lilien’s down comforter with a mouthful of the straight-up residue of bourbon, rum, vodka and gin (there was nothing to mix it with) and some port to top it all off, just a plug or two from every open bottle in the cabinet, just like he did as a kid so Aunt Bea wouldn’t notice. Not that she ever noticed anything. He did the same thing with her prescription pills and the dollars in her purse and she never noticed, not once.
Drew is gone. There’s no note, no nothing.
This is exactly the kind of thing he usually avoids, waking up in an empty house without a toothbrush, nothing to eat but stale pizza crusts, and no one to say hello, good morning, how did you sleep, what are your plans for the day? Just the empty sound of a dead house, the perfect place for a party, but not so nice now with the bright slap of sunshine across his face. Wayne studies the Liliens’ portrait in the entryway: He favors Gene Kelly, she Mary-Louise Parker. They’re a nice looking couple, slick and polished, too tight-looking for kids. He waters their plants and locks the door behind him.
After a wrong turn somewhere he has to wing it through an industrial zone he’s never seen before using the Hollywood sign as a compass point through ragged billboards, busted windows full of broken glass, and packs of migrant workers with hungry eyes. Los Angeles: the epicenter of disappointment, the font of disillusion, the endless mirage. People rolling along in their little metal bubbles down blinding streets of glinting glass and mirror, metal cutting through air as orange as rusty as breath trapped inside a giant iron lung. If he gets lost, it’s her fault. If he has to drive around looking for something familiar until his car dies, he’ll have to get out and walk, he’ll be swallowed up by cement, he’ll disappear forever, burnt to a flimsy ash and blown away. Wayne doesn’t even want to go home but there’s nowhere else to go.
He’s sitting in his car in at the strip mall at the corner of [insert street name] and [insert another], peeling the foil off a burrito when he notices the guy grinning sheepishly from the payphone in front of the convenience store.
Wayne rolls down his window. Hot air closes in. “Hi. Don’t I know you?”
“Hey. How’s it hanging, my man?”
The young man holds up the receiver. “My cell died and I don’t have any quarters.”
“You can use mine.” Wayne rolls up his window, motions the guy into his air-conditioned passenger seat and hands him his phone.
The guy dials the phone with a fingernail caked with black dirt. “I’ve been working on my car, see. Trying to get it going.” He puts the phone to his ear, listening, smiling with one side of his mouth. “Sometimes everything happens at once, you know? No jobs, no money, no rain, no break. Man, I been out here six months now and nothing’s happening.” His hair is long and his clothes look rumpled—not dirty, but not exactly fresh, either. Slept-in. “Damn. No one home. Wouldn’t you figure?” He hands the phone back. “Thanks, buddy. Wayne, right? Wasn’t your name Wayne, as in John Wayne?”
“That’s right.” Wayne tips an imaginary hat, holds out his hand. “I’m afraid I don’t remember yours.”
“I’m used to that. It’s kinda forgettable. I’m Vic.” They clasp hands. “Don’t you live over on [insert street name]?”
“Oh, yeah. You know Cassandra. Where did she move to, anyway? I didn’t get to say goodbye before she left.”
“That’s a really good question, if you catch my drift.” Vic’s laughter is loud and rowdy. “My man, I wonder if you could give me a ride to my car. It’s just a couple blocks away but it’s too fucking hot to walk.”
Vic is from a town near Coalinga up north just off Highway 5. He had to get out of Coalinga because there were just too many cows. He came to LA to make money—he’s good with his hands and figured he could get a job easily but there’s too much competition with the Mexicans, he says. You can’t even get food from a truck that costs less than 5 bucks. He’d cook for himself but there’s no place to light a fire. In Coalinga you could get a little campfire going but there were way too many cows. Once he took a field trip to a place where they had a cow with a window in its side, a real, live cow with a real plastic window so you could look through right into its stomach. A man showed them how he could slide the window open and stick his hand right in there and pull out a handful of half-digested goop. Can you imagine that? Some people got crazy imaginations and criminal minds but talk about gross, once he had a friend who rode his ATV right through a barbed wire fence. They found him a week later, hanging there like a hunk of beef jerky. That happened in tenth grade but then Vic got kicked out of school for writing graffiti on the side of the gym so he never actually graduated, per se. Well it is true that he had stolen the flag off the flagpole and maybe it was dumb to leave his name on the wall at the scene of the crime but what the hell, Vic has a real talent for self-incrimination or at least that’s what his mom says and that’s not something they teach you in school. But wasn’t that sort of stupid if you think about it, denying him his diploma for writing? That just doesn’t make any logical sense. And he didn’t write anything nasty, either, just “Victor” his tag and he spelled it right even though it was dark when he wrote it; nice and neat in red, white, and blue, his favorite colors. Since the school didn’t have any money to clean it up right you can still see it there sort of bleeding through the cheap paint they tried to cover it with, Victor, plain as day and larger than life. It was the closest he had ever come to being famous. But now he signs his name with just a V, V for victory, you know. That’s his signature but he spiffs it up with arrows and stuff so you can’t copy it. You don’t want a signature that everyone can copy. You need to be unique.
While he talks, Wayne drives him to his broken-down truck and then to an automotive store where he loans Vic the cash for a new alternator. Vic says he’s 22 years old but Wayne doesn’t believe him. He’s just a kid who needs a place to crash for a couple of nights, just until he can replace the alternator and get out of this stupid place, and Wayne is grateful for the company.
What do you think about this new character, Vic? I’m curious about your impressions/predictions.
And clearly I need someone who lives or lived in L.A. to help me fill in the street names. Any suggestions?