The four women flew back to LA later the same day, upgraded to first class courtesy of Bobby Schamberg. They were uniformly depressed by their lost cause, but they also felt rich: Lucy and Teresa surprised to find themselves on the $2500 a week payroll for another week at least, Marcia holding a Schamberg Productions X Dames Weekly Winner check for twenty-five grand, Leslie on contract and off to Chile as soon as they got the first episode wrapped and in the can. Bobby had instructed Leslie to take all the footage they had and turn it into a ninety-minute movie. He said take no prisoners.
As soon as they landed she turned on her cell phone and discovered that Harold had called three times that very day. She checked the messages. “Hey Luce tried to reach you at the hotel but you were checked out. What’s up? I’ve got news.” “Luce, call me when you get this.” “Where the hell are you, Lucy?”
She called from the plane as soon as they said it was OK. His was busy. She left him a voicemail. “Harry, I just got back. I’m here in LA. Lots of news. Call my cell.”
He called while they waited for the baggage. “Hey Luce, how are you? How come you’re back so soon?”
“I’m fine, treasure man. I mean considering that one of the surfer girls got murdered and I know it but can’t prove it. But enough about me. How’d it go?”
“Murdered! What the hell are you talking about, Lucy? You got yourself into another situation, didn’t you, you crazy dame!”
“Kind of. Officially this woman drowned, but there were drugs involved. Look, it’s a complicated tale. I’ll tell you the whole damn story when I see you. But right now I’m fine and I want to know how your deal went.”
“Strangely? What does that mean? Did you find your million, Harry?”
“No, I mean not exactly, but–”
“But what. Stop beating around the bush, Ipswich. What happened?”
“How come you’re back so soon? I thought you were going to be down there for a couple of weeks.”
“Harry, come on, you’re playing with me. Our bags are coming down the belt and I gotta run.”
“OK. Here’s my story: me and my crew—Clarence and Harvey, the two Jamaican dudes I told you about—spent like five hours every night digging, and then shoring up the stinking mud with these wooden pallets we kept stealing from the back end of the store above us. The whole operation was an insane and stupid idea, I told myself every five minutes every night, as I was wallowing through the mud wondering if an alligator might decide to move into our burrow and eat one of us for dinner. I should have listened to you. And then eventually we got to where the money was supposed to be according to my calculations. And it wasn’t there.”
“So you didn’t find it. Well what did I tell you, Harry? Didn’t I–”
“At that point I should have bailed, but like I said to Clarence and Harvey, I know these guys weren’t bullshitting me. I just know it. Plus I was already into this for around two thousand bucks so I wasn’t quite ready to give up. So they’re like OK, mon, we not have to stop now, which way you want to dig further? They were each making a hundred and fifty dollars a day off me so why would they want to quit? So I closed my eyes and waved my arm around and then, since I had no clue which way to go, I just pointed and said, there. So we all went at it again, did another five feet, and there it was, lo and behold, a black plastic bag.”
“So you found it?! You found the million dollars? Harry, I’m–”
“Not exactly. See, the money was actually in five separate smaller bags inside the one big bag. And unfortunately the drug-dealing dolts didn’t seal them very well, so–” he stopped. “Four of the seals had been breached and the money had rotted away or been eaten by bugs, worms, whatever. It was all confetti and dirt. But,” he stopped again, and waited, for dramatic emphasis.
“But what, Harry–that one’s mine,” she said to Marcia, pointing at a suitcase. “Could you grab it? Thanks.”
“So I didn’t get a million bucks but we did get the one bag that didn’t leak–and it had two hundred grand in hundreds in it.”
“You got two hundred thousand dollars? Harry, that is amazing. Terry, he found the money!”
“The doper’s buried million? I don’t–”
“Most of it was rotten but he got two hundred thousand. Jesus, Harold, that is so amazing. I can’t–”
“Actually I only have one-fifty because I gave Clarence and Harvey twenty-five thousand each.”
“Is that what you agreed on?”
“No, I had told them ten per cent but when we actually got the money, it seemed like the right thing to do.”
“Cool, Harry. Generosity is always cool.”
“Yeah. And a hundred fifty grand ain’t bad for a week’s work, is it?”
“No it isn’t, amigo. But it won’t be enough to buy a loft if I can’t get back into mine, will it?”
“God, that’s right! Did you figure out who’s in there, Luce?”
“I was hoping you were on the case, rich guy.”
“I’m flying back day after tomorrow. I gotta wrap up some other business.”
“I’ll probably be out of here tomorrow myself. We’ve got some stuff to take care of, and I have to decide if I want to go to Chile to work on the show again—I’m feeling a little uneasy after what happened in Sayulita, to say the least–but first things first, and I really need to get back there and see about my loft.”
“You do indeed, or Lascovich will be all over it. If he isn’t already.”
“He’s been out of town I heard but I think he was due back today.”
“You’d better get a move on, Luce. Well, listen, I gotta talk to this guy about alligators for my article. A hundred and a half is pretty fat but it ain’t enough to retire on. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
“Sounds good Harry. Love you.”
“Love you, Luce. Hey, listen, I’ll call my neighbor Antonio downstairs and tell him to let you into my place if you get there before me and the loft situation is still dicey. He’s in 3C.”
“Cool, Harry. Tell him elevenish tomorrow night. See you soon.” She shut the phone. “Teresa, Harry found his money! He actually found two hundred thousand dollars buried under a Walmart in the middle of a swamp in Florida!”
“Wow!” said Teresa. “That is amazing. We’re all getting rich.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Leslie said.
“Yeah, what’s this money story?” Marcia chimed in.
Lucy told the story of Harry’s found dope money en route from LAX to Venice in Leslie’s black Lexus SUV. As she dropped off Teresa, and then Lucy and Marcia, Leslie said she’d have a rough cut of X Dames Episode One ready to show them the next morning, rushed because she was heading down to Chile to start shooting the snowboarding episode in two days. She also said, just before driving off, that she hoped they’d stay on the show in spite of “Bobby’s bad karma.”
Marcia fetched Claud from her apartment, and after saying goodbye Lucy walked him over to Teresa’s place. They’d planned to hit the beach together to watch the sun go down. The door of Teresa’s bungalow was open when Lucy got there. She went up and called in. “Hey Ter.”
“I’m quitting,” Teresa said, as Lucy walked in.
“Quitting what?” Lucy said.
“The stupid X Dames, Luce.” She looked slightly stunned but immensely happy as she waved a letter of some sort at Lucy. “Pardon my goof-ball grin, Lucy, but I am in a state of simultaneous grace and shock. Luce, I got a McClellan.”
“A McClellan? That’s great I think, but what are you talking about? What’s a McClellan?”
“The McClellan Fund. They give these grants in all kinds of different fields. I got one for art criticism. I don’t even know who nominated me. They’re not allowed to tell me. In any case they’re going to pay me fifty thousand a year for the next five years. I can finish my book and do another one without even having to hustle. I am so made I can’t even believe it.”
“Jesus, Terry, that is phenomenal! Congratulations. God, is it totally payday or what?” They hugged. “Everybody must get rich, as Bob Dylan might sing it. That’s fantastic! God damn! Plus you just made my decision way easier, kiddo.”
“What decision is that, Luce?”
“Terry, you know the only reason I was even considering going on with this X Dames fiasco was you. The vibe was kind of ugly already and with what happened to Sandra I can’t see working anywhere near that Judy, or Dario, again. I can’t believe they’ll even let Bobby keep us on if we don’t quit. And I’d much rather quit than get fired, know what I mean? So: if you’re off the show then I’m off too, so fast Bobby’s not even gonna remember my name.”
“Ha,” said Terry triumphantly. “Let’s let him pay us another week’s salary, then we bail. Payday should be tomorrow.”
“Sounds good. So when do you get the free money?”
“It says the first payment will be in September, twenty-five grand, then twenty-five more every six months for five years. And they pay the taxes.”
“Amazing. I guess this calls for a celebration, Teresa MacDonald. What’s the most expensive restaurant in LA these days?”
“I don’t know but I bet Leslie does. Let’s call her. And get Marcia, too. We’ll have a little reunion.”
Leslie was too busy editing and Marcia didn’t want to go out that night so they moved the party to brunch the next day at Michael’s Restaurant in Santa Monica.
Early the next morning the four of them watched Leslie’s rough cut of the premier/pilot of THE X DAMES: SURF AND DEATH IN SAYULITA. Leslie had done a wonderful job of putting the whole thing together visually, surf contest overlaid with murder investigation; she’d even done a temporary voice over narration. And at the end, when she asked, rhetorically, of the viewers, “And so who do you think is responsible for the death of Sandra Darwin?” it seemed quite clear, at least to this gang, whodunit.
“Bobby’s gonna love it, Les,” said Lucy. “But what are you going to do about Judy Leggett and Ruben Dario? They look totally guilty.”
“Nothing. Bobby said take no prisoners. This is the story we need to tell. If they can’t live with it they’ll have to bail on the show, but I think they both know that they stand to make a ton of money if the series flies. And I think it will. Surfer-babes, accusations of conspiracy to commit murder, and an exotic Mexican setting. What more could a network executive ask for? So I figure they’ll just ride it out. They are a pair of evil, unethical assholes anyway, so why wouldn’t they?”
Then a messenger showed up from Schamberg’s office. He had money and letters for each of them. The checks were for $5000 each, two weeks’ pay, and the letters, signed with a Bobby stamp, regretfully informed them that their services were no longer needed as the show would be moving in a different direction commencing with Episode Two. “Damn,” Lucy said. “I so wanted to quit first.”
“Yeah, but now you don’t ever even have to talk to that knucklehead again. Whereas I have at least another six hours of interviewing him about his daddy to look forward to. Hey, let’s go spend some of his money!” Off they went to brunch. The four of them ate the best of everything off the menu and downed several bottles of shockingly expensive wine, running up a tab of nearly eight hundred dollars. Paying the bill gleefully, Terry said, “That was my entire income for the months of January and February of this year, girls.”
Leslie headed back to her house in Silverlake to work on the edit, while Lucy and her two compadres went back to Venice. She gave Claud his doggie downers and took him for a walk. Then she and Terry loaded all her stuff into the back of the little orange VW. It had been eight days since she arrived in LA. She told Marcia that she could stay with her in New York indefinitely if she did decide to go to Pratt and needed a place—assuming I have a place myself, Lucy added, and leave the yage in LA, please—and then Terry drove Lucy to the airport and the two women hugged and said their goodbyes. Lucy checked in her dog and her bags, and headed to the gate. She was due at LaGuardia at ten pm east coast time. She settled into her first class seat and soon the wine caught up with her and she fell asleep, only to dream of falling out her loft window on the crest of a very large wave. An hour before landing, she woke up with a headache, worried. Back to reality. Real estate combat.