Dan A. Cardoza

Killer Good Looks

Certain things stick to you, like a drunken friend’s late-night sleaze bar zen. “Jack, good sex is like an out of control forest fire. The delicious irony is that you pass out wet, but in your dreams, it’s raining matches.”

Goodwill laid me off a good six months ago. You know the one on Sepulveda? Budget cuts and all, they said. I was their go-to fix-it man. I get why nobody buys fix-it shit anymore, except the Russians. Everything is easier to replace nowadays.

In order to salve my low self-esteem, I’ve stayed at home and milked unemployment for nearly three months. But free and money won’t cure your indigestion from watching endless Oprah reruns. So recently, I took a new job. I was so bored. Plus, truth was we were hurting for money, Mia and I. 

We’d been shacking up and rubbing two pennies together for almost six years now.  

We’d both won at karaoke the night we met. Me: Burning Love. Mia: Billie Jean. For God’s sake, she moonwalked a new shine across the dull floor of my heart that night. We ended up walking home to the edge of my king-sized bed.

I’ve been fired from seven short jobs now, four long years without a raise. I’ve never received a frozen turkey or fresh ham for the holidays, not from one single employer.

Mia is not at all happy with any of my career choices, my lack of any success. Who knew?

She says, “Jack, you’re clueless. Every syllable out of your mouth is total bullshit.”

“I bring home a check don’t I? How about the perks? I don’t see you asking me to return any of your sex toys, the ones I fixed at my new job? How about that $75 vibrating Buddha you use for your meditation?”

“What the hell kind of gift was that Jack,” Mia fumes. “For Christ sakes, and you gave it to me on Valentine’s Day to boot?”

Mia stomps off toward the bedroom, each step a war drum. The slams shut behind her, and next comes the damned click-clack of the lock.

It’s hard to forget that sound: a whip crack at the Midnight Garden of Good and Evil, Michael Jackson snapping his fingers. 

I am locked out once again.

***

I arrive early at work the next morning. It’s not so much that I’m ambitious. The sofa springs are twisting through the couch like sheet metal screws.

As soon as I step through the stock room door, my boss Jenkins shouts, “Hey you, I have a rush delivery, the bachelor physician at the Stanford Ranch subdivision.”

“Jesus, its only 7:45 A.M.,” I say.

 “What did you say? He’s a damned good customer. Why is time your business?”

His expression lets me know they’ll be no coffee first this morning.

“Dr. Bennington wants his new toy ASAP, understood? Now, go!”  

His mother’s blue money financed the business. She knows her son is a failure. But Blanche is a fixer like me. She repairs her son’s bankruptcies, settles his expensive divorces, and pays for his prostitutes, only she doesn’t know it. I fix the expensive broken toys of love and loneliness, program the gently used A.I. sex dolls, and repair Zen Buddha vibrators for women who feel empty inside.

The elderly Mrs. Jenkins lives in France. She has early Alzheimer’s. Her only son Carl has convinced her that Evil Pleasures is a horror boutique in downtown L.A. In reality, it’s a Hollywood A-list go-to shop for uncomplicated love, for sale or rent. But really, the clientele and location are not all that important. For the right kind of money, all love is for sale, anywhere. 

Carl Jenkins is a cruel, driven man, eternally angry. You’d think he wouldn’t be appealing to the opposite sex. But the kind of women he sees don’t seem to mind. After all, anyone can purchase the right brand of love.

And, with the amount of money his mother gives him, he falls in love a lot. Carl’s even been known to hit up on my Mia. Last time it was at the company Halloween party. I was a pack of Camels and she was a bottle of Jack Daniels. Mia and I never complain about Carl because we need the money.

***

A hardly known fact is that in Los Angeles, all the freeways hiss like snakes. But today, it’s rainy and windy, so all the thoroughfares are sizzling like butter on a hot sauté pan. I’m moving from fast lane to fast lane, and on the Artesia, all the lanes are fast, especially when you’re running late.

“Hang on Maverick,” I say to my passenger, stepping on it as I zoom into the commuter lane.

Maverick pays no attention to me. He’s auditioning for the hard-to-get role, channeling a moody James Dean as he stares idly out the window.

Maverick is dressed in a wife-beater and ripped jeans. His tan shoulders ripple and glisten, even in the dull light of morning. His arms and chest are inked with hot, expensive tattoos.

I imagine him asking me, “Jack, aren’t you going to call stud muffin?”

Maverick is new to L.A., a gorgeous specimen and oh, so very vulnerable. A sexy amalgamation of raw flesh and innocent morality. He’s made it all the way here from Kansas City, Kansas.

Impulsively, the words escape my mouth:

“I fantasize about you, Maverick.”

***

This rush hour, urgent delivery crap is too much. I’m pissed off.

So, my inner devil says, “To hell with it all.” Out loud, I say, “I need the tip, better buckle up Maverick!” 

How cool can he get? He just sits there, jutting out his pretty jaw just so.

“Hell yes!” I holler with abandon, creeping the useless Prius up to 80 miles per hour. Stink-eye headlights flood the rearview as we go flying past all those stuck in the L.A. gridlock.

Maybe we’ll get a big tip from Dr. Bennington after all. Then I won’t have to sleep on couch again tonight. Meanwhile, Maverick couldn’t care less about my crumbling marriage, let alone my sleeping situation.

On the same worn psychological sofa, in a dark corner of my mind, Alter-Ego-Jack smirks as he whispers, “We both know Mia is cheating on your ass, and not just with Jenkins.” 

There’s no evidence of that!” I scream at the top of my lungs, feeling increasingly reckless.

“Maverick, you are so damn hot,” I suddenly blurt out. I’ve kicked open the saloon doors of my vocal cords. I hope Maverick understands. I hope he doesn’t think I have Tourette’s or anything like that.

***

Weaving in and out of traffic, I manage to clip the fender of a shiny, new BMW. I barely miss side-swiping a limo that has a Harvey Weinstein look-a-like inside of it.

Maverick remains frozen in silence. He just stares straight ahead through all the madness. I can’t help admire his steely blue eyes, reflecting poise and internal strength.

“This isn’t going to end well,” Alter-Ego-Jack whispers. “You’ve picked a hell of a time to come out of the closet.”

“No shit Jacky-Boy!” I spit back at him.

I know Maverick must think I’m crazy by now.

***

“Passenger, slowly open your door and exit the vehicle, hands in the air.”

Maverick and I both sit frozen in place on the side of the road. It’s just like a scene from one of those really bad cop shows. You know the ones with the hot rednecks.

“Passenger, open your door and exit the vehicle with your hands up!”

Fear comes zooming in on me from the rearview mirror. It looks like Pinhead from Hellraiser, the sexy horror film, the one with the original director. A miniature voodoo doll prickles my throat. Outside, it’s a nothing but a creepy carnival of clowns with guns. Maverick sits stiff in my peripheral vision, somehow still radiating sexiness amidst the chaos of the situation.

“DRIVER, tell your passenger to exit the vehicle, NOW!”

For a nanosecond, I imagine the female officer on the megaphone as a thirteen-year-old girl. She’s one of those San Fernando Valley Girls, the type with a horny trigger finger. I imagine her rehashing our story for happy hour at the Blue Bar on Spring Street, where all the cops hand out.

“I am not going to die today,” I say to myself.

In a panic, I kick off my right shoe, peel off my sock, and stretch my leg over Maverick to toe the passenger door open. Next, I kick him in the side as hard as I can, sending him tumbling out of the Prius. He looks like the cartoon character, the Tasmanian devil, as he spins and rolls down the steep embankment.

So I’m selfish, whats new?  

As I slump down in the driver’s seat, my voice betrays me once again:

“Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie and Clyde! La la la, dah dah dah, I can’t hear you! La la la, dah dah dah!”

Suddenly, everything is in slow motion. Maverick continues to flip ass over tea kettle down the long hill to the bottom. Along the way, his shimmering body erupts in a hail of gunfire. The bullets eats away at him like shiny electric minnows. By the time he stops moving, he’s been reduced to a husk of silicone and circuitry.

Maverick hips mechanically unwind for the last time. Elvis has left the building.  

***

“You can’t make this shit up”, I say to my captive audience of murderers, thieves, and rapists. Today, I am just another someone, one of the crew, at the L.A. County Jail.

“Damn dude,” says an old man who left most of his sanity splattered somewhere in ‘Nam. “You may not get the death penalty, but this is Cali, you’ll get life for sure!” He laughs his crazy parrot laugh. “That’s for second-degree murder or manslaughter!”  

***

Four months slowly crawl by. 

Mia has moved to Florida. She’s supporting her new boy toy in college. She tells me what he lacks in bed, he makes up for in potential. He’ll have a future in computer programming, she says.

In the meantime, I seem to live here at the 7-11 Quick Mart these days. I’m pulling extra hours so I can pay for my bad side of town rent, plus restitution to Dr. Bennington for destruction of property.

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