California today, late summer
Leoni was seventeen and no longer kept count of her lovers. A few stood out as being sensationally good, a few she remembered for being dismally bad, but most were just…forgettable.
Like this one bouncing up and down on top of her now. He was so forgettable shed already forgotten him. Was he called Mort? Hmm… Could be. But then again, maybe he was a Michael, or a Matthew? Or perhaps his name didnt even begin with an M. Perhaps he was a John or a Jim or a Joe? Might even be a Bill or a Bob.
Leoni waited with barely disguised impatience for him to finish. Then she stifled a yawn, dabbed herself down with his Versace T-shirt, made her excuses and left.
He lived in a mansion with lots of complicated corridors that kept bringing her back to his bedroom like one of those nightmares where you cant escape. Then, when she found a door and stepped out into the warm Malibu night, she couldnt remember where shed parked her blue convertible SL500. She spent several frustrating minutes pressing the remote buttons on her key until she realized the car must be at the other side of the house.
As she trudged around the massive building in her high heels she thought: What did that bastard slip in my vodka? She felt stupid, like her head was full of bubbles. And where was the Merc? Beep beep. Ah, there it was. She crawled in behind the wheel and started up the engine. Better. Much better. Now all she had to do was find her way out. She flicked the control to put the top down. Whirr … hiss … click. Then it was Jimmy Choos off, full beams on, right foot down on the gas, and a satisfying spinning of wheels and splatter of gravel. She drove a couple of times round the big house to get her bearings, then tore down the main driveway and pulled to a screeching halt in front of the tall iron gates that barred her exit.
Leoni was beginning to feel thwarted. All she wanted to do was go home and sleep for, like, three days. But she couldnt get out. She put her palm on the cars horn, pressed hard and revved the engine. Deafening din. Then she backed up and charged at the gates, skidding to a stop just before hitting them. She backed up and charged again. On the third attempt her lover of the night must have pressed a button somewhere because the gates swung open and she shot out onto the road in her little blue car like a cork from a bottle, weaving from left to right before regaining control.
Pacific Coast Highway coming up. With the wind in her hair, struggling to light a cigarette, Leoni executed a spectacular left turn at about a hundred miles an hour towards Santa Monica, cutting sharply across the path of a shitty-looking black-and-white Ford traveling in the opposite direction. She made eye contact with two startled faces both male, one with a mustache staring out at her from behind the windshield. Then she saw the seven-pointed gold star painted on the Fords door beneath the words CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL, also in gold.
Leoni floored the gas pedal and was soon skimming along at around a hundred and forty, but in seconds the black-and-white loomed up in her rear-view mirror with its sirens blaring and its lights flashing. Jesus, those boys had turned fast. And their shitty Ford was hot. Accepting that she wasnt going to get away, Leoni cut her speed, pulled into the emergency lane and stopped. Her heart was pounding and she had stomach cramps. Jesus!
The officer with the mustache appeared at her side, scowled down at her and demanded to see her license. He was in his mid-twenties, with short black hair and a Latino look, and he had a big Smith & Wesson strapped to his butt. Fumbling for her ID, Leoni spilled the contents of her purse all over the passenger seat and burst into tears to create a distraction when she saw, under the unforgiving glare of the street lights, not only her driving license, credit cards, money, tampons, condoms and lipstick but also a dozen bulging wraps of cocaine.
Maam, said the officer, I need you to step out of the car NOW.
Her fathers attorney posted bail for her in the morning and whisked her out of a side door with a blanket over her head to avoid the press and camera crews waiting at the front. By lunchtime Leoni was back in Beverly Hills, slouching in the palatial kitchen of the parental home.
She had never hated mom and dad with such intense and personal revulsion as she did right here, right now. Her flesh was actually creeping with disgust.
Dad was a short, stocky middle-aged guy, running to flab, wearing a ten-thousand-dollar suit and a buffed Beverly Hills tan. He had blonde hair, cut short, receding sharply at the temples, the cold blank eyes of a fraud investigator, and a long, suspicious nose that didnt seem to belong on the same face as his wet, fleshy, very red lips. He was a bully, the loudest voice in the room, but this morning his wife was doing all the talking and he stood near the door searching his teeth with his tongue as though trying to dig out morsels of food.
Mom was the taller of the two by four inches, skinny, hatchet-faced and mean as a rattlesnake. Weve been fielding calls all morning from the rival channels and press, she spat at Leoni. Even the National Enquirer, for Christs sake. She mimicked the headlines: MEDIA TYCOONS RICH-BITCH DAUGHTER ON BAIL AFTER NIGHT OF DRUGS AND BOOZE. Her upper lip trembled. Tears spilled through her eye-make-up: Youve shamed us again she yelled, spraying spit. Shamed your father. Shamed me. Worst of all, youve shamed your brother in his first week in middle school she was triumphant now shed managed to bring Adam the miracle child into the conversation and Ill never forgive you for that.
It was a big deal that Adam had skipped a grade and moved up to middle school. The precocious brat had just turned ten, making him more than a year younger than most of his classmates, and his brilliant performance was in stark contrast with his big sisters drop-out academic status as her mother liked to remind her. Everything comes down to Adam for you, doesnt it? Leoni sobbed. Adam this. Adam that. Its always about Adam. Never, ever, ever about me.
But Mom yelled right back: What do you mean, its never about you? You selfish little bitch. I JUST DONT GET IT. Havent we always given you everything youve ever wanted?
You didnt even give birth to me, Leoni wanted to say, so how would you know? Part of her really wanted to get into all the big hurtful issues…
But she still wasnt sure if what she thought had happened to her was real or imagined.
Look, she said finally, Im sorry, OK? This is a difficult time for me. Im adjusting. Dealing with a whole lot … I havent felt right about … anything for, like, the whole of this year …
Well, lets see how you adjust to having no car. Mom cut her short. And no allowance. And how about we dont pay for an attorney to represent you when this gets to court? I guess the state can provide one for you. Some kid, fresh out of law school, still wet behind the ears, who wont be able to keep you out of jail. THIS TIME YOU EARNED IT, YOUNG LADY.
This time you earned it, young lady. What a jerk, Leoni, thought, what a jerk you are, Mom. Her self-control broke. She uttered a short high- pitched scream at the top of her voice, ran from the kitchen, colliding with her father on the way out, knocked over a lamp stand in the hall, pounded up the stairs to her bedroom and slammed the door so hard behind her that two of its wooden panels cracked and flakes of white paint showered to the floor. She stalked forward, snatched up her sketch pad and Magic Marker from the bedside table and with stabbing, slashing strokes scribbled a cartoon featuring her mother being mounted by a donkey. Then she tore the drawing into confetti and collapsed on the big pillow-strewn bed sobbing, feeling like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum. Why was it that Mom always managed to reduce her to this?
Five minutes later Leoni was still so angry she was shaking. But then she remembered she had just the thing. Kicking off her shoes she padded across the room to her underwear drawer and fumbled around in it for a rolled-up sock she kept way at the back. She could just make out her parents voices down in the kitchen, faint and indistinct. They were shouting about something. Probably about what they were going to do with her. She retrieved the sock, unrolled it, and counted out five white OxyContin pills stolen, amongst other goodies, from her mothers drugstore-sized stash of legal prescription highs.
Leoni had not used OxyContin before but she had heard good things about it, excellent things, and now seemed like the time. The pills were ten milligrams each. Were five too many? Too few? Shed seen her friend Billy, crystal-meth addict and heir to a billion-dollar fortune, knock back a big blue hundred-and-sixty-milligram torpedo of OxyContin and suffer no obvious ill effects so a teensy fifty milligrams wasnt going to do her any harm, was it? And did she actually care if it did? On impulse she upped the dose to eighty milligrams and then remembered Billys advice that the effects could be intensified by crushing the pills and snorting the powder. Snorting was definitely something Leoni knew how to do.
With much effort and impatience, using the end of a steel nail file, she ground the eight pills down to a fine powder. Then she rolled up a hundred-dollar bill and took a gigantic sniff. Hmm. Not bad. Instant rush. Leoni snuffled up the rest of the powder and lay back on her bed to enjoy the euphoric glow suffusing her whole body. God, this was better than sex. Her mind drifted. At first she felt like she was submerged in a pool of warm jelly. But soon she started to shiver and her skin turned cold and clammy. The room seemed to be spinning round and something was suffocating her.
She tried to get off the bed, shuffle towards the door, call for help, but she couldnt coordinate her movements and fell to the floor. The sense of being smothered worsened until Leoni could no longer draw breath and slipped into deathly unconsciousness.
Teaser image by Schluesselbein, courtesy of Creative Commmons license.