Read an Excerpt
Noah Patrick sat on the beach. He’d slept here last night, under the pier with a couple other bums. They’d built a fire, illegal as hell, but only if you got caught, and offered him rotgut wine. He’d declined. He told them his name when they asked. They’d grinned and asked for his autograph. Neither of them had pencil or paper so he’d written his name with his finger in the sand and watched the surf wash it away.
That’s what gave him the idea.
He hadn’t had the brains to quit drinking till it was too late, till he had nothing left. No career, no money, no place to live. Hopefully, he had guts enough to simply sit here and let the tide take him.
The sun was almost gone, just a thin orange smear on the horizon. He heard the murmur of the surf, could see the tidal surge beginning to lift toward shore. Wouldn’t be long now. Wouldn’t be easy, either. He was California–born and bred, raised on a surfboard, swam like a dolphin.
His instinct was to fight.
Noah closed his eyes and focused on how he’d do it. Just lie down. Pretend he was floating on his board like he used to when he was just another sunburned, bleached blond kid on the beach. Before Hollywood came knocking and made him a TV star.
He did fine till the breakers started booming and slapped spray in his face. He kept his eyes shut but he panicked. He was doing this wrong. He should’ve swiped a board from the idiots surfing in wet suits and paddled out past the break- ers. It was December. Hypothermia would kill him before he drowned.
He had to force himself to lie down, shivering on the wet sand, his teeth clacking like the one and only time he’d had the DT’s. He’d really fucked that up. If he hadn’t checked himself into detox, he’d be dead already instead of lying here freezing to death.
He drew a breath, bracing himself for the next wave. No one would miss him. He’d fucked that up, too. Hadn’t bothered to make himself likable when he’d had looks and money. Nobody bothered when they were on top—only when they hit bottom.
Maybe he’d wash up someplace snazzy like Malibu, where paparazzi were as thick as starlets sunbathing without their bikini tops. If the fish didn’t chew him up too bad, somebody might snap his picture, run it in the tabloids.
Dead, he might attract enough attention for a movie of the week. Four-hankie dramas about tormented celebs doomed to die young were hot. They wouldn’t be hot forever, though, so the next breaker had better gets its ass moving and get up here and get him.
Noah opened one eye, saw the surf roiling and curling back on itself for another crack at him, shut his eye and thought about his movie. His former network might snap it up for old times’ sake. The rights belonged to his parents. He’d signed them over in his will.
His will. Fuck. Noah opened his eyes and blinked at the first stars popping out in the sky. Where was it? And where the hell was that goddamn breaker? He was freezing his balls off here waiting to drown.
If his mother had any say, they’d cast Brad Pitt to play him. Not his first choice, but he could live with it so long as they made him shave that scraggly, sorry-ass beard. They wouldn’t need a leading lady. He’d never gotten around to marriage. He’d been too busy drinking himself half to death.
If the fucking tide didn’t hurry, he’d have time to finish the job. What the hell did a guy have to do around here to drown? Noah pushed up on one hand, swung his head toward the water, and took the six-foot breaker that came crashing ashore full in the face.
It knocked him flat, drenched him in cold seawater and rolled him like a ball up the beach. Body-slammed him onto the sand and slid away with a sigh. He gagged saltwater, and over the pounding in his ears heard the building roar of the next breaker coming and a scream in his head.
Get up and run, you dickhead!
What if they couldn’t find his will? Or refused to make Pitt shave? The network would screw his parents and every Nielsen family in America would think he couldn’t grow facial hair. That wasn’t the way he wanted to be remembered.
And this wasn’t the way he wanted to die.
Noah struggled up on his hands, his feet dug into the sand like a runner taking his blocks. He’d lost his left shoe, flung his head over his shoulder to look for it and saw the next breaker rushing toward him, white capped and thundering ashore. Fuck the shoe. Noah pushed off, stumbling and falling, racing the breaker up the beach.
He beat it by inches, felt icy water curl around his ankles, slide harmlessly past him as he fell on his hands in a pool of hissing foam, exhausted and breathless, black spots swimming in his vision. When he could, he reared back on his knees and sucked air into his lungs. His eyes and his throat burned with salt, but he was alive. Alive, by God.
Find the winos, build a roaring bonfire, and get arrested. Spend a warm, dry night in jail and get shipped to a shelter in the morning. They’d give him clothes and shoes, a hot meal and a few bucks if they had it to spare. He’d scout a place to flop and get a job. Not that he could do anything but look good for a camera, but he’d figure something out.
He already knew he wouldn’t try this again. Next time he’d fling himself off an overpass. A nice, dry overpass. If he tried this again. Maybe he’d give sobriety a shot first. The guys at AA said if he could make it five years he had a chance. He was going on two. Jesus. No wonder he’d wanted to kill himself.
Noah staggered to his feet and up the beach, bruised and aching from being slapped around by the surf. His soaked clothes weighed a ton and goose bumps the size of boulders popped on his skin.
It wasn’t dark yet but it was getting there, the orange in the sky fading to violet. There was twilight enough to see the low wall edging the beach and the strip of shoulder beyond it that ran along this stretch of highway between L.A. and Malibu. A car, a Mercedes he thought, was parked there and a woman smoking a cigarette sat on the wall.
A woman he knew but hadn’t seen in . . . shit. A lotta years. It took him a minute to recognize her. She was older and she’d cut her hair. Changed the color, too, he thought, but the memory was vague.
“Oh Christ,” he said. “You.”
“You were expecting your fairy godmother?”
Noah wheeled away and wobbled back toward the water.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
He swung around to make sure it was her. Fuck. It was.
“Seeing you makes me think I do have the guts for this after all.”
She laughed and got up, flipped her cigarette in the sand and went to the car. Came back with a blanket she tossed on the wall as she sat down and unscrewed the cap of a stainless steel thermos.
“Come have some coffee.”
“I’d rather get arrested.”
“Say the word and I’ll call 911 on the car phone.”
She would in a heartbeat, but she had coffee and a blanket and he was so cold his bones were chattering. On the set of Betwixt and Be Teen, the TV series that made him a star, he used to say if you looked up the words stone cold bitch you’d see Vivienne Varner’s picture next to the definition. A number of the crew said you could find Noah Patrick’s autographed publicity shot below the description of soulless bastard.
“I had a car phone once.” Noah snatched up the blanket. Three-inch thick merino wool with a silk-stitched hem that made him shiver as he wrapped it around him. “I had a car, too.”
“At one time, as I recall, you had six.”
Noah dropped onto the wall beside her. “Thanks for reminding me.”
Vivienne filled the thermos cap and passed it to him. He raised it to his mouth with both hands and drank. Straight from Rodeo Drive, blended, freshly ground, and scalding. Just the way he liked it.
“What are you doing here, Vivienne?”
“I’ve been looking for you. Not personally, of course. The detectives I hired. Had to turn over a lot of rocks to find you.”
“If I owe you money you’ll have to see my accountant. This time of day he’s usually passed out under the pier.”
She smiled, leaning forward on the wall with the heels of her hands on the edge, her narrow face turned toward him, her head cocked to one side. “I see you haven’t lost your sense of humor.”
“But you can see I’ve lost everything else. What do you want?”
“A better question is what do you want, Noah?”
A drink, he almost said, because he did. He always would, they’d told him at AA, but he didn’t claw the walls for tequila anymore.
“The coffee will do me fine, thanks,” he said and took another slug.
“You were never a great actor, Noah, but you’re a natural in front of a camera. You play guitar and you have a pretty good voice. You’re no Gregory Hines, but you can hoof it if you have to and not fall over your feet. Those are your good qualities. On the negative side, you’re a miserable excuse for a human being.”
He snorted into his coffee. “Takes one to know one, Vivienne.”
“That’s why I’m here.”
Noah shifted on the wall to face her. She looked good for an old broad. At least one facelift, but that was drill in L.A. She had on dark leggings and ankle boots, a burgundy turtleneck and a white cashmere jacket. Gold on her wrists, diamonds in her ears and a glint in her eyes that Noah might have mistaken for tears if he didn’t know her so well.
“You aren’t dying, I can only hope?”
“Not yet. Not by a long shot.” She laughed, took a gold cigarette case out of her pocket, opened it, and offered it to him.
“I quit,” Noah said. “I think.”
Then he shrugged and took a cigarette. She lit another one for herself and slipped the case and her gold lighter back in her pocket.
“If you had a phone,” she said, blowing smoke through her nose, “you’d probably be the only person in L.A. who would take my calls.”
“I’ve been out of touch, but let me see if I can guess why.” Noah dragged on his cigarette, waited till the nicotine rush passed and said, “Your mean-as-cat-shit disposition and your piranhalike charm.”
“My best qualities ten years ago,” she said with a wistful sigh. “Nowadays Hollywood is so politically correct you can’t say shit even if you have a mouthful. My clients are bailing like rats off a sinking ship. I need an image overhaul and Christ knows you do.”
“I’ve killed a lot of brain cells, Viv. Where are you going with this?”
“Everybody in this town knows you’re a drunk and I’m a ball breaker.” She swung around on the wall to face him. “They know you hate my guts as much as I hate yours, that for the entire six-year run of Betwixt and Be Teen, when you and Lindsay weren’t fighting—”
“Lindsay?” Noah interrupted. “Lindsay who?”
“Lindsay Varner. My daughter. Your costar on BBT.”
“Oh, Lindsay. I thought you said Leslie.” Noah smacked the side of his head. “Must have water in my ears.”
“As I was saying. When you and Lindsay weren’t fighting, you and I were. I bad-mouthed you all over town. You lost jobs because of me.”
“Goddamn it, Vivienne!” Noah leaped to his feet, sloshing hot coffee over his hand. He was so chilled it felt good. “Thanks a lot!”
“Oh, stop it.” She grabbed the blanket and yanked him down beside her. “You knew all this before you pickled your brain.”
“I did? Oh. Well, sorry then,” he muttered into the thermos cap.
“You quit boozing two years ago.” She edged closer, hands raised and gesturing, her cigarette swirling excited smoke rings into the near darkness. “So all we have to do is clean up your act and put the word out that you’re starting to get parts again, that you’re doing good work—”
“Parts?” Noah’s ears pricked. “I’m getting parts? Where?”
“In a minute. You’re getting parts, you’re doing good work. You’re responsible and you’ve lost the attitude.”
“If no one will take your calls, Viv, how do we get the word out?”
“We give them a story they can’t ignore. You and Lindsay teamed up again. BBT was the hottest show on TV. You two were on the cover of every teen mag in the world. The Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears of the eighties.”
“We were?” Noah asked uncertainly. “Did we like, date?”
“Hardly,” she snorted. “I wouldn’t allow it. You were half-lit most of the time and you went through women like you went through tequila. Studios are screaming for remakes. Networks want reunion shows. The timing is perfect.”
Noah remembered the tequila, every golden drop of it. He wished he could remember the women and Vivienne’s daughter. He remembered her Jessie to his Sam, the boy and girl next door who grew up together and fell in and out of love. A few pawnshops on Hollywood Boulevard still stuck TVs in the window and turned them on. He knew from the reruns of BBT episodes he caught while he panhandled that Lindsay Varner had been blond and slim and pretty, but that’s all he knew.
“I thought tear-jerker biopics were hot,” Noah said.
“Five minutes ago. Now it’s Return to, Back to, whatever.”
Noah stared at the tide whooshing up on the beach. If he hadn’t chickened out, he would’ve drowned himself for nothing.
From the Paperback edition.