Leigh Tiller has just been kidnapped. The beautiful, ineffably cool New York socialite is being held by a group of mentally ill terrorists who've demanded millions in ransom from Leigh's wealthy father.
There's just one problem: Kip Tiller doesn't want Leigh back. He wants her dead. And he's hired The Serologist--a psychotic, patchwork-scarred hit man--to make sure it happens.
Leigh's unlikely savior is Laser Mechanic, the coolly brilliant leader of the guerrilla art collective, Strategic Art Defense. Now, Laser, his team of highly trained artists, and Leigh are on their way to Las Vegas, running from The Serologist and the cops. . .and into a head-on collision with several contract killers--the Gashes, vicious girl bikers, the Black Sultans, adolescent gang-bangers, and the Bisons, a pair of sadistic, meth-addled brothers--looking to make a fast fortune. The outcome will be bloody, brutal, bizarre--and utterly unexpected. . .
Praise for Rayo Casablanca and Six Sick Hipsters
"Thoroughly amusing and utterly demented." --Owen King, author of We're All In This Together
"A wild, poignant, twisted, bitterly funny page turner." --Jason Starr, author of The Follower
"A wild ride of a novel." --Jeff Parker, author of Ovenman and The Back of the Line
"Mad as a bag of artistic squirrels. With guns. Very brilliant and very original." --Allan Guthrie, author of Savage Night
"Anarchy as art, rampaging hitmen, and some serious Daddy Issues fuel Rayo Casablanca's violent, savvy, and propulsive Very Mercenary. Think Andy Warhol meets The Monkey Wrench Gang and you're getting the picture. Casablanca's writing cuts hard, fast, and deep as a buzzsaw. Reader beware: you're going to bleed." --Craig Davidson, author of The Fighter
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About the Author
Rayo Casablancais a film and music critic who lives in Denver, Colorado. He has contributed short-fiction and pop culture criticism to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Geek Monthly, Splendid, and Juked among others. In the late '90s Rayo self-published Sinema Brut, a critically acclaimed 'zine devoted to European Trash Cinema. He has also written DVD liner notes for a series of European surrealist movies including the celebrated Spanish film, !Viva La Muerte! (a John Lennon favorite).
Read an Excerpt
By rayo casablanca
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One Nine days out
The lights have been on for maybe five minutes and Lester King's apartment is already boiling.
Leigh Tiller's sweating in her Elie Saab evening dress and wishing she had just bailed on this whole thing. She heads to the upstairs bathroom where Marie from Senegal has all her makeup set up. On the stairs, she passes someone in a ratty monkey costume. The kind you see on people waving signs on corners. The kind you see on public-access kiddie shows. Leigh says, "Nice suit."
The monkey doesn't reply.
When she gets to the makeup room, Marie seems stressed. "Have a seat." Her African patois is as thick as butter. Leigh has to repeat the sounds of it in her head several times to make sure she's got the meaning.
Leigh sits and Marie loads up the mascara. Leigh complains, "Like a raccoon?"
"Hank wants it super thick."
Leigh pulls out her iPod and settles into the makeup chair. She's zoned out on something Bollywood when Marie nudges her. "Huh?"
"I said I saw that interview with Larry King you did with your dad two weeks ago. Really interesting. He seems like quite a character. You guys close?"
"No. Not at all."
Leigh is so sick of talking about her dad. She wonders if there is a full moon out or maybe a comet passing close to the Earth. Something, anything, to explain why lately everyone is asking about her dad.
Marie frowns. "That's a shame."
Leigh shrugs. She doesn't say anything, but the fact is she's broken up over her dad. That their fucked-up relationship is eating a hole in her stomach. That the physical pain of it is so bad she saw a gastroenterologist and got scoped. And even though the doc suggested it might be emotional, he underscored that stress can wreck a gut just the same as too much digestive acid can.
Therapy hasn't helped either. Like any good heiress, Leigh has been in therapy since she was old enough to remember her dreams. At eight, the psychoanalysis centered on her mother. When Leigh was twelve and Mom had been in the ground for two months, it was all about grieving. In high school it was about boys and friends and the fact that Leigh was sure she should be depressed but wasn't. That was really concerning. At twenty it was panic disorders and Xanax. At twenty-two it was her ex, Lane, and biofeedback. Twenty-three was a mix of Dad, Mom's death and Lane and lots of X. And now, at twenty-six, it's just Dad. Dad, Dad, and more Dad. Dad not appreciating her. Dad not noticing her. Dad not loving her. Whenever anyone asks her about Kip Tiller, Leigh always replies the same, "He's the world's biggest prick." Leigh didn't invent that either. Her dad gets all sorts of hate mail and a good two out of ten times it's addressed to "The World's Biggest Prick." Leigh suspects most of this mail comes from her aunt but she's never actually read any of the letters.
Marie says, "You're done."
The scene they're setting up, Leigh knows it's going to be a nightmare. This is her favorite part in Morrissey's original. The way it plays out in the 1970 version is Joe Dallesandro goes to this LSD freak's pad and has a really fucked experience. Then, the LSD freak was Andrea Feldman and she was bonkers in front of the camera. It was Feldman's shtick, her self-expression, both heartbreakingly brilliant and bizarre. She called her spiel "Showtime" and Feldman would commandeer tables at Max's Kansas City and dance on top of them while whipping her top off. Just straight-up craziness. Blame amphetamines. Feldman jumped off the fourteenth floor of her apartment building in 1972. She died holding a rosary in one hand and a Coke can in the other. This movie, Hank's remake, the LSD character is played by someone who goes by the name Liu. No last name, just Liu. She's short and has a shaved head and smells like ozone.
Liu's been hanging out in Lester's kitchen the whole night eating fried chicken skin and talking to the director of photography, Srdjan Juerging (fresh from Yugoslavia), about Tantric sex. Liu has this skinny bald Yugoslavian cornered and she's spent the whole evening prepping for her performance by doing squats and going on and on about Tantric sex. Srdjan is Yugo pale but he's been turning paler. Liu rubs her buttocks and talks about "Yab-yum" and says things like "my clitoris is totally controlled with Pranayama" and "my throat chakra was blocked until I had his penis balls deep in it." The way Hank envisions the scene, Leigh's there too. It's not just standing in the corner and watching Hank make it with Liu, but actually participating. Not sex but dialogue. Though Hank makes it clear pretty quickly he wouldn't mind if things get a bit more "intense."
"Seriously," he says. "There are no limits to what we can do. It's our film. We're remaking something that was totally taboo-busting in the seventies. If we make this chaste it will mean nothing. We'll be soiling Warhol's name."
Leigh looks to Marchesa, her personal assistant.
Marchesa wags a finger at Hank and says, "We're not doing porn."
Hank looks appalled. "I wasn't suggesting ..."
Marchesa repeats, "No porn."
"Let's just get this done," Leigh says.
It takes another fifteen minutes to get everyone in place and then the cameras are rolling and Hank is doing his best strung-out drifter. Liu truly is manic. She has no scripted lines and is totally channeling Andrea Feldman. She's even got the nasal New York grotto accent down pat. And Leigh, after two or three takes, is back into character and feeling pretty good about her performance. There is another person in an animal suit, this one a shabby-ass cat. The cat is lounging on a divan by the punch bowl and pretending to lick its ragged paws.
Leigh asks Marchesa what the deal is with the animals.
Marchesa, face illuminated BlackBerry blue, says, "Probably just Hank being arty. You know how he likes to slum it up with the performance crowd."
"They're freaking me out."
"You need something for that?" This is the first time Marchesa has looked up from her phone in hours. Her face reads sincere and concerned.
"No. I'm ready to shoot."
The scene calls for Liu to talk Hank into bed and she's good. Hank looks genuinely intrigued. The cameras follow them to the floor of the apartment where he's taking off her shirt and sliding his hands into her spandex pants as she's moaning and slipping her tongue in and out and in and out of his left ear. Ten people, all under the brightest lights imaginable, crowded around and staring at Hank getting it on. And Leigh's still in frame; she's standing over them. At first she's doing her scripted dialogue. Talking about acid and money and finding a "hole to crawl into" but after a few minutes she abandons the script and just stands there mute.
There are two cameras running. One is trained on Hank and Liu, and the cameraman is getting in close. The other is in Leigh's face, close enough that she can practically smell the sweat of the kid manning it.
The lens picks up the smallest pores on Leigh's nose.
The quiver in her cheek.
She closes her eyes. Seems to swell with emotion. The cameraman doesn't breathe; he wants there to be no skips. No beats in the film. He wants this moment to be captured perfectly. There is a tension in the air. A small saliva bubble hangs precariously on the cameraman's lower lip. The hairs on the back of his neck stand rigid.
There is moaning coming from the floor.
Leigh's eyes are trained offscreen. Staring at the threadbare cat and fucked-up monkey sipping mai tais on the divan. Framed in the harsh light, her features are flattened and softened. She looks angelic. Unspoiled. The cameraman, his brain whirling from lack of oxygen, imagines that this shot, this single take, will earn him an Oscar.
The cameraman is about to pass out when Leigh turns to the camera, her eyes cold, distant, and she says, "I can't do this."
She walks out of frame and the cameraman chokes on his first breath.
The moaning continues, the rest of the crew huddled in even closer, and no one but the panting second cameraman seems to notice that Leigh has left. She stands outside the huddled mass and lights a cigarette. The cameraman walks over befuddled, holding the camera limp at his side.
"Why are you out of the shot?" he asks.
"I'm just not into it," Leigh says. "Sorry."
The cameraman gives a half smile. "Hank's gonna be pissed."
"Just telling you."
The cameraman walks back over to the huddle. The moans are increasing in frequency and tempo. Leigh heads to the kitchen to get something to drink. Marchesa and Marie, the Sengalese makeup artist, are snorting coke off a mirror on the stove and gabbing.
"You want any?" Marchesa asks Leigh.
Leigh shakes her head.
"Sounds pretty crazy in there," Marie says.
Marchesa is texting. "I thought you were in this scene," she says, not looking up from her phone. "If not, there's an art opening at Otto's in like thirty minutes."
Leigh says, "I'm beat."
Marie snorts another line and then rubs some coke on her gums. She smiles at Leigh and asks, "Everything okay?"
Leigh shrugs. She opens the fridge and dips her head inside. "Is there any wine? Never mind, I found it."
She settles down at the black kitchen table with an opened bottle of dolcetto. She swigs from the bottle and some of the dark wine spills down her chin and onto her dress. "Fuck it."
Marchesa pipes up. "You hear about Anise Miller's dinner Friday?"
"I can't believe she had the gall to show up with Brooke Marshall. With all those things the Post's been saying about her grandmother and the way they've got her doped up, feeding off her. Disgusting. They say it was Anise's statement of support or something."
"Brooke Marshall's always been a bitch, Marchesa. That's why Phillip Englehard was brought in. He's basically overseeing her life."
"And her poon."
"You said it, I didn't. Do either of you know what the deal was with those animal suits?"
Marie says, "You know Hank, probably just extras for something later."
"I have to say I'm disappointed," Leigh says. She's sketching Marchesa and Marie on a napkin, the pen cutting through the cheap paper. The ink bleeding.
"Why?" Marchesa asks. "Want me to say anything?"
"No. This just isn't the outlet I was looking for."
"It's not enough freedom. I thought it'd be a chance for me to get more involved, maybe have a say in how things went. You know, be involved in the creative end."
"I'm sure they'd be open to your input."
"I know. But I don't want it to be just input."
Marchesa brings the conversation back around to talking about her boyfriend, Carsten, and Leigh decides to head out. "Tell Hank, sorry," she says.
Marie asks, "Can we see that sketch?"
Leigh hands it to her. "Not very good."
Marie looks it over and then hands it to Marchesa. She grimaces and says, "I'm not really that bony, right?"
Leigh shakes her head. "See you."
Marie and Marchesa wave, but neither sees her to the door. The valet brings around Leigh's Range Rover and she hands him a ten. He nods and says, "Have a great night."
Leigh, wine bottle tucked under her arm, says, "It's nearly three in the morning."
Her place on Ninth Avenue is all lit up just the way she left it. Bossanova plays. The second half of The Wiz runs silently on the sixty-inch plasma in the den. After Mother died and things with Dad reached fever pitch, she didn't want to feel alone. To feel her life was empty. Even if it was just filled with noise.
She pauses at her desk to leaf through some sketches she has piled there. The ones on top are of her father. All of them show him from afar. His hair a helmet with a tail. His face vague with jittery lines. His shoulders broad and hard. In the topmost sketch, he is standing in a conference room talking to several seated men, his back a thick shadow. In another he is only partially glimpsed through a series of windows. In yet another only half his face is visible. Leigh pauses on a sketch of her father stepping out of a car, waving. He has sunglasses on and is waving to someone across the street. It looks like an illustration you'd find in an airplane safety guide, the figures of her father and the man across the street mirror images of each other. Bland everymen. Leigh sometimes has dreams where the sketches are animated, these robotic figures of her dad in featureless seventies polyester suits slipping around corners and into elevators and under desks and behind books. These dreams are dialogue free. Leigh doesn't shout for her dad. His addresses in the boardroom are charades. And yet overlaying it all is really irritating lounge music. Early sixties schmaltz. The stuff Kip Tiller adores. She hasn't told anyone about the dreams, and doubts she ever will.
The other sketches are of Marchesa. Unlike those of her father these are precise and clear. No vagaries in the lines. Marchesa is ugly here. Flat and falling over. Her features stretched out in sharp lines that cut clear across the page. The eyes huge and pupils spirals. In these drawings Marchesa is a supernova of knife strokes. Leigh looks at them and shakes her head. After long nights out, this is how she sees all of her friends. These diamond people cutting through her life. All of them surface, all of them compact lines of fashion and eyes big with longing.
Leigh flips the drawings over, then heads to the bathroom and washes her face, paying special attention to the thick mascara Marie coated her with. She runs the hot water and relaxes in the steam for a few minutes and then brushes her teeth. Loves the crisp, clean feeling of freshly brushed teeth and the dreamy feeling of running her tongue over the smooth surface of her incisors. She opens the medicine cabinet and digs out some homeopathic sleep aid Marchesa got her in Montreal and shakes two of the lima-bean-colored horse pills into her hand. When she closes the mirrored medicine cabinet door she notices the bear in a top hat standing just behind her.
The person in the tatty bear costume says, "Boo."
Leigh gasps and holds her chest while this cheap bear with his wrinkled and dusty top hat, his missing eye and missing ear, sways back and forth like a boxer. Her being drunk helps take the edge off her fright.
"You scared the shit out of me. What the fuck are you doing here?" Leigh backs up against the sink. "This is my apartment. You need to leave."
She realizes how ridiculous she sounds and part of her wants to laugh. Part of her wants to scream. The bear says nothing, just rocks like an imbecile. Leigh jabs a finger into its rough and patchy fur. "You need to leave right now or I'm going to alert security."
The bear sways faster, giggles.
"Did Hank set this up? He send you over here?"
"Look, you need to get the fuck out of here right now. It's not fucking funny."
Leigh pushes the bear back against the wall and the bear's oversized plush head just wobbles and the snickering inside continues.
"Get the fuck out!"
The chuckling stops and the bear pulls a knife. It's a small knife, maybe it's a switchblade, but it flickers and fades in the sterile light of the bathroom and Leigh's eyes go wide. Her buzz gone, she leans back against the sink and kicks the bear into the tub. He topples over just the way funny bears do in cartoons or in children's shows. Then Leigh runs for the front door.
But the monkey from the film shoot blocks her way.
This dilapidated monkey, it's the same one on the stairs at the shoot, the same one that had been lounging with the cat. The monkey costume jumps up and down and the person inside makes monkey noises and Leigh's first thought is that maybe she's imagining this. That maybe she's going nuts.
The monkey isn't armed so Leigh bowls it over, smashing its threadbare head with her fists. The monkey goes down easy, with a curse and a sigh. Leigh makes it to the front door and is struggling with the lock when the door suddenly opens and two more animals arrive. A penguin and a cat.
"What is this!?" Leigh's screaming now.
The penguin speaks, a woman's voice. "This is the mouth of capitalism."
Leigh is able to knock the cat down before the penguin jumps on her. The feeling, like being smothered under mildewed grandma blankets, is suffocating. The penguin doesn't move, just lies on her face. The person inside the costume whispers, "We'll inoculate you, don't worry. Don't fight it." Leigh isn't sure if it's her imagination but she smells anchovies. It's enough to make her heave and she panics, gets her legs up under the penguin and kicks. Penguin huffs like she's got the wind knocked out of her and goes limp. Leigh rolls out. Jumps up.
She is surrounded.
The bear with the top hat is there, giggling again, knife in hand. The cat lifts the penguin up off the carpet and pats her on the back. The penguin, breathing heavy, says, "You'll regret that, electro bitch." Leigh can't see how, but the penguin pulls a cattle prod out from somewhere in her costume. Flicked on, the black tube hisses with current.
Leigh backs up from the penguin toward the bear.
"Commence Artichoke two, baby," the penguin says.
"If you want money ..." Leigh motions toward her bedroom. "All my jewelry. Even a safe that I can open for you. Car keys, I have three cars."
Excerpted from VERY MERCENARY by rayo casablanca Copyright © 2009 by Rayo Casablanca. Excerpted by permission.
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