The Reality of Fantasy
The phone rang far too early on a Saturday morning for Jim's taste. He pulled the pillow over his head and tried to sink back into the blissful folds of his covers, but the phone just jangled happily on, until the answering machine clicked on. The phone disconnected, and Jim sighed with relief. Maybe it was just a wrong number.
The phone rang again, this time with even more enthusiasm. Jim tucked the edges of the pillow under his head, nearly suffocating himself in the process, but he managed to muffle the ridiculous ringalingafuckingring just enough to get back to much needed sleep. The machine switched on again, and, after a moment, the phone disconnected again. Jim released his death grip on the pillow and sucked in the sweet, cool morning air as if he'd been dying.
The phone rang again. Jim threw the phone and covers off himself with a roar and grabbed the phone like he wanted to strangle it. "Is there some reason you can't just leave a message and let me call you back?"
"Good morning, baby! I wasn't sure if you were awake."
Jim sighed and counted to ten before answering more calmly. "Good morning, Ma. I wasn't awake. That's why I didn't answer."
There was a long pause, before Winona's confused voice began to sputter. "If... but... if you weren't awake, how do you know I didn't leave a message? That... I don't understand..."
Jim flopped back in the bed and kissed his lazy morning full of catch up sleep goodbye. "Doesn't matter, Ma. What do you need?"
"Oh, it's just been a while since I heard from you. You been okay, baby?"
Jim clamped down on a hysterical giggle, forcing air in and out of his nose until the urge passed. "I've had better days, but I've had worse." It was true. Most of his time since being promoted to Librarian II had been splendid, up until the theft of his precious car, but the inconvenience and indignities he'd been forced to suffer lately were nothing compared to the way life used to be. He was fine, mostly.
"I thought you might be a little down in the dumps. I couldn't believe that man, calling me that way, as if he had any right to contact me after giving you such a hard time in school. Well, don't you worry about that, baby. I had Frank take care of that for you. He won't be bothering you anymore."
"That man?" Jim sat up slowly in the bed. Oh, Winona sounded so proud of her self, so sure that she had done the right thing for her precious baby boy, but Jim had no idea what there was for her to be so proud about. "What man is that, Ma?" Jim was careful to keep his words slow and gentle. "Who or what did Frank take care of, and how exactly did he take care of him or it?"
"Well, David Marcus, of course," she said, just as slowly. "I... I thought..." Jim could hear the hesitation in her voice. He knew what she was wondering is Jim angry? His belly soured at the thought that he could ever hold her misguided attempts to care for him against her. At least she never gave up trying.
"It's okay, Ma. Frank didn't do anything crazy, did he? I don't want you guys getting involved in some kind of feud."
"Oh, Jim, the two of you, honestly." She sighed sadly. "You two are always assuming the other is up to no good. He just told the man to leave us alone!"
Jim wrinkled his nose. He had no doubt that Frank said more to David Marcus than 'please don't call my house again,' but he didn't want to upset his mother more than he already had. "Okay, well, yeah, I had lunch with Mr. Marcus last week-"
"Lunch! Jim! You- I haven't heard from you in over a month! Why would you have lunch with that man if you haven't got time for me?"
Jim snorted. "He kept calling me, said he had something for me. I haven't called in a while because things really have been crazy, and, I don't know, I just... I'm sorry."
"Oh, Jimmy, no, I'm sorry. I just assumed that you wouldn't want him bothering you. You're a grown man now, and I keep forgetting... I just... I want to help you, is all." Winona sniffled. "I just... can't figure out how." A sob escaped, but she reigned in the tears before she spoke again. "I'm sorry, I'm like a broken record, I know. It's just... you just got such a raw deal, baby."
The tears were rolling down Jim's cheeks, and he wiped at them angrily. "We got a raw deal, Ma. And there's nothing to figure out, okay? You just... keep being you."
"Well, there's some terrible advice, if ever I heard any," she said with a breathy laugh.
"No, Ma, I mean it. Nevermind the demons and the doctors and all that shit. That's a distraction. You're-" Jim had to pause. He hated exposing himself this way, even to his mother, hated telling people that he needed them that his heart needed them. But for her, if no one else in the universe, he would. "The essence of you, Mama, is kindness and sacrifice and warmth. Even the things that would plague you, the things that... separated us, even those things, Ma, show what you really are. Everyone always said you needed so much help, but... I never felt safer with anyone else." There. He did it. Jim swallowed and nodded triumphantly. "So, yeah. You just keep right on being you, Ma."
"Oh, Jim." Winona sniffled and blubbered for a little longer, but soon Jim could hear Frank bellowing for breakfast in the background, and he knew his time with his mother was growing short. Sure enough, after a few more hollered Wiiiiiiniiiiiiiiie's, she paused mid thought, and took a deep steadying breath. "Well, dear, your stepfather requires sustenance, or he'll surely expire right where he stands." Jim chuckled and prepared to say his goodbyes, but Winona wasn't quite through. "Before I let you go, I need to tell you something, baby. I'm not getting any younger, and we don't really know what the future holds. The time might come when you and Frank may be forced to deal with each other, because of me."
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
"Honestly, Jim." That was the closest she would come to correcting his foul language, but it was close enough. Jim settled down to listen quietly to the rest of what she had to say. "Frank is getting tired he needs to retire soon, and that means we'll be on a fixed income. That means if either of us needs... care, it's going to have to come from family."
There was a long pause as Jim let that sink in. Frank had a sister in Florida, but she was much older than either Frank or Winona, and wouldn't be much help if either of them suddenly needed in home care. That left Jim. Yeeeahhh. He ground his teeth together and tried to reassure her the best he could. "I hear you, Ma. I... I'll try harder to get along with him."
"That's all I ask, baby." He could hear her radiant smile in her voice. "Okay, but I have to go now, I think he's going to burst into tears if I don't make some damn eggs." She giggled nervously. "I shouldn't talk that way about him. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have him."
Jim squashed down the violent wave of jealousy that threatened to sweep him away. "You'd have me, Ma."
"You have to be free to live your life, Jim. That's why, even though it's hard for you to see it, having Frank really is a blessing. It is."
"Okay, Ma." Jim wasn't sure who she was trying harder to convince, but the last thing he wanted was to say goodbye on a melancholy note. "I'll call you soon, okay? Go make breakfast."
"Don't just tell me that, Jim, you call me. I miss you!"
"Okay, okay, Ma, alright." After another ten minutes of extended goodbyes, Jim managed to extricate himself from the phone call. No sooner had he disconnected, though, did the phone ring in his hand again. He scowled at the receiver, then pressed the Talk button. "Hello?"
"Well, well, well, look who doesn't need his old friend anymore?" Gary sounded slightly drunk. "I guess you got your doc to refill that script for ya after all, eh?"
"Dude. It's not even eight in the morning. Please tell me you aren't drunk already."
Gary laughed, a sound that seemed to disappear even as the phone clattered loudly. There was some background swearing, a lot of fumbling, and then heavy breathing in Jim's ear. "Nah nah nah nah, not drunk already." More laughter. "Still drunk." Someone cheered in the background, and Gary cheered back, very loudly. "Aw, Jim, you missed it!"
"That's too bad, Gary," Jim said through a yawn. He rubbed his head and wondered if he could possibly get Norman and Barbara to take another raincheck.
"Am I boring you, Jim?" Suddenly, Gary sounded completely sober. His voice was soft and deadly, and Jim sincerely doubted that any of Gary's rabble-rousers in the background could hear him speaking.
"No," Jim said carefully. "I had a really hard night last night, and a long day at work, and my mom called and woke me up early this morning." Jim barely stifled another yawn. Great.
"I see. So I'm disturbing you."
Jim threw his pillow across the room, frustrated with Gary's grandstanding. "Oh, for fuck's Gary, take a Midol and get to the point. I'm sleepy and I wanna go back to fucking bed. If you're calling me to offer me a job, chances are I want it, but I need to be awake to do it, so, you know."
The silence stretched on so long that Jim began to fear he'd overstepped his bounds. Finally, there was a soft, lingering sigh. "Okay, point taken. Sorry."
Jim's mouth quirked up in the corner. "It's okay. I'm just... cranky. Tired."
The tipsy laughter was back in Gary's voice. "Yeah, I can tell."
"So! Feel like going to a party tonight?"
Jim rolled his eyes. He didn't want to do another weird warehouse gig in the middle of nowhere. "I still don't have wheels, man."
"Don't worry, this is easy-peasy. Nice neighborhood, plenty of champagne, plenty more of the good shit courtesy of you, naturally." Gary waited to see if Jim would take the bait. "There'll be movie staaaaars," Gary sing-songed.
Jim sighed reluctantly. "Do I pick up the shit at the same location?"
Gary laughed richly. "That's my boy! I knew you'd do it! Yeah, same place. Try to get there early, and maybe I can get one of the girls to give you a ride."
Jim scowled. "I was late last time one of the girls gave me a ride. Is that okay?"
"No." Gary's voice darkened considerably, though he made no attempt to be quieter this time. "No, it's not okay. Who the fuck was it?"
Jim cringed. He hadn't meant to get Carolyn in trouble. "I... Gary, I don't want to get anybody hurt. I just..." He trailed off. Why the fuck did he even say anything?
Jim could hear Gary's heavy breathing for awhile. Finally, Gary reached a decision. "Okay. Whoever it is gets a pass. But I know that the bitch is in the room, because all the girls I sent to the rave by Farmer Bros. Coffee are in the room now. So whichever one of those cunts it is that you're protecting can listen up don't fuck with my dealer when you two are on a fucking job. I will have your pretty little fucking neck snapped. And if Jim decides to be fucking chivalrous again, I'll just beat all you fucking sluts until you finger the bitch that keeps him out again. We clear, ladies?" Jim could hear the chorus of Yessirs, their responses nearly military perfect. "And you, Jim. You just remember, while you're trying to save these bitches a beating, you remember to keep your damn nose clean and your head straight, regardless of what they do."
Jim squirmed in the bed. "Yeah. No problem."
"Just remember my golden rule, and there'll be no problems, Jimbo. Be good to me."
Jim rode to the party with a girl he'd never met before. She was a beautiful girl, dark haired, big eyed, and deeply dimpled. She was bold and fearless and told Finnegan where to stick his opinions when he dared voice them before they went to her car. She told Jim that her name was "Helen, not Helena, not Ellen, and if your ear should happen to catch hold of my last name and you get a notion to try to call me that, I swear to all that is holy and not, I will rip your scrotum out through your zipped fly and feed you the pulp, m'kay?"
Jim liked Helen a lot.
She didn't coo or giggle or do any of the other absurdly cloying shit Carolyn P. did when pretending that all was hunky-dory. When she turned on the radio, she asked Jim if he had a problem with ambient or trance music, but she didn't try to find out what he wanted. She made a pitstop at a gas station to fill up the tank, and asked if he wanted anything, but when he said no, she paid at the pump and got on with business. She didn't shift temperament, or try to manipulate him.
Holy fuck, Jim really liked Helen. If he'd been in the mood to get entangled with a broad, he'd have asked her what the rules were on dating a prostitute. But he was content to sit next to her and just chill. If he'd had to think about it, he'd have said that she was a lot like Leonard, but with boobs.
Fortunately for his already fragile state of mind, he didn't have to think about it.
They drove through the brightly light streets of West L.A., until they pierced the cover of darkness on Beverly Glen Drive. The trees seemed to net together over the streets, creating a creepy, dark canopy that drowned out what was left of the summer sun with ease, and made the rocky, twisty, hilly roads even more treacherous.
They pulled off the road in a deeply wooded area, onto a narrow stone driveway that led up the side of a mountain, to a flattened out parking circle. There was a young man in a waist coat standing by the front door of a ridiculous looking modern house, made of glass and strategically placed concrete beams. The young man rushed around to open Helen's door as Jim got out and got a better look at the house.
There was definitely a party shaping up inside. One could see almost all the way to the backyard in places, and one could definitely see everything that went on in the front of all three levels of the house. Jim turned and checked the view behind him. The trees grew thick and dark, and went all the way down the hill. There were a few trees that went up around the sides of the property as well, effectively shielding the house's very existence from view. The only people who had any idea there was a party taking place in a glass house were the people who were supposed to be there.
Jim relaxed and followed Helen into the house. The music was loud, but not so loud that Jim wanted to duck and hide when he went inside. There were women in black dresses and white aprons, and men in black tails with white gloves, all carrying silver trays with glasses and finger foods. A lot of merry makers were standing around together in groups, laughing and whispering and making obscene gestures towards one another. A few were dancing, though Jim doubted they'd perform such dances on a public dance floor. A few more were cowered in a darkened corner, sniffing something from one of the shiny trays. Jim smiled and winked at one of them men hovering for a snort.
He made himself comfortable on a soft leather couch towards the middle of the house, and just people watched for a while. It didn't take long for some guy to notice that no one seemed to know Jim, but once Jim mentioned Gary's name, it took even less time for him to become the center of attention.
Jim was content to sit on his couch and pass out candy all night, but a familiar voice caught his ear. "Get your meat paws off me! I told you, I don't do that shit!" Jim excused himself from his crowd and followed Helen's voice up the stairs, towards the back of the house. She was standing in a hallway that was made of concrete and frosted glass, near a doorway to what might have been a bathroom, judging by the fact that the walls weren't as transparent as the rest of the house. A man with no pants and the most ridiculous mustache ever had her by the wrist and was trying to pull her back into the hidden room with him. She leaned back with all her weight, but she was wearing impractical mules with slidey soles, and she was being slowly but surely pulled towards the room.
Jim measured the guy he was large, but it seemed to be more fat and skin than muscle, and the guy was older, judging by the shining bald spot up top, and the way the skin on his thighs sort of draped towards his knees. Plus, the guy had to be just a little drunk to be grabbing on a lady with his twig and nuts just hanging out in the damn breeze Jim was completely sober. He could probably take the guy.
Now, to assess whether or not he should interfere. The only other people around were a couple other dudes who were cheering and whooping it up apparently, they thought that potential sexual assault was a spectator sport. As for Helen, her voice was a little less brazen, a little less matter of fact.
Mind made up, Jim stepped up to the doorway and put his hand around the half naked man's wrist. "Did you not hear the lady? She asked you to get your motherfucking meat paws the goddamn fuck off her fucking person. Let. Go."
"Mind your business, boy," the man sneered. "Miss Helena owes me." He turned a lecherous smile on Helen, and tried to shove Jim off with the other hand.
"This is some bullshit," Jim muttered, and jabbed the guy in the eyes with two fingers. The man howled and released Helen, who fell on her ass. "Run," Jim said, turning to help her to her feet.
But before either of them could make their getaway, the blinded man grabbed Jim by the back of his collar and pulled him back with a roar. Jim flailed for a second, but he caught Helen's eye. "Run."
She took off towards the stairs, leaving Jim to extricate himself from the raging pantsless giant alone. The man slammed Jim against the doorjamb of the tiled bathroom three times before spinning Jim around for the knockout punch.
Unfortunately for the man, Jim's head hadn't been slammed hard enough to fully incapacitate him. All the head slamming did was piss Jim the fuck off. The man reached back to deliver his final blow, but Jim feinted and grabbed at the man's wrist as it passed through the space where Jim's head had been. Jim snarled and smashed his head against the man's arm as hard as he could, while still holding on to the wrist, and was almost orgasmically satisfied to hear bone snap, while the man screamed bloody murder.
People ran into the hall then, and pulled Jim off the man. He allowed himself to be hauled down the stairs, and shoved around. Helen was nowhere to be seen. He hoped she'd gotten away unharmed.
"What the fuck is going on in here?" Silence descended on the party. The music was halted. No one moved.
Towards the front of the house, someone stirred. Then a couple of someones moved. Then the crowd gathered around Jim parted. There was Finnegan, holding onto Helen's good wrist. Her other wrist was already turning purple. Jim grimaced, and looked at Finnegan.
"I asked a question. What. The fuck. Is going on. In. Here."
Jim pulled free of his captors. "There's a big bald dude with a circus mustache upstairs. He was attacking her."
Finnegan slowly turned his eyes to Jim, as if seeing him for the first time. "That so, Jimmyboy?"
Helen winced and touched Finnegan's arm with her hurt hand. "Jim got him off me," she said softly.
"This guy broke Harry's freakin' arm," one vapid looking girl said. "She's just a hooker!"
"That so?" Finnegan smiled darkly. "She's a friend of Gary 'The Brain' Mitchell's." The vapid girl shrunk back a little. "So's Jimmyboy, here. Jimmyboy was just lookin' after his own. As am I." By this time, Finnegan had turned fully on the girl. "So tell me, sweetcheeks, where the fuck is Harry?"
The girl shook her head with a tremble. Finnegan reached up as if to backhand the girl, but Helen stayed his blow. "There!" She pointed to the top of the stairs, where the bald guy was holding onto his unnaturally bent arm and gaping at the scene on the first floor. "That's the bastard. Nasty fuckin' freak."
Finnegan narrowed his eyes. "You."
The man, Harry, backed away from the railing, sputtering nonsense. Finnegan took off after Harry. Jim looked at Helen and glanced at the door with a shrug. She shrugged back and grabbed hold of his arm. "Thanks for runnin' interference. I thought I was a gonner."
Jim smiled and lead her out into the fresh night air. "Are you kidding me? He called you Helena."
Sunday, Jim cancelled his date with Norman and Barbara. He went, instead, back to the drug house to get his fee from Finnegan. To Jim's surprise, however, Finnegan wasn't there. Instead, it was Gary who sat in the frightening green room in the front. Carolyn was on hand again, but she was far more sedate than she'd been when Jim had seen her last. He nodded his hello, but Gary was quick to correct him. "Don't speak to her. She's less than a fucking whore. Fuckin' idiot."
Carolyn hung her head a little, and retreated to the back room where operations were taking place. Jim scowled. "Should I ask what she did, or is it better for me to stay out of it?"
Gary laughed. "Stay out of it? You told me! She made you late!" Gary waved his hand at Jim's look of horror. "Oh, come on, Jim, don't look at me that way. You're not the first person to complain about her tardiness. I've given her plenty of chances to get her shit together. She didn't. She's on the outs." Gary sighed. "Better than my last golden beauty." He clapped his hands and put a bright, false smile on his face. "But enough of that! You're here for your due, am I right?"
Jim shrugged and nodded. "That you are, buddy."
"And what you are due for, let me tell you! Man, but I have been trying to get my hands on the fucker Mudd forever!" Gary was practically dancing in his seat. "So, because you have singlehandly done what none of my boys have been able to do for friggin weeks, I'm giving you a cash bonus." Gary handed Jim a ziptop baggie, with a regular white envelope inside, next to the pills. "And, no, you don't get a choice. Cash is easier to carry than a gazillion fuckin little pain pills, dude."
Jim looked at the envelope inside the baggie and squirmed uncomfortably. Until now, he was merely keeping his broken past at bay, quelling the demons within. The dealings he'd had with the drug trade were as a customer, and that was the way he liked it. This whole accepting awards for dealing with a dealer's rival... this was getting into territory that Jim wasn't sure he was really ready for. "I... Gary, I appreciate this, I do, but-"
"Then take it." Gary put his hand to Jim's face. "Listen. I spent a lot of time being pissed off that you left us. You left me. And when you came back to me, needing me, I thought I would lord it over you, that I would be the master of your pain. But, Jim, I can't. We're like this." Gary held his index and middle finger up, pressed so close together they blanched a bloodless white where they touched. "Jim, don't tell me you're gonna walk out on me again, man. We're... brothers. This money, this isn't a retainer. This is a gift, from one brother to the other. You've returned home."