For Geoff, who said, "This is how to steal drugs." And Ina, who said, "This is lip liner." And Janet, who said, "This is silk georgette." And my editor, Patricia, who kept saying, "This is not good, enough."
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER THIRTEEN CHAPTER FOURTEEN CHAPTER FIFTEEN CHAPTER SIXTEEN CHAPTER SEVENTEEN CHAPTER EIGHTEEN CHAPTER NINETEEN CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE CHAPTER THIRTY CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO
CHAPTER O N E Where you're supposed to be is some big West Hills wedding reception in a big manor house with flower arrangements and stuffed mushrooms all over the house. This is called scene setting: where everybody is, who's alive, who's dead. This is Evie Cottrell's big wedding reception moment. Evie is standing halfway down the big staircase in the manor house foyer, naked inside what's left of her wedding dress, still holding her rifle. Me, I'm standing at the bottom of the stairs but only in a physical way. My mind is, I don't know where. Nobody's all-the-way dead yet, but let's just say the clock is ticking. Not that anybody in this big drama is a real alive per-son, either. You can trace everything about Evie Cottrell's look back to some television commercial for an organic shampoo, except right now Evie's wedding dress is burned down to just the hoopskirt wires orbiting her hips and just the little wire skeletons of all the silk flowers that were in her hair. And Evie's blonde hair, her big, teased-up, backcombed rainbow in every shade of blonde blown up with hairspray, well, Evie's
hair is burned off, too. The only other character here is Brandy Alexander, who's laid out, shotgunned, at the bottom of the staircase, bleeding to death. What I tell myself is the gush of red pumping out of Brandy's bullet hole is less like blood than it's some sociopolitical tool. The thing about being cloned from all those shampoo commercials, well, that goes for me and Brandy Alexander, too. Shotgunning anybody in this room would be the moral equivalent of killing a car, a vacuum cleaner, a Barbie doll. Erasing a computer disk. Burning a book. Probably that goes for killing anybody in the world. We're all such products. Brandy Alexander, the long-stemmed latte queen supreme of the top-drawer party girls, Brandy is gushing her insides out through a bullet hole in her amazing suit jacket. The suit, it's this white Bob Mackie knock-off Brandy bought in Seattle with a tight hobble skirt that squeezes her ass into the perfect big heart shape. You would not believe how much this suit cost. The mark-up is about a zillion percent. The suit jacket has a little peplum skirt and wide lapels and shoulders. The single-breasted cut is symmetrical except for the hole pumping out blood. Then Evie starts to sob, standing there halfway up the staircase. Evie, that deadly virus of the moment. This is our cue to all look at poor Evie, poor, sad Evie, hairless and wearing nothing but ashes and circled by the wire cage of her burnedup hoop skirt. Then Evie drops the rifle. With her dirty face in her dirty hands, Evie sits down and starts to boo-hoo, as if crying will solve anything. The rifle, this is a loaded thirtyaught rifle, it clatters down the stairs and skids out into the middle of the foyer floor, spinning on its side, pointing at me, pointing at Brandy, pointing at Evie, crying. It's not that I'm some detached lab animal just conditioned to ignore violence, but my first instinct is maybe it's not too late to dab club soda on the bloodstain. Most of my adult life so far has been me standing on seamless paper for a raft of bucks per hour,...