CW: Mentions of adult films
Chris hears an unfamiliar sputtering in the driveway and pulls back the nicotine stained curtains of his family living room.
‘Whoosat?’ His chain-smoking mother, Louise, shouts over The Perry Singer Show.
Chris runs out to the driveway and watches his dad step out of a black van. ‘What’s with the surveillance vehicle? Is it ex-FBI?'
‘Not quite,’ Dicky says. He slides the side door open and plastic tubes spill onto the driveway. ‘Awww, nuts.’
‘So what’s all this gear for?’ Chris asks, picking up a tube and looking through it as though it were a telescope. ‘Looks kinda technical.’
‘It’s pool cleaning equipment.' Dicky snatches the tube from Chris and crams the rest of the gear back in the van. 'Every stuck up, smut-peddling asshole in the San Fernando Valley has a pool. We should be able to make plenty of money.'
‘How did you pay for all of this equipment, though?’
‘Credit cards, Chrissy-boy.’
Dicky tosses his son a pool pump instruction manual. ‘Study up, brains. I want us to know the business inside and out.’
Dicky slides the van door shut. Before he can take out a cigarette, a monophonic ringtone bleats inside his pocket. ‘This could be our first customer,’ he says.
‘Already?’ Chris asks. ‘But you’ve only just—’
Dicky shushes Chris with his finger and presses the answer button on his flip-phone. ‘Hello, Drain-It pool services, Richard speaking. How may I help?’
Chris parks himself on the couch next to his mother. Her face is frozen in a grimace as she stares at The Perry Singer Show. She holds her cigarette over the pockmarked arm of the couch; it’s horizontal pillar of ash defying gravity. Chris slides a mug under the cigarette and taps it for her. ‘Can you turn the volume down? I’m trying to read,' he says. 'Haven't you seen our family's episode enough times?'
Louise doesn't move a muscle. The Perry Singer Show comes through loud and clear.
‘This week on Perry Singer, we have a family discussing their daughter’s decision to enter the adult entertainment industry. Mom and dad, understandably, think it’s deplorable. But their daughter, Maddy, is adamant it’s a shrewd move. Exactly why is that, Maddy?’
‘I’m sick of being on the breadline. Inglewood’s a dump.’
Maddy's mother, Louise, holds her head in her hands. ‘She needs to educate herself and get a decent job.'
‘Been there, done that,' Maddy says. 'I’m going to the San Fernando Valley whether you like it or not.’
In the living room, Chris is too distracted to read the pool pump guide cover to cover. 'Mom, can we watch something different?'
Birch leaves fall at a rate of twenty-per-minute on November afternoons in the San Fernando Valley. They spiral into T-Bone Rodriguez’s pool. T-Bone hovers over Chris and Dicky as they fumble their way through their first clean, scrubbing the bottom of the drained pool. His veiny calves bulge in the heat as he performs pre-jog stretches. ‘Make sure you get every bit of dirt or there’ll be no payment,’ he says. ‘I don’t wanna see a single damn leaf left in my pool.’
‘Of course, Mr Rodriguez,’ Chris says, tipping his baseball cap.
T-Bone checks his watch, caresses his corn-rows, and pops his ear buds in. ‘Bon Voyage,’ he says, jogging off down the driveway. ‘I wanna see that pool clean by the time I get back.’
'Sheesh,' Dicky says, once T-Bone is out of earshot.
‘When are we gonna look around for Maddy?’ Chris asks.
Dicky points to a harem of ladies nestled on sun loungers amongst the palms. ‘That might be a good place to start.'
A group of bikini-clad women sitting on the stucco wall near the pool sip coconut water. They swing their immaculately waxed legs, smiling suggestively at Chris, who is wholeheartedly avoiding eye contact. A caramel-skinned blonde hops off of the wall and performs lunges. Her impossible hip to waist ratio doesn’t catch his eye, nor does her vocal fry please his ears. ‘So, cutie, when are you gonna be, like, done?’
‘Soon, ladies, soon.' Dicky says. 'We just need to check the outlet pipe.' He takes off his cap, tips his head back, and pours bottled water over his head in a sensual manner, making sure to groan and wet his pectorals. 'It's so hot. . .' His display is met with disgusted looks by the women.
‘Dad, stop flirting with the women,’ Chris says between gritted teeth. ‘You’re getting distracted.’
‘Can you blame me though?’ Dicky asks. 'Let's check that outlet pipe.'
Chris and Dicky climb out of the pool and walk toward the edge of the yard.
‘So where is it?’ Chris asks.
Dicky shrugs. ‘I don't know! This is our chance to look for Maddy.’
‘Or ogle all the women, you mean?’
‘Naw. Trust me, I was just trying to blend in. Flirt a little. Now, let’s take a look around.’
Aside from ladies in sunglasses lounging in shady stone alcoves, there are several starlets lying topless on the lawn, whose faces are all covered with sun hats.
‘This is gonna take forever,’ Dicky says. ‘We can’t get a good look.’ He tip-toes over and snatches a couple of hats away from their faces.
'What are you doing, creep?’ A woman shouts.
‘Don’t mind me ladies. Just a quick identity check. I’ll be on my way now.’
Chris and Dicky retreat to a vacant stone alcove and sit in the shade. ‘There are more broads here than you can shake a stick at,’ Dicky says. 'Finding Maddy's gonna be harder than I thought.'
‘Gentlemen,' T-Bone says. 'Taking a load off are we?’ He dabs at his skin with a fluffy white towel, absorbing rivulets of electrolyte-rich sweat. ‘Did I give you permission to wander the grounds?’
‘Um. No, sir,’ Chris says. ‘We were just checking the outlet pipe. Everything looks fine.’
A large vein pulsates on T-Bone’s temple. ‘Right. So you’re done then? My pool is spotless?'
‘Y-yes, sir,’ Chris says.
‘Come back tomorrow at the same time,’ T-Bone says, throwing his towel over his shoulder. ‘Damn leaves are a pain this time of year and I hate the way pool covers look.’ T-Bone struts back to his mansion.
‘Sheesh. Talk about intense,’ Dicky says.
Inside the walk-in closet, a curvy brunette tries on lingerie. T-Bone creeps softly up to her and gooses her buttocks.
'Jesus,’ the brunette says. ‘You startled me!’
She hitches her suspenders up and flicks her glossy brown curls over her shoulder. T-Bone kisses her neck and wraps his arms around her waist. ‘Maddy. . . looking good, babe. How about we get you out of this lingerie?’
She shrugs T-Bone off and adjusts her bra in the mirror. ‘How about a little encouragement? I’m trying out some new looks here.’
‘Alright,’ T-Bone says. 'You looking good, yeah.'
‘I told you I don't want to rush into anything physical just yet.’
T-Bone drums his fingers on Maddy’s shoulders. ‘This is hard for me. You know I express my love physically.'
'Yeah, you keep saying that.'
T-Bone stands by the window and points to the pool. ‘Check out these clowns. I found them just wandering the yard, slacking from they job.'
Maddy rolls her eyes. ‘I bet you flipped out, right?’
‘Nah, but I think they might be casing the joint for a burglary.’
‘Why are you always suspicious of everyone? They were probably just gawping at the talent.’
‘Maybe. But something about them don’t look right.’
Maddy joins T-Bone at the window. She watches a lanky teenager bend over and pick up a pool pump. A pudgy older man reels a length of pipe in. Her mouth falls open but she quickly closes it. She turns from the window, holds her back against the wall, and looks down.
‘What do you think? A couple of scumbag burglars, or just perverts?'
Maddy clenches her jaw. ‘Why do you care? As long as they make your pool gleam. . .’ She strides out of the walk-in wardrobe.
The Drain-It van is parked a stone’s throw (if you are a pensioner with tennis elbow) from T-Bone’s mansion. In the back, Chris pours boiling water into two ramen noodle cups from the diminishing comfort of a slowly deflating air mattress.
‘Supper is served,’ he says.
‘Don’t spill any on your camp-bed,’ Dicky says. ‘The plastic will melt.’
‘How come you get a good mattress?’
‘It’s better for my back,’ Dicky says. ‘You can have it tomorrow night.’
‘I was thinking—wouldn’t it be easier if we looked Maddy up on the internet?’
‘What internet?’ He waves a scratched up flip phone is Chris’s face. ‘You see any cell phones with plans around here? They ain’t cheap.’
‘We’d be able to find her sooner,' Chris says, 'if we could see where she’s been filming.’
‘Finding Maddy is supposed to be an adventure. It’s kinda fun, no?’
‘I suppose, dad.'
‘Well. I’m gonna turn in,’ Dicky says. ‘I’m not hungry, you can have my noodles.’
A bleating sound emanates from Dicky’s pocket. He delves into his sleeping bag to fish his phone out. ‘Hello, Drain-It pool services, Dicky speaking. Yes, I know it's late, but I'd be happy to take your call now.'
Dicky climbs out of the back of the van and stands well away. He speaks in a hushed tone. ‘No, we didn’t find her today. Can you turn the television down? I can barely hear you. . . I know Maddy was supposed to wire us the money, but I can't get her to do that if I can’t find her. . . This T-Bone character seems a bit tricky. . . Give me some more time. . . I told you--we’re staying here overnight to save money on gas.’
Dicky hangs up and takes out a packet of cigarettes. ‘Sheesh. I need a smoke before I go to sleep.’
Chris and Dicky observe that Birch leaves actually fall at a rate of nearly forty-per-minute on November afternoons in the San Fernando valley into T-Bone Rodriguez’s pool. After quickly dispatching of the recent leaf litter and filtering the pool, they take advantage of the half-hour when T-Bone is on his neighbourhood jog.
Chris nudges Dicky and points to a brunette with curls tanning on a sun lounger across the garden. ‘Is that her?’ He asks. 'Looks like Maddy.'
‘Nah,’ Dicky says. ‘Maddy’s boobs are smaller and she’s got paler skin.’
‘No, I think that’s her,’ Chris says. ‘Stay here and watch for T-Bone.’
‘Alright, but I’m telling you—our Maddy is a member of the itty-bitty-titty committee.’
As Chris lopes over to the brunette, he can't see her eyes under the bug-eyed sunglasses. But her lips part and she smiles widely. ‘Nice to see you, brother.’
‘Maddy!’ Chris sits down on the sun lounger. ‘It is you!'
Maddy grabs her brother’s arm. ‘Let’s go somewhere private.’
‘Wait—let me go to the van first,' Chris says. 'I’ve got something for you.’
Maddy looks to the shady arches at the other end of the yard. ‘Meet me in the far alcove.’
Chris hotfoots it to the van and collects a paper bag. ‘Stay lookout, dad. She's here!'
Chris holds a teddy bear around the corner of the alcove and gives it an old, croaky voice. ‘Hello, Maddison. It’s been a long time and no see.’
Maddy snatches the ratty toy from Chris with joy. ‘Snuggles!’
‘Reunited at last,’ Chris says.
Maddy folds her arms around her brother and squeezes tight. ‘Thank you so much,’ she says. ‘You’re the best.’
‘We really miss you at home,’ Chris says. 'How is this T-Bone guy treating you?'
Maddy holds Snuggles up. She looks into his eyes and snivels. ‘He’s very controlling. He took my cellphone.’
Chris shakes his head. ‘He’s got a bug up his butt about leaves. And every girl here looks like a tangerine. Including you.’
Maddy titters and sobs, holding up a terracotta arm.
‘This place. This isn’t really you, is it?’ Chris asks.
Maddy strokes Snuggles’s head. ‘I don’t know. It's work.’
‘You should come back home. At least you'd get to be with your family.’
‘I have to stay. There’s something I’ve got to do,’ Maddy says. ‘Thanks for bringing Snuggles. I’ll sleep well tonight.’
T-Bone climbs into bed, luxuriating in the silk sheets, until something unpleasant hits his nostrils.
‘Is that you, Maddy? I thought I told you to take a shower before bed.’
Maddy, with her back to T-Bone, clings to Snuggles the bear.
‘Oh, the cold shoulder,’ T-Bone says. ‘Great. Well, Daddy Big Spoon’s coming over, so prepare yourself.’ He paws at Maddy’s chest, but her arms are folded around Snuggles. ‘Aw, man. That’s what smells musty. Why do you have that?
She curls up into the foetal position. ‘I’ve had Snuggles since I was five. Be nice to him.’
‘How about donating him to people less fortunate than ourselves? Maybe those pool boys? Their whole house probably as fusty.’
Maddy flings back the sheets and sits up. ‘You shouldn’t talk about people like that.’
‘Come on, baby girl, get rid of that thing.’ T-Bone prises the bear from Maddy’s grip.
Maddy tugs at Snuggles’ arm, trying to win him back. ‘Give him to me!’
The stitching on the bear splits open and its fluffy guts litter the bed. Maddy grabs Snuggles' skinny body and makes for the door. T-Bone beats her to the doorway and towers over her. 'I know you're not about to leave. You need the money, right?’ Maddy clutches the bear to her chest and looks down. ‘I’m going to Jenna’s room,’ T-Bone says. ‘You'd better buck up your ideas, girl.’
Maddy leans against the door jamb and waits until T-Bone’s footsteps have faded down the hallway. Then she slips silently downstairs to the kitchen and spies a black van through the window. ‘Come on, Snuggles, we’re going back to Inglewood.’ She unlocks the patio door steps onto the cool stone with bare feet. After easing the iron gate open, she hurries over to the van and taps on the blacked out windows with her acrylic nails. In her stealthiest stage whisper, she says, ‘Hey! Anyone in there?. . . Chris!?’
The door clunks as it unlatches. Chris pulls her in.
‘Mom. Dad. Aren’t you going to apologise to Maddy for all the awful things you said on The Perry Singer Show?’
‘That was a publicity stunt, Chrissy-boy. To get people drooling over Maddy. Get 'em hyped up for her appearances on video, which, she never made, by the way. . .’
Chris gaps and flops onto the couch. ‘I can’t believe you agreed to be in those films, Maddy.’
Maddy sits down next to Chris ‘Yeah, I did. But I never went through with it. I changed my mind after your visit. ’
Louise sparks up another cigarette. ‘She pulled out, Chrissy-boy. T-Bone was too hard to handle. She’s got good judgment, your sister.’
Maddy looks down at the floor. ‘I was supposed to be wiring money every week from T-Bone’s credit cards,’ she says. ‘But that controlling creep kept everything locked up tight.’
‘So you were just trying to scam him?' Chris asks. 'You didn't put out for T-Bone?'
Maddy shakes her head. ‘Look, he was constantly trying to get it on with me, and asking to film me, but I never agreed to either. I was just there to get his credit card information.’
A look of relief washes over Chris’s face. ‘Really?’
‘I’m serious,’ Maddy says.
Chris flings himself at Maddy and wraps his long arms around her. He looks her in the eye. ‘I knew you wouldn’t do all of that gross stuff.’
Dickie folds his arms. ‘We still need to get Maddy’s money back from T-Bone. I’m not letting that go. You in, Chrisy-boy?’
‘Am I in? What the hell, Dad?’
‘If we train as accountants we could cook Rodriguez’s books. Take back what’s rightfully ours. We can get some some cool disguises. Lease a sweet ride. Look the part.’
Maddy puts her hand on Chris's shoulder. ‘This is an opportunity to do some grade-A grifting. We need you on the team, brother. We’re family. Who’s gonna take over from mom as the brains when she gets too old?'
The family’s collective eyes are on Chris. He sits on the dilapidated sofa, looking from his sister, to his dad, to his mom.
‘We’re grifters?’ He asks.
‘Yep,’ Dicky says.
‘By nature,’ Maddy says.
‘Deep down,’ Louise says, 'that's what we are.' She hits play on the family’s Perry Singer episode. The show starts over and Perry introduces Chris's family.
‘So everything you said on TV—it was all an act?’ Chris asks.
Dicky scratches his nose. ‘Pretty good right?’
Chris watches as the overwrought melodrama unfolds onscreen: the hurling of insults; he shouting-over-one-another; the crocodile tears; the incredulous gasps from the audience. Although he’s seen the episode a dozen times, everything takes on a glorious new sheen. His family is capable of fooling the world, and so is he, if he chooses to join them.
As the episode climaxes and security guards storm the stage to hold Dicky back from Maddy, Louise turns the TV off. Dimples form on Chris's cheeks and his lips part, giving way to a toothy grin. He turns to his family and says, ‘Alright. I'm in.'