Two’s Company

Submitted into Contest #203 in response to: Write about two friends getting into a fist fight.... view prompt

23 comments

American Friendship Historical Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

T W. Contains some swearing and violence and mention of a gun.


Los Angeles, 1953.

It was mostly a quiet evening with only a handful of diners. As soon as they entered the restaurant, the friends were offered the table with the best view. In the distance, the tops of  palms gently waved, their narrow trunks silhouetted against an orange sky which blended into deep pink and violet hues the higher it rose. For a few seconds, Jay forgot his misery and remembered why LA captivated him so, making it unlikely he’d ever return to the bleak grey rain of his homeland. 


Here, the endless symphony of cicadas heralding the magic of Summer were a delight to Jay’s ears, muffling out other less appealing sounds. For him, this was truly the place of dreams and angels.

One angel in particular constantly surfaced. With her wavy auburn hair and chocolate eyes that were tinged with a hint of gold, not to mention a petite but perfectly formed figure, she was one of the most beautiful angels Hollywood had ever produced. Though it sometimes seemed she was more like a demon in the way she possessed him. She was always on his mind, every moment spent with her imprinted on his soul. She was his alpha and omega, the reason he got up in the morning, in spite of grainy sleep. The best of himself would love her till the day he died.


That was the real reason he’d hired the detective agency to keep an eye on her. He wanted to keep her close.


If only he could get her to settle down and have the children she often talked of, but never had, he’d be the happiest man alive.

But how do you control a breeze passing through your fingertips? You can barely feel it, but it’s still there.  There was no answer to that one.

***


For now, Jay Finn, former footballer/turned coach legend from England, long since retired, was chewing the fat with his American actor friend Dick Aston. Dick wanted the evening to end on a high note but unfortunately Jay had other plans.


Jay turned anguished grey eyes on Dick. His mental turmoil had reached fever pitch.

“I’m going to sort this out, once and for all, Dick. I refuse to be treated this way,” he declared. 

“Ok,” Dick replied uncertainly, “but why not leave it to the experts? That’s what you’re paying the agency good money for. Make it their problem, not yours.”

But when Jay set his teeth, there was no point arguing.  

If he wasn’t careful, Dick thought his friend would get a stomach ulcer.


Later on, the almost starless sky turned a deep magenta blue with only a light sea breeze to cool the balmy night air. While most God-fearing people were in bed, at least on the avenue concerned, the only witnesses to the evening’s odd events were the rows of ornamental palms and a vibrant full moon. 

When a grey Cadillac drew to a halt in a respectable street in West Hollywood, four men jumped out, two disguised in peaked caps and long anoraks. A third had lock-picking tools and carried a small axe in case the former failed. The fourth man was decked in a trench coat, wore a strap in which he carried an impressively heavy camera needed for a candid shot. He was determined to get as many shots as he could, with every intention of keeping the negatives. If necessary, he could always use the photos for richer pickings.  

Mick and Mack had been hired by a well-known, some might say notorious, private detective agency and had worked together before. They were confident, having received the information that Lola Lycett would be at the apartment, from a reliable source. The only fly in the ointment was the client’s insistence that he be present at the scene. Normally, they would have undertaken the task alone, but they didn’t like to refuse such a man. The client had presence. With his massive shoulders and powerful legs, he was built like a handsome warship. Clearly fraught, he stood rooted to the sidewalk, his facial muscles twitching thunderously while his friend nervously smoked a cigarette beside him. 

“Come on. Let’s go.” Once the athlete reached a decision, it was a struggle for the others to keep up. 

The actor’s lack of height had not diminished his career. His versatility had led to several notable film roles and even a stint on Broadway, a fact much admired by Jay’s famous wife. Dick had formed the unlikely friendship with the former footballer from England not long after the man had moved to LA. 


In one of life’s great ironies, Jay had met his first American wife at his final English game before retiring. A moderately successful actress, she had been visiting relatives in England and he had spotted her in the Club’s VIP lounge. Ready for a change of life, he had moved to America where his strong physique and smouldering looks had earned him a number of roles in films with such requirements. In spite of having three children, his first marriage had lasted less than a decade. After an acrimonious divorce, he vowed he’d never become involved with an actress again, but fate had intervened when he met Dick.

In fact, it was Dick who had introduced Jay to Lola, a beautiful movie actress with excellent comedic timing, whose star was starting to rise in the Hollywood firmament.  

Early on, in a test of friendship, Dick had taken a risk with Jay and confided in him over a personal heartbreak. When it became clear that Jay was not the kind to break confidences or turn blabber mouth, it immediately earned him Dick’s respect and loyalty. 

At this precise moment though, Jay was practically foaming at the mouth, eating up the sidewalk, half-crazed with jealousy. Dick watched him, anxiously. The man’s unpredictability had got him into this mess in the first place. There was no knowing what might happen while he was in this state which was why Dick had reluctantly decided to tag along beside him. 

“I don’t like this, Jay,” he said uneasily. “What if we’re recognised? The press will have a field day!  Do you actually know which apartment she’s supposed to be in?”

“Stop worrying. We won’t be,” Jay growled. “She’s in the apartment of a female friend, Shelley Oaks. It’s 8105. I know it’s just a cover for her trysts with him.” He couldn’t bring himself to say the man’s name, although it whirled like a dervish in his head. Wise Crannock. What made her want to hang out with a man with a name like that, for fuck’s sake? There was nothing wise about the wet behind the ears, would-be-actor who’d taken a shine to his wife. He should know people who played with fire usually got burnt. 

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Dick asked. “I mean, it’s not as if you’re with Lola anymore.”

“We’re still married. In my eyes, that means we are.”

“Sure, legally, but she’s seeking a divorce. So, maybe not so much in her eyes.” 

“It’s just a phase,” Jay said raggedly. “We’ve had our issues, but we’ll get back together. We have to.” His manner turned steely. “Anyway, whatever happens she is not going ahead with the divorce. I’m not being treated like this! I can’t allow it. If I catch her with another man, it will make a divorce more difficult.”

“Her publicity agent is sure to find a way round it,” Dick said bitterly. “You forget. I’ve been in this business a long time. She’s earning them big dollars. They will want to limit the damage any bad publicity could have.”

“Yeah, yeah. Tell me about it,” Jay said, rattled.

***


Now, a new problem loomed. The apartment appeared to be divided up into three units.

“Why didn’t you say there were three units?” Dick said. “She could be in any one of them.” 

The tog smoothly intervened.

“We were told there was only one. Anyway, don’t worry, we’ll work it out…”

But Jay was only interested in the one with the faint orange glow showing through the window blinds on the upper floor. He stared fiercely, not listening to his friend.

“Hang on,” Dick said, turning to the cameraman. “How can we be sure this is the right one?”

The guy shrugged. 

“We’re just following instructions. She was seen coming here with a man. That’s good enough for us.”

“It’s the only one with the light still on. Got to be. She likes dimly lit rooms,” Jay muttered, settling the matter. He remembered too well their romantic times together. “She must be with him now.” He must be fucking my Lola’s gorgeous body as we stand here like mutts on the sidewalk. She must be giving herself to him. How could she? Especially with a guy in dire need of a wig chop? But the thought of them together nearly drove him insane. The guy was cruising for a bruising. He was going to ruin that son of a bitch. He was going to…

Dick held out a restraining arm. “Remember, we’re just here to get proof. You’re not to lay a finger on him. Or her.” He nearly said, “She’s my friend too,” but thought better of it. 

Jay pushed his friend aside roughly. He was burning with rage. 

“I’ll kill him,” he shouted. 

“Jay!” Dick bravely mustered up the little authority he had left. “Keep your fucking voice down, unless you want to wake the whole damn neighbourhood. You’d best wait here in the street. I’ll go up with these men. If she’s there, we’ll bring her down to you.”

“Forget it. I’m coming with you,” Jay said.

***


It took less than five minutes to unpick the lock. Dick watched, secretly impressed, but Jay was less so. His older brother had been in the army and had shown him how locks could be picked. It had proved a useful skill when his dad had stormed out of the house and forgotten his key after one of his infernal rows with Jay’s mother when he was growing up in London’s east end. He’d have unpicked the door himself, but he didn’t want to mess up. He certainly didn’t want his fingerprints on it.

“Don’t make any noise. We don’t want to alert them. Follow me” the picker said, producing a flashlight.  

Already, the tog was poised. “No sign of anyone yet,” he whispered.

The lock-picker’s torch threw a beam of light onto a deserted flight of stairs. “Slowly does it,” he said. “Follow me.”

On the upper floor, it was hard to tell whether Jay’s hands were trembling from dread or anger, but every door gaped onto a room devoid of people. It was only when the final one was opened, the torch beamed onto an elderly couple sleeping together in a double bed. The woman was unable to sleep in complete darkness so a lamp glowed a soft amber on the bedside table.

The tog had already sprung to action, blinding everyone with camera flashes. The woman opened her eyes, overwhelmed by the glare. The commotion woke her husband who was astonished to find four men in his bedroom. 

“Who are you? What you doing?” he shouted. “We haven’t got anything worth taking.”

“We don’t want anything. Where’s Lola?” Jay demanded. “Are you hiding her here?”

“What you talking about?” The man decided not to mention Shelley, the glamorous young neighbour who had recently moved into the back unit. He hoped his wife would keep quiet about her too. Unnoticed, he slowly edged his hand down the side of the bed, suddenly producing a gun. “Get the hell out or I’ll shoot.” The by-now trembling woman had buried her face in her husband’s chest.


“It’s obvious she’s not here. We’re sorry for the intrusion,” Dick said, pulling Jay back. “We must have got the wrong apartment.”

“It’s time for you fellas to put eggs in your shoes. Beat it,” the husband ordered, his hand still firmly on the gun.

His wife overcame her fear enough to remark. “Hey, wait a minute. I know who you are now. You’re Dick Aston and you’re the one that’s married to that movie star, aren’t you?”

“Let’s go,” Dick said. “While we still can. We’re truly sorry for the disturbance, folks.”

As the men moved onto the landing, someone accidentally knocked a vase off the window ledge. It came crashing down. There seemed little point picking up the pieces.

“Come on. Let’s agitate the gravel. We need to get outta here before we do any more damage. That guy might just decide to use that gun,” Dick said grimly.


On the street, the tog scratched his head, baffled. “It doesn’t make sense. This is definitely the right apartment. I got it on good authority she was seen coming here with a man.”

“Come on Jay. Let’s go.” Dick grabbed his friend’s arm.

“Get off me, Dick,” Jay exploded.”  In the moonlight, the footballer’s hand spun round and his fist caught his friend’s chin.

“Arggg.” Dick’s hand shot up to his face. “What d’you go and do that for?” 

“I’m sorry. You got too close.”

“It’s time to get in the car and get outta here,” Dick said, pissed. 

“I’ll make my own way back. I don’t live far from here.” The tog intended to hang around a bit longer. Just in case. 


After they deposited the lock-picker guy outside the agency, Dick was still nursing his chin.

“I’m sorry about that. I’ll pay for it to be fixed,” Jay promised.

“If this is what you’re like round Lola, it’s no wonder she’s had enough! She always said you had a temper.”

“Not without reason,” Jay said. “I can’t trust her round other men. They’re always gawping at her. Especially on the set.”

“But she’s a movie star. Of course, men will gawp,” Dick exclaimed. “It kinda goes with the territory.”

***


Jay had invited Dick in for a drink at the swanky apartment he had shared with Lola. His housekeeper kept the place immaculate. Just how he liked it. Yet it felt so empty. When Lola had lived there, the place had been littered with numerous soft toys, clothes and makeup paraphernalia.

Now, he was seeing off his friend after a few bourbons.

“Thanks for coming with me tonight. You’re a good friend. I’m sorry I decked you.”

“No matter. That’s what friends are for.”

“For hitting pals on chins?” Jay laughed mirthlessly.

“Course not. For being there. I want you to promise me something.”

“What?”

“That you’ll seriously consider getting help for that temper of yours. After all, that’s what drove her away.”

Jays’s hackles were up again, his hands automatically balling into fists. “How do you know?”

“She told me.”

“Before or after you slept with her, you fucking low-life scum?” Without thinking, his fist landed on Dick’s arm, bruising him. 

“Definitely after,” Dick said angrily, aiming for and narrowly missing Jay’s cheek. 


Before things got worse, Dick stepped away, brushing himself down ready to drive off. “I’ll see you round pal. There’s no reasoning with you when you’re like this. You need to go and get help. Until you learn to control your anger, this is never gonna work.”

After a while, Jay calmed down. In the moonlight, he could see genuine pity in his friend’s eyes. 

“You’re probably right. I’m sorry about the way I behaved earlier. I promise I will seek help.” He grimaced. “I want to try and live a better life and stop frightening old ladies. Thanks for putting up with me. You’re a true pal,” he said.

***


Less than two miles away, two giggling females left an apartment by the back way. They were spotted by a man dropping off what had proved to be a fake date at the house opposite. He thought it odd that one of them had covered her head in a long headscarf, but it looked like the girls had been having a blast. 

“Phew, that was a close shave, Shelley. It was lucky Wise left before the break in.”

”Yeah, I’d hate to see him get hurt. He’s been a good friend to me. There’s no need for all this crap.”

“You did the right thing turning out the lights and hiding your car at the back, Lola. I know it was crazy having to be in the dark like that, but it was kinda fun.”

“I have to be careful,” Lola said. “The last thing I want is to be recognised. Now I know for sure I’m being watched and not being paranoid. I have to move on.”

“You have a million good reasons for moving on, honey.”

“Yeah, maybe. It’s kinda sad, though. Jay has a good side too. Aside from his jealousy, he has the best heart. He cares about the real me. I really thought we had something special for a while. If only he’d gotten help, we might have stood a chance.”

“Yeah, well… maybe he’ll come to his senses… one day. Let’s face it, you’re not going to be in the movie business for ever.”

The rational part of Lola doubted it, but as she looked up to one of the few visible stars in the sky, her heart was on fire.

“Yeah, maybe he will.”










June 21, 2023 17:35

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23 comments

Jack Kimball
00:07 Jul 05, 2023

Hi Helen, What I like’d the best here is how you contrast a poetic prose, seemingly the world at peace, and then , ‘ That was the real reason he’d hired the detective agency to keep an eye on her. He wanted to keep her close.’ Uh oh, I thought as the reader. So your contrast greatly increased the tension. You then repeated that pattern. I learned a lot on this one. Thank you. Jack

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BRUCE MARTIN
02:44 Jun 30, 2023

Helen, I really like your use of imagery, such as: "the tops of palms gently waved, their narrow trunks silhouetted against an orange sky which blended into deep pink and violet hues the higher it rose." You set a vivid picture as a background to the action. Very nice technique.

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Helen A Smith
08:03 Jun 30, 2023

Hi Bruce Thanks for your positive comments. I enjoyed writing the story.

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Amanda Lieser
19:47 Jun 28, 2023

Hi Helen, It’s interesting to me that this piece felt 1950s for so many individuals because honestly, I was picturing something very modern. I was picturing a modern woman who was looking to find freedom in divorce and I was picturing a modern man who’s temper was brought on and exacerbated by the standards that society had set for him. Yes, the temper issue is a huge issue and it’s a red flag for sure, but because I was choosing to set this in a modern environment, my hope was that these individuals were going to seek some form of counselin...

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Helen A Smith
19:57 Jun 28, 2023

Hi Amanda Thanks for your comments. I always enjoy reading them. Therapy was big then, particularly Freudian analysis. Actors might have been more open to that than other hard men types and Dick is an actor. Analysis often went hand in hand with method acting, for example. Also Jay’s anger would have been an issue in all his relationships and friendships, even then.

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Delbert Griffith
23:09 Jun 23, 2023

The best of himself would love her till the day she died. THAT is a line written by an expert, Helen. Just masterfully done! Great tale from that hard-boiled age when men were dicks and dicks were detectives. Jay is always gonna be Jay. He may promise the moon, but he'll never deliver, at least, not fully. This was fun, dark, disturbing, and well written. Nicely done, Helen. Cheers!

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Helen A Smith
07:07 Jun 24, 2023

Thanks Delbert. I tried to fit into the 50’s. I’m fascinated by the subject matter. I’m so pleased you liked it as I put a lot into it.

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Helen A Smith
11:23 Jun 24, 2023

I love your second paragraph on this critique. V funny 😄

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Michał Przywara
20:35 Jun 23, 2023

Something about the story hits the feel of the '50s. Maybe the slower pace, maybe the private eyes and the leg work, but the mood fits. Theirs is a complex love story, and we see that while Lola has had enough, she also kind of hopes things can be fixed one day. Jay thinks of her in terms of angels and demons, and with his temper, I wonder if she thinks of him like that too. Although, maybe we're not hopeful. Jay says he will seek help, but his anger has been demonstrated as quite destructive, and given his history, quite self-destructiv...

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Helen A Smith
07:13 Jun 24, 2023

Thanks Michal. I see what you mean about settling down. I meant it in the sense of having children as well as being married. Jay cannot hold her because her career is sky-rocketing and Jay is retired. There can be a confusion of idioms though, sometimes with hilarious results. I’m glad you thought I hit the feel of those times as I have researched it thoroughly.

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Wally Schmidt
04:51 Jun 22, 2023

The juxtaposition of these two sentences got me: The best of himself would love her till the day he died. That was the real reason he’d hired the detective agency to keep an eye on her. This story had a kind of Mad Men vibe to it. With the kind of 'real' men that did things like get into fist fights and have their women followed. Romantic to some, idiotic to me. But you captured it well.

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Helen A Smith
05:20 Jun 22, 2023

Hi Wally Thanks for reading. Of course, this kind of behaviour was in no way acceptable, but “love” can do strange things to people. He had become obsessed and unbalanced. The MC wanted to control Lola when love shouldn’t be about control. However, I hopefully portrayed that there was the possibility of redemption, the chance for a more balanced love in the future. He had a lot of work to do on himself, for sure. Also, I wrote in the context of very different times. Interesting you should say about Mad Men. I watched a few episodes and i...

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Wally Schmidt
13:37 Jun 22, 2023

Ha! I only watch one episode for the same reason. Even though everyone around me raved about it. But then, I don't 'get' a lot of things that are commercially appealing.

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05:56 Jun 25, 2023

An LA noir detective story, didnt see that coming. Really well written and different from the other stories here. This def could be expanded to a longer story or novella. It felt like there was more to come with Jay and Lola’s story.

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Helen A Smith
06:39 Jun 25, 2023

Thank you Scott. In a way, there’s always more to come but I hope it stood out in its own right as a short story. I wanted to offer hope at end, even though Jay had huge anger issues.

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07:03 Jun 25, 2023

Yeah, that's an interesting theme to explore. Imperfect people and their relationships. You captured that really well throughout with Jay, and I really sympathized with Lola's mixed feeling at the ending. Most passionate people have some rough edges. It read well as a short story, especially with your amazing descriptive prose and the ending which I liked. I did feel there was a bit of a novel plot in this, I fall into the same habit with most of my stories. Maybe challenge yourself to write a short story sometime staying in one scene. ...

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Helen A Smith
07:17 Jun 25, 2023

Thank you. Staying in one scene is an interesting idea. Definitely worth a try. I just get so fascinated and absorbed by the characters and the backstory and all the rest of it. I notice a lot of writers on here end up writing sequels. I did that with one of my stories here three times!!!

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Russell Mickler
17:24 Jun 22, 2023

Hey Helen! Oh, this description was exquisite, "In the distance..." A really great component in the para. The play on words with angels and demons, possessing Jay, excellent. Alpha and omega? Biblical, yes, but trite in my ears - I'd recommend you strike that bit. The detective agency line makes Jay out to be a little possessive/creepy. Let's see where the story rolls! The first act is wonderful. Good setting, strong sense of Jay; the sexy-sounding nature of his angel lures the reader in; the detective bit is intreguing. The reveal wit...

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Helen A Smith
17:31 Jun 22, 2023

Thanks Russell for your detailed critique. Very helpful. I’ll definitely explore some of your ideas. I’m definitely keeping the alpha and omega line though. 😊

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Russell Mickler
17:32 Jun 22, 2023

Rock on :) Biblical, like I said :) R

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Helen A Smith
17:40 Jun 22, 2023

A mac is short for anorak or macintosh. Oh no, don’t tell me they don’t call it that in America??? This is so funny! The way we read things.

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Russell Mickler
18:00 Jun 22, 2023

Laugh - I thought it was a computer :) I'm also a nerd so... there's that! Saying "Anorak" or "Macintosh" may be more clear to the US reader :) R

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Unknown User
23:21 Jul 05, 2023

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