Donovan Garcia never seemed satisfied. If it was ice cream, he needed chocolate sprinkles. If it was a cloudy day, he begged for sun with a chance to wear his scratched-up Ray-Bans, and look cool. No other shades would do. If it was a sirloin steak, the bloodier the better. Good cuts were hard to come by, in a place where they didn’t grow too many cows. Far from a pasture, he lived in a drab tiny apartment with stucco, red-tile shingles, three stories, two blocks from the Manhattan Beach Strand and a partial view of the Left Coast.
Sand crept onto the lower floor, into the dugout cellar he called a basement. That’s where he kept his small collection of wine and two miniature cannabis plants. “All the medication I would need for a lifetime,” he said, joking. He named the plants Fred and Ethel in homage to his favorite old-time sitcom, ‘I Love Lucy,’ which played regularly on a TV Land, the channel not on every cable company’s menu was a perk of living near Tinsel Town.
He also adored Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, a cult-movie hostess with biting sarcasm. Her real name was Cassandra Peterson and she hailed from Manhattan, Kansas, the Midwest – his neck of the woods. At 15, he left his hometown of Gering, Nebraska, bored with the amber waves of grain. “Children of the corn,” he thought. “Best get out while you can.” He pictured Cassandra’s wicked get-up, and felt her powdered cleavage vastly improved watching ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.’ He also believed bad theatre done well had its place.
“Now, I got that song stuck in my head,” he said to no one.
He looked out the kitchen window, pressing his nose against the glass to get a good angle on the ocean. A morning mist blanketed the beach. “Damn it!” He said. Still, he slipped into his red-and-white board shorts, which partially covered the tattoo of a topless hula girl on his right leg – his favorite among the pinup girls stenciled across his body.
Opening the fridge, he removed a plastic carton of milk to mix into the bold batch of Folgers from an old percolator. A bowl sat on the kitchen counter already filled with Trix. Nostalgia plagued him. As a kid in Nebraska, he’d been eating cereal out of a big Tupperware bowl watching cartoons on TV while sitting Indian style on a dingy carpet in front of the square console. A polaroid of Letty on the freezer door was partly covered by a souvenir magnet from Las Vegas. She was topless baring her breasts for all the world to see. The bottom half of her was covered in tiny pink bikini bottoms, and not much left to the imagination. Donovan adored her this way – unfettered.
A glass of cabernet stood on the table when he turned back from the fridge. Letty was there with the L.A. Times in her lap.
“Do you want the book section and TV listings?” she said.
She sat on the vinyl kitchen chair with her feet curled under the pages. He glanced over the top of the newspaper to admire her delicate form, the curly strands of brown hair hanging down around her caramel shoulders – bony if you asked some guys. Donovan thought of her fragile figure as something to guard and honor. Her stunning green eyes stared down at the Times, skimming a tragic story about a man falling to his death at a construction site.
Donovan stole her away from Brazil where the couple had given tours of the rain forest. He wanted to get as far away from his homeland after his tour of duty in Afghanistan. To him America was a selfish, greedy country with little appreciation for the things that really mattered. Working with a local travel agency in Manhattan Beach, he and Letty worked with companies who wanted their employees to experience an out-of-the-box way of bonding or team-building as they preferred to call it. Plunking them down, by Chinook helicopter, in an exotic but hostile environment filled with screeching bats, bugs the size of small stones, pythons, and hungry panthers, Donovan guessed such a tour of the wild would be one way of doing it. Guiding was easy, keeping people from their own devices, not so much. Deep down, he liked watching some of corporate clans experience a gut-check in facing the dauntingly hazardous risks of the Amazon Jungle. Others wilted and quit and ran away. Too many soft Americans.
The couples’ struggling business put money in the bank, paid the rent on an overpriced crumbling apartment, and funded dinners out most nights. It also supported Donovan’s out-of-control addiction for ‘sticks,’ or surfboards as they were known to local wannabees. He sat at the small yellow kitchen table, puffing a fat joint rolled and lit by Letty, while he slowly stirred his cup of Folgers. He set the Times news section down, then began reading the TV listings. He marked Jeopardy with a red pen. He loved Alex Trebec. He also drew a line under the Lakers-Kings game, hoops contests once called by Hall of Fame announcer Chick Hearn. Chick’s announcer voiced floated through his head, The eggs are cooling, and the butter’s getting hard. Ideal night. Trebec, the Lake Show – what would make the ideal trifecta? Judge Judy?
“Good news,” he said, then he flipped through to the Entertainment section to find the crossword.
Letty yelled out from the bathroom. “Donny? Can you bring me a bar of soap? I don’t like that shitty body wash you bought. It smells like stale perfume.” Donovan let the question go, and concentrated on the clue for No. 5 across, “In the U.S., a witness’s right not to give answers to questions under oath is ‘taking the …”
Letty turned off the water. “Donny, did you hear me?”
He adjusted his position, unfolding his long hairy legs like a Yogi. He pulled the wire spectacles he was wearing down to the tip of his nose, and glanced out the window again.
“Yeah babe, I heard you. I got this clue,” he said. “Some of these are too easy.”
He grunted, getting up, and taking a sip of his coffee. He got to the bathroom door. “It’s like a sauna in here,” he said. She turned the water back on, pouring some bubble bath, and ordered him to get in.
“You stink,” she blurted. “When is the last time you got that salt off you?”
In seconds, his board shorts lay in a puddle of red and white on the floor outside the metal tub.
“Did you bring the soap?”
“Oh shit,” he said. “I knew I forgot something.”
She playfully slapped his flat backside as he stepped out of the tub; he didn’t have the build of a thousand other surfers, but when it came to paddling through the fast-building swells … no problem.
“Well …” He stared out the big bathroom window before he stepped out. “Wonder when that fog’s gonna burn off.”
“Forget it Donny, I just needed to rinse off.” He looked down at her, her hand running the length of his thigh.
He hated being called Donny, but allowed her this view of him as some juvenile boy. God forbid it be that guy who wore purple socks. Who were they? The Osmonds? Letty felt blessed to be living in paradise. Their jobs allowed them to lounge on a weekday. It was their call, whenever, however. She walked out of the bathroom and gave him several pecks on the neck. He returned her affection with a deep kiss.
Moments later, Donovan stepped out onto the still empty narrow road dressed in a Navy pinstripe jacket and white pants, a white Polo shirt underneath, and what he called his “Jesus” sandals. It completed the ensemble of a man who put his own comfort above anything else. Could you blame a war vet? And he was not a pretender.
The Mexicans referred to the classic open-toed shoes as Chanklas. In a poor country, being short on materials didn’t stop anyone. Sandal makers glued old tire treads to the thick durable straps of leather, and vendors sold them on the streets. In a poor country… He saw himself back in Afghanistan, Kevlar helmet tilted, peering through the sites of his sniper rifle. He watched kids play on the streets below in the market, his gun pointed at the only road in and out of the cluster of small shops. A whisper of bullets hit the ground, and a few of the stray rounds cut through a girl and boy. A woman screamed out, and a man’s voice quickly muffled her. The enemy didn’t care about shooting into the market in the Charkh District. They knew the elders would blame the Americans for being there.
The low clouds started to lift, but it was too late to get in the water. He had a few meetings scheduled in Los Angeles but if he wanted, he could handle deals with clients over the phone. However, the tour guys wanted to see his face. Even though he wasn’t Brazilian, the brown representation of his Mexican ancestors was close enough for them. Perception was everything; keeping up appearances was a must in a capitalist society.
In his mind, he heard the voice of his grandmother, who never left the small Nebraska village where she lived her entire life. “Wherever you go, you always take yourself,” she said. At what point did he think he might start losing his soul?
He eyed the lonely surf boards sitting in the corner of a tightly packed garage. There were still some boxes they had yet to unpack. Donovan felt like they were unwanted vagabonds. A few neighbors found Letty’s penchant for nudity a little out of place, but she never let social differences get in her way. It didn’t matter what they thought, these few uptight Californians, she played the charming hostess, always saying hello to them. To Donovan, she would never change; she was real, comfortable in her own skin, unlike the many plastic, greedy people in L.A.
Barefoot, Letty padded into the tiny garage to hand him a coffee mug to go.
“Thanks,” he said. “I almost forgot.”
“You look stressed,” she said. “This business kind of makes you wish you were a kid again, huh?” Letty gave him another peck before she disappeared into their apartment. He soaked in the moment, watching her lithe frame duck behind the door.
His coat pocket vibrated with an incoming call. He slid his hand through the opening, then waited for the ringtone to play a few measures of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was his mother and her usually sixth sense freaking him out. “I’m thinking of you mijo; my feet burn this morning. It could be nothing,” she said.
“Yeah, it’s OK mom. You worry too much. Letty and I are fine … I got to go now, meetings. I’ll call you later. Love you.” Donovan dropped the phone to the garage floor, and left it there for a moment before crushing it underneath his Chanklas.
He turned toward his chariot, a re-conditioned silver Porsche 911, opened the passenger side door and reached into the glove compartment. He pulled out a .38 Smith and Wesson Special, and laid it on the smooth roof of the car. In one fluid motion, he felt the gun barrel dug into his temple. He felt disconnected from his body. He was there, unafraid. It was not a conscious movement. As he floated away from his body, he watched his finger slowly squeeze the trigger. The bullet, one small projectile catapulted from the deadly metal contraption, sent him falling to the ground, blood trickling from the small hole in his temple.
Letty stood washing his cereal bowl, frozen by the loud bang. The dish rag sat loosely over the green plastic container. A thousand memories flooded her mind – mostly of Donny’s smile. She knew the gun was there. It was only a matter of time. Her eyes overflowed with thick, warm tears. He had finally done it.
The next day, a headline in the L.A. Times read: ‘Veteran suicide in Manhattan Beach’