The House on Olive Street (10 page)

BOOK: The House on Olive Street
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“Don’t worry about Barbara Ann,” Elly said grumpily. “You can’t please all the people all the time.” She huffed a little. “I hate bars,” she groused.

The limo came to a stop. “It’s not a bar, it’s a lounge. A very nice one, too.” She stepped out of the car. “We’re going to have a quick nightcap, Jeff. You can go on upstairs if you want to.”

“I’m in no hurry,” he said. And he followed them by about twenty feet, taking a table near the door of the lounge.

Sable found a booth for them. “This hasn’t been too bad, actually. Tiring. But I met some very nice people. One woman asked me for an address so she could write me. I gave her my business card, with my agent’s address on it, and she handed it right back to me. She told me to write my home address on the back. She didn’t ask me, she
told
me. I said I took all my mail through my agent and she then told me my home phone number would do.” Sable shook her head and laughed. “What is it with some people? I have no idea who she is. She could be a serial killer!”

“Did you give her your phone number?”

“Sort of.”

“How do you ‘sort of’ give someone your phone number?”

“I gave her several of the numbers.” The waitress approached. “One vodka, over ice. Elly?” Elly ordered a cup of decaf. “Anyway, aside from her, I met some very nice people. How was it for you?”

“Interesting,” Elly said.

“At least it put you in a good mood,” Sable laughed. “Lighten up, Elly. I might have two drinks. You can manage to pound down about twenty cigarettes.”

Eleanor was already digging in her purse. She looked up briefly to scowl at Sable. She continued with her task at hand and lit up. “So,” she said, “you had a good time?”

“The conference was quite nice. Very busy, but not as grueling as it could have been.”

But there had been pressure. Sable had rankled the conference committee by selecting her own hotel, and they told her so, even though she had paid for it herself. She arrived on Friday afternoon to find fourteen messages waiting when she checked in. Although she had been scheduled to sign books from two to four on
Saturday and give a banquet speech that night, there were several other last-minute invitations she was forced to turn down. She had made arrangements to have a cozy dinner with her editor and agent for Friday night—just the three of them. She hadn’t even invited Elly. But someone—her agent blamed her editor and her editor blamed her agent—had turned it into a dinner for twenty held in a banquet room. She was asked to attend the convention’s opening cocktail party (which she declined because of the dinner), was invited to three other dinners (all declined), and was asked to attend the keynote address on Saturday morning, which added two hours to an already long day.

Sable had given the switchboard at the St. Regis a list of names of those people whose calls were to be put through to her room. This service was one of the reasons she liked to stay there. Several people she’d never heard of had left messages with the desk for her to call them at the Hilton; four had asked her to read manuscripts, one wanted to meet with her “at her convenience” to share the ways in which she had promoted her early books to stardom, one wanted an endorsement “whether or not she had time to read the book,” and five thought she might be interested in joining them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, coffee, or whatever, so she could meet some other writers. She had a call at midnight Friday from a writer who had been trying to reach her all day—the name of the conference coordinator had finally been used to breach the switchboard screening. The writer had idolized her for years, had studied her style and patterned her own books after Sable’s, and wanted to meet her to discuss a collaboration. And at seven the next morning a man had called—this time her agent’s name had been used to bypass the
operator. He claimed to be a producer interested in making movies from her books. When she told him to contact her agent he became irate and called back several times, insisting they meet alone. He was
intimately
acquainted with her novels, he said. She asked the switchboard to stop putting him through and told Jeff to be on the watch.

Some of these were friendly, well-intentioned people and some were crackpots, but there was no surefire way to tell the difference. This exhausted Sable. She didn’t mention any of those things because you’re not allowed to complain about fame and fortune. The bizarre thing, in Sable’s mind, was that not every bestselling author went through this. She’d met several, of course, over the years, and she’d asked a few of them. Men, particularly, didn’t seem to be followed around and pestered so much. She thought maybe the problem was that her novels were sexy. Or else she was handling it all wrong. But she didn’t know what she should be doing differently. Whatever the problem, she had ended up with a life in which she had few close friends and the only other people she even half trusted were people she
hired.
They’d help preserve her privacy or she’d fire them.

“I’ve been thinking about retiring,” she told Elly.

“How do you do that?” she asked.

“I’m not sure. Choose a pseudonym? But people find out. Stop writing altogether? I don’t know if I could do that. It’s the only part of the job I like.” She sipped her vodka. “But since Gabby died, I don’t enjoy even that.”

“It hasn’t been very long, Sable. None of us is enjoying things the way we used to.”

“Maybe I’m just reacting to her death,” she said. But it was more that Gabby’s death had brought to a head something Sable had been grappling with for years. Not
having any friends. Not trusting anyone. Having everything and nothing.

Sable noticed a familiar face across the bar. She looked at the man, slowly sipping her vodka and praying it wasn’t so. What were the odds? Sable leaned out of the booth and stared. Jack Mahoney sat in a booth across from them. With a woman.

“My God,” Sable whispered.

“What is it?” Elly asked, turning clumsily in her seat so that she could look.

“Don’t look, Elly! Just wait a minute. God, that’s him. Wait a minute, I’ll tell you when. That couple across the bar, behind you a little. She’s a blonde.”

Eleanor puffed slowly. “Can I look
now?
” she asked.

“Be careful. Don’t let them see you staring. You stare worse than anyone I know.”

“I simply look directly at people. I don’t call that staring.” She glanced and looked back. “So?”

“What was he doing? Was he kissing her neck or something?”

“Do you know him?”

Sable finished her drink and signaled for the waitress. She ordered another one.

“Are you looking for a good night’s sleep or a coma?” Elly asked.

“You know him, too,” she said. “That’s Jack Mahoney.”

Then Eleanor did what she usually did. She stared. Hard and straight. Her thin lips tightened, her brows drew together, and she pierced him with her eyes. Sable half expected Jack to turn and see them, Eleanor looked at him so potently. But he didn’t because he was kissing the woman’s cheek and snaking his hand up her skirt under the table.

“Stop that!” Sable hissed. “God, you’re the worst gawker. Don’t let him see us!”

“Why not?” Eleanor asked. “I think we should go over and say hello. Introduce ourselves to the young woman. What do you think?”

Sable’s drink arrived and she asked for the check. “No,” she said to Eleanor. “We’re going to quietly tiptoe out of here and escape before he sees us. Try, Elly, just this once, not to move the floor when you walk.”

“Let him see us,” Elly said threateningly.

“No! That would give him an advantage, knowing he got caught. If anyone’s going to have an advantage, it’s going to be Beth!”

“Do you have a strategy for everything?” Elly asked.

Sable disregarded the question. “Things are much worse at her house than we’ve ever suspected, Elly.”

“I haven’t suspected anything!”

“That’s because you don’t think too hard about things. You take everything at face value. Can’t you see Beth is unhappy? She can’t leave the house when Jack’s home. She has to check his schedule before she can even go to lunch with her friends! There have been bruises—we’ve seen bruises on her. Not on her face or anything, but you know batterers don’t hit their victims in places where the marks will show. She makes excuses. She keeps pretending to have this loving marriage with Jack, denies that he abuses her, but all you have to do is look in her eyes to know she’s lying, covering up for him. He’s an abusive, controlling fuck-around.”

“I’m not so sure he actually hits her,” Eleanor said.

“I am,” Sable replied. The check came and Sable signed for their drinks, adding a generous tip. “Try to be casual,” she said to Eleanor as she slipped out of the booth, carrying her second vodka with her.

Eleanor tamped out her cigarette. “You’re so good at subterfuge. People don’t give you enough credit.” She followed Sable out of the lounge. “And now you have some plan, don’t you?”

“Not yet I don’t. I just knew that son of a bitch was a slimeball. Poor Beth.”

The elevator came. Jeff caught up. “This isn’t our business, Sable,” Elly said.

“Whose business is it then? Theirs? You know what that usually means? It means this asshole gets to fly around the world collecting venereal diseases while Beth sits at home, alone, praying for a baby. Jesus. Beth is so
bright!
How can she not know? She knows. She must. She just isn’t facing it.”

“I’ve got the worst feeling,” Eleanor said. “I’m getting a muscle spasm.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Sable said. “If you don’t want to take responsibility for what you saw, I’ll handle it alone.”

“Please think about this for a while,” Elly said. “Don’t do anything tonight.”

They reached their floor. “I won’t call her or anything. Tell her something like that and then leave her alone? For God’s sake, Elly, I’m not that insensitive.”

“Good. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Don’t brew and stew all night. He isn’t worth it.”

“Maybe not, but she is.”

Jeff opened Sable’s door for her, letting her in, before walking next door to his room. Sable saw her flashing message light and ignored it. She finished her drink. She took a hot soak. And she brewed and stewed.

Why could men be such slime? Why should a sweet, innocent woman like Beth be stuck with this animal? Why did Beth keep pretending they were in love, trying
to have a baby, living some idyllic romance in their little town house? In six years did she think no one noticed the inconsistencies in her stories? In her behavior? It came out sometimes. Beth became skittish when asked about her husband. Even when Jack had all those days off for which airline pilots were famous, he was often on his own. Beth couldn’t think fast enough to cover up for him every time. Beth didn’t go with him on his boat because she didn’t like fishing that much? Jack had a speedboat! He liked to go skiing in Colorado with some of his pilot friends—there were no wives along. He had hunting trips, fishing trips, scuba-diving trips, card games. She didn’t often go on his scheduled airline trips to places like New York and London because he didn’t have that much time off when he got there. He didn’t visit her family with her because, you know, he had to travel all the time with his job and didn’t need more trips. In the six years Sable had known Beth, she had crossed paths with Jack a couple of times. She found him too flirtatious. Sable could smell a womanizer a mile off.

Beth had no one in her life but the girls. For Sable to be so alone was a different story; she had lots of hired help, lots of important functions and the demands on her time were extraordinary. Besides, Sable reminded herself, no one really knew how alone she was. What was Beth’s excuse? She had a large, loving family in Missouri—but none of them ever visited California. And Beth’s mysteries were gaining popularity. She was getting more and more attention from the critics, the guilds, and New York, but she rarely went to the conferences out of town. She had friends, Beth claimed, mostly pen pals. Pen pals couldn’t interfere with Jack’s schedule or threaten Jack’s control.

Sable became more and more irate as she considered
her six-year relationship with Beth. Gabby had brought her on, as Gabby had collected them all. She’d found her at an autograph signing where they were both signing books. Beth was new and Gabby wasn’t famous, so they’d had plenty of time to chat, get to know each other. Beth was so quiet, so shy that Gabby took it upon herself to introduce Beth to a few writers. But Beth was such a loner that the introductions stopped with their little group.

When Beth talked about her family, her beautiful dark eyes lit up and she became almost animated. When she was asked about Jack, she seemed to struggle with what to say.

Jesus, we’re all a bunch of invalids, Sable thought. Gabby had surrounded herself with troubled souls, handicapped pretenders. Elly was an aging, solitary, egghead who had lived in the same cluttered little house for thirty years. Sable was a messed-up, abused teenager who’d somehow become a famous person—a fucked-up famous person who distrusted everyone and acted like a magnet to weirdos—without ever resolving the mess she’d left in her past. Barbara Ann was a raving codependent who controlled everyone around her by playing the victim, starting with her family of men and spreading the gloom of her daily disasters almost nationwide by long distance and conferences. And Beth was undoubtedly an abused wife who was trapped in some kind of secret tyranny that she shared with no one.

Sable lay in her bed, thinking about what a mess this small group was. Group therapy wouldn’t be a bad idea, she thought. It’s absurd that none of us is happy with what we have. I hate fame and something about the way I treat people is seen as regal and offputting rather than professional. Elly has become a curmudgeon, hiding
within the walls of academia, fighting her alcoholism in a silent, solitary battle that she never talks about but is always conscious of. Barbara Ann’s pursuit of success has blinded her to all that she has—family, friends, health, love, work. And Beth is being beat up, emotionally and probably physically.

Of course she couldn’t sleep. She started thinking about the honor bar in her room and it frightened her. Whenever she wanted one more drink than she thought was prudent, visions of her mother came instantly to mind.

BOOK: The House on Olive Street
3.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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