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Authors: Marc Laidlaw

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BOOK: The Orchid Eater
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Scott said,
“Mike’s still a ripe avocado virgin.”

Mike shoved
Scott, who hardly budged.

“So where
are these trees?”

“There’s a
grove in this old farmer’s back pasture, halfway up the hill to Shangri-La. He
doesn’t have any friends to give them to, doesn’t sell them or anything, so I
just help myself. They just fall and rot otherwise.”

“It occurred
to us,” Scott added, “that we should invest in a few giant grocery bags.
Between the three of us, we could bring home quite a booty.”

Mike
shrugged. “What are we waiting for?”

They walked
abreast down Glen Ellen Boulevard, the thoroughfare of choice for local
traffic, now that the Coast Highway was perpetually clogged with its summer
load of tourist cars. Striding along with a raid in the offing—an adventure of
almost mythical promise—Mike found himself laughing for no reason. Well, there
were good reasons really. He was out of school, so why waste his summer in an
appliance store? It’s not as though he had a family to support. Hell, his
mother’s boyfriend Jack was buying a house, freeing them from the tiny
two-bedroom seacliff apartment they’d been living in for a year. Mike and his
brother Ryan would have their own rooms for the first time. No more moving from
place to place. He was set!

They went
into the Glen Ellen Supermarket. Edgar idled before the snack rack with great
deliberation, picking through the assortment of candy and gum. He finally settled
on a small packet of Chiclets, but not before a man with a push broom came out
of an aisle and stood behind them. He followed them to the register.

“Will that
be all?” asked the checker, a fat woman who kept staring suspiciously at Scott,
enfolded in his thick army coat.

“Yes,
please,” said Edgar, handing her a few coins. “I’ll bag it myself.”

He reached
around the end of the counter, pulled out a large paper bag, and shook it open.
The woman glared at him as if she wanted to hurry him up. Mike at first assumed
he wasn’t attracted to her, since she was fat and all, but even so he couldn’t
help imagining her with her clothes off, as a sort of thought-experiment. He
realized, with faint humility at the stirring in his underwear, that he would
have accepted it even from her. If she’d have him.

Edgar,
meanwhile, had taken out a second bag, shaken it open, and shoved it down
inside the first.

“What are
you doing?” she said.

He unfolded
a third bag and fit it into the others, straightened the edges, thumped it
several times lightly as if to check the sturdiness of his construction. Then
he picked up the tiny packet of Chiclets and tossed it in.

“I don’t
want the bottom falling out,” he said, lifting the triple-lined bag in his
arms. He grunted as if it weighed a ton, staggering toward the door. Mike
looked at the woman, shrugged apologetically, but couldn’t meet her eyes. He
was still seeing her as a pale opulent mass of sticky, sweet-smelling,
seductive flesh.

He ran after
Scott and Edgar, all of them straight-faced until they reached Glen Ellen. They
had gone nearly a block before they could speak without choking. Edgar scooped
out the Chiclets and folded up the bags, then started pulling handfuls of
candy from his pockets.

“Who wants
what?” he asked.

“I pay my
own way,” said Scott, shaking a Snickers bar out of his sleeve.

Edgar
offered candy bars to Mike. “Three Musketeers, Baby Ruth, or Rocky Road?”

Mike looked
back down Glen Ellen to see if anyone from the store was watching, then shrugged
and took the Rocky Road. “How’d you do that?” he asked as he tore the wrapper
with his teeth. “I was right there watching you.”

“So was the
manager,” Edgar said. “That’s the challenge.”

“I can’t
believe it.”

“Listen to
you,” Scott said. “As if you never stole a thing.”

“Yeah,
Mike?” Edgar said. “I’ll bet you could get away with anything, innocent-looking
guy like you.”

“Well, I
haven’t—I mean, nothing big. But I always think it would be great to be like,
you know, an international jewel thief. Planning big heists. Wouldn’t it be
great to commit the perfect robbery? Like that movie
Gambit.
Do it once and make a
million bucks, then retire.”

Edgar shook
his head, laughing. “Man, you think big, don’t you?”

“It would
sure beat fixing broken toasters the rest of your
life.”

“I always
took you for a . . . well, I won’t say it.”

Mike choked
on the last bite of marshmallow. “Just ’cause I don’t hang around with the
Bathroom Gang? I could plan crimes those guys would never even think of.”

“Yeah? But
could you pull ’em off?”

“Sure.
Anyway, who’d suspect a kid?”

“Maybe they
wouldn’t—a straight-looking kid like you.”

“We should
start our own gang.”

Edgar
laughed. “That’s too much work. You just have to find the right one and join
it. Right, Scott? Should we tell him about Hawk?”

Scott
smirked. “You mean the Sunday School gang?”

“No, man,
Hawk’s cool. Don’t get the wrong idea. He was on his Jesus trip today, but he’s
not always like that.”

Suddenly
Mike felt like a bit of an outcast.

“Hawk?” Mike
said tentatively, aware he’d been left out of something. Usually he knew
exactly what Scott was talking about—knew better than anyone.

“Forget it,”
Scott said. “He’s no international jewel thief.”

“Hawk’s the
real thing, man,” Edgar said defensively. Mike couldn’t figure out what they
were talking about, so he said nothing.

His sense of
camaraderie slightly tarnished, Mike turned his eyes to their goal, the curving
range of coastal hills that hemmed in Bohemia Bay. The slopes, which grew green
for a few months in winter, were yellowish brown by now. The highest, hindmost
peaks of Shangri-La were hidden by the lower hills mounting up to them. From
here at sea level, the heights were cloaked in the slithery silvery green of
eucalyptus. They stopped walking at the base of Shoreview Road, which ascended
and vanished among these leaves.

Edgar said,
“From here we hitch.”

They took a
stand by a stop sign where a constant stream of cars came up from the Coast Highway, heading into the hills. Edgar stuck out his thumb. Scott and Mike stood
behind him and watched the cars. A few drivers glanced at them without slowing.
A woman in a run-down VW gave an apologetic shrug, as if to say her car would
never make it to the top with the added load. One man held up his thumb and
forefinger as if pinching a dime. In response, Edgar spread his arms as wide as
they would go. The man grinned and kept driving.

“Comparing
dick size?” Scott asked.

“No, man, he
was only going a few blocks, and we’re going all the way.”

All the way,
Mike thought.

He could see
a big black van at the bottom of the hill, turning off the Coast Highway. What
if it stopped for them and there was, say, a beautiful blond beach-bunny
driving, and this amazing brunette in a bikini next to her, and they offered
us a ride and we got in and the whole van was
packed
with these girls, sexy and
horny and just dying to get ahold of a virgin, really show him how it was done.
Of course, they could do stuff with Scott and Edgar, too, that’d be okay, but
mainly—

The van drew
closer, stopping at the sign across Glen Ellen. It was only then Edgar noticed
it.

“Holy shit!”
he shouted. “The enemy! Get back, fast!”

Edgar shoved
them into a hedge. They huddled down and watched the road through the bushes.

“See this
van?” Edgar whispered. “Burn it into your memory.”

The huge
black van rumbled past, gathering speed for the climb. It was shiny as a new
hearse, freshly waxed and polished.

 “That’s Sal
Diaz,” Edgar said. “When you see him coming, boys, you’d better get out of the
way. If he pulls over, say you’re not hitching. Whatever you do, don’t get
inside that van.”

Mike watched
the van heading uphill, toward the ceiling of trees. “Why?”

“Sal is
lethal. He’s a self-defense instructor, but he only teaches
boys,
if you know what I mean. Get
in that van with him, he’ll ask if you know how to protect yourself, offer you
some free lessons. Next thing you know, he’s grabbing your cock.”

Edgar bent
closer, pitching his voice low as if telling a ghost story: “And if you say you
don’t want a lesson, he’ll just pin you down and do it to you then and there.
Right up the ol’ poop-chute.”

“While he’s
driving?”

“His boys
chauffeur him around. He’s the most dangerous man in Bohemia Bay, believe me. Hangs out at the Rock Lobster watching the surfers. If he sees someone he
likes, he hunts ’em down and fuckin’ rapes ’em. Course, those surfer jerks
don’t go down without a fight, but Sal likes that. He just sort of toys with
them.”

Mike crept
cautiously out of the hedge, a bit awestruck to think of such a psycho loose in
Bohemia Bay. He looked after the van, but saw instead an all too familiar
yellow Volvo cruising downhill toward them. It was Jack’s car. He almost jumped
back in the hedge, but the presence of the other two froze him.

The Volvo
eased to a halt across the street. Jack Harding was driving, Mike’s mother next
to him. “Hey, guys!” Jack called. Mike crossed the street reluctantly. The
other two followed.

“We were
just up at the house,” Jack said.

“Roddy and
Nathaniel are all moved out,” said his mom. “Everything’s ready for us. What
are you boys up to?”

“Oh, uh,
this is Edgar Goncourt. He lives in Shangri-La. He’s going to show me around
the neighborhood.”

“Edgar?” she
said. “Are you Nan Goncourt’s son, the child psychologist?”

Edgar
blushed. “Well . . .”

“How nice to
meet you! Your mother consults for some of the district’s counseling programs.”

“That’s my
mom,” Edgar said softly, with mixed pride and embarrassment.

“Have you
seen the house yet?” Jack asked, with explosive heartiness.

“Only from
the outside,” Mike said.

“Let me give
you a key.” Even before Mike could answer, Jack was digging into his pocket and
hauling out a ring. “The three of you can take a tour.”

“Wow, cool,”
Mike said. “You mean we can all go in?”

“Why not?”

His mother
said, “The house is so beautiful, you’ve never seen anything like it. I already
know which room Mike will want.”

“Great,”
Edgar said.

“You boys
just . . . be careful,” she said in a slightly sterner voice.
“The phones aren’t hooked up yet. I don’t want you in there after dark.”

“Would it be
all right if Mike stayed at my house tonight?” Edgar asked.

She looked
over at Jack, who could hardly suppress his grin as he worked the key off the
ring. “Well, there is still a lot of packing to be done, but Ryan somehow
slipped away for the weekend with Dirk’s family, so . . .” She shrugged. “Just
be sure you ask Edgar’s mother first. If she has any reservations, we’ll come
pick you up.”

“She won’t
care,” Edgar said.

“Oh, don’t
say that. Say she won’t
mind.

Jack tossed
Mike the key.

“Thanks!
This is gonna be great!”

“We’ve got
Sunday brunch planned, so don’t come home too late. You’ve still got packing to
do.”

Mike dropped
the key in his pocket and patted it for security as the car pulled away.

“Your mom’s
pretty cool,” Edgar said.

“She’s all
right,” Mike admitted sheepishly, as if a cool mother were a source of
humiliation. He felt he should do something to counteract the image Edgar had
of him, innocent and with an easy life. He didn’t feel innocent. He wanted to
be seasoned, tough, mature, experienced, worldly—even a little bit dangerous.
But he couldn’t even get the nerve to ask a girl out on a date. He was
terrified of school dances. He could easily
die
a virgin.

BOOK: The Orchid Eater
9.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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