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Authors: John Fusco

Dog Beach

BOOK: Dog Beach
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PROLOGUE

He is running, eight stories up on a rusted crossbeam, when he feels it, that thing entering his bloodstream, the rush he secretly calls the Creature. The timer on the explosives—280 pounds of M112 demolition charges—is beeping down the count. Six seconds . . . his heart drums full throttle, blood rushing. His pupils dilate and everything out in front of him becomes otherworldly clear. Four seconds. He's done this for half a lifetime. For what? Money? For the thrill of making some A-lister look good on-screen? Or for the raw adrenaline dump, that addiction to the Creature in his bloodstream? It always surges harder when he's unwired, like now. Two seconds . . . but he's too far from the end of the beam and the timer tells him he's not going to make it; that's when he comes alive, racing out ahead of the shock front, pulsing with that confidence that's carried him through his private war against gravity, the car crashes, the full-burns, and the impossible high-falls. Like the one from the bridge in Macau that damaged his L4 vertebrae in '86. No matter how bad life has turned out, how many bones he's broken, how many ex-wives want what's left of the pieces, he is still Louie Mo: a legend among Hong Kong stuntmen. Even if it isn't the '80s anymore.

As the building erupts—his eardrums rupture and ring—he feels himself launch from his body. No nets, no wires. This one's on him. And there's that question, somewhere just under the wild hum of the Creature and the ringing in his ears: Did I die this time?

1

PALM SPRINGS, MAGIC HOUR

Louie Mo sat in the passenger seat, peering through tinted aviators at the big hotel. The car, a beat-up Chevy Impala, smelled of cigarettes, aftershave, and a Supreme Croissant.

“Shit, this mother's hot,” Dutch said, clawing the Styrofoam cup. “If I spilled it on me, I could sue Jack in the Box for ten mill.”

Louie glanced at her, the girl he usually just called Driver, but his mind was still fixed on the Marriott. “Too many people sue,” he said in his broken English.

“What?”

“Too many people, they sue.”

“Yeah, well, just think about it,” she said. “We could buy a house and you could get your hip replacement. Wouldn't have to take generic painkillers, could get the real ones.”

“Not right.”

“Not right.” She laughed, smoke escaping out a pierced nostril. She edged the coffee to her pout but didn't sip. “You're about to go in there and break somebody's legs and you have moral issues with suing Jack in the Box?”

“The people inside are no good people,” Louie reasoned. He checked his cell phone, a constant tic.

“And the people who hired you, are they good people?”

“Be quiet now.” He slipped his phone inside his white denim jacket. “What room again?”

“Four-twelve.”

Louie opened the glove box, removed a pair of metal nunchaku. He never took a gun, and even the nunchaku were simply for backup. “Okay, here I go.”

“Time is money.”

“Lock up.”

“I'll be right here, yo. Call my cell if you take another way out.”

Louie sighed, popped his collar up like Elvis. Dutch thought about that now: With those outsized amber glasses and white jacket, Louie Mo kind of resembled an aging Chinese Elvis. He even walked like one, despite a slight limp, as he moved past lit-up palm trees and the big hotel marquee:

WELCOME—SPORTS MEMORABILIA
CONVENTION

June 4–6

Dutch watched him go, with only slight disdain for the way things were. Actually, she was kind of used to it now. She sipped the coffee, considered it still hot enough to burn her leg and justify calling 911, but “Not right,” says Louie Mo. If Elvis was the King of Rock 'n' Roll what would Louie Mo be? she wondered. An old '80s song came into her head: “The King of Pain.”

Perfect.

•
    
•
    
•

On the fourth floor of the Marriott, Louie spotted a room service tray—half-eaten spaghetti carbonara, two empty wineglasses—left outside some guest's door. He picked it up in careful silence and moved down to Room 412. He buzzed the door and called out, “Room service,” in his broken English.

The guy who cracked the door was slight and unhealthy-looking with sideburns that could house mole rats. Behind him, a fat man overwhelmed a chair while a third guy, blond and fine-boned, arranged sports memorabilia on one of the queen-size beds.

“We didn't order no room service,” said Sideburns, turning to look at the fat man straining the chair. “You order—”

Louie slammed the tray into his face, kicked him in the solar plexus. The fat man, never leaving his chair, clawed for something inside his windbreaker. A gun, small and Austrian-made. Louie's spinning heel kick got there first, crushing the guy's mandible. Completing a full spin, Louie intercepted the third man, trapped his elbow. Broke it. Then he did the same to a knee with a low, practical sidekick. Nothing fancy.

A toilet flushed and a fourth man entered, towel in hands. He stood blinking for a second then dropped the towel and grabbed awkwardly for a baseball bat among the sports prizes. Louie spun with a back fist, whipping his first two knuckles into the man's temple. The Batter crumpled into the narrow space between the queen bed and the wall: 2.3 seconds. That's all it took, the entire fight.

“Fuck,” Louie said, his second-favorite English word.

He turned to the arranged items on the beds, whispering strange American sports names to himself as he tried to remember what he came to retrieve. He tossed a framed team photo aside, then a scrapbook full of baseball cards, a hockey stick, a catcher's mask, a shadowbox containing a trophy ring, and, propped up on the bank of pillows: an Oakland Raiders jersey, number 99, signed in Sharpie and framed. Grabbing the collectible, Louie hurried to the second bed just as the Batter lifted his head, groggy. Louie punched him in the face then took inventory. Almost immediately, he spotted it: A football resting on a mahogany stand. He checked the signature, claimed it.

Stepping over the guy whose face and shirt were splattered in carbonara, Louie tried to calm his breathing and get out with the items. He darted into the hallway, looked back. The third man was up on his knees now, trying to operate his iPhone with his unbroken left hand.

•    •    •

“What about the helmet?” Dutch said, throwing the Chevy into a U-turn.

“No helmet.”

Louie was looking over his shoulder at the Marriott, where something was going down; men were scrambling, a security guard was running, first one way, then the other. When Louie turned back around, he saw a black Escalade lurching out from the parked cars and trying to block their path.

Dutch slammed the brakes, dropped into a reverse 180, nearly hitting the lit-up marquee. Another security guard, a powerfully built black woman, stormed the passenger side, yelling. Louie opened his door, used it like a gladiator's shield, hit her square. He winced when he saw her roll. He didn't realize it was a woman, but there was no time now for sentiment.

Dutch made a crisp quarter turn, pulled the E-brake, and skid. Her bare right foot—ankle bracelet and chipped nail polish—flattened the accelerator. She shuffle-steered between two U-Hauls, jumped the curb, and gunned it west. Out on Frank Sinatra Drive, she lifted her eyes to the rearview. No police lights. Good. She touched a lighter to a cigarette, maintained a steady pace.

Louie, breathing normally now, turned back to the street and opened the glove box. Rummaging through clutter, he found a vial, empty. He dug through several other spent prescriptions, finally coming up with a little bottle that rattled with promise.

“Those are mine,” Dutch said, and when Louie stared at her, she explained, “For my female problem.”

“I have female problem too,” Louie said. “All my life. Didn't know they had pills for it.”

“Very funny. You should get off on Jack Benny Road, do comedy.”

Louie shoved the vial back in, slammed the glove box shut. Everything was hurting him, from his injured lumbar to the Achilles' tendon he once tore jumping between subway cars, a long time ago, on
Fist of Vengeance.
But it was mostly his hip flexors from sitting in the Chevy for too damn long.

Dutch looked at him now, her hazel eyes glazed from the afterburn of epinephrine. It was the thing they had in common: adrenaline junkies, both.

“Fucking Louie Mo.” She laughed. “Some enforcer.”

“Man has gun, almost I get killed.”

“Dude, you're like the Tin Man.”

“What is Tin Man?”


Wizard of Oz
. The Tin Man was all broken parts of rusted metal, rattled when he walked.”

Louie Mo squinted at her over the rims of his aviators like she was speaking in obscure haiku. His surly, bee-stung eyes, offset by a boyish glint, forever amused her.

“He went all the way to Oz,” she explained, “trying to find a heart, but then he realized that he had one all along.”

“I don't want a heart,” Louie said. “I want a Vicodin.”

Dutch laughed, Palm Springs now in her rearview ­mirror.

2

DOG BEACH, MALIBU

“Clusterfuck,” Troy said, sitting in front of his twenty-inch monitor and watching a year's worth of bad acting and incoherent narrative. Not even Final Cut Pro could make sense of it.

“A Film by Troy Raskin,” he said, with all the dark ceremony of signing a suicide note. “Produced by Avi ­Ghazaryan—which means Lucifer spelled backward in Armenian.”

“Careful, bro,” said Durbin. ”Ghazaryan can walk through this door any minute.”

“It's got narrative problems,” T-Rich said. “But I wouldn't go so far as to call it a disaster.”


I
would,” said Malone. “I think it actually reinvents the disaster film. Turns it on its fucking ear.”

The Malibu locals called Las Flores “Dog Beach,” so Troy and his housemates named their two-story beach crib the Dog House, called themselves the Dogs of Entropy. Durbin, the weasel-thin, aspiring screenwriter, tended to hold down his own corner of the house, an iPad and a bean bag chair his only tools. T-Rich, African American with red-framed glasses, was an NYU buddy of Troy's and the new-media artist in the posse; his bachelor's thesis was shot entirely on a smartphone.

Then there was Malone. Redheaded, ginger scruff on his chin, baggy plaid shorts always halfway down his crack. He referred to himself as a UCLA dropout. In reality, he'd been kicked off campus for turning a trash barrel on the quad into a volcano for a thirty-second experimental film he called
Fra Diavolo
. These days the pyro busied himself crewing for Troy, handling all the torrents of fake blood and bullets and Fuller's Earth on Avi Ghazaryan's
Slash
.

Their Dog Beach neighbors—the actor Gary Busey on one side, a reality show producer on the other—called them the rich film school brats, even though all four had been out of film school for at least two years, and none was really rich; most of them had student loans weighing on them like brick vests.

Nor did they own the beach house. The producer Avi Ghazaryan was leasing it to Troy in exchange for a promised film. The project, said to be based on an original idea of Ghazaryan's, was called
Slash
.

“We're not tenants here,” Troy said now, his spirits sinking deeper. “We're hostages.”

“As long as Avi sees his daughter getting screen time, he's happy, bro,” Durbin said. “All good.”

Troy stared futilely at Zoe Ghazaryan on the monitor. “She'd make a wooden Indian seem compelling.”

Dark and striking, Zoe wasn't exactly hard for the Dogs to look at. Not for the first six months, at least. Now her footage was driving them bug-shit; her voice was a constant nasal drone from Troy's speakers, her outsized butt a self-conscious intrusion in the beach house; the monitor could barely contain it.

She had potential, T-Rich observed the first time he watched her escape from a zombie, running and bouncing like Meghan Fox. “But she seems kind of torn. I mean, between her love for herself and her love for the camera.”

“Maybe we should put her in the Malone Zone,” Durbin said. This was code talk at the Dog House, a kind of arcane lingo. In the lexicon of the Dogs, the Malone Zone meant to blow something to smithereens by way of Malone's homemade squibs or converted M-80s, all of which he usually lit with the glowing end of a joint. As they chanted it now, in unison, Malone squinted and grinned, proud to be the object of tribal incantation.

Troy froze on Zoe's pretty face and left her there, but the posing was too much. He blackened the screen, stared into the void, numb. “I can't do this fucking movie.”

“You have to,” Durbin said over his shoulder. “Or you'll owe him thirteen months' rent, and what is it—a hundred and eighty grand for his investment?”

“I wouldn't want to be six figures in debt to that dude,” T-Rich said. “Who knows who his investors are?”

Troy turned from the dead monitor and looked at him. It was how his former classmate said it, almost chilling.

“What do you mean?”

“Dude,”
Malone said, “have you seen some of the daughter's boyfriends she brings to the set? They look like the cast of
Sons of Anarchy
.”

Troy ruminated on this for a moment then swiveled from his seat. He grabbed a bag of stale bread and prepared to feed the seagulls. It was something he did lately when he got anxious.

“Look,” he said, throwing open the French doors. “There's nothing sexier than a Go movie. But a few days in, you feel like you've had the sex. It was great, but now you just want to go home.”

“We wouldn't know about Go movies,” Durbin said. “You're the only one who's getting made.”

“And getting laid,” said T-Rich.

“Yeah. Seriously. What is up with that?” said Malone.

“I never should've signed on to this fucking movie. Should've just taken out a loan and garage-banded that old-school action thing.”

T-Rich watched with a kind of fascination as Troy flung bread crusts to the four directions. “
The Rage
?”


The Cage
.”

“You ever finish that script?”

“Ninety pages. Just need a third-act banger.”

“Wait. Is that the John Woo meets early fifties Western noir meets
Run, Lola, Run
?”

“Jesus, Durbin, you just gave me a boner. That could be the poster.”

“Well, maybe after you finish
Slash
—”

“FUCK
SLASH
!” Troy erupted over the surf. A guy jogging by wheeled like he'd been stung by a kelp fly. Troy did a double take, watched the guy trip down the shore. The Dogs stood, waiting for Troy to identify the jogger as some character actor with a video store legacy; he was forever spotting movie people from the porch, even obscure ones, like the director of a Dutch art film, or the French actress who hadn't done a thing since the late '70s. Durbin once said that Troy had a mind like IMDb. T-Rich believed it was more like an idiot-savant tic, like Rain Man playing poker. But Troy made no such identification of the annoyed jogger now. He just stood in the open French doors, looking gaunt and defeated as seagulls descended all around him. The bread was gone, the plastic bag wilted.

“Who are you yelling at?” the voice was deep and even, a man's voice piercing the chatter of mere boys. Avi Ghazaryan, tall and slim in a tracksuit, adjusted his dark eyes to the beach house light.

“Avi,” Troy said, edging inside and closing the doors to keep out the gull noise.

Avi stood there, BMW keys in his hand, surveying the scene like a father checking in on the bedroom of lazy teenage sons. Behind him, a door closed. Heels clicked. Zoe entered like she owned the place. Tiny top, skinny jeans, outsized sunglasses. Her straight hair, black as a raven's wing, caught the sunlight as she went to a closet. With all the nose-up entitlement of a princess in Daddy's castle, she retrieved a yoga mat.

“Where's my movie?” Avi said, glancing at Troy's dead monitor and the mad cascade of storyboards, index cards, and dead cups from the Coffee Bean.

“What?”

Avi laughed smoothly. “
What
. I ask where is my movie, you always say the same thing:
What
. Fuck you, Troy.”

“The second act needs some liposuction, that's all.”

“Why don't you show me? I cut an hour of shoe leather out of
Low Tide
when Vanderbosh didn't know what to do with it. He thanked me. All the way to fucking Sundance he thanked me.”

“I'd really rather not show anything yet—”

“It's been a fucking year!”

The yell startled Troy. Startled everyone.

“I—I know,” Troy stammered, “but I'm experimenting with a few things that are still Jell-O and I want to nail it down first.”

“Omigod, Troy,” said Zoe. There it was, that Valley Girl whine. “People usually say ‘nail down Jell-O' to mean something's, like, impossible. Talk about mixing your metaphors. You're such a tool.”

Avi looked at Durbin, caught the struggling writer wincing up at him. When Durbin lowered his eyes back to his iPad, Avi suggested that the boys (freeloaders, he called them) go for a walk on the beach.

“I need to talk business with my director.”

The guys, all but Troy, shuffled out onto the back porch, Indian-filed down the steps to the sand. Zoe stood off in the kitchen, hand on a big hip, sipping a glass of cool filtered water from the fridge.

“You have four weeks to turn in a cut,” Avi said.

“What?”

“You've put me in a very bad position with my investors. Four weeks, or your schoolboy ass is out of my house. And you pay me back every fucking penny, I don't care if you have to call your mother in Connecticut . . . Baby Boy Troy.”

Troy did a chilled take at the name, but then Avi was gone. Zoe finished her water, left the empty glass for the tenants to clean and put away. On her way out, she went to Troy's desk, sorted through the color-coded strip board. “We shooting Monday or not?”

“Not if it rains.”

“We're in Southern California, duh.”

“I think we got most of your stuff, Zoe. I know we want to do reshoots on the crying scene, but we have the rest of June.”

“Easy on the liposuction. If you cut anything, cut that little porn star you're fucking. The redhead from Charlie's house. She can't act her way out of a paper bag.”

Zoe left the house. Troy stood there, waiting to hear the door latch. “Yeah, okay, Hepburn, you Armenian skank.”

Someone touched his shoulder and he started.

“Dude,” Durbin said. “What'd he say?”

The young filmmakers were back inside, forming a loose huddle. “I think he threatened me,” Troy said.

“I told you,” T-Rich said. “The guy is sketchy.”

“You notice how he's got a vampire accent?” Malone said. “I mean like a high-end vampire. The vampire one percent.”

“He's giving me four weeks.”

“Or what?”

“I don't know. But I think he's tapped the phone. He knows what Alexis calls me, I mean her little nickname for me.”

“Dog House is
tapped
?” Malone said.

“What's Alexis call you?” Durbin wanted to know. “Is it nasty?”

“This sucks, man.” Troy clutched for more stale bread, then threw the empty bag.

Malone stood at the closet, checking on his surfboard. “What did the fourth Kardashian take out of our closet?”

“A yoga mat,” said Durbin. “Troy, what are you going to do?”

“I'm going nonlinear with the structure. I'm going to baffle myself into an inspired work of lunacy. And then I'm going to run.”

“Nonlinear is six years ago,” T-Rich said, picking up Zoe's water glass and examining the perfect lipstick on the rim.

“Well, you have any ideas for saving this piece of shit?” Troy looked at each of them. A dog barked at the waves outside; a woman called out to someone down the beach. The seagulls returned to the porch, determined. But not a single desperate idea from the Dogs of Entropy.

Then Malone had a brainstorm: “I'd just run, bro.”

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