He showed at eleven o’clock, like I expected. He’d been told his appointment was at noon. I sat with Eileen in her white Audi, parked lower down, across the road, watching Andrew go inside. A grey, rainy day. The Retro Diner glimmered even in this wash, its pink and blue neon tubes boasting of burgers and smooth malts. We chose the place for its vibe but also its large windows, so we could watch and coordinate everything that would happen. We hadn’t counted on the rain, but no matter.
Lightning struck, up high. Thunder shuddered across the parkway.
Marla, the waitress, showed Andrew to his booth. Perfect. Step one. We’d rigged it so we could hear everything that was said through my phone, nothing sophisticated, a used baby monitor shoved under the booth. It crackled but we heard what was said.
“What can I getcha?” asked Marla.
“Nothing, thanks, I’m waiting for someone.”
Eileen giggled next to me, hearing Andrew’s voice, getting a kick out of the whole sneaking around thing. She was smitten with Andrew since I showed her his picture. He had that clean-cut, boy-next-door thing going on that bugged the hell out of me. Today, I was taking advantage of it. Eileen was eager to get in there and do her thing.
“Relax, I want to wait until at least a little after twelve.”
Eileen pouted, but sat back. She was a model I used now and again when I needed that full-body voluptuous look, and she had it full-throttle. She had no feelings for me, I knew, other than being an occasional source of payment, and believe me I’d tried.
So here’s the story. Andrew and I have known each other since we were kids. We both loved movies, but when it came time to make career decisions, I went one way and Andrew another. I became a photographer, pure and simple. I shoot babes. Babes in bikinis, poolside, in the shower, in the sheets, on the beach, babes doing anything. I get hired by the babes directly for their portfolio or by ad agencies for special ad concepts. I don’t really care what it is as long as next-to-naked babes are involved. At first, every day gave me an eight-hour hard-on, and there were the occasional benefits for the photog. Now it’s just a job. I get the shots done. The girls don’t usually go for the photog with a potbelly and a beard. What can I say, I like my beer and pizza. As for Andrew, he kept the dream alive of making his own movies. He really saw himself as the next Scorsese, poor boy. He spent years writing scripts and sending them to everyone on the planet, entering contests and knocking on every producer’s door, getting nothing but rejection. He might say it differently, that he was coming closer to his dream every time he got a ‘no’. I’d say it different. He slices his wrists, bleeds on the paper, and gives it up for sacrifice each time, getting nothing but a kick in the teeth in return. Fun times. Andrew also tried the other route, to make his own low budget films. They were cool and fun to make, I admit, but nobody saw them and the so-called promo reel that Andrew thought he was building really was nothing but lost in the great wide content vacuum we call the web. It’s fucked up and Andrew is still nobody, with no life, and too many scars on his wrists. How many more times can he kill himself, I’ve thought, before he gets that the only way is to give up and do something else? Can the job at Target be that satisfying? He never answers when I ask him.
So this is the thing. I decided to show my bud the way to a better life. I’m not perfect but getting laid once in a while is better than never. They idea came from Andrew himself when he showed me a letter he was writing to his favourite filmmaker –the God he calls him –David Lynch, the guy who made that Dune flick, a turkey in my book, features called Wild at Heart, Blue Velvet, Elephant Man, and that weird show Twin Peaks. Okay, none of these made any sense to me, but somehow that was Andrew’s idol. In his letter, Andrew practically begged Lynch to read his scripts and watch his short films. Good luck, I thought and handed Andrew a fresh razor blade. But he was stubborn and sent the letter.
Perfect. I had my angle. David Lynch’s people – my people, in truth – would contact Andrew and tell him God himself wanted to meet him in reaction to his letter. God would grant him a lunch in his presence, and Andrew could ask him anything he wanted. When Andrew got the mock letter he fell for it, hook, line and sinker, as they say. He sent multiple emails to my fake address confirming his excitement over having lunch with none other than David Lynch. Oh, brother.
It was easy to get a few friends on board of my make-Andy-smell-the-coffee mission. The idea appealed to everybody I told and every one felt sorry for Andrew, Eileen most of all. I’d shot before at this diner, so that was an easy fit too and the owner and waitress, Marla, were cool with it.
When noon came, I told Eileen to be ready but I wanted to wait only five or ten more minutes, just to get Andrew even more wired up in there. A police cruiser came by slowly and parked ahead of us at the edge of the road. Cops loved the take out food here, even in the rain. One of the cops left the cruiser and went into the diner to get their order. Through the window, we could see the cop pass by Andrew. They exchanged a polite nod with the officer as he made his way to the counter.
“Two Retro burgers, fries and Coke,” we heard the cop order, “to go, please.” He took out some bills to pay.
As we heard Marla confirm his order on the monitor, I gave Eileen the nod. She double-checked her ruby rouge lips in the rear-view mirror, flashed her hot smile at me and headed off through the rain. What an ass she’s got, I thought as she hopped over puddles in her high heels. Andrew was in for a treat. In a moment, I see her walk up to Andrew’s booth and hear her voice on the monitor.
“You’re Andrew?” she asks, as scripted.
“Yes, I am,” said Andrew.
“I’m from David Lynch’s office.”
“Really?” said Andrew. “I mean, great. Wasn’t expecting anyone else. I thought it would just be Mr. Lynch?”
“Oh, yes, it will be. I’m the advance party, sort of thing. David likes me to run a little reconnaissance before actually meeting new people. You know, there are all kinds of folks out there. Crazy world. Especially in his position, you understand?”
“No problem. Sure. Have a seat.”
Eileen shifted into the booth next to Andrew, squeezing him tightly.
“Okay, sure, but you wouldn’t be more comfortable on the other side?”
“This is nice,” said Eileen, squeezing in even more, shaking her cleavage under Andrew’s amazed face. Eileen smiled at him, then turned and smiled at the cop, waiting for his order at the counter. The cop smiled back at the stunning blonde.
“What exactly do you do for Mr. Lynch?” Andrew asked.
“David,” clarified Eileen.
“David, yea. What’s your job with David?”
“I’m his personal executive assistant, of course. I don’t have anything to do with his movies, if that’s what you’re wondering? Is it? Well, no, I just help on other things. His personal executive things.”
“Right,” said Andrew, sensing Eileen’s hands working their way along his body, and under his shirt. He squirmed. “What are you doing?”
“I’m checking for a wire or any kind of recording device, of course. Celebrities can’t be too careful nowadays, you know!” said Eileen, enjoying the feel of Andrew’s body. I couldn’t help but laugh, as I watched him squirm and slouch down into the booth. Eileen was pouring it on like hot gravy, swinging her beautiful tits in my boy’s face. Andrew looked around the room for anyone they might be offending by their display.
“Look, I don’t know you!” said Andrew in a panic, eyeballing the cop, and smiling at him. The cop smiled back awkwardly. Eileen slid her hands, still under his shirt, to his shorts. One hand dug into his crotch. “Who!” said Andrew, rising up and pulling at his clothes. This was priceless from my point-of-view.
“What’s your name?” said Andrew, catching his breath.
“Lulu-belle, but you can call me Lulu,” said Eileen, matter-of-factly.
“Is this typical? Is this what you call reconnaissance?”
“We can’t be too careful, I told you.”
“Yeah, thanks for the explanation there, Lulu. I get it, but I’m not wearing a wire or any recording devices of any kind! Okay?” said Andrew.
Marla brought the cop his food in two stapled paper bags and a cardboard tray with two soft drinks. He made his way out again and back through the rain to the cruiser. I could see them in their rear window digging into their burgers and fries. Inside Retro diner, Eileen was still doing her thing. She approached Andrew again and with a quick, firm, gesture ripped off his shirt. Loose buttons rolled on the linoleum. Andrew never saw it coming and spun on himself, trying to catch her fast hands. No use. He was standing there shirtless.
“What? Are you kidding me?” he blasted her.
“I’m just really into you. I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. You’re so hot!”
“Really?” he said, sardonically, as he inspected the broken shirt that she had handed back to him. He slipped it on his shoulders, letting it hang open. He sat down again. Eileen came to sit with him but he blocked her. She sat across from him. Marla, the waitress, came over, ready to take an order.
“It’s a good look,” she said, eyeing Andrew up and down.
“I’m not ready to order. This isn’t who I’m waiting for.”
“My name is Lulu!”
“Lulu here is not who I’m here to meet,” repeated Andrew.
“You’re here to meet David Lynch, aren’t you?” asked Marla.
“How would you possibly know that?”
“Sweetie, he has lunch here all the time,” said the waitress, matter-of-factly. “This has happened before,” she added, giving a look to Eileen and then back to Andrew’s chest. Andrew closed up his shirt self-consciously.
“If you want to meet David Lynch, I’ll need your shirt and your pants,” said Eileen.
Andrew’s eyebrows rose on his forehead. “What?”
Andrew still looked puzzled by Eileen’s demands, when this second request from Marla threw him completely off.
Marla leaned in to Andrew. “I suppose you’ll want a rat kit too?”
“A rat kit? What the hell is that?”
Marla explained very casually. “It’s a frozen rat in a box, but it’s dismembered and what you do is put it back together like a puzzle. Of course, before it melts on you, if you wait, and it gets soft and wet, it’s really much more difficult to put back together.”
Andrew shook his head hard, but the mystified expression didn’t fall from his face. I loved it, and was laughing myself to death watching and listening to all this.
“Okay,” said Andrew, “why would David Lynch want me to give you my shirt and pants?”
“Actually, he doesn’t want to take them, he just wants you not to wear them while he meets with you.”
“Is he gay? Is that why? I mean, that’s fine for him if he is, nothing wrong with that, as they say, but I might be less comfortable with this than I thought.”
“I’m fairly certain he’s not. It’s just his paranoia about being recorded, like I told you before. Best if you were not wearing your shirt or your pants. It’s really quite normal practice around David. All the media interview him in their underwear. You get used to it,” said Eileen.
Andrew gave her back his shirt and began taking off his pants. Marla enjoyed the whole process and stood close to watch.
“I’m not ready to order,” said Andrew to Marla. She gave him a smile.
“That’s fine,” she said, not budging an inch.
Andrew gave his pants to Eileen.
“What, is he outside waiting to come in? I think I’ve done everything you’ve asked!”
“Something like that,” said Eileen.
Andrew didn’t like the sound of that. Marla leaned in again.
“So would you like to try a rat kit?”
“No, I do not want to try a rat kit!”
“It’s fun and it passes the time,” added Marla.
“In this restaurant, you would serve a frozen rat puzzle? Really?”
“Technically, it’s not something we serve, it’s just something we offer our customers that’s kind of fun to do. On Thursday nights we have bingo! Sometimes David Lynch comes to that. He won about two months back. He brought his friend Chris Isaak. You know, the singer? Cutie. It was really cool. When David won he stood up and said ‘bingo’. He didn’t even shout it, he just spoke it softly. Bingo,” she said dramatically. “It seemed to mean so much more!”
When Andrew stayed quiet and held his temples, I nearly pissed myself, sitting there out in the rain in Eileen’s white Audi. I’d never heard anything funnier than that in my life and I couldn’t take full credit for that. Marla was improvising brilliantly. Only the rat kit was my idea. Bingo was hers.
“You know,” said Eileen, “David is very fond of his rat kits. He prepared each and every one personally, with his own hands, and gave them only to his closest friends last Christmas. It’s really quite innovative. They’re beautiful. They come in this box decorated by David himself. If he found you working on one when he came in, that would likely help score a few points with him. Trust me, I know him well.”
“How much does one of these rat kits cost?” asked Andrew.
“Nothing, sweetie, they’re meant to be gifts. You can’t buy a rat kit,” explained Marla. “Besides David, we’re the only ones who have any, at least the left over ones he can’t stock at his house.”
“Really, uh? Okay, well bring me one. Let’s have at this rat kit.”
“Excellent,” said Marla, “I’ll be right back.” She went off enthusiastically.
An elderly couple walked in. They spotted Andrew sitting in his bright blue underwear and decided to sit far at the other end, doing their best not to stare. Andrew smiled at them politely. They tucked their rippled faces into their menus.
“Have you worked long for David?” Andrew asked Eileen.
“Oh, yeah, a number of years. Best employer I’m ever had. You know, he taught me the power of meditation and positive thinking. Did you know that? He’s as much into meditation now as in his movies and art?”
“No, I didn’t,” said Andrew.
“Absolutely, he’s on a mission to teach the whole world to meditate.”
Andrew wasn’t paying attention. Rather, he watched Marla return with a small white box. She put the box in front of Andrew. Bold letters on its cover said ‘rat kit’ in army stencil and there were three pink and blue rhinestones glued above the letter ‘i’. A string, knotted at the top, held it all together.
“David Lynch decorated these himself, you said?”
“Yeah, and he was very careful about the colour of each rhinestone. There’s a special significance to each,” said Eileen.
“I’m afraid to ask,” said Andrew with apprehension.
“Well, the pink is your past, the blue is your present, and the yellow is your future. That’s what it represents. You’re supposed to think of a colour as you open the box.”
“Pink, blue or yellow? Past, present, future,” considered Andrew.
“It’ll all make sense when you open it,” she challenged.
Andrew took out his pocketknife, snapped out its shiny blade and snipped the string. He then lifted the top off the box. There was no rat inside, only a photograph that popped up. It was of David Lynch, his arm around a superimposed image of you-know-who! Me, with a big grin on my hairy face.
“What the-?” said Andrew, shocked.
I laughed and realized it was time I head into the diner and take my bud out of his misery. I stepped out through the rain and made my way inside. When I came to his table, he was crying, big sobs, like a little kid who fell off his bicycle.
“Hey, bud, come on now, that’s no way to react. It’s a prank, man!”
“Poor, sweetie,” said Marla.
“Had to do something like this sooner or later, Andy-buddy,” I went on. “Look at you! You gave a woman you don’t know your clothes, right off your back, even your pants! For what? The chance to have a few minutes with a filmmaker who doesn’t know you from a hole in the wall! Come on, buddy, get a grip. You’ve got to move on in your life to something more rewarding. This is only getting you rejection on top of rejection. It’ll never end. This isn’t playtime anymore! We’re getting older, and as a friend I thought I should do something to show you the way!”
Andrew looked up at me with red, swollen eyes. Balling.
“Buddy, this is an intervention! From one bud to another! Let go of this film shit and find a real job. A real career, man! The dream ain’t gonna happen! Somebody’s got to tell you the truth!”
Andrew shouted at me through his tears. “You think embarrassing me like this is what a friend does?” He drew even more attention from other patrons of the diner. The elderly couple stared fixedly.
“You’re a stubborn piece of work, how else was I to do it. Thought you’d appreciate the theatre of it all,” I explained, but Andrew couldn’t handle it. He grabbed his shirt and pants from Eileen and ran off to the men’s room, leaving me with my cast.
“You were both amazing,” I said to them like a proud film director after a scene. “The bingo, the meditation, that was so good!” I told Eileen. “I definitely owe you both a photo-shoot. Anytime you want!”
“Yeah, you sure do!” underlined Eileen, in her most annoying tone.
“I need a new headshot,” said Marla, also a part-time actress, pulling on her curls.
“Anyhoo, I’m gonna go check on the little guy,” said Eileen, and she went off to the men’s room. And that’s when all went to hell.
“Aaaaaaaahhh!” we heard her scream from the back of the diner. The old couple dropped their coffees. The old woman stood up, curious, and moved to look into the men’s room, it’s door ajar. The old woman screamed too. “Aaaaaaaaaahhh!” A chill went up my spine, wrapped around my head and curdled every hair, including the beard. I ran to the back, along with Marla. We found Eileen standing in a pool of blood, Andrew on the floor, his throat sliced from one end to the other. Blood gurgled out from him. His pocketknife was on the ground a few feet away, covered in blood. Eileen picked up the knife, without thinking.
“Call an ambulance!” yelled Marla.
“Call the police!” yelled Eileen. “They’re right outside!”
Of all people, the old woman ran to the door of the diner and shouted to the cops. The cops snapped on their blue and red lights and charged with the cruiser from across the road. They jumped out of the car and into the diner. The old woman pointed to the back. The cops looked ready to take control.
I went closer to my sorry friend. There was too much blood to help him, or even touch him. The cops approached.
“What the hell’s going on?” shouted the taller cop. For whatever reason, Eileen came close to me, pulled my hand out and dropped Andrew’s bloody knife into my palm, angrily. I found myself standing above my dying, or dead, bud, knife blade pointed outward.
“It’s all his fault!” shouted Eileen.
Both cops drew their weapons, straight out. Both barrels pointed right at my heart. I dropped the knife instantly and could have pissed my pants again. Warm blood dripped from my hands. The warmth of it is what made me sick. No time to save it. Up came the bitterest gunk. I bent over into a booth and felt faint. When it passed, I felt the handcuffs go on my wrists. The short cop read me my rights. I’d heard that paragraph so many times on television or the movies. It didn’t seem real, but there it was, happening to me, and though I begged and pleaded, that it wasn’t me, that the poor schmuck did it to himself, and if he hadn’t done it today, he would have certainly done it eventually, it didn’t seem to matter to these cops. But I was trying to save him, not kill him! The cops were on a mission. They pulled me along like a low-life murderer, even bumping my head on the car when trying to get me on the back seat. They slammed the rear door and I sat there waiting. The rain still hammered down. It was such a sorry moment. What had I done? It was my fault, wasn’t it? Was it?
A few moments passed, I don’t remember how long, then the cops snapped open both front doors of the cruiser and got in. The driver side cop put the car in drive and moved off. As we went onward in the rain, the passenger side cop, a veteran street cop by the looks of him, turned to me.
“Don’t think this is going to play out well for you, young man.”
I tried to breath deeply and keep my fear at bay but it kept at me, coming in surges of panic. My world was ending ‘cause of my stupid friend. What nerve did he have to kill himself? Shit! Oh my God! Oh my God! I think I started shouting it out loud in the back seat of the cop car. Oh my God!
The police cruiser slowed down. “God?” said the driving cop. “There’s no point in calling to God now. Didn’t I always tell you? God is David Lynch!”
The driver-side cop turned. I knew that grin. None other than my bud Andrew, alive and kicking. He parked the cruiser at the side of the road.
“You son-of-a-bitch!” I yelled at Andrew.
The passenger-side cop laughed. Me and my bud got out of the car and stood there yelling at each other like there was no rain, yet it drenched us.
“I thought I killed you, asshole!”
“You did kill me, you sad fuck! By not believing! That killed me! Of all people! You’re a son-of-a-bitch, giving up on me!” shouted Andrew. “Is that any way to be a friend? You think I should give up? Son-of-a-bitch, you are! I’ve got talent, if you haven’t forgotten, by the way! I’m still aiming to get films made, to direct films, if it’s the last thing I do! So, you can fuck off and die if you don’t believe in me!”
“I believe in you!” I pleaded, “I believe in you! I’m so sorry.”
“No you’re not, you’re proud as shit of your stupid stunt!”
“When did you know?” I asked. “Who told you?”
“I’ve known Eileen since film school, dickhead. And, by the way, Lynch has never been in this town or to this diner. You think I don’t know everything about him?”
And then, at that very moment –I kid you not –a long black limousine drove up, slowing down next to us, working its way around the cop cruiser that partly blocked the road. The driver’s window lowered.
“Is there any problem, officer?” he said, “Can we get through here?”
“Yeah, yeah, sure. There’s no problem,” I blared back. Not being dressed as a cop, the limo driver didn’t react. Andrew, dressed the part, waved him through. The driver nodded back and prepared to drive off, but I couldn’t resist asking.
“Hey, hum, who’s back there?” pointing to the darkened limo windows.
“Afraid I can’t say,” was all he answered.
The limousine cleared the cruiser. As it pulled away, Andrew and I noted its license plate. It read “Eraser-H.”
Eraserhead was the title of David Lynch’s first film.
Andrew pointed at me. “Was that you?”
“No, I didn’t,” I said. “Did you?”
Andrew shook his head, staring off at the black car. The rain kept falling, hard and cold.