I live inside skin that I do not like




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RADIO MARY

a novel by

GARY ALAN WALKOW

copyright 1995 Gary Alan Walkow
I live inside skin that I do not like.

That I will learn to jump out of.

Behind walls, to the pulse of blue TV light, I hear a sad thought.

That travels.

And I travel silently, like eyes without a face, to look through the window.

In the flickering blue light is the meat of my vision.

I will be free of my pain because I will give it away.

Please allow me to introduce myself:

Call me Hayward.

6:41 PM TUESDAY JUNE 16, 1992
MISTY
Animal Rights banquets are hard to accessorize for, Misty thinks. No one, except the ridiculously hard-core, questions the necessity of leather shoes, but a leather belt might not be politically correct. As a substitute, she thinks her gold lame belt might be too overstated for an ecological dinner. Her turquoise-and-silver concho belt is a little too Southwestern for her Chanel skirt, but tonight style will have to compromise with the politics of the evening.

Misty will sit at the dais because she is famous, but she knows that the committee's inability to get a movie star led to their choice of her, a TV actress. She feels both put-upon and flattered.

She wanders past the Empire desk where the pre-nuptial papers are stacked. Glancing at them en masse fills Misty with ennui. Looking up, she sees her face dimly reflected in the floor-to-ceiling windows. Her dark, shoulder-length hair blends with the twilight outside. She is beautiful, but in an indistinct way, her flesh softening her bone structure. Her face is recognizable, but she could be anyone: a TV actress.

The sound of a car horn, one of the barking beasts of Sunset Boulevard, floats into the living room with a rush of dry wind. Misty turns to the sound of the open door and sees a small young man, his eyes glassy with either belief or drugs. He stands just inside the glass door, silhouetted against the carpet of lights.

"Who are you?" she asks. This stranger unnerves her, but instead of surrendering to the fear, she plays a role, she takes charge of the situation and casually makes her way toward the Arm Tech alarm button in her handbag.

"Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm William Ward Hastings." His voice sounds surprisingly big and deep for his compact physique. He stands barely five feet tall, but he looks like a larger man who has been distilled, his essence concentrated.

"Call me Hayward. As in what the hay. You know how people say what the hay when they mean what the hell?"

"You didn't ring the bell," she says.

"I'm Malcolm's nephew."

Hayward does not take his eyes off Misty. She finds herself thinking that he has great camera sense.

"Malcolm who?" she asks in exasperation.

"Malcolm Hastings. You were in the TV movie."

"I've been in a lot of TV movies."

"That's because they changed his name. Why did they do that? What's the difference between Malcolm and Mitch? They could have honored his memory by maintaining some degree of verisimilitude."

"Look, Malcolm-"

"I'm not Malcolm. I told you."

Misty strolls over to her Empire desk, where she trips the silent alarm in her purse. She pulls out a Kool 100 and lights in, hoping that the cigarette conceals her real objective. Arm Tech's response time is four minutes flat. Guaranteed.

"I'm sorry, Hayward. I don't remember any Hastings movie."

"You played the groupie in the movie. You were the first victim."

"Oh." Now she remembers. She keeps from looking at Hayward, even though his compact, intense face fascinates her. Better to keep it impersonal, tune him out except for a voice that the security guard will soon remove. "The Monkey Man", right?"

"Right, Misty. The Monkey Man."

"Hayward, I really appreciate my fans, but if you want to keep yourself from getting in a whole lot of trouble, maybe you should leave. Now."

When Hayward does not answer, Misty takes a beat and looks up. Hayward now stands beside the Empire desk, idly reading her legal papers. She wonders how he got over there so silently and so quickly. It's spooky. The role that Misty has chosen for herself shifts.

"What's this?" he asks, waving the legal papers.

She doesn't want to discuss her re-negotiation of her pre-nuptial agreement with her soon-to-be ex-husband, the producer who no longer produces her TV movies. But she feels the more prudent course is to follow Hayward's train of thought, take the discussion of her legal problems through a few twist and turns. At least three minutes worth.

"I'm getting more money from my ex before I let him be my ex. I earned ninety per cent of the money in this household because his producing credits were pure nepotism. But with common law, or rather community property being what it is in California, he's trying to take me for a ride."

"Do you believe in magic?" he asks.

"What?"

Hayward tosses the legal papers down, scattering them across the desk. "Do you believe in magic? In a young girl's heart? How the music can free her whenever it starts? You know, the song by The Lovin' Spoonful."

She wants to look at her watch because it seems like they've been talking for quite a while. But she doesn't want the gesture to seem obvious. She smokes her Kool with the elan that had earned her an Emmy nomination two seasons ago.

Misty looks up when she feels the pressure of the couch change, shocked that Hayward is now sitting next to her, closer than arm's length, just a few inches, in fact, from body contact.

"I asked if you believed in magic not because I'm fond of that old hippie song, but as a way of gracefully steering the conversation to another place. But you didn't answer me. In fact you ignored the question, which is rude, but I don't take offense."

"I was thinking about what you said before I-"

"Save it! Malcolm was an idiot. He was theatrical, but in a stupid way. Sure he got attention, but he never inspired terror. Take a moment to think about eternity."

Misty thinks Hayward looks scarier than his famous Uncle Malcolm. But she'd never met Malcolm; James Brolin had played him in the TV movie. She wonders, where the hell is Arm Tech? And what about Tim? He should be here any minute to drive her to the banquet. She thinks about stabbing Hayward in the eye with the hot coal of her Kool.

Misty now sees that Hayward's skin is finely wrinkled. He looks much older, almost ancient, for someone who seemed so youthful from across the room. She can't help thinking that Hayward doesn't play well in close-up. But he has charisma. Yes. He has too much of that.

"I know you pressed the silent alarm button in your purse. Your gesture was very slick - I mean, I didn't see you do it. No, I heard your thoughts. In fact, I heard them in time to stop the radio transmission, because that's what a silent alarm is, a little radio beam. Telepathy is a kind of radio. I know my way around the air waves."

When Misty looks up she sees the huge knife that Hayward is holding. He isn't speaking, but she still hears him.

I told you to think about eternity, and all you thought about was shit.

7:13 PM
MIND SCIENCE
Tim enters the access code and drives through Misty's security gate, to escort his high-grossing client to this week's cause celebre.

Things feel wrong to Tim when he steps out of his Jaguar, even before he hangs up his cellular phone. Mind Science has put him that much more in touch with his instinctive feelings, and what he feels now he doesn't like. As Tim is reacting, the Fourth Precept rings into his brain: step inside of negativity and turn it around. Which leads to the Fifth Precept-

The bloody hand prints on the floor-to-ceiling windows stop Tim's catechism. Afraid, he steps inside the house.

Tim regrets the joint he smoked before driving over as he numbly follows the trail of blood. It diverted, like two forks of a river, from the headwaters of what must have been the point of attack. The glass door is ajar. Tim follows the left fork outside.

Misty lies in the middle of the green lawn, its grass trimmed to putting-green perfection. Tim feels like he is stoned inside of a 3-D horror flick. The mild narcotic in his bloodstream dulls the edge of his fear. Misty's kelly green dress, her trademark color, is blood soaked. Her arm is bent underneath her at an odd angle. Her mouth, all its perfect teeth still intact, is open in horror. For Tim, her death rattle still hangs in the air.

Tim is chastened into the Eighth Precept, the one that warns against vengeance and yet sanctions socially acceptable aggression, the underlying dynamism of Mind Science that is completely in touch with the best part of capitalism. After all, it is a religion, The Religion, to help one live better in the real world, the material world. His Facilitator had told Tim that the Original Material Girl, Madonna, was a member, though for career reasons she couldn't go public with her belief.

Tim recognizes that he is digressing and fights back to this bad moment that he is standing on the edge of.

Misty is dead. At least she looks very dead. Just to make sure, Tim bends down to feel for her pulse. He knows that Misty has been recently tested, so he isn't too worried about touching her blood, still he can't help but regard all women's blood, even that which pours from cuts or wounds, to be menstrual. That's just his archetype, dig. He makes no bones about being gay. In fact, that's why Misty trusts him. Had trusted him. Tim needs to start thinking about Misty in the past tense.

Straightening up, he accepts the blood on his pink Armani shirt as wildly similar to the blood that Jackie K. wore home from Dallas.

Tim remembers the phone in his hand and dials his attorney. He walks as he talks, away from Misty, no reason to keep standing by her, there is nothing hierarchical left in their relationship, and Tim always paces when he talks on the phone. He follows the river of blood back to the fork in the white carpet as his call connects.

"550-1510," says a new voice at his lawyer's service.

"Tim Fletcher for Jake Traum."

"I can take a message."

"Get me Traum and get him now, I've got a fucking disaster on my hands."

"Please hold, Mr. Fletcher."

Tim follows the second path of blood as it sloppily snakes down the hallway, the dribbles of blood leading in a dramatic, inevitable processional to the gleaming marble and stainless steel surfaces of Misty's one thousand square foot bathroom with it's sweeping view of the city.

The red trail leads to Misty's severed left arm, which rests on the pink granite sink counter. Tim hadn't noticed the amputation in the confusion of blood that soaked Misty's splayed body. Looking up, he sees the bloody words scrawled on the mirror:

HEALTER SKELTER

RISE!

"Rise" is one of the key words of Mind Science, a call to the spiritual and material uplift of the creed.

"Helter Skelter" are the two words that guarantee the worst possible publicity, and in infinite doses.

These three words will drag Mind Science down into the mud. Nouveau Helter Skelter would fill supermarket tabloids for six months.

And Tim's career might suffer from guilt by association. Not only was Misty his client, but he had discovered her body.

The monumental words echo in his stoned thoughts. They displace the nausea of seeing Misty's left arm out of its familiar context.

The words are evidence, but everything in the house is evidence. If this wasn't a sloppy murder, then what was? Tim makes the mental decision to clean the three words from the mirror when his telephone rings. Startled, he drops his telephone clattering to the bloody marble floor. He picks his telephone up and depresses the receive button.

"Jake Traum, Tim. This better be good."

"I'm at Misty's house. She's dead."

It is good enough.

"Oh, Jesus." It is a novelty to Tim, hearing any expression of emotion from the unflappable Jake Traum. "Have you called the police?" Traum asks.

"You're the first call, Jake."

"Good, okay, let me phone it in. Don't touch anything. Hang tight."

Tim sets down the phone.

The task at hand: obliterating three words on a mirror, but obliterating them in such a way that their existence or lack thereof will never be questioned. Tim chooses the First and Second Precepts, success and truth, as his mantra. Still feeling mildly stoned, he grabs some toilet paper and sets to work.

8:25 AM THURSDAY JUNE 18
CENTURY CITY
Riding up the escalator Mary always feels like she is ascending into a castle. A separate world. The Magic Kingdom. This feeling gets stronger high up in the office, where none of the windows open. She doesn't miss the feeling of real air, she has enough of that her sixteen hours away from work. The precision and the ritual of Traum, Pittman, and Black comforts Mary.

Her wardrobe embarrasses her. It's hard to dress well on her salary. In the last year Mary has refined a style of mix and match. She can make it through a two week cycle without repeating. But it bothers her that everyone in the office has already seen her wearing today's ensemble.

Mary feels the weave of her crepe jacket as she walks toward the coffee room, past the forgettable corporate art mounted on the burgundy wall fabric. Pools of track light guide her sensible black pumps over the Berber carpet. Warm fabrics surround her in the perfect temperature of their castle above the city. The constantly ringing phones, their bleeps muted but insistent, herald messages from outposts and vassals. But the kingdom is here. People come to the kingdom. Her job is so orderly and breathtakingly separate from the city outside the tower that she still looks forward to coming to work, to the feeling of clarity as she soars upward in the elevator each morning. She likes having a role in the kingdom.

The carpet gives way to the black and white linoleum checkerboard of the coffee room. James stands at the counter and pours himself a cup of coffee, jacket off, his starched white shirt a lattice of expensive, well-laundered wrinkles. His secretary usually gets his coffee but not this morning.

"Good morning, Mary. Long time no see."

James used to flirt with her every day. But he never asked her out and Mary found out that he lived with a girl friend, another lawyer. Mary knows that he is attracted to her, she knows what that looks like on a man's face.

"Good morning, Mr. Monroe," Mary replies.

He smiles, but not without tension. Stirring his coffee, he steps aside, to let Mary pour herself a cup. "Why Mr. Monroe and not James?"

"Because you look more like a mister than a James this morning."

"Is that good or bad, Miss Delany?"

"Neither. I make no interpretation of the facts."

James' smile broadens. "You are cultivating a first rate legal mind."

He adjusts his black horn-rimmed glasses while he waits for her reply, his face eager for more repartee. For the moment he seems bored with everything except her. But does he mean what he doesn't say? Is the space between their words, a place where they will ever be alone? Mary is willing enough, but she'll only say it by facing him squarely, by silently holding his gaze. Yet James acts afraid that she might say yes, and there is no easy way for him to be with her without threatening his rise to partnership. Mary knows that James is not nearly as bold as his red rep tie. But at least here in the tower she does not feel too lonely. There is too much to do. And power is the sex here, it feels good to walk inside of it, feel it like expensive carpet underneath her feet. James enjoys waiting for Mary's reply.

"Good morning, James." With mock courtly bows their repartee ends and Mary leaves first, feeling James' eyes upon her as she walks back toward her work station. She feels nervous knowing he is watching her, but she tries to keep this from translating into the pace and flex of her legs. Let him look; if desire is a power, then I must use it. Mary wonders why she thinks mean thoughts about a man who has always been nice to her. What about him brings that out in me? Mary decides she doesn't like James because he flirts for a purpose that he will not be forthright about.

As she turns into her station, the firm's euphemism for cubicle, she hears James continue past her. If I'm thinking about him, then he must be thinking about me. I think.

But James is a little buzz that goes away as she sits down to work within the padded gray partitions of her work place. She's got a window five hundred feet above Avenue of the Stars. A baby cactus she bought at a Lucky's Supermarket sits on the sill, protected from the brown air outside by the window pane that protects them all. Mary takes off her earrings, turns on her computer screen, and puts on her headset. She adjusts her chair as if preparing for a take-off, starts the micro-cassette, and enters the slipstream of words that are her vocation. Her ears and hands form the link between a voice on tape and the electronic blips inside of the computer. It's all so orderly and mysterious. Mary feels alive in what to others might be a dead end task. She is the link of flesh that connects the symbols. Her work is unsigned, she transcribes but she does not create, and yet she is part of something. All things being equal, she wishes she were a lawyer, nearer to the top of the pyramid. But all things are not equal.
There is violence in the deposition that she transcribes this morning, the paper trail of Misty Broyles' murder. Mary saw it on the evening news, read about it in The Los Angeles Times, and here it is, in her earphones, travelling through her typing fingers, medical words that precisely map Misty's forty seven knife wounds, the geography of her cuts and bruises. Mary feels connected to a big event, working on a celebrity's death. Misty Broyles is dead, but her estate must be settled. Words and paper absorb Misty's spilled blood.

Mary doesn't feel like going past James' office en route to the ladies room, so she takes the longer alternate route through the reception area. Not that she is avoiding James, she just doesn't want to chance upon him again, not twice in one morning.

Going to the bathroom, Mary passes through the lobby. Sylvia, the receptionist, wears a head set that nestles underneath her big hairdo; it looks like she is talking to herself as she answers the phone. Mary catches Sylvia's eye and nods hello, then stares jealously at Sylvia's yellow blouse. The raw silk has that special glow of being worn for the very first time. The brilliant yellow swims in Mary's eyes; she knows she's seen it somewhere - Ann Taylor - it must be on sale if Sylvia bought it. Mary offers some quick and incisive sign language to let Sylvia know how she covets the blouse and Sylvia smiles thanks in the middle of answering another call. Mary decides on an early lunch and hopes Ann Taylor's has the blouse in another color, when she looks up and is surprised by a man watching her.

Tom Reese is startled by Mary's eyes. Despite his police training, he does not register their color. But he memorizes the precise shade of her soft red, shoulder-length hair. Her clothing is understated: a loose-fitting olive jacket and a mid-calf pleated skirt. He can tell that she downplays her singular beauty, and this modesty makes her that much more attractive to him.

Mary thinks he acts shy in a way that she would never expect because he seems strong, not in bulging muscles, but in presence. His dark brown hair curls over the collar of his herringbone jacket. He needs a haircut, but is otherwise careful about his appearance. He looks uncomfortable in a tie, and he looks uncomfortable on the lobby couch. Mary senses kindness in his eyes, but there is that other part, the uncomfortable part, which makes him complicated and hard to summarize.

In that first moment, Mary feels an immediate chemistry, something she connects with. He looks shocked that she has turned so suddenly and so completely to look at him. Mary realizes that he must have been staring at her the whole time she coveted Sylvia' blouse and was unprepared for her quick, total attention. He offers her a little embarrassed smile and drops his eyes back to the magazine in his lap but she knows he is not reading, because his hands grip the pages too rigidly.

Mary is not embarrassed because men want her. She accepts that as a fact and knows how to channel it. Not to use men, but to keep men from using her. Most of the time. Her entire working life has been on the margins of the white collar world where men do not force themselves on quiet women who know how to say no politely. She walks past the man, smiling to herself because he will not look back up to meet her smile. She immediately likes this man much better than James, better than the starched white flirting shirts.

In the pink pastel tiles of the bathroom she wonders about this man while she fluffs her hair back up to its 8 A.M. glory and mounts a smile to greet him with at their second meeting.

But when Mary returns, the waiting room is empty and she continues on to her desk without saying a word to Sylvia, the bounce deflated from her step, unsettled by the brief encounter, her work now a burden to fill until lunch hour.
When Mary steps out of Ann Taylor and into the open-air mall, pleased with her good luck, the green silk blouse a steal at $39, the color nicer than Sylvia's yellow one, she sees Rand, her current boyfriend. He walks toward her, in a clique of dark suits, a power lunch foursome. Seen unexpectedly, Rand seems handsome to Mary, but in a middle-of-the-road,
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