By Pete Moss
"Oh it's you,"
Mom shoved the
door aside and came bustling into the room. She didn't see a chair that
she trusted so she stood in the middle.
I don't hate Mom,
she's not a bitch. She has good heart. She's just so goddam dumb, like
a box of rocks.
"Why you livin'
in this dump? Whyn't you come back to Dallas and work for me? You could
be earning a million bucks a year."
"I hate real estate,"
I said. "We've been over this."
"You always was
a stubborn little boy."
want Mom?" I ask.
"They told me
you the best paper server in LA," said Mom.
"Who told you
"It's on the internet
boy. Don't you gotta computer?"
"Well it is, you
won some kind of award on a website about motorcycle messengers."
"Oh yeah, my friend
Wil mentioned that," I said. "So...?
"I gotta job for
"OK, go on," I
"No really, I'm
suing your daddy for child support," said Mom.
"What, he's old
and sick, whyn't you just leave him alone?"
"Not that one,
that's your step-daddy," said Mom.
"OK...." I sat
"Oh my god, I
shocked you," said Mom.
"It's a 100 dollars
a day, plus expenses," I said.
wanna know the story?" said Mom.
"Naw, I don't
care, Mom. I'm tired, I wanna go back to bed. Just tell me the address
of the lawyer that has the papers and the paralegal there can fill me
in on where whoever it is I'm serving usually hangs out. OK? You wanna
do lunch tomorrow, we can meet up in Century City. You staying at the
usual hotel?" I stood up.
"You little brat,"
"If you don't
leave I'm gonna call the cops."
"But I really
do want you to serve Gary..."
"My real dad's
name was Gary?!"
"Yeah, he was
"Every time I
think it can't get worse..."
"Then he got hurt
and he turned to serving papers, just like you, that's how I knew, I
knew he was you're real daddy..."
"I'm tired, we
can talk tomorrow, OK Mom? What hotel you staying at? Write it down
here, or I got your cell phone number, I'll call ya," I said.
"I'm just right
over in San Pedro at a Bed and Breakfast...." she pulled out a card,
and set it down. Then I was shoving her out the door.
"OK, great, I'll
call you in the morning Mom, good to see you, I love you," I said.
"If you don't
call I'll just be back," said Mom.
"I'll call you,"
"I love you, baby."
love you too," I said.
Mom went down
the steps. There was a cab waiting. The cabbie started his motor. I
went back in the house and shut the door and looked at the card and
dropped it back on the table, then I went back to bed and fell into
a deep sleep, almost immediately.
The law firm Mom
chose wasn't on the Westside, it wasn't even downtown. It was an old
line Pasadena outfit on a street full of huge Magnolias and Edwardian
mansions. The lawns were spectacularly green and besides the Magnolias
there were Deodars, Oleanders, Bougainvillea and some other brightly
flowering plants I don't know the name of, but I always call 'bottlebrush
plants' cause their red flowers look like bottlebrushes.
I parked the bike
in front of the stateliest old shack on the block and walked up to the
front door, which was doubled up big enough for William Howard Taft
and his twin to get through, side-by-side. Everything in the house was
built to the standards of those turn-of-the-last-century behemoths like
Taft. I could imagine a gang of them sitting around in the paneled caverns,
eating endless dinners of rich foods and drinking rivers of liquor and
smoking cigars, while they divided up the world into 'spheres of influence.'
Now the place
was full of pipsqueak lawyers and whirring electronics. Although the
main business at hand was still dividing up the world into 'sphere's
of influence.' I found my contact person. She was an old paralegal.
She got me my papers, but as she was handing them over she noticed something,
there was a hitch in the delivery.
"Gary Lee Flagstaff?"
she said. Then she looked at me.
"What?" I said.
Gary Lee Flagstaff?"
"I guess," I said.
"Is that what it says?" she hadn't actually handed over the papers.
She looked at
me, then she handed over the papers.
"Good luck," she
"Thanks," I said.
"Who's Gary Lee
Flagstaff?" I said.
"I didn't know
he was still alive."
"Yeah, it's a
child support case," I said.
"I'll be darned,
a daddy warrant."
"Who is he?"
"Back in the day,
he was our ace server. He was expensive, but he was the best. We only
used him for the most critical witness servings."
"I see," I said.
"I can hit him."
"He knows all
"I've been doing
it 14 years, I've seen most of 'em myself," I said.
The old paralegal
smiled. I smiled, then I went my way, back out the massive front door,
and down the walk.
I drove by my
office. Actually it's a mail drop at a communal space on Motor Avenue.
I grabbed a chair and a phone. One of the other server guys walked in.
I nodded. He nodded back then went back to the coffee nook and poured
himself some java. He doctored it up with sugar and non-dairy creamer.
"You never put
in any money for coffee," he said.
"You talkin to
me?" I said. I dialed my friend Andy, who's a PI.
"Yeah I'm talkin
"You ever see
me drinkin the coffee around here?"
Andy came on the
line. To get the other server guy to shut up, I reached in my pocket
and got out two ones, and threw them on a table. I made a shrugging
motion like 'OK?'.
"Andy," I said
into the phone. "It's Marcus."
can I do for you?"
"Gary Lee Flagstaff.
Last known address 3730 Clarington Avenue in Palms. I know he ain't
there cause the building ain't there. There's a been a big new condo
thing put up in the last two years and before that it was a empty lot
for 5 or 6 years, so that LKA has to be 7 or 8 years old."
"You gotta DOB?"
"Yeah, let's see....
March 14th 1942."
Andy clicked a
bit. I grabbed a magazine off the table and leafed through it. I pinched
the phone between my shoulder and ear. I found a semi interesting article
in the 'zine and began to read. This was taking a bit longer than usual.
Normally, Andy would have a hit in about 90 seconds.
"I'm not getting'
anything," said Andy.
It didn't happen
very often, but it did happen. Andy could pretty much find an address
for anybody through the DMV. It was about all he did with his PI license
anymore. Once he got that commercial account with the DMV and learned
how to work the keyboard, he got fat and lazy. "I'm definitely not getting
anything at all," said Andy.
"Oh shit does
this mean you charge extra?" I said.
"Well, duh," said
is still 50 an hour, minimum one hour?" I said.
"I raised the
rate for E.S. to 75, two years ago."
"It has been awhile
since I brought you a challenge."
"Take it or leave
"Ain't my money.
Go ahead, call me on my cell when you got it."
I hung up. Just
then Fritz called me on the radio.
"Hey I got some
papers to serve, you workin' today?"
"Yeah," I said.
So I drove over
to Fritz's shop and picked up a bunch of divorces and garnishments and
evictions and spent a rather profitable day serving that mundane crap.
When I was done I called Mom.
"Hey you got anything
else on Gary Lee? My researcher can't find an address for him at the
"I think he owns
a boat," said Mom.
check on that and get back to you."
"Hey wait, aren't
we going to eat dinner?" said Mom.
"Lemme call ya
right back," I said. I hung up. I dialed Andy.
"Marcus, I found
him in the boats. But it's a PO box," said Andy.
I took down the
"Yeah look dude,
I need the money right now," said Andy.
"You still in
Van Nuys?" I said.
"Yeah," said Andy.
"I'm on my way."
I forgot to call Mom back until I was back from Van Nuys. When I did
she wouldn't pick up. I went to bed and fell sound asleep.
The next day I
called my stake-out guy, Rudy. "I got a job for you, watching a PO box
in Torrance," I said.
"Same rate?" said
Rudy. He was an old guy, lived on assisted care and he probably would
have done it for a couple of beers but I usually gave him 50 bucks a
day plus lunch.
"You got it, Rudy."
I gave Rudy the info.
"You want me to
"Naw just get
the plate, same as usual,"
"Aw c'mon, can't
I follow somebody just once?" said Rudy.
"Rudy you ain't
trained in that. What if the guy spotted you?"
"C'mon, I can
"OK, just this
time," I said. "But don't forget, I need a thorough description of the
dude that picks up the mail at the PO box."
"Of course," said
Two days later
Rudy called me back. He was down.
"It was a messenger,
dude. No way I could follow him. He lost me in like a block. I feel
"Rudy, get real,
how are you supposed to keep up with a messenger? You a retiree in your
Pinto and he's a hot shot kid on his bike?"
"But it wasn't
"He wasn't that
old, but he wasn't a kid."
"You got the plate,
"Hell yeah. How
long I been workin' for ya?"
"Well lemme have
Rudy read off
the plate number. "Thanks," I said. I hung up and called Andy. I gave
Andy the plate number. This time it took 50 seconds and Andy reeled
off an address in Lynwood, right by the Correctional Facility.
There was a dead
Rottweiler in the yard as I walked up to the house. At least I hoped
it was dead. The front door was open. A skinny guy was sitting in a
broken easy chair watching a TV. He took a drink from a can of Olde
"What?" he said.
"I'm Marcus, I
serve papers. I was wondering about that PO box pickup you do, who do
you deliver that stuff too?"
"You serve papers?"
said the messenger.
"For the last
14 years," I said.
"Does it pay good?"
"About a grand,
12 hundred a week," I said. "Plenty of work. I can come and go as I
please. Whenever I'm ready it's there."
"No shit, a grand
"Yeah, and they're
always crying for licensed servers."
"You gotta get
easy. You take about 16 hours of classes, then you take a test, you
pass, and boom! You got a license to make money."
"Damn," said the
messenger. "That's a lot of money."
I looked around
at the house he had. "Depends on where you're from."
"You want a beer?"
said the messenger.
"Sure," I said.
we got company. Get the man a beer," shouted the messenger.
came the voice of Lucinda from the back of the house. I heard a fridge
pop open. Then footsteps. And then there she was. She was an angel as
graceful and perfect as a fresh rose. About 8 months pregnant. She handed
me the can of beer. I wanted to grab her and take her away from this
wretched house in this decrepit neighborhood. But she retreated from
me. She was used to men wanting to kidnap her and take her away somewhere
and keep her all for themselves. That was why she'd fallen for the messenger,
he was the first guy who hadn't tried that on her. That was cause he
was a clod who wouldn't know true beauty when it was sitting on his
face, but she couldn't see that, love is blind.
"So where you
takin' that stuff?" I said.
got crafty. "Gee dude, I don't know if I should tell you."
"Slip 170, Holiday
Harbor, Wilmington," said the messenger. He held out his hand.
Thanks," I said.
I put down my beer and turned around and started to walk away. The messenger
jumped up. I kept walking. He caught up to me.
"Hey, you said
a hundred bucks!"
"So I gave you
"So give me the
I socked the messenger.
He went down and stayed down. I leaned over.
"I'm sorry dude.
I'm pissed off cause Lucinda is so perfect and she loves you instead
of me. I guess you've been there before."
"Dude, it's such
a hassle having her for a GF," said the messenger.
"I'm sorry," I
said. I helped the messenger up and got out some money and stuffed it
in his pocket. I also gave him my card. "Look me up. I'll help you get
your license. Long as she's yours you might as well maintain her, you
said the messenger. "That's good advice." Then he took a swing at me,
but I blocked it and we both started laughing. I walked away.
I went home and
went to bed and fell sound asleep. Inconveniently the phone rang and
woke me up. It was Mom. I forgot I'd been using her ATM for expenses.
Mom sputtered for awhile. It took about five minutes but then I played
"I found Gary
Lee," I said.
Where is he?"
"On a boat, in
a marina, down by Wilmington."
"You still want
me to serve him?" I said.
"With the papers?"
"I thought that's
what this was all about, Mom?"
get back to ya." the phone clicked. I went back to sleep.
The next morning
I got the papers and rode down to the marina. It was a decrepit place,
at first glance, if you were used to Bel Air trophy homes. On the other
hand, if you'd spent your life working your ass off, the crusty marina
at the Fish Harbor end of Terminal Island where Gary Lee moored his
boat would be your stomping grounds. If you'd survived swinging cranes
and grinding gears and diesel fumes and clouds of asbestos dust in smoky
noisy shops, then Fish Harbor might seem like paradise. It was just
a half a dozen docks and maybe a hundred boats, mostly under 50 feet,
and the salty, extremely sunburned and mostly alcoholic old guys who
tended those boats.
I went into the
Harbor Master shack. Two guys were watching some sports on TV. I don't
know anything about sports.
"I'm looking for
Gary Lee Flagstaff." I said.
"Why?" said the
one guy, without turning away from the Dodger game.
"I gotta serve
him papers on a daddy warrant," I said. One of my skills I pride myself
on is knowing when to cut the crap.
"A daddy warrant?!
Some bitch is suing him for paternity?!" Within two minutes the whole
marina was in an uproar. Then Gary Lee showed up. That's when things
really got crazy. Me and him looked really similar. In the end we had
to put to sea to get away from the hub-bub.
Gary Lee had a
nice boat. I don't know what brand it was. But he got it right out and
got under way. It ran smooth with a little motor and then once we got
beyond the breakwater it sailed real nice. It made a good turn of speed.
There was radio and we listened to the big container ships yakking with
Harbor Control or whatever it's called, all the chatter with the lighthouse
guys and the pilot boats and the tenders, like at an airport but more
shiplike. I felt like my blood was turning salty. I didn't get seasick
at all. It felt good being out there, I wondered why I never did it
before. Gary Lee set the sails. He had a way of telling me how to do
line," he'd say. "Bring that sail in a bit. Grab the helm for a sec."
And we'd just go, sliding along. The sky was light blue, the ocean was
dark green-blue, the sea gulls rose and fell. Catalina loomed. I remember
getting a copy of Gulliver's Travels when I was in 8th grade. And I
thought I knew about Gulliver Travels cause I'd had the kid version,
but this was the adult version, with the floating island of Laputia,
and I suddenly had a flash of old John Swift in some tavern in Olde
England listening to drunken sailors describe their voyages, and I knew
where the whole legend of the floating island came from: Catalina. That's
the reason why the Navy named their flying boats Catalinas. The place
is just too damn beautiful to believe that it's not gonna be gone some
day, it will just unmoor itself and float away in the night and when
the city of LA wakes up one morning that island will not be there anymore.
We sailed right up to it, and then around it. We furled the sails and
fired up the motor and motored into a cove. Gary Lee had me drop an
anchor, then another. He churned the motor and dug in the anchors. It
was getting dark. I found a berth and went sound asleep.
The next day I
woke up, Gary was cooking breakfast. He had a grill hanging off the
back of the boat and he had fillets cooking on it. Also there was coffee.
Gary took the fillets off the grill and put them on a plate. He sprinkled
ginger and soy sauce on them and poured himself coffee. He went around
to the bow of the boat and sat down on the top of the cabin, looking
out of the cove, he set about eating.
"Can I have some?"
I said. It hit me it had been about 24 hours since I'd had a meal.
"I guess so."
Gary sat and continued to eat. I went to the grill. There was nothing
on it. I went back in the cabin and looked in the icebox. There were
a couple of oysters, and eggs. I found an iron frying pan and olive
oil and garlic and a few other spices. I set the frying pan on the grill.
The fire was perfect. I added oil and let it heat up. I went back below
and broke out the garlic and chopped it up and threw it on the frying
pan where it sizzled in the hot oil. I added some Oregano and Parsley
and Cilantro. I put the oysters on the grill next to the frying pan
and let them heat up. When they started to open up I pried them apart
and dug out the meat and then chopped it up and mixed it in with the
eggs and dumped the mix into the hot frying pan. I let it cook and I
had an oyster omelet. I dumped it on a plate and poured coffee and went
and sat by Gary.
Gary looked at
"You live alone?"
"How'd you know?"
"Man don't learn
how to cook an omelet like that if he's living with a woman. First thing
a woman wants to take control of is what her man's gonna eat," said
"So what happened
with you and Mom," I said, after awhile. I was too hungry to talk. I
ate about 90 percent of the omelet before I asked Gary. I was a little
"That? Truth is,
all that woman wanted to do, was fuck. Don't get me wrong, she was fine,
but it started cutting into my golf game after a few months."
"You're golf game?!"
I said, bits of egg and oyster spewing from my mouth to emphasize my
"Marcus, I was
up and coming, I was a win away from the PGA, you know. I couldn't spend
all my time in bed with your Mom. I needed to be out on the fairways
and greens, honing my skills. You know what a pro golfer makes?"
"Yeah but money
isn't everything," I said.
thing. You're right. There was the fame, wakin' up and seeing your name
in the paper after you win a tournament. I think your Mom was afraid
that I would blow up."
"That's true man,
she does want all eyes on her," I said.
"I told her, I
had to go, I had stuff to do. Maybe if her appetite was that great she
should get a back door man, I couldn't be there 24-7. I was still willing
to be her front man, maybe even get married, someday."
"She acted like
I hit her, like I smacked her in the face. Here I think I got a perfectly
workable solution and she breaks out screaming and sobbing like it's
the end of the world. I knew right then I had to leave."
Gary broke out
a little cigar and struck a match and lit it. We sat on the gently rocking
boat, watching the other boats in the cove come to life. The liveaboards
shoved off dinghies around 7:30 and the dinghies brought a few kids
to the dock where the kids rendezvoused with a beat-up school bus. Some
music drifted over the water from one of the boats. I took my plate
back below and Gary washed up the breakfast dishes.
"How many of these
channel islands you ever been to?" said Gary after the breakfast mess
"Well, so far,
Catalina and....oh, let's see....that's it." I said.
"How about San
Clemente or San Nicholas?"
"So that's how
your Mom raised you?"
"She wasn't into
boats, Gary. Or golf."
It was a week
before I got back to LA. My voice mail and my answering machine were
both thoroughly clogged. I called Mom first.
"What are you
going to do about the suit, Mom," I said.
"I wanna get that
bastard," she said.
him for 20 grand, Mom," I said.
"Last time I checked
that's less than half what you paid for your cheapest set of wheels."
"What's your point?"
"Gary don't have
that money. If you pursue it you're gonna sink him."
"What do you really
want out of this?"
"Just tell me
where he is."
I thought about
that. I was tired of being the go-between. Gary would probably be pissed
at me. Fuck it.
"Slip 170, Holiday
Time slipped by
and I didn't hear from Mom, or Gary Lee Flagstaff. Can't say I wasn't
curious. I was very curious. Finally one day when I was down by the
harbor on a serving, I cut out and drove by that old marina. I'd been
there before so it was easier to find. And there was Gary's boat. But
it was embarrassing cause when I walked along the dock the word jumped
ahead from boat to boat:
"Hey it's Gary's
"Gary's kid is
And Gary's boat
looked different. There was a big awning up. It was all shady under
the awning, and there were cushions and a table and the grill was drizzling
aromatic smoke and there was some make-out music coming out of the portholes.
Where once it had been a boat that was ready to roll for a cruise up
or down the coast of California at a Moments notice, now it looked like
some kind of floating whorehouse. Gary popped out of the hatchway just
as I came up. He was wearing cheap canvas shorts.
"Hey son, you're
just in time for lunch."
she'll be out in a minute," said Gary.
I stayed for lunch.
And Gary and Mom looked all sheepish and happy. I haven't been back
I love my parents,
even if they are a couple of jerks.
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