By Pete Moss
"Oh it's you," I said.
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."
"Whatever. Whattya want Mom?" I ask.
"They told me you the best paper server in LA," said Mom.
"Who told you that?"
"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 ya."
"OK, go on," I said.
"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 down.
"Oh my god, I shocked you," said Mom.
"It's a 100 dollars a day, plus expenses," I said.
"Well, don'tchyu 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," said Mom.
"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 pro golfer...."
"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 said.
"I love you, baby."
"Yeah...uh...I 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.
"You're serving 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 said.
"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 the tricks."
"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 to you."
"You ever see me drinkin the coffee around here?"
"That's beside the point."
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."
"Marcus, what 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?" said Andy.
"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 Andy.
"Expanded search 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 it."
"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 DMV."
"I think he owns a boat," said Mom.
"Really? Lemme 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 info.
"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 follow him?"
"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 do it."
"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 Rudy.
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 so bad."
"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 a kid."
"He wasn't that old, but he wasn't a kid."
"You got the plate, right?"
"Hell yeah. How long I been workin' for ya?"
"Well lemme have it, Rootie-tootie."
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 English.
"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 a week?"
"Yeah, and they're always crying for licensed servers."
"You gotta get a license?"
"Yeah, that's 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.
"Hey Lucinda, we got company. Get the man a beer," shouted the messenger.
"Yes darling," 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.
The messenger got crafty. "Gee dude, I don't know if I should tell you."
"Hundred bucks?" I said.
"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 the info."
"So give me the C-note!"
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 know?"
"Thanks bro," 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 my trump.
"I found Gary Lee," I said.
"Oh...my... God!!! 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?"
"Uh...yeah, lemme 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 it.
"Tighten that 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 my omelet.
"You live alone?" he said.
"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 Gary.
"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 bit nervous.
"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 incredulity.
"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.
"That's another 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 was cleared.
"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.
"You're suing 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 Harbor, Wilmington."
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 kid"
"Gary's kid is here."
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."
"Where's Mom?" I said.
"She's below, 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 there since.
I love my parents, even if they are a couple of jerks.
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When not exacting his vast influenece over the entertainment industry, Pete Moss updates his web log, Piss And Vinegar.