David R Ewens

California Daydream

22nd April 2011

Buddy’s Grand Oceanside Restaurant gave out something of a mixed message. The ‘Oceanside’ part was spot on. The Pacific from Hermosa Beach had never looked bluer or more sparkling. But ‘Buddy’s’ gave it a vulgar air, though it certainly wasn’t grand either. Johnny Di Marco hadn’t chosen it as the venue for the interview to impress his interviewer. Far from it. He didn’t like being interviewed, but at least he’d get a good lunch out of it. Buddy’s served the best baked marlin in the whole of Southern California. The small table on the terrace nestled beneath a canopy. The table cloth was a crisp check. The cutlery and glasses glinted and shone as the dappled sunlight struck them.

Di Marco didn’t really notice his surroundings. He was too world-weary for that. He was a stocky, compact man. A delicate, expensive gold chain round his neck complemented a Rolex wrist watch and his Californian perma-tan. An air of supreme professional self-confidence came from a successful career in the shark-tank of Hollywood film production, and that’s what he expected he’d have to talk about over lunch. He’d done it a thousand times before in 30 years in Hollywood. At least there was the baked marlin to look forward to.

He’d never much liked journalists, and he didn’t think he’d like Stan Lang. What kind of a name was that, anyway? An American journo would never make career progress with a name like that. He sipped the pale Pouilly Fuissé he’d ordered, his chin sinking into his chest. The fingers of his left hand drummed the table. The interviewer should never be late for the interviewee, especially when the interviewee is a Hollywood big hitter. Jacquie, his first wife, had always been late. It used to drive him mad. But he felt a twinge of regret. She was probably turning up late for dinner in New York right now.

‘Mr Di Marco?’ A soft, very English voice seeped into his consciousness over the background roar of the ocean.

‘Yeah?’ He said doubtfully.

He lifted his sunglasses up over his forehead and squinted up at the pale but unmistakably beautiful face of the enquirer. Hertranslucent skin was set off perfectly by long, absolutely straight reddish-brown hair that framed the perfect oval face. Her eyes were as blue as the ocean that stretched out before him. Di Marco noted with the sly glance perfected over many years of subtle practice that she was slim but undoubtedly voluptuous. Her expensively designed, hip-hugging Gloria Vanderbilt jeans perfectly matched her eyes, and her Corrada blouse in lime green perfectly matched her rich green heels. She reminded him of Marcie, his second wife, but Marcie had never had this poise and sophistication. He felt another twinge of regret, though he’d never forgiven her for running off to Hawaii with that good-for-nothing gigolo.

‘My name is Stan Lang’, said the vision before him. ‘I’m here to interview you for ‘Screen’ magazine. Her fingers were delicate and slender but her handshake was firm and somehow intimate.

Johnny Di Marco recovered quickly. ‘Forgive me, Ms Lang’, he said with the easy charm that had acquired him three wives and a string of beautiful lovers, ‘but I was expecting ’

‘I know,’ interrupted the fragrant Stan Lang. ‘People tend to assume that I’m a man. I was christened Constance but hated it. I was a bit of a tomboy when I was younger, and somehow Stan, my preferred nickname, lasted well into adulthood.’ Her tinkly, rich and utterly natural laugh sent a frisson of pleasure and anticipation down Johnny Di Marco’s spine. He couldn’t imagine that Stan Lang had ever been a tomboy. Never mind the baked marlin, this dame is hot, as Humphrey Bogart might have said in one of Di Marco’s tough guy films.

For Johnny Di Marco, it was a marvellous lunch. Stan Lang was the most attentive interviewer. She seemed to hang on his every word. Her eyes gazed into his. Her hands cupped that perfect oval face, elbows propped on the table. He couldn’t but help think of Zoë, his third wife. She’d made him think he was the most important, no, the only person in the world when they had been out to dinner together. In some ways, he regretted losing Zoë most of all. He didn’t just tell Stan Lang about his films. When the formal interview was over and the tape switched off he told her everything about his

life. Maybe he had been unlucky in love, he said ruefully, but in truth he hadn’t felt like this for years. Best of all, he felt that all that old charm and magic, all that success with all those girls and women, was flooding, surging, roaring back.

Okay, so he could give this lovely woman thirty years, but look at it another way, what a catch he was – the films, the fortune, those rich and famous friends – and he looked really good for his age with a little help from that plastic surgeon up in Beverley Hills. He wasn’t so foolish as to monopolise the conversation, either. He learned of Stan Lang’s degree in English Literature from OxfordUniversity in England, her year at the University of California up at Berkeley and her dream of a career with one of the big newspapers, the London Times, the Washington Post, the Manchester Guardian. Lunchtime merged into mid-afternoon.

‘I’ve really got a chance here,’ thought Di Marco gratefully to himself – ‘after all these years of emptiness.’ At four o’clock, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to ask Stan Lang if she’d like to move on up the coast to Malibu for cocktails – maybe see the sun set over the ocean. ‘I can’t tell you how wonderful that would be’, he whispered huskily.

‘Oh Johnny, that’s so sweet of you’, said Stan Lang, ‘but I’m doing something later on. Thank you so much for the interview and the lunch – and here’s my lift now!’

Her anglicisms had charmed him all afternoon, but he felt only deflation as he viewed the young man leaning jauntily against the BMW cabriolet, unmistakably handsome as he waved in their direction, and unmistakably her date.

In a moment she was gone, the Calvin Klein perfume hanging in the air the only evidence that she had ever been there. Hunched in his chair, visibly shrunken, Johnny Di Marco thought of the heavy door he’d open to his hacienda-style mansion on the Palisades, the wide atrium with its glass domed roof and the echo of his footsteps as he’d walk to the empty terrace. There’d be no-one there to greet him; no-one to share a drink by the pool. His loneliness crushed him.

David R Ewens

 

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