I shuffle off the 415 out of O'Hare into the main concourse at LAX. It's just before five in the evening and the sun is still bright even through the tinted windows facing the cab stand. I buy a pair of cheap aviator sunglasses from a kiosk that sells hats, shades, and cigarette lighters shaped like shotgun shells with "Welcome to LA" stamped on the brass. A bank of flat screen HDTVs mounted just high enough on the wall to prevent someone from jumping up and grabbing one is playing footage of Tom Cruise on Oprah. The screen in the exact middle has weird rainbow-colored moiré patterns shifting across the picture and it makes Tom Cruise's face balloon in and out like an acid trip. The Pakistani at the kiosk takes my crumpled twenty and offers a few coins in change. Tom Cruise screams like he's haunting a crypt.
I could have bought the sunglasses for three dollars in Indiana.
Outside by the cabs the heat is like a hand pressing down on my back. I can feel my armpits stewing up and can almost feel the hairs being gently stirred by a grandmother from the old country. I throw my blazer over my suitcase and light a cigarette. The nicotine hits me in a rush like a fever and I smile crookedly at the scowling woman wheeling her pink Donna Karen bags past me. I might as well be puffing on a crack pipe here in LA, and in the three minutes it takes me to suck down the smoke I get enough dirty looks to make a circus geek jealous.
A smiling guy named Felix from Rwanda drives me in his cab to the hotel. He loves America. I guess I would too if I were from Rwanda. It'll wear off Felix. In ten years this will be anyplace else in the world. You'll forget about the Hutus and their machetes and you'll start hating some white guy in Washington. The fairs will be intolerably rude, filthy, and you might just snap one day. They still sell machetes in LA.
I don't tell Felix that. I give him a generous tip in the hope that it lets him love America for one more day than he might have otherwise. Maybe by the time it all wears off there will be some other paradise somewhere else for Felix to escape to.
I'm here to meet with TV chef and lifestyle rising-star Rachael Ray. She has more shows on Food TV than most Appalachians have toes and her good looks and excessively upbeat attitude have her pegged for super-stardom. She's a franchise already. In five years she'll be a fucking industry. The rumor mill has already started about her and I'm here to find out, to poke and prod, to uncover her dark side if there is one.
The journey itself is exhausting but I'm sweating like a POW in a black cargo container and that's no way to meet a spicy chipotle like Ray. I shower and throw on the rented suit I brought that isn't doused in my manly musk and airplane ass. The only thing that reminds me I'm not getting ready for a date is the recorder in my jacket pocket. I look in the mirror one last time. I look like Sonny Crockett with a thyroid problem. Good enough.
Rachael Ray is late to Bar Fernando on La Cienega and I'm ready to puke from the weird seafood tapas that Miguel keeps shoving in front of me. Little wheels of pastries and bitter sauce with cocktail glasses filled with ceviche. I hate ceviche. Miguel hates me, and insists that all meals include a nine-course tapas appetizer. The servings would be small if I wanted any of them. With my stomach doing acidic Immelmans each one seems a monolith of raw meat and fruit chutneys that remind me almost as much of Brazil as a photograph of a concrete chimpanzee.
"Sorry I'm late!" Rachael Ray chirps as she slides into a seat across from me. "The food here is sooooo good, isn't it? I love it."
Her too-big and too-perfect smile is intoxicating, but in a bad way, like tequila. You'll forget your problems but you'll regret it in the morning.
I almost, but not quite, forget how much I hate Bar Fernado's food as I watch Ray eat. She isn't shy about it. She attacks the tapas abortions with an abandon that reminds me of a visit to the buffet at a Fort Wayne Ponderosa. Every bite prompts rapturous cooing and comments as delighted as they are meaningless.
"It's so nutty," she moans as she bites into some blended crab dollop that tasted to me more like it was filled with snake bile.
With the tapas in our unhappy past I order a carafe or Miguel's suggested white and start in easy on Rachael. I ask her about some of her semi-famous catchphrases.
"E-V-O-O, extra virgin olive oil, started out as an unintentional catchphrase. I got ribbed for saying it by the staff so I just kept saying it." Ray explains. "It went from driving them crazy to making them laugh."
Rachael Ray's voice is simultaneously husky and honking, like a sensual goose that smokes too much. Her laughter - and she likes to laugh at her own jokes way too much - is a gently percussive hoot not unlike Fran Drescher heard through shooter's headgear. She seems sort of ditzy, but it's self effacing.
"There's hope for me yet," she laughs when she manages to unwrap the dinnerware.
Later, when she misidentifies her entrée to Miguel, she chides herself; "come on dummy."
The interview goes nowhere. Rachael seems content to deflect my softball inquiries about her past and present by quoting from her Food TV biography. She's feeding me answers I could get with five minutes and Google. After picking through something that I think was marinated baby mice in a grilled elephant uterus I suggest that we go somewhere for drinks. The wine has done little to loosen her tongue, but I figure maybe if I can pour a few Bacardi wine coolers down her throat she'll start talking.
"I know just the place," she says with a sly grin.
A shiver runs down my spine. Someone walking over my grave. Or that catlike sense of danger that can be so easily confused with sexual excitement.
Her enticing offer ends up costing me a 50 dollar cab ride to an area of Sun Valley so industrially ominous that the cab driver actually peels out when he drops us off. We're outside of some sort of club operating out of a decrepit and garishly orange-painted two story building. Like a traffic cone vibrating to bass hits. There's no sign, just the rhythmic grind of over-amped industrial music and a bouncer lounging on a stool next to a worn metal door.
Rachael takes the lead, striding purposefully towards the door. The bouncer groans and hefts his tattooed bulk up from his perch.
"Oi!" He challenges, holding an arm in front of the door.
Rachael head-butts him to the ground and stands over his bleeding face.
"Oi, oi, oi!" She barks.
We're here to buy human kidneys from a Russian named Giggles. That's what she told me in the cab, anyway. I thought she was kidding, revealing some hidden reserve of black humor. Turns out she was being straight with me.
The bar is a seething mass of bodies writhing to the disorienting beat. Most are wearing more tattoos and piercings than clothing and there's a girl in a cage dressed as some sort of gothic nurse simulating fellatio on a glass dildo wrapped in a glowing necklace. Rachael shoves through the crowd with purpose to a door at the back of the club, turning aside dancers who stray too close with palm-strikes to their ribs. She knocks twice at the door and a slot opens. Eyes appear there and flick between us.
"Open the door, Petrov." The joy is gone and her voice is laden with menace.
Bolts and locks clank on the other side and the door swings open.
Giggles is an elderly man in an adult diaper eating canned pasta with a soup spoon. A fat woman in a terrycloth two-piece sun dress dabs at the orange sauce around his jowls and occasionally lowers a transparent mask over his face. He inhales deeply and laughs until he chokes.
"Giggles, you sorry fuck, where are my kidneys?" Rachael poses, hands on hips.
"Rachael, so soon you come? You told Ivanov three days from this one." Giggles takes a wheezing breath from his mask and begins another fit of cackling.
"I got you those fucking Mexicans, now you give me my cut or I am going to take it out of your worthless cunt here." Rachael gestures to the cow-eyed girl in the terrycloth.
"No need for getting up in the arms. We good friends." Giggles snaps ringed fingers and Petrov leans in.
Giggles sends Petrov to get the kidneys from the meat locker. His wheezing and giggling are driving me crazy and even with the soundproofing in the backroom the bass from the club is making my eyes hurt. Petrov returns after an exceedingly tense lull in conversation with a blood-smeared Coleman cooler. Rachael flips the lid open.
"Four?!" She looks up at Giggles, her eyes burning embers of anger. "There were at least 15 of them in that trailer. Two times fucking 15 is not four."
She slams the lid shut on the cooler and has a switchblade out before I even see her make a move for a pocket. She advances on Giggles but Petrov stands between them. His stance is ready but his expression is distant. Giggles takes another hit of nitrous and laughs until he gags.
"Rachael, Rachael, do not try such things. You will get more, this is all doctor has ready now. Come back Friday." Giggles waves wrinkled fingers at us. "I have things to-"
Rachael Ray is in motion. She has Petrov's neck laid open like a cut of salmon and he's gurgling and kicking on the floor. I take a step back from the pooling blood. Giggles flails feebly at the blade, slicing his fingers and hands to ribbons in the process. Giggles never has a chance. Rachael buries the knife in his chest and only after he stops moving does she pull it out and backtrack to work on Pretrov's eyes.
"Corneas," she looks over her shoulder at me and there's that smile again.
The fat woman retreats to the corner, eyes wide with fear and face stained with Giggles' bright arterial blood. The tendon-snapping rip of Rachael pulling the Russian's eyes out of his sockets nearly makes me vomit. She tosses them into the cooler on top of bloody baggies packed densely in ice. Adrenaline crashes through me. Blood thrums loudly in my ears nearly drowning out the horrible techno playing now.
"Get the cooler," she says with a jerk of her head.
I obey, trying to ignore the loathsome slurp of post-mortem voiding.
"Oh yeah," Rachael remembers something and turns back to throw her knife across the room and into the nose of the fat girl in the terrycloth.
The woman drops like a sack of potato salad and pukes blood onto her own chest. I follow Rachael out the back door.
"Petrov's van," she points to a rusting white utility van, "he uses it to film snuff porn so mind the tarps in the back."
We climb in and Rachael struggles to hotwire the vehicle.
"Duh, stupid old me," she says, finding the right wires.
E-V-O-O, extra virgin olive oil.
Rachael treats the van like one of those people at Sea World straddling a killer whale. I half expect her to jump it off a bridge and into one of the anemic tributaries of the Los Angeles River.
"I'm going to get us some fun stuff. You do glide? Amethyst? Red beaver?" She looks over at me and I shrug. "They're all top, trust me."
Ten minutes later and I'm baking in the van. I look nervously back and forth from the dilapidated house Rachael ran into, the steep hill dropping away in front of the windshield, and the duct tape covered handle of the emergency brake. She finally emerges with a triumphant grin and shakes a bag of thin pinkish powder at the driver's side window before climbing into the van. I'm glad the fucking cooler is gone.
"Beijing Flower," Rachael explains, dropping the baggie unceremoniously onto my lap. "I'll take us somewhere that we can enjoy it."
We ditch the van outside Mann's Chinese Theater and laugh at the guys in Chewbacca costumes. It's an exhilarating feeling to momentarily how many laws we have broken already and twice as exhilarating to wonder how many more laws of man we might find to violate. Rachael wraps her arms around me and I think she's making a move. Instead, she jams a pistol into the waist of my high thread count Egyptian cotton slacks.
"I've got one." She beams. "I thought you might want one for where we're going."
Where we end up going is a ballroom dancing class for the elderly at the YMCA. I rhumba with Rita, Rachael sambas with Cecile, and together we awkwardly tango. The gums-only league brass band plays off-key. While the class enjoys punch and Polident, Rachael and I steal into a corner.
"You ready for the ill shit?" She asks, shaking out a long line of pink powder onto a drum case.
Before I can answer she jams a straw into her nostril and siphons half the line up her nose.
"Ffffuuuck." She cries, prompting craned necks and queer looks from the octogenarians across the room.
She gestures for me to follow suit and, though I've never done coke, I snort two kidneys worth of Beijing Flower. It bites fire into my sinuses and my eyes immediately begin to water. A second later it hits me. Like I'm floating yet I have control of my movement. I feel great. I feel like a billion fucking dollars stacked on a golden rocket. I am ready for anything.
"They cut it with saffron," she says as she massages her gums. "Premium. They extract it from convicts in China with a pneumatic pump right as they are executed."
Her nostrils flare and she takes a whistling breath through her nose that quivers on the borderline of hyperventilation. Her eyelids are clenched so tight I think she's in pain. She exhales and her eyelids slam open like submarine hatches. She's staring through me, her pupils dilated so much that her entire eyes look black.
"Let's find something and kill it." She hisses through clenched teeth.
Something finds us three blocks away outside of the Five Oaks Motel.
"Rachael Ray, I been looking for you." The voice is pleased to see her, but not in a way that is comforting.
We turn and the hammer clicks back on the man's pistol.
"Nice and slow." He's Hispanic and well-dressed in the way that a used car salesman going to church might be. "Carlos the Eel says you owe him a whole lot of money. You got it, you hand it over."
"Sure thing, Jesus." Rachael replies, reaching slowly towards her pistol.
Jesus is going to fucking see the move so I make some jerky twitches to distract him.
"Calm the fuck down, esa." The man advises, too slow on the uptake to realize what's happening.
Rachael has her gun out and without hesitation she shoots Jesus in the hand. Fingers explode into meat and bone and the gun goes flying from his ruined grip. He cries out and drops to his knees.
"Carlos wants to talk to me, eh Jesus?" Rachael stalks forward. "Carlos says I owe him some money?"
She kicks Jesus in the side and he grunts and sobs.
"No, n-no miss Rachael, he just-"
"How many TV shows does Carlos the Eel have?!" Rachael smashes the grip of the pistol into his temple. "Does he have fucking THREE?! Does he have seasonal specials?!"
"No, he has no shows. Zero shows. I-I'm sorry. Carlos told me to look out for you." Jesus is blubbering and clutching at the bloody mess of his gun hand.
"I want you to look out for Carlos." Rachael presses the barrel of her gun to Jesus' ear. "Tell him that the next time he sends one of his faggot errand boys after me I am going to come down there to the barrio and I am going to cut his fucking balls off and then make him watch while I fuck his daughter in half with a hatchet."
Jesus nods and we continue on. A block away from the scene Rachael honks out a laugh edged with maniac glee and hard with Beijing Flower.
"That was fantastic!" She coos. "Delicious."
"No, it was, but we still need a kill."
I try to tell her that killing isn't topping my to-do list, but the Beijing Flower makes it come out an awful lot like "fuck yeah."
We stalk the area for several minutes looking for the right person and the right moment to strike. Rachael finally points out a man and a woman, well dressed, arguing next to a 2005 Dodge Durango with its emergency lights on.
"You take the guy, I'll get the girl." Rachael already has her gun out.
I fumble with mine and take aim from across the street. I haven't fired a gun in years and certainly never at another person. It shouldn't seem right, but it does.
We fire almost simultaneously. Rachael gets a clean headshot and her girl drops like one of the Trade Center towers collapsing in on itself: straight down and leaden. My shot hit the guy in the back. He looks down at his chest and pats at it, then looks at the blood on his fingers. Then he drops too.
We run across the street to inspect our kills. I look down at the guy's corpse. Still moving a little bit, eyes wide with surprise.
I've never killed a man but it feels good for as long as the drugs hold sway over my brain.
"Nice shot," Rachael says as she rolls him onto his stomach and rifles through his pockets for cash.
The Durango '05 purrs away quite pleasantly. A nice, warm, vibrating sensation that trembles all through my guts. Soon we pass from the urban tangle into trees and dark. Real country dark. Rachael laughs and flashes her smile occasionally as she swerves in and out of oncoming traffic.
We stop at a motor lodge and she shows me her tattoo. "AS ABOVE, SO BELOW" just above her pubic bone.
"The Corpus Hermeticum," she tells me with that fucking smile again.
She works her black magic and I at last twitch and recoil into sleep. I'm dimly aware of her up and awake, indefatigable. She prowls the room naked and bored like a leopard pacing out its cage.
I awake at dawn. The room is stripped bare. Everything is gone: Rachael, my clothes, the Durango, the lamps, bed clothes, even the Gideon Bible. It appears there was even an abortive effort made to take the wallpaper. Torn strips hang limply in the still air of the motel room.
I stagger into the bathroom. The toilet is still there, so I use it. The mirror is gone, just patched drywall and a few wires that used to connect to a light fixture. There's a note scrawled on the empty space in lipstick or blood.
"GET CHECKED FOR GONNORHEA =D"
I wondered why it burned a little when I pissed.
That was long and strange, but if you want to read some more I wrote a nice big and fat Daily Dirt in yon dirt pen. Why not read it, traveller?
We clear up the BREXIT for confused Americans wondering why the global economy is collapsing this time.
BEEP! BOOP! ZAP! Video games aren't for my dad anymore! Because he's dead.
The Something Awful front page news tackles anything both off and on the Internet. Mostly "on" though, as we're all incredible nerds.