For seven weeks, I will be posting chapters from my new satirical novel Chainsaw Honeymoon.
Ruby Navarro, a bright, funny fourteen-year-old who loves horror movies, is on a mission to get her parents back together. But she can’t do it alone. She’ll need her two best friends, her dog, an arrogant student filmmaker, and a computer-generated, chainsaw-wielding killer. What could possibly go wrong?
It was hot in downtown LA—ghost peppers in a grease fire hot. In the distance, lines of cars clogged the swollen arteries of the Harbor Freeway. A solitary paletero with one leg shorter than the other was crossing the bridge at 3rd Street, the little bell on his cart tinkling merrily with the promise of delicious Mexican ice cream.
Eventually, he passed a tall, pretty redhead in a black cocktail dress, walking in the opposite direction. Her name was Laraine Moody, and the ice cream vendor could tell she’d been crying. When he saw the bruises on her pale, freckled arms, he knew what Ana Gabriel was talking about when she sang “Y Aquí Estoy.”
Through his large office window in the tallest building in LA, Warren Mudge peered through Nikon ProStaff binoculars and caught sight of the paletero as he vanished around a corner. Wiping a hungered droplet of drool from his lip, he realized he would have to hunt the little Mexican dude down later. The Chief Marketing Officer of Viper Leather Goods, Warren was in his mid-fifties and had a weakness for paletas—especially the pepino con chile y limón.
Though he was short, he did not suffer from achondroplasia. On the contrary, his body was proportional and muscled. He kept himself in shape by running, swimming, and climbing, and he adhered to a strict paleo diet—except for the paletas—while eschewing cigarettes and alcohol. Also, Warren was a skydiving freak and liked to escape to Elsinore Valley whenever he could.
As he leaned back comfortably at his luxurious antique walnut desk, Stacey Navarro knocked and came in, taking a seat opposite her boss. She noticed the newly framed photos of Warren’s most recent skydiving exploits hanging on the wall. She’d been meaning to tell him she had never been skydiving in her life and had no intention of starting, but now was not the time.
“Stacey, the marketing campaign is fantastic,” he said, waving his arms like he was giving a TED Talk. “So far, the UK, Benelux, and Saudi Arabia are seeing results.”
“Well, I learned from the best.” Stacey was nothing if not modest.
“Hmm… A man would’ve taken credit.”
“I know, Warren, but—”
“Close the door.”
She knew what was coming. And she wanted it, but at the same time, she didn’t. In the eighteen months she’d worked at Viper, Warren had promoted her twice and given her generous bonuses. He had always treated her with respect and courtesy. But somehow things had progressed to a new, almost uncomfortable level. Was she ready for this?
“Stacey, have you thought any more about the offer?”
The offer. He made it sound like he was buying an investment property in Montana. She looked at him, her eyes distant. In her mind, she pictured the wedding photo of Alan and her, which used to sit on the mantle, going up in flames. Please stop, she thought as he slid a handcrafted rosewood ring box across the desk toward her. Please, can you go back to being my boss?
For a long time, she stared at the box with the tasteful scrollwork. Somewhere far off, a lunatic had fired up a chainsaw, its angry whine echoing just outside the window, even though they were on a high floor. She reached for the present with trembling fingers. Opening it, she beheld a huge diamond engagement ring.
“Oh my,” she said.
Everything changed. Warren was no longer wearing a suit. He had on casual clothes, the kind you’d find at Barneys New York. The skydiving photos were gone, replaced by family portraits. Stacey saw herself holding a newborn baby and posing next to Warren. Ruby was standing on her other side, and everyone was smiling. Outside, it was raining, even though it hadn’t rained in LA for eons.
“I don’t want us to wait any longer,” he said from somewhere far away. “How soon can you make the divorce final?”
But Stacey could only sit there, as frozen as the precious gem in front of her.
* * *
It was the dwarf’s fault. Alan knew it in his soul. The homunculus in question was, of course, Warren Nathaniel Mudge. Mudge. It sounded like something that would clog your pipes, if you weren’t careful. Also, it rhymed with grudge. Which was perfect because now that Alan thought about it, he did have one nasty grudge against that evil mastermind. In fact, he would like to rip Mudge’s ears off and feed them to one of Rick Van Loon’s feral dates. It was because of that smirking, hunchbacked miscreant that Alan would lose the one great love of his life. That hirsute, grinning, piston-headed—
“Alan, are you even listening?”
He looked up from his half-eaten marinated skirt steak frites and stared cloudily into Stacey’s eyes. Those eyes. Perfectly blue with flecks of green. He adored those eyes. In fact, he had fallen in love with Stacey because of those eyes. That and so many other things.
When his hearing returned, he noticed that the BOA Steakhouse was unusually loud, as if each table were in a cheerleading competition at a Toastmasters convention. It was lunch time, and the place was packed, both at the tables and the bar. Runners with trays of food scurried past in a dizzy dance. Somewhere a glass shattered.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t think I—”
“I said, Warren asked me to marry him.”
“But we’re not even divorced!” The color had left his face. “And since when is he in the picture?”
“Keep your voice down.” Stacey, sounding as if she were addressing a misbehaving child, caught herself and softened her tone. “Obviously, this is going to take some time to figure out.”
Alan tasted vomit as he tried reasoning with her. “Hey, come on,” he said, trying on the million-dollar smile. “The guy’s been married—”
“Twice. I know. But he’s older, more mature. He’s a decent man.”
“He wants a family.”
“So did Charles Manson. And look how that turned out. Besides, you have a family.”
“He wants me to quit my job and stay home.”
“I see what this is about. You think our marriage was a mistake.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“And I’m a schmuck because I believe everyone needs to work.”
As a dessert tray flew by, he snatched a slice of mascarpone cheesecake, scraped off a glob of vanilla Chantilly cream with his forefinger, and dumped it on Stacey’s steak.
She stared at him, uncomprehending. “What’s this for?”
“It’s the icing on the steak.”
Immediately regretting what he’d done, he got up and threw down some cash on the table.
“You’re being unfair,” she said, her voice like shards of ice.
“I’m being unfair?” Straightening his tie, he glanced around the room, then leaned in toward his wife. “I thought we had a shot. I guess I’m having a harder time ‘moving on.’”
“What? Alan, this isn’t a contest.”
He recognized the weariness in her voice. It was the same weariness he had picked up on when they were first having their difficulties a year ago. Had it been a year already? Ruby was fourteen! He took a last look at his soon-to-be ex-wife and walked out, muttering. Then, he remembered he didn’t have any cash for the valet.
Staring at the sugary white topping melting on her steak, Stacey felt frustrated and alone. She wanted to scream and suddenly hated the hairpiece of the man sitting across from her. It wasn’t supposed to go this way. Why couldn’t people be civilized?
A memory came flooding back to her of a night eleven years earlier when she and Alan were lying in bed. Long before iPads had been invented, they’d settled the problem of what to watch by setting up two televisions side-by-side at the foot of the bed. She remembered he was watching The Apartment. She was multitasking, reading a book on infertility and half-watching the original A Nightmare on Elm Street—one of her favorites because it featured Johnny Depp in his pre-Jack Sparrow days.
“I heard something,” she said, yanking off her headphones.
Still wearing his, Alan sat in bed, engrossed in the scene where Jack Lemon finds Shirley MacClaine lying on his bed, unconscious from an overdose of sleeping pills. With mother determination, she got out of bed and rushed to Ruby’s bedroom. When she didn’t see her daughter, her heart skipped a beat. As she made her way down the stairs, she heard giggling coming from the home office. Rushing in, she found Ruby, three at the time, playing a computer game.
“Ruby, why aren’t you in bed?”
As Alan walked in, he yawned loudly. “What’s going on?”
Stacey glared at him, angry at his seeming lack of concern. “Your daughter is playing Warcraft: Orcs & Humans again.”
“Look, Daddy!” Ruby said, pointing proudly at the monitor.
“Are you kidding me?” He came over and squinted at the screen. “How did you manage to kill all those Orcs?”
Stacey rolled her eyes. “Alan, that’s not really the point.”
“I know, but—”
“Back to bed, Ruby. Now!” Stacey was pointing at the door.
“Come on, short stack,” Alan said, picking up his daughter and depositing her on his shoulders.
Back in bed, Alan reached over to turn out the light, but Stacey set her book down and grabbed his arm.
“Ow! Look, it’s not my fault she keeps guessing my password,” he said.
“I want another baby.”
“Now? What about the schedule?”
Smiling, she climbed onto him and, switching off the light, kissed him. “Schedule, shmedule.”
Sitting glumly at her table at the BOA Steakhouse, Stacey could still feel that kiss, as well as a profound sadness. She would marry Warren, and Alan would find someone. They would have joint custody of Ruby. She and Warren would have children of their own, and so would Alan and whoever he wound up with—probably someone younger who attended barre classes. Everyone would get together on holidays, and Ruby would be well adjusted.
Why was she having so much trouble picturing Alan with someone else? Come on, Stacey, think. All those women who came into the dealership every day? She was perfectly aware they found him attractive. As she had. Short blondes with big breasts, tall brunettes with legs up to their eyeballs. Oddly, no redheads. Everything will be fine, she told herself. Alan would eventually meet someone. The important thing for him was to get back out there.
Still, was that the future she wanted? This wasn’t one of her promotions. Warren had proposed, for God’s sake. And another thing. Why had she been in such a hurry to tell Alan? To hurt him? Yes—no! The truth was, she had hurt him. Deeply. Surprisingly, it hadn’t been that hard to do. In fact, it had felt…good.
As Stacey looked down at her cold plate, she watched in silent dread as fresh blood oozed from beneath the meat, as if something had been sacrificed.
Copyright © 2017 by Steven Ramirez.