The miraculous thing about a hangover is how fantastic you feel the next day—the world was like a glorious three-part harmony to which I awoke. I showed up early to the office, hummed as I sipped my coffee, and wrote what I considered to be several dryly observant emails. Things were back on track.
At 10 a.m., Keira burst into my office. “We need to talk about the other night.”
Oh, never mind. It was another suck-ass day at Celebrity Magazine.
As she gnawed on a giant breadstick, Keira rattled off my many discretions from “the other night”—which included, but were not limited to, numerous off-sides fumblings with one Matthew McConaughey. Just as she got going, the man himself poked his whiskery mug inside the door. “Drew, you have got to teach me that Aruban Sand Shuffle again.”
Keira threw her breadstick in the trash, and it beamed off the rim. “I suppose your copy is finally in?” she asked, not waiting for a response before slamming the door.
I was anxious for McConaughey to leave, but instead he sat in my armchair and scratched his bristly chin. He tapped his feet on the floor, cracked his knuckles, and stretched his back. “What do you know about adopting a child from another country?” he asked finally.
“Can we talk about this later?” I picked up the phone and began dialing a nonsense number.
“Drew, two nights ago you and I had a tequila brotherhood.” He talked like a coach before the big game. “We sang Otis Redding together. Well, I sang Otis Redding, and you sang ‘Little Red Corvette.’ But you taught me the Aruban Sand Shuffle. Now I sense something has altered this…this soulful connection.” He lingered on the last two words. Jesus: What was the Aruban Sand Shuffle?
“I’m, I’m just having a bad morning,” I said.
“Comprende that.” He slapped his hands together and edged out of the room. “But when you’re ready to talk, you know who to call.” He held up his hand with thumb and pinky outstretched like a phone receiver, then held it aloft in a hang-loose sign, and let it linger as he ambled away.
I left the phone off its cradle, and burst into tears. Good God, what had I done?
That afternoon, I planned to spring a meeting on Tommy, my neighbor and what felt like my last best hope to salvage my reputation. Having disgraced myself so publicly, having ruined relationships and sparked ones I didn’t even want, it seemed the best thing to do was to throw myself into work. With Vince forever preoccupied—too busy flossing his molars with a stripper’s G-string, or having break-up sex with his fussy corporate girlfriend—it obviously fell on me to do the bulk of the investigative footwork. Before leaving, I sat down with Newman and Redford for a pep talk.
“Now, this neighbor of yours,” said Newman, unwrapping a cigar, “this Daniel Lee Star—”
“Tommy Lee Jones,” corrected Redford, not looking up from the newspaper.
“Whatever-his-dick,” said Newman, waving him away. “He may seem like a nice man, but we have a file thicker than a Sears catalog that says he’s a scumbag, a cop who steals from innocent people—”
“Drug dealers,” said Redford. “Not exactly innocent.”
“Am I fucking talking to you?” Newman thumped his cigar on his desk. “Point is: Let’s nail him.”
Redford winked, and placed his index finger at the side of his nose: “Nail him.”
My hands were trembling as I walked up to my apartment—my own apartment!—and knocked on Tommy’s door. Waiting, I couldn’t stop checking on the tape recorder weighing down my purse, looking for the two beady eyes of the tape churning. When Tommy opened the door, I cocked my head to the side, and twirled one blonde coil of hair around my finger. “I know it’s late notice,” I said, letting my lips inch into a crooked smile, “but how ‘bout that game of Scrabble?”
Tommy locked a club onto his steering wheel and smiled. “This is the part where I kill you, right?” he asked, and cackled. Tommy’s eyes lit up, and he grabbed my arm. “I’ve got an even better idea.”
We got into his pick-up, and drove for a while, Tommy chuckling to himself with each mysterious turn. “I think you’re gonna get a lot out of this,” he said, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel to the country music.
We pulled into a strip mall, everything boarded save for a laundromat, a Salvation Army, and a few mirror-paneled office spaces. Tommy locked a club onto his steering wheel and smiled. “This is the part where I kill you, right?” he asked, and cackled.
It didn’t seem possible that Tommy knew the truth—that I was trailing him for a story in Celebrity Magazine, that I was quite brazenly recording his every word—but this was the man, after all, who found me curled on the front steps like a drunk Rottweiler two days ago. And the man whose buzzer I kept ringing in a blackout. What had I told him? What did he know?
A homeless man in a Hawaiian shirt appeared at my window, and I shrieked.
“Good to see you, Nick,” Tommy said, as the guy wandered toward an office building. “Don’t mind Ol’ Nick N. He’s a friend of Bill W.”
Oh, shit: I was at AA.
Alcoholics Anonymous—I should have known it by odor alone. The burned coffee, the haze of cigarette smoke masked by industrial cleaner—like a church lodge after a Teamsters meeting. I hadn’t been to an AA meeting in a decade, but let me tell you, they don’t change.
“Hi, I’m Mel,” said a handsome older man with a slight but undetectable accent. “And I’m an alcoholic.”
“This is my first time chairing a meeting, I’m a little nervous. I’ll start out asking, any newcomers?”
If Tommy pointed at me, I was fully prepared to body-slam him. Instead, there was a familiar voice.
“Hi, I’m Lindsay, and I’m an alcoholic and drug addict.”
No fucking way: Our intern?!?
Our intern—with her outsized ego and her trampy mall clothes and her voice ground down by sucking on a thousand Parliaments and her annoying, kiss-ass compliments and—whoa-whoa-whoa—I had no idea I hated our intern so much. Still, I had a surge of admiration in that moment, watching her speak with her tank top slipping off one shoulder and her hands shoved into bedazzled jeans pockets. She seemed so young—what was she: 20, 21? She reminded me what it was like to be clueless and reckless and damaged. She reminded me of myself.
“I have had many ups and downs, as do we all,” she said. “Having said this, I’m willing to do anything I need to get my life the way it should be and the way I work for it to be.” She paused like she was done and then added, awkwardly, “And have thus far in my career.”
By the way, even at 20, I never would have said something stupid like that.
“I’m glad you shared that,” said Mel, “because the theme of today’s meeting is redemption. We come into this program because we’re broken people. We’re liars, we’re cheats. We’re ashamed of the life we were leading—”
“Actually, I came here under court order.” A pretty blonde woman in pancake makeup stood and waved with her hand cupped. “Hi, y’all, I’m Tara C., and I’m not really an alcoholic. I mean, I’m from Russell Springs, Kentucky! Anyhoo, I hear what you’re saying about redemption, and I think that’s awesome, but I’m just here because someone found naughty pictures of me on the internet and now I have to sit here day after day, hour after hour.” She rolled her eyes and gagged. “My sponsor told me to speak at every meeting. So that’s what I wanted to say: What you said was super-awesome, and also, that I don’t belong here. Thanks, y’all!” She blew each side of the room a kiss and took a seat. Ol’ Nick, sitting beside her, lifted up his right butt cheek and blew a fart.
“I’m pretty bottomed out, downtrodden and whatnot, and it would help me to hear other tales of shameful—perhaps even criminal—behavior.” “All right, thanks for sharing,” said Mel. “Again, the topic for today’s meeting is redemption. This is something we all—well, most of us, I guess—can relate to.”
Tommy cleared his throat and raised his hand. Before he could speak, though, someone else to center stage.
“Name’s Vince, alcoholic, yadda-yadda-yadda.”
I’ll be damned: It was Vincent V.
He was wearing a ragged trenchcoat and his face was pale, sweaty, like a wide slab of wet dough. He looked so miserable that for a moment I thought he might be sincere, and I felt the old, familiar tug at my heart. Then he started speaking.
“I’m new here, a little shy and whatnot, and I would like to extend an invitation to anyone to share their stories with me after the meeting. I’m pretty bottomed out, downtrodden and whatnot, and it would help me to hear other tales of shameful—perhaps even criminal—behavior.”
That lazy bastard. Trawling for leads at AA.
The room was silent. Vince continued. “Anyway, I’ll be here after the meeting. And Tara, thanks for sharing—you touched my heart. Sincerely. And you should pass along those internet pictures to me. Because I know a great lawyer.”
The hour was almost up when Tommy finally spoke. Sitting through testimony after weepy testimony, I’d almost forgotten what I was doing here. Then, a windfall arrived.
“I was on the police force for 20 years,” Tommy began, his voice a bit creaky. “It wasn’t the easiest job, and I wasn’t always the most honest man. I stole from people. Things that cost me my first marriage and my job and the respect of my kids.” He rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger. “Mostly, it cost me self-respect. When I walk into these rooms, I know I can speak honestly. I have a family here. I did some awful things. Some terrible, terrible things. But I’m on the road to redemption.”
I reached into my purse and pressed pause. Jackpot.
After the meeting wrapped, Tommy and a bunch of yappy old timers dragged poor Tara to IHOP, and I cornered Vince near the men’s bathroom.
“Pretending to be an alcoholic?” I asked Vince. “Isn’t this a little pathetic, even for you?”
“Hey, I got three phone numbers and a website full of naughty beauty queen photos. You’re the one who should be ashamed. Recording that guy at an AA meeting? That’s a new low in journalism. I would have expected better from you.”
It hadn’t seemed so bad till I heard it out loud. “How do you know I was recording him?”
Vince perched a cigarette between his lips. “Because you kept looking inside your purse every two minutes. Either you’re recording him, or you’ve got a leprechaun in there.”
“Hey, Drew.” Lindsay came up behind me and placed a French manicured hand on my shoulder. She bounced a bit in her wedges. Her blue eyes (which I could have sworn were green yesterday) sparkled. “Listen, I was kind of hoping you’d be my sponsor.”
Vince coughed out a messy white plume of smoke.
I wanted to say yes. I wanted to help her, because she looked so lost and expectant. But for one thing, I wasn’t in AA. For another, well, that was it, really. “Oh, honey, it doesn’t work that way.”
“That’s cool.” Her eyes hardened and she hiked up her gigantic bag on her shoulder. “If you don’t wanna do it, that’s cool. Vince, let’s roll.”
Before I could respond, they both left through the doubled doors and climbed into Vince’s black Escalade.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
Vince winced as his cigarette smoke drifted into his eyes. “Cheetah Lounge. Fifth and Vermouth. You in?”
“You’re taking her to a strip club? Are you out of your mind?”
He backed the car out of his parking space, and it squealed into drive. “Just for happy hour. Then we’ll head over to the Whiskey Lounge. Relax, I’m fine.” With that, they were gone. The golden-boy reporter and our star intern. Redford and Newman were gonna burst blood vessels over this one. I pulled out my cell phone.
“Mateo? Can you come pick me up?”