Chapter no 9 – Last Summer

Hell Bent

Alex touched down at LAX at 9 a.m. on Sunday. Michael Anselm and Lethe had sprung for first class, so she’d ordered two shots of gratis whiskey to knock herself out and slept through the flight. She dreamed of her last night at Ground Zero, Hellie lying cold beside her, the feel of the bat in her hand. This time, Len spoke before she took her first swing.

Some doors don’t stay locked, Alex.

And then he’d stopped talking.

She woke drenched in sweat, Los Angeles sun beating through the muddy glass of the airplane window.

It was too hot to wear a hoodie, but just in case Eitan was watching arrivals, she put it on, zipped it up, and caught a cab to the 7-Eleven near her mom’s apartment. The bill ran her nearly one hundred bucks. The city looked hazy and bleak, the dull yellow-gray of an overcooked yolk.

She bought an iced coffee and Doritos, and set up about a half block away from the apartment. She wanted to see her mother, make sure she was okay. She had thought about just knocking on the door, but Mira would panic if she showed up unannounced. And how would Alex explain where she’d gotten the money to fly home?

She still felt a pang when she saw her mother’s friend Andrea at the intercom. A minute later, Mira emerged in yoga pants and an oversized T-shirt emblazoned with an ornate hamsa, reusable shopping bags slung over her shoulder. They strode off together, arms and legs pumping in a power walk, and Alex followed for a while. She knew they were headed to the farmers’ market, where they’d buy bone broth or spirulina or organic alfalfa. Her mother looked happy and golden, her blond hair freshly

highlighted, her soft arms tanned. She looked like a stranger. The Mira Alex knew lived in a constant state of worry for her angry, crazy daughter. This woman’s daughter went to Yale. She had a summer job. She texted photos of her roommates and new spring flowers and noodle bowls.

Alex sat down on a bench at the edge of the park, and watched her mother and Andrea disappear into the white tents of the market. She felt breathless and teary and like she wanted to hit something. Mira had been a crap mother, too caught up in her own storms to be any kind of an anchor. For a while Alex had hated her, and some part of her still did. She hadn’t been born with her mother’s gift for forgiving or forgetting. She didn’t have Mira’s sunshine hair and soft blue eyes, her love for peace, her bookshelves lined with ways to be kinder, more empathetic, a gentler being in the world, a force for good. The awful truth was that if she could have stopped loving her mother, she would have. She would have let Eitan make his threats and stayed away forever. But she couldn’t shake the habit of loving Mira, and she couldn’t untangle the longing she felt for the mother she might have had from the desire to protect the one she did have.

She called Eitan. He didn’t answer, but a minute later she received a text.

Come after 10 tonight.

I could come now. That felt safer than You said lunch, you manipulative asshole.

The minutes ticked by. No answer. And there wouldn’t be one. The king did what the king liked. But if he wanted to kill her, he didn’t have a reason to wait for nightfall. That was almost reassuring. So what was this? Some kind of trap? An attempt to pump Alex for information on Len or his cousin’s death? Alex had to believe she could talk her way out of it. Eitan thought she was a junkie, a joke, and as long as he didn’t take her seriously, she was safe.

Alex sat watching the market a while longer, then hopped a bus down Ventura Boulevard. She told herself she was just killing time, but it didn’t stop her from getting off at her old stop, or walking the old route to Ground Zero. Why? She hadn’t been back since she’d been taken away in an ambulance, and she wasn’t sure she was ready to see that ugly old

apartment building with its stained stucco and its sad balconies looking out at nothing.

But it was gone, not a scrap or sign of it left, just a big dirt hole and a lot of rebar going up for whatever new thing would replace it, all of it surrounded by a chain-link fence.

It made sense. No one wanted to rent an apartment where a multiple murder had taken place. A crime that was still unsolved. And no one was going to put up a monument here or even one of those flimsy white crosses surrounded by cheap flowers and stuffed animals and handwritten notes. Nobody cared about the people who had died here. Criminals. Dealers. Losers.

Alex wished she’d brought something pretty for Hellie, a rose or some shitty grocery store carnations or one of the cards from Hellie’s old tarot deck. The Star. The Sun. Hellie had been both of those things.

Had she expected to find her here? A Gray haunting this miserable spot? No. If Hellie came back through the Veil, she would go to the ocean, to the boardwalk, drawn by the clatter of skateboards and syrupy snow cones, the sweet clouds of heat coming off those big drums of kettle corn, couples kissing at the tattoo parlor, surfers daring the water. Alex was tempted to go look for her, to spend the afternoon in Venice, heart leaping after every blond head. It would be a kind of penance.

“I should have found a way to save us both,” she said to no one. She stood sweating in the sun for as long as she could bear it, and then walked back to the bus stop. This whole town felt like a graveyard.



Alex spent her remaining hours up at the Getty, watching the sun set through the smog, eating a stack of chocolate chip cookies from the café. She made herself walk through the galleries because she felt she should. There was a Gérôme exhibit up. She’d never heard of him, but she read the typed descriptions beside each painting and stood for a long time in front of The Grief of the Pasha, looking at the tiger’s dead body laid gently on a bed of flowers, and thinking about the hole where Ground Zero had been.

A little before ten, she had a car take her up to Eitan’s house on Mulholland. She could see the rush of the 405 below, red blood cells, white blood cells, a flood of tiny lights. She might die here tonight and no one would know.

“You want me to wait?” the driver asked when they reached the security gate.

“I’m good.” Maybe if she said it enough times it would be true.

She thought about just hopping the fence, but Eitan had dogs. She thought about texting Dawes so that someone would know she’d been here. But what was the point? Was Dawes going to avenge her? Would Turner pull a few strings, get someone to look into her case, have Eitan brought in for questioning with one of his expensive lawyers?

Alex was about to press the buzzer on the intercom when the gate began to open on silent hinges. She looked up and waved at the camera perched on the wall. I’m harmless. I’m nobody and nothing worth bothering with.

She walked up the long path, sneakers crunching on the gravel. She could hear the sound of the freeway far below. It was the sound of your own blood moving through your veins when you cupped your hands over your ears. Olive trees lined the path, and there were six cars parked in the circular driveway. A Bentley, a Range Rover, a Lambo, two Chevy Suburbans, and a bright yellow Mercedes.

The house was all lit up, its windows shining like gold bars, its pool a bright slab of turquoise. She glimpsed a few people gathered around the water. Men with careful hair dressed in untucked shirts and expensive jeans; long, liquid women who looked like they’d been poured from some expensive bottle, dressed in bikinis and scraps of silk that flowed around them as they walked. She could see a Gray in a slinky sequined dress beside them, her hair feathered, drawn by the quick thrill that came with cocaine or ketamine, the pulse of lust that always seemed to surround this house, whether twenty people were gathered or two hundred. Alex had only ever been to Eitan’s big parties, noisy, messy events fueled by throbbing bass that shook the hillside, half-naked bodies in the pool, crates of Israeli vodka. She and Hellie would trail after Len as he exclaimed, every single

time, as if he’d never seen the place before, “This is it. This is what we need a piece of. Shit. It’s not like Eitan’s that smart. Right place, right time.”

But Eitan was smart. Smart enough not to trust Len with any real weight. Smart enough to know something wasn’t right about Alex.

She glanced at the partiers by the pool and wondered if she should have dressed more nicely, not because she was invited but as some kind of show of respect. Too late now.

“Hi, Tzvi,” she said to the bodyguard at the door. He wasn’t built like a bouncer. He was tall but wiry, and there were rumors he was former Mossad. Alex had only seen him in action once, when someone’s rowdy buddy had shot off a gun in the middle of a party. Tzvi had the gun out of his hands and the guy out the door while the sound of the bullet was still ricocheting off the hillside. Later she found out he’d broken the guy’s arm in two places.

Tzvi bobbed his chin at her and gestured for her to raise her arms. She endured the pat-down—swift and efficient, no titty grabs or slow squeezes like you got from some of Eitan’s staff—and followed the bodyguard into the house. Eitan’s place was all marble floors, chandeliers, high echoing ceilings. Things that had once meant wealth to Alex, luxury, a trove of treasures costly and desirable. But Yale had made her a snob. Now the gold, the recessed lighting, the veined marble just seemed showy and crass. They screamed new money.

Eitan was seated on a big white leather couch, R&B filtering through the enormous glass doors from outside.

“Alex!” he said warmly. “You take me by surprise. I wasn’t sure you would come.”

“Why wouldn’t I come?” she asked. Harmless, easy, a little rabbit not even worth catching.

He laughed. “True, true. I don’t think you want me to come get you.

Hungry? Thirsty?”

Always. “Not really.”

“Alex,” he chided, like a doting grandmother. “It’s good to eat.”

Fuck it. The Alex she needed him to believe in had no reason to be nervous. She had nothing to hide. “Sure, thank you.”

“You are always polite. Not like Len. Alitza made pie.” He waved to another armed man, who disappeared into the kitchen.

“How is Alitza?” She was Eitan’s cook, and she’d never seemed to approve of any of what went on at his house.

Eitan shrugged. “Always she complains. I buy her … what is it? Disney Annual Pass. She goes every week now.”

The guard returned with a huge slice of cherry pie, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Through the glass door, Alex could see the glittery Gray in her slinky dress gyrating on the dance floor, hands raised over her head, her phantom body pressed against oblivious partiers.

Alex made herself take a bit of pie.

“Jesus,” she muttered, her mouth still full. “This might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”

“I know,” said Eitan. “This is why I keep her.” For a while, Eitan watched her eat. When the silence was too much, Alex set the plate on the big glass coffee table, wiped her mouth.

“I thought you would be dead by now,” he said. It wasn’t a bad bet.

“I thought you die of overdose,” he continued. “Or maybe you meet another bad boyfriend?”

That did sound convincing. “Yeah, I met someone. He’s nice. We’re going to move to the East Coast.”

“New York?” “We’ll see.”

“Very expensive. Even Queens is expensive now. I never find the men who kill Ariel. I never even hear a whisper. A night like that doesn’t happen without talk. I listen. I ask everyone else to listen. Nothing.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

Again Eitan shrugged. “Strange, you know? Because is not a clean crime. Is ugly. Amateur. People like this, they don’t cover their tracks.”

“I don’t know what happened that night,” Alex said. “If I did, I wouldn’t be protecting the people who killed my friends.”

“Was Len your friend?”

The question startled her. “Something like that.”

“I don’t think so.” He gestured to the backyard. “These are not my friends. They like my food, my house, my drugs. Vampires. You know, like the Tom Petty song?”


“I love that song.” He touched a few buttons on his phone and the strumming of a guitar filled the room. “Tzvi rolls his eyes.” Alex glanced over her shoulder at the stone-faced bodyguard. “He thinks I need new music. But I like it. I don’t think Len was your friend.”

Alex had spent years of her life with Len, lived with him, slept with him, run errands for him, run drugs for him. She’d stolen and shoplifted for him, fucked strangers for him. She’d let him fuck her even when she hadn’t wanted to be fucked. He’d never made her come, not once, but he’d made her laugh on occasion, which might be worth more. She was glad he was dead, and she’d never bothered to ask where he was buried or even if his parents had come to get the body. She didn’t feel guilt or remorse or any of the things she was supposed to feel for a friend.

“Maybe not,” Alex conceded.

“Good,” Eitan said, as if he was her therapist and they’d made some kind of breakthrough. “The problem with the police is they only look—” He held his hand up in front of his face. “Right there. Only what’s expected. So they check the traffic cameras, look for cars. Who comes to a house to do a crime like this walking?” He made his fingers scissor back and forth, a headless man on a stroll across nothing. “On foot. Stupid to think about it. But there’s such a thing as a wise fool.”

Sophomore. From the Greek sophos meaning wise, and moros meaning fool. A little joke one of her professors had made. Alex stayed quiet.

“So I think, why not look. What can it hurt?”

Quite a bit, Alex suspected. Did Eitan know she’d killed Ariel? Had he really brought her here to even the score? And had she walked right up to his house like an ass?

“You know the pawn shop on Vanowen?”

Alex knew it. All Valley Pawn and Trading. She’d pawned her grandfather’s kiddush cup there when she was desperate for cash.

“They have a camera on the sidewalk out front all the time,” said Eitan. “They don’t look at the footage if there’s no trouble. But I had trouble. Ariel had trouble. So I look.”

He held out his phone. Alex knew what she was going to see, but she took it anyway.

The sidewalk was faintly green, the street nearly empty of cars and black as a river. A girl crossed the frame. She wore nothing but a tank top and underwear, and she had something clutched in her hands. Alex knew it was the broken remnants of Len’s wooden bat. The one she’d used to kill him, and Betcha, and Corker, and Cam. And Eitan’s cousin Ariel.

She slid her finger over the screen, rewinding. She felt Eitan watching her, calculating, but Alex couldn’t stop staring at the girl on the screen. She seemed too bright, like she was glowing, her eyes strange in the green light of a night vision camera. Hellie was with me, she thought. Inside me. On that last night, Hellie had kept her strong, helped her get rid of the evidence, made her wash herself clean in the Los Angeles River. Hellie had protected her to the end.

“Little girl,” said Eitan. “So much blood.”

There was no point denying it was her on the video. “I was high. I don’t remember any of—”

She didn’t get the last word out. A meaty arm clamped across her throat, cutting off her air. Tzvi.

Alex tried to pry his arm free, clawing at the bodyguard’s skin. She felt herself lifted off the couch as her feet kicked out at nothing. She couldn’t even scream. She saw Eitan on the white cushions, watching her with calm interest, the partiers through the window, gathered around the pool, oblivious. The dead girl in sequins was still dancing.

Alex didn’t think. Her hand shot out as her mind reached for the Gray, demanding her strength. Her mouth flooded with the taste of cigarettes and cherry lip gloss, the back of her throat itched as if she’d just snorted a bump. She could smell perfume and sweat. Power burst through her.

Alex seized Tzvi’s arm and squeezed. He grunted in surprise. She felt his bones bend beneath her palms. He released her and Alex tumbled backward over the couch. She scrambled to her feet and grabbed a big lump

of sculpture from the side table, swung. But he was fast, and no matter the strength inside her she was untrained. All she had was brute force. He dodged the blow easily, and the momentum carried the sculpture into the wall, hitting with so much force it plunged straight through. She felt Tzvi’s fist connect with her gut, knocking the wind from her. Alex went to one knee and grabbed Tzvi’s leg, using the Gray’s strength to knock him off his feet.

“Enough, enough,” shouted Eitan, clapping his hands.

Instantly Tzvi backed away, hands up as if gentling a wild animal, eyes narrowed. Alex crouched on the floor, ready to run, struggling for breath. She could see marks from her fingers on his forearm, already starting to bruise.

Eitan was still sitting on the couch, but now he was smiling. “When I saw what happen to Ariel, I think, it’s impossible. This little girl could never do so much damage.”

And Alex understood she’d made a terrible mistake. He hadn’t brought her here to kill her. If he had, Tzvi would have used a knife or a garrote instead of his hands. He would have attacked to kill instead of just punching her in the stomach.

“So,” said Eitan. “Now I know better. You and I have business, Alex Stern.”

It had all been a game. No, an audition. She’d been looking for a trap, just not the one he’d had waiting for her. And she’d walked right into it. The wise fool.

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