The Method
written by Janet Fitch and narrated by Elizabeth Evans

And yet, I couldn’t help wondering how he knew her. If they’d really been lovers. She might have known him when he had hair, and she was a movie star. I was jealous of her, having had him, this fuzzy-headed has-been in the goat-hair sweater. I could imagine them together, how it was. I thought of it all the time, knowing what it was to have Richard; I’d never known sex could be like that. He was a drug. He hardly even came, just got you off about twenty times. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“I met this guy at Orzo’s,” I said, sipping my Corona. “He said he knew you.” I was taking a chance, but couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t know one fucking thing about Richard. Who his friends were, what he liked to do besides fuck. “His name was Richard something.”

She shrugged, sipped at her Scotch, watching Sharon Tate and Lee Grant on the flickering screen.

“Kind of intense, brown eyes?” I added.

The speed at which she turned to me, I knew. And it was either big or recent. But it hadn’t been good. She looked downright scared. “Was he tall, lanky? Attractive in a sort of reptilian way?”

I backpedaled fast. I didn’t want to tip her off. “No, this guy was stocky. Sort of like a wrestler. He said he interviewed you in the ’80s. You snorted coke together.”

She relaxed, went back to watching the TV. “Oh, a journalist. Yeah, I seem to remember someone like that. Richard somebody. Stevens. Sheehan.”

Onscreen, Sharon Tate was launching a porn career to care for her declining husband.

“So,” I said, natural as all get-out. “Who was this other guy?”

“Someone I had a thing with,” she said, not turning away from the TV. “Years ago. But what a psycho. I had to get a restraining order.”

I thought of Richard. Had he threatened her, had he hurt her? Was he capable of that? I had imagined him as dark, but was he dangerous? You’ve got to layer. Hold something in reserve. Easy. Casual. “What was his name?”

“Anthony. Karras. I had him fired off a set. People don’t take too kindly to that.”

“That’s kind of harsh, isn’t it?” I searched for my inner Laura. “Makes you kind of feel sorry for him.”

She patted my leg. “You’re a nice kid. Don’t feel too sorry for him. He was one of those guys who’s exciting in a kind of bad boy way … and then you get involved, and they’re just freaks. I got wise and told him it was over, to move the fuck out, but he wouldn’t. Had to call some people to get rid of him. He said he’d kill me. Showed up at my house. Called my friends. I took him off the picture and got a restraining order. Told the casting agents to watch out for him, he was a definite freak.” She got the remote, turned up the sound. “Learned my lesson, baby. No more smart men. Only nice and dumb and hung.”

I thought of the white powder concealed in my hand. Gilbert shoved his nose under my arm to be petted. I could feed him this shit, but he was a nice dog. I excused myself and went back to the kitchen, found Mariah’s stupid catch-and-release rat trap in the pantry. I opened the odiferous refrigerator—I’d scrubbed it out once, but it had lain rank too long, the smell was now part of the enamel—cut a little chunk of her $20-a-pound Whole Foods cheese, and blended it with a pinkie-nail’s worth of white powder. “Bon appetit,” I whispered as I pushed it through the door of the rat trap with a pencil. “My name’s Holly and I’ll be your rat-waitress tonight, we’re serving Humboldt Fog with a reduction of Nembutal.” Stuck the trap back into the pantry.

By dinnertime, there was a nice big guy in there. Stone cold dead. Teeth bared and claws curled to a chest solid as a pit bull’s.

* * *

I thought of it all through dinner. Richard sitting in his red room above the market, pouring himself a glass of wine, thinking he’d gotten away with murder. With me to take the rap. How satisfied he was with himself. You’re such a special girl, Holly. You’re going to go far. Yeah, I was going to go far. Right to fucking prison. Was he jerking off, imagining her dying? He sure as hell wasn’t thinking of me, walking away in handcuffs, trying to explain that my boyfriend put me up to it. I didn’t know, I just thought I was going to knock her out and rob her.

To think I’d imagined he really was hot for me, wanted me. He hadn’t even seen me. He’d been fucking me and thinking of her. How he was going to screw her. Thinking of her not as she was now, but as she had been back then, beautiful and famous and spoiled, when she’d had him thrown out and the locks changed. Just because I’d gotten the best screwing of my life, I was assuming it meant something. Oh, Midwest. Oh, Pioneers.

Well, I’d always known he was a wrong guy, fake as tendollar Prada. That every word out of his mouth was a lie. But not about us. Not how beautiful he thought I was, how exciting. Such a special girl. You’re going to make it. You just have to hide the barbed wire.

I’d hide it all right. Now he’d see how special I was.

At about 11:00 the phone rang. I picked up. Mariah didn’t like to answer her phone if there was someone else to do it. Hard not to have help when you’re a former film goddess. “Hello?”

It was Richard. I imagined how shocked he must be, hearing my voice, that son of a bitch. I listened for the tell, the little gasp, the hesitation, but he was good, he was always so fucking good. He didn’t waver for a second. “Holly. I thought you were going to call me. Did you do it?” He was calling to see if Mariah was dead.

Quickly, I scraped my own part together. Naïve cockstruck dupe wasn’t much of a stretch. “Yeah, but it sort of didn’t work out,” I said. “I put it in her Scotch like you said, but the dog knocked it over.”

“That’s too bad,” he said, carefully. “Did you use it all?”

“Yeah.” I lowered my voice, conspiratorially. “I didn’t want her waking up as I’m taking an earring out of her ear, right? Hey, I miss you.”

“What are you doing right now?” he asked.

“Working on my scene. Laura. It’s coming pretty well,” I said. “You’ll be surprised.”

“Come over here and surprise me.”

It was late, but he never went to bed before 2 a.m. He answered the door, wearing his tattered red brocade smoking jacket and a pair of jeans. The jacket would have looked ridiculous on anyone else. On him it hit just the right decadent note.

I let him kiss me. It surprised me. It felt just the same. Goddamnit if I didn’t still want him like a house on fire. It was insane. I felt like I was losing my mind. He poured us some wine. I tried mine and frowned, said it tasted weird, but he drank his and said it tasted fine. We made out on his bed and I took off my shirt, concealing our glasses of wine from him. I handed him his glass. “To Laura,” I said.

We toasted, then drank. He frowned and worked his mouth, his tongue, tasting, grimacing. “That is off.”

And then we made it. We did everything: me on top, him on top, sideways, scissoring. I was getting the best lay of my life. I came up with ideas I didn’t even know I had. I was sad I wasn’t going to have this anymore. But nobody fucks around with me. Nobody takes me for a ride.

Finally, he lay on his back, rubbing his arms, his chest. His breathing had grown audibly labored, though his cock was still working fine.

“Are you okay?” I asked, concerned.

“What time …” He was having trouble breathing. He turned over and squinted at the clock, his vision must not have been working so well. It was only 12:45.

“Feeling cold?”

His back arching, jerking. I rubbed his back, his arms. I could feel the rigidity, the tremor, the poison spreading. I hadn’t seen the rat die, I didn’t know quite what to expect. It was very instructive.

After a while, he pushed me away. “That’s … not … helping.” He lay on his back, his jaws clenching, his eyes luminous and big with fear. “Holly …”

“Can I get you something? Water? Aspirin?”

He nodded.

I fucked around in the kitchen, killing time, running the water, filling the glass a couple of times. As I held his water with one hand, I stretched out the other before me. Perfectly steady. I raised a palm up, inspected. The hand of someone I hadn’t known until tonight. We really could have had something, Richard and I. We were perfect for each other, like Bonnie and Clyde. But he didn’t see it. He just threw me away like a gumball prize.

When I came back with the water, he was rigid, his hand up by his throat, he could barely breathe. I held the water for him, let him drink. He choked a little, I backed off. He croaked, “Hosp … 911.”

“Should I call 911?” I said.

His face was pale with a greenish cast. Reptilian, yes, definitely. His eyes pleaded. Oh yeah. Now you notice me.

I called 611 and waited. Let it ring. I braced the receiver to my breast. “It’s busy, they say to hold. Oh God, Richard, what should I do?”

“Christ—” he gasped.

“Wait …” I said, as if someone was coming onto the phone. His back arched like he was in some yoga pose. “Oh fuck, it’s still busy, oh shit, Richard, what should I do?!” Crying a little. Was I overplaying it? Maybe just a bit. “Are you going to die?? Richard, don’t die!”

He tried to sit up on one elbow. “Help—”

“And … end of scene.” I announced. I hung up the phone, dropped the panicked-girlfriend routine. Now his eyes were bugging out of his head.

“You know, Anthony,” I said, pulling on my underwear, “I never did use that shit on Mariah.”

I was sure he would have taken a deep breath if he could, but he wasn’t breathing much at all. And yet, even like that, from somewhere, he found the strength to lunge at me. But he was rigid and in pain and all that happened was that he fell off the bed with a thud onto the Cost Plus rug.

“You know, I was crazy about you. I would have done anything for you. But you didn’t care what happened to me. All you cared about was getting back at her. For dumping you. You stupid fuck. She called you a psycho, you know? And I could be in jail right now, making my one call. Now, should it be to a lawyer? Or my darling boyfriend.”

His eyes looking up at me from the carpet, upside down, his back was so contorted, the whites were red and the irises full of horror and surprise. White frothy shit coming out of his nose, his mouth. I didn’t know how it would go down, how I would feel watching the man I adored die. It was like watching a part of myself die. The part that was good and decent. Well, good riddance.

“You know, I might have even offed her for you, if you’d sold it right. Then you could have had it all. Revenge, the swag, the whole deal. But you got sloppy. I won’t make that mistake.”

As he wheezed and convulsed, I busied myself cleaning up, wiping down the bottle and the water glass. I washed my wineglass but left his.

“Nobody’s going to think twice about this, Richard. Only Mariah. I’ll show her the headline, would you like that? Actor Dies in Los Feliz Apartment. Despondent over stalled career, bit player Anthony Karras …” I looked to see how he was liking my performance, but he had stopped breathing altogether. His eyes stared glassily at the leg of the coffee table, his right shoe. He was dead as the rat in the catch-and-release cage. I kneeled by him on the floor. “Am I good enough now, Richard?” I said softly to the body, his inert, splayed mouth open on the rug. I finished cleaning up, locked the door on the inside, wiped the knob, and then closed it with my shirttail.

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