Marcus didn’t like being called Marcus. He liked Mark, Marky, even Mercutio on occasion, but it was Marcus that he hated. Marcus reminded him of all the twisted dark memories, arrogant teachers, and run-ins with the law he had back in Delaware. He had come to Los Angeles to forget all that. No job, no plan, just the winnings from a lucky break on a fast horse, and a desire to run away from it all. He had found the spare bedroom of a sweet old lady that he could rent out, but wasn’t sure how long his money could last. When he started looking for work, he was surprised by the surprised of employers that he wasn’t an actor. The more he got to know people, the more he felt like a man without a country. He wasn’t an artist, a writer, a director, or any of the part-time side-hustles that so many of his neighbors were obsessed with. Finally he lucked out as an assistant to an assistant for some antiques collector in the Hollywood Hills. She, the antiques collector, would spend her money on online auctions, and then find clever ways of reselling for a higher value. One of her tricks was to buy a basketball jersey, then sleep in it without wearing deodorant. The scent of musk and pit stains fooled buyers into thinking it was worn by the legend whose number was on it. Mark would help with errands, which wasn’t hard, but wasn’t profitable either. The barely minimum wage job barely covered expenses, and he was racking up credit card debt in order to stay afloat. The one good thing that the job allowed was introductions to the Los Angeles investor class. Not everyone he met was wealthy, most were other dreamers and schemers waiting for their next big whale of a break. However, he was put in the sight lines of people who, whether through family or luck, they had gotten enough dough to live comfortably in one of the most expensive cities in the world. They ranged from Chinese real estate moguls, Ukrainian gas merchants, PR executives, Oscar winners, bicoastal bipolars, and T-shirt salesmen. They didn’t need to get to know Mark, they just trusted him because they trusted the antiques dealer; and the more they wanted something from her, the more they wanted something from him. One buyer or another would often surreptitiously slip their cell number into his hand with a whispered request.
“Get me a Babe Ruth baseball.”
“Let me know when the next shipment comes in.”
“Call me when she makes her next big deal.”
Mark was invited out to cocktails and parties where he did not belong, and he knew it. But that wouldn’t stop him. He knew enough that when you get an invitation to the Kentucky derby, you don’t give up your horse. So, he lied, and he drank, and the more he drank, the more he lied. He concocted stories about priceless antiques in his boss’s cellar, and hinted at more.
He drank until he couldn’t remember, and then woke up in his bed, as if the night before was a dream. He would lie in his bed, staring up at the ceiling, the morning light slicing through the blinds. He would think about what he was doing with a nihilistic despair. Nine months had gone by, and he was running out of energy and money.
Then, a thought. No, that wouldn’t work. But as he laid on the bed, paralyzed by hangover, he stirred it around again and again. Maybe… just maybe. And that was the moment he decided to set his idea into motion.