You can read a review of Philip Eliott’s second novel, ‘Porno Valley’ you can find it here: Review
It’s the year 2000 and 78-year-old Mickey O’Rourke has been a Los Angeles PI for a very long time. He’d thought he’d seen it all until the disappearance of porn star Jeffrey Strokes sends him from the sex-filled studios of the San Fernando Valley to the desperate streets of Compton where Mickey’s final case becomes his biggest test.
Flash back to 1998 and struggling hair salon employee Jemeka Johnson, suspecting boyfriend Ray-Ray of infidelity, follows him one night from their East Compton home to what turns out to be a drug deal gone sour where a twist of fate finds Jemeka tossed onto a dark and dangerous path—one that offers huge reward for someone bold enough to seize it.
Meanwhile, in 1999, tired of robbing small-town diners and shooting bad dope in filthy motel rooms, newlyweds Richie and Alabama return to LA in search of the perfect score.
Paths cross and past meets present as bad decisions hurtle toward worse consequences—and no one will ever be the same. (Synopsis courtesy of http://www.philipelliottfiction.com)
Shaking Bethany’s hand as he bid her goodbye, Mickey was again struck by her petiteness and how it contrasted with the aura of confidence she emitted, that confidence visible in her movements and clear comfortability in her choice of career, her seeming lack of self-doubt. “Strokes, Jeffrey Strokes,” she’d said when Mickey had asked her for Jeffrey’s full name, so Mickey had said, “I mean his real name,” thinking it was a stage name, and Bethany had giggled, enjoying this clashing of worlds. “That is Jeff’s real name,” she had said. “Guy was born to do porn.”
Mickey pushed through the front doors of MidnightPussy Productions into the blinding sunshine, mountains rippling on the horizon.
Born to do porn. An interesting way to describe the man who, according to a couple newspaper articles and dozens from underground zine Sleaze, had been the male star of the Los Angeles porn scene, multi-award-winning with legions of fans, until his sudden disappearance a year ago. LAPD had investigated without much success and the case had soon fizzled out. Jeffrey Strokes, it seemed, had simply vanished.
“Yo, Mickey Rourke,” a voice said. Mickey glanced toward the source: Riccardo, Bethany’s lover, sucking on a cigarette in the shade of the studio. “Can I’ve an autograph?”
Riccardo grinned at his own joke and swaggered toward Mickey. “Listen, no hard feelings about earlier. I didn’t mean to suggest you couldn’t do your job or nothing like that. I just never heard of an eighty-year-old fuckin’ PI before, you know?”
Riccardo took a drag. “Sure.”
“Are there any seventy-eight-year-old porn stars, Riccardo?”
“I don’t know if star is the right word, but, sure, a few.”
“Well then, if we can pull that off, I think we can manage a bit of detective work.”
Riccardo tossed the cigarette into the dirt. “You got a point there.”
“Finished work for today, Riccardo?”
Riccardo nodded, exhaling smoke.
“Jeffrey Strokes. You know him?” Mickey said.
“Yeah, everyone knew Jeff. He was a bit strange but we got along.”
“What you mean?”
“You’re speaking about him in the past tense.”
“Figure of speech, old man. Figure of speech.”
“Why do you say he was strange?”
Riccardo squinted into the distance. “You see that Coen Brothers movie came out last year?”
“The Big Lebowski.”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“I saw it, yes.”
“You know Jeff Bridges’ character, The Dude? Well, imagine The Dude as a porn star who wins an AVN Award every year and you won’t be far off.”
“Adult Video News. The Oscars of porn.”
“A big deal?”
Riccardo shrugged. “To us.”
“And so Jeffrey—”
Riccardo held up his palm. “This is a lot of questions.”
“I have a few more.”
“Yeah, well, I’m busy.”
“Busy doing what? You said you’re finished work.”
Riccardo eyed Mickey suspiciously. He smirked. “You got me.”
“Just a few more questions and I’ll let you go.”
“Okay Mickey, but not here.”
“I need a drink,” Riccardo said, “and you’re buying.”
Riccardo, it turned out, owned a Harley-Davidson. Mickey, in his Pontiac Catalina, followed Riccardo on the Harley for ten minutes to a dark and smoke-filled dive bar. A hand-painted, slightly lopsided sign above the door declared the establishment “Bloody Mary’s.” A dozen choppers sat parked in a line outside, gleaming under the sun.
Inside, Riccardo slapped hands with some of the patrons—all heavily tattooed bikers dressed in leathers—while Mickey choked on the fumes, eyes stinging. The walls were decorated with graffiti, American flags, framed photographs of motorcycles and groups of men posing around them. Aggressive rock music throbbed out of speakers. Two men who had been playing pool were staring at Mickey now, along with everyone else. Was Riccardo hoping to intimidate him, bringing him to a biker bar?
“Hey Mary, how you doin’?” Riccardo said to a skinny woman behind the bar.
“Better now that you’re here.” Mary’s dyed-red hair and colorful tattoos appeared at odds with her weathered face and somewhat emaciated figure. “You gonna take me down the back alley today? I could use a seeing to.”
“One of these days, Mary. I promise.”
“You been sayin’ that for two years. A woman has needs.”
“I got my friend here today.”
Mary appeared to notice Mickey for the first time. She looked him over. “Your friend can take me with you, if he can still get it up. I like an older man.”
Mickey couldn’t believe his ears.
Riccardo clapped a hand on Mickey’s back. “You hear that, old man? What you think? You wanna take Mary out the back, show her a good time?”
“I think the lady ought to get to know me first.”
Riccardo grinned. “You’re funny. For an actor.”
“You’re in porn too?” Mary said, eyeballing him with interest.
“Not that kind of acting, Mary,” Riccardo said. “Hollywood acting. You might know him. This here is Mickey Rourke.”
“Not that Mickey Rourke . . .” But she sounded unsure.
“The one and only,” Riccardo said.
Mary frowned, looking Mickey up and down. “You’re lying.”
“I wouldn’t do that, Mary. Mickey here wants to get us a couple drinks.”
“What can I get for you boys?”
“Bottle of Bud for me,” Riccardo said.
“I’ll have a cranberry juice, if you have it,” Mickey said.
Mary raised an eyebrow and glanced at Riccardo.
“Actors,” Riccardo said.
“Yeah, Jeff’s a unique guy,” Riccardo said, sitting opposite Mickey at a small table in a corner. “Enjoys too much of the ganja, if you know what I mean.”
“He smokes marijuana?”
“Like a fuckin’ Rastafarian.”
“Does he use other drugs?”
“Most of ’em, probably.”
“Could be he got himself into trouble with some drug dealers, had to disappear?”
“Doubt it,” Riccardo said.
“Jeff’s so chill he’s practically horizontal. Couldn’t see anyone having a problem with him.”
“Bethany seems to think Jeffrey may have decided to disappear.”
“Wishful thinking,” Riccardo said. He drank from his beer. “Much better to think the guy’s laying low than dead in a ditch somewhere.”
Mickey nodded. The smoke was less concentrated in this part of the room, but still his eyes burned, throat dry, the deathly taste of it in his mouth. Bloody Mary’s clearly paid no heed to the smoking ban.
“Bethany loved him?” Mickey said.
“She tell you that?” Riccardo was looking into his eyes.
“What she tell you about me?”
“Your name didn’t come up.”
Riccardo’s eyes narrowed. “Can’t say I’m surprised. Even with the guy gone all anyone talks about is Jeff.”
Mickey wrote “Jealous” beside Riccardo’s name in the Moleskin.
“By all accounts, Jeffrey was something of a star in the pornography world?”
“An understatement, if anything. Jeff won three Best Male Performer of the Year AVNs in a row, probably would have kept winning ’em too. He was the highest paid guy in the business before he vanished. I’m assuming you’ve never been to a porno convention. You should go to one sometime, get the blood flowing. It’s the women who are the stars at these things. I mean, no shit, right? But Jeff would have fans lining up to meet him. I never understood the attraction. Guy would be standing there, swaying, eyes drooping out of his head, talking like Keanu Reeves on tranquilizers. Even had a line of dildos modeled on his cock. A bestseller, apparently. But whatever.”
Mickey underlined the “Jealous.”
“But you think he’s dead?”
“Why would a guy at the peak of his career choose to disappear? You’re the PI—in your experience are missing people usually dead or in hiding?”
“Usually, no one ever finds out.”
Riccardo picked up his beer. “Ain’t that the truth.” He downed the last of it.
“When did you and Bethany become romantically involved?”
Riccardo glanced away. “About a year ago, probably.”
“Before or after Jeffrey went missing?”
Riccardo met Mickey’s gaze. “After.”
“Yeah, old man, I’m sure.”
“So a year ago at most then?”
Mickey scribbled “Affair?” in the notebook. Out of the speakers a man was yelling about the ace of spades to a background of snarling electric guitars and lightning-speed drums.
“One final question and I’ll be off,” Mickey said.
“What, like, why do it?”
“I dunno. I couldn’t much stand doing anything else. Plus I like fucking. I’m good at it.”
“Does it bother you that Bethany has sex with other men?”
“No, old man, it’s like that. It’s a job. Just like yours.”
“If Bethany had sex with another man, privately, not for her job, would it bother you then?”
“It would tear me apart.”
“Funny, isn’t it? The subtle distinction.”
Riccardo shook his head. “It’s not subtle at all. You’re talking about two different things—work, and betrayal. Sex, and love.”
“For you maybe. For us, it’s life.”
Mickey stood up. “All right. Well, thanks for answering my questions, Riccardo. I’ll be seeing you.”
“I’m sure you will.”
Mickey pulled out his chair and turned to find Mary coming toward him with a camera in her bony hands.
“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Rourke, but before you go, do you think I could take your picture to put on the wall? It’s not every day we get a celebrity in here.”
Mickey looked at Riccardo, who shrugged at him, smirking. “Sure. Just so long’s you catch me on my good side.”
They walked up a driveway in West LA stinking of sweat, in dire need of showers and fresh clothes, each lugging a sports bag containing all their worldly possessions. The Greyhound had dropped them off near Skid Row shortly after midnight and they’d spent the night shooting up there in their own corner of that little section of Hell, keeping their heads down and waiting for morning.
Richie passed an expensive-looking Audi on one side of the drive and a tacky water fountain on the other and rang the bell of a large suburban home, big bay window on the left. It being Saturday, Richie hoped the person he was looking for was home. Alabama hadn’t said a word to him since he’d sent the deaf guy into the desert, not even when he’d explained that this neighborhood was where he had grown up, believe it or not, spending more time in Stoner Park around the corner than his house, saying the park was perfectly named because all he and his friends had ever done there was get high and skateboard—friends like Scotty Browning whose very house they were outside right now. But Alabama wouldn’t even look at him. He’d pushed her too far beating up the deaf kid like that. He’d have to play it safe for a while, get her back on his side.
The door opened and Scotty Browning stood looking at them with his mouth hanging open, spectacles crooked on his face.
“Scotty! My main man. How you doin’? This is my wife, Alabama. We’re in town, thought we’d drop by and say hello.”
Scotty just stood there, stupefied.
“Can we come in?”
The Browning family home was exactly as Richie remembered it: comfortable and lived-in, wooden floors and wooden stairs—wood all over the place—mass-produced kitsch on the walls, such as the phrase in thick sans-serif font hanging on a frame in the kitchen: “Having Somewhere to Go Is Home. Having Someone to Love Is Family. Having Both Is a Blessing.” The insincerity of it made Richie sick.
“Listen Richie,” Scotty said, standing hunched by the boiling kettle, “just so you know, my mom’s gonna be home soon.”
Richie stared at him. “Fuck is that supposed to mean?”
Scotty glanced at the floor, adjusting his glasses. “Just thought it was worth mentioning . . . How’d you know I still live with my parents?”
Richie frowned, the wooden chair bruising his ass. How had he known that? “You know what, Scotty, it simply never occurred to me that you would ever leave here. You’re not that kind of guy.”
“What kind of guy is that?”
Scotty held his gaze on Richie for a moment, then glanced away, sinking into himself like a sack of flour.
Alabama scowled at Richie. “This is a very nice house, Scotty. You live here your whole life?”
Scotty looked at her as if trying to decipher if she was being sincere or setting him up to fall. “Yep . . . since I was a baby.”
“You twenty-five like Richie?”
“Scotty was the baby of the group,” Richie said.
“What do you do for work, Scotty?” Alabama said. “If you don’t mind me askin’ ’bout your business, that is.” She flashed one of those disarming smiles at him.
Scotty loosened like a used condom. “Computer programming. Nothing too interesting.” Quiet, shy about it.
Alabama said, “Oh, I love computers. They’re just like big brains that can do anything.”
“Well, I guess they are pretty fascinating,” Scotty said, adjusting his glasses.
“I read somewhere it’s the best industry to be in right now, and only getting bigger,” Alabama said. “You got the right idea, Scotty.”
“Yeah, it’s really taking off. Actually, I just got offered a job down in Palo Alto with a company called Google, you probably haven’t heard of them but they’re growing fast, really taking over.” He looked at Richie. “I’m thinking about taking the job and moving there.”
“Well shit. Look at Scotty, finally growing a dick.”
“We’re not kids anymore, Richie. You shouldn’t talk to me like that.”
Richie sniggered. “Take it easy, Scotty, I’m just playing. I’m happy for you doing well for yourself. You were always the one of us who was gonna make it, we all knew that.”
Scotty touched his glasses, looking a little surprised, as the kettle started screaming. He switched the gas off and poured boiling water into three cups.
“We only have green tea,” he said. “You know my mom . . .”
“I’ll never forget her,” Richie said.
Scotty ignored him. “You want regular or lemon-infused?” he asked Alabama.
“Oooh, lemon please.”
“Me too,” Richie said.
Scotty rooted inside a cabinet and dropped teabags into the cups and placed the cups on the table, pale-gold liquid swirling inside them, the scent of it like citrus and honey.
Richie blew on top of his and put it to his mouth, nearly melting the lips off his face. “Fuck, that’s hot. Damn, tastes good though.” Sweet and very slightly sour.
“It’s very healthy, you should drink it more often,” Scotty said, not moving from the stove. “Or are you still set on destroying yourself?” The little fucker growing a backbone.
“Don’t worry about me, Scotty. I’ve done things you couldn’t even dream.”
Silence seized the kitchen. The cuckoo clock beside the doorway counted the slow march toward death.
Scotty said, “So, are you going to tell me why you’re here in my house, after, what is it, seven years?”
“Could be. I’m here because I want to ask you, as my good friend from the good old days—my best friend—I want to ask you if I could borrow your car for couple days. Just while we get on our feet. Three days, tops.”
Scotty had a face on him as if Richie had just rolled down his jeans and shat on the floor. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Also, I was hoping we could crash here for a few days. The basement is fine if it’s still got that sofa and TV down there.”
Scotty shook his head. “I can’t believe this.”
“Hey, what’s the big deal? We were friends—”
“Friends? Is that what you think? Friends?” Scotty stood up straight, gazing down at Richie with a hard look in his eyes that Richie had never witnessed in them. “You’ve never been a friend to anyone, Richie, least of all me. No, you can’t borrow my car and you can’t crash here.” He pointed at the doorway. “Get out of my house.”
Richie jerked his neck back. Who does he fucking think he is? The little twerp could barely make eye contact with strangers last time Richie had seen him, now he was giving orders?
Richie glanced at Alabama’s knuckles turning white on the table. He could play it safe, or risk losing her.
His moment of glory behind him, Scotty didn’t look so confident anymore, doubt creeping into his expression. Yeah, starting to regret it, about to shit his pants.
“For old time’s sake, Scotty, I’m gonna let that slide.” Richie could practically feel Alabama’s ass cheeks relaxing beside him. “But you’re gonna have to give me one thousand dollars along with your car.”
Scotty stared at him, back to looking stupefied.
“And this time,” Richie said, pulling the Smith & Wesson out of his jeans and banging it onto the table, “I’m not asking.”
“Didya have to take his mama’s jewelry?” Alabama said, in the passenger seat of Scotty Browning’s Audi, which, she supposed, was no longer Scotty Browning’s. “You got the car, a few hundred in cash. Taking the jewelry just seems mean.”
Richie sped the Audi toward the end of Scotty’s street and turned the corner too hard, swerving to avoid a fire hydrant.
“I told him to give me a thousand bucks or I’d shoot him,” he said. “I had to get him to make it up somehow. A man’s only as good as his word.”
Alabama rolled her eyes. She’d remember that next time Richie promised he’d take her out to a romantic dinner if she’d suck his dick.
“And besides,” Richie said, “Scotty’s mom is a class A cunt. One time, when we were real young, she slapped me with a spatula. A fuckin’ spatula. Bitch. She was hot, though.”
Richie slowed the car as they approached a fenced grassy area. He glanced at Alabama, a coy expression on his face. “I was thinking one of those necklaces would look pretty good on you.”
She shook her head. “No Richie.”
The Audi slowed almost to a stop.
“You really think so?” she said.
“Yeah, to go with those gorgeous green eyes.”
Her heart damn near melted every time Richie paid her a compliment, and it became impossible to be mad at him.
“Here, lemme show you.” Richie brought the car to a stop along the sidewalk next to the fence, behind which was a public swimming pool with changing rooms, a small skate park where kids drifted around on skateboards and smoked, and patches of well-trimmed grass lined by benches. He grabbed the plastic bag he’d shoved under Alabama’s feet and fished through it.
“Yeah,” he said, grinning, “I remember this one.” He withdrew his hand. A silver chain hung from his finger, a smooth jade stone dangling at the end.
Alabama’s breath caught. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s real jade. I remember Scotty’s mom saying that before. I always knew I was gonna steal this one day, I just needed to meet the right woman to steal it for.”
Alabama touched the stone. Smooth, almost slippery, and firm.
“Turn your head,” Richie said.
Alabama twisted her neck and felt the jade bounce against her chest as Richie placed it over her, cold on her skin, but weighty. Worth something.
“Show me,” Richie said.
She faced him.
His eyes opened up. “Wow. Look’s incredible on you. I was right, it goes perfectly with your eyes.”
“Look.” Richie swung open the sun visor above Alabama’s head and slid open the mirror.
Alabama angled the visor, glimpsing the jade resting above her cleavage and glinting in the light like something magical. She flicked the visor and gazed into her own eyes. They were almost the same color. Richie was right: the necklace had been made for her.
“I love it,” she said.
“Me too. And I love you.”
The surprise of it quickened Alabama’s heart. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard it.
Richie said, “I know that sometimes you don’t agree with the things I do. And I know that sometimes I can get a bit . . . frustrated.” He swept his long dark hair behind an ear. “I’m just trying to do what’s best for us, give us the life we deserve. ’Cause, babe, nobody’s gonna give it to us, no one’s ever given us a damn thing. We gotta take it. Understand?”
Alabama nodded, feeling a little heat between her legs, wanting him to stop talking and kiss her.
Richie squeezed her knee, looking past her out the window now. “This is Stoner Park I was telling you about.” Onto the next thing. “What a perfectly stupid name, right?”
“What?” Still staring at the park.
He looked at her. “What?”
“Kiss me, you idiot.”
Philip Elliott’s debut novel ‘Nobody Move’ won Best First Novel in the Arthur Ellis Awards. Follow-up Porno Valley is out in August, 2021. Feature-film screenplay The Bad Informant is currently in development with Passage Pictures. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Philip lives in Vancouver, Canada, with his wife and spoiled pug where he is never not listening to rock ’n’ roll. (Biography courtesy of http://www.philipelliottfiction.com)