Illustration by Idiots’Books
Perry and Lester rode in the back of the company car, the driver an old Armenian who’d fled Azerbaijan, whom Lester introduced as Kapriel. It seemed that Lester and Kapriel were old friends, which made sense, since Lester couldn’t drive himself, and in Los Angeles, you didn’t go anywhere except by car. The relationship between a man and his driver would be necessarily intimate.
Perry couldn’t bring himself to feel envious of Lester having a chauffeured car, though it was clear that Lester was embarrassed by the luxury. It was too much like an invalid’s subsidy to feel excessive.
“Kap,” Lester said, stirring in the nest of paper and parts and empty health-food packages that he’d made of the back-seat.
Kapriel looked over his shoulder at them. “Home now?” He barely had an accent, but when he turned his head, Perry saw that one ear had been badly mangled, leaving behind a misshapen fist of scar.
“No,” Lester said. “Let’s eat out tonight. How about Musso and Frank?”
“Ms Suzanne says—”
“We don’t need to tell her,” Lester said.
Perry spoke in a low voice, “Lester, I don’t need anything special. Don’t make yourself sick—”
“Perry, buddy, shut the fuck up, OK? I can have a steak and a beer and a big-ass dessert every now and again. Purified medicated fatkins-chow gets old. My colon isn’t going to fall out of my asshole in terror if I send a cheeseburger down there.”
They parked behind Musso and Frank and let the valet park the town car. Kapriel went over to the Walk of Fame to take pictures of the robotic movie stars doing acrobatic busking acts, and they went into the dark cave of the restaurant, all dark wood, dark carpets, pictures of movie stars on the walls. The maitre d’ gave them a look, tilted his head, looked again. Calmly, Lester produced a hundred-dollar bill and slid it across the podium.
“We’d like Orson Welles’s table, please,” he said.
The maitre d’—an elderly, elegant Mexican with a precise spade beard—nodded affably. “Give me five minutes, gentlemen. Would you care to have a drink in the bar?”
They sat at the long counter and Perry ordered a Scotch and soda. Lester ordered water, then switched his order to beer, then non-alcoholic beer, then beer again. “Sorry,” he said to the waitress. “Just having an indecisive kind of night, I guess.”
Perry tried to figure out if Lester had been showing off with the c-note, and decided that he hadn’t been. He’d just gone native in LA, and a hundred for the maitre d’ when you’re in a hurry can’t be much for a senior exec.
Lester sipped gingerly at his beer. “I like this place,” he said, waving the bottle at the celebrity caricatures lining the walls. “It’s perfect Hollyweird kitsch. Celebrities who usually eat out in some ultra-modern place come here. They come because they’ve always come—to sit in Orson Welles’s booth.”
“How’s the food?”
“Depends on what you order. The good stuff is great. You down for steaks?”
“I’m down for whatever,” Perry said. Lester was in his medium here, letting the waiter unfold his napkin and lay it over his lap without taking any special notice of the old man.
The food was delicious, and they even got to glimpse a celebrity, though neither Perry nor Lester knew who the young woman was, nor what she was famous for. She was surrounded by children who came over from other tables seeking autographs, and more than one patron snapped a semi-subtle photo of her.
“Poor girl,” Perry said with feeling.
“It’s a career decision here. You decide to become famous because you want that kind of life. Sometimes you even kid yourself that it’ll last forever—that in thirty years, they’ll come into Musso and Frank and ask for Miss Whatshername’s table. Anyone who wants to know what stardom looks like can find out—and no one becomes a star by accident.”
“You think?” Perry said. “I mean, we were celebs, kind of, for a while there—”
“Are you saying that that happened by accident?”
“I never set out to get famous—”
“You took part in a national movement, Perry. You practically founded it. What did you think was going to happen—”
“You’re saying that we were just attention whores—”
“No, Perry, no. We weren’t just attention whores. We were attention whores and we built and ran cool shit. There’s nothing wrong with being an attention whore. It’s an attention economy. If you’re going to be a working stiff, you should pick a decent currency to get paid in. But you can’t sit there and tell me that it didn’t feel good, didn’t feel great to have all those people looking up to us, following us into battle, throwing themselves at us—”
Perry held up his hands. His friend was looking more alive than he had at any time since Perry had been ushered into his workshop. He sat up straight, and the old glint of mischief and good humor was in his eye.
“I surrender, buddy, you’re right.” They ordered desserts, heavy “diplomat puddings”—bread pudding made with cake and cherries, and Lester dug in, after making Perry swear not to breathe a word of it to Suzanne. He ate with such visible pleasure that Perry felt like a voyeur.
“How long did you say you were in town for?”
“I’m just passing through,” Perry said. He had only planned on maybe seeing Lester long enough for lunch or something. Now it seemed a foregone conclusion that he’d be put up in the “guest cottage.” He thought about getting back on the road. There was a little gang in Oregon that made novelty school supplies, they were always ramping up for their busy season at this time of year. They were good people to work for.
“Come on, where you got to be? Stay a week. I’ll put you on the payroll as a consultant. You can give lunch-hour talks to the R&D team, whatever you want.”
“Lester, you just got through telling me how much you hate your job—”
“That’s the beauty of contracting—you don’t stick around long enough to hate it, and you never have to worry about the org chart. Come on, pal—”
“I’ll think about it.”
Lester fell asleep on the car ride home, and Kapriel didn’t mind if Perry didn’t want to chat, so he just rolled his windows down and watched the LA lights scream past as they hit the premium lanes on the crosstown freeways, heading to Lester’s place in Topanga Canyon. When they arrived, Lester roused himself heavily, clutched his stomach, then raced for the house. Kapriel shook his head and rolled his eyes, then showed Perry to the front door and shook his hand.
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As part of the ongoing project of crafting Tor.com’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.