A glimpse out the window revealed that the paparazzi still surrounded the marble building. Cameras clicked and flashed at nothing; the barracudas were ready to snap. I saw a bored cop give a wide-mouthed yawn and empathized completely.
Inside the lawyer's Glendale office was even worse. A drive-by shooting of East Coast/West Coast proportions couldn't possibly be more joyless. Exacerbating my predicament was the fact I didn't even know why I was there.
I suppressed a sigh as I stretched my legs, careful not to kick the chair in front of me. Charles Levant, the oldest sibling and the seat's occupant, hadn't been thrilled to see me that morning, or ever, and even though I enjoyed antagonizing him, I thought it best not to rile him further in light of the circumstances.
His sister, ice-blond, icy Michelle, also carried a vendetta against me. She and her last remaining brother sat in two leather chairs before an ornate walnut desk, listening as the lawyer read from the will in a monotone that could inspire an eager, suicidal stampede to the gallows.
Then there was me, tucked away in the corner, wondering why I'd been summoned. When was someone going to get to the point? An early afternoon mud bath awaited me.
The lawyer finally fixed his Morocco Mole eyes on me. "Olivia Gray."
The siblings swiveled to look at me, the leather squeaking beneath them, and I struggled to see the family resemblance. Charles was no longer the lean, good-looking teenager he'd been in the '70s. He'd become beefy, stuffed into tailored suits. His forest of arm hair curled over the sides of his expensive watch, and I shuddered at the thought of him ever using his baseball-mitt-size hands in an attempt to pleasure some poor woman. He still wore his whitening blond hair--previously the stuff of teen idol legends--long and in a low ponytail. A hoop earring glinted in his ear, as if to remind anyone watching him attempt acting on a popular cop drama that he was still cool.
Tall, imposing Michelle had never been lucky in the looks department, but while she lacked prettiness she made up for it with plastic surgery. She now had the perfect nose, mouth, cheekbones and so on--but all of it compiled on one face resembled a Picasso painting. The effect lent her an intriguing look displayed often on magazine covers. Still, no one aspired to screw her, which perhaps explained why she was such a bitch.
Despite the siblings' physical differences, with their identical glares now in my direction, I finally noticed how related they really did look.
"...and Levant's will dictates that custody of the children goes to you, Ms. Gray."
The lawyer's conclusive tone indicated he must've been talking for some time, but only now did he have my full attention, as well as everyone else's. "Upon the reading of this document, they are to immediately revert to your care within the next seven days."
"You've got to be joking." The red in Charles' already permanently ruddy cheeks crept toward his receding hairline.
"She's never even met the kids." Michelle shook her finger in my direction like a weapon as she faced the lawyer, looking about as friendly as a Rottweiler with a stepped-on tail.
Speechless, I could only close my eyes. The Levants' outraged squawks rose around me until I could hear nothing but wordless white noise, and from the amorphous memories clawed the one person I'd done everything I could not to think of again.
I escaped the lawyer's office by way of the back door and instructed my driver to take the long route home. During the trip to Laurel Canyon, I smoked one cigarette after another with the windows up until I sat in a thick smog that stung my eyes. I breathed in the cancerous clouds, feeling a worrisome buzz prickle through me, something I hadn't felt in years. My mind burned with thoughts I couldn't even recognize.
Me, a parent. Jonathan Levant's final, cruel act, spawned surely from revenge. My renewed loathing for him throbbed with such passion I didn't even realize I'd arrived home until my ever loyal houseman, Nels, was halfway done escorting me up the curling marble staircase toward my bedroom. I waved him away with a flick of the wrist and a slam of the door after doling out reluctant instructions to childproof the house, whatever that entailed.
Once alone, the enormity of my situation homed in. My new brood would arrive in a week's time and stay forever. Good God. I needed to call my lawyer. I needed to call my publicist. I needed to get out of this mess.
But first I needed some sympathy. I rang my friend Ione de Claire. "I have a problem."
Ione sounded like she was delighted to hear it. Who doesn't love a celebrity in distress?
"Is it about you and the Levants?"
Alarm gonged through my body. "How did you know?"
"Gene told me, sweetie."
I tried not to groan, although I permitted myself an eye roll. Gene Finch, a ruling movie mogul in the 1990s, happened to be Ione's husband. He also happened to be quite dead. Lung cancer claimed him a year ago, but Ione believed his spirit was still with her. What can one expect? Ione was, after all, the heiress to a chain of casinos and thus highly prone to large doses of unfathomable wackiness. When I met her at a fashion show in Paris a few months ago--we bonded over our hatred for all the same gowns--she was in the midst of hawking her bestseller, Love after Death: How to Make a Supernatural Marriage Work. I indulged in the occasional brunch-and-massage day with Ione because it's a good idea for a person to always have at least one friend around who makes her look downright sane--not so easy among the notorious and well-off.
I decided to humor her. "And how did Gene know of my plight, being six feet under and all?"
"Jonathan told him so. He spoke to him in the ethers."
Christ. "Did Gene tell Levant, on my behalf, he's the world's biggest asshole?"
"No, Olivia dear, Gene is polite, even in the beyond." I heard a glass tink against the phone and assumed Ione was enjoying one of her daily margaritas by the pool. "It sounds like you have some unfinished business with Jonathan Levant."
"As a matter of fact, I do. This unfinished business happens to be him sticking me with his three kids sans explanation."
"Yes, it's strange." Ione's voice became faraway, suspicious. "I wondered why you, of all people, would be named the children's guardian."
A thousand suppositions raced through my head and I didn't like any of them. None could possibly improve the situation anyway. "Your guess is as good as mine."
"Perhaps a seance can be arranged and we can ask him."
I've done a lot of insane things during my life, but chatting with the dead--for a fee, knowing Ione--was not in the plans. "I'll give it some thought. Listen, darling, I need to get going. I've an early meeting with Rose tomorrow about the upcoming album."
"Of course, dear. Keep me posted."
I replaced the receiver, paused, then scooped it up again and punched in another familiar number. If you can't call your latest paramour with your woes, who could you call?
After a few rings, a gruff albeit suave-sounding male answered. "Livvy, what do I owe this pleasure?"
"Don, I've awful news." I flopped with great drama onto my bed.
"If it's about your new parenting gig, I've already heard it."
"You what?" How was it everyone knew of my plight before I could even comprehend it myself? It was one of the many reasons living in L.A. was such a bitch.
"It's on every news channel. Reporters staked out in front of the lawyer's and the sister gave a statement. A weird-looking broad, that one. Are you really so surprised this is news? Jonathan Levant was a legend. Of course the contents of his will are a huge deal."
"Lucky me, getting singled out in it." I released a self-pitying grunt.
"Lucky you is right." Don lowered his voice. "Taking care of those kids could make you look really fucking good, Livvy. You know that, don't you? This could jumpstart your career. Plus I'm sure you'll be generously compensated for your efforts, right?"
"True." I fought the smile threatening to spread over my face. "A million a year until the last kid turns eighteen in one piece, not counting all the expenses the little monsters will rack up."
"So explain the downside."
"Fine, you're right. Happy?"
"If you are, I am."
"Glad to hear it." Now that Don had temporarily eased my fears, I was done with him. "I must go. So much to do, you know."
"That's fine. I'm due in a meeting soon, anyway. Dinner tonight?"
"Make it Saturday." I refused to accept last-minute dates.
I dropped the phone back in the cradle, knowing I'd have plenty of time before Saturday to come up with an excuse of why I couldn't make dinner. Classically handsome in a tall, dark, Italian way, Don Vega had been a successful actor a few years ago until he quit, deciding to be the next Reagan and give politics a try. He'd even bought himself a strong cleft chin for the job. Even though he knew nothing about anything, he'd somehow wound up in the House of Representatives. We met at a fundraiser for a governor gunning to be the next president, although considering the way the governor had eyed up the young starlets there, it didn't seem likely. Not everyone can be JFK.
In contrast, Don forced himself to appear as respectable as one can be in both L.A. and the government. He drank only his scotch and in moderation, smoked nothing but the occasional Havana cigar and dated only me. Perhaps his people suggested that being seen with me--with the hope of enforcing some reformation--would sway voters. After all, Rose, my publicist, had said that after my two disastrous marriages, dating a reputable Republican would put me in a new, fascinating light.
Although I occasionally allowed myself to fantasize about being the next Jackie O, Don and I had been dating for three months and I still couldn't find anything we had in common. Not that it had ever been a problem before, but Don was terribly dull. I wish I'd known him when he was famous for being shirtless in brain-candy movies. He'd seemed much more entertaining then.
I rolled face-down on the bed and released a muffled scream, thinking about what my life had become. As if I didn't have enough to worry about, with a struggling music career and lackluster lover, I was about to become a parent.
Jonathan Levant was incredibly lucky he was dead. If he weren't, I'd kill him myself.