Ricky Devlin was startled awake early that morning by traffic sounds on the overpass above him. Was it by something else, though? Bad dreams were too many for him since he'd been thrown out of his home three days earlier. Most of them featured his father Walter shouting at him in an alcohol-induced tirade for some inconsequential thing. Walter usually ended these arguments with his son by saying, "You'll never amount to anything. You're just a pansy-boy." Ricky almost believed him.
Although Ricky was glad to be free of his dad and out of a house that smelled like cherry cigars and whiskey, he didn't know what to do next with his new life on the streets. He couldn't ask his mother Ruth for advice. She was inside a rehabilitation clinic doing her best to kick a cocaine monkey, and she wasn't one to talk about steering clear of the so-called "seedy element." Ricky's only plan for that day was to eat breakfast. He only had 80 cents inside his blue jeans. How much nourishment could he buy himself with that?
Ricky walked away from Laurel Canyon Boulevard's freeway overpass toward a coffeehouse that was two blocks away on Moorpark. He sat down at a table inside. A red-haired waitress took his order ten minutes later.
"Good morning, Cutie," she said. Her verdant eyes sparkled. "What can I get for you today?"
"I'll take coffee with cream and sugar," he told her. "Is it 50 cents a cup? I don't have much money."
"Yes," she said. "We all need to eat, whether we can pay for it or not," the waitress said. It was like she understood Ricky's situation almost immediately just by looking at his disheveled hair and unkempt appearance. "I'll bring you some toast with butter and jam, too. It'll be ready in a few minutes."
"Please make it strawberry," Ricky told her. "That's my favorite." He looked at the waitress's nameplate. "Thanks, Cassie."
"You're welcome," she said. "What's your name?"
"Ricky Devlin," he said. "My friends call me 'Ricky the Rascal.'"
"It's good to meet you, Ricky." Cassie smiled. "I'll be right back." Ricky noticed her long and thin legs when she turned and walked toward the coffeehouse's kitchen.
Ricky stood up and walked toward the men's rest room then. He thought that he had enough time to pee before Cassie returned. The man who sat at the table across from his followed him inside. "Hello, Ricky," he said. "How're you?" He stood there at the sink and washed his hands.
"I'm fine," Ricky told him. He zipped up and re-buttoned his blue jeans. "I could use more money for food and such, however."
"Why don't you work for me, then?" the man asked him. "I can pay well."
The man had closely-cropped, brown hair and almond eyes, and he was buttoned-down and suited-up. He looked to Ricky like he'd stepped from a page inside a high-fashion clothing magazine. He undoubtedly told Ricky the truth when he suggested he could pay well. "How do you make money?" he asked him. "What do you do exactly?"
"I was a Wall Street day-trader when I lived in New York," the man said. "I made almost a million dollars a year. I found a better way to turn a buck here in LA. I write screenplays for low-budget films. Everyone will know Austin Kellogg's name someday."
"That's cool," Ricky said. "I'll do as little as be an extra with one line of dialogue to get into one of your movies."
"Not for me you won't," Austin told him. "You need to audition for Darren. He's the director/producer and photographer. We're the future hotshot Hollywood power duo Kagan and Kellogg." He smiled.
"I'm no Matthew McConaughey," Ricky said, "but I could use the exposure."
"We like to mold new talent and watch them evolve," Austin said. "You'll get a lot of exposure. Don't worry."
"Okay, it's a deal," Ricky told him. "I have nowhere to stay tonight other than under that overpass again."
"You can live with me, too," Austin said. "I have a spare bedroom with its own bathroom. You'll be set for a while."
"Thanks," Ricky said. "I need to take a shower. I probably smell like piss from sleeping on that mattress under the overpass." Ricky stopped and shouted, "Oh, shit!" He remembered his breakfast order. Austin followed him out of the rest room.
Ricky frowned when he realized the coffee with cream and sugar and four slices of toast Cassie'd brought out to his table were cold. The note she left under the plate for him read:
These are on the house. Take good care.
"What the fuck?" he said. "I'm too hungry to waste something that's free." He sat down at the table again, spread strawberry jam onto a slice of the once-warm white bread, looked at Austin and told him, "It's polite to share. Take one if you want it." Although Austin did, he left his slice dry. Ricky asked to borrow Austin's ballpoint pen, wrote, "I appreciate it" with a smiley-face beside it onto Cassie's note and called it good after he asked Austin to leave her a $5 tip. What am I doing going with Austin? Ricky asked himself as they left the coffeehouse. He's definitely dapper, but I must be desperate.