Yes, I’ve been a busy bunny. Or rather my alter-ego has. It’s probably my own fault for naming her ‘Jessica’.
The new Jessica Pine novel is on its way in the next couple of weeks, so if you’d like to add it on Goodreads you can now do so. It’s a fun, trashy beach read and likely to appeal if you enjoyed the Fifty Shades of Neigh series. Read below the cut for a nibble, if you are so inclined.
A lot of people say it’s difficult to disappear in this day and age. Everything is digital. Banks, phone records, credit cards. A security camera takes your picture when you’re boarding a plane in Singapore and soon everyone half a world away knows your last known whereabouts. Go nuts with an umbrella at a gas station one night, and the next morning wake up to discover that the entire goddamn world is discussing your mental breakdown.
If you happen to be Britney Spears, I guess.
If I had learned anything from Growing Up Rowe, it was this; you can’t hide from all of the people all of the time, but with a little smarts and well applied experience you can usually manage to give maybe a handful of dumbasses the slip. Maybe not permanently, but long enough to sit back and take a couple of much-needed deep breaths.
Step one – When avoiding social media whores, there is only one option. Total blackout. Facebook, Twitter, blogs – the whole enchilada. Either delete them or let them sit idle. Both options have their drawbacks. Deletion will draw attention to you and sitting idle will make the whores in question start blowing up Twitter with the suspicion that you’ve been murdered, but fuck ’em. Keeping up with social media is not an option. You’re trying to escape from the maniacs, not engage with them.
Step two – Sell your car. Take off. Get the hell out of Dodge. Use cash whenever possible. Find a crappy cash-in-hand job doing the kind of thing that nobody else really wants to do; flipping burgers, making beds in cheap hotels or cleaning public toilets.
Step three – Go to the last place on earth you’d want to be. This is an excellent tactic, particularly when the person you’re trying to hide from is so insanely self-indulgent that they would never imagine for a second that someone would voluntarily go to a place they hate.
The last had given me a few pangs of guilt, I had to admit. Not towards the person I was trying to avoid, but towards Sedona itself. There was no question that the desert was beautiful beyond belief. Huge, fire-opal sunsets streaked across skies the size of forever. The light itself had a warm, dusty quality, at various times of day dip-dyeing the striations of rock formations to ever richer colors. The night skies were even more amazing, icy clear and star-spattered.
The only trouble with the place was all the fucking hippies.
Fortunately I was an Indigo Child. Probably. Or a Crystal Child. I was one of the two – I forget which. Maybe I’d been both at some point in my childhood. It was hard to keep track. Perhaps it was my essential Indigo nature that led me to the door of Rue’s Retreat. Maybe that or I was just morbidly curious as to what kind of mind could turn out so many highly colored fractal pictures of dolphins.
“I can guess people’s astrological signs just by touching them,” she said, within about five seconds of me walking into the store. She had that kind of serene New Age smile – like she was humming in tune with primal forces. Or full of it, depending on your point of view. Right away I had a clear explanation for the dolphin pictures, but Rue grabbed hold of both my wrists and closed her eyes.
I think that was the moment I decided to stay in Sedona.
“You’re a Pisces,” Rue said, opening her big, glowy eyes. “Am I right?”
“Got it,” I said, although I was actually a Taurus.
“What’s your name, honey?” she said, her thumbs still firmly pressed on my pulse points. I guessed it was some kind of chakra thing.
“Lucy,” I said, in what was either another flash of preordained inspiration or an ass-pull – again, totally depending on your point of view. And that was that. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds here found herself exactly the kind of off-the-books employment she’d been looking for since she left California. All praise to the mystical Sedona vortexes, I guess.
After a month at Rue’s I was still none the wiser as to what the vortexes actually were. Despite being an Indigo child I was at a disadvantage to Rue, who thought she might have been one-sixteenth Pueblo, a genetic inheritance that also explained her talent for making ceramic beads. Rue said the energy of the vortexes was spiritual in nature, while her boyfriend Jerry insisted they were some kind of naturally occurring electro-magnetic thing. Vincent, the guy who came to clean the pool filter, was convinced that they were part of an elaborate alien navigation system, but even Rue thought Vincent was kind of strange.
All I knew for sure about the vortexes is that they acted as a giant magnet for rich hippies; the Retreat was constantly busy. I got up at five most mornings to milk the goats – Hissy, Pissy and Shitfoot – and then after an early breakfast I was off again to make up the rooms and ‘sage’ them – a daily ritual involving salt, sage and quartz crystals that Rue insisted on in order to ‘positively charge’ the atmosphere in each room.
The goats were probably the worst aspect of my life, but considering the alternative there were mornings when I felt almost well-disposed towards Hissy and Pissy. (Shitfoot, not so much) There was something kind of soothing about the desert night and the emptiness of it all; the straw-smelling quiet of a goat shed and the pre-dawn peace, broken only by the hiss of the milk hitting the bottom of the pail.
That’s when I heard it.
It was the smallest noise, but it was familiar as breath to me. That tiny little fss-chk of a camera.
I was sitting there, stock still on the milking stool, straining my ears into the dark outside. And there it was again, this time accompanied by the split second blaze of the flash.
The next thing I heard was a crash, a muttered ‘fuck’ and a patter of running footsteps. At the same moment Shitfoot once again lived down to her name and thrust a poop-encrusted hoof into the pail of milk I’d almost finished coaxing from her tits. “You asshole,” I said, reflexively, and by that point I figured that whoever was out there was long gone.
Of course, there was always the possibility that I was just paranoid; considering that the population in Sedona was about sixty per cent hippie, it was hard to get from one end of the day to the other without getting high. The weed was plentiful and powerful and not without side effects. My personal theory was that that Vincent’s love affair with the bong had reached its passionate high water mark round about the time he started seeing little grey men from Roswell. He was always trying to cut back but it was too late – his synapses were probably already fried to fuck and beyond.
That morning he was out poking a screwdriver into the poolbot. The combination of water, electronics and Vincent was not one that inspired confidence, so on reflection it should have taken me less time than it actually did to ask him if he should be doing that.
He just shrugged and probed deeper into the mechanical guts of the pool-cleaning robot. “I came out this morning and found him dead at the bottom of the pool,” he said. “Poor little guy.”
A nine month stint in tech support had taught me to always ask the obvious questions first, because while you might not want to believe that people are that stupid, they usually are. I followed the cable to find that, sure enough, the poolbot’s power supply had come unplugged. The cactus in the nearby planter looked kind of askew, and there was soil spilled on the patio. You didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure that someone had tripped over the cable and yanked out the power supply. And I had a gut feeling it had something to do with my mystery five am snapper.
It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.
“The power’s out,” I said to Vincent, holding up the cable. “Quit poking at it and let me plug it back in.”
He stood up and put the screwdriver back in his pocket. I plugged the bot back in and its caterpillar treads started grinding once more. “Well, how about that,” said Vincent, scratching his mullet. Well – I say mullet, but it was more of a skullet at that point. Male pattern baldness means nothing to the truly dedicated Flower Child. While his little hat did nothing to keep out harmful mind control rays, I figured at least it was keeping his bald spot safe from melanomas.
“Did you see anyone weird hanging about last night?” I asked.
The words came out of my mouth at the exact moment that Rue’s voice floated from the other side of the building, raised in her morning ‘chant’, which was a stream of random gibberish she swore that her Pueblo ancestors had dictated to her in a trance. And I was standing there talking to a man who was wearing elderly bermuda shorts, a Kennedy Conspiracy Museum t-shirt, and a tinfoil yarmulke.
“Define ‘weird’,” said Vincent, in one of his rare savant moments.
“Yeah,” I said, and headed off to the housekeeping supply room.
After I grabbed the cleaning trolley I trundled back to the main office to grab the room master keys. There was nobody on Reception and I waited for a moment, wondering how mad Rue would be if I interrupted her sacred morning yowlings in order to let her know.
And that was when he walked through the door.
My first instinct was to laugh. He was wearing a tie-dye dashiki and bright pink John Lennon shades. My second instinct was to look down and confirm that he really was rounding out the ensemble with giant bell-bottom jeans and a pair of Birkenstocks. He had love-beads around his neck and wore a headband tied clumsily around what looked like a nylon Joey Ramone wig. It was like the kind of hippie costume that Wile E. Coyote might pick up from the Acme store as part of his next cunning plan to finally catch and devour the Roadrunner.
He feigned interest in Rue’s fractal dolphins for a moment, before pretending to notice me for the first time. “Oh, hey,” he said. “So is this, like, a motel or something?”
“No,” I said, looking him up and down. “It’s a New Age retreat.”
“Oh,” he said. “Groovy.”
Not even kidding; he actually said that. For a moment I just stared at him, amazed that anyone could suck this much. The guy reeked of L.A. I knew immediately that he was only doing this to pay the rent until he made it big with a movie lead or an Oscar winning screenplay. Hollywood’s entire economy is built on such deluded nitwits. It was just that – after a lifetime of being surrounded by wannabe actors – I had never before encountered one this bad.
“So, like, you seem like a pretty cool chick,” he said, with a lop-sided smile. “What’s your name?”
I shook my head and grabbed the master keys. “Give it up, Shaggy,” I said. “You’re just embarrassing yourself at this point.”
Part of me wanted to laugh, but another part of me was mad as hell. How the fuck had she figured out that I was here? People had called Kiersten Rowe all kinds of things in her life, but nobody had ever accused her of being smart. Amber was the only person who knew where I was and I knew she would never sell me out.
But for some reason I couldn’t shake the feeling that nothing was what it seemed. The phone was still kind of a nuclear option at this point but I Googled Kiersten anyway to see what was up. Various gossip websites confirmed that she was very much her usual noisy asshole self and that I was totally justified in lurking down here in Arizona, but even that brief glimpse of Kiersten-bullshit gave me the kind of psychic aggravation that made me so very interesting to the hippies of Sedona.
In the last few weeks I’d learned a lot about different reasons why my life might be out of whack. Rue was convinced that my anger issues were due to the past life where I was burned as a witch in sixteenth century England. At the time I didn’t have the heart to tell her that they never burned witches in sixteenth century England, but it probably wouldn’t have made any difference if I had; Rue’s grasp of history was shaky at worst and hilarious at best.
Wendy the crystal healer told me that my rage would be soothed by pressing red jasper to my head chakra and sleeping with amethyst under my pillow, while Vincent insisted I had every right to be angry because my headaches were no doubt caused by the tracking chips that the US Government secretly implanted in babies at the same time they vaccinated them.
Then there was Marina, who had some e-Bay doctorate in ‘holistic nutritionism’ or something equally suspect, and who believed wholeheartedly that every single health problem – from teeth-grinding to stage-four cancer – could be cured by eating the right foods. She also believed that mental health problems – from full-blown schizophrenia downwards – could be fixed by a vegan, raw food diet. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Kiersten had been there, done that and still remained crazier than a shithouse rat.
Still, Marina had a point, in her own wrong-headed way. While her vegan, raw food ‘macaroni and cheese’ remained one of the worst things I had ever eaten in my life, I still firmly believed there were few hurts that couldn’t be assuaged by a big plate of greasy-ass diner food.
I’d happened upon Maxie’s Diner on my first night in Sedona. The food tasted the way that only food that is incredibly bad for you can taste. Even the most delicious healthy food will never taste as good as a cholesterol bomb cheeseburger with a side order of deep fried onion rings. It’s like sin itself has a flavor – meaty, greasy and covered in melting cheese-food.
I was maybe three bites into my burger when I realised that indigestion was not far away; the idiot in the Ramones wig was back. He was standing behind a parked truck, trying to keep an eye on me. I looked straight at him and he ducked behind the cab, prompting several people at the parking lot to start staring at him. Eventually I took pity on him and feigned interest in the contents of the menu for five or ten minutes while he sneaked conspicuously into the diner. I reached out and grabbed the edge of his dashiki as he passed.
“Just sit down already,” I said, annoyed that he even bothered to act surprised. “And take that stupid fucking wig off.”
“What wig?” he said, sliding into the booth opposite me.
I reached out and tweaked it off his head. Underneath his hair was short, light-brown and sweaty. His glasses had slid halfway off his nose, revealing the kind of bland, tan face you usually see on daytime hospital soap operas. “So how much is she paying you?” I asked.
“Huh?” he said.
I sat back and folded my arms. “Stop it,” I said. “Okay? You’re giving me douche-chills.”
He took off the glasses and sighed. “Okay, fine,” he said. “Twenty.”
“Twenty grand? Wow. Last of the big spenders. Is that expenses deductible or are you picking up your own travel tab?”
“Everglade, listen to me…”
I held up a hand. “Nope. I don’t give a shit what you have to say. I don’t give a shit what she has to say. That’s the reason I’m here, you dumbass. You think I like being surrounded by people in tinfoil hats and idiots who think my premenstrual syndrome is caused by fucking ley-lines? Because I totally don’t.”
“So what are you even doing here?” he asked.
“Excuse me?” I said. Even tech-support hadn’t prepared me for this level of dumbassery. “Have you met my mother?”