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Maybe it was a backfiring car and maybe it was a gunshot. Either way, my dad had called me. And first thing in the morning, it was time to take the crowbar to Mom’s memory again.

I was in the depths of a dream about being chased by a backfiring car driven by a one-eyed woman when the sound of my phone ringing woke me up. I halfheartedly grasped around in the general region of the handset but came up empty. I cracked one eye open to peek at the clock beside my bed. Seven A.M. I groaned. I hated morning people. My theory: If the malls don’t open until ten, what’s the point of being up earlier than that?

The phone rang two more times, then clicked over to the machine. I buried my head under my pillow as I listened to my own voice inform callers to leave a message. The machine beeped.

“Maddie? It’s Jack.”

I bolted upright in bed, flinging the pillow across the room. Ramirez.

“I got your message last night. What the hell is going on over there?”

I jumped out of bed, diving for the phone. Only the handset wasn’t on the cradle. I glanced around my studio apartment. Fold-out futon on one wall, drawing table against the other, piles of clothes and shoes everywhere else. Where was the phone?

“What’s all this about a gunshot? Are you okay?” He paused. “Look, I may be a little hard to get a hold of for the next few days, so if you’re there, pick up.”

I was trying to! I began digging under my clothes from the night before. I slipped my hands down in the futon cushions, checked under my drawing table, even started opening kitchen drawers. Where the hell had I put the thing?

Ramirez paused. “Well, I guess you’re not there. Fine. I’ll try back later.”

“No!” I screamed at him. Then I spied the handset peeking out of a Macy’s bag by the door. “Wait, wait, wait,” I chanted. I grabbed the handset and hit the on button.

Dial tone.

Crap.

I quickly redialed his number but wasn’t surprised to hear it go straight to voice mail again. Crap, crap, crap! I slammed the handset down in the cradle, taking out all my aggression on the poor GE appliance.

Since I was up anyway, I made a pot of strong coffee and hit the shower, doing a blow-dry and mousse thing afterward. As a concession to the pint of B &J’s I had single-handedly consumed the night before, I pulled on a comfortable pair of navy blue gaucho pants, paired with a tank top, navy shrug and knee-high brown calfskin boots. Overall, a pretty decent look for a breezy October day. Breezy translating to seventy-five and sunny, instead of the summer’s eighty-five and sunny forecast. We don’t believe in weather in L.A. any more than we believe in public transportation.

After a couple swipes of mascara and a touch of Raspberry Perfection on my lips, I was out the door.

Fernando’s salon was located on the ultra chic corner of Brighton and Beverly Boulevard, one block north of Rodeo, smack in the middle of the Beverly Hills Golden Triangle. When Faux Dad had arrived on the west coast from Minnesota, he was just plain Ralph, a slightly paunchy, pale, middle-aged hairdresser. Knowing no one in L.A. would get their hair done at a salon called Ralph’s, he reinvented himself with a fictitious Spanish ancestry, spray-on tans twice a week, a salon in a prime Beverly Hills location and voila-Fernando was born, stylist to the very rich and semi-famous.

In addition to his cut and color talents, Faux Dad also had a passion for interior decorating. (Mom swears he’s not gay, though I still have my doubts.) Currently Faux Dad was going through a Tuscan phase, painting the walls with a rusty orange glaze and hanging bunches of plastic red grapes and leafy vines from the rafters. Gilt frames surrounding oil paintings of vineyards adorned the walls, and soft classical music mixed with the sounds of blow-dryers, sprayers, and juicy Beverly gossip. All in all, it was an atmosphere that screamed for a glass of pricey merlot.

“Maddie!” Marco, the receptionist, skipped out from behind his slick-looking computer as I entered the salon, attacking me with air kisses. Marco was slim enough, pretty enough, and wore enough eye makeup to compete on America’s Next Top Model, and probably win. “How are you, dahling?” he asked in an accent that was pure San Francisco.

“Suffering from a Ben & Jerry’s hangover.”

Marco clucked his tongue. “Aw, poor baby.”

“Are Mom and Ralph in yet?”

Fernando,” Marco emphasized, chastising me with his heavily lined eyes, “is doing a body wave for Mrs. Simpson.” He leaned in, gesturing to the back of the salon. “Jessica’s Mom.”

“Ah.” I looked past the “crumbling” palazzo walls of the reception area and spotted Ralph talking to a blonde under a beehive dryer. “What about Mom?”

“Your mother’s in the back, doing a waxing for that psychic lady.”

That “psychic lady” was Mom’s best friend, Mrs. Rosenblatt. Mrs. Rosenblatt was a three-hundred-pound, five-time divorcee who favored muumuus in neon colors and talked to the dead through her spirit guide, Albert. Eccentric didn’t even begin to describe Mrs. Rosenblatt.

She and my mother met years ago when Mom went to Mrs. Rosenblatt for a psychic reading and claimed Mrs. R’s predictions came true the very next day. Okay, so the dark, handsome stranger she was supposed to meet turned out to be Barney, a chocolate Lab, but that was close enough for Mom. They’ve been firm friends ever since and Mom never goes more than five days without an aura cleanse from Mrs. R.

I thanked Marco and made my way through the humming dryers and chemical smells of the salon to the back room, reserved for fat wraps and facial waxing. At least, I hoped to god she was doing a facial. I’d only had one cup of coffee and witnessing Mrs. Rosenblatt get a bikini wax called for at least two cups. With a couple shots of whiskey.

I gave a tentative knock on the door.

“Uh, Mom? Got a sec?” I asked, slipping into the room painted with a fresco of the Italian hillside along the walls.

I was relieved to find Mom hovering over Mrs. Rosenblatt’s mustache, though I cringed just a little at her outfit. I love my mother. I really do. I just wish she didn’t insist on getting dressed in the dark. She was wearing electric blue stretch pants, pink leg warmers and a pink sweatshirt with the neck hole cut out, along with a pair of black high-top L.A. Gear sneakers, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since 1986. I think she was going for Jane Fonda chic but fell somewhere closer to Sweatin’ to the Oldies.

“Hi, hon,” she greeted me, waving a wax strip in my direction. “What brings you here?”

“You need a waxing?” Mrs. Rosenblatt asked, squinting at my upper lip. “Your mom’s a whiz with the wax.”

“Uh, no, I’m fine. Thanks.”

“You sure?” Mrs. R squinted again. “’Cause I could swear I see a little dust up there.”

I self-consciously felt my upper lip.

“’Course, you know Albert says there are some cultures that prize hairy women,” she continued.

Albert would know. In his earthly existence, Mrs. R claimed her spirit guide had been a New York Times fact checker.

“But then again, here in La-La-land hairy just means you ain’t been to the salon in a while. If I wanna get a date with that fox on the senior bowling league, I gotta lose the mustache.” Mrs. R winked at me. “The fox is Italian. They got them big hands and big noses and big…”

“Okay, hold still now.”

I’ll say this for my mother: She has excellent timing.

Mom pressed a strip onto Mrs. R’s upper lip, thankfully ceasing the flow of too-much-information before she could describe the fox’s other attributes.

“So, what does bring you down here today?” Mom asked, smoothing hot wax down in all directions.

“Well, I, I, uh…” I paused, not sure how best to drop the bombshell that my paternal half had not only contacted me, but might be dead in a ditch somewhere. “See I got this phone call, and…”

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