by Dylan Tanous
At two in the afternoon, Ford Levy found himself at the top of a pair of brick steps outside of Perry Goldstoneâ€™s home on North Rexford Drive. Waiting in the wake of the chiming doorbell, he craned his neck and peered past the glass panel: sexless, sterilized, and manicured to the point of anonymity.Â Maybe he was being a bit dramatic. He pinched his nose and a few drops trickled between his fingers.
Ford watched as Perry came into view down the hall. He shuffled along the hardwood floors with his head down and his shoulders back. He opened the door just wide enough to fit his head through. Perry had a full head of hair that was white with a few streaks the color of raw spaghetti near the front. He was tan. Perry was always tan, and Ford had never seen him without the same pair of wire-framed glasses. A paler shade of skin outlined his eyesâ€”his goggle tan.
Ford had met Perry five years earlier, at the Beverly Hills Sports Center. At the time, Ford was a sophomore at Doheny High and the last swimmer cut from the varsity team. Due to a shortage of lanes and the size of the girlsâ€™ and boysâ€™ swim teams, varsity had the pool in the morning, while the J.V. boys and girls swam after school. In those weeks of swimless mornings, Ford restlessly rolled in bed while he waited for the sun to show.
Then, one morning, he decided he would swim each dawn whether it was with the team or not. Within an hour, he took an unnecessary gym tour, signed a yearlong contract, and was back in the pool. Ford, who had woken up in the dark most mornings since he was five years old, took to riding his skateboard down his hill to the pool on Wilshire. Both Perry and Ford had a habit of arriving to the gym a few minutes before it opened at 5:30 a.m., and after a dozen mornings of watching their breath while they waited for the doors to open, Ford introduced himself.
â€œHello Ford. Come on in,â€ Perry said.
There wasnâ€™t enough room for Ford to get by, so Perry took a slow step back and, without fully opening the door, ushered him in with a nod. Inside, the furnishings, paneling, and staircases were just too big for the foundation. Everything was new. It felt less like a home and more like a stage designed for a family that hadnâ€™t been cast yet. Perryâ€™s wife had spent the last year redoing the floors, upstairs and down. They were now stained the shade of what Mrs. Goldstone called, â€œplum brandyâ€.
Before the floors, it was the bathrooms. Before that, the skylights and the breakfast nook. Perry said it hadnâ€™t stopped since the day they moved in forty years before.
Ford followed Perry into the dining room, past a giant wooden table, which occupied most of the roomâ€™s floor. He judged from the collection of office supplies, keys, magazines, and dog collar that the table was more of a shelf than a place where the family dined. Perry was oldâ€”at least seventy-fiveâ€”but he managed to finesse his way around the dining table and into the kitchen where his dog,Laddy, a golden retriever-shitsu mix, greeted Ford with a low growl. Perry patted Laddy on the head and kept walking.
To avoid offending Perry, Ford knelt down and tentatively offered his hand to the dog.
Laddy snarled,then made a slippery retreat towards the pantry.
â€œI donâ€™t think Laddyâ€™s warmed up to me.â€
Perry turned back and laughed. â€œLaddy doesnâ€™t warm up to anyoneâ€”only the family. Heâ€™s a sweet dog, but shy.â€
â€œReally? He could pass for a big puppy if you ask me.â€ Laddy had spiked blond fur around his face, which Ford thought made him look like a bear cub.
â€œPuppy! Laddyâ€™s fourteen-years-old!â€
As was Perryâ€™s routine, he invited his guest to take a seat in his living room. They sat in matching avocado-colored chairs with tall backs and obtrusively embroidered trim. Both chairs faced the TV across the room. In order to see Perry, Ford had to angle his back into the arm of the chair. Perry preferred to stare ahead and only occasionally turned in Fordâ€™s direction.
When one of Perryâ€™s glances coincided with a lull in the conversation, Ford decided it would be a polite time to ask. He dug into his pocket.
â€œSo did you want to use my phone?â€ He fished his phone out of his jeans. Perry looked at it.
â€œOh. I just thoughtâ€¦â€œ
â€œNo, no. I donâ€™t want to call her.â€ Agitated, Perry pushed up on the arms of the chair and repositioned himself against the chairâ€™s back. Over the last summer, Perry had asked to use Fordâ€™s phone to call someone he didnâ€™t want his wife to find out about. â€œWe havenâ€™t seen each other in a while. I guess you donâ€™t know â€“ I went down and saw her, in Costa Mesa. I told Gwen I was going to work and I drove straight there.â€
Ford made the varsity squad for his final two years at Doheny High, but he continued swimming in the offseason at the Sports Centerâ€™s pool, even after heâ€™d graduated and gone on to college. It was there, just before the end of his freshman year at U.C.L.A., that he casually mentioned in the locker room that he was looking for a summer internship. Perry offered him a place at his real estate office without even pausing to think about it. Ford considered the offer as he pulled his suit over his knees. By the time it was at his waist, heâ€™d accepted. The two of them trotted out to the pool, where they split a lane. The details of the internship were never formally addressed.
From June to August, Ford acted as the part-time secretary Perry didnâ€™t really need. It has now October, and for the last couple months Ford had taken to using the pool at U.C.L.A. He hadnâ€™t seen Perry since the middle of August.
â€œHow long did it take you?â€ Ford asked.
â€œHour and a half,â€ Perry said matter-of-factly.
â€œThatâ€™s not bad.â€
â€œTraffic was a nightmare! Iâ€™ve done it before. You remember when we worked together? I made the drive. I went down to see her.â€
At least once a week over the summer, Perry would close his office door and the red light for his direct line would light up on Fordâ€™s phone. Sometimes Ford would hear Perry laughing through the officeâ€™s thin walls. Other times she wouldnâ€™t pick up and the light would go off after only half-a-minute. But, as far as Ford knew, Perry only drove once that summer to see the woman at the other end of the line. It was early July when Perry gave Ford specific instructions on how he was to handle a call from Mrs. Goldstone in his absence. Gwen Goldstone didnâ€™t call often, but when she did it was almost always when Perry was up to something. Perry usually made it into the office by ten, but that particular morning he pulled out of his driveway and steered himself south rather than to their officeâ€™s second floor suite on Beverly Drive.