Note: this is an excerpt from the new Adam Gnade novel The Internet Newspaper
At Lil’ Cassidy’s housesitting house we take shots of expensive Japanese whiskey then she demands we make snow angels in the white shag carpet. As we do them, Cass sings, “Santa baby, I want a yacht and really that’s not a lot/Santa baby, been an angel all year, Santa baby,” and together we sing, “So hurry down the chimney tonight!”
The beach house is really a beach mansion. Everything is white—white marble staircase with gold trim, white marble kitchen counters, white carpets, white stonework fireplace (though unused and spotlessly clean), white-painted high-back chairs (also with gold trim), white satin curtains, white leather sofa in an L-shape with three adjacent loveseats and a Roman fainting couch by the wall of windows facing the dark coastline.
Cass takes me on what she calls “le grand tour.” The open front room with the staircase in the center leading to the second-floor bedrooms. First floor—a kitchen bigger than my entire apartment that looks never cooked in, a living room with sunken floors and white shag carpets like polar bear rugs, frosted glass end-tables, mirrors in the hall you half expect to not see yourself in (and it’s a surprise when you do). Upstairs—bathrooms like you’d see in pricey restaurants, and in the master a jacuzzi tub with a wall-length mirror behind it. Outside—a heated swimming pool glowing blue in the night, steaming. The pool ends right before the dark cliffside overlooking the sea and beyond that it’s inky black, deep night, no moon.
You get the feeling nothing has ever been dirty in this all-white house, and that if it has it’s something you don’t want to know about, a dirty so foul the knowledge would haunt you. According to Cassidy, the woman who owns this place and lives here with her three teenage daughters, sells art overseas for a living, but there’s no art on the walls. Not a bit of color. Color would seem like a stain—red like a splash of blood sprayed out from a slit throat. Pink overtly or perhaps even confrontationally sexual. Green or brown like vast and incorruptible nature creeping up over the white. Color in a place like this would feel like disorder brewing, upsetting the stability of everything white, everything glass, everything pale.
From my tote bag full of stolen office supplies I grab the only cassette I have with me—a mixtape I’ve made with the first X album on one side and the Locust’s record off GSL on the other followed by a few songs from the new Bright Eyes.
After a confusing search for the cassette slot I hit play on the family’s crazy entertainment center that’s as tall and wide as the wall itself. I turn it up so loud you feel it in the floors—loud enough to hear in the master bathroom upstairs where a few X songs later I buzz Cassidy’s head, on orders to leave an eighth inch all around and the scraggly hair in front of her ears like sideburns. This is the haircut she’s had for as long as we’ve known each other, and often I’m her barber. When I cut her hair she calls me “Big Jim.” That’s my barber name and when I’m Big Jim I’m happier than when I’m regular James. Big Jim is more like Ed—confident yet never arrogant, patient like a country doctor, happy with his own station in life despite adversity. Big Jim isn’t assailed with thoughts so awful he has to shake them out of his head like an Etch-a-Sketch, and I mean physically shake his head, shake it hard and fast to knock free the words and pictures intruding into his thoughts. Big Jim doesn’t want to die and he’s not afraid of death. He wants to cut hair and he’s fucking good at it.
As I buzz her shining black hair off, singing along with the X song playing downstairs, I stare at us in the mirror—Cass sitting backward on the toilet, arms folded over the top of the tank in her tight black leather jacket with its zippered cuffs (the arms of which are slightly too short for hers), me in my size-small dark blue jean jacket and black t-shirt, a wall of white tile behind us with ornate ivory and silver light fixtures like something from a museum or a movie about drug dealers. We look so serious while we sing along with John Doe and Exene from X. Cassidy’s hair drops in thick, black chunks, and we look serious and we look like babies—serious-faced baby-faced babies trying A-for-effort hard to be cool grownups—Cassidy as the shaved head Vietnamese Exene and me as some puny, unhealthy, Slavic John Doe with a bad Spock haircut dyed black. Serious and silly, and we realize it at the same time, and when we realize it, we both laugh just the smallest laugh, and Cassidy says, “Oh god. We’re being hopeless romantics again, aren’t we?”
I agree, fighting hard to contain my grin which wants to tear my face in half like my mouth is a zipper.
Cass says, “We’re such dorks. Good thing we’re fuckin’ amazing too.”
“Yes,” I say factually. “Yes, we are.”
“A’ight, Big Jim. You’re on hair cleanup duty. Get to it.”
“What? No, I’m not even—”
“Bitch, don’t be a dumb-ass,” she says giving me a sour look, “Hopeless romantics don’t clean shit.”
Back in the big, sprawling, everything-white living room, we flip the tape to the Locust side and crank up the volume and blast it and dance together, holding hands and spinning circles, throwing ourselves around the room, falling down impervious to pain, walking on the furniture, jumping from couch to chair to table to couch again, taking slugs of whiskey from the bottle and sips from something Cassidy calls “the million-dollar gin” then she’s tapping out lines of coke on the glass coffee table and cutting them into rows with her fake ID. (Cassidy’s just turned 20. Her fake ID is for a 45 year old Chinese woman who stares straight at the camera with a murderous glare.)
“James Jackson Bozic, you terrible disgrace! Do a fucking line with me!” Cass shouts, but she knows I won’t. Head down to the table, she plugs one side of her nose with a finger and sniffs in the first line with a rolled-up 20 just as the tape ends. “Oh. This new shit might be garbage,” she tells me, saying “garbage” fancy like “gar bawje,” then snorts the second line. “Ooh man, actually—” she stands up and plops down on the couch. “This coke is officially trash. Game over. I’m throwing it in the pool.” She pats the couch cushion next to her. “Sit with me until I stop dying. If I get a bloody nose you have to jump into action because you’re my nurse.”
I let myself fall back onto the white couch then reach across to the end-table for the million-dollar gin.
The mixtape ends and the house is quiet.
“Now what?” I say.
“What do you wanna do?”
Cass sits up straight, excited. “Ooh! The phone!” She grabs it off the table in front of the couch. “Dude, I’m fuckin’ calling Japan.”
“Who do you know in Japan?” I take a sip of the million-dollar gin. It tastes like December, Christmas, a pine forest.
“Japan? No one. It’s long distance, dummy. Rack up a big ol’ fuckin’ bill for Glory Hole.”
“Glory Hole” is Cassidy’s name for the woman who owns the place, Gloria Hale. She’s Glory Hole because, as Cass told me on the drive up here, “She’s a mouth-breather and her kinda ugly kinda hot mouth is always open like she wants somebody to shove a snack in there or something. I’m like, ‘Hey hey hey, Glory Hole. I gots somethin’ you can shove that hot-ugly mouth down on.’”
“I guess call Japan if you want, but I feel like—I dunno, like she’s probably too rich to look at her phone bill. Or—I mean, too rich to be upset by it.”
“Oh. Yeah. Probably.” Cass sets the phone back on its catch then picks it up again.
“Who you callin’ now?”
“Well, it’s either Petra or Ghostbusters. I can’t decide.”
“Tough choice,” I say.
“That’s what I’m here for. Makin’ the tough choices. I’m a tough choice maker. Makin’ tough choices is my business—”
“—and business is good.”
“You got it, babygirl.”
Cassidy dials a number. It rings for a while then I hear a muffled voice pick up on the other end of the line and say something I can’t make out. “Petra. Hi. No, I’m at the mansion. What? Bein’ rich. Huh? With James. Petra says hi.”
“He says hi. Do you want to tell him anything?”
“She doesn’t have to tell me anything.”
“Petra says you should go punch yourself in the fucking face. Yeah. Yeah, no, I told him. He’s walking away.”
I go stand at the wall of windows.
The glowing pool below.
The dark sea.
“Cass, let’s go swimming,” I say over my shoulder.
“James says let’s go swimming. Huh? Yeah, you know me. High as fuck. Yeah. Oh, I know. You’re just—what was that? Is someone there? Oh. What are you watching? Oh. Why? That’s stupid. Yeah. Yeah. I know. You sure you can’t come over? When? No, I mean tonight. Tonight. What? Tonight. Like now. You can take a break. You can. You—what? Noooo, never.”
I stare at the pool and imagine jumping from the window and cannonballing in—hitting the surface with a great upward splash and plunging down to the bottom of the pool, sinking for miles, to the depths of the sea past sharks and treasure chests and shipwrecks, past bubbling thermal vents gushing red gasses, past phosphorescent fish with ugly mouths, down and down and down and down and down and down we go, through the Earth’s crust into a lava tube, down, down, to the boiling center of the planet, arms still wrapped around my legs, down, down, down …