The Fabulous Super Guy
By Aliya Whiteley
Aliya Whiteley’s first novel, THREE THINGS ABOUT ME (July) is part of Macmillan New Writing’s launch program. Her short stories have appeared in SHOTS, Pulp.net, Shred of Evidence and THE ADVENTURE OF THE MISSING DETECTIVE (Carroll and Graf.) She lives in Germany with her family.
The murder isn’t the important part. What matters is what happened afterwards.
I’ve been mad about Tony Kestrel since I was ten and Mum took me to see him in The Fabulous Super Guy; he was robbed of the Oscar that year. I saw it six times and just before she left Mum bought me the full-size cardboard display of Tony in his purple cape and boots. It lived in my bedroom, and the stubble-free face got covered in shades of lipstick ranging from late seventies frosted pink to early eighties blood red until I went off to university. I left him behind, not because I no longer liked him, but because nobody else liked him. He was out of fashion, and at the time it seemed there was no worse crime in the world. Drainpipes had replaced flares, and I replaced Tony with real men who wore shoulder pads and eyeliner. There were a few of these idiots, but none of them beat the fantasy for a moment.
‘Ginette,’ my father said to me in the Christmas break of 1985, one of our few conversations; since Mum left I preferred to stay in my room and watch The Fabulous Super Guy on video every night, ‘It’s getting ridiculous, love. You need to get on with your life. Can I throw that old thing out?’
I knew he meant Tony.
I ignored the question, and Dad got the hint. Tony remained safe in my bedroom, waiting for me.
When I graduated, I failed to get into numerous graduate training schemes, which my Dad blamed on my Tony infatuation, naturally. So I got a job as a bank clerk in Norwich instead so that I could afford to leave home and move into a tiny flat. Then, under cover of darkness, I smuggled Tony in and propped him up in the corner of the living room. My only other furniture was a second hand sofa, my collection of Cure CDs and my single bed, but it didn’t matter. Tony made it a home.
I’d been working in the bank for about eight months when the real Tony suddenly, miraculously, came back into fashion.
He was cast in an ultra-violent cop show, and he looked the part a fat, ruined, ex-druggie has-been given one more chance to make good. Did I miss the old Tony? The young, vibrant, Fabulous Super guy? Of course. But time changes us all and this new old Tony endeared himself to me as he stood next to the latest silicon beauties and eyed them as if they weren’t quite real.
He had grown up, I suppose, and I realised I had grown up too. The teenager who had hunted perfection in every relationship had been replaced by a woman who was ready to accept someone with faults. If Tony could move on, so could I.
And then he was killed.
The television said it was a hit and run on a Los Angeles boulevard, probably a drunk, and the newspaper said it was one of the bitter ex-wives, and the magazine supplement pointed the finger at an obsessive fan, but time dragged on and nobody was arrested. I found myself thinking about it: in bed, in the bath, at work, at home, while out on the few dates I had managed to arrange when I thought my life was finally on track. I needed to know if it was really an accident, and, if not, who could do such a thing to Tony Kestrel, of all people, and why? As my thirst for closure grew, the news articles dwindled, and the world stopped wondering.
I might have been able to stop wondering too eventually, if it hadn’t been for that life-size cardboard cut-out. The lipstick marks of my teenage devotion were just too much of a reproach. I had cared about him once. Maybe I was the only person on the world who still cared.
And LA, as Dad had informed me in a frosty telephone call recently after returning from his trip to the Universal Studios theme park (he really was living life since I had left home), was only ten and a half hours away.
There were a lot of ways in which LA was different from Norwich. It was over seventy times bigger, for one. It had larger streets and a lack of low cloud cover. The people were, without a doubt, better looking. And I was out of my depth. The first ten steps from the immaculate sliding glass doors of the airport told me that.
I needed a friend, and fast.
The closest thing I could find at short notice was a tout. His sign read Hollywood Homes and his clothes confirmed him as a man with experience of life: a poncho with long, loose threads falling from the neck hole, a pair of off-white tennis shoes, John Lennon glasses and a perfectly tanned bald head.
He approached me as I eyed him, with a fast, trim walk that surprised me.
‘Wanna see the stars?’
‘Just one in particular,’ I said, aware that I was, with my accent and my plaid luggage on wheels, as English in appearance as Mary Poppins. ‘Tony Kestrel.’
He snorted, and scratched his bald head. ‘Hey, I can take you to the cemetery, lady, whatever rattles your chain. Fifty bucks.’
‘Take me to where he was killed and I’ll give you a hundred.’
It was my first attempt at haggling and his smile told me it had been a failure. ‘Hundred bucks it is. Walk this way, and no wisecracks about the wheels.’
He didn’t offer to take my bag and I hadn’t been expecting him to. I had to jog to keep up with him as he led me away from the airport on a quarter-mile jaunt that ended in front of a Chinese restaurant, when he opened the boot of an illegally parked bronze GMC Pacer by kicking the bumper twice with his right tennis shoe.
I put my luggage inside, slammed it shut, and got into the passenger side. I spent the journey, all ten minutes of it, wondering if I had just made a serious mistake.
‘This is it, lady; the very spot. Look carefully you can still see the chalk outline. Nah, just kidding,’ he said as I leaned forward. ‘But I heard it was over there, by the burger sign. He was taking a leak, and wham! Met the front end of a motor vehicle. All over.’
I stared through the grubby windscreen at the spot. I don’t know what I had expected to find that the police had missed; I suppose I had confused devotion with ability. ‘Taking a leak?’
‘Yeah a bathroom break, you know? Probably stoned. Nobody in their right mind would be walking in this neighbourhood at night. Know how I know that? Cos nobody in LA walks. I’m Nick.’ He held out his hand and took it back again before I could decide whether to shake it. ‘You wanna see his house? You’re a fan, right? You watched the series? Or are you an old time fan? You liked the movie, The Super Guy, right?’
‘The Fabulous Super Guy,’ I corrected.
‘Yeah, you’re a fan. Look, I like you. I’ll take you to his house for an extra thirty.’
‘I might just look around here first.’ I reached for the handle and his arm shot out across me.
‘Are you crazy? What are you hoping to find? Are you Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister?’
‘You’re full of questions, and I don’t intend to answer any of them,’ I told him in my most forbidding voice. ‘Why can’t I get out?’
‘I told you the neighbourhood. S’all been cleaned up, anyway. Come on. I’ll fill you in on the investigation on the way.’
‘What do you know about it?’
He shrugged as he flipped the indicator for a microsecond and pulled back into the stream of traffic. ‘Plenty. I knew Tony. We grew up together. He was like a brother to me.’ He glanced at me; checking my expression for incredulity I suppose. ‘Yeah, okay, that’s a lie. But I know plenty. I have sources. The internet is a wonderful thing. And I keep up to date on things, you know. I have files.’
He ignored that question, and the rest of the drive passed in silence. The view changed from crowded, grubby streets caked in dust to long, elegant avenues with palm trees as tall as buildings and bikinis and cars on display in flamingo pink and mint green. LA was a city of extremes, and, being a sheltered type of person, I preferred the obscene wealth, no matter how it was achieved.
This was the kind of place I had pictured Tony Kestrel in throughout my teenage years: clean, fresh even in the dry heat, with art deco electric gates topped with foot long spikes. My guide drove up to one such set of gates, past three parked large white vans, and stopped in front of the intercom.
‘Chez Tony. At least, until four months ago. You wanna take a look inside?’
‘Is that included in the extra thirty?’
He winked at me. ‘You learn fast. Nope, that’ll be another hundred. Try to look like you fit into the LA world, ‘kay? Those vans have given me a lead.’
‘Pardon?’ I said, but he was already leaning through his open window and pressing the intercom button.
There was a pause, and then the hiss of the intercom activating. A female voice was barely audible.
‘Can I help you?’
‘We’re with the others.’
Another pause. ‘You’re late.’
‘Well, yuh ’ he said with the lilt of sarcasm, ‘ but it’s a big job, you know? They called for back-up. Yeah. We’re back-up.’
There was a final pause, during which time I could hear thinking taking place, and then an electronic buzz followed by the slow opening of the gates. Nick drove up, past the immaculately topiarised bushes and unnaturally white statues of Greek goddesses, to the large spewing water fountain situated in front of the open glass doors. He parked the car next to the fountain and turned off the engine.
A woman appeared, framed dramatically between the glass doors, her hands on her slim hips. One knee protruded from the split of her peach silk robe, and her matching slippers had pom poms on them, which complemented the frilly covering on the Alice band which was holding her blonde hair back from her face.
I watched Nick whistle silently as he straightened his glasses. He opened his door and I followed suit, trailing after him as he moved to meet the woman in silk.
Whatever lie he was about to come up with was unnecessary. She spoke first, and offered us the opportunity we needed.
‘You’re with the crew?’
Nick only hesitated for a second. ‘Right on, baby. You must be Mrs Kestrel. I’m Nick, and this is ‘
‘Ginette,’ I filled in to the silence. ‘Pleased to meet you.’
She didn’t even look at me. Her attention was fixed to Nick. She was obviously one of those women who preferred to deal with men rather than women, probably because she liked to get things her own way.
‘Your buddies are in the dining room, setting up,’ she said. ‘I think you’d better join them.’
‘Sure thing babe,’ Nick said, with a click of his fingers, and sauntered off in the direction Mrs Kestrel indicated with a nod of her head. I tagged along, and we stepped through a huge white marble hallway, complete with cherub statues and a chandelier, to reach a room which could only be described as a library. Oak bookcases reached from floor to ceiling, and every book upon them appeared to be a leather-bound hardback. Two green leather armchairs with scrolled arms squatted in front of a large fire. The mantelpiece was made of the same marble that lined the hallway, and upon it was a candelabra with tall cream candles, wicks unburnt.
A short bearded man with a baseball cap brandished a tiny hand-held camera in the direction of the nearest armchair, and a mish-mash of people held up microphones on long sticks or ticked things off their clipboards.
‘Hey,’ the bearded man called to us as we entered the room, and everyone else stopped what they were doing and glared at us. ‘Are you meant to be here? Are you from the Agency?’
‘Sure thing,’ Nick replied easily. I envied him his ability to stand in any room as if he belonged there; maybe it was an American trait. I hung by the door and smiled my bashful smile.
‘So which one of you two is the psychic?’
‘She is,’ Nick said without hesitation.
The bearded man turned to me and looked me up and down as if appraising a sculpture. ‘I asked for photogenic. And who are you?’
‘I’m the sidekick,’ Nick said with a perfectly straight face. ‘And you must be the director.’
‘Yup,’ the bearded man said. ‘Here’s the deal. Gypsy Rose Leanne got done for tax evasion last week so we’re in a tough spot, got it? And I’ve got a lot of my own personal hard-earned money tied up in this Made For TV Special, so I need you ‘ He pointed to me with both of his middle fingers at the same time. ‘- to channel the spirit of one dead Tony Kestrel and give us some goddamn real leads on the killer in front of this here camera ASAP; are you ready to rock and roll?’
‘She is so ready, aren’t you, Jenny, honey?’ Nick said.
‘Ginette,’ I corrected him. ‘And I really don’t think ’
‘Oh yeah, babe, what was I thinking?’ Nick turned back to the Director. ‘She needs some time alone in the room. To pick up the aura.’ He held his hands up to his ears and wiggled his fingers. ‘Vibes, you know?’
The Director rolled his eyes and dutifully ushered everyone past me and out of the room. I shut the door behind them and walked up to Nick, trying to think of something suitably cutting to say.
‘Could this have worked out any better, huh? Huh?’
His enthusiasm stopped me in my tracks.
‘I mean, you want clues, I wanna get paid, and he wants someone to act like a crazy gal to give him a show. It’s like a cosmic weave or something, huh?’
‘I’m not psychic,’ I said.
‘Oh, yeah, well, gee! That’s a really small point to be bringing up right now.’ He crossed to the mantelpiece and examined the candelabra. ‘Do you think this is real silver?’
‘I’m a terrible actress.’
‘So are all of those fake psychics. The crew would be shocked if you weren’t. Just roll your eyes, moan, and make shit up. And then, once it’s in the can, you can start asking the questions you really wanna ask, see what I mean, babe? You’ll get paid for being a detective.’
‘Right.’ It sounded so reasonable. ‘Yes, okay, right.’
Nick gave me the thumbs up and called the crew back into the room. Setting up began again in earnest as I was steered into one of the armchairs and prodded like a model on a photo shoot. Nick, trying to look useful I suspect, massaged my shoulders. He had strong fingers that dug into my skin through the thick material of my cardigan, but it was, surprisingly, a pleasurable sensation.
‘Ready, Champ?’ he said to me.
‘Er as I’ll ever be,’ I said, and he stepped back, out of the line of the hand-held camera, as the Director approached and bombarded me with questions in a portentous tone of voice.
I’m not quite sure what happened. I think I tapped into some kind of inner reservoir of hitherto unexpressed wildness. I screamed. I yelled. I quoted lines from The Fabulous Super Guy in a deep voice. I hinted at involvements in illicit drug rings and love affairs gone bad. Overall, I really enjoyed myself, and I was amazed to discover, when I drew my performance to a close, that three hours had passed.
‘Perfect,’ the Director said. The crew were packing the equipment away. I looked up and saw Nick leaning against the doorframe, smiling at me, as he polished his John Lennon glasses. Behind him was Mrs Kestrel, craning to look over his shoulder into the room and more specifically at me. The scowl she was wearing revealed absolutely no lines on her face either she was much younger than Tony, or she had a marvellous plastic surgeon.
‘Really?’ I said to the Director. I’ll admit I was fishing for compliments; I knew it had been good.
‘Yeah. I can get you more work any time you want it. Here ‘ He reached into the grate of the fire and retrieved a piece of paper, upon which he wrote a telephone number. ‘Any time,’ he repeated.
I took the scrap of paper, examined both sides, and stuffed it into the pocket of my cardigan. ‘Thank you so much.’
‘No problemo. C’mon guys.’ He waved his crew out of the room, and I was relieved to see Mrs Kestrel tag along after them. Nick swaggered up to me, his smile huge and infectious.
‘Now there was a performance ’ he said. ‘You’re a natural. Ever done any acting? You could be a star, baby.’
‘No thank you,’ I said automatically, but I have to admit the Hollywood way of life was appealing to me. It seemed that everyone was determined to say something nice to each other at all times, and even if there was nothing nice to say, they made something up. That beat the general cloud of pessimism that hung over Norwich town centre and my life as a bank clerk any day.
‘Gee, you Brits are uptight,’ he said. ‘But, you know, you’re kinda cute along with it. Where do you wanna start looking for clues?’
‘There’s no need.’ I got up from the armchair and smoothed my skirt. ‘I’ve solved the murder. I’d like to go home now, please.’
It was gratifying to see the look of surprise on Nick’s face. ‘Are you saying ? Did you really y’know communicate with Tony Kestrel?’
I raised one eyebrow at him.
‘Nah ’ he said. ‘Really? No way!’
The Americans are so gullible.
Anyway, it was a relief to have the whole thing cleared up.
I say cleared up I knew who the killer was, but the whole business of confronting them weighed on my mind during the flight back to the UK. What does one say to a murderer? How does the subject get raised? And what would the reaction be?
I spent the entire flight wishing that I had asked Nick to come back with me. Absurd, I know, but his presence had been so soothing. I got the feeling that nothing would ever faze him, not even a showdown with a killer.
But the confrontation went well enough without his help.
‘Dad,’ I said. ‘I know you’re the murderer.’
It was that simple.
Dad blinked a few times and shifted position at the kitchen table. The journey from Heathrow by taxi had been long and bumpy, and the Cottage Pie my father had made for me as some sort of peace offering was delicious. I was about half-way through it before deciding to just blurt out my revelation.
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ he said. ‘Do you want some pepper on that?’
‘It’s fine.’ For some reason he always offered me pepper although his cooking suffered from a lack of salt, in my opinion. I retrieved the scrap of paper taken from the grate in the Kestrels’ home and placed it on the table, the telephone number face down.
There was my father’s handwriting. The way he looped his p’s was unmistakable. Plus there was also the fact that he had signed it.
It was only the bottom half of the letter, but that was all the evidence I needed.
please please contact me as soon as possible. My daughter’s future happiness, and therefore my happiness, depends on you.
‘What did you want him to do? Marry me? Sweep me off my feet?’ I asked.
He blushed, something which I’d never seen him do before. ‘Actually, I wanted him to let you down gently.’
‘You wanted him to dump me? Well, thanks very much! I haven’t finished,’ I said, quite sharply, as he tried to take my plate away.
He did as he was told. ‘I just wanted you to get on with your life, Ginette. I’m not getting any younger. You’re not getting any younger. Stop wasting your life on a schoolgirl crush. And throw your video and that horrible cardboard cut-out away.’
‘So you thought that since he didn’t answer your letter, you’d sort the problem out by running him over?’
‘I did no such thing, young lady,’ Dad said, pulling his shocked face, but I knew him too well to fall for that.
‘Oh, and if I phone your travel agent and track down your hire car, there won’t be a nasty bump in the bonnet?’
‘Oh for Goodness sake,’ he snapped. ‘Yes, all right, smartie, it was me. But I just wanted you to realise that Tony Kestrel was never a real hero. When your mum left, you turned to him, and not to me, and you never gave me a chance to show you what being a family is all about. I wanted you to discover the difference between real love and movie love. Is that a crime?’
‘Yes.’ I finished the last mouthfuls of cottage pie and handed him the plate. He took it, and leaned towards me, over the table. ‘And I have discovered real love. So there.’
‘That’s gosh, Ginette, that’s wonderful news!’ His genuinely surprised smile faded. ‘So does that mean are you going to ?’
‘Shop you?’ I said. ‘I’ll think about it. Get me a scoop of Neapolitan, heavy on the chocolate.’
Of course, I wasn’t about to do any such thing. He was hardly a danger to society, and prison time wouldn’t have done him any good at all.
And I wasn’t about to tell him that although I’d finally found a man who I liked the look of, I’d let him slip away. I’d been an idiot. Maybe up close Nick had seemed like a bit of a hippy drop-out, but from my cold flat in Norwich he looked like Mr Wonderful, and I’d let him get away. I didn’t have a way to contact him. I just had to pray that he’d be thinking the same way, and decide to contact me.
Seven months passed. The Tony Kestrel cardboard cut out had been sold on E-Bay for £58.60 plus £15.00 postage and packaging; it was the turn of someone else to worship him. Life was moving on whether I liked it or not. Not that the memory of Nick was fading, so much as getting a little worn due to constant use.
And then he turned up on the doorstep on a wet Saturday afternoon, just as I was settling down to watch a repeat of The Fabulous Super Guy on BBC2, in the same little round glasses and worn poncho. His smile held all the power of the California sunshine.
‘Hey babe,’ he said. ‘I need you.’
‘Nick!’ It may not sound like much of a greeting on my part, but it was the most enthusiastic I’d ever sounded in my life.
‘We’re a Hit.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘The show. Big time, babe. Syndication is a sure thing. They wanna do a series, you and me. The Psychic and the Sidekick.’
Rain dripped from his poncho, which was giving off a strong smell of sheep.
‘Do you want to come in?’ I asked. ‘I’ll put the kettle on.’
He shook his head. ‘Only if you say yes.’
‘Well, I can’t make a decision right now well what would we be doing?’
He leaned on the door frame. ‘Investigating the death of Tony Kestrel, of course.’
‘But I ‘
‘Hey, I know you know who did it, and you don’t wanna share, and that’s fine. I can respect boundaries. But it makes the whole thing perfect. This series could run for years, and no-one will ever be able to prove you wrong. You keep screaming and jerking for the camera and I’ll cover up the real clues to keep us in the clear. What do you say?’
He wasn’t offering love. I’m not stupid. I could see that.
But maybe, over time, in months, or even years, he might be. And, until then, I could do no work and make money in the LA sunshine. Tony Kestrel had never offered me a deal that good.
‘Do you know what, Nick?’ I said. ‘You really are a Fabulous Super guy.’
‘Is that a yes?’
I raised one eyebrow.
‘C’mon, is it a yes, babe? Don’t do this to me. Gimme a yes. I need it. Just say yes, huh? Say the magic word. Say it.’
As if I needed to say it. Americans. They really are so gullible.
Aliya Whiteley ©2006
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