“Now that you’ve seen the whole property, Ms. Hayes, what do you think? Isn’t it everything I promised?”
Eyana Saleh tore her eyes away from the false eyelash that threatened to detach from the young realtor’s left eyelid and pointed her camera at the pool house instead. “Let’s go inside and talk, Nancy. I’d like to see the dining room again, if you don’t mind. I’m not sure fifteen people will fit in there. And call me Egypt, please.”
Nancy eagerly led the way into the kitchen, closing a pair of French doors behind them. As she moved through the filtered light, the room’s plantation shutters cast a pattern of stripes across her angular body. Tiger Nancy circling in on her meat—the lease agreement for this seven bedroom villa.
Eyana hitched herself up on a bar stool, propped her elbows on the marble peninsula, and sucked in as much cool air as she could. Her sinuses throbbed like a vacuum hose was trying to suck out her brains. Her genes kept forgetting they were Arab-Carib, to use her Jamaican mother’s words. The way the heat affected her it wouldn’t surprise her if her dad had run home to the Bering Straits and not the gulf of Oman. If so, she wished he’d taken her along. Damn the desert. And this place felt even drier than her home in Las Vegas. Well, home until last week. She forced those thoughts from her mind. If only her headache would go with them.
She took a wide angle shot of the eating area with her Nikon, gave her best professional smile and said, “All right. I guess this room could work if we use a set of circular tables.” Glancing past the covered patio to the hills beyond she added, “And I must say, the view is outstanding. Our clients will definitely be able to feed off the pure energy of the desert.”
While Nancy prattled on about sacred cacti or something, Eyana thought that if she actually had clients, perhaps they’d go out there to . . . what, meditate among the dead bodies? Actually, that wouldn’t be a bad opening scene. And if the articles in the Barstow Desert Dispatch were true, it might not even have to be faked.
Nancy had turned to point out the landscape to the north. “There’s hiking access not far from here, just up Delano Road. I’ll run you up there for a little hike if you’d like.”
Eyana looked down at her feet which barely reached the foot rest even in her four inch heels. Maybe her petite but sturdy legs could take the punishment, but she wasn’t about to ruin a pair of two hundred dollar shoes, especially now that she’d taken an unpaid sabbatical. “I’m afraid I don’t have time right now, but if you send me photos of the trail area I’ll include them in the package I present to my boss.”
“Certainly.” Nancy made a note. “Do you have any other questions?”
“Are you sure the local community ordinance will permit the pool house to be made over into additional guest rooms? If so, I think this place will meet our needs.”
What would Nancy do if she knew what Egypt’s needs really were? Heck, she’d probably throw over her day job in a heartbeat for a chance to appear on camera. Desperate Realtors of Rubicon Ranch. Not bad, not bad. Well, she’d just have to see how the docudrama unfolded. The first task would be to gain some intimate, first-hand knowledge, to lure her new neighbors into revealing their true and, to all accounts, squalid natures.
“Sorry, just trying to visualize things. I think we’re good now. Give me a day or two to send all the material back to the L.A. office.”
The agent revealed her disappointment with a slight frown before making a final push to close the deal. “The owner’s leaving the country next week and wants a contract signed before he goes. He’s already had an offer from someone else, but when I told him about you coming all the way up here from Hollywood, he fell in love with the idea that movie stars would be coming here to stay. He’s always wanted to share the celebrity of Rubicon Ranch.”
More like notoriety, thought Eyana. Unless the residents included kidnapping and child murder as articles of fame and glory. Yet, those were the very things that brought her here, so she might as well admit she had a ghoulish side herself. But surely, a realtor would want to deemphasize crime. Perhaps she was missing something. She asked innocently, “Celebrity? Is this place famous?”
Nancy replied a bit too quickly, “Oh, not the place itself, Rubicon Ranch does have a few famous residents, but I’m telling you just to make it clear that we’re not the kind of people who will go running after your clients for autographs. I suppose you’re used to that, coming from L.A. Currently, we just have golf champion Arden Adley, and Morris Sinclair—he lives right on the next street—and if my sources are correct, the actress Tara Windsor moved in recently.”
Eyana heard nothing after Morris Sinclair. Hot blood seethed behind her eyes, momentarily darkening her vision. She passed a shaky palm across her forehead to conceal her rage. “How interesting. I didn’t know, but that’s reassuring. Our clientele come from the upper strata of the entertainment world, and don’t want to be bothered by fan crazy residents while they’re on retreat.”
“Oh, that won’t happen. We all love our privacy here. Ms. Hayes, are you feeling all right?”
“Um, you think I can have a glass of water? I must be dehydrated from our tour of the grounds. It sure is hot for October, isn’t it?” Eyana’s breath felt so hot, she expected her next exhalation to turn cat lady into a pillar of cinders. No, that had been a scene from her award winning, short film, Freeway Fires.
As the agent fussed in the refrigerator, discretely hidden behind a wall of cabinetry at the other side of the open plan kitchen, Eyana called out, “The Morris Sinclair you mentioned, do you mean the author and film writer?”
“That’s him. You probably won’t see him, though. He’s not one to parade around and steal the limelight from Mr. Arden.”
No, thought Eyana, Morris only steals other people’s screenplays. She almost crushed the drinking glass between her fingers. The problem is him seeing me, she thought.
“I’ll just go check to make sure I locked the pool house doors before we leave,” said Nancy. “Of course, the security system here is quite sophisticated….” Her voice became a faint echo as she left the dining area.
Lost in thought, Eyana barely registered Nancy’s absence, or the ice water sliding down her throat, or even the firm goodbye handshake punctuated by assurances that the property owner would be happy to do whatever it took. After the realtor drove away, Eyana climbed into her Range Rover, and started the engine.
Maybe she should drive right out of here, abandon her project before she went to the trouble and expense of bringing down her equipment, before she started to film what she’d hoped would be her big comeback. What seemed like a good plan from the safe distance of Las Vegas seemed dangerously foolish to her now. Maybe she should leave before the pestilence named Morris got a hold of her again and pulled her back to the hell she thought she’d left behind. No, she had to make the docudrama. Secret Spoils would be her redemption and her revenge.
She drove back to Tehachapi Road, heading north until she gained enough elevation to look down on Rubicon Ranch. The high desert made a great backdrop, but the streets below were cookie cutter. How could the murders so luridly described in the Desert Dispatch have taken place in such a nondescript conglomeration of pseudo-southwestern stucco? But that very contradiction had inspired her to film here, and she would not be stopped. As long as Sinclair didn’t get a look at her, she’d be okay because he knew her by her real name, Eyana Saleh, not Egypt Hayes.
Her IDs were in order and the realtor had taken one look at her caramel colored skin and accepted the name Egypt Hayes with only a slight narrowing of her eyes. She’d probably been steeling herself for Lakesha or Shanti or something. These bigoted yokels wouldn’t question her employment as the overworked event coordinator for Marva Saleh’s Spiritual Synergy Retreats. Eyana had to smile every time she looked at the glossy brochures she’d printed up. Her mom would kill her if she found out, but her mom’s Power Balance Seminars might even end up getting some business from this little subterfuge. She reached out and touched the tag line on the gold and blue brochure. “YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN.”
And she would.