Paul Margolis is an award-winning screenwriter and producer who has worked extensively in both film and television. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three daughters. Find out more on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.
The Naked Philosopher
Arden House Publishing
©Paul Margolis 2015
Excerpt from Chapter 3
Jack got sidetracked. Instead of hitting the firing range, he ended up shooting hoops with some ball rats in Compton, getting his 31-year-old ass seriously kicked. Instead of Cynthia’s Revels, he settled for a stale pre-packaged sandwich from 7-Eleven. Instead of going to a club for soul-healing rock music, he found himself driving to a quiet residential street in Santa Monica where he sat in his car for a while and stared at the lights burning in a second-floor apartment. The whole day seemed random and spontaneous until he was back on the road heading home and the common thread hit him. Everything he’d done since his surprise run-in with Franco was stuff he used to do three years ago. Could have been torn from the ‘before’ page in his life. Except for that apartment. Three years ago, Jack would have been inside the place, not out, fighting with Becky as usual—–she would be throwing things, he would be calling her names—–until they would hear themselves and crack up and wind up in bed.
Safe to say, it was the most maddening, dysfunctional and happy relationship Jack had ever known.
The Spartan gloom of the loft was comforting to Jack as he walked in and threw his keys by the chessboard where he always had a game going. Boxes of books sat in a corner, Jack’s half of the ones he and Becky had acquired while living together. The walls were bare and the fold-out couch was unmade, but Jack didn’t care. Neither did his roommate. They were both loners, which is why they got along so well. Besides the plumber who came with depressing regularity to fix the kitchen sink, visitors were few and far between.
On a cinderblock shelf, gathering dust, lay a manila envelope containing a copy of the Internal Affairs transcript from three years ago, which Franco had pulled strings to get for Jack after he was dismissed in disgrace from the LAPD. Despite his hope at the time that something in the record might vindicate him, Jack had never been able to bring himself to break the seal on the envelope.
Jack glanced around the loft.
From a dark corner came the noisy yawn of Jack’s roommate waking up, then out trotted a chocolate Lab with his tail wagging excitedly. Trouser jumped up and covered Jack’s face with slobbery licks as if he were still the homeless puppy that Jack had found scratching at his door a few weeks after his last day as a detective. Jack always suspected that his down-the-hall neighbor Mrs. Woo had left the dog there as a present, to lift his spirits, although the kindly woman denied it. Whoever was responsible, Jack appreciated that someone had faith that he could take care of such a helpless creature, though it soon became clear to Jack that he was the helpless one and Trouser was taking care of him.
“Okay, goofball,” Jack laughed. “I surrender!”
Jack noticed the leash he had left on the kitchen counter was now on the hook by the door, which meant Mrs. Woo had taken Trouser for a walk, as she often did with her beloved Yorkies, Muffin and Fu. From his jacket, Jack pulled out the half-eaten cheeseburger from the casino and held it out.
“Who’s a good boy?”
Trouser woofed and whined.
“What? Too rare for you?”
Trouser pawed Jack’s leg.
“Okay, if that’s how you roll…”
As Jack looked away in pretend disappointment, Trouser nudged the burger out of his hand and gobbled it up. With a chuckle, Jack gave Trouser a good belly rub, then stepped over to his land line to check voicemails. There was one new message, one more than he usually got, from a Filipino street urchin named Lim who Jack had agreed to sponsor in exchange for the kid doing reduced time in juvie. Lim’s drunken stutter left no doubt that he had fallen back into his old ways. Again.
“Jack, w-where are you when I need you? No, I’m serious, man. For real this time. Call. P-please. Soon as you get this.”
Jack clicked off, shaking his head. He was still pondering how to deal with Lim when the phone rang in his hand. He punched the talk button and dragged the handset to his ear.
“Okay,” Jack said. “Slow down and tell me what happened.”
“Jack, is that you?”
It was a male voice but not Lim’s. Older, more refined.
“I got you,” the voice said. “How nice. The old number I had for you didn’t work so I tried information.”
A passing siren on the street below made it hard to hear. “I’m sorry,” Jack said. “Who is this?”
A chuckle came over the line, humbled but not offended.
“Fair enough. I suppose I deserve that. Am I calling at a bad time?”
As the siren faded, Jack froze with recognition. The voice belonged to a famous philosopher named Joseph Pearl. A stranger Jack knew by a different name.
“You sound well, Jack. It’s good to hear you. Tell me, how have you been?”
Jack cringed. Could he have made it sound any less sincere?
“Uh, sorry,” he said. “Guess I’m a little surprised.”
“Yes, of course. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”
“I don’t know,” Jack said. “I kinda lost track.”
He tried to make it sound as if it was no big deal but it came out the opposite.
There was no change in Pearl’s tone. If he had picked up on his son’s lack of warmth, he was too gracious to let on.
“You’re probably wondering why I called.”
Understatement of the century, Jack thought.
“I’m in Los Angeles for a conference. A few days, that’s all. As long as I’m here I thought it might be nice to meet.”
Jack was tongue-tied. His first thought was to change the subject by asking his father about his work. He was sure his old man would be happy to fill him in on his latest accomplishments: the international speaking invitations, the arcane theories he was tackling at the moment, the latest book he was banging out on his manual Olympia typewriter. As he had all his life, Jack would throw in a “Really?” or “That’s interesting,” not so much meaning it or caring as wanting to please his father in hopes of getting what he had never managed to as a kid. Attention. His. A feeling that his dad actually gave a shit. Dare he say it? Love. What made their relationship even more frustrating was that Joseph Pearl was a good man, albeit one who was more interested in his life’s work, philosophy, than being a parent. And he made no bones about it. In fact, Jack knew, his dad would be the first to admit it, a humbling self-honesty and sense of purpose that were conspicuously missing in his son’s messed-up life.
“Jack? Are you still there?”
Jack had lied to his father. He knew damn well how long it had been since their last meaningful conversation. It was ten years ago, the night his mother surrendered to drink and depression and drove her car off an embankment, while his dad was out of town, as he often was, at some philosophy conference. Jack had called him from Mass General, white-knuckling the note that had been found in his mother’s pocket—– “I’m sorry” was all it said—- and had screamed himself hoarse as he blamed his father for her death. By the time the philosopher had caught a flight back to Boston, Jack was gone.
Ten long years. Almost to the day.
In all that time, they had never talked about it.
“Perhaps lunch tomorrow, Jack. How does that sound? That is, if it’s not too complicated and you can spare the time. I realize you’re busy with your police work.”
Jack felt his jaw clench. That was how long it had been. How well his old man knew him. Not at all.
“So what do you say? Shall we?”
Jack didn’t hesitate.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
Pearl’s voice registered surprise.
“Are you sure?”
“Very well. But in case you change your mind—-”
“I’m staying at the W Hotel. Room eight-eleven. I imagine they have a nice restaurant here.”
“I gotta go,” Jack said.
“I’ll make a reservation for noon.”
“Good luck with your conference.”
Jack hung up without even saying goodbye. It was the most satisfying and painful thing he had done in a very long time. Painful because he had to do it sober.