"Money Walks," a serial novel by 16 Los Angeles writers who will be appearing at this year's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, runs through Friday. The festival takes place on Saturday and Sunday at UCLA.
Bunny didn't kid herself. She knew she was not the only woman to have sinned with a man of the cloth. Most such men, she also knew, preferred to transgress with their own gender; Bunny's theory being that, deep down, they wanted to feel like they were with an apostle. . . .
Not to judge. There's no way to measure faith.
But where was she? Reverend Franco. Yes! She took some pride in knowing she'd initiated him. Even though it probably didn't count, technically speaking, since what they had done was not exactly sex.
Still, it was a happy memory. She'd been staying at the Ambassador, in the poolside bungalow Sinatra rented -- and lent out to pals in need of a love nest. The pal, in this case, was Louie Prima. They'd met when she was working the Sahara.
Louie called himself "a breast man -- a big breast man." He was also a big tipper. Which was why Bunny, already ample, was making herself ampler. She liked to inject the silicone herself, just as the friendly showgirls had taught her. They all ended up with female cancer, but somehow here she was.
That night at the Ambassador, Bunny stood before a mirror, naked above her slip, ready to thumb the plunger. When --
"Louie? You're early!"
Before she could cover herself, the door opened. There stood Franco, 14, in his bellhop suit, arms around an ice bucket. He looked adorable. Even after he dropped the Champagne and passed out on the carpet.
Bunny couldn't decide whether to inject herself or attend to the stricken bellhop. Business first. So she pumped, then picked up the bellboy. He came to with his head in her lap. Half out of it, he began to suckle.
"Easy, sweetie, Mama's a little tender."
Much to her surprise, she enjoyed the sensation. She'd had a child, at 15. They said it was a boy. But she had to give him up.
Franco's head seemed to float upward. Then, doe eyes open now, he had an "accident."
This was, in its way, the sweetest memory Bunny owned. Their relationship continued sporadically after she settled in Los Angeles. They never had "normal" relations. The future reverend only suckled. Then he'd have his accident.
"You just want a mommy," Bunny liked to tease. She thought about that now, as she stared at a young hoodlum on 5th and Main, where the Bentley idled at a light. A face stared back, slit-eyed and vicious. But all Bunny saw was the young man of God. Baby Franco.
They'd had a connection once. Now she would see if such a thing could last. She reached over and stroked the painting in the passenger seat.
In the end, of course, it was only business. Bunny remembered the advice Gypsy Rose Lee had given her, the week she and the famous stripper shared a dressing room at the Ivar, in Hollywood: "God is love, but get it in writing."
Some things a girl never forgets.
Stahl's books include "Permanent Midnight" and "I, Fatty." His latest novel is "Pain Killers." He will be on the panel "Fiction: The Post-Modern World" at 1 p.m. Sunday in Franz 1178 at UCLA at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.