From The Chrysanthemum Palace 


Wagner's new novel is the story of Bertie Krohn, the only child of Perry Krohn, creator of TV's longest-running space opera, Starwatch: The Navigators. Bertie recounts the last months in the lives of his two friends, Clea Freemantle, daughter of a legendary movie star, and Thad Michelet, author, actor and son of literary titan Jack Michelet. In this scene, adapted for the Weekly, Bertie meets Thad's literary agent, Miriam Levine, for drinks and more.

She suggested the lobby of the Marmont. I said we might run into Thad and Clea, implying I didn't have the energy for another group encounter. She waited two seconds before saying we could have drinks in her room. (That was a surprise.) I followed her car, smiling and trembling to something unknown for cello on KCRW. We were stripped and ecstatically entangled within minutes of entering her small, back-of-hotel suite. It'd been months since I had taken anyone to bed and maybe years since a seduction was effected with such little effort. The expedience of it worked absolute wonders for my spirit. I felt as if in my early 20s again we did all the nasty, glorious things new lovers do. (Another surprise.) We were ravenous, leaving no patch of flesh unturned, then starved for food, drink and sleep . . . automatically stirring at the hour of the wolf to couple with that edge of violent, sorrowful passion befitting 3 a.m. When morning came, we sat in capacious white robes munching muesli and eggs on burnt toast, washing everything down with great gulps of juice like it was our first and last meal on this insanely beautiful blue-green Earth.

I was on the toilet when the phone rang.

I heard her gasp, then came back to the room and listened.

Jack Michelet was dead.

The funeral was at Martha's Vineyard. Thad begged Clea to come and she, in turn, begged me. She needn't have: I knew Miriam would be going and I was very sexed up. To be perfectly frank. Besides, life had become a dull shuttle between AA meetings, the gym, Starwatch tapings and reluctant dinner dates I looked forward to a geographical break in routine, especially one promising to be historically memorable.

The burial took place on Saturday, amid bright sun and nipping cold while the salty seawater, ever near, rhythmically murmured the Lord giveth . . . the Lord taketh away. Michelet's death was an international event, and the presence of journalists and paparazzi permeated the Vineyard, lending a cockeyed, festive, Día de los Muertos vibe.

Comments from the makeshift podium seemed par for the posthumous course: from the heart, the head, the ego, the groin. Hardly anyone was sober, and the ones who were, for all the cringeworthiness of their remarks, may as well have been stoned to the gills. It does seem fairly harmless, though, to list a small roster of mourners: ancient mariners Styron, Mailer, Vonnegut and Vidal, with Hitchens, Auster, Wallace and Lethem representing the new. A half-dozen unlikely show-biz types paid homage as well: Sumner Redstone, Ron and Ellen Perelman, Steve Martin (Joyce Carol Oates on his arm!), Jim Belushi, Daryl Hannah and Carly Simon (I assumed the last three were neighbors). And last, but not least, Nicole Kidman, willowy, alabastrine, and regal red. Supposedly she had optioned Michelet's penultimate book.

I became separated from my group and stood sheepishly on the fringe, bending an ear to discern the minister's words as the wind kicked up, with that nagging outsider feeling wondering why I'd come.

Bruce Wagner, with James Ellroy, Dana Delany and Beverly D'Angelo, will read from The Chrysanthemum Palace at Skylight Books (Feb. 4, 7:30 p.m.), Book Soup (Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m.), Dutton's Beverly Hills (Feb. 10, 7 p.m.), Vroman's (Feb. 15, 7 p.m.) and Brentano's (Feb. 18, 7 p.m.).

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