In every town, there is one young lady whom everyone knows and expects great things from.
Carla was Mansfield, Ohio’s mascot of bigger things to come. The town knew of Carla even when the little girl was 5 years old and tap danced her way to win the Little Miss Mansfield contest.
The town again heard of Carla when she was 7 and won the best young equestrian goldmedal in the Allegheny Mountains Horseman’s League.
She was an only child and not competitive with any sibling. She didn’t have to be. She beat out her friends, her cousins, her classmates to try and win whatever she could. She had a need for recognition. She also knew how to kiss ass.
When the Mansfield Town Star paper held a “If I could meet Santa Claus” essay contest, Carla wrote in:
“If I ever met Santa Claus, I’d tell him that he has already given me the best present any little girl could have: my favorite teacher in the world, Miss Lockhart.”
Carla got straight A’s from Miss Lockhart, incidentally or coincidentally.
Her childhood was not all rosy though. When Carla was 13, she and her friend Caitlin were arrested for shoplifting. They were accused of taking aspirins from Long’s drugstore. Carla later defended herself by saying, “My mother has horrible migraines and I couldn’t ask her for any money because she was so ill. I felt I had to help her any way I could.” Judge Norma Johnson looked benevolently upon the young defendant and said, “Young lady, if all of the young people who passed through my courtroom were as sincere and kind as you, then I might retire from this bench.” Carla had kissed ass again—and won.
But good little girls, in good little small towns, can get bored. Carla had gone to a local college and looked ahead a few years and didn’t like what she saw around her:
She had to escape this, somehow.
She matured into a five foot nine inch woman with athletic legs and a narrow waist. Her hair was cut short for she liked to shampoo and towel dry. She didn’t have time for lengthy grooming. She had more important ambitions.
She was indeed in a hurry and one day her mom was suprised when Carla told her that she was moving west to Los Angeles. Mom had expected her daughter to leave, but still the thought of her lovely, only child going to the land of the lost was frightening.
If Mom had fears, Carla only had hopes. Where Mom was cautious, Carla conquered. So it was off to the West Coast, without a second thought for Carla…
Three days later, she stopped to eat at the Main Street McDonalds in Barstow, California. It was a frying pan day with a 109 degree temperature and a sun so enervating that she took cover under a large umbrella in the McDonalds front yard and went to sleep for two hours. When she awoke, she found that someone had stolen her car and all of her belongings. It was also night . She was alone and a woman. No money in a strange desert town.
Twenty-two years old, torn jeans, pink tank top, dirty sandals. She hadn’t showered since her stopover in Tulsa. She had hamburger stains on her behind. Her breath smelled of onions and mustard.. No: wallet, purse, car keys, driver’s license, credit cards, cash. Yet somehow, luck would be hers that night.
Across the desert, just outside of Vegas, 48-year-old Caneer Iverson had left a business meeting and was headed home for Beverly Hills. He had just purchased, for two million dollars, the “Little Chapel by the Lake Casino”. It was far outside of Vegas, near Hoover Dam, but it was a good buy. Forty rooms, a small casino, and a loyal and free spending clientele made up of local residents, retirees, RV nomads, and wealthy divorcees from the area.
Coming down the steep mountain, into the dark night of the desert valley, Iverson put his Eldorado into low gear. He had money, a new acquisition and he didn’t know it but he would soon find a mate..
Back in the 1970’s, Iverson ,a Chicago native, had moved to Los Angeles because he mistook his impotence for prostate cancer. He heard of a cure for the cancer, called Laetrile, or Vitamin B-17. It was outlawed in the States, but conveniently for sale in Tijuana. Iverson thought that he could take this wonderful substance, derived from ground up apricot pits, and it would cure his cancer.
He met another believer: 65-year-old Beverly Hills furrier’s widow, Irene Markowitz, who had lung cancer. Iverson pretended to find the smoking, cancerous, hoarse and rich woman attractive. Lonely, lovable and quite vulnerable, Markowitz was appreciative of his attention. Iverson proposed marriage to her, she accepted, and he moved into her comfortable but nicotine stained apartment in south Beverly Hills. He fed her Laetrile extracts and gave her almond oil massages every night. The health of Irene Markowitz continued to worsen. Two months passed, and Markowitz entered Cedars Sinai, where she expired on August 10, 1981.
Iverson emerged from his wife’s death a much wealthier man. He was worth over 10 million dollars, much of it invested in his late wife’s prime Beverly Hills real estate: office buildings, retail stores, restaurants, gas stations. His wife also still owned No. 2 Timbercrest, a once palatial but now shabby mansion near Rodeo drive. He had been told by his late wife that the house was in horrible condition, so he didn’t even look at it. Now he was the owner and he had to go check it out and get it ready for sale.
The colonial had once looked like “Tara” but now mice encamped in the rotted out beams of the roof. The plumbing was antiquated and leaky. The physical appearance was sad and everything about the property said, “tear down.” Yet Iverson, standing outside of the still dignified home, was reminded of the open air rides in his father’s Cadillac deVille convertible through the shaded streets of Evanston, Wilmette and Winnetka. He kept an idelible memory of the green lawned beauty of Sheridan Road as it traced the shoreline of Lake Michigan. In Chicago, money walked with stoicism, it didn’t shout as it did in Beverly Hills. Iverson suddenly changed his mind: he would restore this home and move into it himself. He could pretend he lived on the North Shore of Chicago but enjoy the eternal sun of the southland.
By the spring of 1983, Iverson had renovated the wonderful Palladian artfulness of No. 2. Iverson was 48 years old, wealthy and comfortable, with a fine house and security, privacy and dignity to match. He moved in and briefly relaxed.
One night, on his newly polished burnished parquet floor, Iverson lit a fire and reclined on a wool blanket. He poured himself a brandy and put on a CD of Rachmaninoff. As the piano played lightly and melodically and Russian enchantment overtook the room, Iverson looked around a wished for a little girl who he could make love to. Iverson made the list of the best bachelors of Los Angeles in 1986. He was approached by Playboy centerfolds, curvaceous waitresses, wealthy widows, poor widows, middle class divorcees. He got laid a couple of times. Then one night in the desert, driving though Barstow, on his way back to LA, he got a terrific taste for a hot,steamy and ketchup gushing Big Mac……….
A milk shake, fries, a Big Mac and Miss Shallow. That’s what Iverson got that night in Barstow. It was 11:30 at night. He pulled into the drive-in window of the McDonalds on Main St. in Barstow. As his headlights beamed into the empty eternity of the desert, a dirty faced young woman approached his car.
“Excuse me, I wonder if you could help me. I’m from Ohio and trying to get to LA. My car was stolen and I haven’t got enough money to eat. Could you buy me a hamburger?”
He looked at her: hungry, desperate. Pleading with a pancake flat accented voice of decency and deprivation. Just one hamburger. He reached into his pocket.
“Get into the car honey. You look like you are upset and afraid.”
She looked at him: middle aged, with a kind, open and beaming face. He could have been her father, or Coach Hanna, who taught her how to sprint in high school. Yet, he also could be a serial killer, a rapist, a druggie. God knows.
Dull of mind,hungry and exhausted, she got into his car. They pulled up to the drive-in window together and he ordered two Big Macs, large fries, a chocolate shake. She gulped down the two burgers and then she promptly collapsed into a deep sleep.
An hour later, they were driving towards LA. She woke up and told him her whole misadventure. “I thought I was going to end up in the Barstow morgue.”
Carla was young and spoke young: “At Malabar High School everyone hated me. I was too ambitious. That’s why I got the hell out.” Caneer liked her moxy. He eyed her tanned legs with their chromelike smoothness.
“What about your mom? Doesn’t she miss you?” Iverson asked.
“Oh, her. She’s into do onto others and all that crap.”
He offered her a bed for a night and her own room at the house. This is what she remembered from her first evening in Beverly Hills: the smell of the lavender. White lights shining upon the red brick. A butler, Darrin. A fresh closet full of white, fluffy towels. A warm bath. Swiss bath oils. A queen sized bed. A white linen canopy.
A mass of pink roses which scented the air.
A stranger had invited her into his home. She did not know him, yet she felt safe, warm and protected. Carla had never been bullied, she won battles. She had won a spelling bee, in the seventh grade, by spelling the word, “conquistador” correctly. Carla went to bed in Beverly Hills that night with a vow: she wanted to stay in this house and she was going to earn the right to stay there.
On her first morning in her new home, Carla awoke to some good news. The police had found her stolen car, with all of her belongings intact. Better still, the car was parked on a residential street in Beverly Hills, about ½ mile from No 2. Timbercrest. The thieves had also been on their way to Beverly Hills.
Caneer was beaming as Carla descended the winding oak staircase and joined him for a breakfast of fresh strawberries, a basket of sougherdough bread, raisin muffins, and cranberry scones. The butler was on hand to serve coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice.
She finished her breakfast. Caneer offered help.
“Carla, don’t worry. Anything you need—a car, cash, just ask.”
He offered to drive her to the towing yard where she could reclaim her car. It was in Mar Vista, and she obviously didn’t know her way around Los Angeles. She also didn’t have any clothes to wear. No problem. The butler came back with all of her previously dirty clothes freshly cleaned and pressed.
Caneer’s keen eyes saw a crack saleswoman. Carla might just become the kind of money maker that he needed in his real estate ventures. He would wait quietly though, like a bobcat stalking his prey, before proposing to her that she join him in selling houses to the very, very rich.
Six months passed, sunny summer turned into sunny fall. Carla had stayed with Caneer, and had joined him as an “assistant” in his real estate ventures. “Caneer and Co.” as he now called himself, moved into a Rodeo drive office. He was the man whom Demi Moore sought out to purchase her first home in Los Angles.
Caneer and Carla now regularly showed up in the columns. They attended charity events, studio premieres, hospital benefactor dinners. They were a power couple in the marble-paved Reagan era.
Carla now watched what she ate. The days of Roy Rogers, Arby’s and McDonalds were over. Her new daily prayer: “How many grams of fat are in this?”
Caneer set out to break the two million dollar mark every month and he held Carla to his goal. He needn’t have feared her dedication. For Carla surpassed the two million dollar mark and doubled it. She sold four houses in one month—but she wasn’t satisfied. She told him, “If I’m not producing, I want you to throw me out— of your office and your home. I need to be producing.”
She was equally as tough on Caneer. She cleaned up his sloppy bookkeeping with Microsoft Excel. There wasn’t a number, a dollar, a transaction that she wasn’t aware of. Every night, she worked well past eight o’clock and would not leave the office until she had made the last sales call.
She ribbed him about his computer illiteracy: “Excel is so easy. How could a multi millionaire like you be so good at business and so dumb in computers?”
She also hated imperfection and fired an accountant with 20 years experience who didn’t inform them of a deduction.
Carla possessed tremendous drive and physical energy. As she told LA MAGAZINE, “I run 5 miles a day, work out with a trainer, and I can outrun my Porsche.”
When Caneer was hungry, and wanted to go to lunch, Carla stayed behind and drank bottled water as to not miss a single incoming call. When Caneer got the flu, Carla didn’t stay home to nurse him. Instead, she called him from the office with exciting news of new conquests and sales to perk him up.
Carla made friends with a couple from San Jose who were developing something she thought promising: micro processors which would eventually be installed in every computer around the world. She loaned this couple $10,000 and saw her investment explode 1600% in two years. Money magazine quoted Carla: “It was just a lucky accident.” Anything but……
Home life was conducted with the organizational efficiency of a military operation.
In the month General Schwarzkopf was blasting towards Baghdad, Carla was organizing a fifteen- man division of salespersons who were selling over 30 homes a month in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Westwood and Pacific Palisades. Her Porsche driving panzer patrol would drive up the streets of the Westside, targeting sites for invasion, setting up traps to ensnare buyers, strategizing, and conducting a propaganda campaign to sweep up the Westside real estate market and grab commissions.
Bitter rivals at other agencies nicknamed her “Leona” after Leona Helmsley, the New York hotel queen who ruled over her properties with imperious authority. Carla liked the name Leona and even had a brass plaque made for her office door with the name “Leona” inscribed.
The aggressive woman,however, turned into a compliant kitty at night. She made sure to flatter Caneer with reminders that he had made her success possible: “Darling if it weren’t for you, I’d probably be working at McDonalds.” She credited her drive to his encouragement: “I want you to become the biggest broker in Beverly Hills” Every day that passed saw her wealth, success, energy and fame increase—even as it occured under his rubric, “Caneer and Co.”
Farsi speaking, internationally travelled, tall, dark and athletically handsome, George Shahran was already the talk of the Persian exile community when he walked in Caneer’s office and was hired on the spot to sell houses. Shahran was seen by Caneer as a key player in penetrating the hugely wealthy community of Iranians who settled in Beverly Hills after the fall of the Shah in 1979.
Shahran was something else too: a ladies man. He had played water polo at UCLA, rowed crew, and had been known as a track star on the UCLA team. He majored in business and finance and drove a fast,shiny red Porsche which regularly collected tickets in the vicinity of Bel Air. He had a legendary way with women. He kept a suite at the Beverly Wilshire for his romantic afternoon adventures and if you were a lady looking for property…..
Shahran was ambitious and driven in business. He asked Caneer to double his commissions if he sold a certain amount of property every month. Caneer was impressed. Shahran deserved the extra pay if he was indeed the rain maker that he presented himself to be.
Carla already knew about Shahran—and she considered him a territorial, financial and social threat to her hegemony. She would not confront Shahran directly, but she would let her beloved know that she had no intention of being displaced by this nouveau Iranian.
One of the first big fights and dramatic confrontations between Carla and Caneer occurred the very day that Shahran started work at the firm.
Shahran had come over early in the morning for coffee, on Caneer’s invitation. Carla knew about the invitation, but had not been consulted first by her beloved. She was angry, jealous and feeling displaced by the “successful” newcomer. As Shahran rang the bell, Carla was upstairs getting dressed. Caneer went to answer the door. Before he could open it, Carla came storming down the stairs. Her face was blazing with meanness. Her still wet hair was imprisoned in a terry cloth towel. She pointed her sharp, red, polished index finger at Caneer.
“I don’t want him fuckin’ coming in here. It’s not his house. You hired him to work in the office. He’s not a friend! I don’t want my employees coming in here like they’re my best buddy! Who the fuck does he think he is just bursting in here like that?”
Caneer was stunned.
“My god, what have I done to deserve this?”
“Figure it out!”
She pounded up the stairs, her feet jabbing the treads like a jackhammer on asphalt.
Wisely, objectively and diligently, Caneer put his anger,shock and his left hand in his left pocket and calmly opened the door.
Shahran was smiling, sharp and unaware of the problems his arrival had caused. Caneer extended his right hand with firm assurance.
Caneer fibbed elegantly, “I’m sorry. Carla is very ill this morning. She might have food poisoning. She is so sorry because she wanted to meet you.”
Shahran was kind, “Oh, gosh. That’s horrible. I hope she feels well enough to come to work. I’m so anxious to meet her.”
Caneer had one foot inside the foyer and one foot on the front porch. He smiled at Shahran and held up his index finger to indicate one minute.
The door closed again and Shahran stood outside on the porch waiting for Caneer’s return. Graceful white columns stoically supported the mansion’s roof. Shahran imitated their architectural behavior and waited calmly. Curiosity, however, impelled him to walk away from the house and appraise the exterior with all of the curatorial thoroughness of his profession.
He leaned against the pillar closest to the front door and checked his watch. He had been outside fifteen minutes. It seemed rude but maybe there was a reason: The lover was sick, the house was a mess. He could hear yelling and it sounded as if it were coming down a pipe or through a bullhorn. He put his ear to a column.
Carla’s shrill voice came through the hollow pipe loud and clear: “Tell that big nosed, big cock hot shot that I will never work with him. ”
Shahran was shaken. He now understood that he was hated by the very woman he had once idolized.
Caneer came outside. Shahran feigned innocence. Caneer said apologetically, “Sorry buddy. Go on without me.”
Shahran was let down. On his first day, he had eagerly anticipated meeting his mentor and the legendary Carla. At high income levels, breakfast cancelled in Los Angeles is akin to pulling a veil off of a Muslim woman in Baghdad. An unforgivable insult.
Months passed and Shahran worked hard. He forgot the breakfast slight and began to feel like Caneer and Co. was his home. But his usual good luck went bad. Women passed through and he made love to some, but sold little. His athletic dynamism seemed to cool as he sat on the bench in the office, watching the star player on the court, Carla, close the best deals.
Shahran became good friends with Nancy Johnson, a young,vivacious red haired girl from Portland, Oregon who charmed everyone in the office with her imitation of an Irish brogue. She was talented in impersonations and even could imitate the boss, Carla. Nancy was a fresh wind of humor in a deadly serious office and Shahran loved her kindness and wacky ways.
But Nancy walked into Shahran’s office one day. Her green eyes were bloodshot and she had been crying. She sat down and put her face into her hands.
“Carla says that I’ve been goofing off and she is firing me. I’m saying good-bye.”
“But you’re a really good salesperson, Nance…”
“It doesn’t matter. She said I was a stupid clown that distracted everyone from their work.”
So little Nancy was out courtesy of Carla. The office grew quieter.
Caneer was also seen less his office. Rumors swept the company that he was sick with cancer. Other more unspeakable ailments were whispered about: he might be a closet fag and dying of AIDS; he might be suicidal; he once tried to kill himself. None of it was true, but Shahran suspected Carla might be secretly trying to depose her sweetheart.
When Caneer finally came into the office, after an absence of five weeks, he seemed considerably thinner. He had a strong orange tan, which only served to accentuate his martian-like appearance. He drank prune juice and carried a handkerchief which he constantly was blowing into. He limped and his white hair was much sparser. His murky eyes aged and his feeble voice sounded rockier and shakier.
One day, an office meeting was held with Carla speaking. Caneer, invalid like, sat in a chair while his lover stood and spoke:
“As many of you are aware my beloved, dear partner and your leader has been absent for many weeks from our company. As some of you may have surmised, he is ill. With his sad departure, I am assuming the leadership of Caneer and am confident that we will continue to progress and hit new levels of success and achievement worthy of our founder……..”
Six months after Iverson’s last day, Shahran was doing quite well at Caneer and Co. His sales were right up there under Carla’s. She was still the top performer but he had just closed three deals in the past month and was feeling great about the coming year: more money, more opportunity.
What had not changed was the icy demeanor of Carla towards Shahran. She barely spoke to him. She affected an air of disinterest in his deals and if she mentioned them at all it was to convey Caneer’s appreciation for Shahran. The Persian accepted her personalilty, and though he wasn’t fond of her, he preoccupied himself with the details of his job.
Carla mostly stayed out of Shahran’s space, either out of distaste for him or something else. Yet one day, Shahran was suprised to get a voice mail from Carla with an invitation to join her for lunch at Le Dome, an expensive restaurant.
Shahran began to regain some of the old confidence. He asked of his reflection in a mirror: “Who was that woman to push me around? She would never fire me. She knows I’m good. ” He fed himself these positive reinforcements before he entered Le Dome.
Carla, on the celphone, had already arrived wearing a Dior ivory shantung silk jacket and matching skirt.
A bottle of chardonnay sat in a silver bucket next to the table. Shahran walked up to her, smiling broadly.
Carla pursed her lips in a sly way. No emotion but a veneer of civility. She crossed her legs and looked into Shahran’s eyes with a prosecutorial gaze.
“Congrats on your two big sales. I understand the LeBlanc sale is in escrow. That was quite a surprise, I didn’t think that the bank would approve the loan.”
Shahran was confused, but spoke immediately. “I was very happy for the LeBlancs They’re a young couple. Very hard working nice people. She’s expecting a baby in October.”
“So I heard.
The waiter brought Shahran’s water and it was promptly gulped by the still nervous broker. Carla was holding a Cross pen and jotting down some figures on a piece of paper.
“In the appraisal, the house was valued at $1,950,000. That seems a little high for that neighborhood don’t you think?”
“Oh, it’s a little high but nothing outrageous.”
Carla shook her head no. “No way. You are way off. $1,700,000 at the most.”
Shahran knew she was suspicious about something. “Are you saying that the LeBlancs are in over their head?”
Carla leaned over and stared at Shahran. She stuck her lizard’s tongue into the chardonnay and took a sip. “You and I both know that the appraisal was cooked. You can’t fool me with those figures. The LeBlancs were approved for the mortgage because the bank thinks the house is worth a lot more than it is and when they loaned them the money the “extra” cash covers the down payment. Those people couldn’t afford a fuckin’ condo in Alhambra for God’s sake!”
Shahran was stunned. He stammered as he struggled to reply to an obviously false charge. “If the appraisal is phony then the mortgage company and the appraiser are to blame. What difference does it make if we made the sale anyway?”
Carla kept her voice down, but she was furious. She drew her lips together and clenched her fists as her temper exploded.
“I am not running a god damn two penny house of fraud! I expect my brokers to be scrupulously honest and if I have to start fighting lawsuits and damn investigations from the California Department of Commerce or the state attorney general, or the FBI, I won’t stand for it! You and I know that if the LeBlancs find out that they were hustled or didn’t know the true value or terms of the agreement then the whole deal is kaput. Not only that but I could face legal fuckin problems up the wazoo.”
Shahran was grief stricken. He felt naked, ashamed and unsure of how this had escalated into his error and mistake. He struggled to defend himself. “I don’t know how this happened. I used Abby Josephson as my appraiser so many times. She doesn’t seem like a fraud.”
Carla calmed down, but only enough to indict him further. “If Abby can make a little on the side when the mortgage is approved and the seller and the broker are happy, why do you think that she would give a rat’s ass about ethics? I know a lot of appraisers in this city and I wouldn’t trust them any more than I would hire Charles Manson as a babysitter!”
Good Shahran was falling fast, he knew his job was on the line and now his good sales figures were evidence of a crime that he surely did not commit.
Shahran asked for a chance to explain. “I didn’t know what was happening. I think you should let me go over my records and then talk about it with you tomorrow. I had no idea you were going to bring this up.”
Carla was not satiated, yet. ” I have a bigger problem here. Trust. I have let you roam on a very long leash. I heard good things about you and your figures have been impressive all along. But details are the si ne qua non of our profession. You aren’t a success just because you make sales and fuck all the females.”
She had nailed him in the balls.
The inquistion continued, “If you close a bad deal and forget to check the details whether it is an inspection, an appraisal, a percentage on a mortgage, whatever, you are failing to do your job.”
“So are you firing me? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Yes. I want you out of the office today”
With little emotion and mechanical ambition, Carla Shallow had built up her Beverly Hills real estate empire into the largest property management and sales firm in the West. But now with her dearest dead– she was selling her company to a Fortune 500 conglomerate, taking her wealth and moving, in a few weeks, to Maui.
She didn’t look a woman in mourning, this spunky, fit, purple sweatshirted woman. Her hair was tousled and her walk robust and confident. The house with the hollow pillars had been one of the stops for a supersonic woman whose achievements—in business, in marriage and in crushing rivals were breathtaking. There were boxes all around. The butler nervously packed bubble wrapping around glass trinkets.
“I have all of Mr. Ivereson’s papers wrapped up neatly.”
“Good. Will you drop off the documents at the lawyer’s office today? They need everything to make sure that the will is in order.”
That evening, Carla left LA and flew to Hawaii just as CNN reported the acquisition of her company.
Months after he was fired, Shahran, unaware of Carla’s departure, was driving past the house of hollow pillars. He thought briefly about getting a baseball bat and walking into no. 2 Timbercrest and smashing that bitch. He pictured the bloody teeth, the broken jaw, the cracked skull and how he might stomp his combat boots into her screaming face as she lay helpless on the floor. His heart raced faster as he imagined carrying her lifeless body up the winding staircase and then dropping her limp corpse from atop the landing and onto a glass table below.
But Carla wasn’t in that house at that moment. She was eating a mango and shrimp salad at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel and Spa in Maui. Cascading waterfalls, tropical vegetation, formal gardens, and the lush life would relax most mortals.
But Carla had always been different. She would come to Maui, not to retire, but to expand her conquest. She had her eye on several properties, including the Grand Wailea .
She would continue to live and prosper as lesser souls around her dwindled and failed.
Back in Beverly Hills, the house of the hollow pillars would see new tenants, but none as smart , shrewd and savvy as Carla.