Hidden Bodies: Chapter 7

An excerpt from Caroline Kepnes' upcoming novel Hidden Bodies.
Image may contain Clock Tower Building Tower and Architecture
Illustration by Katty Huertas

​I don't read during the flight to LAX. I don't watch a movie. I fuck around on Facebook—I finally joined for real, as Joe Goldberg, as me—but it's not what you think it is. I  have to fuck around on Facebook. I'm a hunter going on a wild safari and I need guides on my trek through this small segment of the foothills of Hollywood known as Franklin Village. I need camouflage. I need friends and it's not the worst thing in the world to need people. I am inspired by the Fast & Furious movies where the heroes Toretto and O'Conner can't hunt the bad guys without first assembling a team. I need help finding Amy, the same way they need help finding a corrupt Brazilian drug lord. And I can say this for the aspirings in the Upright Citizens Brigade: They're an open bunch. They accept Joe Goldberg, writer as a friend, and these people talk a lot. About the dry cleaner and Tinder and their shoes and their auditions. And yes, they talk about someone they refer to as Amy Offline.

The best resource so far is a guy named Calvin, who works at a used bookstore right next to the UCB. He posted a job listing for someone to pick up shifts and I wrote to him. I think I have the job; none of the other dudes he knows have experience with a register. I ask him about rare books, if he ever sees any original editions of Portnoy's Complaint. Maybe Amy already started moving her inventory. He writes back:

LOL dude we get like one valuable book a year. Mostly people who live up Beachwood dump their moldy shit when they move or their parents die or whatever. Or like people on the block are broke and they try to sell stuff but it's supereasy mostly it's like you get like a couple bucks it's superchill dude.

In addition to Facebook and Twitter, Calvin has a website where he reveals everything you could ever want to know about him. He's an aspiring writer-director-actor-producer-sound designer-comic­ improv player. Can you imagine yearning for attention so badly that your identity required all those hyphens? He worships Henderson and Marc Maron and suspenders and beards and pictures of beards and Tinder and bacon and Breaking Bad and things from the '80s. In Brooklyn this guy would be working at a branding firm. He would be playing poor and checking his 401(k) late at night. But Calvin has a PayPal account where "fans" can help him pay rent. I could never respect Calvin, but he's easy and grateful that I'm willing to fill in when he needs to audition.

I order a Sprite Zero and vodka. My second most useful Facebook friend is an older aspiring stand-up comic named Harvey Swallows. I applied for an apartment near UCB in a building called Hollywood Lawns. Harvey's the manager, and when I e-mailed him about the apartment, he responded with a Facebook friend request and invitation to be his fan. Angelenos. Harvey is the West Coast equivalent of my old coworker Exclamation Point Ethan. Harvey is another open book with his website: He changed his name to Harvey Swallows and moved to LA to be a comic at the "ripe young age of fifty-seven." His catchphrase is Am I right or am I right? He's big into #ThrowbackThursday and he's shared so many photos of his old life in Nebraska, when he was married and selling insurance and growing sick with aspirations. Note to self: Do not get sick with aspirations. They eat your brain and trick your heart and you wind up on a stage in a basement saying unfunny things and waiting for someone to laugh.

Nobody is laughing and/or paying Harvey to say funny things, so he manages forty-five units at Hollywood Lawns. The place is a nice change of pace for me. I get off Facebook and look at pictures of my new home. There is a pool—I could hold Amy under the water— and there is a hot tub—I could boil the bitch—and there is a game room —I can choke her with a pool stick—and it's within walking distance of everything I could ever want. Including, of course, Amy.

She may not be on Facebook but you can't pursue an acting career in LA without the Internet. A girl like Amy, a brand-new sociopath with no agent, no connections, she would start looking for work on Craigslist. Anyone can post a casting call on the site and actors submit their pictures and résumés constantly, according to Calvin. So I write a casting call, specifically designed to appeal to Amy's overweening ego.

SUBJECT: Are you taller and more beautiful than the girl next door?

BODY: Indie feature seeks lead actress. Stunning & blond. 5´7–5´11. Age 25–30. Reply back with photos/résumé.

I am astounded by the speed of it all. Within a few minutes, I have dozens of girls sending me pictures. My hands shake every time I open an e-mail from a girl. Some are naked, some are ugly, some are even gorgeous, but none of them are the supercunt.

I order another vodka and Sprite Zero and the two girls across the aisle talk about the Bar Method —they love it—and carbs —they hate them—and directors —they want to know them. I wonder if Amy would become that kind of person in LA if I don't kill her first. Part of me wants to tell her about the assholes on the plane but more of me wants to scream at her, to hold her accountable for everything she did but I can't, not yet. I open a Word document and write to myself.

DEAR Supercunt, You are a vile evil thing and I wish you never walked into my life with your gloves and your bullshit. Cocktail is crappy because the protagonist is ultimately rewarded for being a shallow, gold-digging prick. You think that you're headed for something good. You're not. You're callow. Even when you shaved, your legs were stubbly. You were wrong to steal from those people in Little Compton. They're better than you. Blueberries are disgusting and you will die no matter what. You need a haircut. Your legs are too long. Your skin is a waste of space because there's no heart inside of you. You're too much of a pussy and a phony to be on Facebook. You suck a good dick. But you're not special. You're dead.

The older woman next to me knocks on my tray table. She points at my screen. "Are you a writer?" I save my document. I close it. "Yes. It's a monologue in this thing I'm writing."

She points at the headshots. "And directing? You're casting, right? I see pictures." "Yep!" Boundaries: Where did they go? "Here's hoping."

She nods. "You know," she says. "If you're casting something, my niece lives in North Hollywood and she's very talented. You can see her at Gretchen Woods dot com."

So that's how it is here. I tell her that I'm making an adult movie and she gasps and whips her head toward the window, and maybe now she won't go around telling random guys how to find her niece online. But she's given me an idea. Being a writer is a great cover during my expedition. I'll say that I'm working on something called Kev & Mindy Forever and it will be about me and Amy and our last weekend in Little Compton. It will begin with Amy telling me that she can't sleep in her own bed and I know how it ends: me killing Amy.

I order another vodka and Sprite Zero and go back on Facebook. One of Calvin's friends, Winston Barrel, has requested my online friendship. He doesn't even know me. I accept friendship with Winston. I immediately receive an invitation to a comedy show along with 845 other people. This is good. When I pull Amy's extra-long body into an infinity pool and make it look like an accident—dare to dream!—I will be okay because I will have become a Facebook guy, a normal dude. We live in an era where people who don't have 4,355 friends are considered nefarious, as if socially entrenched citizens aren't also capable of murder. I need friends so that when Amy disappears, my friends can roll their eyes at the idea of handsome, gregarious Joe killing someone. I can't be that guy who "keeps to himself." That's too in-line with the dated but pervasive stereotype of a "killer" reinforced by biased TV "news" shows no matter how many happy-go-lucky husbands go and murder their wives. We all want to fear single people. It's endemic. It's American.

I click through my new Angeleno friends on Facebook. I love them; they are like kids, the way they just fucking hope. I hate them; they are like kids, the way they just fucking hope. I envy them. They don't sacrifice their bodies for bookstores and they don't waste their lives underground, riding subways and exposing themselves to chemicals and old shit. People move to LA to make it. They dream harder than people in New York and believe that ferociously socializing is critical, that life is all about "who you know."

And honestly, I don't hate Facebook as much as I thought I would. (Suck it, Amy. Sorry, Beck.) Once you're a member, there's a network in which you are the center, it's empowering. Humans are entertaining, fun to look at. So are cats. People are so lonely, they spend their birthdays on the Internet, thanking people for wishing them a happy birthday, people who only know it's their birthday because Facebook told them. I "Like" Fast & Furious to establish myself as a fun guy and then I write to Amy: Dear Cunt, Facebook is only people trying to help each other from being lonely. Fuck you. Love, Joe.

The pilot says we're almost here and I lean forward and see Los Angeles through the tiny window. The city is a grid, and like Amy's bush that first time I saw it, the thing fucking sprawls. I can't help but smile. Amy thinks she's off the grid but she has extremely traceable rare books and aspirations that require online socialization. I'll find her. I wish I could break open the window right now and parachute into Franklin Village, where I know she is, but then she might see me coming and that would be like whispering to the deer, psst, I'm here, right before shooting it.

Caroline Kepnes's first novel, You, is in development at Showtime. It was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Award and named a Suspense Magazine Best Book of the Year.