My little brother is obsessed with Ludakris. He wears T-shirts with pictures of the rapper/actor’s face on it, owns all the records and DVDs, has seen him live more than ten times, and has memorized every song lyric and line of dialogue ever uttered by Ludakris. He doesn’t call him Ludakris, though. He calls him Luda, like, “Dude, Luda was on Leno last night, talking about the flick he’s in,” or “Luda is an artist, and anyone who says otherwise should be tried for treason. He is the embodiment of what it means to be an American artist.” My brother also likes to go to the theater and sit in the back row, quietly, till Luda first appears on screen. Then he springs to his feet and shouts, “LUUUUUUUUDDDDDDDAAAAAA!”
I knew about the records, the shirts, the memorizations, the shows, but I didn’t know about the movie thing till we went to see 2 Fast 2 Furious at the dollar theater, because I refused to see it when it was full price, I finally gave into my brother’s constant nagging. Later on in the movie, my brother starts talking to the screen, saying things like, “You tell ’em Luda. You tell ’em.” I expect people to moan or shush him, but they don’t they laugh, and when the credits roll and Ludakris’s name scrolls up, my brother rises and offers a standing ovation. I sink in my seat, waiting for people to file out, but they stay, joining in on the ovation.
In the car, I look over at him as I drive. “You’re embarrassing.”
He smacks me in the arm, and unplugs my iPod to plug his in. “Sorry,” he says, “but your fucking gadget has no Luda. What the fuck else are we supposed to listen to after a performance like that? Nothing. You listen to Luda because that’s what God intended.” He starts rapping along.
At 3am my brother calls me frantic, but excited, rambling on about some phone number he just paid a bunch of money for, and that all he had to do was call it, but he didn’t know what to say if he answers. “What do I say to him?”
“Wait,” I say. “Who? It’s a dude?”
“Yeah, he is a dude. What are you crazy?”
“Well, just call him and tell him how you feel.”
“Dude, this isn’t just some crush on some school boy. Wake up! I’m talking about the greatest artist of our time. Actor. Rapper. Producer. Entrepreneur. Mother effing Ludakris.”
“Oh,” I say, suddenly deflated. I think for a second my brother has something interesting going on in his life, but he’s just talking about some rapper.
“Oh? That’s all you have to say. This is huge!”
“Why would you want to call him? What would you say?”
“That’s why I’m calling you…what should I say?”
“I don’t know, you’re the super fan.”
He goes silent for a few moments, then says, slowly, “Don’t do this. Don’t you dare take this moment away from me. This is important to me. Have you ever paid attention to anything I care about? It’s Ludakris. It’s like if you were to meet Spielberg.”
“I hate Spielberg.”
“Yes, I would.”
“Look, just don’t be an asshole.”
“Congratulations,” I say.
“Don’t get facetious. It makes you sound like a snob.”
“Sorry,” I placate him. “I know this means a lot to you. This is a big deal.”
He heaves a sigh into the receiver and says, “I’m coming over so we can call him,” and before I can spit out a “no,” the phone clicks off.
He must’ve been in his car, because before I can roll out of bed and throw on some shorts, he’s knocking on my bedroom door and walking in with his arms up, shouting, “LUUUDDDAA!” He drops his arms down to his side when he sees that I’m still in bed, shakes his head, then reaches into his pocket, pulling out a crumpled piece of notebook paper with number written in big black numbers.
“Is that it?” I say, getting out of bed and walking across the room to get some shorts on. “What are you gonna say when you call him. You could call him now, he’s probably up.”
“So,” my brother says, gesturing at me, “why aren’t you dressed?”
“It’s three in the morning numb-nuts.”
“But I called forever ago.”
“Like five minutes. I barely had time to hang up before you were in my house.”
He pffts at me and sits on the bed. He leans back and digs out his cell phone. After dialing the number, he stares at the phone. I sit on the bed behind him and stare at it too.
“Call it,” I say. “Just like jumping into a lake. You just jump in.”
He presses his thumb down and it rings. He puts it on speaker phone.
The line picks up after three and a half rings. “Who is this?” The voice distorts.
“Hi,” my brother says. “Is this Luda? I mean, is this Ludakris?”
“How did you get my number? I don’t know you.”
My brother doesn’t answer him. He looks at me, startled, then starts rattling off compliments about Ludakris’s music, his acting career, his dating life, tabloids, reviews, all while Ludakris keeps interjecting—”How did you get my number?”—and my brother’s practically vomiting out praise, eventually stopping to take a big breath.
“HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER!?”
“I’m just such a fan,” my brother says, quietly.
Luda sighs. “What’s your name?”
“Alexander. My friends call me Alex.”
“Alexander,” Luda says, then breathes so hard into the phone that it crackles. “If you can find my address, I’d love to have you over. You seem harmless. If you make it, I’ll play you some tracks from the new record.” Before he hangs up, and before my brother can speak, I hear the sound of squawking or barking. Then the phone clicks off.
“I don’t know,” I say, suspicious of the invite.
“We have to. This is a once in a lifetime thing.”
“OK, OK. Let’s think about this. He’s super pissed about you calling, but says that if you can find him, you can come over. Doesn’t that seem like a big set up?”
“Luda wouldn’t do that.”
“You don’t know him. What if he wants you to show up so he can kick your ass?”
“That doesn’t sound like him at all.”
“You sound really stupid right now.”
“You’re just jaded.”
“Jesus, just think about it,” I say. “He sounded pissed about you calling.”
“I already though about it.”
He won’t tell me how much he’s paying for the address, and he won’t let me come into the coffee shop to meet his contact, but I can see the transaction through the big windows. At a window booth, the contact, who is super skinny and slouching like crazy, slides a piece of paper across the table to my brother, who in turns slides an envelope back to the contact. It takes about a minute and my brother’s back in the car.
When we’re driving I say, “I’m still not sure about this.”
“It’ll be the best time of your life. I’d bet your house on it.”
The house is a giant concrete block with a long nose stretching out to the driveway. It’s maybe ten feet tall. We get out of the car and go up to the door, where the doorbell is a giant fist protruding from where a knocker would be. My brother fist-bumps the doorbell and inside a buzzing echoes.
After a few minutes, Ludakris opens the door and looks us up and down. He points at my brother and says, “Alexander?”
My brother nods and makes a slight movement towards the open door, but Luda slides over as if to say you think you can come into my house? Then he nods towards me and says, “Who’s this?”
He shoots me a quick glare and widens the door, gesturing for us to enter.
The hallway is long and bare with only white walls, white sconces, and white marble floors. The lights in the sconces don’t even look on, but the white from the walls and floor keeps the hall bright. There are birds flying around above our head. We dodge them, flinching when they get close, but Luda walks steadily. The sconces towards the end of the hall host nests. There are eggs and babies in the nests, and the mama-birds fly down, feed them and take off, back down the hallway. Ludakris doesn’t say anything, just walks. The other end of the hall is barely visible from the door, but the closer we get, the more I can make out a giant room full of couches and chairs and animals. And in the center of the room, it looks like there’s a big pool.
“You’ve got a lot of birds in here,” my brother says, trying to spark a conversation, obviously not able to see what looks like the turtle and a couple of foxes walking around in the room ahead.
“Yeah,” Luda says. “I like birds. I like animals. And they like me.”
When we enter the room, the animals look our way as though they’re sizing us up, or maybe just acknowledging our presence, then go about their business. My brother says something, but I’m not listening. I’m staring at the frogs swimming in the pool, next to the beaver, who’s built a little damn in the shallow end.
“Let me introduce you,” Luda says, then names off all the animals. Some of them look our way when he says their name, but most of them don’t. There’s a couple of ducks waddling by, quacking when he says each name, and a pelican in the far corner who makes some sort of snarfing noise when her name is called. Ludakris is smiling, and gestures for us to sit down in a little circle of couches, and when we sit, his face tightens up, and he says, “Now, who the fuck gave you my shit?”
“You said that I could—”
“—I said that to see if whoever keeps giving you my personal information would dare give you my home address. That’s fucked up, man.”
“I just thought…”
Luda laughs. “You thought we would hang out?”
My brother hangs his head.
“Who gave you my shit?”
“He doesn’t want to tell you,” I say.
“I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to Alexaaaaaander.” He leans forward, and when my brother looks up at him. He reaches out and grabs my brother by the cheeks.
I rise to my feet, but a wolf rises from behind the couch and bares its teeth. I sit back down.
“Now,” Luda says. “I want you to tell me who this guy is and where I can find him,” and Luda keeps talking, lecturing my brother about the woes of fame, the struggles to find privacy, how much time, effort, and money goes into getting privacy, how his animals would suffer if too many people knew where he was, and as he does this, my brother gets fat. First his face chunks out just like it did that winter when he went on a ski trip, broke his leg, and spent most his time in the dinning hall. Then his neck and shoulders get fat, and the rest of his body follows. When Ludakris lets go, my brother is probably 100 pounds fatter. He starts breathing out of his mouth and his clothes are about to burst. “Who is he and where can I find him,” Luda says.
My brother starts shaking his head, but he’s sweating, and looks like its too much work, so I say, “Just tell him, Alex.”
“Yeah,” Luda says. “Just tell me.”
In Luda’s SUV, we watch the neighborhoods pass. We’re in the very back, not bound or gagged, but sitting against the windows, on our way to the coffee shop to find my brother’s contact. My brother is really fat. He’s unbuttoned his shirt and pants, and now he’s spilling out all over the place. He’s whimpering, mumbling to himself, and I keep telling him that he’ll be able to shed it in no time, but I don’t believe it myself, because, I mean, he’s really, really fat. My brother wasn’t skinny before, but he wasn’t even chunky, he was just 28 and no longer a smoker.
Outside, the coffee shop, I have to stay in the car, while Luda and his bodyguard escort my brother inside. At the window booth, Luda slides in, and starts talking to the contact. Through the window, I can see my brother apologizing. The contact doesn’t look scared, just annoyed and a little star-struck, and also a little weirded out about how big my brother is. Luda waves his hand at my brother and the body guard helps him back outside. Luda’s speaking to the contact, relaxed, almost friendly.
“Go,” he says to us as he lets me out.
“Where’s our car?” I say to him.
“Where you left it.”
“Can we get a ride back?”
“No,” he says and shuts the back door. “Take a cab.” Then he starts walking back inside, where Luda is still talking. We turn and look into the coffee shop. Luda’s still just talking, looking quite polite with his hands folded and his posture straight. Then all of a sudden, he jumps up and snaps his hand across the table, grabbing the contact by the faces. He’s speaking really fast, and the contact is getting fatter, then Luda starts rapping, waving his hand like he does in all his vidoes, and the contact fattens, till he’s spilling out of the booth and smashing up against the window.
Joshua Young holds an MA in English from Western Washington University, and begins an MFA in Poetry at Columbia College Chicago in 2011. His chapbook, Whoever Said Las Cruces was Great is a Liar, was published by Gold Wake Press in 2010. He currently teaches English Composition, and lives near Seattle with his wife, their son, and their dog. His films and other projects can be found at http://thestorythief.tumblr.com.