Read West of Paradise Online

Authors: Gwen Davis

West of Paradise

 

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Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Dramatis Personae

Epigraph

A Celebrity Funeral

A Party at Wolfgang Puck's

A Snowflake in Hell

By Hook or by Crook

Rats

A Stalker's Daisy Chain

Special Occasions

Incidental Music

Last Lunches

Building Bridges

People Who Live in Glass Houses

Burning Bridges

Will the Real Larry Drayco Please Stand Up

Paradise East

And the Winner Is …

Afterword

Also by Gwen Davis

Copyright

 

For Gary L. Bostwick, Esq., who told me, “Not the ghost of Swifty Lazar, not the Buddha himself, should stop you from writing this book.” Well, they didn't, but they tried.

 

And for Jamie Lee Curtis, without whom …

Dramatis Personae

(In Order of Appearance)

L
ARRY
D
RAYCO
—a dead Producer

K
ATE
D
ONNELLY
—a would-be Writer

W
ILTON
S
PENSER
—Actor/Dope Dealer

S
ARAH
N
ASH
—Author of a Hollywood exposé

A
RTHUR
F
INSTER
—a scrofulous Publisher

F
LETCHER
M
C
C
ALLUM
—Dealmaker/Lawyer

W
ENDY
—an ex-Duchess

S
AMANTHA
C
HATSWORTH
—West Coast Editor

A
LGERNON
R
EDDY
—Philosopher/Guru

R
ODNEY
S
AMETH
—a reclusive Director

D
ARCY
L
INETTE
—Studio Head/Good Guy

M
ORTY
S
CHEIN
—Clothing Manufacturer

J
AKE
A
LONZO
—Movie Star

L
ILA
D
ARSHOWITZ
—Relative of the Deceased

C
HARLEY
B
EST
—a once Top Attraction

B
RANDY
—a Bimbo

H
ELEN
M
ANNING
—the number one Female Star

L
INUS
A
RCHER
—an aging Enfant Terrible

V
ICTOR
L
IPPTON
—a major Player

N
ORMAN
J
ESSUP
—just as major

C
HEN
—Mrs. Lippton

C
ARINA
—Jessup's Fiancée

P
ERRY
Z
EMMIS
—a Fool

A
LEXA DE
C
ARVILLE
—a Mistress

T
YLER
H
AYDEN
—a Pure Soul

M
EL
B
RYNNER
—an Agent

A
SHER
P
FALTZ
—Hollywood Historian

M
ORGAN
C
RAIG
—a Graduate Student

R
ALPH
R
OBERTSON
—Interviewer/Lecher

H
ALLOWELL
V
INCENT
—Private Detective

B
OBBY
S
HORT
—an Entertainer

B
INKY
D
ANFORTH
-S
MYTHE
—a Bounder

L
ORI
—a New York Literary Agent

Special Guest Star:

F. S
COTT
F
ITZGERALD
—a dead Writer

 

You will always need the favour of the inhabitants to take possession of a province.

—Niccolo Machiavelli,
The Prince

A Celebrity Funeral

Marilyn Monroe was there, and Natalie Wood, and Dorothy Stratten, the murdered centerfold, beneath an embittered message to the world left by her lover, near the slaughtered daughter of the writer who still covered the courts in search of a justice that seemed never to prevail for victims, and Darryl F. Zanuck with a hot brass plate on his grave, the Hollywood version of the eternal flame, and next to him the wife to whom he had been so brazenly unfaithful, and some few feet away, Armand Hammer in his own mausoleum, a contemporary Capulet. It was a wonder any room remained in the cemetery.

The place was less than a quarter of a New York City block wide, and space was at a premium. Workmen had removed Peter Lawford from his niche in the white-marbled wall when his widow failed to keep up the payments. Those who still put flowers in the tiny vase by Marilyn's crypt—just around the corner—took satisfaction from that, since well-documented gossip made it Lawford's fault that she was there at all, the original introduction to the Kennedys having been made by him.

But the bodies interred at Pierce Brothers in Westwood, behind the movie theater complex fronting it, were truly chockablock. Non-celebrity couples, even rich, had to make arrangements to be buried one atop the other. So it rather surprised Kate, who in her research about Hollywood had learned about that cemetery, that the funeral for Larry Drayco was being held there. From what she had read in the obituaries he was without family that anyone knew of, or even close friends who'd deserted him, as they had Dean Martin, laid to rest a while before in the crowded sod, amid sobbing eulogies from those who hadn't spoken to him for decades.

Kate didn't belong at the funeral. She crashed it as some would an Oscar party. Isolated in the unique way people could be in Los Angeles, where the only real crowds were on the freeway, she was desperate for company. Recently arrived in that spread-out city, she had had no opportunity to make friends. There were no casual meeting places. People got together only by design. It was the social equivalent of job opportunity: you couldn't get an assignment unless you had done something before. You couldn't really connect with people in L.A. unless you already knew them.

Believing the lore, she had been certain Hollywood would mean rubbing shoulders with celebrities. And they
were
visible, in the same way movies were, always around, but not genuinely accessible. Not to talk back to you, not to touch, like the romance on the screen that life rarely provided.

She had come to Los Angeles in the hope of being a writer. She already
was
a writer in her mind, and in the piles of half-finished manuscripts, and in the will of her father, who'd left her enough insurance to underwrite a beginning, giving her in death what he hadn't been able to in life. So she was free to pursue her dream, for a little while anyway, taking two afternoons a week to go to the library and help someone else pursue her dream, a Hispanic chambermaid who'd never learned to read, and longed to. So Kate worked with her and taught her, and they became, in a way, friends. But there wasn't anyone who would ask Kate to her home, or feel comfortable being invited to Kate's, or give her a real feeling of connection. So even in doing good, Kate's isolation was intensified. She was ready to give her soul for a friend.

Coming into the chapel, Kate felt a rush of genuine exhilaration. So many famous people, none of whom she knew, all of whom she felt she knew, none of them knowing her. In the short time she had lived there, she had found no one to confide in but an agent. And he was hardly courting her confidence, suffering her more than appreciating her. Her honesty seemed to embarrass him, a direct contradiction to the way he operated. She had called him once in a crisis and he'd put her on hold.

So she was at sea on the almost empty pavements, where the celebrated sometimes roamed. To walk down streets where Alec Baldwin carried his dry cleaning, sit at sidewalk restaurants where Julia Roberts suffered aloud about whether to cut her hair, and not be able to interact, was a shroud on Kate's outgoing spirit. She had things to say to these people, these luminous beings whom she knew from
Vanity Fair
were as lonely as she. She had read of Larry Drayco's death and the planned proceedings as though it were an invitation. Finally, a kind of Welcome Wagon, the mortuary version. What harm was there in her going, really? It wasn't as if he could say she hadn't known him.

It was an unaccustomed audacity on her part, masquerading among strangers, especially since she did not yet fully know who she herself was. As a young, aspiring writer, she had fallen in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and through him had cultivated a love of things that were out of reach. His last obsession had been this town and its industry, Hollywood as the glowing amplification of the golden siren who'd destroyed him. As though his dream were a fallen standard, Kate had picked it up, ready to bear the flag across the battlefield, in a war fought for no true cause.

“Are you on the bride's side or the groom's?” whispered a familiar-looking man she couldn't quite put a name on, one of those nondescript supporting players in TV movies that the solitary pretended they didn't watch.

She guessed he was being sardonic. But as she didn't know him, she wasn't sure, and suppressed a smile.

“It's all right to laugh, trust me.” He had lively brown eyes, lightly shaded at the corners with awnings of skin. He was busily checking out everyone coming in, looking past Kate even as he spoke to her, with a barely detectable lisp. “Did you ever do business with Drayco?”

“No.”

“Are you a relative or a former lover?”

“No.”

“Then you're in no position to say this isn't a laughing matter.” He held out his hand, still without exactly being there, his attention focused on the possibility of someone coming in who mattered more to him than even he did. “I'm Wilton Spenser.”

“Kate Donnelly.”

There was in his handclasp a kind of sincerity. It was not a strong grasp, but it felt as though his fingers, at least, were trying to make real contact. She experienced a wave of relief: he was funny, and he didn't know she didn't belong. It was the closest she had come to communication since arriving in Los Angeles.

The chapel was filled with the subdued buzz surrounding the solemn celebration of death, made somehow alluring because of those in attendance. Kate recognized the established stars. Tight in their ranks moved the recently deposed duchess, who was giving her title to a new line of clothes. Behind her, but not with her, as he seemed to be with no one of this world, walked Algernon Reddy, gingerly, with a cane. This philosopher, writer, and once guru of the psychedelic seekers was now ingesting the process of dying as he had mushrooms in the sixties. Rodney Sameth, the reclusive director who made his home on the Isle of Wight where his money was, had apparently overcome his phobia about flying in order to attend.

Present also was the studio head everybody loved whom nobody could say a bad word about, with the mate about whom no one could say anything good. Most of the people there were unknown to the general public. But Kate had seen their pictures in the trade papers and carefully filed them in her brain: studio executives, producers, entertainment lawyers, as powerful as the clients they represented.

Most noteworthy among those was tall, somber, balding Fletcher McCallum, who had been on the front page of the
Wall Street Journal
a few days before, brokering a giant industry merger. Kate had seen McCallum depicted in the paper only in caricature, a pen-and-ink sketch. But the jut of his jaw was unmistakable.

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