Hollywood Lullaby

Mystery Novel

Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Chapter One
--Daddy's Chair

Did I happen to mention that Charlene "Charlie" Chance is sixteen and a half years old, with pink hair and green eyes; that her Daddy was, even still is, a highly successful Hollywood, California hairdresser, and her mama is good-looking: a Chinese-American nymphomaniac B-Movie Sexpot?

No! Well? Then it just goes to show that not every woman was cut out to be a Divisional Tank Corps Commander in the Salvation Army, and so there's no need for anyone to be getting his or her libido all in a twist over it just because Charlie's Mama was (and still is) the very sort of woman who not only would but actually did, upon one late Saturday afternoon, reach out in heat of an irresistible passion to forcibly--can you believe it--ravage Charlie's poor gay handsome Daddy right in a chair of the very beauty salon he runs? Listen: it happened when the blinds had been drawn behind a setting sun; it happened after all the other hair was gone and done, gone with the staff of other beauticians, when the door was locked behind all but Charlie's daddy and the last remaining lady of the day, Charlie's mama-to-be, Ms. Lilly Lang, for whom he, Wilfred P. Chance was preparing a fifty dollar deluxe permanent wave in that otherwise deserted palm shaded parlor just a few doors down from Schwab's Drugstore at the intersection of Laurel Canyon and Sunset Boulevard.

Now wouldn't you just know that when Wilfred showed no indication of rising, shall we say, to the occasion vis √° vis the opening advances of this thigh-high split-skirt, strictly from the *World of Susie Wong* cross-legged vamp that she most decidedly was (if ever there was one) well . . . it was a desperate act on the part of Charlie's Mama to bring her little Charlene into the world like that, holding a hot smoking curling iron to the throat of her Daddy, straddling him in the chair, taking that blonde-haired, handsome young man hostage for all she could get, impossibly seeking to obtain what must of all things be made to come up, as they say, to expectation, quite naturally.

"Too bad I don't have my little Dizi flute with me, dahling." She smiled, with a wiggle of fingers near her lips "We'd see what might be said for the old Hindu Snake Charmer trick!" With that she returned to the naughty business at hand, namely the buttons coming undone on her sweater. As Wilfred yet recoiled behind the shock of such preposterous presumption upon his person, slowly, Ms Lilly Lang was being struck by another idea, come together in a flight of associations from flutes, the charms of music, and the passions of a man, and so, with a soft kiss to his brow she hugged the dear man tenderly, but firmly to those magnanimously maternal mountainous marvels of majesty burgeoning so beautifully from three buttons undone on an otherwise white cashmere sweatered chest, while she ever so softly started to hum the ever familiar melody from Brahms Lullaby.

And before she could shout, "Terry and the Pirates!" Charlie's Daddy was coming on like a long lost sailor into the port of Singapore, giving this Dragon Lady just what she needed and exactly what she pleased, and even more than she had bargained for in the way of that Supreme Deluxe permanent wave.

Now as Wilfred was coming to his senses after it was all over, a nausea of retching and gagging was upon him in the feeling of an extreme immensity of shame, and all he could think to do, he did, pointing to the door, without a word spoken, without a glance given to Ms. Lilly Lang as she stood there trying to get the hem of her skirt wiggled back down toward her knees, and saying all along, "So jeez, baby, you're not going to call the cops on me or anything are ya--huh?"

But the poor man was saying nothing, for fear of what could come up, in the form of that lemon-lime soda he'd had just two hours before over at Schwabb's. But he was able to shake his head in concert with his finger, by way of letting her know that "No, I will not call the cops, if you'll just get your floozy fanny out of here right now before I blow!"

Lilly could see plainly what he was saying right enough, and all the more especially as he waved off her attempt to open her purse and pay him. All she could think was, "So that would be it, then I guess." And at that with a shrug and a slight sigh of relief, she turned and lit out for the door, nearly breaking the high heel on one of her ankle-strapped sandals as she beat her retreat back out to Laurel Canyon Boulevard, there to fade into the shade over the walk that lay beneath the long tall line of palms, that moved not a frond as they hung in a calm of the ever so lovely, never less than balmy, nothing other than legendary L. A. smog of that waning day.

Now what do you suppose was going through the mind of Wilfred P. Chance the night he came home to find at his door a tiny little almond-eyed goo-gooing cutie wrapped up in a bunch of fluffy pink chintz and stuffed inside a shopping bag from the Broadway? Right down there on the floor it was with a note pinned to the baby's little pink kimono which read, "This, I believe is yours, Papa-San. Sorry I couldn't stick around for tea, but I got some movie business coming up in Hong Kong. Ta-Ta! Signed: Shanghai Lil."

After he had got the bag inside to the kitchen table, and the baby taken gently from it, he sat the little thing down on the blanket that came with her. So, she sat, being clearly quite old enough to do just that. And thinking back with a bit of minor calculation, he reckoned for the nine months, and the additional ten to this day since he'd last seen hide or hair of Ms. Lilly Lang, so there it was: he had been stuck with a baby girl, most nearly one year old.

What to do, what to do! Just as his eyes had returned to the little girl after a glance at the phone, with thoughts of who, or which agency he could call, what did he notice but another little note, this being pinned to the little pink knit cap that was cocked at a jaunty angle over one eye: "Hi Daddy! My name is Charlene--but you can just call me 'Charlie', Old Sport." Holding the baby with both hands to her sides, Daddy settled back a bit into his chair for a more relaxed look at just what he had there, and for the life of him he would always swear from that day to this, that rather delightfully doubtful story of his about how he had taken a napkin to wipe a bit of drool from Charlie's lips, when something came gurgling out from the bubbles that sounded for all the world like, "Pleased to meet-cha!"

And that was it. Charlie's Daddy never did take that short reach for the telephone above the table on the wall. And now, here it is some sixteen and a half years later as we come to adjoin the life and adventures of Ms. Charlie Chance; it is a fine day in early June, not a week before she was set to graduate from Hollywood High. She was home for the day, busy -- not with the dishes which were in the sink -- but with the highly pensive and meditative matter of watching a soap opera on TV whilst doing something with respect to her nose by means of her pinky just as Daddy walked in with his sweetheart, George.

At that very moment, Charlie had a fine big yen to just go ahead and flick that which she happened to have handy off the tip of a finger right at George. She really did momentarily think of it but instead she turned around on the sofa and said, "Daddy! I thought we were going to have dinner, just the two of us together, for once, like, tonight, like *alone* to talk about my, like, future?"

She was up on her knees leaning on the back of the sofa and still right on the verge of doing something she would probably not regret when she saw that Daddy had turned to his friend. "Georgie dearest, she's right. I did promise."

George was stubbornly trying not to stumble backward too fast behind Daddy's hand. "All right, Wilfred. My God. I can walk on my own two feet. And I *think* I *know* when I'm *not* welcome." In no time at all, the door had closed behind him, and sooner than you can say, "Georgie Porgie puddin' and pie" Daddy was at the sink in the kitchen doing the dishes while Charlie dried.

"My future. What about my future, Daddy?"

"Your future lies bright ahead, my darling."

"Uh! My future is an absurd cliché, just like my present and past . . . my whole stupid life!" She accepted a dish from his hand.

"Your future is a pearl of possibility, my Peach." Holding up a glass to the light, he looked from that to her. "It may feel like a nagging grain of maddening aggravation to you now, this sense of coming responsibility, but the day will come when . . . God, I don't know, girl . . . suddenly, you are standing and holding it there, your future in your hand, all smooth and gleaming, as you see by retrospect that all this agonizing had been such a waste of fun and life and love."

She wiped in silence for awhile, and then, "I just wish I had some idea of what I wanted to do with my life."

"Don't push it, baby. Let it come to you, that's the only way." He tipped the dishpan over to empty the water. "Say! Oh! You'll never guess who was in my chair today."

She rolled her eyes. "Forget guessing. Just spill it, Pops."

"Mona Jarrett."

"Omigod. Do tell. Not *the* Mona Jarrett of stage and screen fame. Will wonders never cease?"

"Daughter, you are just soooooo jaded. And I don't think I even like talking to you." He slammed a cupboard door.

"Oh, all right. My God Daddy, but you are such a fuss-budget."

"Fuss budget! I?"

"So sensitive and easily hurt, and all."

"Forget I ever mentioned her, the great star, Mona Jarrett. Forget me. Forget my little joys, forget how I . . ."

Oh, crimeny! God. What about her? If you're just burning to tell me, go ahead." She sat down at the table and pulled a cigarette from a pack. Daddy's hand slapped it out of her fingers. "Ouch! Must you do that?"

"Those are my ciggies, Charlie. Get your own. You have money, don't you? And besides, you shouldn't be smoking anyway."

"Why not? Why shouldn't I?" She grabbed the cigarette which was about to roll off the end of the table and planted it in her mouth. Daddy pulled it back out:

"Because you might give somebody the sidestream cancer, that's why." He pulled another one out of her mouth that she got from the pack. "And you could die of pneumonia smoking outside your place of employment in winter."

"Well, give me a Coke or something then, if I have to sit here and listen to your boring story about some washed up old Movie Queen from the . . . gawd . . . forties?"

"Oh! She's been in hundreds of series and sitcoms on TV since then, girl; where *have* you been?

"Right here picking my nose in front of the crumby *Secret Storm*, getting ready to eat it, and die!"

He put an open bottle of Pepsi in front of her and sat down. "Well, at least try washing them down with that."

She shrugged and grabbed the bottle.

"You wouldn't believe what she told me."

"Oh, I'll try, Daddy." She took her third good swallow from the bottle. "I'll really try."

"A friend of hers, a ghost writer for the biggest of the big-shot Academy Award winning screenwriters in Hollywood has disappeared into thin air."

She stared at him. "Oh, that's just too trite."

"What?"

"A ghost writer that disappears into thin air . . . Daddy? You can do better than that."

"But, it's the truth. He's been missing for over a month and Mona thinks he's been murdered!"

"Oh! It's like, 'Mona', now. You don't say."

"I do."

"Well, who cares?"

"Charlene!"

"Oh God. Now, I'm like, 'Charlene'."

He got up from the table. "More and more everyday I realize what a mistake of . . . of abnormal psychology it is that someone like you should be a daugher to someone like me."

"What movies did he write?"

"Did who write?"

"The ghost? The disappeared writer."

"Oh! She told me the name of one that won an Oscar . . . let's see . . ." he took a cigarette from the pack, tapped the end of it on the table. "Something about . . . *Stars Over* . . . hmm . . ."

"*Stars Over Savannah*?"

"Why, that is exactly the film she mentioned."

"But that's my favorite movie, Daddy!"

His eyes widened as he sucked a good gulp from his Pepsi.

"Omigod, this is terrible." She jumped up. "I have to call Amanda."

"Whoa, girl. Slow down a minute. I am so happy to hear that you do care about somebody like Rhett Pearson disappearing or dying, and. . . "

"That was his name -- like, Rhett Pearson?"

"Well, 'is' or 'was', as the case may be."

"Don't talk like that! He could still be alive."

"Sure, could be, but really, you liked the movie that much?"

"All this time, just all this time! O God. Amanda, my best friend, who is like, okay, totally straight? Well, she will die. And she and me, we'll both die, or 'she and I', whichever the case may be, we have had a plot, all this time I tell you, a plan to find Richard Shelby, to find that man and . . . '

"Shelby. That's the writer who hired Rhett Pearson to ghost write for him."

"To think of it. And all this time, Amanda and I, just the two of us have had a . . . a cult, a two woman, well . . . a two girl Richard Shelby fan club going for the past two years, ever since we were 15!"

Her hands flew to her cheeks and she looked up at the ceiling. "All this time . . ." she clenched her fists.

"I never knew."

She turned away. "You weren't supposed to."

He smiled. "Charlie, please look at me." He waited until she did. "I am so glad we have finally found something to share together."

She turned all the way around in a circle and stamped her foot. "But it's so awful! Daddy! The death or disappearance of the real Richard Shelby? I mean . . . the real author of *Stars Over Savannah*? Nothing could be more tragic."

"I'm so sorry; I had no idea . . . "

"Shelby! That fake! Taking the credit, an Oscar no less for that way too totally cool movie that made me cry and cry and he didn't even write it? Oh gawd -- all this time it was R-Rhett P . . . who? "

"Pearson."

"Rhett Pearson . . . Rhett Pearson . . . "

"Girl. You should sit down. Here . . . " he flipped a cigarette a little way out, holding forth the pack, but she waved it off. She stopped at the kitchen door and turned:

"Is anything being done about it?"

"Well, Charlie, I hardly . . . "

"Jeez! Of all the stupid things that always so stupidly happen in my stupid life!" She was in tears. She faced the door, sobbing. Wilfred came to comfort her. Slightly, she turned to him. "How does she know anything like that?"

"Charlie, I was *busy* with shampoo and permanent wave treatments, and there is only so much . . . "

"Can you get hold of Mona Jarrett again?"

He stroked her short, closely bobbed pink hair. "I have her number down at the parlor."

"Daddy, you be sure to get it, okay?"

"Sure peaches. Tomorrow." He watched her go out, pushing through the kitchen door. He smiled in a sad way, turned off the light, and put forth his hand to the door.



The computer printed sign on the door said, *Chance and Lane, Girl Detectives*, and upon that door, a man's hand was knocking. "Charlie! Yoo-Hoo! It's me, Daddy. Can I come in?"

"We're busy!" He shook his head. He raised his voice. "Charlie! It's Mona Jarrett on the phone."

The door exploded open as if it were by force, by the very subjunctive mood of a Kansas tornado.
__

Monday, June 18, 2001

Chapter Two
--Daddy's Car

A red Corvette pulled up to the curb. The doorman of the Knickerbocker in his uniform and cap, after hesitation of a moment's admiration, stepped up to the car, and to pretty blue-eyed 17 year old Amanda, whose blonde hair was quite well-blown about her face and shoulders after the top-down drive from the West Hollywood Strip.

"Good Morning, ladies. Are you here for the hotel?"

Charlie nudged Amanda, and then sat forward a bit, the better to address the man. "Mona Jarrett, a lady staying here is expecting us. We are Ms Charlene Chance and Ms Amanda Lane, thank you."

A white-gloved hand came to the door handle and pressed the button. "If you'll leave the keys with me, I'll have the car parked for you." When the girls had both come out the passenger side to the walk, they followed the doorman's beckoning toward the foyer.

Amanda elbowed Charlie in the ribs. "How rooty-toot snooty can you get?"

Charlie gave her friend a look through half-closed lids. "Cool it, doll. Don't blow the scene."

"Aw, jeez."

"Just while we're on duty. I mean, just ask yourself, before you speak; okay, would Sam Spade say anything like this?"

"Probably not 'rooty-toot'."

"He'd stick with 'snooty'."

"Check."

They paused before the doorman who stood near the inner entrance with a telephone to his ear. "Yes, Miss Jarrett. Rudy, here. Oh, I'm fine, couldn't be better. There are two young ladies to see you; one Charlene Chance and one Amanda Lane?" He listened, and then: "Very well. Thank you." He hung up and turning to them said, "It's room 707. The elevator is to your right in the center of the lobby." He motioned for them to enter.

Coming off the elevator on the seventh floor, and starting down the corridor, Charlie stopped her friend. "Keep one thing in mind, Amanda."

"Yeah sure. Like, what?"

"Mona Jarrett won't look anything like she used to, so don't act, like, too surprised or shocked or anything when you see how old and dried up she is."

Amanda started walking. "Uh, like, okay, I guess I have enough sense to know that, Charlie."

Charlie caught up. "I'm just trying to make sure, is all. These washed up old movie queens can be pretty vain about stuff like that, you know."

"Shh!" Amanda caught her by the arm and raised a finger. "Isn't this her door?"

Charlie reached up to touch the number. "Seven-oh-seven." She shot her friend a glance. "Looks like the place all right."

"Well, look at it through a magnifying glass why don't you?"

Charlie gave Amanda a little bump with her hip as she raised a hand and knocked.

A voice, surprisingly audible came through the thick wood. "It's open! Come in!" Charlie shrugged, tried the knob and when it opened, she let Amanda go in before, shutting the door behind. A short corridor led to a surprisingly large, high ceilinged sitting room, not overly crowded, and tastefully--if not decadently--decorated with Art Deco era furnishings. Mona Jarrett was just setting a silent movie director's conical megaphone down on an end table next an expensive looking hand-painted vase with peacock feather bouquet. The wall above her was a gallery of framed, glass paned posters from, as it might appear, every movie Mona Jarrett had ever starred in as leading lady. There were romantic poses of Mona and Alan Ladd, Mona and Glenn Ford, Mona and Gable, Mona and Cary Grant.

"Wow," said Amanda.

"Is that all you can say?" The aging star smirked, almost prettily, in a vague, long-faded sort of way as she held one hand aloft with her cigarette smoking in a long black holder. The girls slowly approached as the woman in a fine black chemise dressing gown beckoned from where she leaned against an arm-rest, semi-reclining on a broadly checked black and white divan that Charlie found herself thinking was strictly from the set of *The Fountainhead*. Mona Jarrett had maintained her svelte figure, and as a person in her mid-seventies, she was bearing her years with grace and a vintage form of charm that well befit her.

"You're looking well, Ms. Jarrett," offered Charlie.

"Aw, don't give me any of that 'Ms' business, kiddo. 'Miss Jarrett' is just swell with me; an old vamp of my age does not revamp herself just to suit you saucy young broads in these fancy whims of yours!" She cracked a smile in enjoyment of their dismay, as she waved the smoking holder toward a set of blowing guaze curtains over French windows, beneath which lay a scattering of fringed satin floor cushions. "Take one of those, each, and have a seat here where I can keep an eye you."
--

Sorry for the Inconvience! This area of the novella is closed for remodelling. Please don't mind the dust, the jack-hammers and rubble. We dearly hope to have things restored to a more pleasant condition very soon. Thank You!

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