This is why I hadn't thought of Magda Nadar as being in a home like this--although she must be pushing eighty. She had had a talent for pissing people off when she was younger. I don't know that I had ever met an actress as arrogant as the Magda Nadar I remembered. And she wasn't even an actress. She had been a costume designer. Having my mother under her spell, though, had moved her far up the status list in Tinseltown.
When they led me to her in what they said was the workroom, but that I thought probably once had been an elegant ballroom, Magda was still being the costume designer. She was sitting at a folding table, in a folding chair, surrounded by bits and pieces of material, scissors, and sewing kits. She was busy putting together what looked like an elegant ball gown that a Barbie doll would be wearing.
"You have a visitor, Miss Magda," the attendant said in a low, respectful and somewhat anxious tone when we reached her across a wide span of marble flooring. The attendant immediately bowed away, backing up. I was surprised she didn't genuflect as well. I found the "Miss" grating. The Magda I had known had always demanded that title. She claimed to be a Hungarian countess but was always quick--and loud--to say she wouldn't use that title as long as the Communists had their clutches on her homeland. So, I was a bit surprised the attendant had used the "Miss" rather than "Countess." But maybe no one had bothered to tell Miss Magda that the Communists had lost the cold war.
As always before, Magda was an apparition in black. Her figure was emaciated now, but she was bundled in a flowing black caftan. Her eyes and eyelids were heavily layered in mascara; her hair was a fake shade of black; her lipstick and nail polish were black; even the jangly jewelry she was swathed in was black. Without looking up or putting her sewing down, Magda breathed a "Hello, Scottie."
"It's not Scott, Miss Magda." I almost bit my tongue at saying that--calling her "Miss"--but I needed information from her. "It's Laura's son, Clint." I felt she would take to me better if I used the name of her lover.
She looked up. "So it is. You have her eyes."
But then I lost her to her sewing task again. I walked several yards away to another table, at which an elderly man was huddled, face down, taking a snooze. I recognized him as a self-deprecating comedian who had played in a couple of silly but successful movies thirty years earlier. I retrieved another folding chair, brought it back to the table, and placed it across from Magda. "May I sit with you a few moments."
She didn't say yes, but she didn't say no either, so I sat.
"I'm in Los Angeles to find out what really happened to my parents."
She took a minute to process that--if she even bothered to try. It didn't faze her work on her designing chore a bit. She worked rapidly, as if Barbie needed the costume for a film shoot later in the afternoon.
I had almost given up on the hope she would speak when she finally did so. "Simple. The films are a lot like the stage, you know. It's all an illusion. It looks one way from the audience--the way that you want it to look, the way that it's best that it looks--but to get that effect you have to be very clever in your design. And it needs to look simpler than it is."
"Like this costume you are making, Ma . . . Miss Magda?"
"It was such a fight they had. We were all there. We all had to sit through it. And nasty. Not to just each other--but to the rest of us too. It started off about you, but we all eventually got our turns. Told us all off they did."
"Are you telling me about that day . . . the day my parents died?"
"He fancied you, you know. He fancied you a lot. Did he take you to his basement?"
"I don't understand, Miss Magda. Whose basement? Are you talking about Theo Klein's beach house in Santa Barbara? Where my parents were before they tried to return to L.A. and went off the road, down to the ocean?"
"We were all there. They had something nasty to say to each of us--and each other. God, how they fought."
"Who is we, Miss Magda?"
"Laura and . . . her husband, of course. And Theo and Charles. Gordon and me. Your father--damn his soul--told Gordon he could have me. You should have seen how angry Gordon was. And he was even more angry when Scott told Gordon his temper would land him in prison one day. And there were some others there too. There always are--the hangers on. Andrew and some young men. The young man who painted Laura's bedroom that pretty lilac I picked out. And the trainer. He was there too. He drove them away."
"Who, Miss Magda? Who drove them away? My parents? Do you mean they left angry? They left Theo's house angry?"
"No, not Theo's house. Charles's house. Did he take you to his special room? He fancied you, you know. He said he'd have you in the basement. That made Scott angry."
"Charles Tilton's beach house? Not Theo's. That's not what all the reports said. It's not what Theo said."
"Simple. Need to keep appearances. It wouldn't do to have them looking in Charles's house. He wasn't tidy."
"He didn't care then what people thought. He wasn't careful. But Theo didn't want them to see what was in his house. Laura and Scott needed to be celebrated, unblemished."
"But my mother and dad left angry? Angry and drunk? Too angry to drive carefully?"
"He drove them away. The trainer. Ask Gustav. He drove them away. HE DROVE THEM AWAY!"
Magda was become frenzied. Two attendants moved to inside the doors to the work room, and I knew I only had moments before they would insist that I leave. She was tearing at the half-finished dress on the doll. And stabbing at the doll with scissors.
"See . . . what . . . YOU MADE ME DO TO LAURA?"
"Please, Miss Magda. Just one more question." I had to ask it. It, in fact, was the main question I came to ask. "Why did you lie about my mother? Why did you lie about Laura? You said she was driving the car. You knew she didn't drive."
Suddenly, Magda went rigid and turned, her whole torso moving as one unit, back toward me, and gave me a wicked smile. Then she stood and moved over to a bookcase, ran her fingers along the spines of the books until reaching the one she wanted. She took it out and returned to me, handing me the book.
"It was simpler than killing her myself," she said. her voice was so ghastly, that she silenced anything I could have followed up with on that.
Keeping the book in my hand, I stood, and walked, deliberately around her, and toward the attendants, who I could tell had been about to break up the session anyway.
"Ask Gustav. Ask Charles."
I turned back to her. "I'll have to find Gustav," I answered, trying to keep my voice conversational. "I'll see Charles tomorrow or the next day in prison."
"Prison? You fool," she spat out. "See Charles in that basement he wanted to take you to. I'll bet you know where it is. You are your father's son."
I was trembling with anger--and something else, something more like primordial fear--as I walked back through the meandering halls of the old, moldering mansion and climbed into the red Mustang convertible. My hands were shaking too much for me to start driving, so I sat there and looked at the book Magda had given me. It was one of those movie star memoirs, most likely loaded with gossip, some of it with a slight hint of truth. It was purported to be written by Penny Lane, one of the actresses who everyone remembers having been a young, promising actress of note at one time, but an actress that no one can quite remember having actually seen on film in any notable part and who wasn't working today. I remembered Penny Lane, though. She had put on quite an act of grief at my parents' funeral. I remember one of my mother's catty friends commenting loud enough for many of us to hear that Penny Lane should have gotten an Oscar for that performance alone. The cruel comment--and the young actresses' outrageous behavior--had always stuck with me when there was so little else I remembered from the lavishly orchestrated funeral.
I leafed through the pages. It wasn't hard for me to find the part Magda obviously wanted me to see. Someone--Magda herself, I assume--had taken a black magic marker and x'd over three of the pages about three-quarters of the way through the book. I couldn't read everything. But I could read enough. Penny Lane was claiming that she and my mother were having a torrid love affair when my mother died.
I drove out of the gates of the estate and stopped at the curb and called Danny on my cell phone.
"We've been misled, Danny," I said. "We need to look at my parents' case from a whole different angle. The whole setup was manufactured, and all of the people around my parents were in on the restaging."
Danny remained silent, taking notes, as I shotgunned what I had learned and what I surmised. I needed to get it all out. Then I needed to get away--to be alone for several hours.
"My parents weren't at Theo Klein's. They were at Charles Tilton's. They moved the scene to Klein's afterward for the police because none of them wanted the police to see the underage porn and sex equipment and cameras Tilton had in his beach house. And the whole gang was there with them--more players than they admitted to the police--having a free for all, as far as I can ascertain. My parents telling each other and all of them, individually, off. They all were probably falling down drunk and ready to kill each other. Klein, Tilton, Fields, Nadar, and even some minor players. Dix--so he has reason to know more than was made public. And the physical trainer they were using on the film the men were taping. First name, Gustav, last name unknown--but my dad's financial manager can probably dig up a name. And Gene too. Have you been able to put a last name to him yet?"
"No, but we're working it hard," Danny answered.
"I couldn't quite get her to be clear about it, but it's possible that my parents where chauffeured from the house. Magda kept saying Gustav drove them away."
I paused for a few minutes, giving Danny a chance to write it all down.
"And I know why Magda lied about my mother driving the car." At that point, I let out a sob. I couldn't help myself.
"Clint, we don't have to do this now; we--"
I took a deep breath and continued, though. "Magda thought that my mother was throwing her over--that she was having an affair with a young starlet. A woman named Penny Lane. The Lane woman claims so in a memoir Magda gave me. And I remember that she put on quite a show at the funeral."
I took a breath, less stressed now that I had let that out. "And, Danny . . . Magda said to talk to Gustav about all this--so we need to track him down. And she also said to talk to Charles Tilton. She laughed when I said he was in prison."
"Yeah, she's right about that, Clint. We've cleared that up. He was put out on parole a couple of months ago."
"She says I can find him at the Ventura beach house he had when my parents' died."
"Yeah, it's a Ventura address I have here that he's given his parole officer. You need the address?"
"No. I . . . I know where it is." And then, so that Danny didn't ask me how I knew where Tilton lived, I forged on. "OK, that's it for now. Please gin up that search for Dix and Gene--and now Gustav too."
"Come back, Clint. Meet me at the motel."
"I can't now, Danny. Not for a while. I need to be alone for a while. Please understand."
"OK. I understand. So, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yep. Bright and early. And, so, how was Sandy?" I wanted to end this on something more upbeat than where the conversation had been.
"Bastard," Danny said. But he chuckled. "I don't think you'll be seeing Sandy in the squad room tomorrow. I have a feeling he'll be calling in too well fucked."
When I clicked off, I took a deep breath and then started tooling down from the Hollywood Hills. The ranch was across L.A. from where I was and it was the height of the rush hour. So I stopped at the first steak house I found and had a gigantic Porter House steak that almost mooed back at me and got half sloshed on a pretty good Cabernet Sauvignon.
It was twilight when I turned in under the crossbars of the ranch and started driving up the dirt road toward the ranch house. I could see Dave's truck still parked by the barn--I'd looked at it that morning because I was curious what his last name was and there was a logo on the side of the truck, saying Dave Dolon, Horse Trainer. I could attest that he was pretty good at training men too.
As I drove up to the house, I could see the flicker of light on the end of a cigarette on the patio off the dining room. I moved on into the house and up the stairs. I was undecided. I'd told Danny I wanted to be alone--and I had been alone through dinner. But during dinner, I increasingly realized that I also wanted something else. But it was too late then to call Danny. He'd either be doing what I wanted on the case--tracking down Gustav and Gene--or he'd be home with Sharenda. I'd let him fuck me behind her back, but I'd be damned if I was going to call him away from her side to do it.
But I wanted something now. In the worst way.
I heard the spurs jangling on the cowboy boots on the stairs as I entered my room. I left the door open and started to strip my clothes off.
Dave was already shirtless when he entered the room--and I was much further along to stripped than that. He moved to me and encircled my waist with one arm and my cock with a hand and moved his lips to mine in a brutal kiss that arched my back toward the bed.
"It's been a rough day, Dave," I told him when he let loose of my lips. "Use me careful, now."
"I don't do careful," he growled. "You want rough. That's what I do."
I gave a little cry as his teeth went to my nipples as my back was arched. I tried to push his head away, and he let loose of my cock long enough to backhand me across the mouth.
He laughed, and I moaned, feeling the blood from a cut lip.
"You want me to leave?" he asked. "I'll go if you don't want it."
"No. Don't go," I whimpered. "Just don't--"
"One way. Fight me for it, but you want it rough. You showed me what you want already."
It was a boots-on sort of fuck. And he was right, I wanted it rough. He rode me like he'd ride any stallion he was breaking in--long and hard, his dick pistoning me into submission and his lips and teeth brutalizing my body until I had no fight left in me at all. And then he fucked me some more, showing me who was master, making me whimper, making me beg him to slow up or give me a moment to breath, making me beg for more, deeper. Riding my ass like we were galloping across the prairie. His spurs jangled to the rhythm of the fuck and me opening to him, pulling him inside me, making love to his cock. Making him gasp too.
Eventually, he was exhausted. A good bit after I was finished, though, and just laying, spread-eagled, completely open to him, and moaning at the deep-thrusting plowing. We lay there, him stretched out on top of me, my heels rubbing against the back of his boots, and his cock still deep inside me. Me realizing it had been skin on skin--no time taken for precautions. And me not caring.
I heard a sound at the door and looked over Dave's shoulder. He obviously hadn't heard anything.
Gordon. Gordon Fields was standing in the doorway. And if looks could kill . . .