Warren stayed with Marjorie in Paris for four days. She remained preoccupied with her role in the movie, and they made no future plans. While they were together, Warren continued to find her vivacious, a joy to behold, and a wonderful companion in and out of bed. She enhanced the vitality that had come to him with Scylla’s Carnival, but he was reminded of something he had known for many years. Marjorie was a narcissist of the first order, and her self-involvement had been magnified by her long-standing stardom. She regretted nothing, reflected on little, and considered the future only in terms of how it might serve her personally. She might announce to anyone willing to listen that she loved him, and he had little doubt that she did in her own way. If he moved to California, she might even live with him between engagements, but the rules of the game were clear. Any arrangement they made would have to be entirely on her terms. He decided that he would try to accept these terms if and when the time came. She was the only wife he’d ever had and the only woman with whom he had at least a modicum of continuity. She was far from an ideal companion, if such a thing existed, but she would never bore him. She always expressed concern for his welfare, and she was lovely to look at.
When he got back to New York, he brooded over Terence V. Brace’s performance on the Seine. He mulled over the cryptic messages that had been delivered in their dialogue and could make little sense of any of them. He had no way of knowing for sure that Brace was even aware that he, Warren, had read the book. How could Brace want the book published as he wrote it when it would expose events that he had labored so meticulously to conceal?
It was early August when Warren called Rusty Goodman and told him he had a novel called Scylla’s Carnival that he thought could be a blockbuster if handled correctly. “I tell you, Rusty,” he said on the phone, “I’ve been living with this thing for quite awhile, and it’s the best work I’ve seen in years.”
Rusty laughed. “I haven’t heard you so high on a project in ages. Send it over. I’ll read it right away.”
“Just one thing. I’m going to withhold the author’s name for the time being. You might be unduly influenced by it, and I want the book to stand on its own.”
“Suppose I don’t like it?”
“You’ll like it. If you turn it down, I’ll go to someone else, and you’ll never forgive yourself.”
“We’ll see.” Rusty replied and hung up. Rusty Goodman was the most powerful literary agent in New York, and Warren had known him since the very beginning of his career.
Rusty called Warren a few days later, and they made an appointment to meet for lunch at the Hemisphere Club atop the Time Life Building. Rusty was always late, and Warren awaited him at a window table with a view north over Central Park. The Equitable Building and the Hilton Hotel blocked the view somewhat, and he sighed when he realized that it had been so long since he’d been there that two skyscrapers had been built in his absence. Rusty made his entrance with a flourish. He was a homosexual with a theatrical flair, tall and slim in a beige linen suit. His hair was dyed red, and he had a dark tan. He wiped his forehead with a silk handkerchief. “This heat is just unbearable,” he said. “You look marvelous. I was wondering what you’d been doing with yourself all these years, and now I know. We must have a drink this very instant. Maurice! Maurice!” The headwaiter rushed to the table. “We’ll have two gibsons, dry and frosty.”
“But of course,” Maurice replied, and then he scampered off.
Warren smiled. “It’s good to see you again, Rusty.”
“How is our favorite movie star?”
“Marjorie’s just fine. I just left her in Paris. She’s playing the lead in a ridiculous movie that’s going to make a fortune.”
“She could read the phone book, and the public would still love her. Do I hear the melodious tones of a reconciliation?”
“Marjorie and I have always remained friends. You know that.”
The drinks arrived, and Rusty held his glass up for a toast. “Here’s to Scylla’s Carnival,”
“You liked it then.”
Rusty tossed his head back. “First of all, my dear, let’s get the bullshit out of the way. You wrote this book. Your fingerprints are all over it.”
“I had to give you a way out if you didn’t like it.”
“Always the gentleman. I more than liked it. I believed every word of it, and if you can convince an old fox like me, just think what it will do to the great unwashed. It’s a masterful contrivance, Warren, worthy of the decades of silence you’ve experienced. It’s going to make you a very rich man.”
“What do you mean, you believed every word of it?”
“This Barry Fields is a true amalgam. He’s sophisticated enough to represent the frustrations of intelligent people who are heartsick at the demise of standards, and yet his isolation from society makes him innocent and naïve enough to speak for the ingenuous who can only feel their dissatisfaction but are at a loss to explain it.”
“Do you think he’s justified in what he does?”
“Do I? Well of course I do, but that’s quite beside the point. The book raises the question and leaves the conclusion to the reader. It will create a storm of controversy. And you know what that means?”
“Precisely,” Rusty replied. They ordered their meal, and the humid summer haze stagnated just outside the sealed window. Air-cooled piano music rose over the pretentious rustle of expensive dining.
“Are you going to shop the book around?” Warren asked.
“Oh no. It’s much too good for that; but first things first. After lunch, we’ll go to my office, and you’ll sign a contract with me. I’ll take it from there.”
“I want to know your plan.”
Rusty laughed. “Of course you do. I forgot with whom I’m dealing here. You’re not just any author, are you?”
“If it wasn’t for the authors, neither one of us would have a job.”
“Get off your high horse. This is Rusty Goodman. I was keeping writers alive when you were in college. The name of the game now is money, and you know that, or you wouldn’t have come to me.”
Warren laughed. Their lunch arrived, and they dug into their Dover sole.
“I’m going to auction the book,” Rusty said. “I’ll make up some copies and call a number of choice publishers. I’ll tell them that I’ve got the best thing since the bible and invite them over to my office to read it. They’ll get four or five hours with it, and then we’ll watch the fur fly.”
“Where will you start the bidding?”
“One million dollars.”
Warren smiled. “Things sure have changed since the old days.”
“Between your reputation and mine, we’ll have them drooling.” Rusty said.
“If you say so.”
“You’re the one who said he wanted to play for all the marbles, and there are a lot of marbles out there. After the hard cover sale, we’ll deal immediately with paperback, and then, as time passes, foreign language, Book of the Month, magazine first serial rights, the movie sale. By the way, do you think you’d want to write the screenplay?”
“It never entered my mind. Do you think it would make a good movie?”
“A fabulous movie, and Marjorie would tear their hearts out as Suellen in the wheelchair.”
“You’re too far ahead of me. I think we should take it a step at a time.”
“No, no. You asked for the plan, and I’m going to give it to you. Once the book is a runaway hit, which I’m sure it will be, we’ll go to the hardcover publisher and ask for an advance on your next two novels. We’ll get a five million dollar deal, and they’ll give us half up front.”
“Suppose I never write another book?”
“I never heard that. If you do develop a writer’s block which, by the way, we shall never mention again, that will just be their hard luck, won’t it.”
“You’re an unscrupulous bastard.”
“Not at all. I’m a businessman, and this is business. Besides, they can afford it.”
“They could sue us for the two and a half million.”
“And we’d all be dead before the suit was settled,” Rusty replied. “They’d have to take the money from the children we don’t have.”
“I’ll believe all this when I see it.”
“My dear, don’t blow smoke up my ass. You’ve written a first class novel, and I’m here to make the most of it for both of us.”
After Warren had signed the contract, Rusty told him that it would take awhile to get the ball rolling. Warren went home and had no idea what to do. He didn’t call Marjorie because he wanted to surprise her completely when the time came. She knew nothing about Scylla’s Carnival. It bothered him very little that she didn’t call him. Out of sight, out of mind was an aspect of her personality with which he had become accustomed. He also knew that post production work would have her running from dawn to dusk. She’d be dubbing scenes over and over again and heaven knows what else. She might even have begun another job. If the money was right, she rarely ever turned anything down. He took to sleeping late and reading the manuscript to reassure himself that he had done a good job. At night, he went to local Greenwich Village bars and drank too much. His reputation preceded him among customers and bartenders, and it seemed that everyone had a book they wanted him to read.
Two weeks passed. Warren woke at noon with a terrible hangover and made coffee. As he sipped it, he turned the pages of the manuscript that had taken up residence on the kitchen table. He moved to an armchair in the living room and lit a cigarette. He was relatively certain that the book was as ready as it could be. When he stubbed out the cigarette, he leaned back and fell asleep.
About two hours later, the phone rang. It awakened him, and he struggled to his feet and answered it. It was Rusty Goodman. “Warren, my dear. Are you sitting down?”
“What?” Warren asked, coming to his senses.
“I think you should be sitting down for this.”
“Hold on.” He set down the receiver and scratched his head furiously. Then he went to the refrigerator and drank some apple juice out of the bottle. He came back and took a deep breath. “Okay Rusty, I’m ready.”
“We’re going with Danforth. Fran Backman over there came up with the best offer, a million four for the hard cover. On the heels of that, I got Lanyard for the paperback at a million six.”
Warren stared into space. “That’s three million dollars.”
Rusty laughed. “Your addition is impeccable, and this is only the beginning. Now that they’ve taken the bait and the tongues have started wagging, we’re off and running.”
Warren was astonished. “Rusty, you’re a fucking genius.”
“No, my dear boy, you’re a fucking genius. I’m just a gay marketeer.”
“When will we have the money?”
“Soon enough, and you’d better come up here tomorrow afternoon. You’re going to make somewhere between ten and twenty million in the next few years, and we’ve got to get you set up with tax and investment people so that Uncle Sam and the rest of the thieves don’t bite your head off. Shall we say two o’clock?”
“Fine. I’ll be there. I don’t know what to say.”
“Say? There’s nothing to say except that you’re free at last. In the words of Doctor King, good God almighty, free at last. Congratulations.”
“I should be congratulating you.”
“Nothing of the sort, my dear. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes,” Warren said, and Rusty hung up.
Warren dialed Marjorie’s number in Los Angeles and received a recorded message that she was out of town. He thumbed through his personal directory and found Victor Whelan’s home number. Marjorie’s agent was in his late seventies and picked up on the second ring. “Yeah.”
“Victor, this is Warren Combs.”
“Well, waddaya know. It’s been a dog’s age. Margie told me you was in Paris. If you don’t mind my sayin so, it’s the best thing for her that you’re seein her again.”
“I don’t mind. I’m trying to locate her.”
“She’s in London at the Dorchester. She went straight there from the movie. She’s doin a TV number for Bee Bee Cee. For once, they needed an American actress rather than the other way around.”
“How long will she be there?”
“Another three or four weeks. I’ll give you the number.”
Warren wrote down the long list of digits needed to call Europe direct. “Thank you,” he said when he was finished.
“Think nuttin of it. I’ll see ya around.”
“That you will,” Warren said.
After a screening from the hotel switchboard operator, his call was put through. Marjorie answered the phone sleepily. “Hello.”
Warren! Are you downstairs?”
He laughed. “No, I’m in New York. It’s only about nine o’clock there. Why are you sleeping?”
“They’re running my ass off. I’m in this rural pastiche that takes place during the war of 1812, and I’ve got to do a lot of horseback riding. They had a double for me, but I sent her home. Now I’m starting to regret it. The old gray mare ain’t what she used to be.”
“You haven’t got a gray hair on your head.”
“Only my hairdresser knows for sure.”
“I’m not up for confession. What’s going on?”
“I wrote a book. I didn’t want to tell you about it until the deal went through, but now it has, and I thought you ought to know before it hits the papers.”
“That’s very nice for you. It’s what you always wanted to do, but I don’t understand what would be so bad about my finding out about it from someone else. It’s not like you got married.”
“I got a three million dollar advance.”
“Holy shit! That’s fucking fantastic.”
“It’s just for openers. Rusty Goodman says that I’ll make between ten and twenty million before it’s over.”
Marjorie squealed. “Well shut my mouf. What are you going to do with all that money?”
“I was thinking of moving to California. I’m going out there in a week or so to look around.”
“Do you want to stay in my house?”
“No. I’ve never been there for any extended period of time, and I thought I’d splurge the first time out. If I can, I’m going to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel.”
“What do you mean, if you can? I’ll make a phone call. How long are you going to stay?”
“I’m not sure, but I don’t think I’ll be there when you get back. Whelan said you might be in London another month.”
“We’ll work something out. I’m so happy for you. I won’t be able to sleep now. I’m going to get up and order a bottle of champagne.”
Warren laughed. “Don’t talk to me about booze. I’ve done a lot of drinking while waiting for the news from Rusty.”
“Where did you drink?”
“At the Corner Bistro mostly.”
“The Corner Bistro,” she said, “where the happy hour never begins.”
“I don’t want to keep you from your beauty sleep.”
“I’m going to toast your success, and then I’ve got to try to put my head down. I’ve got a five o’clock call. I have to ride out of the mist at dawn.”
“Ta,” she replied and hung up. He wasn’t surprised that she never asked him what the book was about. She had never been interested in his work.
Warren arrived in Los Angeles the day after Labor Day and rented a car at the airport. It was early afternoon, and he took a freeway directly to Sunset Boulevard and drove through Westwood to The Beverly Hills Hotel. The simple sign at the foot of the green hill was as he had seen it in films and on postcards, and he ascended the access ramp with excited delight. It was said that the Bel Air Hotel and the Beverly Wilshire had begun to take favor over the seventy-six year old landmark, but they lacked the old California glamour, the echo of early talking pictures, the ghosts of great stars, and a direct connection to a stable culture that had never actually existed but had taken root in the collective mind of an innocent America. The pink concrete façade of the main building with its modest spires and rustic coastal elegance was perfect, and the profusion of lawns and flowers welcomed him in a celebration of deliverance from the grime of Manhattan. Under the foliated canopy at the entrance, he surrendered his car keys to an attendant and followed his baggage up the red carpet to the lobby where the green banana-leaf motif on the pink walls presented a tropical relief around sumptuous furniture. After checking in, he was led through the gardens behind the Polo Lounge where bungalows lay along narrow pathways and behind palm trees. The bellman deposited him in a single bedroom structure overlooking a descending green hill that came to an abrupt halt on a public street where widely spaced mansions could be seen on the other side. When he was alone, Warren inspected his expensive space and reveled in it. The walls, the rugs, the linens were powder blue and trimmed in white. The couch and armchairs were pink, and the bar was dark mahogany. On top of it, he found a brightly wrapped box and a note from Marjorie. The box contained various bottles of wine and whiskey, and the note read, I don’t think you’ll find this very hard to take. More surprises coming. Love, Bonny.
He poured himself bourbon on the rocks and raised his glass. He smiled. “Not hard to take at all, my love.”
Warren spent the next two days getting the lay of the land. He looked at the movie studios and the squalor in poor neighborhoods, but he was mainly interested in where he might eventually choose to settle. He navigated the quiet, lush setting of Bel Air and the dangerously steep hills there. Then he went to Malibu and looked at the beach cottages and larger houses. He couldn’t decide whether it would be better to live next to the water or on the side of a cliff. Both, it seemed to him, were equally charming and insecure. By the third day, he felt as though the trip had been a waste of time. He loved the hotel and the luxury in which he was indulging himself, but he wasn’t going to get anything done. He didn’t know anyone well enough to help him make a decision. It looked as though he should have waited for Marjorie to take over his indoctrination. She was good with real estate agents and at making deals. He was not.
It was a pleasant and sunny afternoon, and he put on his bathing suit and robe and walked over to the swimming pool. He had heard the stories about bigwigs in the entertainment community gathered together on lounge chairs there and making deals while perfecting their tans. He stepped through the gate and was assigned a pink lounge chair of his own by a cabana boy. There were a few dozen people about, but none of them fulfilled his expectations. The folks in the elevated cabanas behind him and those across the water looked old and pale. A few mothers with their children splashed about at the shallow end of the pool, and those in his immediate vicinity were tanned enough, but they smelled of New York and tourism. He swam a few laps, dried himself, applied tanning lotion, and stretched out for a nap. He was dozing laconically and turning over from time to time to roast both sides of his body when he heard his name. “Warren Combs?”
He roused himself and sat up. “Yes.”
“My name is Tatiana, and Marjorie asked me to look you up.” Tatiana was all of six feet tall, and her honey blonde hair was streaked with gold and fell straight and free well down her back. She could have been anywhere from eighteen to twenty-five, and her deep tan was flawless. Warren’s eyes were at the level of her round, athletic thighs, and he looked at the bottom part of her white nylon bikini. He looked up over her flimsy bra and couldn’t believe the physical specimen that had stirred him from his lethargy. The vixen-like mischief in her narrow, sensuous face was reminiscent of Modigliani. She smiled and revealed perfect teeth. “Aren’t you going to ask me to sit down?”
“Oh, sorry. It’s just that you were the last person I expected to see when I opened my eyes.”
“Ha! You are not the first person who has said that to me, but the circumstances were very different.” She spoke with traces of a French accent. She arranged her towel on an adjoining lounge chair and came down to Warren’s level. Their eyes met. “May I use you’re Bain De Soleil?”
“Of course,” he replied, and he watched her apply the crème to her skin.
“Number six. I really don’t need this much protection, but the beggars can’t be choosers.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“I went to the desk, and they told me.”
“How did they know?”
“Monsieur, in this hotel, everybody knows where everybody is at all times. It is the security you know.”
“You have a French accent. It’s very nice. Are you from France?”
“From Russia by way of France. I was born in Moscow and raised in Paris. My father was a Russian diplomat.” She threw her legs up on the lounge chair and lay back in the sun.
“I see. You’re a Russian citizen.”
“No. My father defected when I was growing up. I’m an American citizen.” Tatiana closed her eyes. She relaxed as though they’d known each other for years. He wasn’t able to achieve any such poise.
“It sounds as though you’ve had an interesting life.”
“It has been too brief to be interesting as yet, but things are getting better all the time.”
“Where is your family?”
“My father passed away when I was sixteen. My mother lives in Washington, but she’s a backward woman. I don’t see her very often.”
Warren lay back, trying to feign indifference. “When did you talk to Marjorie?”
“She called me from London last week. I made your reservation here. I stay here a lot, and they know me quite well.”
“Are you an actress?”
She laughed. “No, not in the conventional sense. I was a Playboy Centerfold last year. They made up a biography on me that said I was from Toledo, Ohio and was studying art history at Stanford. I also did a Sports Illustrated bathing suit issue. They gave me this bathing suit.”
“It’s very nice.”
Tatiana was amused. “It doesn’t leave much to the imagination.”
“You’d stir the imagination no matter what you were wearing.”
“You’re too kind.”
“Do you do anything other than modeling?”
“Let’s just say that I have rich friends, and from time to time I am a vessel of pleasure for men and women with expensive tastes.”
Warren sat bolt upright. “You’re a high priced hooker! I don’t believe it. My ex wife set me up with a high priced hooker.”
Tatiana opened her eyes and shifted her legs, but she remained relaxed. “Please Monsieur,” she said. “It isn’t like that at all. Marjorie and I are very good friends and have been for some time. I don’t see you as a client. No money will change hands here. She told me all about you, and she loves you very much. I am happy to meet you, and I want to make your stay here as pleasant as possible. I may be what you call a hooker, but I am still a human being, and you are being very gauche.”
“I’m sorry. It just came to me as something of a shock.”
Tatiana laughed. “Many things seem to shock you, and then you apologize.”
“I’ve been in seclusion a long time. Things have changed a lot, and sometimes I get caught off guard.”
“What has changed?”
“For one thing, people your age were demonstrating for an end to the war in Vietnam and for civil rights twenty years ago.”
“Ah, the idealism. I was very unpopular with my teachers at Sara Lawrence because I held that we have learned that too many people die for idealism on both sides. This is because it is never the real issue. Six hundred thousand were killed in the Civil War here to free the slaves, but the war was actually fought for agrarian and industrial reasons. Slavery did not become the issue until the North was losing. Then Lincoln used it to rally the troops.”
Warren was thrown off balance again by the unexpected. Tatiana was educated and expressed her views very well. “You went to Sara Lawrence?”
“Yes. Have I caused you shock number three?”
“It seems a long way from there to what you’re doing now.”
“Not at all. I went to all the best schools, and I became friendly with many of the most powerful families in the country. Their children and I spent our days and nights together. Some of them were associated with entertainment, and I liked that best. Like you, they found me attractive, and the rest is easy to see.”
“Not so easy. It looks as though a lot of doors were open to you. Why did you choose the one you did?”
She smiled. “Let’s just say that I’m a hedonist.”
“Tatiana, what is your relationship with Marjorie?”
“Call me Tati. Everybody else does. As I said, Marjorie and I are very good friends.”
“But do you…?” He hesitated.
“Please, Warren, this is quite impossible. I will have to leave if you insist on a police interrogation.”
“I won’t apologize this time.”
“I should hope not.”
He rose and sensed an odd discomfort. When he looked around, he realized that every set of eyes around the pool was fixed on Tatiana. He laughed.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Everybody’s staring at you.”
“One gets used to it.”
“Would you like to take a swim?”
“No, you go ahead,” she said, and she settled back once again as he dove into the pool.
When he returned, he put on his robe. “I’m afraid I’ve had enough sun,” he said. “I’m not used to it and have to take it a little at a time. Would you like to come back to the bungalow for a drink?”
“Sure,” she replied, and they left the pool together. On the path, she picked a yellow rose and placed it behind her ear.
“Doesn’t the management frown on guests picking the flowers?”
“At these prices, they can frown all they want.”
Once inside the bungalow, she asked if she might use the shower to wash off the suntan lotion and went directly to the bathroom. Moments later, she peeked out and called to him. “Why don’t you join me?”
“Why indeed!” he replied, and he stepped out of his trunks and rushed under the streaming water with her. He was enthralled, but when their eyes met, he became shaken about what he was doing. She was a prostitute, and there was aids, and she was probably sleeping with Marjorie, and…
“What’s the matter?”
“You must forgive me. It’s been years since I’ve been with anyone but Marjorie. I’m a bit nervous.”
“Nonsense. Turn around, and I’ll soap your back.” He complied. “You’ve got to loosen up, Warren. Life is too short.” Her fingers were long and vigorous, and they built up lather and spun him around. She giggled and pushed him under the water. “My turn,” she said and handed him the soap.
He kneaded her skin and became aroused. When he finished, they made love standing up with the water streaming over them. In the aftermath, she bit lightly into his shoulder. “You’re a sweet man,” she said.
“I don’t think Marjorie would approve of this,” he said.
She laughed. “Utterly absurd, but if it will make you feel better, we don’t have to tell her about it.”
“I think it would make me feel better.”
Okay, done, and now I’d like to be alone for a few minutes.”
“Sure,” Warren said. “What would you like to drink?”
“White wine would be nice.”
Warren put on his robe and went to the bar. He opened the wine and set it in an ice bucket with frosted glasses by the couch. Tatiana joined him, her head and torso wrapped in towels, and they drank. He was ill at ease once again. “What do we do now?”
“What would you like to do?”
“I don’t know what to make of this. You’re bright and beautiful and exciting, and I like you very much, but you’re young enough to be my granddaughter, and I’m in love with Marjorie. If, as you say, Marjorie loves me, why would she arrange something like this?” He lit a cigarette.
“That’s bad for you,” she said.
“I know. Please answer my question.”
“Because you and Marjorie are forever, Warren, and she knows that. I am just a pleasant diversion until she gets back. I am not a threat to her, and she wanted to make sure you were in good hands. Would you like me to leave?”
“No. I’m sorry. I guess I’m just an old fashioned guy.”
She laughed. “Again with the I’m sorry. What are your plans?”
“I haven’t got any. Do you have any commitments for the next week or so?”
“Yes, but I can cancel them if you’d like.”
“You could move in here with me. There’s plenty of room.”
“Yes, I could do that.” He unfastened the towel from her breasts and kissed them.
She smiled. “I thought you were nervous.”
She pushed him back, opened his robe, and lay on top of him. “Tell me about this seclusion of yours.”
“Now? Tati, your timing is lousy, and you’re not exactly as light as a feather.”
She raised herself up on her elbows and held him fast with her thighs. He touched her face with his fingers. “The golden girl of the American West. My seclusion. It wasn’t that I locked myself away or anything like that. It was more a spiritual seclusion. I went to work every day, and I went through the motions of talking to people and being polite, but I didn’t let anyone or anything touch me. I had a number of serious disappointments, and I withdrew into a shell. You might say that the foundation of my existence was cut out from under me, and I didn’t know where to turn, so I didn’t turn at all.”
“Was it when Marjorie divorced you?”
“Yes, that was part of it, but it was far from all of it. You have under you one of the most famous editors in the United States. Before you were born, I discovered and worked with some of the best writers of the Twentieth Century. And then the world changed, and they didn’t need me anymore. My writers adjusted, but I never did until now. I sat around and felt sorry for myself.”
“Prepare yourself for shock number four. I know about you and your writers. It was one of the things that brought Marjorie and I together. When I found out that she had been your wife, I started to spend time with her.”
“Marjorie doesn’t care about books.”
“No, but she’s very proud of you. She has all the novels you worked on beautifully displayed in a bookcase. I’d read them all in Russian, French, and English since I was a little girl. They made me love America and yearn to be here. My dreams came true because my father believed in America too.”
“Are there no end to your surprises? I thought you didn’t believe in idealism.”
“I don’t. It would be like believing in God. Neither one of them is with us anymore, but that doesn’t mean they never were.”
“Get down here,” he said, and she kissed him. Then she stood up in her glorious nakedness and pulled him into the bedroom. He lost himself in their lovemaking and was able to forget about New York and Scylla’s Carnival, Devon Makepiece and Marjorie, Rusty Goodman and the fire he had set on his roof.
In the early evening, Tatiana called a bellman and had her two suitcases brought to the bungalow. She called a friend and gave her the room in which she’d been staying. She explained to Warren that a four-night stay had been paid for by one of her admirers. They dressed and went to dinner in the Polo Lounge. She wore an orchid peasant blouse and maroon leather skirt cut just above the knee. In her high heels, she was taller than Warren, and he teased her about it. “You’re lucky you were born in modern times,” he said. “In ancient Scythia, the Amazon women cut off a breast to facilitate the use of the bow and arrow.”
She smiled. “I wouldn’t have missed it. I’d have had just one boob like everybody else, but that’s a fable concocted by men. They always were into mutilation.”
“Are you a women’s rights advocate?”
“I’m a Tatiana Zevenco advocate, Mr. Combs, and I am, after all, a woman.”
“No doubt of that.” They were seated beside the garden windows, and night was falling amid the palm fronds and roses. Warren looked out at it. “It’s an artificial atmosphere, isn’t it?”
“No,” she replied. “It’s a man made atmosphere, but the plants are real. And to add to what you were just saying, the Amazons were newcomers compared to my ancestors who came from the Caucasus. That was the birthplace of the white race.”
“That’s only a theory, and it was also concocted by men.”
“We are free to agree with what pleases us and disagree with what doesn’t,” she replied.
“You’d make a great historian.” He noticed that the dining room was almost full. “You wouldn’t think there were so many rich people around.”
Tatiana laughed. “Unless you were me, and you knew better. Would you like to go to a party?”
“Sure. Who’s having it?”
“Your namesake, Warren Beatty.”
“Actually, I met him through Marjorie. They’re neighbors. He usually lives in a suite at the Beverly Wilshire, but Jack Nicholson convinced him to buy this big house. I guess he feels guilty about not using it much, so he throws a bash now and then. I always get invited because he thinks I’m smart.”
“Is he one of your generous admirers?”
“No. He’s a nice guy, but things never went in that direction.”
Warren signed the check and had an attendant get his car. They drove to the end of Mulholland Drive, and just past Marjorie’s aquamarine villa, Tatiana directed him into a driveway. There were many automobiles along the shoulder, and Warren placed his among them. As they approached the house, a young fellow with a clipboard intercepted them. He smiled. “Tati,” he said, “nice to see you again.”
“How is it in there?” she asked.
“Quiet,” he replied. “Go right in.”
As they walked on, Warren looked over his shoulder. “Who’s that?”
“He works for Beatty. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.”
“He doesn’t look so tough to me.”
“Trust me. He doesn’t get paid for nothing.”
The front door was open, and Jack Nicholson stood just outside with a drink and a cigarette in one hand. He wore a checked jacket and a green nylon shirt. Both items looked as though they were from a thrift shop, but of course they weren’t. He smiled. “Tatiana, and she ain’t from Montana,” he said, and he kissed her cheek.
“Hi Jack. This is Warren Combs, Marjorie’s former husband.”
They shook hands. “That’s a lady and a half,” Jack said. “Where is she?”
“She’s in London doing something for BBC,” Warren said
“Right from The Forgotten Silhouette into something else,” Jack replied. “Like I said, a lady and a half. Go right on in. The sixty million dollar man is holding court.”
Tatiana and Warren passed through a spacious foyer into a living room where a buffet supper and a bar were set up on the left and a poker game was in progress at a table on the right. Warren was not a movie buff and was therefore surprised by the number of people he recognized. Gene Hackman and Kelly McGillis were talking at the bar, and Michelle Pfeiffer was picking items from the buffet. Among the poker players were Kurt Russell, Mel Gibson, Sam Neill, and Dan Ackroyd. Faye Dunaway came in from another room and touched cheeks with Tatiana. “Who is this distinguished gentleman?” she asked.
“This is Warren Combs,” Tatiana replied, “Marjorie’s ex husband.”
“Yes,” Warren said, “that is my only distinction in life.”
The women laughed. “Don’t be silly,” Faye said. “We know who you are. Marjorie would never let us forget it. I’m going to eat something. Would you like to join me?”
“No thanks,” Warren replied. “We just had dinner.” He took Tatiana to the bar and poured two cognacs. Hackman and McGillis did not look up from a conversation that appeared very intense. “That part of it is of no consequence to me,” Kelly was saying. “The important thing is to determine the moral stance of the character. Every choice is shadowed by that.”
Tatiana led Warren out to the swimming pool. Kim Bassinger, James Woods, and Sean Young were in the water with several other people. Beatty stood at an iron table on the far side of the pool with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. As Tatiana and Warren approached the table, Mel Brooks was finishing a story. “In Williamsburg when I was a kid, my mother always served the chopped liver with a thin slice of carrot that was the size of an envelope. I always wondered what kind of carrot that slice came from. It must have been as long as a broomstick and as wide as a cannon.”
They were all laughing, and Beatty bent to kiss Tatiana. He was much taller than Warren had imagined, three or four inches over six feet, and he wore a navy blue polo shirt and white trousers. He had a full head of dark hair and was extravagantly handsome. “Hi Tati,” he said. “I’m glad you could come.”
“Warren Beatty, this is Warren Combs,” Tatiana said.
Beatty fixed Warren in a magnetic stare. He held his guest’s hand with both of his own. “I’m truly honored,” he said. “Your contribution to our literature is immeasurable. Mel, Anne, this is one of the last of a breed, a genuinely great editor.”
Warren blushed. “Yes, they’re keeping a mummy case open for me at the Smithsonian. I don’t have to worry about the cost of a funeral. I’m going to be deified by the American Association Of Arts And Letters.”
“What brings you to Babylon?” Anne asked.
“I’m thinking of moving here,” Warren replied. “I thought I’d come out and look around.”
“You’ve got a wonderful guide,” Anne said. “Tati knows everybody.”
“She comes highly recommended,” Warren replied.
“I’ve known your wife for more than twenty years,” Anne said. “She’s a great talent.”
“My ex wife,” Warren replied, “but thank you anyway.”
“Why would you want to move here?” Mel asked. “How could you leave all those bag ladies, crack dealers, and welfare hotels?”
“It will be a struggle,” Warren replied, “but you managed it, so I suppose I can.”
“Other than the money, I still regret it,” Mel said. “The old Jews here are all in disguise. You’ve got to look under a pile of Gucci to find a black suit you can understand.”
“I’m not looking for any black suits,” Warren replied, “and I never understood them.”
“I make a hundred a week.” Mel said. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“I’ve already got one,” Warren replied, “but it looks like Tati could use a refill.”
“I’ll get it,” Tatiana said, and she headed for the bar with Mel and Anne in pursuit, leaving the two Warrens alone.
“I read about your deal with Danforth and Lanyard in the Times,” Beatty said. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks. I wasn’t aware that the news was out yet. I haven’t talked to my agent in a few days.”
“Yes,” Beatty said. “It was in the book column this morning. Considering the advance, I’m sure it’s expected to be a best seller. I don’t suppose you’ve thought about the movie yet.”
“No, I haven’t, but when I do, I’ll keep you in mind. I thought Reds was a terrific piece of work”
“Thanks. It’s a relentless business. I try to think years in advance. My acting might suffer some, but I’ve got to do it to stay ahead of the game. Do you think there’d be a part in your book for me?”
“Yes, you could do it. You’d probably be quite good in it in fact.”
“I’ll get an advance copy and read it,” Beatty said. “Anne wasn’t kidding by the way. We all have enormous respect for Marjorie. She’s weathered all the storms and come out on top. It isn’t easy.”
“You’ve done pretty well yourself.”
Beatty smiled. “It’s a little easier for a man than a woman, speaking of which, did you meet Jack?”
“Yes. He was at the front door when we came in.”
“I’d better check on him,” Beatty said. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you. I really mean it.”
“That goes both ways,” Warren replied, and he watched Marjorie’s neighbor move deftly through the crowd he had assembled.
Later, in bed with Tatiana, he thought about their evening. “There was something in the air,” he said. “I couldn’t put my finger on it.”
“Tension,” she replied.
“What do you mean?”
“Other than Marjorie, every actor I ever met is scared stiff. No matter how successful they are, they all think they’ll be in the breadline tomorrow.”
“Even the people we met tonight?”
“They’re the worst of all. They have farther to fall, and they can get vicious to stay where they are. I could tell you stories.”
“Tell me one.”
“There’s an actor in New York,” she replied. “I won’t tell you his name. Anyway he’s about Jack Nicholson’s age, and when he and Jack were first starting out, they shared an apartment together and both of them were driving cabs. Twenty years goes by, and Jack becomes a star. The other guy is a working actor, but he’s just getting by. Jack buys the rights to a novel and casts himself in the starring role. He stands to make three or four million on the project. He calls his old friend to a reading, and the reading is videotaped. Jack knows his ex roommate is a good actor and will bring something valuable to the part. To make a long story short, the casting people call the New York guy and offer him scale. That’s the lowest salary for a principal. The guy would only stand to make ten or fifteen thousand for this good part. He flies into a rage and calls Jack who says that he doesn’t want to be put in the middle. Jack likes to swim laps, so they rent him a swimming pool on location that costs the production company more than this actor is demanding in additional salary. It isn’t even considered that Jack might augment his old friend’s pay out of his own pocket just to give the guy a sense of dignity, and Jack never even thinks of it. As it turns out, the New York actor turns down the part and agonizes over it. He really wanted to do it, but he couldn’t demean himself by working for less than half of what he made in his last movie role. In the end, it was discovered that they used the New York actor’s videotape to enhance somebody else’s performance.”
“You’re saying that Jack is a bastard.”
“No. I’m saying that it’s the nature of the business. It’s dog eat dog, and nobody gives anything to anybody for nothing. If you know that, and you do when you reach the top of the heap, you live in fear of falling back again, from being the exploiter to the exploited. It can and does happen overnight.”
“I understand,” Warren said. She wrapped her long arms and legs around him.
Two weeks after Warren’s call had awakened her at the Dorchester, Marjorie was contacted by the producer/director, Sydney Pollack, who invited her to the European premiere of his latest opus in the West End. “We’re looking to create as much ballyhoo as possible,” he said over the phone, “and being as you’re here anyway, I thought you might be able to help out.”
“I’d love to Sydney, you know that, but I’m looking at my schedule, and I won’t be back from Hampstead Heath until nine o’clock. I’m sorry. It’s a shame it isn’t Tuesday instead of Monday. I have no call at all on Tuesday.”
“There’s a dinner dance afterwards at the Hilton,” Pollack said. “It should start about ten o’clock. It’s right up the street from you, and the press will be there. Can you make that?”
“Sure,” Marjorie replied.
“Great. I’ll send the limo over for you at ten. Thanks sweetheart.”
“You’re welcome, Sydney.”
On the night in question, Marjorie was rushed from the Heath to her room where she showered, applied makeup, fixed her hair, and stepped into her standby sex pot outfit, a black silk, floor length gown that fit her like a glove. She threw her mink coat over her shoulders and got down to the lobby just as the chauffeur was announcing himself at the desk.
When she stepped out of the car at the Hilton, she was met by the usual pandemonium. The klieg lights were blinding, flash bulbs popped, and fans behind barricades roared their approval. A tall, broad shouldered fellow in an elegant tuxedo offered his arm, and she took it. “Who the hell are you?” she asked.
“Just part of the show,” he replied, and she looked into his smiling blue eyes. His sandy blonde hair was beautifully cut, and she found him very handsome. He seemed to be about her age.
“A very attractive part,” she said.
As they made their way to the lobby, she heard a voice close behind her. “I’ve got you covered from the rear,” it said.
She turned and saw Robert Redford, and she forced her escort to wait for him. “Bob, I might have known you’d be in this picture. I’m beginning to wonder if Sydney ever works without you. Where’s Streep?”
Redford laughed. “She’s already inside. We must be thankful for the generosity of our friends.”
“What is this, Gone With The Wind?” she asked
“Hardly,” Redford replied, “but you know Pollack. He likes to make a big splash.”
They entered the cavernous ballroom where an orchestra was playing and more than two hundred people danced and sat at large round tables. A captain led Redford, Marjorie, and her escort to a far corner where they joined Sydney Pollack and Meryl Streep. Meryl got up and embraced Marjorie. “It’s been a long time. I’m glad you could make it.”
“Anything for the cause,” Marjorie replied, and then she turned to Pollack. “There are other actors besides these two, Sydney. I hope you’re not falling into a rut.”
Pollack laughed. “Why change winning dice?” Thanks for coming, Marjorie.”
They sat down, and Marjorie looked at her escort. “So what’s your name, Mr. Just-Part-Of-The-Show?”
“Terry Vincent,” the man replied.
“You’re obviously not a flunky,” Marjorie said. “Where do you fit into all this?”
“I don’t fit into all this,” Terry replied. “You might say I’m a wealthy, independent investor.”
“My kind of guy,” Marjorie said.
“I was hoping you’d say something like that.”
“Were you? This could turn out to be a very interesting evening.”
“I’d be extremely gratified if that should turn out to be the case,” Terry replied. Marjorie looked at him askance and laughed.
Pollack, who was seated beside Terry, had overheard every word of his conversation with Marjorie, and, knowing her reputation, had not been the least troubled by it. Streep and Redford were not accompanied by their spouses to enhance the illusion of their romantic attachment in his movie, but there was no harm done by what he saw as Marjorie’s decision to show up with one of her playmates. He might be a stranger, and it appeared as though she had acquired him on the spur of the moment, but he was presentable, and there might be a way of capitalizing on his attendance. There were drinks and hors d’oeuvres, veal and wine, dessert and champagne, and, as the meal drew to a close, Pollack spoke to Terry. “Mr. Vincent,” he asked, “are you a good dancer?”
“Which dance do you do best?”
“I suppose the waltz.”
“What else?” Marjorie asked. “Look at him. He’s the Errol Flynn of his time.”
“Good,” Pollack said. “The theme music from the picture is a waltz, and I’d like you to do it with Marjorie while Bob and Meryl are dancing for the film crew and the photographers. It will create a nice contrast, you and Marjorie in black and Bob and Meryl in light colors.”
Marjorie was a bit tipsy, and she teased Pollack. “I hope the check is in the mail,” she said.
Pollack smiled. “Name your price.
“Sydney, is this dancing business really necessary?” Meryl asked.
“It might get more pictures in the papers,” Pollack said, “and that sells tickets.”
“It’s just this jet lag and all the food and booze,” Meryl said. “I’m wasted.”
Pollack registered defeat. “Of course, if you don’t want to do it, we can just…”
Meryl interrupted him. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it! God, Sydney, you get the last ounce.”
Pollack smiled. “That’s my job.”
He made the arrangements, and a little while later, the orchestra played a fanfare, and he stepped up to a microphone on the bandstand. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” he announced and the room fell silent. “My name is Sydney Pollack, and I want to thank you for seeing the film tonight and being so gracious as to come here afterwards to celebrate with us. For your added enjoyment, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford will now dance to the music from the picture, and they will be joined by that perennial shining star, Marjorie Combs, and her partner, Terry Vincent.”
The music began, and the couples stepped off. There was a round of applause, and then the guests looked on quietly. “Perennial shining star, my ass,” Marjorie said as she and Terry glided across the floor.
“He meant it as a compliment,” Terry said.
“He meant exactly what he said. He’s part of the Hollywood establishment, and like the rest of them, he’s angry and jealous as hell that I’m still doing big numbers after all these years without going to Alcoholics Anonymous and apologizing for my bad behavior.”
Terry smiled. “You are extraordinary. I feel as though I’m dancing with a teenager.”
“Oh Lancelot, tell me more.”
“Can we go somewhere and talk after this?” Terry asked.
“Where did you have in mind?”
“There’s a little Italian restaurant up the street. They close around midnight, but they know me, and they’ll let me in if I knock on the window.”
“I’m game,” Marjorie replied.
It was well past twelve o’clock when they came out of the Hilton, and their stroll up the incline of Curzon Street was made more captivating by a light drizzle and the reflection of the sidewalk lamps off the wet pavement. The delicate aura of the historic Mayfair artery softened Marjorie’s mood beneath the umbrella that Terry held over her head. “I could disappear forever into this Victorian rain,” she said. “I don’t know anything about you, Mr. Vincent. Are you going to sell me off into white slavery?”
“Yes, Mrs. Combs. An Arab sheik is paying me a king’s ransom to deliver you to his harem. You’ll have nothing to do but please him and pamper yourself, but he’s old, and he won’t make too many demands on you.”
“Thank heaven. I’ll finally be forcibly removed from the movie business.” They passed Disraeli’s house, Shepherd’s Market, and Half Moon Street before he clicked his ring on a darkened glass door. It was a wedding ring, and she noticed it. “Does your wife mind you doing this?”
“My wife is dead.”
The door swung open, and a small round man smiled up at them. “Mr. Terry,” he said. “Avanti, avanti! It’s so good to see you.” They entered, and he locked the door behind them. They followed him through the darkness to a table by the window that looked out on the rain. He lit a candle and covered it with a globe. “What can I do for you, Mr. Terry?”
“Some espresso and cognac.” He looked at Marjorie. She nodded her assent. The little man went away, and they lit cigarettes.
Marjorie could hear emotional voices from another room speaking Italian. “What’s going on in there?” she asked.
“They play cards all night. It’s a game I don’t know how to play and can’t spell. It’s pronounced zig-a-net.”
“What are we doing here?”
“I just want to talk, nothing else, just talk.”
“How long is it since your wife passed away?”
“More than two years ago, and she didn’t pass away. She was raped and murdered.”
“Yes, exactly. Such a God is beneath contempt. He uses us like pawns, the slaughter of one and then millions.”
The comment seemed oddly out of context to Marjorie, but she relegated it to his grief. “Did you love her very much?”
“More than anything, more than my life.” The coffee and the brandy arrived, and Terry filled their cups from a large espresso pot.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I’ve been wandering aimlessly since it happened, first on the coast of Maine where it happened, then all over North America, and now Europe. The distraction helps, but I can never escape the sense of loss, and sometimes I have to talk about it.”
“But why me?” Marjorie asked again. “What made you single me out?”
“I don’t know many people. We met, and you seemed to like me. I’m sorry if you feel I’m imposing on you.”
They drank and looked out at the rain on the cobblestones in front of the restaurant. The street was deserted, and when she glanced at his profile in the candlelight, he appeared lost and nervous. She touched his hand. “You’re not imposing on me. Did they catch the person who did it?”
“Yes. There were five young roughnecks involved. They were condemned to death, but it was small consolation. They beat me and tied me up. They forced me to watch the violation and mutilation of my Stella.” He fought back tears.
“Death was too good for them.” She considered that he might be lying to her but discounted it. She knew about acting, and this was not a performance. Terry was pouring out his soul to her, and it was likely the first time he had done so to anyone. He seemed hesitant to continue. “Let it go,” she said. “It’s better not to keep it bottled up inside of you.”
“It’s pointless. Nothing can bring her back.”
“And nothing will let you forget her.”
“She was sleeping on the grass in spring the first time I saw her. I was a librarian at the University of Iowa, and I was walking by the river in the sunlight. She had braces on her legs and was beside her wheelchair. She had been crippled as a child in a boating accident. I was always drawn to the infirm because my mother had been paralyzed in an auto accident when I was very young. She awoke, and when she looked into my eyes, my life changed forever. My only wish was to make her happy. We had fifteen years together before she was brutalized.”
“Your Stella. Of all the things in the world, I would never take you for a librarian.”
“Oh yes. I have always loved books.”
“You sound like my ex husband.”
“The esteemed Warren Combs. I’ve read all his essays on writing and literature. It was what drew me to you initially. I see he’s making quite a commotion in the literary marketplace.”
“Yes. He’s written a book, and they think it’s going to be a smash hit.”
“Have you read it?”
“Don’t you think you should?”
“I’ve never been one for serious novels. The people in them have always been too far removed from me.”
“Is that why you divorced him?”
“No. It was quite something else, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
“It was that you loved him too much and couldn’t give him what he wanted. You felt guilty because you chose your career over his happiness, and you reached a point where you couldn’t face him day in and day out.”
“Yes, but how could you know that?”
Terry smiled. “It’s rather a general statement if you think about it. The shortcomings of stardom are not very closely guarded secrets.”
“I don’t know what to make of you, Mr. Vincent. You come out of the woodwork like some mysterious apparition and take me through the evening with amazing aplomb. I must say, I have to admire your cheek. You don’t know me, and you didn’t know a soul at that party, and yet you managed to pull it off without a hitch. I’m impressed, but I wonder why you’d go to so much trouble to make my acquaintance.”
“That sounds like a speech from one of your movies.”
“Maybe it is. It reaches a point after awhile when you don’t know whether what you say is your own or from some screenwriter’s typewriter.”
“Doesn’t that bother you?”
“I suppose it’s alright if the words say what you mean and the feelings are yours,” he said, “but what if somebody stole your feelings?”
Marjorie laughed. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Nothing.” He leaned across the table and kissed her lightly on the lips.
“That was nice. Now who stole your feelings?”
“I can’t tell you that, but suppose I had killed the men who raped and murdered my wife. Would I have been justified in doing so?”
“I’m just a stupid actress, and I can’t even imagine such a thing.”
“I just thought you might have an opinion, that’s all.”
“Well I don’t,” Marjorie said, and she downed the rest of her cognac.
“I’m sorry. It seems I’ve ruined our evening.”
She touched his face. “You haven’t ruined anything. You just gave me a bit of a fright. How long have you been in Europe?”
“Almost three months. I was in Paris when you were working there, and I was going to make an effort to meet you, but I found out Mr. Combs was visiting, and I didn’t want to intrude.”
“How did you know I was going to be at the Hilton?”
“There was a list of celebrities in the paper. I assumed an official air next to the entrance until you arrived. Someone did ask my business, and I said that I was meeting you.”
Marjorie smiled. “And so you were.”
“Would you like another drink?”
“No. Let’s walk. It looks like the rain has stopped.”
“Alright,” Terry said, and he rose and helped her with her coat. He placed a bill beneath his glass, and they made their way out the door with the voices from the back room at a frenzied pitch.
“You must be rich. That’s a lot of money to leave for a couple of drinks.”
Terry laughed. “Why do you think they’re so nice to me?”
The fog was rolling in, and they stepped through it to the end of Curzon Street, turned left, and found themselves on the green in Berkeley Square. She held his arm and leaned into him. “This is a real treat. I never go walking alone in strange places.”
“You’re not alone, and this is not a strange place. It’s Berkeley Square.”
Marjorie smiled and sang softly. “That certain night, the night we met, there was magic alive in the air. There were angels dancing at the Ritz, and a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.”
The globes of the streetlights were a blur in the distance, and their shoes were wet in the grass. The heavy air dampened their cheeks, and they were quite alone. Terry looked down into her enormous eyes and recited what he knew.
“Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emporer and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.”
Damn, that’s beautiful,” she said, her hair cold and wet, her forehead glistening.
“It’s John Keats. He was much better with nightingales than I can ever hope to be.”
“Would you like to kiss me again?”
“Yes, very much,” Terry said, but he made no move to do so.
“You don’t seem very eager for someone who has followed me all over Europe.”
He took her head in his hands and brought his lips lightly down on hers. They held the innocent pose for a long moment, and then he stepped back. “I’m sorry. There’s never been anyone but Stella.”
“I believe you,” Marjorie replied. “Come along.”
“Where are we going?”
“Oh.” They walked slowly through the fog to Mount Street and then left to Park Lane. Along the way, they came across a young Bobby on his rounds. He shined his light in their faces.
“Good morning,” Marjorie said.
“Mornin ma’m,” the policeman replied, and then the shock of recognition animated his voice. “Is it Marjorie Combs then?”
“It is,” she said.
“Bloody hell!” he said and then thought better of it. “Beggin your pardon, ma’m.”
Marjorie laughed. “That’s alright.”
“You’ll catch your death on a night like this,” the Bobby said.
“We’ll be inside in a few minutes,” Marjorie replied, “but thanks for your concern.”
“You’d better be on your way then,” the Bobby said, and he was gone in the fog.
“It’s amazing,” Terry said. “Any hour on any street in the world, and everybody knows who you are. What’s that like?”
“It can be fun, and it can be like getting hit in the head with a bat. One afternoon in Rome, my clothes were ripped off, I got punched in the jaw, and my bag was stolen. When the cops got there, they found it amusing. All of that fan shit is based on a fantasy that can get ugly in a hurry.”
They entered the lobby of the Dorchester, and Marjorie stopped at the desk and ordered tea to be brought up to the room. She then led Terry to the elevator. At her door, he stopped abruptly.
“What is it?”
“I’ll say goodnight and be on my way.”
Marjorie laughed. “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
“I think it’s for the best.”
“Listen to the voice of experience. What you need is a nice hot cup of tea, a drying out, and a few kind words.”
“I don’t know,” he replied, but she pulled on his jacket and drew him into the suite.
Once inside, she went to a closet and threw him a Dorchester robe and a hanger. She took off her mink coat and draped it over a chair. “Now get out of those wet clothes and give them to the bellboy when he brings the tea. You can’t go around looking like a wet hen.”
“Are you sure?”
Marjorie frowned sympathetically. He looked so rumpled and sad standing in the middle of the room. “I’m sure. I’ll be back in ten minutes.” She took a second robe and entered the bathroom, closing the door behind her, and then she slipped off her gown and underthings, stepped into the shower, and washed the makeup off her face. When she returned to him wearing her robe, he had followed her instructions, and he was seated at a silver tea service that had arrived.
“They said my tux and shirt will be ready in an hour,” he said. “I’d like to wash,” She motioned him to the bathroom and he went.
Marjorie rolled her eyes at the ceiling. God, she thought, it’s like dealing with an infant. Momentarily, he returned, and she poured the tea. They drank. “I’m rather uncomfortable,” he said.
“I know. You said that before.”
“Look, Terry, you went to a great deal of trouble to get to know me, and I like you, but I liked you a bit more earlier when you were calling all the shots. What happened?”
“I didn’t expect it to get this far. I thought we’d just talk and then go each our own way. I’ve never been unfaithful to Stella. I’ve never even thought about it.”
“Stella’s gone, Terry,” Marjorie said softly. “Life goes on, and maybe it would be better for you if you tried to go along with it.” She rose and stood over him running her fingers through his hair. Then she opened her robe and directed his face into her stomach. His lips touched her flesh, and then he trembled and sobbed.
“They’ve taken everything from me,” he said in agony.
She knelt before him and brushed his lips with her own. “Yes, my poor darling.” She tried to open his robe, but he seized her wrists and prevented her from doing so. “You’re angry with me,” she said.
“This has nothing to do with love,” he replied. “Why do you want to sleep with me?”
Marjorie got up and refastened her robe. She sat down and poured herself more tea. “You know what you are, Mr. Vincent? You’re a brain picker.”
He wiped the tears from his face and appeared to gather himself rather quickly. “Are you going to answer my question?”
“What a fucking scene this is!” she replied. “The unwilling male does not allow himself to be seduced. What can I tell you? The days are long and empty. I’m a leading actress who gets paid a lot of money, and people expect a lot in return. There’s pressure, and I need a release. A good looking guy comes along with stars in his eyes and a pot full of romantic bullshit, and I decide it might be nice to get his pants down. What’s wrong with that?”
“You are a fortress.” Terry said. “You are indomitable. No wonder the Hollywood community is jealous of you.”
“Not such a fortress.” She got up and stretched. She walked around the room, touched her toes with her fingertips, and turned her neck from side to side. She held her arms over her head against a far wall. “I’m sorry I took you so lightly.”
“It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have come in.”
There was a knock at the door, and Terry answered it. It was the bellboy with his clothes. He hung them up and returned to his seat. She crossed the floor and fell into his lap. She threw her arms around his neck and buried her head in his shoulder. “Maybe we could get to know each other.”
He did not reply. Instead, he held her quietly and kissed her hair. After awhile, he raised her head and looked into her face. She regarded him with an unexpected innocence that defied everything that had taken place. She became fragile, vulnerable, child like. The lines at the outer corners of her eyes and lips testified to her maturity and added a dimension of depth to her features. The tenaciously youthful quality that had kept her in the limelight was made more pronounced by her tousled brown locks and smooth brow. Terry was moved by the expression, but he fought against it. “I think I should go.”
“Yes. It would be the best thing.” Tears came to her eyes.
“I can’t allow myself to fall in love with you.”
“No. That would never do.”
“Are you going to let me up?” he asked.
“Not yet,” she replied, wiping the tears from her eyes. “Look at me. I’m crying. I can’t believe I’m crying.”
“It’s good,” he said.
“It means you’re feeling something. It means we’re both feeling something.”
“I want you to tell me why you put yourself through this tonight. You’re not just a fan, and you didn’t work all this out just because you thought I was a pretty face, did you?”
“No, but I can’t explain it. I don’t fully understand it myself. It started out having nothing to do with you, but then you drew me in. I lost control.”
“It’s Warren, isn’t it,” she said. “It has something to do with Warren.”
“Why would you say that?
“You told me. You said that you’d read all of his essays.”
“Yes, I did, didn’t I. It’s too soon to talk about it, but I promise you that you’ll find out, perhaps sooner than you think. It’s nothing for you to worry about. It doesn’t concern you at all.”
“Have you ever met him?”
“Yes. We spoke once.”
“Does he know who you are?”
“Yes, he knows.”
“Shall I mention you to him?”
“Do whatever you feel is right, but I’d advise you to wait until everything is clear in your mind. It might be better for both of you.”
Marjorie smiled. “My brooding, mysterious hero,” she said.
“I’ll never forget you,” he replied.
“It’s turning into a love scene from a war movie,” she said. “I’m the heroine, and I suspect I’ll never see you again. You’re going off to the trenches to prove your courage under fire.”
“Yes, it is rather like that.”
Marjorie yawned. “Well then, let’s play it out to the end. I say that you don’t have to leave yet. You still have time. Come and lie with me until I fall asleep, and then you say…”
“I say alright.”
“I’m exhausted. I’ve been awake almost twenty-four hours. Thank heaven I’ve got the day off today.” She closed her eyes and rested her head against is chest. After awhile, he carried her to the bed in his arms. While he was turning out the lights, she removed her robe and got under the covers. “Beds are sometimes the best things,” she muttered.
“Yes,” he said, and he took his place beside her and drifted off.
About an hour later, he awoke in the darkness and listened to her regular breathing. She was in a deep sleep on her side. He rose quietly, dressed quickly, and left. Like the heroine in Marjorie’s imaginary war movie, her suspicions came true. She would never see Terry again.
In all, Warren stayed in Los Angeles for two weeks, and Tatiana proved to be a great deal more than delightful company. In a series of discussions that often included real estate agents who seemed to be beholden to her, she convinced Warren to experiment with a house on the beach. It was her contention that Marjorie’s place in Beverly Hills and a house on the ocean would provide an ideal arrangement for them. “Both of you will need occasional distance and privacy,” she said. “This way, each of you will be within easy commuting distance, but you won’t be breathing down each other’s necks. It’s good for me too by the way. Sometimes I can stay with you, and sometime I can stay with her, and, when we feel like it, we can all stay together.”
Warren laughed. “Are you suggesting a ménage a trios?”
“I didn’t think there was any question about it,” she replied.
“Well, there is, and where does your professional status fit into all this?”
“Please, I’m not drawing any blueprints on your head. Don’t draw any on mine.”
At one point, along a highway that ran beside the oceanfront in Malibu, a side road descended into a natural depression, a sandy hollow with the sea to the left and a high cliff to the right that insured privacy. There were four houses in this enclave. The first two were modest beach cottages of no more than five rooms each, and they were both inhabited by young couples with children. As Warren, Tatiana, and a real estate agent drove by, they saw the mothers with their babies in bathing suits. Further on, there were two larger houses that were both uninhabited, and Warren opted to look at the one furthest away from the main highway. They parked under an open carport at the rear and walked through the sand to a front door that faced the water. It was a cool and hazy afternoon, and Warren liked the smell of the salt sea air. The building was solidly constructed of heavy beams on thick pilings, and they climbed a wrought iron staircase that ended on a polished deck with a railing around it, a portion of which was enclosed. The agent unlocked one of a series of sliding glass doors, and they entered a triple terraced living room. The lowest level was black tile, and the other two were covered in light blue carpeting. Doors at the top led to a cherry wood kitchen and spacious dining alcove, two bathrooms, and three bedrooms. The space was unfurnished, and the view was spectacular in every direction except the rear where only the nearby cliff was visible. “It’s a very tight market,” the agent said, “and it favors the buyer. I can show you the documents from the last sale of this house for three million, six hundred thousand, but right now I can let you have it for two million, five. When things get better, you’ll be able to turn it over at a nice profit.”
Warren laughed. “It’s a steal. The question is, who’s stealing from whom?”
Tatiana got angry. “You’ve done this dance with five different brokers, Warren. What he’s saying is true, and you know it. Why do you insist on being such a pain in the ass?”
“Pardon me,” he replied. “I still suffer from the delusion that that’s a lot of money for a pile of wood on the beach. It will take some getting used to.”
“But you like it,” the agent said.
“Of course I like it,” Warren replied. “It’s exactly what I had in mind.”
“Well then,” the agent said, “why don’t you lease it for a year with an option to buy? The rent is four thousand a month, and that money goes toward the sale price if and when you decide you’d like to own the place.”
“Would the sale price be made firm in Mr. Combs’ contract?” Tatiana asked.
“Yes,” the agent replied.
There was a moment of silence, and then Warren turned to Tatiana. “So Tati, what do you think?”
“I think you’d be crazy not to take it.”
“Okay, it’s a deal,” Warren said.
Tatiana was overjoyed by Warren’s decision. It was almost as if she were leasing the place herself, and for the next week she assisted him in selecting furniture and accessories, getting a painter, and otherwise transforming the elegant empty shell into a home. When the time came for him to return to New York to sever his connection to the East entirely, the job was in full swing, and he left Tatiana in charge of seeing that it was properly completed.
It was about nine o’clock on a Friday night during the last week in September when Warren entered his apartment on King Street. He dropped his bags in the hall and turned on the lights. It was warm and stuffy, and he went directly into the kitchen and started the air conditioner. He was looking around at what he had once regarded as a comfortable living space, experiencing sadness at the way it had become confining to him, when he heard a woman’s voice coming from the living room. “Mr. Combs,” it said, “I’ve been waiting for you. I beckoned and knew you would come.”
His heart leapt in fright, and he ran toward the source of the sound. An ancient and tiny female creature was seated in the middle of the floor cross-legged and motionless. Her thin, wispy hair was dyed red, her face was deeply wrinkled and skeletal, and she was wrapped in a white sheet. She was surrounded by shopping bags and open cans of food, and she looked up at him through rheumy gray eyes. She could not have weighed more than eighty pounds, and her skin had the texture of worn brown leather. “Jesus Christ!” Warren exclaimed. “Thank God I’m getting out of this damned town! Come on, whoever the hell you are. Get the fuck out of here.”
He moved toward her, but she remained fixed in place. He stopped and tried to collect himself. “How strong is wisdom when it turns against you,” she said. “It is not I who wishes to cause pain to either one of us.”
“How did you get in here?”
“Have you learned nothing?” she asked. “I am part of the price of your arrogance. After what you did, my arrival was inevitable.”
“Listen lady, we’ve all got our problems, but if you don’t get up and leave, I’m going to call the police.”
“It doesn’t matter. Everything will happen anyway. Justice will be delivered upon you in the name of Terence V. Brace.”
Fear seized Warren when he heard Brace’s name. He fell into a chair and stared at the hag. After a pause, he laughed. “Oh, I see. This is another one of his little games. Why doesn’t he show himself? Why must he wear a disguise and send characters like you around to spook me?”
“Mr. Brace didn’t send me here. I’ve hardly spoken to him. It was you who caused this. Your actions called me forth.”
“Sure. You’re an oracle from the Gods called down because of my evil deeds. Do you expect me to believe that? What kind of fool do you think I am?”
“A fool who speaks folly. Call me what you will.”
“You know, you’re pretty good. How much is Brace paying you? I’ll give you twice as much to get out of here.”
“You don’t listen. Brace is not my ally. If anything, I am your ally. I am here to enlighten you, and the debt in question cannot be paid in money.”
“Am I now supposed to ask you how the debt can be paid?”
“You cannot follow your heart. That is the way in which you are tainted.”
“Breaking and entering is a crime, you know, and I imagine that your sheet is out of my linen closet and those cans of food out of my pantry. This is ridiculous!”
“You’re standing on the edge of doom, and I’m trying to help you. I don’t know why. There is really nothing I can do but prepare you. Your destiny is sealed. I begged for your forgiveness. I offered to sacrifice myself in your place, but it was for naught. The flames of sacrifice would not burn because you do not repent.”
“You’re wrong there. I regretted it before I did it, while I was doing it, and after it was done, but I had no choice. You can tell Mr. Brace that a book can’t be published unless there’s somebody around to sign a contract, and he wasn’t around. It was also necessary to talk about altering the book so that he would not be arrested after publication.”
“I can’t tell Mr. Brace anything. I can only tell you.”
“Do you have a name?”
“I am who I am.”
“And what are you saying I should do?”
“There is nothing for you to do. The Furies are waiting to destroy you. You will be snared by the evils you have worked.”
“Are you saying that Brace is going to kill me?”
“This is not a riddle to be solved with easy answers. You have already been judged.”
“Never mind all the parabolic bullshit,” Warren said. “Answer my question. Is Brace going to kill me?”
“There are consequences as old as time itself. No argument can alter them.”
“The son of a bitch is going to kill me,” Warren said, and he leaned forward in his chair. “How much time have I got?”
“Mr. Combs,” she said, “you have all eternity.”
“Listen, I know you’re going to tell me again that you don’t talk to Brace, but do me a favor. Tell him that both of us have behaved badly in all this, but there’s no need for him to be irrational about it. It’s too late to cancel the publication of the book, but if he’ll just come out of hiding to face me, we can work something out. He can have most of the money. Lord knows, there’s plenty for both of us.”
“They said that I had no shame in coming here. I argued that shame was not the issue. It is honorable to let a man know when he is doomed, but you fail to grasp the gravity of my revelations.”
“What the hell does he want? He never told me what he wanted.”
“His desires are irrelevant. You brought this upon yourself.”
“People are ripping each other off every day. The first time I make a wrong move, the guy that gets hurt wants to blow me away. Why is that?”
“Your vaunted and privileged rank does not allow you the foibles of lesser beings.”
“My vaunted and privileged rank. That’s a joke. I’ve been invisible for years.”
“Only to ordinary men. My errand is done. I will leave now.”
“Just like that,” Warren said.
“Yes,” she replied. “The rest is philosophy.”
Warren smiled. “I suppose it is,” he said, and he watched as she struggled to her feet, picked up her bags, and shuffled out into the night. He followed her to the front door and studied her slow and deliberate gait as she made her way to Sixth Avenue in his bed sheet where she turned north and disappeared.
After that, he cleaned up the mess she had made on the living room rug and then unpacked his bags. His movements were tentative, distracted. His thoughts were muddled and uncontrollable. I might have been killed at any moment in Korea. I went about my business in a reasonably efficient way. I took the necessary precautions and continued to function. Precautions or no, the unexpected might have killed me at any moment, and if such is to be the case with Brace, so be it. Is he really going to kill me, or was this just a scare? Either way, why is he doing this? Why doesn’t he just confront me?
Later on, he lay awake in the darkness of his bedroom in terror. “Terry, my boy,” he said aloud, “if your intention was to frighten me, you’ve succeeded. You killed the men who raped and murdered your wife. If you consider what I’ve done to be an equally serious violation of your person, you’ll kill me. If only I knew what you wanted, I might be able to do something about it, but how can I know if you don’t tell me?” When he finally fell asleep, he didn’t dream of anything. He hadn’t dreamt since the first rays of California sun touched his skin.
In the morning, he made the call to Philip Jefferson that he had been putting off because of an illogical hesitancy to break with the firm where he had spent most of his adult life. As it was Saturday, he dialed Philip’s home number on Long Island. A woman answered the phone. “Hello.”
“Hello. This is Warren Combs. I’d like to speak to Philip Jefferson.”
“Just a minute please, Mr. Combs.”
After a short pause, Philip got on the line. “Warren, congratulations. I tried to call you, but you were out of town.”
“Thanks,” Warren replied. “I’ve been in California, and I’ve decided to settle there. I should have gotten in touch with you sooner to tell you to stop sending me those checks. It doesn’t look like I’ll ever come back.”
“How does it feel to be a millionaire?”
Warren laughed. “It has its ups and downs.”
“Mostly ups, I hope. If I’d known, I would have made an offer on Scylla’s Carnival. It sounds like what the old company needs to get out of garbage disposal.”
“I doubt if that would have worked out. Editors never publish their own work where they’ve plied their trade. It’s bad luck.”
“I never thought of you as superstitious.”
“In this crazy business, one has to seek every advantage, real or imagined.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Philip said. “What are you going to do with your apartment?”
“I’m going to sell it. Monday morning, it goes on the market. I don’t think there’ll be any problem. Places like this in the Village are at a premium.”
“My wife and I might be interested in it. We’ve been subletting from a friend out here, and he’ll be back soon. We both work in the city, and the commute is a bit of a drag on our time.”
“Have you got any kids?”
“No,” Philip replied, “but what’s that got to do with it?”
“There are two bedrooms, but one of them is awfully small. The place is big enough for two people, but more than that might be uncomfortable.”
“When can we come over and look at it?”
“Anytime you like. If you can make it tonight, we can have dinner together.”
“It’s a date,” Philip said.
Philip and Wendy Jefferson arrived at Warren’s a little before eight o’clock, and when he let them in, his first reaction was that they were perfectly matched. Like her husband, Wendy was tall, striking, very stylish, and very black. She wore a beautifully cut beige suit, and her brown high heels and leather bag were definitely Gucci. He gave them a drink, and she looked around. “How long have you been here, Mr. Combs?” she asked.
“This was the first place I could find after the Mayflower landed, and I never saw any reason to give it up until now.”
“More than twenty years?” Philip asked.
“Closer to thirty. When I bought it, it cost me forty-seven thousand. I’m sure it’s worth a lot more now, but I haven’t checked the prices yet.”
Wendy laughed. “Oh yes, it’s worth a lot more now. I’d say in the neighborhood of five to six times as much, and that would be cheap.”
“Really,” Warren said, genuinely surprised. “I can’t get used to the prices nowadays. I just rented a house on the beach in Malibu that the agent wanted to sell me for over two million dollars, and he stressed that it was a bargain.”
They toured the premises, and then Wendy leaned against her husband at the kitchen counter. Her bright eyes were luminescent, and she seemed pleased by what she had seen. “So Jeff, what do you think?” she asked.
“I like it,” he replied. “I don’t think we’ll find anything as nice or as convenient.”
”The roof is an added bonus,” Wendy said. “It looks like we’re going to take it.”
“Great,” Warren replied. “We’ll get the sale started first thing Monday morning.”
“It’ll have to be Tuesday,” Wendy said. “I have to be at the hospital all day Monday.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I’m a resident gynecologist at Lenox Hill.”
Philip laughed. “No use to us.” Wendy looked at her husband with a measure of contempt and said nothing.
Warren let it pass. “I made a reservation at a good French restaurant around the corner. Shall we go?”
“By all means,” Wendy replied, and they left the apartment and went to dinner. When they were settled in the small, candlelit bistro, Philip had not yet managed to convey an apology for his bad joke.
“For God’s sake, Wendy,” he said, “you know I’d never make fun of what you do. I’m proud of you. It was just a stupid remark. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright, Jeff,” she replied. “Let it drop. We all know that men will be men when it comes to genitalia.”
They all laughed. “Tough lady you’ve got here.” Warren said.
The waiter arrived, and they ordered the wine and their meal. Over the escargot, Wendy sipped from her glass. “Why don’t you tell us about your book?”
“Yes,” Philip said. “Everybody’s dying of curiosity.”
“Alright,” Warren said. “I suppose one begins with the story. A boy grows up reading to his paralyzed mother in Iowa City,” he said, and then he stopped and blushed. “I’m sorry. It is Madison, Wisconsin. His relationship with the characters in great literature becomes more substantial than his dealings with people in the real world…”
The waiter brought the main course and a second bottle of wine, and Warren continued his rendition of Scylla’s Carnival. When he reached the part about Barry Fields and Suellen taking up residence on the coast of Maine, Wendy interrupted him. “But wait a minute,” she said. “This Barry Fields is a gigolo. I believe that he loves Suellen, but isn’t he giving up on himself when he convinces her to withdraw from the world using her money? Isn’t he exploiting her?”
“Neither one of them sees it that way,” Warren replied. “He feels that society is so filled with corruption and ignorance that it isn’t worth his effort. He figures that if he is able to provide a sane and spiritually healthy environment for both of them, it’s better than becoming incorporated in the death rattle of our disintegrating culture. Suellen puts up the money because she shares his views and wants the same things he does.”
“It’s a depressing portrait,” Philip said. “It suggests that there’s no hope, no reason to try to preserve the civilization.”
“On the contrary,” Warren replied. “It is the civilization, or the remnants of it, that produces Barry and Suellen. Their existence and their ability to endure are symbols of hope for the future. The bleak view would be that of Orwell in 1984 in which everyone and everything is compromised. No one is left as even a token figure of conscience and humanity. In the final portion of the book, Suellen is killed and Barry takes revenge by personally executing her murderers, but he remains out there somewhere, and the suggestion is that there are others like him.”
“So their paradise is invaded by harsh reality,” Philip said.
“Of course,” Warren replied. “It would be pure fantasy to have it otherwise.”
“Describe these murderers,” Wendy said.
“They’re uneducated, working class toughs from Oakland,” Warren replied.
“Are they black?” Wendy asked.
“No, they’re white.”
“Oakland is a long way from Maine if you’re talking about Oakland, California,” Philip said.
Warren laughed to cover his panic. “Did I say Maine? I meant the west coast near Seattle. I’m sorry. I had to make these decisions while I was writing the book, and sometimes I still get confused. I debated with myself about Maine and Washington while I was working on it, and I guess it’s still not resolved in my mind.” The cold hands of Terence V. Brace and his wizened messenger of the previous evening closed around Warren’s throat.
“You made the same mistake with Madison and Iowa City,” Wendy said.
“Yes,” Warren replied, righting himself, fighting for his equilibrium. “You’re the first people with whom I’ve talked about this in a relaxed setting. As you can see, the cobwebs have not yet cleared.”
“Fiction is an arbitrary business,” Wendy said. “That’s my main objection to it. As a writer, you can put people anywhere doing anything.”
“My heavens,” Warren replied, “that old chestnut, the battle between art and science is rearing its ugly head.”
“We talk about this all the time,” Philip said. “I’ve been trying to convince my wife for years that the art of the literary executor lies in the way he or she arranges these elements and explores them. If the author finds a common ground with his readers, he’s succeeded.”
“We’re still talking about chance here,” Wendy said. “I fail to see how the novelist’s craft is any more than a throw of the dice.”
“I think your objections are based on language,” Warren said to Wendy. “The key word is arbitrary, and I think you are misusing it. Better adjectives might be experiment or imagination. As a doctor, you know that a certain chemical mixture is good for a sore throat, but you wouldn’t know that unless someone else had used his or her imagination in an experimental setting to find it out. The writer does the same thing to concoct a potion that relieves a sore throat of the soul.”
Wendy smiled. “A sore throat of the soul. How does Barry Fields provide this spiritual medication?”
“My wife can be an infuriating antagonist,” Philip said.
“Not at all,” Warren replied. “It’s good for me. It gets me ready for the talk shows. Barry Fields articulates the ineffectual status of the individual in modern times and his inability to live what he considers to be an honorable life.”
“Do you think that the problems your novel reveals can be resolved?” Philip asked.
“Not really,” Warren replied, “but as someone said to me recently, hope springs eternal.”
“What you’re saying is very high minded, I’m sure,” Wendy said, “but it’s lacking in practicality. I had to do a lot of things I didn’t want to do to get where I am, and I may have submitted to them only to get out of poverty, but that didn’t make them any less repugnant to me while they were going on.”
“Do we really have to go into this?” Philip asked.
“Yes, we do,” she replied. “Mr. Combs can’t be left floating in his ivory tower.”
“What did you do?” Warren asked.
“Wendy and I met at a track meet,” Philip said. “We were both sprinters. I was from Harvard, and she was from USC. She was much better against the women than I was against the men, and she had established herself as a leader in her division. Prior to that, her life had been very difficult.”
Warren stared at Wendy, and his eyes widened. “Gwen Weldon!” he said. “You were the Olympic gold medallist in three events. I don’t know how I failed to recognize you.”
“It was a long time ago,” Wendy said. “I’ve changed just like the rest of us.”
“Did you come from California?” Warren asked.
Wendy laughed. “Hardly,” she said. “I came from a small town in Alabama. I managed to escape poverty on the track and on my back.”
“Even your language changes when you talk about this,” Philip said angrily.
“My husband doesn’t like me to dredge up the ugly past, Mr. Combs,” she said. “I find it useful in preventing us from adopting superior airs.”
“Alright Wendy, you’ve made your point,” Philip said. “We don’t have to hear the grim details.” There was a new fierceness in his eyes to which she responded by altering her focus.
She touched Warren’s sleeve. “Sorry if I seem feisty. The tragic story of your novel brought it out. I have trouble with unpleasant topics. You see, I expend a lot of time and money so that little black girls in Alabama won’t have to subject themselves to abuse in order to be able to run fast in competition. I see that they get their sponsorship, their equipment, and their access to training facilities based on their athletic gifts rather than on the number of bastards they lift their skirts for. You should see these kids. They’re filled with joy and anticipation. They give me a great deal of hope for the future. I have to be positive if I’m going to encourage them.”
“And so you are,” Warren replied.
The waiter cleared the table, and they ordered coffee. “When can we move into the apartment?” Philip asked.
“Whenever you like after the sale goes through. I’ll only be here a week or so. There really isn’t much more for me to do. I’m going to have lunch with my agent, but that’s more a courtesy than anything else. Most of our business at this stage can be conducted over the phone.”
“What are you going to do with your furniture?” Wendy asked.
“Nothing,” Warren replied. “You can have it if you want it. Most of it is pretty worn out.”
“We’ll replace what we can’t use.” Wendy said. “Meanwhile, we’ll have something to sit on. We sold all our stuff when we left Boston.”
“It seems we are all in transition.” Philip said.
“Along with everyone and everything else,” Warren replied. Wendy laughed.
After the Jeffersons left him, Warren spent another fitful night wondering about the whereabouts of Terence V. Brace and envisioning the finger of his nemesis curling around the trigger of his rifle.
When Terry Brace left Marjorie at the Dorchester, dawn came up over London and transformed the fog into an impenetrable white glaze. He walked back to his room at the Half Moon Hotel with as much mist convoluting his thoughts as enveloping his form. Marjorie had aroused him sexually for the first time since Stella’s death, and he was deeply troubled by it. He understood neither his attraction to her nor his resistance to her overtures. His need to communicate in some fashion with Warren and Marjorie was very real, but he didn’t know why this was so. Marjorie had used him as a meaningless diversion with which to entertain herself as he saw it, and he perceived the experience as a devastating attack on his already fragile emotional state. She was so physically beautiful, he thought. He savored the memory of her exquisite face and figure, the turn of her small breasts, the arch of her back. He bit his lower lip until he tasted blood. He saw the limited extent to which Marjorie had managed to mesmerize him as a betrayal on his part to everything that he and Stella had shared. Marjorie was the personification of the crass commercialism from which he and Stella had isolated themselves, and his tender feelings for Marjorie were, in his mind, a demonstration of infidelity to Stella’s memory.
Once locked in his room, Terry stripped naked and got under the shower. He tried to scrub any remnants of Marjorie away. Afterwards, he sat on the bed and wept. Following the execution of the five young men who had ruined his life, he had begun Scylla’s Carnival, and it had sustained him. He had taken some comfort in the fact that he was still in the house he had shared with Stella and that her remains were nearby. There had been a simultaneous agony, but the two feelings together, fluctuating and unpredictable in their intensity, had somehow given him the strength and the will to go on with what he was doing. It wasn’t until the book neared completion and he had moved away that he had begun to suffer lapses in memory and occasional catatonia. In his more lucid moments, everything that had happened before he’d left the house was clear in his mind. Everything that had happened later was muddled and uncertain. Dreams and actual experiences became mixed together, and there were long periods when he was unable to distinguish one from the other.
Terry went in and out of his madness with the same regularity with which he had felt intense pain while at the house in Maine. It was after spending time with Marjorie that the dementia assumed the dominant role. From then on, he might not have been aware of whether he was moving in real space, imaginary space, or dream space, but as he vacillated between them, he continued to observe himself, as if from a distance, in a distorted form of self-analysis.
He realized he was wet from the shower, and he rose and dried himself. He stepped into clean shorts. He had been crying. Why had he been crying? Yes, he’d had a dream about Marjorie Combs. It had been a terrible nightmare. He looked at the clock. It was six-thirty. There was light in the window, so it was morning. He must have awakened from the dream and taken a shower. He saw the outline of his body on the bed, but the covers had not been turned down. He had slept on top of the bedspread. He’d have to be careful of that. He could catch a bad cold. He saw the tuxedo on the floor. Perhaps he had not dreamt of Marjorie Combs. Perhaps he had actually spent time with her. He laughed. No, that was not possible. He felt the tuxedo. It was damp. He had been out. It had been foggy just as in the dream, but what had he done? An image of a New York street scene came to him. He went to the window. It was London. He was in the Half Moon Hotel.
In New York, he remembered sitting on a low wall in front of the Time Life Building. He had followed Warren there, and it was a hot day. There was a breeze. He was enjoying it. A tiny and haggard old woman with shopping bags sat next to him and told him that the end was near. He replied that ends and beginnings were the same thing. She agreed and took his hand. She studied his palm and asked if the end he was seeking was worth all the trouble. He said that he didn’t know. She said that if he told her the story, she would give him the answer. He told her the story. She said that his quest was an honorable one. She got up to go, and he tried to give her some money. She would not take it. She walked away with her shopping bags. Did that happen, or was it a dream? Terry wasn’t sure. It seemed right as a dream. It was too strange to have taken place.
A pattern developed in which Terry was able to put these recollections into a context that satisfied him. His pursuit of Warren Combs had given rise to a number of doubts about his motives. It was not his intention to harass Mr. Combs unnecessarily. He just wanted to observe the progress of his book toward publication from a distance. He couldn’t come face to face with Warren without subterfuge. It would ruin everything. He must remain an enigmatic and somewhat fictional figure in the eyes of the reading public. He had executed his disappearance so that he could be tried in absentia for the murder of the five thugs. He knew that the book with his name on it would cause Sam Gorman and others in Maine to dig up Stella’s body just as Warren had done. Warren had stolen the book from him, but that didn’t really make any difference. Even without his name on it, the facts would be suggestive enough. Someone like Lou Gauge would follow it through. Terry wondered what Warren would say when the discovery was made that the book wasn’t fiction. He guessed that he’d make something up. He pictured Warren telling the press that he had met a stranger in Paris who had told him the story and that imagination had taken over from there. The book was out, and Warren was at a press conference. Terry was observing it from a secret vantage point.
A reporter raised his hand, and Warren nodded. “You’re saying that you had no idea that the material this stranger was imparting to you was true?”
“Of course not,” Warren replied. “I’d already told him that I was an editor, and the story came out of his mouth like a suggestion for a novel. I told him that it was a very good idea and that he should write it. He said that he had no intention of writing it and that he was giving it to me.”
Another reporter jumped to his feet. “Is there any doubt in your mind that the man you talked to was Terence Brace?”
“As I never saw the man, there will always be doubt,” Warren replied. “There doesn’t seem to be any photographs of him anywhere.”
“Don’t you think you owe Brace a great deal for all the notoriety he’s given Scylla’s Carnival?”
“If Brace and the man I talked to are one and the same, I owe him a great deal,” Warren replied. “If not, I owe two men a great deal. I think that the book would have succeeded on its own merits as fiction, but it would, of course, not have done as well as it is doing now.”
“Do you think Brace was justified in doing what he did?”
“That’s the question the book raises,” Warren replied. “It was, in all likelihood, what drew me to the material. I will not diminish the debate by revealing my feelings about it.”
“Do you think Brace will ever be caught?”
“I doubt it,” Warren replied. “He appears to be a man who plans his movements very well.”
“Do you think he might give himself up?”
“No,” Warren replied. “Even if the consensus opinion is heavily in his favor, my opinion is that he is wise enough to know that the sympathies of the majority might shift at any moment for any reason.”
Terry’s mind returned to the room at the Half Moon Hotel, and although the press conference had been very real to him while it was going on, he knew at once that it had never taken place. It fell neatly into the niche that he had prepared for it in his memory bank. He realized that it would be months before the book was published. It was therefore impossible for the press conference to actually have taken place. Fantasies such as this, as he categorized them, only came about when he was alone, so he surmised that he could function in public without making a spectacle of himself. They materialized, as he saw it, in direct relation to the thoughts that preoccupied him.
When doubts arose as to whether or not he was proceeding correctly with regard to Warren Combs, the old lady was conjured up to reassure him. When he entertained the notion of meeting Marjorie, his subconscious had produced her. Neither of these events was any more substantial to him than the imaginary press conference.
He was suddenly afraid. He looked again at the tuxedo. Had he worn it? He had never worn a tuxedo in his life. He remembered renting it, trying it on, liking it. If he had worn it, where had he gone? He smiled. Of course. He had gone to the premiere of Sydney Pollack’s movie. He had stood outside and waited for Marjorie Combs, but she hadn’t arrived. Then what had he done? Ah, he thought. He’d gone to the Hilton and waited for her there, but she hadn’t come. It was then that he must have come back to his room and imagined the rest. How could he have waltzed? He didn’t know how to waltz. He got up and danced around the room. He did know how to waltz. Where had he learned that? He whistled and he waltzed, and he wondered what it would have been like if Stella had not been crippled. Might they have danced together? Might they have gone off to some elegant setting where no one knew them just to dress up formally and float across a spacious ballroom? Once again, he was transported, and the orchestra started to play, and everyone was dressed beautifully, and Stella was in his arms in a blue gown, and she was laughing, and they were twirling happily.
“Terry, my love,” Stella said gaily, “I never had an accident, and I was never in a wheelchair. Isn’t it wonderful!”
“How is that possible?” he asked. “If you were never in a wheelchair, we never would have met.”
“All things are possible,” she replied. “Nothing could have prevented our meeting. It was predetermined millions of years ago in an exploding inferno in the heavens.”
“But, my darling, your braces,” Terry said.
She danced away from him and bared her legs. They were long and perfect. “What braces?” she asked and laughed. She dropped her skirt and returned to his arms.
“It’s a miracle,” Terry said.
“It’s a new life,” she replied, “one in which wishes come true.”
Terry wept. “And all things are good,” he said.
“Yes, my darling,” she replied, “all things are good.”
“When will it end?” Terry asked.
“It will never end,” she replied. “When I call you to my heart, you will never leave me again.”
“Let it be now,” Terry said.
Stella kissed him. “Don’t be impatient. It will come soon enough.”
“Not soon enough,” he replied.
“Pray, Sir Terence,” she asked, “why doth thy countenance register such fawning dissimilitude?”
“Thy radiance disarms me, milady” he replied. “Thou hast breached my ramparts, and I am at thy mercy.”
“So I see,” she replied. “Wouldst thou kiss me?”
The music swelled. Terry threw back his head and laughed. “I would never be so bold,” he said.
“Bold is as bold does,” she replied, and she kissed him once again.
“What wouldst thou have me do?” he asked. “Surely if death o’erwhelms me now, thy lips will have made my life complete.”
“I would have thee live,” she replied.
He grew sad. “Without thee, that is a tall order, milady,” he said. “Without thee, the sun riseth not in the sky of my imaginings. Without thee, there is no morning song. How does one give thanks when days are dark, beauty has fled, and all inspiration has taken flight? Thy hand, thy lips, oh my God, thy lips. All is as though it never was without them.”
The ballroom darkened. Stella was swept away. Terry returned to his solitude. He went to the window. The fog was clearing. The sun was breaking through. It was bright, and the fuzzy white haze was rising skyward. He could see people making their way along the pavement. There was a familiar policeman walking slowly. He seemed tired and disinterested. His long flashlight hung from the pocket of his coat. Two girls spoke to him and laughed. He managed a smile, and they continued along. They were gesturing wildly, filled with merriment. The policeman’s eyes did not follow them. Instead, he stopped and looked up. At first, Terry thought the policeman had seen him framed in the window, but he hadn’t. His gaze was unfocused, and he removed his hat and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. Then, hat in hand, he moved away.
Terry realized he was very tired. He opened a piece of luggage and removed Stella’s braces from it. He got under the covers and placed the braces beside him. He called to Stella, but she did not come. In a matter of seconds, he fell into a deep sleep.
Warren sold or gave away almost everything in New York. The Jeffersons bought the apartment for two hundred and twenty six thousand dollars. One of the young women at Devon Makepiece bought his car, and he gave his heavy clothing to the Salvation Army. The real estate broker said that he could get more for the apartment if Warren was willing to be patient, but his affection for the Jeffersons influenced him to let it go. When the moving van came to pick up more than twenty boxes of books and recordings, he threw in the desk and swivel chair from the study. He had spent so many years with them that they had become part of him. Rusty Goodman told him over lunch that things were going along nicely with the book. Gallleys would be ready for him to proof within a month, and Warren Beatty had called to inquire about an advance copy. “Send him the galleys when they come out,” Warren said, “and if he offers top dollar, sell him the screen rights. I think he’s the right guy to make the movie.” Rusty agreed.
When Warren got back to Los Angeles early on a Monday afternoon at the beginning of October, Marjorie had been in town a few days, and she met him at the airport. They had been missing each other in an exchange of telephone calls, but she had managed to get his flight number from Rusty Goodman, and he was surprised to find her at the information desk in jeans and a halter surrounded by fans. He took her in his arms and kissed her, and they applauded. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Hail the conquering hero,” she said.
“They even know you when you’re dressed like a teenager and wearing sunglasses,” he said. They rushed to pick up his luggage and get out to her Mercedes convertible in the parking lot.
As she wheeled out to the Pacific Coast Highway, the warm sun shining and the breeze whipping through their hair, he laughed and rolled up his sleeves. “You’re a long way from Polk City, Iowa, Marjorie Bonhurtz,” he said.
“And a long way from King Street,” she replied. “How are you?”
“Getting better all the time.”
“That’s Tati’s line.”
“Yes. What’s she doing?”
“She’s waiting for you at Malibu. You did a good thing putting her in charge of fixing up your house. Not many people would have had that much faith in her. She took it very much to heart, and she’s done a hell of a job. It’s finished now, and she can’t wait to show it to you.”
“I can’t wait to see it. I don’t really get this relationship you have with her. Would you mind explaining it to me?”
Marjorie laughed. “Honest to God, Warren. Sometimes you’re like a twelve year old. She’s a great kid, and I love her. Sometime she’s like a daughter, and sometimes she’s a lover. We’ve known each other about three years. She’s a great admirer of yours, and, by the way, as I understand it, it’s no longer my relationship with her. It’s our relationship with her.”
Warren blushed. “You can’t blame me. You did throw her at me, and she’s neither stupid nor hard to look at.”
“I don’t blame you.”
“I must admit, I didn’t perceive the incest angle until you brought it up.”
Marjorie got angry. “What the fuck are you talking about? We know that Tati’s not our kid. My statement was one of affection for her. I didn’t mean to raise any Freudian skeletons.”
“And she’s a hooker, for Christ’s sake. Who knows what diseases she’s picking up when she’s not with us?”
Warren studied Marjorie’s face, and they rode along in silence until they reached an exit. Marjorie pulled off the road and stopped. She looked straight ahead, and there were tears in her eyes. “Oh, you’re going to be a million laughs,” she said. “What the hell did you come out here for if you’re going to be up tight about everything? I got my shit together for you. What I was doing before makes Tati look like a virgin at a Sunday school picnic. She’s a great girl, and she knows what she is doing. She’s not going to infect your precious balls.”
Warren smiled and embraced his ex wife. “I’m sorry. You’re right, of course. She is a great girl, and the both of you are going to have to be patient until this old war horse gets used to his new stall.”
Marjorie wiped her eyes and managed a smile. “You’re such a putz. Sometimes I don’t know what I ever saw in you.”
“Beats me, and by the way, Beatty has asked for a copy of my book. He might want to make a movie of it.”
“Don’t count your chickens. He’s a nice guy, but he’s got his fingers in so many pies that it would take five studios working full time to get around to half of the projects that interest him.”
“We’ll see,” Warren replied, and then he sang to her. “Have I told you lately that I love you…”
Marjorie laughed. “Horseshit,” she said and put the car back in motion.
When they arrived at the house in Malibu, there was a sparkling yellow Roll Royce Corniche convertible under the carport with the top down. The interior wood and leather upholstery were honey colored, and there was an enormous green ribbon affixed to the steering wheel. Marjorie pulled up beside it with a mischievous grin on her face. “Holy shit!” Warren said. “What is this?” He got out and walked around the car. His astonishment was obvious.
“Welcome home,” Marjorie said. “It’s three years old, and it belongs to Blake Edwards. You’ve got a week to make up your mind whether or not you want it, and if you do, it’s my treat.”
Warren opened the driver’s door and sat behind the wheel. “It seems brand new.”
“Well, Blake and Julie didn’t exactly take it on Safari.”
“I want it, I want it,” Warren said, “but I can’t let you pay for it. It’s much too extravagant to be a gift.”
“I’ve got more money than you, and I want to do it. You’ve got to have a car, and I can’t have my namesake driving around here in a pile of junk.”
Warren got out of the car and took Marjorie in his arms. “I love you very much. There has never been anyone else in the world who would do something like this for me.”
“I figured it was the least I could do after the crap I put you through all these years.”
They picked up his bags and started around the side of the house. Warren stopped for one last look at the car. “I can’t believe it. I’m going to be scared stiff when I drive it. Somebody might scratch it, or I might get in an accident.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
They climbed the iron staircase, crossed the open porch, and slid the door ajar. Warren froze. The overall effect was stunning. The walls and the furniture were pink and green pastels. There were beautiful landscape paintings on the far wall, and the second and third levels were homey, rustic, and tropical. The space had been compartmentalized. High on the right, there was an entertainment center, and just below it, a baby grand piano. On the left, there were potted palms and straw tables and chairs. In the center of it all, Tatiana had draped herself naked on a dark green carpet. The same green ribbon that was affixed to the steering wheel of the Rolls was tied in a bow around her waist. She rose up on one elbow. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“I don’t know what to say. You’ve done wonders with the house, and you’re naked.” He laughed. “Why are you naked?”
“It is a bit much,” Tatiana said, “but we thought you’d get a kick out of it.”
Both women approached him, and each took an arm. “We’ll show you the rest of your new home,” Marjorie said, and they led him through the renovated kitchen, the two bathrooms, and the three bedrooms.
“You’ve taken me to the poorhouse in one fell swoop,” Warren said, “but I love it.”
“Stop thinking like a bank clerk,” Marjorie replied. “The whole job hardly put a dent in your assets.”
“It’s amazing,” Warren said.
Tatiana removed the ribbon from her waist and tied it around his head. She kissed him. “I’m glad you’re happy with it,” she said.
“Get unpacked and out of those clothes,” Marjorie said. “There’s beer and wine in the ice box, and there are sandwiches on the sideboard by the stove. We’ll be in the hot tub on the enclosed porch when you look for us.”
Marjorie took Tatiana’s hand, and they left him alone. He put his things away in empty closets and drawers and changed into a bathing suit. The bright sun cascading through the windows cast a different light than he had ever seen in New York. He had first noticed it at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and it had mystified him. It was at once soothing and superficial and as one dimensional as Technicolor in the movies. Now he was contained within its opalescence, and he moved through it with the oddly discomforting sensation of someone transported outside of gravity. He laughed a little to himself. “I shall wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach,” he said. He wandered into the kitchen, poured himself a glass of wine, and nibbled on some ham, goat cheese, and black bread. Through the sheet of plate glass over the sink, he could see the curve of the beach for miles and the high cliff at the end of it. A few boys were launching a catamaran in the surf, and out on the water, sails danced this way and that. A white cabin cruiser sat at anchor beyond them.
He took his wine to the enclosed porch where Marjorie and Tatiana were immersed in a steaming, swirling tub. They were seated in the center with water up to their necks, wrapped in each other’s arms and legs, their lips joined in a prolonged kiss. Their eyes were closed, and they took no notice of his arrival.
Terence V. Brace and the shriveled hag in his living room seemed very far away. As he watched the beautiful women in their lover’s embrace, he considered the possibility that Brace might be out on the beach sighting in on him with his rifle at that very moment, but he didn’t care. He was imbued with a feeling of well being that made no sense at all. It was as if he had escaped the consequences of his actions forever, left all of them back in New York with the touchstones that had shaped a now obsolete career. It was almost as if the bullet that he half expected to tear through his brain at any moment was a fictional device that inhabited another dimension and had nothing to do with him. The thought struck him that he was already dead and that everything under the California sun was an illusion.
Marjorie finally looked up at him. “I never figured you for a voyeur.”
“I didn’t want to interrupt anything. I was waiting to be invited.”
“You’re invited,” Tatiana said.
“Alright,” he replied, “but that doesn’t make me a malted.” He removed his trunks and joined them.
Tatiana looked at them inquisitively. “What does that mean?”
“There was a comedian named Lenny Bruce,” Marjorie replied. “He used to tell a story.”
“I saw the movie about him with Dustin Hoffman,” Tatiana said.
Warren lowered his head between Tatiana’s breasts and made bubbles with his breath. “Maybe I am a malted,” he said.
Warren and Marjorie laughed. Tatiana became frustrated. “Tell me!” she insisted.
“Okay,” Warren replied. “This guy owned a candy store on the Lower East Side…”
“Lenny Bruce?” Tatiana asked.
“No,” Marjorie replied. “It’s Lenny Bruce’s story. The guy is just a guy.”
“Oh,” Tatiana said.
“So this guy wants to go on vacation, but he can’t get away.” Warren said. “One day he finds an old bottle in the back of the store. He opens it, and a genie pops out.”
“Like in Aladdin’s lamp,” Tatiana said.
Marjorie shrieked with laughter. “Same guy!” she said.
“So the genie says to the guy with the candy store that he’s going to grant him three wishes for letting him out of the bottle,” Warren said.
“Oh God,” Marjorie said. “I can’t take it.”
“Take what?” Tatiana asked.
“You’ll see! You’ll see!” Marjorie replied.
“Oh shit.” Warren said, and he splashed the water with his arms and put them around the women.
“No,” Tatiana said. “Finish the story.”
“Okay.” Warren said. “So the guy from the candy store asks for a million dollars, and poof, there it is on the counter. And then he asks for six dancing girls, and all of a sudden, they are there dancing the hoochie-coochie.”
“What’s the hoochie-coochie?” Tatiana asked.
“It’s the dance that the girls do in the harem for the sheik,” Warren replied.
“The fucking sheik!” Marjorie howled.
Warren took Marjorie in his arms and kissed her. Tatiana pried them apart. “So?” she asked.
“Warren!” Marjorie shouted. “Finish the goddamned story!”
“So the genie says that the guy has one more wish,” Warren said, “and the guy says that he wants to go on vacation to Atlantic City, but he doesn’t know what to do about the candy store.”
“Why doesn’t he just close it up while he’s gone?” Tatiana asked.
“In those days, you couldn’t just close up a candy store,” Warren replied. “People had to get their newspapers and sodas, and the kids had to get their licorice and Mary Janes.”
“What are Mary Janes?” Tatiana asked.
“They’re peanut butter and caramel squares wrapped in yellow paper, and they say Mary Jane on them,” Warren replied. “They’re really delicious. I could go for a Mary Jane right now.”
Marjorie pulled his hair. “Stop it,” she said. “Tati, you don’t know him. He’ll drag this out for hours just to make me nuts.”
“Where can we buy Mary Janes?” Tatiana asked.
“I don’t think they make them anymore,” Warren replied.
“That’s a shame,” Tatiana said.
“Both of you are demented,” Marjorie said.
“So what happened?” Tatiana asked. “Did the guy go to Atlantic City?”
“Yes,” Warren replied. “The genie said he’d take care of the candy store. ‘You can take care of a candy store?’ the guy asked. ‘Sure,’ the genie said. ‘I’m a genie. I can do anything.’”
“Enough!” Marjorie said, and she tried to get away, but Warren held her fast.
“So the guy goes to Atlantic City,” Warren said, “and the next morning, the genie opened the door and put out the papers and swept up, and then this customer came in. ‘Where’s Sol?’ the customer asked. ‘He’s in Atlantic City,’ the genie replied. ‘I’m taking care of things while he’s gone.’ ‘You can take care of a candy store?’ the customer asked. ‘Of course,’ the genie said. ‘I’m the genie. I can do anything.’”
“Ahhhhh!” Marjorie screamed, and Warren put his hand over her mouth. She didn’t struggle against him.
“’So make me a malted,’ the customer said, and right there, in broad daylight, the customer was transformed into a malted.”
Warren and Marjorie roared with laughter, and Tatiana studied them with guarded glee. “That’s it?” she asked. “That’s the whole thing. Merde, alors.”
“You don’t think that’s funny?” Warren asked.
He and Marjorie had disengaged themselves from Tatiana, and they were arm in arm looking across the tub at her. She tried to manage a smile. “Yes, I suppose it’s funny,” she replied. Tears came to her eyes, and she dropped her head.
“What?” Marjorie asked.
“I suppose I can go now,” Tatiana replied. “You’ve got each other. You don’t need me anymore.”
Marjorie squeezed Warren’s arm, and they moved toward her. “Tati, my love, you’ve become a part of me,” Marjorie said. “We need each other. We’re family. We’re the only family we’ve got. Don’t say stupid things like that.”
“And what about him?” Tatiana asked.
“What about me!” Warren said. “Are you crazy? You know how I feel about you.”
Tatiana swam into his arms, and he held her. She sobbed into his shoulder. “I was afraid you’d chase me,” she said. “I was very afraid. Do you love me, Warren? Do you really want me to be in your life?”
“I love you,” he replied, “and you’re going to stay with us forever. As Marjorie said, we’re family.” He looked over Tatiana’s head, and Marjorie gave him an approving nod and motioned for him to say more. He took Tatiana’s face in his hands and kissed her. “Malted or no malted, your happiness is very important to me.”
“Soap time!” Marjorie said, and she reached for a bar of Neutrogena. They stood up and lathered one another with the fragrant substance.
“I’m sorry,” Tatiana said.
“You ought to be.” Marjorie replied. “Leaving us indeed. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“I am,” Tatiana said.
“Well, let’s not overdo it,” Warren said, smiling. “Even Tatiana Zevenko makes mistakes.”
After they had rinsed and dried themselves, Warren yielded to the continued urging in Marjorie’s furtive glances by being especially attentive to Tatiana. He kissed her, took her hand, and led her to the bedroom. Marjorie followed after them. Warren sang softly. “Somewhere the sun is shining, somewhere an azure sky. Look for the silver lining. Wait till the clouds roll by.”
Tatiana’s cheeks reddened. “I never heard that before. You have a nice voice.” Marjorie smiled and hummed the tune sweetly.
Warren turned down the bedspread, and Tatiana lay on her side facing away from him. He knelt on the floor beside her, folded his arms and continued singing. “Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven. Don’t you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven…”
Tatiana rolled toward him. Their lips met. Warren, who had been largely playacting, was suddenly deeply touched. He brushed Tatiana’s soft hair with his fingers and sustained the kiss. Marjorie knelt at the foot of the bed and caressed Tatiana’s feet. The bittersweet and prolonged love scene that followed relegated Tatiana to the role of object being acted upon, and she offered herself up in a shattering display of trust and vulnerability. When it was over, she lay between Warren and Marjorie, and he pulled the bedspread over them. “Once upon a time, there were three bears,” Marjorie whispered, kissing Tatiana’s ear.
“Mama bear, papa bear, and baby bear,” Tatiana mumbled, her consciousness slipping away.
“And they lived in a house by the sea,” Warren said.
Marjorie giggled. “That’s not the way it goes,” she said.
“It is now,” Warren replied. They joined hands over Tatiana’s waist and drifted off to sleep.
When Warren awoke, it was night, and the room was dark. Tatiana was still beside him, but Marjorie wasn’t there. The delicious odor of wine sauce was in the air, and he rose carefully, stepped into his trunks, put on a denim shirt, and went into the kitchen. There were pots simmering on the stove, and he stepped out on the enclosed porch where Marjorie was scouring out the hot tub. “You’re a maze of contradictions,” he said.
She had put on her halter and jeans, and she looked up at him. “It was yucky. You know I can’t stand a mess.”
“What’s for dinner?”
“A veal ragout,” she replied, “good old stick to your ribs food.”
“It smells great,” he said, and he watched her until she finished her chore. Then she came to him and threw her arms around his waist.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she said.
“It’s a bit of a dream,” he replied. “Look how quiet the ocean is.”
They walked out on the open section of the porch and looked at the moon and stars. A table was set for dinner next to the railing. “I thought it would be nice to eat out here,” she said.
“It’s so balmy,” he said. “It’s like a poster for paradise.”
“How do you really feel about Tati?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Give me some time. She’s very easy to love, but I don’t know about spending the rest of my days proving that I care.”
Marjorie smiled. “You won’t have to do that. Usually, she’s very self-sufficient. She’ll come and go at her own pace just like she’s always done. Today was a special case. She had to test you one time.”
Tatiana stumbled out to join them in Warren’s robe. She rubbed her eyes, leaned against Warren, and yawned. “I slept like a dead person,” she said.
Marjorie brushed aside Tatiana’s long, golden hair and kissed her cheek. “What a terrible image.”
Tatiana laughed. “Bon,” she said. “I will revise it. I slept like a dead squirrel.”
“What happened to a log?” Warren asked. “Why don’t you say, I slept like a log?”
“A log never wakes up,” Tatiana replied.
“Are you two going to start again?” Marjorie asked. “Come on, Tati. Help me serve the dinner.” Warren remained on the porch, looking in wonder at the star-filled sky.
The next morning, after breakfast, Marjorie left for an appointment with Victor Whelan. Tatiana and Warren decided to go for a walk on the beach, and as the sky was overcast and there was a cool breeze, they wore sweaters and khaki trousers that she had bought for each of them while on her spending spree. Because of the weather, the beach was deserted, and they ambled in the direction of the towering natural abutment in the far distance. Their bare feet skimmed the edges of the unusually rough surf, and the spray off the top of the waves blew across their faces. Their conversation was easy and spontaneous, and Warren smiled when she spun away from him in a series of ballet jumps and plies. “That’s really good,” he said. “Did you study dance?”
“But of course. All well bred young ladies from Moscow and Paris study the dance, and they also learn to play the piano.”
“Will you play for me?”
“Anytime you like.”
“There’s a method to your madness. I thought the baby grand you bought was just for show.”
“You should get more exercise,” Tatiana said. “It will make you feel better and live longer.”
“Walking is enough for me. Save the rest of the California health creed for the local nuts.”
“You’re funny. You’re critical of this lifestyle, but you’ve come out here and become a part of it yourself.” She pirouetted into his arms, and he held her.
“Yes. I’ve come to the river to be baptized. I’ve come to get my brains baked in the amorphous glow. There is no sickness and no poverty; old age doesn’t exist; and linear thought is a dangerous and subversive activity.”
Tatiana laughed and adopted an English accent. “I think he’s got it. By George, I think he’s got it.”
High on a hill to the right, a woman stood on the veranda of a sprawling white stucco building. She wore an orchid robe, but she was too far away for Warren to identify. She waved, and Tatiana waved back. “Who’s that?” Warren asked.
“It’s Julie Andrews,” Tatiana replied. “I just imitated her, and you’re buying her car.”
“Yes,” Tatiana said. “It’s Mary Poppins at home.”
“Eliza Doolittle on top of the dunes.”
“Audrey Hepburn played Eliza Doolittle.”
“Not on the Broadway stage.”
“Aha! You’re putting Hollywood in its place once again.”
She draped an arm across his shoulders, and they continued on. “I can’t get used to this,” he said. “You’re taller than I am. All of my protective male instincts have been blown.”
“But you are protecting me. I have never felt safer in my life.”
“Can you elaborate on that?”
“My past hasn’t exactly been secure. As a child, I moved about with my family from one place to the other. Someone once described me as a capital baby. I went from Moscow to Paris to Washington to New York, and now I’m in Los Angeles. I was never in any one place long enough to make any lasting friends until recently. I was a real mess in college. I’d go in and out of English, French, and Russian without knowing it, and my classmates would laugh about it. One teacher at Sara Lawrence worked with me and helped me a lot.”
“Your accent and your use of French words does seem to come and go.”
At a place where the hill to the right dipped almost to beach level, they passed a massive Gothic structure that appeared to be made exclusively of stained wood. Two and three story increments were spread out over uneven ground. “Holy Toledo!” Warren said. “Is that a hotel, or does somebody live there?”
“Dick Clark built it. The people around here call it Windsor On The Water.”
Warren snapped his fingers and sang raucously. “Splish splash, I was taking a bath, once upon a Saturday night.”
Tatiana laughed. “I like the song because it’s got a good beat,” she said, mocking an adolescent being interviewed by Clark on American Bandstand.
“Right, and it’s easy to dance to.”
“Do you think it will be a hit?” she asked.
“Definitely. The kids in my neighborhood are already into it. They request it on the radio and play it on the jukebox all the time.”
They climbed a high sand dune and sat on top of it. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something,” he said. “There’s no reason for you to be a prostitute anymore. I can make some money available to you, and you can do as you please.”
Tatiana laughed. “I am doing as I please. A long time ago, Marjorie made me the same offer, but she has come to understand that I like to pay my own way, at least in some things. It isn’t like I’m giving head in an alley on Santa Monica Boulevard, you know. I have a few select clients who pay me very well when I see them and respect my right to say no when I have other things to do.”
“Do you enjoy having sex with these people?”
“Some yes, some no. Most of the time, I can’t even make a fair distinction. It’s just business, and I give a performance. There are a lot worse ways to make a living. Are you jealous?”
“Yes, if you must know, I am.”
She threw her arms around his neck and held him. “You silly man. I love only you and Marjorie. They mean nothing to me, but I think they should get a fair shake for their money.”
“A fair shake indeed.”
She pummeled him with her fists lightly, and he threw up his hands. “You must stop this,” she said, laughing. “It’s infuriating.”
“Take it easy. Pick on someone your own size.”
Tatiana messed his hair with her fingers and stood over him. She closed her eyes and rotated her neck methodically, as he had once seen Marjorie do. Then she stretched and touched her toes with her knuckles. He lit a cigarette. “That’s the worst thing you can do,” she said.
“Not quite. They killed my father, and they’ll probably kill me, but there are other things I’ve done that are a lot worse.”
“Never mind. It was in that other life back in New York. Out here in Disneyland, we can conveniently forget our sins.”
“There are no sins. There are crimes and injustices, but there are no sins because there is no God.”
He smiled. “Isn’t it a shame that all those people in old Europe were burned at the stake for nothing.”
“It was the ignorance of unenlightened times.”
“Yes, now that we have all become so enlightened, we burn countless thousands all at the same time with great bombs. I can’t believe we’re talking about this here in Malibu.”
Tatiana raised one of her long legs out to the side. “What should we be talking about?”
“I don’t know, something frivolous, some popular theme of no consequence from the news of the day or an afternoon talk show.”
“Is there sex after marriage?”
Tatiana fell on her face in the sand. After a moment, she sat up and looked at Warren. “Chopin is a flight of imagination,” she said. “We can’t all be Chopin.”
Warren brushed the sand from her hair. “You’re so young and beautiful. What was your childhood like?”
“My father was very stiff and straight-laced. He hardly ever touched me. My mother is as thick and inflexible as a Russian tank. I was an only child, and I think my parents stopped sleeping together after they made me. I remember looking at them when I first found out about sex, and I was sure they didn’t do it to one another. He was some kind of diplomatic statue, and she was a dour, judgmental matron.”
“Your French accent has disappeared completely.”
“That’s good. It means I’m completely relaxed with you.”
“You mean you don’t turn it on and off on purpose?”
“Not with you or Marjorie, but I can if one of my customers wants it that way.”
“Do any of them ask you to do kinky things?”
“Yes, some of them do.”
“No!” she said emphatically. “I will not talk about that with you.”
“Alright. I’m sorry. It’s just idle curiosity, that’s all.”
“Tell me about Brooklyn.”
“It’s so long ago and far away. Do you know what pegged pants are?”
“Yes. They’re tight at the bottom.”
“And wide at the knee. When I was in my teens, they were in fashion. I went to a Jesuit high school, so I couldn’t make mine too flamboyant, but I wore them. My friends and I used to congregate in front of an ice cream parlor and beat rhythms out on a mailbox. I think we fancied ourselves as great jazz drummers of the future. The girls sat inside and sipped cherry cokes and lemonades, and the boys talked about sports and music on the street corner until it was time to go grassing. Grassing was taking your girl to the park to neck. There was no sex in those days. It was all heavy breathing and light petting and an aching groin that had to be walked off. I was frustrated in more ways than one. I was a smart kid, and I had things on my mind like poetry and fiction, but I wouldn’t dare talk about any of that with my friends. They would have called me a fag and sent me packing. There’s nothing worse for a teenager than to be shut off from his immediate circle of friends. They’re all he’s got.”
A fag, meaning a homosexual?”
“Yes, in a vague sense, but actually it meant more than that. It meant someone strange and unable to be trusted. On weekends, we went to a dance at the local church and did the lindy hop and foxtrot with our girls. Afterwards, we often stole cars and went for joyrides and got drunk. Sometimes a group of kids would come over from another neighborhood to our dance, and there’d be a gang fight outside on the pavement when the dance let out. Some guys got seriously hurt. There weren’t any drugs, but there was enough alcohol to induce a lot of vomiting. It wasn’t much of a childhood, I guess, but it’s the only one I’ll ever have, and I remember it with a great deal of affection.”
“It sounds wonderful. You had action and passion and constancy in your formative years. All I had were tutors, fancy schools, and changing scenery.”
The wind picked up and a few drops of rain started to fall. “I think we should start back if we don’t want to get soaked,” Warren said.
“Yes,” Tatiana replied, and then she laughed. “This must be an omen connected to your arrival. You know that it never rains in southern California.”
They returned to the house at a fast pace. Once there, they found Marjorie at the stove. “I saw you coming,” she said. “I thought you might be hungry.”
In the months that followed, Warren, Marjorie, and Tatiana settled into a routine that pleased them. Marjorie was needed at the studio to do some final dubbing on The Forgotten Silhouette, and she and Victor Whelan were negotiating for her participation in a number of upcoming films. Tatiana went away for days at a time, and she always returned in good spirits. Warren resisted the urge to ask her where she’d been and with whom and kept his concern about her activities to himself. On occasion, they’d spend a day or two at Marjorie’s house on Mulholland Drive, but they preferred the beach house, and, in the main, they resided together there. The galleys of Scylla’s Carnival arrived in mid November, and a week later, just as Warren was completing his corrections, Rusty Goodman called to say that Beatty had purchased the screen rights for seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. “There’s another two hundred and fifty thousand in it for you if you want to do the screenplay,” Rusty said.
Warren suggested that he and Beatty talk about it, and the appointment was scheduled to take place on the porch at Malibu at one o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. When Beatty arrived, Marjorie was there, and she served iced tea and assorted sandwiches before joining them at a table protected from the sun by a pink beach umbrella. Tatiana completed the scene in a rose-colored summer dress. She took her place at the piano and played Chopin waltzes one after the other. “You really know how to live,” Beatty said, sipping from his glass. “I don’t know why I let Jack talk me into that house in the hills. This is much nicer.”
“I got good advice,” Warren replied.
“Wait a minute,” Marjorie said. “What’s wrong with Mulholland Drive?”
“Nothing at all,” Beatty replied. “I just never got this business of where to live sorted out. Right now, I’d rather be here.”
“You are,” Marjorie said, and they all laughed.
Beatty turned and looked at Tatiana who was immersed in her music. “She’s really great, and the music is right. Maybe we should have her play some Chopin on the sound track.”
“If you mean it, she’ll be thrilled,” Marjorie replied.
“Of course I mean it,” Beatty said. “Since the day l picked up Scylla’s Carnival, I haven’t been able to think about anything else. Barry Fields is a character made for me, and I’m already getting a good idea of how to direct the picture. The contrasts have to be very stark and made more pronounced by the musical score. Maybe I’ll use pop tunes in Wisconsin, Chopin in the Northwest, and then something cacophonous for the scenes of murder and revenge.”
“I’m not very secure with the idea of writing the screenplay,” Warren said. “The form is new to me, and I want to be sure I can give you what you want.”
“What I want is dialogue and a clear picture of where we are and what we’re doing,” Beatty said. “I’d like you to give it a try because it’s your creation. You know it and understand it intuitively. You don’t have to worry about the professionalism of the screenplay structure. I’ve got other people who can give me that if I feel I need it.”
“What about changes in content?” Marjorie asked.
“We’ve got to be very clear on that,” Beatty said. “A book is not a movie and vice-versa. I always try to maintain the integrity of the story, but the audience is a completely different animal when going from the page to the screen. Once a reader’s interest is aroused, he or she is willing to commit for as long as it takes to pull all the pieces together. The movie audience is a collective animal. The attention span is short, and it has to be stroked to some extent.”
“What does that mean in practical terms?” Warren asked.
“Well, for one thing, the title has to go,” Beatty replied. “Not one person in a hundred will know who Scylla is. Also, we’ve got to manufacture some comedy. Abrupt changes of mood keep an audience on its toes, and the overall effect is heightened.”
“How do you feel about the ending?” Warren asked.
“I have no problem with it,” Beatty replied. “Riding off into the sunset is traditional and acceptable. What I hope to do is leave the audience split as to what happens to this guy and how he feels about what he’s done. In other words, everyone will be able to take his or her personal reaction to the film home with them.”
“You don’t have very much respect for the people who see your films,” Warren said.
“Untrue,” Beatty replied. “I just don’t think it’s fair to equate intellectual or psychological insights with two or three hours of sitting in the dark. Movies can raise questions, but any attempt to answer them invariably ends up in disaster. As you should well know, the important thing is to tell the story.”
“Okay,” Warren said, “a new title, some comedy, and an objective delineation of the action. I’ll give it a try.”
“Good,” Beatty said. “We’ll get to work.”
“Do I get to play the female lead?” Marjorie asked.
“Very possibly,” Beatty replied. “The main characters, Barry and Suellen, have to be able to play a twenty-year age range. I can still do that with Barry, I think, and I’ve been trying to come up with an actress who can do the same. You’re certainly a prime candidate. I take it you haven’t read the book.”
“No, but I will now,” Marjorie said. “This is getting to be a family affair: book by Warren Combs, starring Marjorie Combs, music soundtrack played by Tatiana Zevenko.”
“At least I’ll always know where all of you are,” Beatty said.
“Who’s going to produce this epic?” Marjorie asked.
“Touchstone Disney,” Beatty replied. “It looks like they want to buy the package.”
“Walt Disney!” Warren said.
Marjorie laughed. “Oh yes,” she replied. “They make a lot more than kiddy cartoons and dog stories these days.”
Tatiana stopped playing the piano and went to the back of the house. Moments later, she appeared in her white bathing suit and stood behind Marjorie’s chair munching a sandwich. “Is all the wheeling and dealing done?” she asked.
“Just about,” Beatty replied.
“And we have a surprise for you,” Marjorie said.
“What is it?” Tatiana asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” Marjorie replied.
“I’m going for a swim,” Tatiana said. “Would anybody like to join me?”
“It sounds like a good idea,” Beatty said, “but I didn’t bring a bathing suit.”
“You can use one of mine,” Warren said.
“Let’s do it,” Marjorie said, and they all withdrew to change into swimwear.
When they gathered again on the porch, Tatiana laughed. “Mr. Beatty,” she said, “those trunks are a little big on you.”
“They’re just fine,” Beatty replied.
“Last one in is a rotten egg,” Tatiana said, and she ran down the steps. The others followed after her, and they all dove into the surf.
Within days of his discussion with Beatty, Warren started to take notes on how he was going to put the screenplay together. Marjorie managed to get him two scripts that were considered particularly well made, Paddy Chayefsky’s The Goddess and Network, and he studied them to get some idea of how what he was about to do was supposed to look on paper.
On a chilly Sunday morning just before Christmas, he awoke alone in bed about seven-thirty and tossed off the covers. He noticed that the heat had kicked on for the first time since he’d been living there, and he put on his jeans and a denim shirt. Tatiana was off on one of her trysts, but Marjorie was there, and he went in search of her. He found her sleeping on a couch in her robe with a copy of Scylla’s Carnival on the floor beside her. She was in the living room under a potted palm, and the lamp was lit over her head. He poured himself a glass of orange juice in the kitchen and then went to the sliding glass doors and watched gusts of wind blow the sand around. Marjorie stirred and opened her eyes. They fell on him. “Warren, we have to talk.”
He came to her and smiled. “Good morning, my love. Would you like some juice?”
“Yes, thank you, I would,” she replied and sat up. He poured her a glass and then came back and sat beside her. She drank.
“What is it?” he asked.
She yawned and rubbed her arms. “I’ve been up all night. I finished your book. There’s something weird going on.”
“It is an unusual story.”
“No. It’s something else. I don’t understand it.”
“Give me a second,” she replied, and she looked up and switched off the light. They were engulfed in soft shadows. “When I was working in London, I slipped back to my old ways. I met a man I’d never seen before, and I tried to seduce him.”
“I don’t want to hear about it.”
“You must. It’s important. At least I think it’s important. I went to a party at the Hilton for Sydney Pollack’s new movie. When I arrived, a tall, handsome fellow in a tuxedo took my arm. I thought at first that he was working for Pollack, and I went with him. He told me that his name was Terry Vincent. Do you know him?”
“Jesus Christ,” Warren said. His stomach tensed, and he felt fear crawling up his neck. There was a moment of silence.
“I asked if you knew him.”
Warren sighed and collected himself. He gathered his defenses and planned hastily. “Sandy brown hair,” he said.
“Yes, and beautiful blue eyes.”
“He used to call himself Terence V. Brace,” Warren said. “Are you telling me you slept with Terence V. Brace in London?”
“No. “I tried, but he wanted no part of it.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“What was your relationship with this man?”
“I met him a few years ago. He told me the story of Scylla’s Carnival, and then he vanished. While writing the book, I went looking for him. That’s why I was in Maine and Iowa last summer, but I was never able to locate him.”
“I think the story in this book is true. You’ve changed it around some, but I think it actually happened.”
“It’s possible, but that’s really not my concern, is it?”
“I don’t think he’s going to like it when he sees what you’ve done.”
“It isn’t like that,” Warren argued. “He gave me the story, and he granted me permission to use it. I’ve disguised it enough so that even if it is true, nobody’s going to recognize it.” He was waiting for Marjorie to tell him that Brace claimed to have written the book and that he had stolen it, but she didn’t. He managed a smile. “Are you going to tell me what happened?”
“We were in the ballroom at a table with Pollack, Redford, and Streep when I suspected that he didn’t belong there. When I asked him, he freely admitted it and said that he was a wealthy independent investor. We danced, and I found him charming.”
“I’ll bet you did.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“I spent months trying to find this guy, and he didn’t want to be found. Then he showed up and romanced you. It’s infuriating. I don’t understand his game unless he’s just bent on driving me crazy.”
“After the party, he took me to a little Italian restaurant that was closed, but they knew him and let us in. We drank brandy and coffee by candlelight, and he told me that his wife was dead. He said that she’d been murdered over two years ago in Maine and that he had been wandering around the world ever since. I think he used the word aimlessly.”
“When you can, try to recall his exact words. He’s a cryptic bastard.”
“He said that five young roughnecks had forced him to watch while they violated and murdered his wife. He called her Stella. He described the way he met her, and it was exactly as you have it in the book. Then he said that he loved books. I told him that he sounded like you, and he told me he was a fan of yours and had read all your stuff. The way he put things, I came to the conclusion that he had killed the guys who had murdered his wife, but I didn’t want to believe it, so I put it out of my mind.”
“How did he behave through all this?”
“He was emotional and preoccupied, but he elicited my sympathy, and I gave it to him.”
“He was setting you up for sex.”
“No way. I told you that he had no intention of sleeping with me and didn’t.”
“Then what did he want?”
“I thought you might be able to tell me.”
“I only talked to the guy once in my life. How the hell should I know what he wants?”
“But your book has such insights into his personality. I thought you might be able to figure it out.”
“Maybe when I’ve heard more.”
“He asked me if I thought he would have been justified if he had killed those men, and I told him I didn’t know. He left a big tip in the restaurant, and then we went for a walk through Berkeley Square. I sang the song about the nightingale, and then he recited a wonderful poem that he said was written by John Keats.”
“Ode To A Nightingale, no doubt. He’s every inch the romantic he told me about.”
“Then he kissed me. I don’t think he would have done it if I hadn’t led him up to it. I was drunk and lonely, and he was a good looking guy out in the fog in London.”
“Spare me the editorial.”
Marjorie laughed. “Anyway, afterwards he was very ill at ease, and he said that there had never been anyone but Stella, as though he felt he was being unfaithful to her. He walked me back to the Dorchester and stopped at my door. He had no intention of coming in, but I pulled him into the room.”
“I’m sure you did.”
“I told him to get out of his wet clothes, but he wouldn’t. You should have seen him. He stood stock still in the middle of the room like a lost child. I finally convinced him, and we both put on robes and sent his clothes down to be cleaned and pressed. Then we had tea.”
“This is all very descriptive, but it’s like an outline. He must have said a lot more than you’re telling me.”
“Not really. He didn’t say much until later. While we were having tea, I came on very strong, and he started crying. ‘They’ve taken everything from me,’ he said. He meant his wife, the poor guy, and I consoled him.”
“With your tits out.”
She smiled. “It’s the best way I know of. After that, I made a mistake. Being drunk and all, I treated him like a stud-of-the-week, but he made it very clear that nothing was going to happen.”
Warren laughed. “Unbelievable. You took this hick town hermit who started out to do a number on you, and you knocked him sideways. I’m sure he didn’t know whether to shit or go blind.”
Marjorie giggled. “Yes, it was sort of like that. He poured himself another cup of tea and sat there is a daze. I felt sorry for him. I apologized for treating him like a piece of meat, and he forgave me. Then he loosened up. He said that the reason he wanted to get to know me was because of something between you and him, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was. He said that he had spoken to you only once. Then he said that it would be better for me to wait until everything was clear to talk to you about him. After that, I went to bed, and he lay next to me on top of the covers. I was exhausted, and I fell asleep right away. When I woke up, he was gone.”
“Madness,” Warren said.
“Yes, it would seem so, but, all in all, I don’t get it.”
“Neither do I.”
“I feel as though he set us both up.” Marjorie said. “Maybe he made it all up just to get in my pants, and then he changed his mind.”
Warren laughed. “Yes, that’s it. He told me the story in the first place just so he could get you into a compromising position.”
“Well what else? If he really did it, and he wanted to get caught, he could have just walked into a police station and confessed. If he really did it, and he wanted the world to know about it without getting caught, he could have just written a letter to the newspapers. My guess is that it’s all a lot of bullshit, and he’s just fucking with our brains.”
“Okay, if that’s so, what’s his motive?”
“There doesn’t have to be a motive behind everything people do,” she said. “Sometimes people just dream stuff up and do things for the hell of it.”
“Well, I’m not going to worry about it. The only thing that bothers me is what his warped mind is going to dream up next to tweak our noses.”
“I don’t understand why you didn’t tell me about this when you told me about the book.”
“And I don’t understand why you didn’t tell me about meeting him when you came back from England.”
Marjorie laughed. “If we told each other everything, we wouldn’t be able to stand each other.”
“That’s probably true.”
“What would you like for breakfast?” she asked.
“French toast might be nice,” he replied, and she went to the kitchen to fix it.
The rest of the winter went by without incident. When Marjorie told Tatiana that she might be playing the piano on the soundtrack of Beatty’s movie, she got excited about it and started practicing regularly. As a result, the house was often filled with beautiful music. Warren wrote the screenplay, and he and Beatty decided on Private Justice as a working title for it. The two men argued some about the changes that Beatty wanted, but the actor/director was very persuasive, and Warren relented most of the time. Rewrites were executed with dispatch once it was clear what was required, and, in the end, Beatty complimented Warren for his skill, discipline, and commitment to the project. They both felt as though it was going to be a successful movie.
Scylla’s Carnival, the novel, hit the market in May, and, as Rusty Goodman put it, it struck like a hurricane in Key West. The Danforth Company used all of its promotional wiles to pave the way for the arrival of its brightest hope, and the public and the critics responded with plaudits that exceeded even the most optimistic prognostications in the industry. Warren had installed his desk and swivel chair from New York in the smallest of the three bedrooms and made it his study. As the reviews came in from everywhere via a clipping service employed by Rusty Goodman, he set aside time in the early afternoon to read them there.
E.L. Doctorow wrote the following in the New York Times Sunday Book Review:
The noble themes in the literature of our time can usually be identified with invisible undercurrents in the culture that shape our behavior whether we are aware of them or not and despite our conscious or subconscious efforts to put them behind us or deny their powerful influence. Styron has delved into slavery and the holocaust, and Gaddis has explored fraud and historical inaccuracy, just to give two obvious examples. Mr. Combs can now be added to this list with his rendering of this computerized, electronic age as one that stifles the creative imagination and, by design, must annihilate love and affection to prevail. The unseen demons that Mr. Combs reveals are all around us, but like Styron’s ghosts and Gaddis’ fabrications, they take root in our souls without our consent. They are the radio waves in the air and the sterilizing circuitry that makes use of them. Mr. Combs’ main character attempts in vain to exorcize these cancerous projections by isolating himself and the woman he loves in a way station of art and sensible perspective. The tragic flaw in this worthy hero lies in his failure to perceive himself as a product of and therefore a part of the earthly progess of our species. The failure of his carefully constructed spiritual environment is as inevitable as the arrival of the gathering moonscape that surrounds him. Mr. Combs is to be commended for the rich and surprising tale that he has employed to make his statement, and there can be no doubt that his narrative will be read now and in generations to come with great interest. The faint tolling of John Donne’s bell in the background is a reminder to us all that the fatal gases we cannot breathe are not only in distant space. They are right here in our midst.”
Another notice struck a chord, and Warren re-read parts of it. It was from the Des Moines Register:
The most extraordinary aspect of Mr. Combs’ accomplishment is that at the very end one is left with the protagonist’s moral and ethical quandary. In a society devoid of compassion and justice, could the beastly destruction of his happiness have been correctly avenged within the system? Even if the savage creatures that had raped and murdered his wife had been apprehended by the civilization that had spawned them, would their trial and execution have been equal to the horror they had perpetrated? In a way, it is suggested that their extermination by the surviving victim of their savagery was more humane, indeed more in keeping with the tenets of the well from which all life originated. In contrast to this, the common law that at least sustains some semblance of order and harmony has clearly been violated. Mr. Combs’ narrator virtually cries out for our judgment, and even as a fictional character in a novel, he gets it from me. I strongly suspect that he will get it from you as well. Mr. Combs’ point is forcefully made. In a nation in which the government is regarded as untrustworthy, where the powerful are not brought to justice for their crimes, and where inequality and ignorance fill the jails to overflowing, we are bound to side with independent retribution, and that’s the saddest thing of all.”
Warren looked up from his desk. All the pieces finally fell together. Terry had vanished completely because he wanted the body of his wife to be dug up after the publication of the book. It would only intensify the sensation of the scandal if he were still at large, a fugitive from justice or injustice. The fact that he might be apprehended at any time would only inspire people to take sides for or against him. Warren was seized by utter frustration. “I’ve been a complete failure to you, Terry Brace,” he said. “I protected you when you didn’t want protection. I obscured you when you didn’t want to be obscured. I screwed it up from start to finish.”
Within weeks, Scylla’s Carnival had jumped to the top of the bestseller lists, and about ten o’clock one morning, Tatiana called Warren out of the hot tub to take a call from Rusty Goodman. He dried himself and picked up the receiver on his desk. “I’m here.”
Rusty laughed. “So you are. I’ve got some figures for you. They’ve been coming in for awhile, but I figured I’d wait until I had a significant number before calling you. You’d better get a pencil and paper. You’ll never be able to remember it all.”
“I’ve got a pad right in front of me, and the writing instrument is poised between my fingers.”
“You don’t have to be so efficient anymore,” Rusty said.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Warren replied.
“Alright, here goes. I got two hundred and fifty thousand from Book Of The Month and fifty thousand from Esquire for first serial rights. Now comes the good stuff, the foreign language rights. The limies are coming up with five hundred and twenty thou.”
“They don’t speak a foreign language in England,”
“Don’t be a smartass. Just write.”
“The frogs let go of two hundred and thirty seven thousand, the krauts, four hundred and ten thousand, the Japs, seven hundred thousand, the wops, one hundred and forty thousand…”
“The Italians are my people on my mother’s side. Don’t call them by denigrating names.”
“Fuck off. We’re getting seventy five thousand from Portugal, sixty-five from Israel, eighty from Holland, fifty-five from Sweden, and forty from Denmark. How am I doing so far?”
“You’re a fucking wonder. It’s beyond my comprehension.”
“There are more,” Rusty said, “but the offers aren’t firm yet, so I won’t bother you with them.”
Warren smiled. “It’s no bother at all.”
“Danforth isn’t going to come up with the five million for your next two books, but I think I’ll be able to get four out of them. That’ll mean two up front.”
“What am I going to do with all this money?”
“I don’t know, but I suggest you buy something very expensive. It will simplify the bookkeeping.”
“I could buy this house for two and a half million. They tell me it’s a bargain.”
“Sounds good. How do you like it out there?”
“It’s real tough. I take a walk on the beach every day, wash my Rolls Royce, listen to Tatiana play Chopin, and look at Marjorie almost every morning.”
“Poor baby. I’ll get back to you.”
Terry Brace awoke in yet another hotel room, but he had no idea where it was located. He sat up and looked at the menu on the side table. He was in the very posh Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles. Fear gripped him. He slept and dreamt on planes, and he had been on many of them in recent months. He asked himself if he was dreaming now. He rose quickly and opened the canvas bag containing his rifle. It was there as well as the typewriter, radio, and phonograph that he carefully packed with books as insulation when he traveled. An odd logic imposed itself. If he were dreaming in flight, he would know that the bag was in the baggage compartment of the plane and therefore not accessible to him in the dream. There was an absolute certainty that had become attached to these impulsive ruminations, and he relaxed. He remembered renting a car at the airport, and he looked in his pockets and found the keys and a receipt. He looked at his watch. It was eight-thirty. He opened the blinds to see sunshine. It was morning. He showered and shaved, and his certainty of not being in a dream state wavered precariously. He remembered having rented a white Ford Taurus, and he looked again at the receipt. It was indeed a white Ford Taurus. He dressed in recently laundered khaki slacks, a polo shirt, and new sneakers. His confidence restored, however temporarily, he emptied everything out of the canvas bag except the rifle and a loaded clip, slung the bag over his shoulder, and went down to the coffee shop for breakfast.
About two hours later, Terry pulled the white car over on the shoulder of the road that ran along the top of the cliff above Warren’s house in Malibu. The area was overgrown with very high weeds, and by the time he brought the car to a stop, it was virtually invisible to passing motorists. He took his bag and sat in the shade of a sand dune with the sun behind him. He stared down at Warren’s house and started weeping. He told himself that the reason he was weeping was because he didn’t know how he had located Warren and Marjorie. He was sure they were down there, but he wanted to know how he knew it. It tormented him that so much of his life had become a complete blank. He sat motionless. He stopped weeping. He saw the yellow Rolls in the carport. He could not see the front of the house. After awhile, he saw a tall and beautiful blonde girl in a bikini running toward the surf and diving into it. It was hot. He was perspiring, but he didn’t mind. It struck him that Warren and Marjorie were of no importance to him. His experiences with them were fading from his memory because they were part of a life that he had never wanted for himself or Stella. Now that Stella was gone, there was no life for him anyway. He asked himself if he should kill them, but no answer came to him. He opted to wait until they showed themselves to decide. His mind seemed to stop functioning. Perhaps this was a dream after all. He felt himself slipping into what he perceived to be a deep sleep. He waited for Stella, but she did not come. He knew that something was delaying her arrival, but he did not know what it was. He did not see Warren or Marjorie that day, and when night came, he was roused from his stupor by the weather. It had grown windy and cool, and he was shivering. He took his bag back to the car and started the engine and heater to warm himself. He sat there for a long time with the motor running. A thought came to him, and he laughed out loud. “This cannot be a dream,” he said to no one. “People do not get hungry in dreams.” He was not sure that the idea was true, but he put the car in motion to go in search of something to eat.
He returned to his lookout the next morning. The yellow Rolls was not in the carport. He asked himself what he was doing there. If Warren and Marjorie were of no consequence to him, why was he waiting for them to appear? It came to him that he had brought them into his life by writing the book in the first place. He had imposed himself on them rather than the other way around. He had brought all this upon himself. They might have behaved dishonorably toward him, and Warren had certainly violated Stella’s memory by rewriting the book, but Warren’s actual theft of the text didn’t really seem to matter to Terry. If only Warren had managed to get the book before the public without distorting the events beyond recognition, he thought. The concept of recognition heaved about in Terry’s mind, and, all at once, he knew why he had to kill Warren and Marjorie. They were the wall between himself and Stella, and once they were gone, she would come to him. The corruption that they had inflicted on him after he’d sent Warren the manuscript had to be cut out like a cancer before she would show herself. He took the rifle out of the bag, assembled it, and waited. Somebody was playing a Chopin waltz on the piano. It was lovely. He waved his fingers in time with the music. He danced with Stella in his mind’s eye, but she was less than an apparition, little more than a distant memory. He remembered that they had waltzed together at a ball, and then he knew it had been in a dream. Stella had never walked. He had carried her. He ached for the weight of her body in his arms. He waited.
The Danforth Company set up a series of television interviews for Warren on network and PBS talk shows. As he was unaccustomed to performing, he often took Marjorie along with him to build his confidence and fill in the gaps. The television and publishing people were overjoyed with the unexpected addition of a major celebrity, and she proved very adept at fielding difficult questions and providing humor and sex appeal to the format. The most interesting half hour was spent with Bill Moyers who seemed to have actually read the book, and, as was consistent with his nature, liked to hear himself talk. About half way through the discussion, he wiped his glasses and looked pensively into the camera. “While I was reading the book,” Moyers said, “I was reminded of a couplet from Eliot’s The Waste Land. ‘I think we are in rats’ alley/where the dead men lost their bones.’”
“Yes,” Warren agreed, “the metaphor that Eliot was probably implying is certainly appropriate.”
“Rats’ alley is a fascinating place,” Marjorie said, rolling her eyes. “We go there whenever we’re invited.”
Warren and Moyers laughed. “All kidding aside” Moyers said, intent on making his point, “most of our values come to us from our ancestors. Like their bones, their ideas stay on after they’ve perished. Scylla’s Carnival suggests that these bones or ideas have been lost in the pace and complexity of modern life.”
“Such was at least partially my intention,” Warren replied.
“What else did you intend?” Moyers asked.
“Only to tell a good story,” Warren replied.
“Once upon a time, Barry Fields lived with his crippled wife by the seashore,” Marjorie said.
When the interview was over, Warren and Marjorie drove back to Malibu in the late afternoon in the Rolls with the top down. It was warm and sunny and the middle of June, and the traffic was heavy on the Pacific Coast Highway. As Warren backed the car into its berth under the carport, Terry Brace could see them clearly from his perch in the high weeds at the top of the cliff. He loaded a clip in the M1 rifle and took aim. Warren and Marjorie got out of the car and joined hands. They turned to make their way around the house when the first shot rang out. The bullet entered just above Marjorie’s right ear and came out through her left cheekbone. Warren recognized the sound, and, as Marjorie’s body collapsed, he pivoted and looked up. The crack of the second shot filled the air, and the bullet struck the center of his forehead and exited at the nape of his neck. He dropped beside his ex wife. Terry Brace calmly unloaded the weapon, broke it down into three main parts, and put it away in the canvas bag. He zipped up the bag, rose to his feet, and walked away. Tatiana was sunbathing on the porch at the time, and she heard the gunfire. She ran to the scene, and when she saw what had happened, she tried to cry out, but no sound came from her mouth. She trotted in a tight circle around her dead companions.
Warren and Marjorie were laid to rest together in Forest Lawn. The headlines that followed their demise caused a mob to show up at the cemetery gates, but there were security guards to keep them away from the burial site. The funeral was attended by Warren’s elderly mother and stepfather and Marjorie’s entire family. Also on hand were Fred Traylor, Norton Poster, Noel Otis, Rusty Goodman, and Philip and Wendy Jefferson. There were a number of luminaries from the film colony, and Victor Whelan and Warren Beatty supported Tatiana as the caskets were lowered into the ground. Tatiana remained silent and numb throughout the ceremony.
To this day, the movie of Scylla’s Carnival has not been made, but rumors abound that Beatty will be ready to go into production at any moment.
The morning after the double homicide, Terry Brace awoke in his room at the Bel Air Hotel. He shuddered at the recollection of what he thought was a dream in which he had slain Warren and Marjorie. “This is getting out of hand,” he said to himself. “I’m going to have to get some help.” He went to the door to pick up the newspapers. Their daily delivery was a service of the fashionable establishment. When he sat by the window to read them, he saw that his dream was a reality. He rose and took the rifle out of the bag. He smelled the barrel and knew that it had recently been fired. He assembled the weapon and placed one round in the chamber. He placed the muzzle into his mouth and was reaching for the trigger when he caught sight of Stella approaching him in her wheelchair.
“Don’t do it,” she said. “I’ve come for you.” He put the gun down and smiled at her.
Terry was discovered later that day by the room service maid. He was seated erect, fully dressed, in a straight-backed wooden chair. His eyes were wide open, and there was a broad grin on his face. The rifle lay on the floor beside him. The police came and then the ambulance. It was determined that he was still alive, but he had withdrawn completely from the external world. He was taken away.
The rifle was analyzed, and Terry was connected to the murders of Warren, Marjorie, and the five men in the motel in Maine. Nobody ever made the connection between Scylla’s Carnival and the rest of the facts, so Stella’s body was never exhumed. Terence V. Brace has been transferred from one mental institution to another, but no one has ever been able to establish contact with him. He and Stella have finally found perfect contentment behind the impenetrable shield of his insanity, and there they live, happily ever after.
Causes Kenneth Brown Supports
Adherence to the Constitution of the United States as written and the prosecution of those who violate Constitutional Law.