Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Cat's Christmas on Mars




Deathdogs, flamingos and flying bisons soar over immense herds of wildebeests.  The animals of the plain flock together forming a phalanx as the page is turned.

     The cat, a golden tabby, looks up and flips another page with its paw.  Casting a wary glance at its masters who doze turkey-sodden by the Christmas tree in the adjoining room, the cat moves its paw into the picture and with a quick claw movement plucks out a wildebeest.  The beast frets.  Its heaving chest pulsates as the cat flips it into the air, then holds it to the carpet with one paw as it looks away seemingly disinterested.  The panic-spawned bellows are as the sound of gravel rolling on tiled floors.  The cat lifts the bovine creature to its eyes and sniffs the smell of the high grass and terror-induced sweat.  The cat's eyes widen as its paws squeeze imperceptibly causing the animal's shrieks of panic to turn into moans of death agony.  The tiny ribs creak and bend and finally break until the small bit of fur vomits and excretes bits of blood and waste over the floor.  With a sniff, the cat bats the crushed, mutilated carcass back into the confines of the photograph.  The two-dimensional universe is returned to normal as a pack of jackals, spurred on to unnatural voracity and courage by the smell of blood, disperse the herd of stunned wildebeests, and leap with maddened blood hunger on the carcass.

     The gift books scattered about room show pictures of a place called Earth that over the centuries had suffered such radiation degradation that it had to be abandoned.  New mutations were cropping up constantly.  Few realized that mutations could be psychic as well as physical.

     The cat thrusts its muzzle into another photograph and grabs an elephant between its teeth.  Looking around guiltily he runs to a corner to masticate his prey. 

     The cat notices the boy, tow-headed in a new blue cardigan, come into the room and kneel over a book.  With tweezers the boy pulls an air bison from the pages.  The bison flits frantically on the tweezers while the boy inspects the beast.  The child's grip loosens however and the bison flies irratically around the room.  The cat leaps and within seconds is crunching bones between his teeth.  "Good Kitty," laughs the boy and pats the cat's head.

     "Here Kitty, you'll like this," the boy says.  He opens a book entitled The World of Disney and reaching in with tweezers he pulls out a black bipedal mouse wearing white gloves and red shorts with large black buttons.  He drops the mouse to the carpet and it scurries toward a corner.  But the cat is immediately upon it.

     The boy laughs and picks up another book.  Its title is The Night Before Christmas.  The boy turns to a page showing a jolly, fat man in a red suit.  The cat looks on hungrily.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 32


Next morning, I was up early, nursing a post celebratory hangover.  I hadn’t celebrated with anybody but Lex, who had joined in with three dishes of beer before falling into a noisy snoring sleep.  I was downing coffee and aspirin when the phone rang.  It was Pat Kennedy.  He was on the boil.

“Of all the irresponsible journalism you’ve ever foisted on your reading public, this has got to be the worst,” he barked.

“I didn’t know you read The Inquistor,” I said, cheerfully.

“Well, a copy ended up on my desk this morning and I couldn’t believe the puke I was reading.  How dare you speculate on all these loose connections.”

“I’m betting there’s more than a grain of truth to what I wrote,” I said.

“Betting is for the horsetrack, not for speculation on unsolved felonies.  You’ve set our investigations back weeks, not to mention abusing the public trust.”

“The public trust is something that should not exist.  Everyone should question what they read.  And I have no doubt that if you follow up on what I’ve theorized in my piece that your investigation will accelerate toward confirming what I’ve speculated.”

“You seem awfully sure of yourself.”

“Maybe I’m not publishing such unfounded speculation after all.”

There was a dead silence.  Then, “Who’s the movie producer?”

“I’ll have to get back to you on that,” I said.  “I’ve got to see what kind of death threats I get today, then maybe I’ll slip that to you.”  I hung up.


*  *  *  * 


The phone was still warm when it rang again.

“Good day, Mr. Holcomb.  I read with interest your story in today’s Inquisitor…”

     “Who’s calling please?”

     “My name is Ste. Germaine.”

A wave of hangover nausea swept through me and I sprang sweat all over my body.  “How may I help you Mr. Ste Germaine.”

“I would like to meet with you to discuss some matters that might interest you.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Ste. Germaine, but I make it a policy never to meet with readers.  It’s just a matter of personal security.”

“Put Lex on the phone.”

My sweats notched up a few pints per second and my knees threatened to give out.  “How do you know about Lex?”

“Lex and I have known each other for years, Mr. Holcomb.”

“What?  You want me to put a cat on the phone to you?”

“That’s correct.  His conversation is more intelligent than most humans I have met.  Plus, I think he is one of the few character references you would believe.”

I felt  as if I had just swigged a bottle of bourbon and it was rolling into my head.

Lex was staring at me.  Hell, why not?  I put the receiver to his ear.  I could hear muttering over the line then that gutteral snore that was Lex’s purr rolled through the room.  He languidly closed his eyes and his paws started to make the milking motion in air that cats make when they are luxuriant.

I pulled the earpiece back to my own head.  “You seem to have a friend.”

“And, I’m proud to say, I have had for a number of years.  We must get together and you must bring Lex.”

“It’s easier if you come over here, Lex can’t really sit in a cafĂ©.  Or we could come to wherever you live.

“When you have lived as long as I have, you find that you need no residence, no fixed address.  Why don’t we meet in Griffith Park?”

“Uhm, well, because last time I was to meet somebody there, they ended up dead and I was attacked by coyotes.”

“I can assure you, Mr. Holcomb, that when you are with me, no one will be in danger.  Still, I can understand your caution.  There is a pull-off about 17 miles south of Venice Beach.  There is a path down the cliff to some rocks known as Devil’s Dive.  Meet me there at eleven tonight and bring Lex.”

The phone clicked off before I could whine about the inconvenience.  I let out a sigh and grabbed the bottle.

“Lex, you better be a good judge of character, otherwise your Dinty Moore gravy train could come to an end.”

Lex turned his rear end and flipped his tail at me, then went to his dish to prepare for his morning nap.


*  *  *  * 


He sat hunched on a rock.  The wind rippled a dark scarf and longish white hair.  As I got nearer, I saw a gaunt face leathered by too much life.  He turned to me and smiled.  He was smoking a small cigar and smoke plumed from his nostrils.  His eyes had huge bags under them  Great parentheses carved around his mouth.  His nose was rough, pitted, pebbled, his forehead crosshatched.  In the wind, his hair whipped around this face of faces.  When he spoke, there was more whiskey and smoke in those pipes than in the roughest Mississippi Delta blues singer.

I held Lex in the chest of my windbreaker.  As cats will do, he poked his head out and back like a furry cobra,  sniffing the salt air, peering at the apparition before us.

“Mr. Ste Germaine....”

He glanced at me.  “Lex how are you, old friend?”

Lex squirmed in my jacket and leapt out to the jagged rocks at my feet.  He ambled over to Ste. Germaine and sat, the perfect image of those Egyptian cats, Baal or Bastet or something. Ste Germaine made no move to pet him, nor Lex to brush against him.

He stared at Lex, their gazes locking.  He ignored me.  Every few seconds, one of their heads would nod.  There was a communication going on there that I would never be able to unscramble.  After about five minutes of this, Lex’s tail lifted and he scampered up the rocks and faded into the twilight.

“Lex, come here,” I shouted.

Ste. Germaine looked at me and waved his hand in dismissal.  “Do not concern yourself, Mr. Holcomb.  Lex can take care of himself while you and I converse.”

“Mr. ....”

“Actually, it’s Comte.  But just call me Ste. Germaine,” he said, pronouncing it Sinjermin.  C’mere Lex.”

Lex stayed where he was, but his head bobbed forward and back and he closed his eyes sniffing the winds.  “That’s right, Lex.  I smell old.  It happens.”


“Ste. Germaine,” he said, with that strange pronunciation.  “Like when they name a kid St. John and they pronounce it Sinjin.  It’s easy.  Sinjermin.

“Cigar?” He held one out.  It seemed to materialize in his hand.

“What the fu...,” I said.  I took it, put it in my mouth and it was lit.  I puffed on it.  I was’t much of a smoker.  But, I was getting used to the top of my head flying into the stratosphere.  So might as well shoot the moon.

“How may I help you,” I asked.

“Holcomb, I believe I knew your great-great-great-grandfather.  He was a moderately successful pig farmer in Essex in the 1700s.”

I was impressed.  “That’s correct.  We can trace my family back seven generations.”

“Share a glass?”  He held out a snifter of brandy.

“You’re good,” I said.

“Not really,” he said and pulled back the heft of his coat to reveal a heavy bottle half full and another glass resting on a flat piece of rock.

I tugged on the snifter.  “Well...”

“I read the papers the other day after I heard some conversation in a restaurant.  I never read the papers because I consider them all too impossibly stupid and biased.”

“You must love my career...”

“Some of your work is amusing.”

“Gee, thanks.  What’s the upshot?”

“The point I wish to make is that I am tired, Holcomb.  That I wish to do some good before I give up this game.”

“Good? I’ve heard you are evil incarnate.”

“Yes, I’ve done more evil than probably any man on this planet, but that was a long time ago and the difference between good and evil is that good has less consequences to answer for.  I’ll defend every child I killed in its crib, every family I left fatherless, every man whose mind I left destroyed.  Yes, I can conjure daemons.  Yes, as Crowley bragged, I have passed to the other side.  But Crowley was not around long enough to gain true understanding.”  He flipped his hand, banishing the matter.

Lex wandered back and stood sniffing the tidal scents beside where I sat.  “So if I were to believe what I’ve heard of you, I take it you’re two millennia old.”

“And not in bad shape for my age,” he said, baring teeth the color of mahogany.

“I suppose the question to ask someone of your age is if you believe in a God.”

“Yeah, that’s always a popular question.”  He sat and smoked as the silence wound out like silken kite cord.


“Of course there is a God, Mr. Holcomb.  It was his Son who cursed me with this life.  I was a Jewish doorkeeper in the judgement halls of Pontius Pilate. I witnessed the trial of Christ.  My name was Caraphilus.  I went out to see the spectacle when Jesus carried his cross to Calvary.  When the poor man stopped to rest I stepped up to him and told him to hurry on to his punishment, mocking him as King of the Jews with his crown of thorns. 

“The Messiah, the most powerful man to ever live and I, in my ignorance, mocked him on his way to his unjustified execution.”  Ste. Germaine shook his head.  “I had never seen eyes like those, full of pain, disappointment and, yes, Christ knew vengeance.  His eyes flared and in them I could see the fires of Hell and he snarled at me.  “I will go now, but thou shalt wait until I return.”  He shouldered his bloody cross and the centurions shoved me back in the crowd.

“I watched the crucifixion for an hour or so, but got bored and wandered away to my wife and son.  Christ took six hours to die.  And the skies darkened in midday.  And we all knew that justice had been miscarried that day and that there would be Hell to pay.  I feared most of all for myself because of my stupid arrogance and cruelty.

“I was 45 years old then.  I watched my good wife grow old and die.  I watched my son grow from 10 to 80 and die.  And I remained for all visible purposes 45 years old.  Time had stopped for me and me only.  Christ’s vengeance was that I should walk the Earth until his Second Coming.  With those I loved gone and eternity staring blankly at me, I leapt from a tall building and dusted myself off, suffering no injury.  I waded into the Sea of Galilee and washed ashore two days later, alive and well.  So, leaving all that I had, I began to walk and became known as the legendary Wandering Jew.  I found that I did not have to eat and, as the years went by, that I was accumulating vast knowledge.  Having no question of Christ’s demonstrable power and hence little doubt of his Father’s existence, I spent years in monasteries, llamasteries, ashrams and the like.

Inevitably, I ventured into the occult knowledge of the ages and to accumulate power and wealth I became fully committed to the Dark Arts.  Like accomplishing anything in life, the Dark Arts require sacrifice, though perhaps more extreme than less, shall we say, rewarding pursuits.  I killed, I slaughtered with Vlad the Impaler.  I plotted and betrayed.  I destroyed lives with schemes.  I grew wealthy and I kept all of my wealth in gems.  In the court of Louis IV, I was well known.  I was arrested for spying in London by Horace Walpole during the Jacobite revolution.  I taught Mesmer the simple art of hypnotism....” His voice drifted off into the wind. “.... Yeah, yeah, I’m such a big deal, despised of Christ.  And as to your earlier question, I am entirely convinced of the truth of God and the reality of eternal damnation.

“You see, Holcomb, God is order and everywhere this order is evident from a mother giving birth, to the eagle catching the salmon, to the baleen whale sifting kril through its ?  Evil is disorder.  Cancer cells multiplying too fast.  An adult male who wants to force sex on a child.  A mercenary killing for money....  Yeah, there’s a God and there’s a God damned.”

“And you’re him.”

“When you see, in reality, how tightly and inflexibly the string is drawn between what is good and what is damnable, you’ll know I’m far from alone.  Although I’m sad to say I’m probably in the Top 40.”

“Which is why you want to help me...?”

Ste. Germain raised his eyebrows.  “Come now, Holcomb.  Do you really think I’m that altruistic.  I’m not trying to save my soul.  That was a lost cause long ago.  I’m after vengeance and property.”


*  *  *  * 


Ste. Germaine had ugly eyes.  He locked them into mine or looked away with equal power. One look was intimidation, the other, dismissal.  Both modes gave me a low-grade nausea as if the pupils of those eyes might skin back and give me a glimpse into the fires of Hell.  I felt soiled to be in this being’s presence.  From behind me, I heard a rustling and Lex—big, healthy, good Lex—bobbed his head under my hand.  It seemed entirely incongruous, as I was consorting with this paradigm of evil, that my cat wanted to be petted.  And then I knew.  Lex was my cat, always had been and always would be.  And with him on my side, I need not fear the paractitioners of dark arts.  I scratched behind his ears and he rubbed his head into my palm.  I lifted my eyes to Ste. Germaine’s.  That lizardskin face pulled into a semblance of a smirk.  “I’m jealous, Holcomb.  Lex is a wonderful friend to have and his obvious affection and stewardship for you reinforce my hunch that you are the one I need to partner with in order to retrieve my purloined property.”

“What did you lose?”

“Have you ever heard of the Mandylion?”


“It is also known by the Greek name Achieropoietos.”

“You lost a dinosaur?”

Ste. Germaine smiled, weakly.  “No.  The Mandylion is the oldest known portrait of Jesus Christ.  It means the little handkerchief.  Achieropoietos means not made by human hands.  There was a king of Edessa, now Urfa in Turkey, who was a leper.  Hearing of the Christ’s miraculous healings, he sent a servant to Galilee to persuade Jesus to come to Edessa to heal him.  King Abgar knew that his man, Hannan, might not be successful, so he asked the man to paint a portrait of Jesus, if that were all he could bring back.  Being in awe of the great man, who was busy preaching to a large group, Hannan could not paint accurately.  When he noticed the man’s distress, Jesus asked for water and washed his face and wiped it with linen that perfectly preserved his image.  Hannan returned, Abgar was cured and the Mandylion was the city’s most precious treasure.  When Edessa was under Moslem rule, the Byzantines stole the relic and took it to Constantinople.

“In 1204, an army of Crusaders plundered the city.  One of that number was me.  I had visited the city previously and went straight for the room where the Mandlylion was kept.  Sometimes framed, sometimes rolled, it traveled with me for centuries—in saddlebags and steamer trunks.  It decorated secret shrines in various of my residences.  It gave me power.  Power just in possessing it.  Obviously, if a ritual required desecration, this icon would make it the most powerful spell ever.  I respected it.  I never abused it or used it in ceremony.  It was for me alone to stare at the face of the God who was man who had set me on my bizarre and endless journey.  That familiar face that had haunted my dreams for centuries.

“Then, in 1953, I was living in Buenos Aires, getting away from a conflagration in which I had taken part —you know the one.  I was the subject of a manhunt and international persecution.  I had gone for a brief pilgrimage to Macchu Picchu for restoration and meditation.  When I returned to my castle-like mansion, I went to the shrine and the Mandylion was gone.  I felt violated, raped and ruined.  I had not left the relic unguarded and I knew that it could only have been taken by a master sorcerer.  Psychic defenses had been contravened, guardian spirits circumvented.  There was a pall of evil left in my house.  My servants had been slaughtered, my beloved dogs eviscerated.  I vowed vengeance, however my anger was tempered by pure fear, for whoever had the image would likely not respect it the way I had, but might use it for a spell so powerful it could crack the globe.  To who knows what ends.  I was terrified.

“When I had gathered my senses, I began to call in my resources, which over the years have grown to be considerable.  I had, of course, heard of other immortals, but, call it ego, I had never sought any out.  The few I had accidentally met were crazed vampires, or outsiders, little people and discombobulated spirits.  All, incidentally, crazy as shithouse rats, not a rational man among them.  I had heard inklings from the early part of the 18th century of a brotherhood of illuminati who were trying to create what would now be called a database of the characteristics, powers, life histories and locations of these beings.  In 1954, figuring I would be persona grata there, I contacted the organization, The Brotherhood of Thoth.  They, quite kindly, though undoubtedly out of self interest, set one of their men on the trail of my Mandylion.  Through a combination of his efforts and later through friends such as Crowley and the Golden Dawn, I heard by 1956 of a mad shaman and powerful sorcerer known as Hoxhok.  Though, despite much investigation, he remained merely a rumor, a number of circumstances point to him as the most likely thief of my property.  When you enquired of LaVey, saying that you had observed Hoxhok in an actual rite, I was notified.  And now, Holcomb, how is it that you with your notepad and pen have located him and I with considerably more invested in scouring the earth for him, have not?  Well, luckily, it does not matter, for I have located you and because of that brand on your shoulder and the protection it has offered you, I believe you owe me.”  The corners of his mouth twitched up into his cheeks for a second, then fell back into his flat emotionless expression, the attempted smile’s purpose of demonstrating friendliness done.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 31

In the morning, as I shaved, I noted with some satisfaction that my mustache might actually be called a mustache now.  I felt a burning from my arm and noticed that my slave mark had reddened during the night.  It was hot to the touch and I washed it with some alcohol and covered it with a bandage to avoid it chafing against my clothes.

     I had no idea what I was going to do as far as this whole occult issue.  But, it had been eating into my job hours.  So, I did what any good journalist, even one of my caliber, would do.  I went into the office, sat down at the typewriter and over the course of the morning wrote a three-thousand word feature on the issue, lashing together all my loose ends with the speculations that had been flailing around untethered in my subconscious.  By noon, I had quite a story, involving an unnamed prestigious moviemaker who was a Satanist poohbah, his vampish moll, the ritual preparation for the Feast of Hermaphrodite, the abduction and branding of a young private investigator (I didn’t want to get myself involved), ancient lore requiring child sacrifice as an emollient to the daemons and the unidentified human remains found in a park at LaBrea and Franklin.  And I implied that a reporter who had gotten too close to the source had ended up dead, as did his ex-ladyfriend.  I mentioned no names.  Just that Los Angeles should be on the look out for some secret ceremony somewhere nearby on the night of November 28th.

     I handed it in to Hy and went across the street for a Reuben sandwich while he edited it.

     As I was wiping my mouth, Hy sat down across from me.  He ordered a coffee, folded his hands and stared across at me.  I felt my stomach sinking.  He was going to kill the piece.  Too many informed sources, not enough proper attributions.  Too macabre for even our audience.  Too much speculation.

     “What’d you think of your piece?” he asked.

     “I thought it was a serviceable piece, exciting in its own way, the sort of offal that our shark readership would gobble up.  Why, what’d you think?”

     He stared balefully at me.  And ran his hands over his hound-wrinkled face and sighed.  “Y’know, you’ve been on waivers the last few weeks.  I didn’t think your stuff had zap.  I thought you were getting soft and complacent --sleeping with movie stars, farting through silk.  But, this piece really hums.  I think it’s the best thing you’ve done in years.  We’re going to publish it page one tomorrow and L.A. is going to be quaking in fear.  We’ll sell a zillion issues.  I’ve added an extra press run.  There’s real passion in that piece.  I had to cut a bit that was litigious, but we’re running it almost full length as you wrote it, with me having turned your punctuation into something the rest of the world could understand, of course.”

     I was bowled over.

     “But, and this is a big but, you know that if this comes out, you will be putting yourself at risk.  Even if you want me to kill your byline, it’s still going to rain shit on us for a while.  Are you up to it?”

     “Sure, I’ve been shit on by the best.  I’m willing to take the chance.”

     “Good.  So am I,” he said, picking up my lunch bill.  “Let me get this.”  He got up, leaving me sitting there, shocked and elated.  Wondering what can of worms would spring open tomorrow when the paper hit the streets.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 30


Later that night, feeling metabolically mellow, but sexually frustrated, I wove my way home.  Lex greeted me with a throaty arpeggio.  He sniffed my torn pantleg and hissed.  "Lemme tell you about a nasty female cat I met." Muttering out the story, I fixed him some Dinty Moore and poured him a saucerful of beer.  I went out on the balcony to see if the girls next door were out.  The brunette and the redhead were out smoking cigarettes.  They had retired their bathing suits for the day and were dressed in pants and light sweaters.

      I made some small talk, but I could feel the cocaine wearing off quickly, giving way to the wine in my system and the beer I was drinking.  My knees were going soft on me and my lids were drooping.  I went inside and stripped and dropped into bed.  Lex came to keep me company and set himself on my chest for optimum petting.  Then, as was his habit, he nuzzled his nose into my slowly returning mustache.  I drifted into sleep with the odd sensation that I was inhaling his exhalations and he mine.

     Blame it on the drugs, I suppose, but that night I had disturbing dreams.  A man dressed in a long black trenchcoat walking through darkened streets of different cities, different centuries.  A man laughing as he watched people in mortal conflict.  His drawn aristocratic face etched with the character lines of cruelty.  And flames, cities and homes burning.  Their people crying out in despair and sorrow.  The screams of children and mothers.  Of fathers and husbands who had betrayed them.  A phantasm of naked grotesque bodies, coiling and slithering, their loins burning with need, yet no cessation of yearning, no calm. And central to it all: this pallid sickly god thing, its priapic organ throbbing and surging, its vagina clenching and questing like a hungry sea anemone.  Its head lolling weakly on its sloping shoulders.  Its dugs, modest but so round and firm, sweat-shining nipples painfully arching upward.  A thing whose sex parts were thriving while the rest of the body wasted.  And coursing through the corners of my dream screen, the eternal man skulking, leering, gesticulating, urging me to join him.  But, in that sourceless logic of dreams, I knew that if I went to him all would be lost.  Yet the urge to abandon everything was intensely seductive.  Abandon petty morality and convention and surrender to a never-ceasing abandonment to the sensual and sinful.  And in that dream, I saw Lex, an emaciated, battle-scarred Lex, crying out in pain, but lunging through the flames to attack the eternal man who always seemed to recede just further in the distance.  And Lex’s fur burned and his flesh bubbled and his head tossed from side to side in agony, yet he plunged on into the hell and snarled at the god thing that lay pustulent and beckoning in his path.

     And I awoke, sweat drenched and nauseated.  I flapped my hand around on the coverlet and found Lex snuggled in beside me.  When I touched him, he let out a sleepy trill, wondering what was going on.  I pulled his large muscular body to me and he began his reassuring purr.  And I told myself, he’s only a cat, but that was enough at that moment.  And I hugged him close and noticed that tears were falling from my eyes into his ebony fur.  And he looked at me with those mysterious golden eyes and nuzzled into my sweaty neck and fell asleep again.  As I did too, momentarily.

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 29


I decided to pay an unannounced call on Betty.  The bookstore clerk’s comment about a star-quality woman with black hair and big sunglasses had set my cogs to turning.  I had the smallest nub of a plan.  I was going to bring up a story I was working on that Joan Crawford might be a hermaphrodite.  The word hermaphrodite rhymes with bite, while the name Hermaphrodite has a long “e” on the end, like Aphrodite or Ol’ Blighty.  If I kept gabbling on about hermaphrodites, maybe Betty would let on what she knew.  If anything.

     Betty’s lawn needed a trim and gave yellow evidence of not having been watered in a while.  It didn’t surprise me.  I hadn’t really pictured Miss Pain as much of a domestic type.  What the hell did a domina do all day, anyhow?

     The neighborhood was quiet, not a soul out in the sun.  I knocked and heard a shuffling come from inside.  The drawn venetian blinds clicked by the door.  Then the door opened.  Betty stood there holding what looked to be Lex.

     “What are you doing with my cat,” I gasped.

     She smiled.  “This isn’t your cat.  This little kitty’s name is Celine and she’s a she.  C’mon in.”

     “That’s a huge cat for a female,” I said as I stepped into the cool of her living room.

     “Yes, she’s a big healthy kitty,” Betty said, nuzzling into the glistening black fur.

     “Where’d you get the cat?” I asked as Betty set Celine down on the floor where the cat stayed, eyeing me with slitted orbs.

     “A friend couldn’t keep it, so he gave it to me.”

     “Who’s that?”

     “Just a friend.  I do have friends, you know.  Now, would you like a cold glass of wine?”

     “That’d be great.”  As she walked out of the room, my eyes locked to the rear of her white shorts. I realized that angle of investigation had been summarily shot down.  I reached out for the cat, who took a few sniffs of my hand then grouchily batted it away.  “My cat, Lex, could beat you up,” I whispered to the cat.  Its ears flew back and it hissed at me, baring an ample set of fangs.

     “Leave the cat alone,” Betty giggled from the kitchen.

     She reentered the room holding two tall glasses of white wine.  She looked a wonder in a red and white checkered top tied above her navel.  Her black hair was pulled back in a ponytail.  Betty’s skin was creamy.  “So, what are you doing out here in Mom-and-Pop land?”

     I went into my spiel about working on the Joan Crawford story.  I watched her eyes carefully as I used the word hermaphrodite.  It did no good since she immediately started barking with laughter to an extent that I thought she was going to pass wine through her nostrils.

     “Joan Crawford has a vestigial penis!  Oh my, Danny, you have the job of the century.  Where do you get this crap?  Couldn’t she sue you blue over printing something like that?”

     This wasn’t going the way I planned it.  “Well, you know, it could be true.  Such creatures exist.”

     “I’ve seen just about every sort of messed up sex type in the world.  Guys with little ones, guys with ones that are too big, girls who wish they were guys, guys who are growing tits, but come fucking on.  Real hermaphrodites don’t exist.  You’re too weird, Dan.”

     “They existed in mythology.”

     “So did dragons and unicorns.”

     I panicked.  “Well, there’s supposed to be some big Satanist shindig some time this month where they’re going to try and create one.”

     “Get a date with Joan Crawford,” she chuckled.

     “Have you ever been to the occult book shop on Wilshire?”

     “No.  Why?”

     “There’s a guy there that looks just like LaVey.”

     “Whoopee!  They all want to look like him.  I’ve got clients that look like him.”

     “Hmmm, good wine.  Let’s have some more, shall we?”  I stood to do the honors and at that moment the damned cat leaped at my right ankle, burying her front claws in my leg and kicking frantically with her back claws.  When I felt her needle-sharp teeth sink into my calf, I let out a yelp.

     “Get this damn vampire off of me,” I shouted.  Betty lurched and struggled with the cat to no avail until she threw her wine on it.  Then Celine, hissed and bolted somewhere to the back of the house.

     “That is a vile beast you’ve got there,” I sighed, looking down at the runs in my good pants.  Then, lifting my cuffs, I saw trickles of blood.  “Look what it’s done to me!”

     “Settle down, I’ll get you a clean cloth and some Handi-Tapes.”

     Betty ministered to my wounds, which were not as bad as they had felt.  She tired of my deriding her new cat and soon we fell into a mellow silence, sipping our wine.

     “Wanna fuck?” she said, out of the blue.

     “I’m a bit strapped for cash.”

     “Oh well, let’s drink our faces off then.”

     “I wouldn’t want to bare my jewels never knowing when that cat might sneak up behind me and take a swipe.”

     “Hey, that’s not a bad idea.  Some of my clients might pay extra for that.”

     “It’s all about money for you, isn’t it?”

     “Yup, and don’t try to psychoanalyze me.  I enjoy sex, but getting paid for it is an integral part for me.”

     “You must have had sex without being paid for it.”

     “Not satisfactory sex.”


     “Might as well bring the bottle out here.  Got any of that nose candy?”


*  *  *  *  

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 28


I had noticed an occult bookstore downtown over the years.  So, I drove over there.  It was a typically gloomy place and the guy behind the counter obviously idolized LaVey and tried to look as much like him as possible.  The walls were covered floor to ceiling with books and there was a central glass table with a locked glass chamber so you could look at, but not touch, the most prized tomes. 

     “Do you have a book here that would tell me about Hermaphrodite?” I asked the ersatz LaVey.

     “Oh yeah.  There’s been a real run on those, recently.  Over here,” he said, getting off his perch.  He led me to a corner and pulled out a volume called Hermaphrodite: Unbound by Shah Ali Madrain.  “This is the most popular one,” he said.

     “When you said there’d been a run on material on this subject, how many customers are we talking about?”

     “Oh, a good couple of dozen.”

     “Why would there be a run on this subject?”

     “The Feast of Hermaphrodite is coming up, I suppose.  These things come in fads.  Before this season, we hardly sold any on this subject.  Some months everybody wants something on Pan.  Other times on Samhain.  It comes and goes.”

     “Anything you’ve noticed about any of these people?”

     “Nothing in particular, though one dame came in here with a big hat and dark glasses.  Could’ve been a movie star or something.”

     “What color hair?”

     “Jet black, knockout figure, spike heels, very nice,” he grinned a sickening faceful of leering man-to-man lust.

     “Did a black guy come in and buy anything.”

     “Now that you mention it, a black man did come in here and bought a very special old book on Hermaphrodite from the rare books case.  Why are you asking so many questions?”

     “I’m a screenwriter.  I pitched a script based on Hermaphrodite to a studio.  I’m just worried about people trying to steal my idea.”

     He nodded.  Well, that girl could have been in the film industry.  A few muscle boys came in too.  They might have been stunt men.”

     “That black guy, what did he look like?”

     “Oh I can’t remember that.  Black as strong coffee, normal size, normal clothes.  Obviously had dough though.  The book cost five hundred bucks.”

     “Must have been one hell of a book?” I gasped.

     “All of them in the glass case are special.”

     “Got another one?”


     “What was it called?”

     Arcanium Hermaphroditus.”

     “By who?”

     “The Comte Ste. Germaine.”

     “Who’s he?”

     “He is a being who surfaced in the 16th Century.  It is said he still exists, that he is the eternal man.  The most powerful of the adepts.”

     I thanked him for his time and bought the Hermaphrodite: Unbound edition.  “You really look a lot like Anton LaVey,” I said as I left.  He blushed and tried to stifle a pleased grin.


*  *  *  * 


I called LaVey from a payphone at a nearby tavern.  I asked him if he had the Comte Ste. Germaine book.  He did and said I could have the rare privilege of studying it in his library.

     I whipped right over.

     From LaVey’s demeanor, I knew a great honor had been bestowed upon me.  We sat at the library table and, with suitable pomp, LaVey opened a wooden box and withdrew a leatherbound tome.  “This edition is far more valuable than the one they had in that shop,” he announced.  “Turn its pages with care.”  He handed me a pair of thin cotton gloves.

     “Mr. LaVey, who is this author, Ste. Germaine?  The clerk gave me some cock-and-bull story about him being an adept who has lived for centuries.”

     Steepling his fingers, LaVey looked down the sharp planes of his cheeks at me.  “I have little doubt that, in a nutshell, that is true.  There have been many reliable reports of Ste. Germaine surfacing.  The one I put most store in is Lex’s.  He claims to have crossed paths with Ste. Germaine, several times.  I would say that man, or whatever he may be, would comprise one of the few chinks in Lex’s armor of fearlessness.  A man of consummate evil, Ste. Germaine has been at the root of many of the great horrors of the last four centuries.  There have been reports from, as those in your craft say, informed sources that have placed him at the Ford Theater on Abraham Lincoln’s fateful night and there is a great deal of information that he was a close associate of Hitler and Krepps.  He walks the world with all the leisure of an immortal and what unholy pacts he has made with the great forces to ensure his longevity can hardly be dreamt.  I have never, ever, claimed to have met Satan face to face and, perhaps, I have never wished for such.  However, legend tells us that Ste. Germaine has, in fact, had that honor.”

     “Would he be what they call the antichrist?”

     “No.  That would be too flashy a position for him.  He prefers to work behind the scenes, setting the clockwork gears in motion for men to sow their own damnation and agony.  The antichrist, who knows who that is?  Some believe he already came in the mid first century, as the Emperor Nero.  Others believe he was Napoleon, some even believe he is me.  According to the Bible, the third red heifer must be born in Jerusalem before the antichrist can be born.  And, as yet, there have been only two such births in the centuries since Christ’s death.  The antichrist remains, to my knowledge, something of immediate interest only to southern Baptist preachers.  I have studied the matter intensely and feel that we have nothing to worry about until the year 2012.  And you and I will be gone by then.  If suddenly we are wrenched from our graves to face the Final Judgement, I only hope we get a few years rest with the worms before having to toe the line again.

     “Ste. Germaine, however will be there in full bib and tucker, you can bet your soul.  What makes Ste. Germaine so horrifying is his connection to humanity, his lack of supernatural birth.  Some feel he is the only existing bridge between here and there.  I have been called the world’s greatest sinner and the most evil man alive, Mr. Holcomb.  Still, I would certainly rather meet Ste. Germaine than be him should the energies between the worlds be coursing through him constantly.

“Now, I have some experiments to work on.  Please feel free to stay here as long as you wish to study this book.  If you need anything, call Serena.”  Then he turned and added, with a bibliophile’s petulance.  “Although, I’m afraid I will not have you eating or drinking near that book.  And put the gloves on now.”

     “Of course,” I said, and that seemed to please him.

     In the course of the next hour, I learned of horrors the like of which I had not in my thirty-three years imagined.  I felt fearful just being in the vicinity of the tome, which seemed, after I gained some familiarity with it, to emanate vapors of yellow sulphorous evil.  The cult of Hermaphrodite could rival the Aztecs for sheer ritual bloodshed.  Hermaphrodite was a lesser god, hence, presumably, more amenable to communication with humans.  As the creature possessed the attributes of both sexes, it was to represent symbolically the polarity of the cosmos, good and evil, wisdom and ignorance, heat and cold, life and death and, most importantly, matter and spirit.  No wonder Ste. Germaine had been interested in it, for as LaVey had said of him, Hermaphrodite seemed a bridge between this world and another unseen.  And it seemed that bridge was constructed out of human bone and blood and suffering.

     The Comte Ste. Germaine recounted innumerable atrocities that he himself had committed to reach Hermaphrodite, however each attempt seemed to be doomed to peculiar failures.  However, I noted, the book was dated 1759.  An attempt since then may have met with success.

     Wearily, I rubbed my forehead and thought how screwy my brain had gotten.  I was now openly entertaining belief in alternate worlds, necromancy, daemons and a four-hundred-year-old mage.  And, though I had been in seedier places, I was sitting alone in the library of the world’s leading Satanist surrounded by one of the world’s largest collections of spook books.  Recently, I had contemplated shooting a man.  Occasionally, I slept with the world’s preeminent sex goddess.  I had a crush, maybe more than that, on a hooker who serviced the fetish trade.  Plus, I had a four-hundred-year-old cat who swirled into black mist and killed people.  As the cream on those strawberries, I made my living abusing the public trust and publishing patent lies about the rich, famous and beloved.

     I could live with the last part, but the rest was starting to rankle on me.

     I had grown used to seeing various renderings of this horrific god-thing with its legs splayed, showing both enormous male genitalia and a horrendous gaping female orifice, but when I turned the page, what I saw shocked me even more.

     There was a vile etching of what I could only think of calling a baby tree.  It was a huge oak, its branches twisted and contorted with some sort of innate malignity.  From dozens of the branches hung the bodies of infants, their skin streaked with trails of blood that dripped to the ground to be absorbed by the gnarled roots of this misshapen tree.  I quickly flipped the page to get this atrocity out of my sight, but what I found there was worse still.  A sketch of a bearded, sinister looking man with several babes stuffed under one arm while his other swung a child by its legs to smash its head on what appeared to be a rock altar.

     When a knock came at the door I almost leapt out of my skin.  LaVey glowered through the crack of the doorway.  “You have been at it for over an hour.  I was wondering how you were doing.”

     I licked my lips to get some moisture back into my mouth.  “I, I’m horrified.  The rituals for calling up this hellspawn are savage beyond all reason.”

     LaVey moved into the room and took his favorite black leather armchair.  As was his custom he steepled his fingers and stared at me before saying anything.  “Yesss,” he sighed.  “My Satanism is more of a philosophy.  But there are those who will stop at nothing.  My philosophy recognizes that there are standards and conducts that must be abided by, a fierce morality, if you will.  But, there are others who believe even crimes against the race of humanity can be perpetrated with impunity as long as the ultimate end is power.  Power is all, to them.  My views place a higher importance on understanding and tolerance.”  He paused, and pondered whether to say more, but decided against showing more of this softer side of his persona.

     “It is a disturbing volume, isn’t it?”

     I nodded.  “Horrible.”

     Again, LaVey merely blinked slowly and let his silence speak its truth.

     “Would you think someone would go to these ends to conjure up this Hermaphrodite.”

     LaVey nodded.  “I believe that it has been done previously, and that it will be done again.”

     “Could Hoxhok be Ste. Germaine?”

     “Ste. Germaine has always been white.  But, if Hoxhok is planning a rite to call up Hermaphrodite, he may well be attempting to recruit Ste. Germaine.  If that is the case, we have, and indeed the world has, something to seriously worry about.”

     “What would happen if you contacted Ariana and said you’d gotten wind of this big ceremony and wanted to be part of it?”

     “After an all-out war had been declared between our camps?” he scoffed.  “After he abducted my woman?  Ridiculous and impossible.”

     “Surely, you must have someone in your congregation who could infiltrate his little bun-toss.”

     LaVey stroked his beard in thought.  Then, our eyes met and we said as one: “Jayne.”


*  *  *  *

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 27


His car was a Rolls Royce.  I followed it out of the studio lot.  It took a predictable route to Scream’s mansion.  But, instead of turning right into Scream’s driveway, it went two driveways past it and turned left into a walled driveway that led to a mock southern gothic mansion.  I cruised past and headed back to the office.  What did I know about Bluestein?  His licence number.  Incredibly successful.  Didn’t limp previously.  No scandals.  Married to Anastasia Donovan, a starlet a number of years younger.


*  *  *  * 


     In the office, I called Jayne.  “Sandor Scream is Bunny Bluestein,” I piped excitedly into the phone.

     There was silence on the other end of the line.  Finally, “Could be.  Same build.” 

     I explained about the limp. 

     “Holy-y-y,” she said.  “I wonder how many other people know this?  It’s definitely news to me.  Bluestein is known as a devout Jew, who gives enormous amounts of dough to the synagogue.”

     “Maybe he’s hedging his spiritual bets by playing both sides of the fence.”

     “So, presuming you’re right, what are you going to do with this info?”

     “That’s a poser.  I still don’t have anything connecting Scream/Bluestein with any of the viscera or the deaths of Al Stirling or Bianca Hughes.  I guess I’ll just sniff around.”

     “Well, keep Lex with you.  He’s a handy kitty in a pinch.”


*  *  *  * 


I went to my files and pulled what I had collected over the years on producers and found some scraps of information on Bluestein.  Nothing illuminating.  He kept a low profile and his nose clean.

     I hammered out my story on Bean and Mitchell, then went home.  As far as I knew Jonny Fine was still unidentified meat.

     It was midnight when I got home.  I was greeted effusively by Lex and I petted him as I got his can of Dinty Moore stew ready.  I cracked a beer and poured some in a dish for him.  He lapped it up, let out a couple of cat-sized burps, which I did not know the species was capable of, and curled up on my lap as I mulled over what use my new discovery was to me.


*  *  *  * 


In the morning, I headed over to City Hall.  I asked to see Merlin Chambers’s holdings disclosure.  My hunch was rewarded.  Mr. Bluestein was listed as an executive officer on a holding company called Beaufort Holdings.  Unfortunately, because he did not hold any public office, I could not check Bluestein’s holdings.

     If they had an alliance above board, I wondered how many were hidden.  It would be a handy teaming.  Bluestein had tons of dough and Chambers could green light development and revenue projects, though naturally his name could not be associated with them because of the conflict of interest with his civic office.  But I had no doubt he was in there like a dirty shirt.

     I went to licences division and they told me that Beaufort Holdings handled several manufacturers of fine furniture, cedar lawn chairs and tables, prefabricated fireplaces and mantles.  Homey stuff.

     What was I doing?  I was not interested in making some business bust.  I wanted to figure out how these guys were connected with the taking of lives.  They could be audited from here to Thursday and I wouldn’t care.


*  *  *  * 


When I got back to the office, there was a message that LaVey had called.  I rang back.  “There is definitely something going on between Hoxhok and Ariana,” he said in that sinister voice that always made me think he could have been a great radio announcer.  “I think it will be a grand conjuring, a summoning of an extremely powerful spirit.  One that they feel can give them something.  Power perhaps, or something more tangible.  Treasure perhaps.  A supernatural ally.  Something.”

     “Hmmm, when on the occult datebook would be a good time to do something like this?”

     “The feast of Hermaphrodite is upcoming.  Because that old god embodies the characteristics of both male and female, the partnership of Hoxhok and Ariana would make sense.”

     “Why wouldn’t she just hook up with Scream?”

     “That is a good question and one that I am unable to answer at present.  Perhaps, Hoxhok originated the plan.”

     “How would they go about calling up this spirit?”

     “Hermaphrodite is more than a mere spirit.  He, she, it, whatever, is one of the old gods.  Blood must be shed in order to call up Hermaphrodite.  Blood as a burnt offering.  In short, Daniel, if they are planning on doing this, I would suggest murder will figure into the equation somewhere.”

     “Mr. LaVey, you’re a great help and you’ve always treated me well.  So let me tell you this bit of information.  I believe Sandor Scream is the movie producer Bunny Bluestein.”

     There was stone silence on the other end.  I ran down how I had reached this conclusion.  Then, “Thank you, Daniel.  I will take your suspicion under advisement.  I must ring off now.  I must think.  Good day.”

     I hung up wondering what sort of vendetta I might have unleashed.  

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 26

“Whether you believe me or not, you have seen that Lex can come in handy and is a good defender.  That is all you need believe.”

     “I heard from the medical examiner that there was a series of puma attacks a few years back.  That the victims were found missing their eyeballs.”

     LaVey’s eyebrow arched.  He sucked his cheeks in and ran his forefinger and thumb along the outsides of his Vandyke.  He locked his eyes with mine.  “So?”

     “Well, I noticed that Lex likes eyeballs.”

     “Yech!” piped in Jayne.

     LaVey waved his long fingers in a dismissive figure eight.  “Cats of all kinds eat the soft tissues first.  Surely, you’re not suggesting that Lex went on some sort of killing spree.”  It was not a question.

     “I suppose not.  I don’t find it any harder to believe than what you’ve just told me....”

     “Lex is a good cat.  That is all.  Now, you had some other matters to ask me about.” 

     And the matter was terminated.

     “Yeah, I snuck out to Zuma Beach the other night and saw a little ceremony that Scream also attended.  The newly resurrected Ariana was there too, dancing around and eventually boffing the presiding emcee, a negro fellow in a Pacific Northwestern Indian mask.

     “Ah, Hoxhok,” sighed LaVey.  “A piker, a charlatan, but a very dangerous psychotic, as well.  A believer in cannibalism, based on the Kwakiutl mythology of the Pacific Northwest.  He takes his name from the cannibal raven god.  He claims to be working on some transubstantiation of the human body to godness.  A mere criminal, I can assure you.”

     “But what is the significance of him pouring the pork to Ariana?”

     “There may be little meaning to it.  Sexual congress has always played a major role in pagan rites.  Or, they may be trying to meld their powers in order to perform an extreme spell.  Ariana is a very powerful woman, far more powerful than Hoxhok.  She may just have wanted to sample his wares, as it were.  Maybe she is excited by the exhibitionism of the act.  Or she may believe that Hoxhok is more powerful than I have expressed.  If it is the latter, then there is likely a reason for that.  Let me look into it and get back to you.”  With that, he stood and the interview was over.


*  *  *  *


Out in the car, Jayne spoke up.  “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this.  But there was some suspicion that Lex was involved in those puma attacks.”

     I nodded.  “I figured LaVey might be hiding something.”

     “The people who were killed were low echelon Satanists who used animals in their rites.  There was talk of... bestiality... being involved in the rituals.  They were horrible people.  They wanted to feel an animal die while they were having sex with it.  They thought they could absorb the creature’s essence or something stupid like that.  Anyhow, Lex got loose for a few days and various of these people turned up dead.  Doesn’t seem hard to make the connection.”

     “Sounds like they had it coming.”

     “Fucking right.  I hate people who harm animals.”

Jayne had pets at home that needed to be groomed and kids that needed to be looked after.  But she did not have any of her whirl of appointments today, so I persuaded her to take an hour off and go to the beach with me.

     We drove to Venice and she tied up her hair in a kerchief and popped on big bug-eye shades.  She rubbed her lipstick off and she borrowed an old windbreaker I kept in the car.  Try to keep the boys from attracting too much attention.  There was a nice breeze blowing, which kept the lovely sunshine from becoming unbearable.

     We walked to a little cantina and ordered beers and hot dogs.  Because of her physical attributes, a lot of people did not give Jayne much credit for brains.  She actually had an IQ of 163 and had studied at Southern Methodist University,  University of Texas at Austin and UCLA.  She, spoke five languages, and was a classically trained pianist and violinist.  She was very funny and witty and a great gal to chat with.  “Where do you get that amyl nitrite stuff?” I asked her.  “Seems to be a lot of it connected with this case.  I realize you probably get the ampules from a doctor or a pharmacist, but some of the people involved in this cult business have big bottles of the stuff.  Where would they get that?”

     “There’s a lot of chemists around town that make stuff like that, amphetamines too.  But the main guy is called Mr. Roderick.  He’s a swish that has a storefront on The Strip.  He makes beautiful sexy lingerie that he sells off the rack, but he also sells stuff from his back room.  If you want a catsuit made out of black rubber, he’s your man.  Want a foot-long dildo, or an artificial pussy, a man or woman doll with serviceable orifices, a special lubricant with Spanish fly mixed in it that will keep you hard for hours, or enough poppers to supply your next orgy, then he’s the man you go to see.”

     “Illegal drugs, heroin, cocaine?”

     “No.  Strictly stuff for sexual purposes.  He figures you can get your own illegal stuff.  What he does is relatively within the law.”

     “So if I went in there, would he sell me what I wanted?”

     “Sure, he’s not a crook.”

     “Does he make the poppers?”

     “Yeah, he makes it at home in his basement.  Some people make wine.”

     “Still, if they lit a cigarette, wine wouldn’t blow up half a city block.”

     “Some of the vino I’ve tasted sure would.”

     It was a pleasant idyll, but Jayne had to get back to her kids and menagerie.  She gave me a kiss redolent of beer and hot dog and sun-warmed woman.  I dropped her off at her car. 

Then I headed over to Mr. Roderick’s of Hollywood.


*  *  *  *


The shop was all glass and chrome with mannequins in feisty lingerie crowding the window.  Each appealing ensemble spurred me to reach for my wallet in order to drape Betty in its enticing texture.  But, I was aware that I’d blown too much dough on her recently.

     The swish behind the counter wore a blond rug styled in a Liberace pompadour.  He had one of those pencil-thin mustaches that always made me wonder how guys trimmed them so perfectly.  Maybe it was drawn on with eyebrow pencil.  His shirt was a satin blaze of pink carnations and his trousers were white and tight.  His physique was sylph-like.  He smiled like a frog about to tongue a fly.

     “A buddy of mine, Johnny Fine, said I could buy some amyls here,” I opened.

     He nodded and reached beneath the counter bringing up three sizes of vials.  “Personal size, party or orgy?” he asked. 

     “Party,” I said pointing to the middle bottle.

     “That’s four dollars,” he said.  “Will there be anything else?”

     I handed him the bills.  “I’ve been looking for Johnny,” I said.  “He doesn’t answer his phone, these days.  Any idea of where he might be found?”

     “You a cop?”

     “Nah, just wanted to get together with Johnny for some good times.”

     “I see.  Well, I don’t know that Johnny has many good times.  He keeps pretty much to himself.  I know, he sometimes stops over at the Hellfire Club to stare at his idol.”

     “You mean Ariana?”

     He looked surprised.  “You do know our Johnny.  Yes, I think his life revolves around Miss Ariana’s scraggy butt.”

     “You sound like you don’t like her much.”

     His brow knotted up into burls of skin.  “I deal in fantasy,” he said.  “There’s some people who don’t know where fantasy ends and step over the line and try and make their reality fantastical.  Those sorts of people are out of their minds.  Ariana takes fantasy too far, from a little harmless whimsy into a twenty-four hour a day lifestyle.  No, she’s not one of my favorite people.  I think she’s dangerous.  Anyhow, now she’s dead.”

     “Wasn’t she part of some witchcraft cult or something?”

     “Yeah, a bunch of sickies.  I wouldn’t go near them.”

     “Another buddy of mine, Ted, big muscle guy says he gets his pops from you.  I think he works for Ariana....”

     “Yeah, I know Ted.  What’s your point?”

     “Just seems that Ariana’s people use a fair bit of your product.”

     “Well, as you well know,” he said, pointing to the bag he had handed me.  “Andybody who’s had sex with pops ain’t going back to normal sex.  It’s just too good to step back.”

     I nodded, with what I hoped was credibility.  “Anyhow, on to other topics.  Do you know a dame who goes by the name of Betty Pain?  I was wanting to get ahold of her for a stag I’m throwing for a buddy.  This looks like the sort of place where she’d shop.”

     “Sure, I’ve made custom stuff for Betty.  Leather stuff.  She’s a great gal, life of the party.  If she comes in, I’ll let her know you were looking for her.  Have you got a number you can leave with me?”

     “Is she expensive?”


     “Maybe I better look for something a little more affordable.  Keep Betty for my dreams.”

     I could see the disgust and suspicion rise in his eyes.  “Yeah, well, enjoy your poor man’s cocaine.”

     I nodded and headed out the door.  I went down the street to a tavern and ordered a beer while I wondered what I’d learned, if anything, from my conversation with Mr. Roderick.

     I went back to the office.  The editor told me it was time for an on-set piece.  I phoned around and sussed out who was amenable to a reporter showing up on their set.  A few seemed okay with the idea.  There was a horror flick being shot over at Santana Studios.  It starred Shannon Mitchener, a good-looking young guy who was taking his career places and Blondie Bean, a ditzy young comedienne who was spectacular looking and was seen to be a smart cookie who was really going to make something of herself.

     On-set interviews are a pain in that nobody is ever on time for their appointments because the schedule is always behind.  I have waited eight hours only to have five minutes with some thespian before they are called back to the set.  It’s quite frustrating, so I always take along a book and a pint of whisky for nips in the bathroom.  I made an appointment with the unit publicist and set off prepared for a dull afternoon.


*  *  *  * 


Santana Studios was not a major, but I had to give my name at the security kiosk just past the pearly gates.  I checked in with the administration office and the publicist, a drab woman who probably made a pauper’s wage but whose elbow rubbing with stars had given her an imperious mien, came out to escort me to the set.

     The movie was called The Dark Corridor, something about a dumpy cop, played by the great Kenneth McMillan, who was trying to track down a murderer, played by Mitchener, who was making himself crazy with drugs.  The object of his homicidal obsession was a hometown cheerleader who was the belle of the gridiron played by Bean.  McMillan had declined to be interviewed by me.  He had read my work.

     I was escorted to a chair by the craft services tables where I could see into a kitchen set where Mitchell had kidnapped Bean and was going through some insane-person rant.  McMillan stood nearby, occasionally raising a paper cup of coffee to that terrific bulldog face.  I got a glass of soda and excused myself into the bathroom where I knocked back a stiff highball.

     Watching acting is one of the more painful experiences one can have.  With all the repetition and retakes, I remain constantly astonished that movies ever actually get made.  I sat where I was told and cracked a book.  It was a good one, the new Steinbeck.


*  *  *  *


Time finally came when the director called a break and I was escorted over to a dressing room to interview Blondie Bean.  When the publicist left us alone, I was momentarily stunned by the woman’s beauty.  The camera did not do her justice.  She had long wavy blonde hair framing an incredibly cute All-American girl face: big eyes, turned up nose, lush lips and a golden tan.  Her body was tanned and toned, set off by a simple white T-shirt and shorts.  She padded around the dressing room barefoot.

     We started with the basics: what she thought of this role, what it would do for her career, how she came to the current level of her career, what she aspired to.  Then I got personal.  Any boyfriend?  No.  The studio set her up on dates for appearances at premieres and parties.  Didn’t she want a boyfriend?  Yes, but there wasn’t much time for that sort of thing.  Blah, blah, blah.

     When I got to talk to Mitchener, it was the same thing.

Journalism is like baseball, the legs go first.  After a while, you have asked the same old questions so many times you can predict the answers.  You just can’t get it up for research anymore.  Which was why I appreciated the creative aspects of my paper.  By next issue, Bean and Mitchell would be in a simmering cauldron of passions birthed on the movie set.  They would not be offended.  Any publicity is good publicity, as long as their names are spelled right.

     The publicist had left for the day by the time I wrapped up.  I swilled the last of my flask in the washroom and, feeling like I had done a good day’s work, I set out in the twilight wandering among the studios and sets.  Runners ran script sides onto sets from the hovels where writers were holed up.  Gaffers and grips ran chunks of boats and buildings from carpentry shops to soundstages where facades were being built.  Actors in monster suits, carrying their heads under their arms, shuffled past, their energy for the day gone, with hours of night shoots before sleep.  No security guards were hustling around being efficient.  It was a magic time in a place that made magic.  I felt mellow as a warm cat.

     I was walking past a huge airplane hangar, when a side door burst open and several men in expensive suits burst out in a blather of arguments and cigar smoke.

     One of them used a cane to help him hobble along.  He was heavyset and bald.  The familiarity of his gait, the physique.

     I watched the men walk away and round a corner.  Then I stepped into the soundstage they had just left.  I nabbed the first workman I could see.  “Who’s that exec who just left?  Bald, uses a cane....”

     The guy nodded.  “That’s Mr. Bluestein, the producer.”  My head spun.  Bunny Bluestein, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood was quite possibly Sandor Scream.