Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
Jean Janette Robison, the highest paid entertainer in the world, singing, dancing and acting under the pseudonym Robyn Janette, exited the oyster-pearl Lincoln MKT. She watched as the limousine traveled to the end of the three-hundred yard circular cobble-stone driveway and the cast-iron Hyde Park gates closed and locked electronically on her ten-acre Brentwood, L.A. home.
The private flight from London with a stop in New York had consumed one night and most of a day. Still it was a time to relax. Filming for the sci-fi movie The Planet of Gold had taken nine months, her longest acting project to date.
She gasped and then cursed her agent for renting her estate to a Grammy Award winning rapper while she’d been working abroad as she stomped down the broken Nero Marquina marble pathway to the house. The Asian Pears and Cerise Lotus were all scorched, smelled of urine and were dying from thirst. Several broken branches hung from her miniature ice-cream banana tree and two empty Jägermeister bottles reflected beams of sickly green light as they fornicated in a scattering of trampled Japanese Frost Ferns.
J.J. couldn’t punch-in her agent Jack Thomas’ speed-dial number fast enough. “What the hell happened?” J.J. screamed into her iPhone. “I thought you were renting my house to humans not pork producers breeding livestock. Is there really that much money in bacon? I’m not even in the house and your twenty-five-thousand-a-month tenants have already destroyed fifty-thousand dollars’ worth of landscaping.”
“We have a solid contract. I’ve been in touch with Hump Dog’s people and they promised he will pay for all damages,” Jack assured her. “H. D. likes to throw parties … and sometimes his guests get out of control.”
“You at least got his name right,” J.J. cursed. “If I ever get my hands on that foul-mouthed pig He’s Dead!”
At least the inside of the mansion was presentable. A Beverly Hills cleaning service had worked for three days before her arrival. Several wall decorations as well as a Rene Lalique sculpture were missing and J.J. suspected they had been broken and discarded. Fresh stucco on one wall showed where a gaping hole had been repaired.
The three-acre back-yard looked like the set of a horror movie. Underwear, male and female, and empty Corona beer bottles littered the ground. Tire tracks led across a bed of tortured Moth Orchids and through an artistically-sculptured hedge. A thirty-five thousand dollar Harley-Davidson Triglide lay submerged in the deep end of a leaking Olympic-sized swimming pool. A fistful of hundred-dollar bills floated on the dark oily surface. SORRY was spray-painted in giant red letters across the world’s most expensive decking stone.
J.J. was too tired to cry as she climbed the curving stairs to her bedroom. She hadn’t been back in the fabulous house since her raison de vivre, Johnny Lang, had vanished from her life. She had agreed to do the overseas picture as an escape and as a way to forget. It didn’t work. She suspected nothing would ever erase his memory.
Soft Damaris silk gently caressed her arms as she fell onto the Michael Amini canopy bed. Her iPhone played the theme to her first successful movie Escape the Night before she could close her eyes. Jack Thomas sounded triumphant. “I’ve located a gardener who can restore your beautiful landscaping,” he said. “The only caveat … he absolutely only works at night.”
“How is that possible?” J.J. was feeling frustrated.
“Lights on his hat, I guess.”
“Is he any good?”
“My sources tell me he’s the best.”
“He better be!” J.J. threatened. “This house is my only escape from the wonderful experience all you people call fame and fortune and I will not expose myself to Hollywood and its legions of zombies without a place to hide.”
Jack assured her the new-landscaper would be at work as soon as possible.
The phone rang before she could turn it off. The assistant production manager for The Planet of Gold’s, cheerful voice sounded fake even for Hollywood. “Remember tomorrow you have two quick re-shoots at Warner Brothers … make-up is at 5AM.” There was a slight pause. J.J. imagined him looking at the scheduling book super-glued to his hand. “The limo driver will pick you up at exactly four-thirty seven.”
J.J. sighed as she switched off the phone. Everything in Hollywood was rented by the hour except stars and studios. The production company’s two quick re-shoots would run into at least a week of sixteen-hour days.
J.J. kicked off her shoes and buried her face in a hand-beaded Neiman Marcus pillow. She thought she could still smell Johnny’s scent in the woven cashmere. Sometimes she wished she also could just up and disappear. “I can’t stop loving you. Why did you leave me?” she sobbed as a single tear rolled down her cheek. The only sound in the house was the ticking of a French boulle Mantel Clock and the sound of heavy traffic on Corral Vista Avenue, and then finally at 9PM … her soft snoring.
She was with him, walking through the swirling mists of memory. “When I wake up this this will all have been a dream won’t it?”
“I don’t know what’s real. Who is and who isn’t,” Johnny told her. “I only know that love is and I want to spend every second I can with you.” He pulled her close.
J.J. could still feel Johnny’s lingering kiss on her lips when she opened her eyes. The digital clock next to her bed read 4:19AM. Soft moonlight glowed from French doors leading to a west facing veranda. A tiny beacon of light flickered from the grounds below. A prowler! J.J. reached for the phone before she remembered Jack telling her the new gardener only worked at night. She quietly opened one door and slipped onto the balcony. A dark figure below inched through the lush foliage on hands and knees, clutching a spade and with what looked like a tiny miner’s light attached to his square-looking head. “He certainly wasted no time,” she muttered and stumbled back into bed again.
J.J. yawned just as the alarm next to her bed buzzed. She filled and turned on an espresso machine next to a sunken tub in her bathroom. Ten minutes later she exited a hot shower and dressed quickly. She walked onto the veranda holding a steaming cup. A cool night breeze made her damp skin tingle. She thought of Johnny’s touch and wanted to cry. The still black sky was just beginning to lighten over the Pacific Ocean to the east. The first Inca Dove of the morning made his no hope sound from a branch of a Thuja tree … the gardener was gone.
A Stetson wearing Tony Drake, one of The Planet of Gold’s production assistants, was yelling into a phone when J.J. entered Warner Brothers sound stage four. One of the Alexa XT digital video cameras rented for the shoot was not working properly. “If a replacement isn’t here within an hour you’ll eat the full fifteen-hundred day rate for one camera.” J.J. had heard a rumor that the young assistant had a father with two thousand acres in Wyoming and mob connections.
Sergio Mantz, the film’s director, was talking to a mousey-haired intern when J.J. walked past heading toward makeup. She kept her eyes averted; the film’s director had asked her out several times in London, she had always refused. At least half the production crew was made up of U.C.L.A. film students working for industry experience and a few credit hours. J.J. had watched Sergio dump a truckload of scripts and books on this same graduate student the year before with the task of reading and finding something fantastic that hasn’t been done before.
“I love it,” the girl said pushing wire-rim glasses back on her nose and handing the director a book. “It’s about the Titanic disaster. A young man from the future is falling in love with a passenger on the ill-fated cruise through his dreams.”
An image of James Cameron’s fifteen-million dollar replica sitting unused in a huge saltwater tank in Baha, Mexico obviously filled Segio’s head as he handed back the novel. “You know the drill, send the author one dollar to option the exclusive film rights for one year, renewable for two more, and then ask one of the intern writers to work up a script on spec. If we get a nibble from the studio, we’ll have a staff writer rework the entire story.”
“The author is British, London I believe,” the girl said. “Writers in the U.K. are not as easily exploited as their American counterparts.”
“Make it two pounds then,” Sergio snickered. “But it had better be good.”
J.J. shook her head as she walked past. Writers were always the first causalities of the creative war whenever any film was made. They would endure the monetary rape and pillage and think themselves fortunate. The dreams they put into words were often stolen for a pittance and exchanged for the ever elusive promise of success in a film industry rank with greed and power.
It was 7:38 PM. J.J. had just finished twenty three takes of one long chase scene where she was pursued by alien plant life forms. The forty-four second sequence required eight sets, painstakingly built to match the ones in London, each with an elaborate array of Venuese flowers and other dangerous plants in front of giant green screens. Cameras mounted to roller-coaster like tracks recorded Leika’s orgasmic expressions as she dashed and wove through the jungle half naked on the back of a giant dragonfly. While one sequence was being filmed, the next set was being prepared. Sergio was not satisfied when the digital shots were edited together. He insisted on viewing a high definition blowup of each frame. “There!” he screamed pointing to a detail that no audience member would ever see. “In the first sequence a tiny drop of perspiration rolls down Leika’s cheek and catches on her chin. It disappears on the next two shots and then re-appears on the fourth.”
Sergio threw his hands in the air and stomped off the set followed by a protesting executive producer from Twentieth Century Fox, the company putting up forty-million, half the film’s shooting budget, for advertising and distribution. The executive producer insisted the drop of water could be inserted digitally and Sergio was demanding a larger stage so the shots could be filmed authentically in one continuous take.
Ten minutes later, it was announced that shooting would be suspended for the day and would resume when the company acquired a larger production facility.
“Why do the producers put up with Sergio’s impossible rants?” J.J. asked Tony as he walked her to a waiting limo.
“It’s the logic of balance sheets by the Jews putting up the money,” Tony said. “The studio figures Sergio is an overly critical bastard and a nightmare to work with … therefore he must be a genius.”
J.J. stared in amazement as the limousine entered the long circular drive at 419 Corral Vista Avenue. It had been months since she had seen her home in daylight. The garbage scattered about the landscaping had been removed and a thick layer of black mulch surrounded each flower bed. It was as if she had just walked from a hot sauna into a cool breeze as she stepped from the car. Exotic, almost forgotten fragrances tickled her nose and made her smile and close her eyes even though she was exhausted from work. She felt like dancing as she walked through the house.
The three-acre backyard was even more enchanting. A truck with a crane was just pulling the Harley Davidson from the pool. The hedge had been re-sculpted to portray a group of giggling children peering through a broken fence. A bed of red and white fantastically entwined roses climbed six feet in the air and depicted a man and woman kissing beside a three-tiered fountain spraying glistening drops of colored water like falling diamonds.
It was starting to get dark when J.J. finally went back in the house. She’d found herself actually singing as she wandered through the exotic gardens. It had been months, almost a year since …
When J.J. opened her eyes, the digital clock next to her bed read 4:19AM. The flickering beams of light once again showed from the garden below. She slipped on a silk dressing gown as she rushed toward the French doors leading onto the balcony. The same dark figure was bent over the Japanese Orchids. A car went past on Coral Vista Avenue with its headlights on high-beam, casting stray light like fishing lines. Was that a hood the gardener was wearing?
J.J. rushed downstairs and into the backyard. She wanted the gardener to know how much she loved his work, maybe ask him in for a cup of coffee. He was just disappearing through a service gate. Moments later she heard an engine start and saw an old battered station wagon make its way down the long drive. Something about the car reminded her of Johnny. The cast- iron Hyde Park entrance opened and closed automatically and the strange man with the green hands was gone.
This time the sound stage was enormous. An eighth mile long track rose dipped and twisted through an exotic alien landscape put together over night by an army of mostly unpaid film students. “Si guarda meglio di ieri,” Abrianna Viscotti whispered as she applied J.J.’s exotic make-up “I only have to use half as much powder under your eyes.” J.J. smiled, she did feel good. The landscaping around her home was coming along beautifully. She felt younger, fresher and with more energy … could exotic plants have a drug-like effect on the people who nurtured them? There was no more time to ponder … filming began again and it was exhausting.
It was after eleven PM when Sergio was finally satisfied. J.J. agreed to meet Tony Drake and three other production people including Abrianna at Chateau Marmont for a late dinner / early breakfast end-of-filming celebration. Sunset Boulevard was busy for near midnight, but film people have to spend their money sometime.
J.J. ordered Strip Steak Burguignonne along with a salad. Tony insisted on wine. The waiter brought two bottles of Camus Jubilee.
The bill came to a little over six-hundred dollars. J.J. was astonished when Tony pulled out the cash at checkout. “That drawer behind the register is full of Rolex and David Yurman watches!” Tony laughed. “Even big name directors have had Visa Gold-Cards rejected when they get the bill in this place. You get ten percent off when you pay cash.”
They were all walking on sea-legs when they left the building. J.J. pulled out her phone to call for limo service. “Don’t be a fool,” Tony said clicking off her phone as she tried to dial the number. “The price doubles between one AM and five. I’m parked right over there. I’ll have you home while they’re still looking for a driver.” J.J. was a little drunk or she wouldn’t have agreed.
Tony had a Dodge Viper and he drove like a liquored-up cattle-man. By the time they reached 419 Corral Vista Avenue her head was swimming, and J.J. realized she had a problem: Without the limo service she always used, the electronic gates would not open. “No problem!” Tony gushed. “He took off his hat, leaned over and kissed her passionately. His hand brushed across her chest. “You wanted to spend the night with me anyway!”
J.J. was stunned as Tony started the Dodge. She reached over and snatched his keys from the ignition. “Sorry, but I don’t do sleep overs.”
“You bitch!” Tony grabbed for the keys and she dropped them on the floor just as she opened her door. J.J. ran toward the service entrance. She could hear Tony yelling loud enough to wake the neighbors. “Six hundred bucks I spent on you baby … the least you could do was let me ride your horse.” The car roared away burning rubber down the street.
J.J was almost to the service gate when she saw the strange gardener lurching toward his car. He was wearing a hood, a bag with tiny slits that completely covered his head! “I want to talk to you!” she yelled. “The man began to run with a shambling tormented movement like something was wrong with his legs. Even though she was drunk she caught up with him easily. “I’m not angry,’ she blurted. “I’m in love with your wonderful work!”
“Thank you,” he mumbled as he unlocked his door. “Coming from you that means a lot. If you want to talk … call me tomorrow.”
She couldn’t see his face … but his voice was smiling.
J.J. pushed against the door with her hip to keep it from opening. “I understand the light,” she said pointing at his head. “But why the dark hood?”
“I have my reasons,” the man mumbled as he gently moved her out of the way.
“You afraid to have people look at you?”
“Something like that.”
“Nonsense!” J.J. laughed “They call me one of the most beautiful people in the world and look at me … a gorgeous Saturday night with nowhere to go.”
Camus Jubilee sells for two-hundred dollars and is highly potent. J.J. had almost consumed one bottle by herself. She didn’t know why she pulled the hood from his head as he started to climb in the old station wagon. When he turned around grabbing for the sack, she froze in horror. Two bulges like over-ripe melons protruded from a forehead covered in warts and gigantic skin tags. One enlarged, lidless eye drooped below another almost grown over with sagging melted flesh and bristling hair. Jagged teeth protruded in all directions from both sides of a crooked mouth- opening the size of a teaspoon.
J.J. screamed. Moments later she heard the engine on the old car start, but couldn’t comprehend what was happening. There was a faint sound of sobbing. She screamed again as the car rattled and banged onto the highway and then disappeared into the night.
To be continued …
I’ll meet you here next week, dear reader … meantime, why not treat yourself to
“Cloverdale Tales of Terror” – a collection of short stories to read on your kindle, available exclusively from Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/CLOVERDALE-Tales-Terror-Randall-Peterson-ebook/dp/B00IC4URYK?ie=UTF8&btkr=1&ref_=dp-kindle-redirect