“Searchlights and Shadows” – Chapter 1

“Searchlights and Shadows”

SEARCHLIGHTS AND SHADOWS

a novel by

Martin Turnbull

Book Four in the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah series

CHAPTER 1

Gwendolyn Brick’s head throbbed like a son of a bitch, but she didn’t care. The traffic thundering along Sunset Boulevard was bordering on painfully loud and the midday sun shone so bright it hurt to open her eyes. But that didn’t bother her, either. All that mattered was her brother’s telegram. She clutched it in her hand as she waited for him on the sidewalk outside the Garden of Allah Hotel.

“I can’t sit here anymore!” she declared, springing to her feet, but it made her head throb even harder and left her breath jagged. She sat down again.

Kathryn Massey yawned. “Aren’t hangovers the worst?”

Gwendolyn had never been much of a drinker—which made her a rare bird at the Garden of Allah—until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Her brother was stationed there and the navy had listed him missing in action. As the grim days that followed blurred into wretched weeks, Gwendolyn made up for lost time by downing whatever booze lay at hand. At the Garden, there was always something within reach: champagne, gin, punch, brandy, martinis, daiquiris, manhattans. She kept it up through a dismal New Year’s Eve, but Western Union brought her bender to a halt.

AM ALIVE BANGED UP BUT RECOVERING STOP MEET YOU GARDEN OF ALLAH SUNDAY NOON STOP

The two women sat on the low brick fence next to the red and black pansies whose smoked-honey scent Gwendolyn usually enjoyed, but today found annoying. “Maybe they hit traffic?”

“It’s all of three minutes past twelve,” Kathryn said gently. “I’m sure he’ll be along real soon.”

They said nothing more until a black Cadillac with shiny chrome trim slowed to a stop opposite them. In the back seat, a young bride wrapped in a veil sat next to a handsome young man who was beaming in his army uniform.

“I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of that now,” Gwendolyn commented. She watched the Cadillac head east into Hollywood. “Do you think either of us will be married before the war ends?”

Kathryn started to say something, but cut herself off. “Is that a jeep?”

A fatigue-green vehicle, roofless and doorless, bounced up the boulevard toward them. Two men in white sailor caps were up front, but that was all Gwendolyn could see. She clutched Kathryn’s arm and pulled her to her feet.

It wasn’t until the jeep came to a stop that Gwendolyn could be sure it was her darling, damaged Monty. She raced to the curb, unaware that she was crying until Monty’s grinning face blurred and wobbled. “It really is you!”

His driver, a beefy Italian, jumped out with a pair of crutches in his hand. “Don’t even think of trying to help,” he told her. “Mister Independent don’t like that.”

It took all of Gwendolyn’s self-control to let her brother climb out of the vehicle under his own steam. He took the crutches from his buddy, hooked them under his arms, and swung himself onto the sidewalk. “See?” he declared. “Almost good as new.”

The tendrils of Gwendolyn’s hangover unfurled. She felt lighthearted and clearheaded as she wrapped her arms around Monty, crutches and all, and let her tears soak the shoulder of his dark blue uniform. He hugged her back as best he could. “Honest, sis, it ain’t that bad. These here crutches? Just for show, mainly. More like an insurance policy.”

She took a half step back and studied his face. A graze across his forehead was still healing, as well as some purple bruising down the left side of his neck. But most noticeable of all was a deep slash carving a line from under his right ear, across his cheek, to the middle of his chin.

Monty looked past Gwendolyn. “Hi, there. Kathryn, isn’t it?”

Gwendolyn broke her hold on her brother to let him shake hands with Kathryn, then noticed that his ride had driven off. “Come on,” she said, “let’s go inside and—”

Monty pulled back. “I’ve been cooped up in that dang hospital for weeks. Can’t we go out?”

“Got somewhere in mind?” Gwendolyn asked.

“Yeah, but you’re not going to like it.”

“Anywhere you want—it’s your big day.”

“Anywhere?”

* * *

The girls slid into a booth and watched Monty pitch himself unaided onto the seat opposite them.

“I know we told you anywhere,” Gwendolyn said. “But—here?”

C.C. Brown’s ice cream parlor on Hollywood Boulevard was just down from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and was famous for inventing the hot fudge sundae. Last time they were there, Monty confronted a guy who was bothering Gwendolyn. It would have been gallant had it been anybody but Bugsy Siegel. Monty neither knew nor cared who that was, but Gwendolyn and Kathryn did, and so did their friend Marcus. They’d fled out of Brown’s with their hearts in their throats and hadn’t been back since.

“Hey!” Monty swiped a hand through the air. “That meatball left you alone, didn’t he?”

Siegel had eventually taken the hint; not because of anything Monty did that day, but Gwendolyn let her brother think he’d come to her rescue.

After they ordered a round of sundaes and coffees, Gwendolyn faced her brother. “Your telegram said you got banged up, so I’ve been picturing the worst. You seem to be mobile.” She flickered her eyes toward his crutches. “When you pulled up—”

He laid a hand on top of hers. “Sis, I’m okay,” he said quietly. “I won’t lie, it was touch and go for a while. There was a serious infection and—ah, skip it. You don’t want to hear about all that.”

“But I do,” Gwendolyn protested. “All I got was one lousy telegram. Honestly, Monty, you could have taken the time to scribble a note, just to let me know.”

“If I’d been conscious, sure I could’ve written you. Maybe even called.”

“Not conscious?” Kathryn butted in. “How serious was this infection?”

“There was talk of losing a leg—”

“MONTY!” Gwendolyn squeezed her brother’s hand.

“—but it didn’t come to that. Once they got me stateside, the quacks down there in Long Beach tried something else. It worked and I’ll be as good as new.” He shrugged away the rest of his story.

“I bet it was mayhem after the attack, huh?” Kathryn asked.

He flinched. “I ain’t got the words to describe what it was like. Destruction on that kind of scale,” he shook his head slowly, “it’s like nothing you can imagine. The noise! You shoulda heard it. On second thought, nobody should have to hear them sounds.”

Gwendolyn leaned on her elbows. “I can’t even imagine what you’ve been through. I’m surprised you’ve held onto your sanity.”

Monty started to chuckle.

“What’s so funny?”

He laid down his spoon and grinned at her. “I thought I was going to be able to get away with it, but I guess not.”

“Meaning . . . ?”

He took suspiciously long to reply. “I was—er, when the Japs hit, I was in the brig.”

“In jail?

“I had a two-day liberty pass, so I tied one on. Got into a bar brawl with some other seadogs. I don’t recall much of anything after about twenty-two hundred hours, but someone told me the MPs arrived and I took them on, too. Landed in the brig sometime before midnight. The first thing I knew of the attack was when the brick wall of my cell started crumbling and the tin roof pinned me to the bunk.”

The waitress arrived holding sundaes piled high with vanilla ice cream, smothered with hot fudge and crushed peanuts, and crowned with a cherry. Monty dug in, cramming as much as he could into his mouth.

Gwendolyn shook her head. “Oh, Monty. The things I’ve been imagining.”

He pointed his chocolatey spoon at her. “That drunken bar brawl saved my life. If I was sober and awake that morning, I’d have been supervising hull maintenance on the Arizona.

A thousand soldiers had lost their lives on that battleship, which now lay shattered at the bottom of the harbor.

They ate their sundaes in silence until Monty said, “Truth is, I’m ashamed I wasn’t with my buddies. That two-day drunk may’ve saved my life, but it’s wrecked my pride.” His sky-blue eyes lost their focus for a long moment. “Can we just leave it at that?”

“Mo-Mo, I’m so sorry—”

“How’s about you, Googie? Did you get your job back at the Cocoanut Grove?”

“Oh, heavens, no. I’d been slinging tobacco around that place too long. I need something new.”

“Like what?”

Gwendolyn watched an old guy in gray overalls paste a For Lease poster to the front window of an empty store across Hollywood Boulevard. “All I’ve done is sell cigars and cigarettes since I got to LA. I don’t know what else I’m good at.”

Kathryn’s burst of gunfire laughter took Gwendolyn by surprise. “What else you’re good at?” she asked. “Are you kidding?”

“What?”

“You’re the best damn seamstress I know.” She turned to Monty. “You should see the dresses she makes for me. I get compliments everywhere I go.” She slapped Gwendolyn’s wrist. “If the studios knew what you were capable of, they would be falling all over themselves.”

Gwendolyn resisted the urge to wrinkle her nose. Between the cattle calls, her disastrous screen test for Gone With The Wind, and her two so-called big breaks in A-list movies, she hadn’t had the best luck with the studios. They were the last place she wanted to work.

She scooped up the last of her sundae and slipped it into her mouth, savoring the warm fudge that was so thick and gooey it was almost chewable. Her eyes drifted back to the empty store across the street. The early afternoon sun was shining over the roof of C.C. Brown’s and directly onto the spacious display window. It wasn’t a large store, but it was opposite Grauman’s and three doors down from the Roosevelt Hotel, which was a great location.

Best of all, it was available.

 

~oOo~

Searchlights and Shadows” by Martin Turnbull is due for release January 2015

~oOo~

Book 1: “The Garden on Sunset

Book 2: “The Trouble with Scarlett

Book 3: “Citizen Hollywood

Martin Turnbull on Amazon.com

~oOo~

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