As you might have gleaned by now, when there’s a story to tell about Hollywood, I’m inclined to change the names and mix it up a bit to protect the innocent. What follows is mostly true, except what’s not.
YOU DON’T OWN ME
11. IT’S NOT FOR ME TO SAY
Six weeks after the funeral it was mid February. Sometimes that’s chilly in Los Angeles, more often it’s spring weather. Irises were blooming against the white picket fence at the front of Billie’s property. In the middle of January, while Billie was still adrift, Mr. Booker had shooed the gardeners away from the roses in a torrent of sibilant Castilian Spanish and he, himself, had pruned the thorny branches into perfect urn-like shapes. For the task he wore leather gloves, a canvas apron, and some kind of arm protection, an over sleeve, that appeared to Billie distinctly Victorian. Looking out the kitchen window Billie could see the roses were beginning to leaf out, tender glossy little bits of green. She heard the front door open and close as Jake and Mr. Booker returned from school. They walked there together every morning and returned together every afternoon – even in inclement weather. Mr. Booker believed indefatigably in rain boots and umbrellas.
They walked back into the kitchen, and with them was Cooper Daniels. “Ma’am,” said Mr. Booker, “Mr. Daniels has arrived. If you will excuse us, we will attend to our homework,” he said as Jake slipped his backpack off his shoulder. They left letting the kitchen door swing behind them.
“Whoa.” Said Cooper. “Direct from central casting…”
“I love him.” Said Billie simply. And then, inexplicably, she started to tear up. “I’m sorry,” she snuffled, jamming a wad of tissue under her eyes, “I’m sorry. I keep doing this.”
Cooper wasn’t good with displays of emotion that were unscripted. He pulled a chair from the kitchen table and sat down next to Billie. “That was stupid of me,” he said. “I came here to see if you were ready to go back to work… and… stupid…” he trailed off. He looked out the sunny window toward the garden. He changed tack. “That’s nice.”
“What’s nice?” Billie said calming down.
“The flowers and everything.”
“There isn’t much blooming right now,” she replied.
“Yeah.” Cooper felt awkward. “I have this thing, um, that I was hoping to pitch to… I thought you could help me…” He cleared his throat. “And I, f—, oh–bad timing, I got married over New Year’s in Vegas.” He had gone pink over the cheeks and across the bridge of his nose just like Jake did when battling a sense of shame.
Billie remembered Patience at the funeral. She felt her spine go gelid; she could actually feel the extreme cold traveling down her vertebrae, just like the Labrador Current.
Cooper stuttered. “I’m sorry. I—I—it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
“Right thing… Is she pregnant?” She was surprised her lips could move she felt so frosty. She pressed her fingertips into her palms to warm them.
“Is it yours?”
“Wh, he said… What am I going to do? Ask for a blood test?“
Billie interrupted Cooper. “Well. Then it was the right thing to do.”
“I guess I should go,” he said scraping his chair back over the floor.
“No.” She asserted.
Cooper warily tucked his knees back under the table.
“No,” she repeated. “Don’t go. I want to hear about this project. Let’s get back to work. I want to go back to work.” She had messed up. Messed up her emotional life, and the corollary seemed to be spooling out in front of her, Cooper had messed up his, but work she could handle. Work, film work she could excel at, hell, she could probably even afford to finance a low budget movie all by herself. Not that the Yankee in her would continence any excess, no, if she had learned anything at all about the studio system it was all about making the other guy pay. “Really, work is perfect.” Billie said suddenly dictating terms. As I said, a seismic shift, Billie was dictating terms to Cooper.
There is a kind of courtship that goes on between producer and director, a kind of wooing. The producer holds the means of movie making (money) and the director, if they’re any good, provides the vision. There’s a honeymoon period, and often an inevitable falling out. It was a form of sexual sublimation, but Billie thought it would do; sex, power, creativity, industry – yes, a muddle that would have to be sorted out in time.
While they went through the motions, kind of setting a price for film ideas, packaging, Billie brewed a pot of coffee and got distracted by the brand on the foil wrapped sack. Starbucks. That was a name she’d been familiar with long before the emergence of a national brand. It littered her father’s desk; Herman Melville immortalized it in Jake’s favorite book. Starbuck was the name of a Nantucket family, whalers and captains and ship owners. Her father, who still did business with the Coffins, Gardners, and Starbucks refused to drink the coffee. He scoffed at the lack of authenticity and preferred Folgers in a can. Possibly the same thing he’d been drinking since before Billie had been born. Tiny little nothings, they were scurrying across her brain. Why couldn’t she focus? When did Cooper Daniels start sleeping with Patience? Daniels? Was her name Daniels? Why didn’t her father ever sit her down and tell her what was important? Why did it matter? Wasn’t she fully grown? Wasn’t it her responsibility now? Would she have listened if he tried? She slammed the refrigerator door shut, sending the contents clinking and clattering, startling herself and Cooper. This time, he really did insist on leaving.
Later that evening Billie was once again camped out at the kitchen table. She had a yellow legal pad in front of her and one of Jake’s school pencils in hand and she was writing out a list. A list of everybody she knew in Hollywood. It must have been around 10 o’clock in the evening. Mr. Booker walked into the kitchen and put the kettle on. He had become accustomed to Billie being at home and primarily staking out her place at the kitchen table. He recognized it as her spot. She didn’t retreat to her bedroom, she didn’t have a favorite chair in the living room to curl up and read. Billie preferred a straight back chair and a hard surface and notes, lots of notes. He noticed that since the death of Mr. Taylor Billie had become a bit gaunt, a little too angular. She had slightly dark circles under her eyes and a constant furrow to her brow, as she did as she scratched along at her legal pad. Mr. Booker saw that Billie was clutching the pencil and bearing down too hard on the paper.
Mr. Booker made a strong pot of tea. He heated two mugs with the boiling water from the kettle, emptied them quickly in the sink, and poured out a heavily caffeinated China Black. He added a teaspoon of sugar to each mug and a generous splash of half and half. He set one of the mugs down to Billie’s right. “May I speak openly to you Mrs. Taylor?” he inquired.
“No need to even ask Mr. Booker.” Mr. Booker had Billie’s full attention. She fixed her smudged, intensely blue eyes on his face. He could see through her skin right to the veins in her temples. Mr. Booker felt a grab at his heart – she really was much too thin.
After the salary raise, which Mr. Booker had received with some disquiet, he realized he had been bumped up a considerable notch. By his reckoning he had been employed not only as the child’s caretaker but also as a father figure for Billie herself. Indeed, he was convinced Billie needed looking after. In his estimation the most important thing he could do in that capacity was place Billie on the right path. “There is something resplendent about thirty, Mrs. Taylor. Youth behind you, fruition and realization before you, yes, a very resplendent age.”
Billie laughed. He couldn’t be talking about her – she was thirty…
Mr. Booker observed her steadily. There was a bleary aspect about her he recognized. Overtaxed but doggedly pursuing a goal through a haze of exhaustion. Good for her.
“I don’t know if you are aware, ma’am, but on our morning walks to school Jake and I have had the occasion to make the acquaintance of your friend, Miss Brown’s father. Mr. Bob Brown. His daily constitutional coincides with our route to school.” He drank his tea.
“Natalie’s father runs Paramount.”
“Yes, ma’am. He asked me to convey his condolences.”
Billie was having a hard time fathoming that Bob Brown even knew she existed however; she had been married to a movie star. Of course he knew who she was. And, of course she and Natalie were relatively tight. Suddenly she thought of his other child, the little girl from the park with the melon head. She wondered if Anne, yes, that was her name, had ever grown into her enormous noggin. Wait. Bob Brown’s second daughter would be in college by now. Where had the years gone? She thought of Andrew and Isabel’s cohort and Anne, present in the beginning, was virtually absent for at least the past decade. While her father was emotionally absent it appeared that Bob Brown was physically absent. How weird.
As it happened Bob Brown, as removed from the day-to-day activities of his children as he was, was an acute observer. He had been captivated by the daily ritual he had witnessed Monday through Friday beginning that September; a man perhaps a few years older than himself, probably his brother’s age, of upright bearing in deep conversation with a six year old boy. Mr. Booker and Jake could be overheard discussing the Arabic origin of the word “assassin”, or the atmospheric physics of thunder, sometimes they talked nonsense, but more often than not what they spoke about was consequential and considered. After a few weeks he introduced himself and joined their conversations. Not long after that Bob Brown invited Mr. Booker to join in on his monthly poker game.
Billie added Bob Brown’s name to the lengthening list on her yellow legal pad. “So you meet once a month?”
“Yes, Mrs. Taylor.”
“At Bob Brown’s?”
“Indeed. I feel most fortunate. The majority of the players have know each other since their childhoods.” Billie flashed on a table of fourteen year olds chewing on cigars and fanning out playing cards. In fact, the average age at the card table was low-sixties. The notion made her smile. A little color returned to her cheeks. Her eyes sparkled with a luster Mr. Booker hadn’t seen since before their disastrous Christmas.
“Any women in this poker game?”
“Mr. Brown has another girl, Anne. A lot younger than Natalie – have you met her?”
“Briefly, ma’am. She was here for Thanksgiving.”
“How was she?” All Billie could remember was a giggler with a desire to climb; people, trees, furniture.
“Tall, short, in school, working at Burger King…”
“Oh. I see. Anne appears all of ninety-eight pounds, a very slight girl, round wire-rimmed glasses, attends University. We didn’t speak. I saw her slip by carrying a book and an overly large bowl of ice cream. Her father’s very proud. A studious girl, very fond of Anne, has no contact with Anne’s mother.”
Maybe he did exert a paternal interest. That was nice. Her view of Bob Brown immediately improved. “Thank you, Mr. Booker.”
Yes, Billie looked remarkably better. She had caught the scent. Mr. Booker said his goodnights and retired for the evening. Walking down the corridor from the kitchen to his compact dominion, a bedroom, bath, and an office that he had lined with well-read books adjoining a small sitting room, he hesitated for a moment. Something… another shiver of recognition… that odd sensation at the back of his neck… something troubling… The boy was fine, Mrs. Taylor was improving, it was that young man, the one who directed motion pictures – Cooper Daniels.
He recognized the type from his war service. Brave, but ungovernable. Dashing in a seedy kind of way – but too easily seduced. Undisciplined in thought and deed. In the secret service they were the first to die. That was more than fifty years ago. However, his powers of personal discernment hadn’t diminished. His reflexes, for all intents and purposes, were shot, but his judgment was still unerring. Cooper Daniels. Trouble. Catnip. Not necessarily a bad fellow, but certainly not good for Billie Taylor. Was Mrs. Taylor establishing a pattern? Her alliance with Mr. Taylor he could chalk up to inexperience and youthful exuberance, but… Perhaps his rise in salary wasn’t nearly adequate enough?
Mr. Booker pondered why life in the secret service was oddly similar to his domestic service. Attention to detail, sharp and silent watchfulness, constancy, a deep understanding of protocol, the instinct to defend. He remembered the odd vernacular of Old Etonians, a mixture of nursery references and blazing obscenities. One didn’t need to be a psychiatrist to figure out why men who had been sent away to boarding school at the age of seven referred to their secretaries as “mothers”.
He continued to think. Every one had a distinct Rosetta Stone. He thought about Mrs. Taylor. Was she an Ishmael or an Ahab? He wondered if he could obtain her code key. In the secret service personas that started as a ruse sometimes became mainstays of character. People were… so adaptable… and Mrs. Taylor, in his mind, was barely an adult, there was still time.
He considered her a reactive personality, not proactive, but perhaps that could change. Unlikely, but not impossible – she had married in an adolescent vapor of glamour and celebrity, and she clearly was infatuated by Cooper Daniels’ bad boy aspect. However, the glamour of celebrity encouraged unbridled indulgence as evidenced by Mr. Taylor’s consorting with call girls and Mr. Daniels’ bad boy aspect had landed him in bed with a low level, new age, miscreant. Were these experiences enough of a comedown to launch Billie Taylor in a new direction?
On the upside her parents succeeded in instilling her with a decent work ethic and she was devoted to friends and family, and if she would exercise her intellect she seemed to have a lively mind. Yes, there was something there that could be molded. Who could say? Well, he could, absolutely and with complete tight-lipped Anglo authority. Authority and arrogance, however, were a young man’s game. He wondered if it was still within his scope. Oh, and the heartbreak when an operative failed. Really, this wasn’t espionage; it was someone’s life he was stewing about. He had envisioned these years as a respite from mental taxation. It took such enormous expenditures of energy, and women were so intrinsically different.
© Vickie Lester and Beguiling Hollywood, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (text) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vickie Lester and Beguiling Hollywood with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.