A LADY NAMED ROSE
Elias Crawford Pictures was hidden on a deserted side street off Santa Monica Boulevard—so hidden, in fact, that Rose searched the entire block three times on foot and contemplated awakening a derelict who was dozing on the sidewalk to ask him for directions. All of the businesses in the neighborhood were closed; it was a Sunday afternoon. But when she'd spoken with Elias on the telephone, he'd insisted this was the only time he could see new talent. His secretary had quit, he explained, and he was too busy during the week.
Rose was inwardly debating whether to leave and salvage the rest of her day when a young woman, possibly still a teenager, stumbled out of an alleyway between a cigar store and a pawn shop. She glanced both ways, anxious, then began to hobble away on her three-inch heels. Rose called out to her.
"Excuse me?" The girl studied Rose warily as she approached. "I'm looking for number 303. Do you know which building that is? None of them have numbers."
"What do I look like—" the girl began, flustered, but after taking a good look at Rose, her face softened. "Wait, 303, that's Elias Crawford. You don't wanna go there."
"Well, yes, actually, I do, and I'm running late for an appointment, so if you'll please just show me..."
The girl hesitated before pointing Rose in the direction of the cigar shop. "It's above the store. You have to go in through the alley. I just came from there."
"Really? How was it?"
"You don't wanna know, hon. If I was you, I'd just turn around and go right back home. Speaking of which, I need to find my ride. Good luck!" she added as an afterthought, then rushed off in the direction of Santa Monica Boulevard, muttering, "I can't believe he left me here."
Rose cautiously entered the alley and saw a heavy black door in the side of the building. It wasn't marked, but she tested the knob and found it unlocked. Stepping inside, she found herself in a darkened room where only the silhouettes of objects she assumed were office furniture could be seen. A pinpoint of light shone from the top of a narrow flight of stairs.
"Hello?" she called out, and heard a shuffling of feet upstairs. A muffled response that sounded like, "Right down," followed.
He was a large man and his footsteps were heavy. In the pitch black Rose couldn't see his face but she felt an immediate sense of discomfort. He flicked a light switch, and she came face-to-face with a six-foot totem pole with an axe in folded arms and a mean scowl.
Rose cried out and backed into the edge of a desk. Groaning in pain, she rubbed the back of her leg, where she'd find a nasty bruise when she drew her bath that night. Elias chuckled softly.
"Sorry, miss, I forget how much Geronimo there scares people. I borrowed him from the cigar store to use in a picture that never quite got off the ground. I keep forgetting to return him. Beats being greeted by that smart-aleck secretary...how you doin'? I'm Mr. Crawford, but you can call me Elias, sweetie."
He held out a sweaty hand, and for a long moment Rose struggled with the urge to get the hell away from this creep. At least he didn't try to kiss her hand. "I'm Miss Dawson, but you can call me Rose," she joked, offering a weak smile.
He smiled back. There wasn't much in the way of teeth, and his breath reeked of tobacco. "All righty then, Rose, if you'd just head up those stairs..." She couldn't help but notice the click of the lock on the door behind her.
Elias's office was not much larger than a cubbyhole and poorly lit. The sole window was caked with grime. A desk piled high with papers dominated most of the floor space; a ratty sofa and a metal filing cabinet, also overflowing with papers, took up the rest. It seemed Elias enjoyed frightening his guests. A grinning skeleton waved at Rose from a corner. She wandered over to get a closer look, nearly tripped over a box on the floor, and gasped. A bloodied hand grasped the edge of the box.
Behind her, Elias laughed at her expense—again. "It's only rubber. Go on, pick it up." When she didn't move, he brushed past her, allowing her a whiff of cheap cologne, and plucked the offending prop from the box. "See? I collect this stuff, for my movies. There's more."
The need to flee returned, in force. "I'm sorry," Rose stammered, "I just remembered I was going to meet someone for lunch."
"Wait!" Elias dropped the rubber hand on the floor and rushed to block the exit. "This won't take long. Please, have a seat."
The only chair in the room was occupied by more junk. A magazine bearing a photograph of a scantily-clad woman on its cover rested atop the stack. Elias saw Rose eyeing it and grabbed her arm, steering her to the couch, where she narrowly avoided sitting on a spring that jutted through a hole in the fabric.
"I have just the part for you," he gushed, his eyes alight with excitement as he dug through the mess on his desk, finally emerging with a dog-eared sheaf of papers, which he handed to her. "This is the script that's gonna change your life, dolly."
Rose glanced at the cover page, which read, "Untitled," by Elias Crawford. A regular jack-of-all-trades, this clown was.
"It's a love story," he was babbling. "The heroine gets kidnapped by a raving lunatic who lives in a secluded mansion. It's the full moon that does it, kind of like a Jekyll and Hyde thing, anyway, he kidnaps the lady, and, well, your first big scene is on page ten. Why don't you go ahead and read that?"
He sat beside her, squeezing a little too close for comfort, as she flipped the pages. The story was silly and badly written. She reached page ten and frowned.
"This says she removes her dress."
"Well...yes, I told you, it's a love story. She saves the monster by making him fall in love with her."
"Judging by your spare use of words, Mr. Crawford, you have her seducing him less than ten minutes into the film."
"Is there something wrong with that?"
"You truly believe an audience will take this seriously?"
Elias slid closer to her, placing a meaty hand on her thigh. "I'm sure a gal as gorgeous as yourself could make a believer out of anyone."
"Move your hand," Rose said stiffly.
"Now, wait a minute. Helene said you were new in town and real desperate for work. I'm doing you both a favor. The least you can do—"
"I said, move your hand!" she yelled, and gave him a shove, knocking him off balance. Elias sprawled to the floor and sat there for a few seconds, stunned. Rose was on her feet and downstairs fast as lightning, but he caught her before she reached the door, and they wrestled. He had her by the wrists, backed against a wall, when she unleashed her secret weapon, spitting full force directly into his eyes.
He released her, letting loose a string of curses, and she made for the door again, fumbling with the lock before getting it open. She couldn't resist a parting shot.
"By the way, it wasn't the full moon that turned Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. You might want to learn to read before you attempt to write."
Fearing Elias might attempt to follow her, or that she'd run into some other unsuspecting ingénue on the street, Rose ran to her car without stopping, started it, and pulled onto Santa Monica Blvd. A horn blared in her ear; she'd narrowly missed a collision. After turning right on Vine St., she had to pull over, she was shaking so terribly.
She couldn't go home in this condition. Sebastian was there and he'd know right away something was wrong. He'd drag every sordid detail out of her, the bastard, and then he'd make her bring him to Crawford's office. Rose didn't need a man to defend her virtue for her. Besides, there was someone she needed to speak to regarding this little fiasco before she went anywhere else.
By this time the car was circling into the Hollywood Hills, Rose had gotten the trembling under control, and apprehension had given way to a boiling rage. Knowing how badly Rose needed work, Helene had decided to have a little fun at her expense. All because of a misplaced sense of jealousy.
In her anger, Rose very narrowly escaped an accident for the second time and was forced to slow down. This probably helped her to find the turnoff to Laurel Manor. She was silently memorizing the upbraiding she'd give Helene when she arrived at the gates—only to find them closed. No matter; there'd been similar gates at her home in Philadelphia. Rather than crash right through the barrier as she was tempted to, Rose located the intercom. She pressed a button and a voice came over the speaker. "Yes?"
"Rose Dawson, to see Helene."
"Mrs. Masterson isn't here at the moment."
"Rose?" Terry interrupted, sounding out of breath. "Wait just a sec. I'll let you in." The gates began to swing inward, slowly.
Laurel Manor was glamorous at night, but the scenery in daylight was even more spectacular. Rose hadn't been able to see the cactus garden on New Year's Eve, nor the rows of evenly planted giant palms at the edge of the property. At the crest of the hill, one could look north and view the San Fernando Valley and the foothills beyond; in the far distance, sunlight glittered on a snow-capped peak.
"Takes your breath away, doesn't it?" Terry leaned on the verandah railing, grinning at her. He was barefoot and his hair was tousled, as if he'd just gotten out of bed; Rose couldn't help but blush like a schoolgirl. She looked again at the mountains.
"Stunning," she said.
Terry explained that he just happened to be looking out of a window when she drove up and had sprinted to the kitchen, where the intercom was located, to prevent Samson, the butler, from turning her away. Only two weeks had passed since the party, but true to Anderson's comment that night, the unfriendly Samson showed absolutely no sign of recognition as he coolly took Rose's lightweight coat and offered tea. She would wonder when he served it how he managed to find them. The interior of the house was an elaborate maze of strangely decorated rooms, each one more outlandish than the one before.
First came the parlor Terry referred to as the White Room, presumably because of the blindingly white furnishings, walls, and carpet; it obviously existed simply for show. The next room was a library which also looked to be seldom used, due to the sheer lack of books, but a stone fireplace, paintings of desert landscapes and a number of exotic plants lent the room a certain cozy atmosphere. This was followed by a second parlor where, Terry explained, they did much of their entertaining; the couches were plush and inviting, and like a scene out of Arabian Nights, a wealth of Persian rugs covered the floors and were suspended from the walls. A very masculine billiards room came next, and the final stop on the tour was a sunroom, much more ordinary than the others, which faced a courtyard outside. A pathway led through a colorful flower garden, where butterflies played and hummingbirds hovered around a feeder. Rose turned to ask if they could go outside and saw a familiar face.
"Raphael," she said, surprised, as he rose from the divan and took her hand. He wore reading glasses; he'd been working and she’d interrupted him, but it didn't bother him at all.
"You remembered my name," he replied, and the look of sheer pleasure on his face brought to mind a child who'd been rewarded for good behavior.
"Sure," Terry griped. "All the ladies remember your name."
"I was very sorry to hear of the loss of your friend," Raphael said. "Did his family like the flowers?" Rose was puzzled. Terry interjected, "I asked Rafe to order them on our behalf."
She thanked them both, aware that they were competing for her favor.
The men had business to discuss. It turned out that part of Raphael's job was to screen the many scripts that came Terry's way. Terry told Rose that if a script didn't meet with Rafe's approval, he probably wouldn't end up making the picture. A huge compliment on his part, but this time they were at odds.
"This is terrible," Raphael said, waving the pages at his boss. "All of the Mexicans in this story are vile!"
Terry shrugged. "Since when do you care about that? Did I mention Rudy Valentino is reading for a role?"
"Only a hundred times. Did I mention that the so-called crazed revolutionaries kidnap and torture a white woman?"
"Sounds like a script I read today," Rose muttered.
"You went on an audition?" Terry asked. "Rosie, that's great! Who'd you read for?"
"His name's Elias Crawford. Actually, that's what I came to see Helene about—" She paused. Terry's face had darkened, the first time she'd ever seen him anything other than cheerful.
"Crawford? Who sent you to him?" he demanded.
Rose glanced at Raphael, whose expression was one of concern. "Helene did," she said. "I assumed you knew. It...didn't go well. The man was repulsive."
"He's a two-bit hustler and a sleaze. Don't you ever go back there, Rose, you understand me?"
Terry was frightening her. Rose nodded quickly. "You don't have to worry about that."
"Good. I'll talk to Helene about this when she gets home. She finally got that invite to Pickfair. They're playing croquet. Can you imagine Helene doing that?" With the subject so smoothly changed, Terry was back to his usual self, but Rose knew he was hiding something.
The house was in a state of disarray. Anna and Hans had sold most of the furniture and packed their clothing, photographs, and other mementos into a few trunks and suitcases. This was all they would carry with them on the train when they left at the end of the month. Anna had made arrangements for them to live with her sister in New York temporarily. Catherine would also move in with a relative—her grown son. Rose didn't know he existed until after Fritz died and Catherine opened up to her. She and her husband had divorced and she agreed to let him raise the boy when he insinuated that exposure to her show business lifestyle would corrupt their son. Turned out he was now an actor.
Elvira was returning to Germany, although Sebastian’s plans were a question mark. Sale of the house and theater were to be left to Max and Angelica, who would live in the house until they could find a buyer. It was generally understood by now that Rose was staying behind as well; she wasn't sure who managed to sway Angelica. On one level she was relieved. She hadn't heard from Anderson since the funeral and Angelica was the only other person she could confide in here. Sometimes she ached for a long talk with Meg, or Vera, or Miss Yvette.
Rose regained her composure in the wake of her disastrous audition, and only told Sebastian that she hated the script and couldn't accept the part with a clear conscience. But she had every intention of trying again.
"So it's definite, then," he said. "You're not going back to New York."
"No. I rather like it here, and it's been a dream of mine for years to act in pictures. You know that, Sebastian."
"Yes, I suppose," he mused. "This long-lost relative of yours wouldn't have anything to do with your decision, would he?"
She'd told him that Anderson was a distant cousin on her late father's side and nothing more. He didn't believe her.
"I haven't spoken to him since the funeral."
"I think it might be ill-advised for you to remain here. Where will you live when this house is sold?"
"Aren't you jumping the gun? I have plenty of time—"
He raised a finger to her lips. "Darling, I know you think you can conquer the world on your own terms, but Hollywood is very different from New York. No one here knows what you can do, and I hate to say this, but there are countless girls with the same dream at the studios, and lots of them are younger than you are and more willing to compromise. If you're to survive out here, you'll need help."
This couldn't be happening.
"I've decided to stay in Los Angeles for a while. Max's father has gotten me an interview at Paramount, and I'm already looking for a flat. Perhaps, if you tire of Angelica, you can live with me."
This last he meant as a joke. Try as she might, Rose couldn't find the humor in it.