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King of Hollywood - Chapter 1

prologue - 1999.

                When Jack Calavitti calls up to tell me that Danny has been found - murdered - in the front room of his Hollywood Hills home, my first reaction is not grief, anger, or even surprise. It is more of a resignation, an acceptance of the fact that Danny's lifestyle has finally caught up with him, that - like Mel Gibson's Hamlet - he has at last paid the price for his one fatal flaw. And so I find myself here, in the LA County Morgue, staring at the chilled corpse of the man who has been a lover, friend, enemy, rival, or rather all four; a mass of contradictions, sometimes funny, sometimes flippant, sometimes cruel, never - the worst of all Hollywood sins - dull.
"Benny." The hand Jack offers me is shaky. I know the Big J is well past seventy, but he seems to have aged ten years in the three-or-so months since I last saw him. To lose your only son, surrogate or not - "I'm glad you came."
                "It's good to see you, Jack. If only it were a happier occasion." Horrible cliché! But the very situation itself seems unreal, like everything else in this crazy town. I can visualize the tabs going to work on the hard copy, gloating over the case like vultures congregating above a stinking carcass. It has been a long time since something fitted so perfectly into the "Gay Deaths" scenario - Whale, Novarro, Pasolini, Mineo (maybe) - God, Danny was a teenager when they last had a morality play this perfect. Homosexuality Leads to Horrific Homicide. The pathologist, Steel, whose manner is as starkly clinical as his name, estimates that Danny lived for perhaps thirty minutes after his head injury before expiring on the floor, gasping like a speared fish in a pool of his own piss and blood…I glance down at him again. He seems so peaceful, now.
                Beside me, Jack is shivering. "It's a bad business, Benny. A bad business. I can't think who could have done something like this."
                "You said they had a lead. The boy -"
                "Ah, the boy. Max." He spits out the name. "The whore."
                "He wasn't a whore." I'm not sure why yet but I feel I should defend him. "Maybe at the beginning, but Danny was - well, they had something. A - bond." It wouldn’t seem like murder if he were already dead inside.
                Jack reaches down to brush a lock of hair from Danny's cold forehead. He'd been growing it long for some stupid series. "He told you?"
                "No. But he couldn’t hide it. It was Nathan who introduced them." Nate is - was, goddamit! - Danny's neighbor, a short, flamboyant queen with Eraserhead hair and a voice that could crack Lladro china. He works on Broadway, mostly, so can afford to be out.
                Jack is incredulous. "Danny got Nathan to get boys for him?"
"Not usually. I think this one was an accident. Kinda fell into his lap." He looks hard at me. "Sorry. Bad phrasing." I laugh then, remembering. "He would drive Nate crazy. Nate'd try to tempt him with all these pretty models and Dan just wouldn't go for it. Y'know, one for you, one for me…"
I can see Jack is getting edgy. Two guys, exchanging pleasantries over a dead body. How do you set a precedent for that kind of conversation? I am amazed at how calm I am. "I think he preferred to pay for it with real money. Less complicated that way. A hustler isn't going to demand a part in your next movie or want you to read his screenplay."
"Mmmm." I suppose this type of talk is new to Jack, though I can’t quite believe that having lived two decades in LA he hasn't ever known the pleasures of a hooker, especially now he is a widower of five years' standing. "Well, something went wrong."
"Yeah." There should be more, but the words won't come, so I just repeat myself, idiotically. "Yeah."
"I hope he didn’t suffer. I couldn't bear that." Jack crosses himself and mutters something in Italian. "Sleep with the angels now, my sweet boy."
I feel like I am intruding, watching Jack with his memories - longer than mine, but not by much. I step back a little and look around the huge vault, wondering what other tormented souls lie imprisoned behind those silver doors. How can death be so orderly? I think of my parents' tiny farm in Trevano, and the crude wooden crosses that mark the passing of generations of their people. "I gotta go."
"Go?" Jack sounds almost scared. "Go where?"
"Back to the house. Danny's house."
"You can't go there." Definite fear now. From the Big JC? "It won't - it won't have been cleaned."
                A montage flashes through my head. Danny dying. Blood on the carpet. Chalk outlines. "I gotta check on the dogs."
                "The dogs?" For a moment he seems confused. Then the frown disappears. "Ah. The Alsatians."
                "How many has he now?"
                "Just the two since Larry got hit by that maniac on Sunset." Danny had been devastated that night. "I want to make sure they're alright. I don't suppose anyone else will have thought of them."
"No." He sighs. "Well, you take care of it, then. I'll call you when I get back to the hotel."
                "Okay. You look after yourself, Jack." I reach out to shake his hand, then draw back, suddenly understanding what lies between us. I feel sorrow then for the first time. As I gaze at Danny, trying to memorize every detail of the face I will never see again, I find myself thinking that maybe death has saved him from a greater fate. Obscurity.
*                                              *                                              *

                The drive down to Mulholland is a twisty hell, as always. I pull the car into the driveway and turn off the ignition. No sign of LA's Finest.
A squat little figure on the adjacent grass verge looks to be getting nearer. It can only be Nathan.
                "Benny!" An unwelcome hug. "Oh, Benny, I just can't believe it. This is just ghastly." He uses that word a lot, usually in connection with burning the vegetables or ripping a hem. "Hello, Nate."
                "The police were here for hours." He rolls his eyes. "They completely ruined the lawn."
                "Yeah? I've just come from the morgue."
                "Really? Did you see Danny? Did he look - okay?" What sort of dumb-assed question is that? "It's just I have this crazy feeling that Dan would want everything to be perfect - even on the slab."
My fingers itch to slap him, and I have to bite my tongue. "Sure, Nate. He looked fine. Like he was sleeping."
A tiny smile. That does it. "In fact, if I hadn't known, I wouldn’t even have guessed that half his brain was pickled."
                Nate's lower lip is trembling. "I - I can't help thinking that I might have been responsible in some way. I mean, that awful boy was a friend of Philippe's - I brought them together."
                Much as I dislike the man, I can’t let him believe that. "It wasn’t your fault. Sometimes these things just happen. Maybe we're all to blame, y'know?"
Trashy line, but it makes his eyes shine again. I walk towards the house. Most of these manses have protection systems to rival Fort Knox, but Dan never saw the need. Hell, didn’t do shit for Nicole B., did it? he'd point out, eyebrows raised, as the next slippery salesman tried to pitch him the TotalGard Plus package. I wonder if Nate will follow me, but the imagined horrors of the front room - Nate can’t bear red, wine or otherwise - trap him there on the grass. I pull out the key that Danny had cut for me that time in Maui and unlock the door.
I am right about the dogs. They must have been shut up in the kitchen when the cops arrived and left there, alone and Schmacko-less, for the next two days. Curly and Moe - sans Larry - almost knock me over with their riotous welcome. It's nice to be appreciated, I think, as a cold wet nose nuzzles my own.
They bound towards the front room. "You leading me somewhere, Lassie?" I put my hand on the doorknob. The oak paneling creaks like the entrance to a William Castle mansion. "Let's see how bad it is."
I step inside. Whatever mayhem I've been expecting to see just isn’t there. Everything looks normal save for the dark patch in the middle of the mohair rug I vaguely remember Danny lifting from the set of Get it Up, a heist movie set in nineteenth-century France, and even that appears strangely benign. As I reach the center of the room, I notice what appears to be a pile of twisted People's Choice Awards by the mantel. Weird. The golden statuette is gone, bagged and tagged by the LAPD. The Oscar Dan had sacrificed his last love for. Exhibit A.
*                                              *                                              *

Nathan is still outside. I stride over to him, suddenly hungry for a confession. "Tell me everything you know."
"Everything?" A whine.
"Yeah. About Friday night. Start with Max arriving and finish when the cops get here."
"Ple-ease, Benny. It was traumatic enough having to go through it for them. What good can it do now, anyway?"
                I put on my best Solicitous Sage voice, the one I used in Toughlove to tell Patty Duke that her youngest grandson's cancer was back and which most people find about as convincing as Keanu Reeves's English accent in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Hey, whatdya expect for Guild min? This little diva, though, is easy money. "I know it's hard, Nate. But I gotta get to the bottom of what happened, so's I can get it all straight in my head. It's what Dan would have wanted, after all. What I need from you" - I am really laying it on thick now - "is the truth."
                Nate is visibly weakening. "Well, okay. But you have to remember that I'm still very distressed about poor Danny, and I might not get everything out quite right."
                "That's fine. Just do the best you can."
                Nate takes a deep breath. "I knew there was something funny about that boy. It was all in the eyes, you know. He had the devil's eyes, killer eyes. I'd get scared just looking at them. That's why we didn't speak much, because it's pretty difficult to carry out a conversation with someone when you can't even be in the same room with them for fear they'll try to hypnotize you like a snake does -"
He is babbling. "Jesus, Nate. Enough with the poetic descriptions! I think the whole of Southern California knew what you thought of him. Just Friday, okay?"
"I'm sorry, Benny. My heart is aching." He clasps his hand to his chest with a flourish. I wonder how many times he's pulled that move on stage. "Max turned up around six, like he always did. The impudent boy would march straight across my herbaceous border. Prudence" - Nate's nasty little Pekinese - "got to barking her head off every time, so then I'd know the rascal had arrived.
"I went to the window to check he hadn't trampled any of my petunias, and saw him ring the bell. I do think it strange that Danny never gave him a key. After all" - here a sharp glance in my direction - "he seemed to get copies for most of his friends. 
"Anyway, that was that until a while later - half eight or nine, I think - when there was some kind of commotion going on. I looked out of the window again and there was the little strumpet on the front lawn, yelling some horrid obscenity to all and sundry.  Danny came to the door, they had a few more words and he managed to entice Max back inside. Well, he would pick on the rough trade, I thought. If only he'd just let him go! I - sorry," he adds as a sob escapes his throat. A single forlorn tear drips off the end of his nose. "You are coping so much better than me, Benny. I can't think at all."
He takes out a handkerchief and dabs at his eyes. "It must have been around ten that the screaming started. I was in the bathroom, on the other side of the house, but I could hear it even from there. I thought it must be Danny, I thought what's that dreadful Max doing to him? Of course, if I'd known, I'd have called the police straight away because he's probably in Mexico by now and these people have lawyers you know and even if all the evidence points right sometimes they get off on a technicality or something -" Not so long ago I wouldn't have been able to follow a word of Nathan's frenetic speech, but that six months on LA Gunrunners has taught me to appreciate the full glory of the English language in all its variations.
"And then, suddenly it all stopped, and Max came racing out of the house like his ass was on fire - excuse me - and off down the road. I swear," Nate continues, "if I ever see that boy again I will beat him to within an inch of his life for what he did to poor Danny."
I have to crack a smile at this. The idea of Nate ever meting out physical justice to anyone is so far fetched as to be ridiculous. I'd put more money on Gloria Stuart to send Max to Cedars. "So when did you get the cops in?"
  "Oh then, right then, when I saw Max run away, because he did look so absolutely dreadful and I thought it's probably nothing, it's probably just me being silly, but I did and they were here within the hour which is very good for North Hollywood you know, and they knocked on the door and there was no reply so they forced their way in, and I guess that was when - they found him." Nate is crying again. "About midnight that was, Benny, about midnight."
"Thanks, Nate. You've been a real help." The montage in my head is growing into a feature. I reach into my pocket. "Here."
His brow furrows. "What's that?"
"The keys to Danny's. So's you can feed the dogs."
Not a welcome offering. "Oh Benny, I couldn't."
"Look, I checked it all out. It's fine in there. No mess."
"Benny -"
"I even closed the door so's you wouldn't have to go in the front room. I gotta get back to Pasadena in case Jack needs me."
"Oh, yes. Jack." His head jerks upwards. I watch as the caterpillar brows twitch in his ugly, trusting face. "You were a real friend to Danny. And now you have his key." I turn away. "Call me if you need to." I walk over to my car without looking back.
*                                              *                                              *

It is past one before I unlock my front door. I check the answerphone. Kevin. My agent. Some girl calling for "Nigel." You were brilliant, baby. Stephen Dorff.
Beep. No Jack. Why does that bother me so? I walk through to the kitchen, take a Bud out of the fridge, and slump down on the couch.
I fumble around for the remote and flick the television on. The news channels are still full of the murder. Nice kid, some queen is saying, nice kid. Just that little ten-percent psycho in him you have to watch out for. Mosta the time he's real sweet.
I switch over. One more day and the creeps will find some new obsession. One station is showing Danny's worst film, an action-comedy so dire that even Hulk Hogan had declined to appear in it.
I kill the TV and tip the rest of the beer down the sink. I pad through into the bedroom, yawning, kicking off my shoes. I slide into the warm, comforting bed.
I go to sleep to dream of my lost lover, and know that I will wake to a pillow damp with the disembodied thoughts of furtive encounters and missed opportunities. Danny, Danny, Danny, Danny…  





Robin Tamblyn (author)