Los Angeles, 1952, Part 1 by Wayne Turmel
Language Warning. This story contains language that may put off some readers. Be aware it takes place 60 years ago, and things weren’t seen the same as they are now. Also, any discerning fiction reader should know that the opinions expressed by our characters don’t always reflect the opinions of management. Enjoy.
When that first dime-sized drop of blood hit her blouse, I figured the evening was pretty much shot. It landed just below her
Maybe the fights at the Legion weren’t the best choice for a first date after all. Especially with a nice girl like Lorna Malone. Not that it was any kind of title fight or anything. Saturday nights at the Legion—particularly in the summer when the place was a sauna—were for new kids. Sure, the main event was going to be decent; Leroy Jones was fighting Gil Cadilli, which shaped up pretty good except that Leroy had already fought twice already that month—it was that kind of card. The headliners were Mickey Northrup and Bobby Garza. The winner would probably get a title shot down the line, but I was still thrilled to be there. The blob on Lorna’s blouse grew as the stain set in, but her eyes were on the action, thank God.
Up to that point, I’d been in tall cotton. My boss at the car lot gave me the tickets— front row, north end—not prime seats but pretty damned good. It was the first time I got to sit with the big shots instead of the balcony with the negroes, Mexicans, and the soldiers on leave, who were basically looking for a reason to fight negroes and Mexicans. This was for sure the first time I’d been there with a girl.
Lorna looked away from the action long enough to put the straw to her bright red lips, giving me the sweetest smile. She looked like she was having a good time. Maybe she wouldn’t notice the blood. Of course, it was only the third bout…there was a long way to go.
“Here ya go, kid. Good things happen when you make your chalk. They’re front row.” Morrie grinned around that fat, smelly stogie as he handed them to me.
“Whoa, thanks, Mr. Aylmer.” I looked at the face value printed on them. “Front row? That’s a lot of money.”
“Studios give’em to me all the time for helping them find jalopies for the pictures. No skin off my nose. Who ya gonna take?”
I shrugged. Wasn’t going to be Ma, that’s for sure. Bad enough I was still living with her in Glendale. She’d been awful needy since I got back from overseas. I didn’t really have enough money for a decent place of my own, and she had trouble keeping the place up. Plus, she’d spent two years worrying there was going to be another gold star in the window, and was just glad to have me home. And her cooking was aces.
As for girls I knew…there weren’t really any. Maybe Georgie’d go with me if he could shake the ball-and-chain for the night.
“What about that hot little number who came in last week? Torpedo tits? Big teeth?”
“You mean Miss Malone?” I remembered her, of course. Nice girl, good figure under that sweater set, whitest teeth I’d ever seen, about a mile out of my league. “She’d never even know who I am…and I don’t have her number.”
Morrie grunted his way out of his chair and waddled over to the filing cabinet. “Of course you do. It’s right here. She had to fill out all her particulars so she could buy that piece of crap on time.” It was a 1947 Ford Deluxe Coupe—she adorably insisted on calling it coupay, like the French—with a pristine exterior and a starter held together by hand-soldering and prayer.
The old lecher held the blue index card with her Hollywood address and her phone number out to me. “Name, address. Even her employer—Monogram Studios. She’s a contract player. You’re in like Flynn, buddy boy.”
I was never, ever, in like Flynn, but I appreciated his faith in me. “I don’t know what to say to her. She won’t even know me…”
Morrie rolled his eyes beseeching God to save him from me and all morons. He opened his desk drawer, pulled out a paisley woman’s scarf and threw it at me. “She forgot her scarf.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not her scarf,” I said, running it through my fingers. It was cheap nylon but looked like silk. She’d look great wearing it. If it were really hers, which it clearly wasn’t.
“Do you know that for a fact?” I shook my head. “Does she know that?” The lightbulb above my head flickered on.
“Who knows, she might show a little gratitude…” he made a jerking motion with his hand and laughed that big-belly-shaking laugh that made people forgive him no matter how badly he diddled them on price. As for the other, I’m not sure she’d be that grateful, but I might get a date out of it.
“Is this ethical? I mean…” Morrie just stared at me like I’d sprung a second head.
“Ethical? What do you think we do for a living? Ethical…geezus kid, all’s fair in love, car sales, and poontang.” He really believed that. He was giving up the tickets to be with Charlene, the peroxide-addled “receptionist” he didn’t think the employees or his wife knew about.
Lorna Malone lived at the Hollywood Studio Club on Lodi just off Gower and Fountain, along with about a hundred other girls trying to get into the pictures. Technically, she was in the pictures. She’d proudly shown everyone at the dealership the pay stub from Monogram Studios. Imagine, Jimmy Ferguson dating a real-life actress. I was busting my buttons, although of course, I didn’t tell Ma. She always warned me about actresses, like she did anything else in a skirt.
I parked outside and nearly melted walking between the Super Deluxe Morrie let me borrow from the lot (as long as I hand-to-God promised to clean up the back seat before bringing it back – as if) and the lobby. June in Los Angeles isn’t exactly tie weather, especially the big wool knit boa constrictor I had wrapped around my neck, but it was my only good necktie and I wanted to look sharp. Besides, it matched the jacket, which was another questionable choice, but Ma said it made me look gentlemanly and wouldn’t l until lay off until I wore it. Even Morrie let me skip the tie once it hit 85 degrees.
Streams of hot air from two big fans hit me as I entered the lobby. Since it was Saturday night, the place was full of nervous, eager-looking guys my age, about a dozen or so—even one uniformed and very uncomfortable chauffeur. It was a nice enough reception area… Spanish tiles on the floor and a big wooden desk with a switchboard and a middle-aged matron glowering at me.
“May I help you?” Her voice was just slightly lower than my old drill sergeant’s, and her hair maybe half an inch longer. She looked like there was almost anything she’d rather do than offer assistance, but she did ask.
“I’m here to see Miss Malone. I’m Jimmy Ferguson.” She stared at me.
“Lorna Malone?” Still no hint of recognition. I tried again. “She’s an actress…” That didn’t exactly narrow it down, so I kept trying. “Pretty? Redhead? About so high?” I held my hand at about chin height. Still nothing. “Nice teeth…” I was running out of what I knew about my date. That seemed to do it, though. The matron grunted.
“You mean Patsy. Just a minute.” She held up a gnarled finger that froze me in place until she plugged a cord into the switchboard. “Miss Malone?” She said the name like it hurt her teeth. “There’s a Mister Ferguson here to see you…. Yes alright.”
The old bat pointed to a damask wing chair in the corner, close to the door and as far from her as possible. “She’ll be down in a moment. Meanwhile, she’s to be in by midnight- we have a curfew here, even on Saturdays, And no men past this spot. Ever.”
Her gaze froze any smart-ass remark into a chunk of ice in my throat. I politely nodded my assen and took a seat. I avoided her gaze by looking around the lobby, tapping my foot and drumming a little Gene Krupa on my knees while staring at the fire door that led to the dormitories, praying Lorna wouldn’t change her mind.
She hadn’t. The room got less stuffy when the cool breeze that was Lorna Malone wafted through the swinging door. She wore a blue skirt, with a perfectly starched white blouse. She had real mock-pearls around her throat, and studs in her ears. She flashed her immaculate teeth as she spotted me.
“Mister Ferguson…” She offered her hand professionally. “So nice to see you again. I didn’t expect to hear from you, I must say it was a pleasant surprise when you called.”
One thing I had learned since working on the car lot was to talk to women without making a complete ass out of myself. “Yeah. I mean, sure. I’m pleased you could make it. I know it’s kind of last-minute.” For me, that was pretty smooth talk and I’d done it without tripping over my tongue.
Her laugh was like cold lemonade at an August picnic—perfect. “Us…we working girls don’t usually make plans for the weekend, except catching up on our sleep. I have to be at the studio bright and early every morning but Sunday. But it was so nice to hear you’d found my scarf, and it’s not every night you get invited to a boxing match, my goodness.”
I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out Morrie’s scarf. “I didn’t know for sure if it was yours, but…” She extended a smooth white hand with perfect cherry-red nails and daintily plucked it from my sweaty hand. Lorna examined it, eyebrows raised, then stuffed it in her purse. She flashed me those teeth. “Thank you so much, I was so afraid I’d lost it. I’m such a goose sometimes.”
I know she was talking as we made our way past the other guys waiting for girls who never made plans for the weekend, out the door and up the block to my car. If you put a gun to my head I couldn’t tell you what she said. I just know it sounded terrific and made me grin. I sped up to get ahead of her and open the door. “Milady.” I ushered her in with a bow.
She laughed. “Well thank you, kind sir. Such a gentleman.” I floated around the back of the car to my own door and climbed in.
“So where is the boxing…fight…thing? I’m sorry, I’ve never seen boxing except in the movies. Did I even say that right?”
“You did fine. The Legion is downtown. Well, a bit south. It’s not too far.” I checked my watch. We’d have to hustle, but there really wasn’t anywhere I’d rather be than in that stuffy borrowed car. I took my eyes off Lorna long enough to pull into traffic without hitting anyone.
We talked mindlessly for a bit. There are rules to living in Los Angeles, and the first, inescapable law is, all conversations must start with, “Where are you really from?” Inevitably I was the only one to respond, “Here.” She was no exception.
“Boston. Well, Milton, but I say Milton and everybody says ‘never heard of it’ so I have to say Boston anyway, so I just say Boston. How about you?”
I smiled at her. “Well, Glendale. And then everyone pretends like they never heard of it so I say Los Angeles. Kinda the same thing.”
“You’re funny. I like funny guys.” Hot damn.
It went on like that for a while, awkward but pleasant first-date chatter but I knew I’d have to ask sooner or later. “Why did that lady call you Patsy?”
My date hid her face in her hands and groaned melodramatically. “She didn’t, did she? Arrrggh. Okay, can you keep a secret?” I nodded, like I’d do anything else under the circumstances. She scooted towards me on the bench seat, teeth and boobs leading the way. “Okay, Lorna Malone isn’t my real name. The studio gave it to me when I started getting speaking parts. I used to be Patsy McGuigan. They were looking for more of a movie-star name. I mean, there’s no hiding the Old Sod on this face, but they thought Lorna Malone sounded more “Lace Curtain.” I was Patsy when I checked in, and Margot still calls me that, although I’m trying to get everyone to call me Lorna—just so I can get used to it, you know? What do you think, do I look more like a Lorna or a Patsy?”
I tried not to think about the fact that putting your movie star name on a bank note for a car was probably fraud, and told her honestly. “Definitely a Lorna.” She playfully slapped my arm.
“Good boy.” That earned me three blocks of happy silence.
“So you’re getting speaking parts? That’s good, right?” I asked the right question. She lit up like it was Christmas and turned completely towards me.
“Yes, five pictures in a row now. That’s why I got my raise and figured I could finally get a car. Ninety dollars a week isn’t a lot but for Monogram…Do you know how I got my raise?” I wisely shook my head. I had several ideas but I didn’t expect the answer. “I’m the best drink-thrower on the lot.”
“Drink-thrower. It’s a skill, really. See, in ‘Ghost Chasers,’ they needed a girl to throw a drink in Leo—that’s Leo Gorcey’s—face. But most girls don’t do it right. They throw the drink like you would in a guy’s face in a bar, for real.”
“You throw a lot of drinks in guys’ faces?” I asked.
“Well, a lady has to defend her honor,” she said in a fake, albeit sexy Southern accent, while pretending to fan herself. “Do you know the secret?” I shrugged appropriately. “Well, see, you don’t want to get it in his eyes, because then he can’t keep the scene going. I figured this out, see, so when I got my shot I aimed it at his mouth. You take it like this…” She picked up an invisible glass and tossed it at me.” …and you aim at his mouth. It was great. Leo could keep his eyes open, and it was so perfect he even turned it into a spit take. The director loved it, and when they needed someone to do it in the next picture—that’s ‘Let’s Go Navy’—I got to do it again. With lines. Leo and Huntz get a lot of drinks thrown in their faces in their pictures. Probably in real life too, cause Huntz can be a little handsy- although not with me. Now Leo asks for me all the time, and my price went about –” she held her fingers up, spread about half an inch apart, “–this much. But, a raise is a raise, right?”She finally paused to breathe.
I nodded. I’d kill Ma for a steady ninety a week, but I didn’t say anything.
“How long have you been selling cars?”
“Well, when I got back from overseas…”
She gasped. “Did you fight in Korea?”
“No, Okinawa.” And it wasn’t so much fighting as it was counting sacks of potatoes and humping them onto transports, but it was overseas and I wore a uniform so I left it at that. “Got home and needed a job. Not really sure what to do with myself, and Ma needed help, so I came home and found the first job that would hire me where I didn’t need to wear a uniform every day.”
“You live with your mother?” There it was. I don’t think she saw me flinch.
“Just ‘til she’s okay and then I’ll maybe buy a house.”
“That’s sweet,” she said, looking straight out the windshield and down Olympic Boulevard.
Read Part 2 now!
Wayne Turmel is a Canadian writer and speaker based in Las Vegas. He’s the author of 8 non-fiction titles, but his first love is fiction. His novels include “The Count of the Sahara,” “Acre’s Bastard,” and the upcoming (January 2019) “Acre’s Orphans.” His stories have appeared in Dodging the Rain, Storgy.com, and e-Fiction Magazine. Wayne’s website is http://www.WayneTurmel.com and he can be found on Twitter @Wturmel.