You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.
Rather than congregate in one of the bigger and more popular cemeteries closer to Hollywood, the eight of them had come together in a small cemetery in Chatsworth, at what Bette immediately referred to as “The steaming ass-end of the Valley.”
They had chosen the location because it didn’t get a lot of visitors, didn’t really have anyone famous buried there, but did have a large mausoleum with an interior space where they could gather undisturbed.
They were all Class II, and rather prominent ones — besides Bette Davis, the gathering included Humphrey Bogart, Clara Bow, W.C. Fields, Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, and Rudolph Valentino.
Truth to tell, it was like a gathering of a bad Hollywood mural, or the poster art at any of the dozens of tourist trap shops on the Boulevard. What made it worse, of course, was that each of them looked and acted exactly like their most well-known public personas.
Ausmann had been onto something. The Rêves — well, the entities, because he didn’t know how they referred to themselves — were not the ghosts of the famous. They were manifestations of the memories of the living but had somehow become autonomous, sentient, and self-aware.
There were those only remembered by their friends and families, and they clung most strongly to who they really were, especially if those friends and families had a long tradition of passing down lore and memories of their ancestors.
There were also celebrities who had died more recently, so they still had a large number of people who knew them in real life, meaning they tended to alternate between their public and private personae, but were able to do it consciously.
As for the ones too long gone to really be in the living memory of very many people if any, they only showed up as the most famous roles they played. They were also the ones most strongly leaking into the living world of late.
As they entered the crypt, Bette couldn’t help but exclaim, “What a dump!” Meanwhile, Marilyn oohed and cooed at all the fixtures, white dress flapping up in a non-existent breeze. Ginger Rogers, elegant in her own white dress that stayed down at her ankles, twirled and tapped her way across the marble floor.
“Nothing like tapping on marble,” she exclaimed before capping it all with four really fast right buffalos and a flourish.
“Nice job, sister,” Humphrey Bogart said, tipping his fedora to her.
W.C. Fields, wearing his famous outfit from Poppy, complete with top hat, surveyed the place and remarked, “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”
Jimmy Stewart, looking as earnest as possible, surveyed the room and stuttered his way through, “Drafty old barn of a place. Wonder we don’t all catch pneumonia.”
This left Clara Bow and Rudolph Valentino to have an animated conversation with each other, faces very expressive, but despite their mouths moving, all that came out was silence.
“All right,” Bette finally exclaimed. “Anybody have any brilliant ideas, or do I have to come up with everything myself as usual?”
“I don’t know why we’re so upset,” Marilyn exclaimed breathily. “I mean, it’s not like this Anabel person was really in charge of any of us, right? I mean, she was a nobody.”
“Some nobodies are real somebodies, sweetheart,” Bogart replied. “Depends all on whom you ask. And if you don’t ask the right people, you go home in a body bag.”
“Ah, Anabel,” W.C. exclaimed. “Anabel, sweet Anabel. It’s a name that trips right off the tongue. My dear sainted grandmother was named Anabel. So sad that she died in that brewery accident. Beer all over her antimacassar.”
“So, so, so, let’s look at, at what we do know, then,” Jimmy said. “Somebody came and just took, took Anabel. We don’t know who, don’t know who, and so, so, she’s — ”
“Jimmy, honey, I loved you in It’s a Wonderful Life,” Bette snapped, “But can we maybe go Rear Window and get on with it?”
“Right,” he replied, suddenly seeming way more serious. “What we have to wonder is who would have taken her and why? What were they expecting to get out of it?”
Clara jumped forward with an eager opinion as Bette just gave her the side-eye before spitting out, “Nobody can hear a word you’re saying, bitch. And can you try to do something besides the black and white?”
Clara glared at her then looked to Valentino, who pointed to Jimmy, nodding frantically. Since he was dressed as The Sheikh, he had a velvet bag at his side. He took it off his belt, opened it, and poured gold coins onto the floor, although, being insubstantial, they hit and vanished without a sound.
“Money,” Ginger gasped.
“Yeah, but I didn’t see no ransom note, and that’s usually what happens in these situations,” Bogart explained. “You’d especially think so with a dame like Anabel.”
“Why do you act like she’s so goddamn important?” Bette suddenly shouted. “She’s not one of us, clearly.”
“A lot of us seem to think she is,” Ginger replied.
“No. A lot of little people act like she is. “But what do you think they’re going to do about it?”
“The little people are my biggest fans,” Marilyn cooed. “I love them.”
“So are we going to go rescue this dear Anabel or not?” W.C. drawled. “If so, I volunteer!”
“We don’t even know who took her,” Jimmy replied.
Clara started giving some impassioned speech but, again, without sound. Bette stared at her, looking to the others to express her disapproval, then finally said, “How the hell did they ever get your legs close enough together to put you in the coffin, you little whore?”
Clara visibly gasped, eyes going wide, but Valentino held her back. “Oh, right, like you’re going to protect her, you queer wop,” Bette spat.
“Do you have anyone besides Margo Channing you want to pull out of your bag of cheap tricks?” Jimmy asked her.
“Why?” Bette replied. “Margo gets shit done.”
“Does she?” Bogart said.
“I got this meeting together, didn’t I?” Bette spat back at him.
“And it’s accomplished about as much as a weather vane in the basement,” W.C. opined.
“Who asked you, you fucking lush?” Bette said.
“I believe your statement was a question, you harridan,” W.C. replied. “You did not limit the choice of respondents.”
“So then what do we do?” Ginger asked.
“If this Anabel is so important, then I think we need to go find her,” Marilyn stated confidently.
“You kind of need to know where she went first before you can do that, sweetheart,” Bogart drawled.
“So do any of you sons of bitches know where the hell they took her?” Bette shouted, both arms raised at her sides and bent up at the elbow, as if they held two full brandy snifters.
“I didn’t even know who she was before today,” Marilyn gushed.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Bette muttered under her breath.
Just outside of the mausoleum, in a place where they could spy through an upper window while not being observed, Richard and Holden watched the proceedings, and it was all they could do to not laugh their asses off.
They had had no problems at all tracking these celebs to their “secret” meeting because, well, Holden was Class 1, and Richard was one of those mixed cases leaning toward Class 1. Anything that pure Class IIs did leaked out into the Rêve world like crazy, although only the Class 1s noticed.
Holden had also known all of them personally during his life, and he kept giving Richard a running narrative. He had fond memories of Valentino, whom he’d fucked before his film career took off, and admiration for Clara Bow, who really had screwed the entire USC football team. He was less kind to Bette, loved W.C., admired Bogart, and regretted that Jimmy didn’t have a gay bone in his body.
Of course he was totally into Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe, the former more than the latter, though, as he quoted the oft-mentioned canard: She did everything that Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.
Really, Ginger had been an early feminist icon. She just never knew it.
But the more they listened to the meeting, the less they worried. Being mere shadows of the public images of themselves, it was doubtful that any of them would ever come up with any meaningful plan, much less figure out where Anabel was, who had taken her, or why.
Not that the Board and the Class 1s had done much better — but at least they didn’t have to worry about this little cabal. Or, as Holden quickly described it, “Bitchy Bette’s fucking clown show.”
* * *
Brent and Drew
There were really only two areas in their lives that Joshua and Simon considered to be their “oil and water” moments. One was in their respective diets. Each of them considered the other’s preferred food choices to be gross. Still, their love was strong enough that Simon easily forgave Joshua’s love of red meat, and Joshua loved Simon so much that he gave the abomination of pineapple on pizza a pass.
But only for him. Anyone else who tried that shit in his presence could just fuck right off.
The other “oil and water” moment centered on the subject of being a naturist, as in Joshua totally was, while Simon really wasn’t. Still, they managed to make it work, so that Simon would go with Joshua to nude beaches or resorts in Palm Springs or to various other nude meet-ups, and Joshua was free to just let it all hang out while Simon kept his shorts on.
Somewhere during all of that, they’d met Brent and Drew, a richer than fuck older gay couple who lived in the Mount Olympus part of L.A., and who’d taken a liking to the boys in a rather paternal way. They’d known the two a while but, by this point, Drew, the older member of the couple, was 97. Brent, meanwhile, was a spring chicken at 62.
Anyway, they had an amazing house, a really private backyard, and a very deep swimming pool and, during the summers, they’d given Joshua and Simon an open invitation to come swim.
Oh… that was possibly a third point of disagreement between Joshua and Simon. The former wanted to buy a house so they could have a secluded yard with a pool. The latter insisted that it would do too much damage to the carbon footprint. As much as he tried, though, Joshua could never prove Simon wrong on that point — although he was sure that one day that he would, and it would probably involve dogs somehow. Or cats. Whichever.
Anyway, they had “Uncle” Brent and Drew’s place to swim, and it was, finally, the one place where Joshua had convinced Simon to drop trou and just enjoy being nude outside. Well, clearly, Simon was really nervous and hesitant about it, and it didn’t help that one time that Drew had gone total perv and jiggled his dick, which Simon really didn’t appreciate.
But… this time around, Drew probably had valuable information. He had worked in the industry since forever, for one thing. Second, he had compiled gay history during that entire time. Third, well, it would probably involve Simon letting his dick get jiggled again, but Joshua didn’t mention that part.
They drove up Laurel Canyon, turned left on one of the streets named Doña something, and then wound up in Mount Olympus, the most pretentiously named development in the entire city, entered the gate code at the bottom of a steep driveway, then drove on up to park in front of a Mid-Century Modern pile of steel and glass that had a commanding view of Los Angeles.
Brent was standing in the doorway in a silk dressing gown that barely covered anything, sipping his coffee, and he shouted, “Hello!” as they approached, giving each of them a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Neither Brent nor Drew were related to Joshua or Simon, although the older men insisted on calling themselves the younger men’s gay aunties. Brent escorted them into the house calling out loudly, “Drew, the boys are here!” before leading them on into the backyard.
It was a rarity for most of Mount Olympus to have a backyard since so much of the place was built on top of mountain ridges. If you’ve ever seen photos of those infamous L.A. homes that stick out from the side of mountains and are supported on stilts, this was one of about three neighborhoods that had them.
Of course, what people don’t realize is that those stilts aren’t really what’s holding the house up. Instead, they’re supported by huge steel beams that go back into the mountain and are usually at least twice as long as the whole house is deep. The dangling bit is all illusion.
But Brent and Drew’s place not only had a huge yard, it was surrounded by high walls, part of the mountain, and lots of tall trees, so it was basically completely secluded. The centerpiece was a huge pool that was ten feet at its deepest — unusual in itself, since most suburban built-in pools in the city maxed out at seven or eight feet.
That was probably because it had originally come with a diving board, but extra homeowner’s insurance costs had led to the removal of most all of those years ago.
“Soda? Beer? Wine? Tea?” Brent offered.
“Water, please,” Joshua and Simon said in unision.
“Well look at you good little boys,” Brent smiled at them, adding, “Get comfortable, get wet,” before going inside.
To outsiders, it might have looked creepy. After all, Brent was more than twenty years older than either of them while Drew was actually twenty years older than twice their ages. But nothing untoward had ever happened except for that one time that Drew had grabbed Simon’s dick, but that was very early on, Joshua had mentioned it to Brent because he knew how much it had creeped Simon out, and it never happened again.
So as Brent went in, Joshua put his towel down on a deck chair and was naked and in the water in about thirty seconds flat. Simon was always more deliberate about it — he carefully folded everything and placed it on a second lounge chair — so Joshua had already done a couple of laps by the time Simon dove in.
“We should really buy a house with a pool,” Joshua told Simon.
“Do you have any idea how much bigger the carbon footprint of a house is?” Simon replied.
“Not if you go completely self-sufficient,” Joshua reminded him. “All solar, sell power back to the grid, recycle everything, grow your own vegetables, 3D print things you need — ”
“Which takes plastic,” Simon said.
“They have a new kind of material that isn’t plastic and it composts,” Joshua answered. “Besides, we could have dogs if we had a house.”
It was a conversation they’d had a dozen times, although Joshua hoped to win the argument one day. Meanwhile, they swam to the side of the pool in the deep end and hung on the wall, enjoying the sun and the cool water.
That was when Drew wandered out, wearing a very bright Hawaiian shirt, blue shorts, and a huge floppy sun hat. Brent insisted on the hat because Drew was completely bald now and had several adventures with melanoma.
Still, he wasn’t doing bad for being 97, and other than a little hearing loss, he was sharp as a tack and virtually a walking encyclopedia. He had worked in the entertainment business for almost his entire life, starting when he was eight years old as a comedic tumbler with his uncle’s comedy act in a Burlesque show in Hollywood.
He had told them once, “Vaudeville was all about the comedy and music, but of course Burlesque was all about the tits and ass. Every show would be two comics and six strippers — they called them ‘coochie dancers,’ and that referred to exactly what you think it did.”
He’d actually worked with some really famous people at the time — this was the early 1930s — and it had been an eye-opening experience. “Back stage, it was nothing but knockers and twats all over the place, and that’s why I realized I was gay at that age. Because none of it did anything for me.”
“So Brent said you had some questions for me about some porn star,” Drew said.
“We do!” Simon called out as the two of them swam to the shallow end and stood facing the wall next to where Drew had taken a seat on a deck chair. In addition to everything he knew about all aspects of entertainment in Los Angeles in the 20th century, Drew had also always been a connoisseur of everything having to do with gay porn.
There was an entire addition to the house, as a matter of fact, that housed his extensive collection of magazines, films, videos, DVDs, clippings, photos, and memorabilia documenting absolutely everything. He had often threatened to write a book or two on the subject, but never did, although professional historians did from time-to-time come to take advantage of his archive.
So yes, Drew knew porn stars.
“What do you know about Preston LeCard?” Joshua asked.
“First, I didn’t know he was a porn star,” Drew replied.
“Why do you say that?” Simon asked.
“Because I knew him. We were born the same year, went to school together up through high school.”
“Wait… you knew Preston LeCard?” Joshua said, incredulous. “The one whose mother was Anabel?”
“Well, that was her name, but she died when he was born. I think that fucked him in the head a little. Probably always felt guilty about it. But no, he never did porn of any kind. Anyway, he was straight as a bone.”
“I think we’re talking about a different Preston,” Simon explained. “This one died about three years ago, when he was twenty-three.”
“AIDS?” Drew asked.
“Corona,” Joshua replied.
“Hm. Any other names?” Drew asked.
“Not that we know of, no,” Joshua said. “Hang on.” He got out of the pool and grabbed his phone, scrolling through it. Simon noticed where Drew’s eyes were pointed, and he kind of envied Joshua’s ability to just be so casual about being nude around other people. He was still trying to get used to it.
Joshua found something and brought his phone to Drew, showing him something. Drew held it at full arm’s length and looked, then tapped to zoom.
“Ah. This one looks familiar. Come up to the archive. I think I can help you.”
They headed upstairs. Simon grabbed his towel and wrapped it around his waist. Joshua did not.
Upstairs felt like a combination of a shrine and a library, carpeted in a thick burgundy plush that helped lend the silence of Importance to the room. Photos on the walls documented the state of the art of gay erotica from almost the beginning of photography up to the present day, and it was easy to see the dividing line in the late 1960s, when suddenly the posing straps or strategically placed hands went away and cocks were liberated in art.
The next dividing line came in the early 1990s, when all the bushes and body hair started going away, although this seemed like the next logical step that had started with the porn staches vanishing in the early 1980s and the mullets and big hair going away by the late 1980s.
Joshua remembered hearing a rumor that a massive outbreak of crabs in West Hollywood, San Francisco, and New York in 1992 was what ultimately led to everyone shaving and waxing everything, and then it stuck. It was still a thing just over thirty years later, although neither Simon nor Joshua were fans of it.
Meanwhile, Drew had taken position at his computer work station in the archive, and it was just another reason that Joshua admired him so much. Simon did too, reluctantly, but it was still going to take him a long time to get over that one dick-grab. Drew was clearly very conversant with computers.
Joshua had figured that out the first time he looked at his desktop to see that it wasn’t cluttered with five hundred icons and fifteen toolbars. The second impressive thing was that Drew had created an insane Excel workbook to track his collection, and he said that he had programmed everything himself.
But first, he had Joshua read off the URL of the video he’d found on his phone and entered it on his computer, then took down a few details. The actor was definitely credited under the name Preston LeCard.
“But you don’t know him?” Simon asked.
“I’ve been a little lax on updating the last few years, and since his career couldn’t have legally started before… 2015, I probably missed him.”
“Didn’t stop Brent Corrigan,” Joshua muttered.
“True. It doesn’t stop any of them. Ah, but… that might be the way in. Hang on.”
Drew got up and went to a locked cabinet, opened it and pulled out a DVD. He brought it over and put it into the computer where it booted up its own software apparently, with a main screen that read “18 U.S.C. § 2251 Database UD 20230415.”
“Why does that look familiar?” Joshua asked.
“Proof of age on file records,” Drew said. “If you want real names of porn stars, this is where to get them.”
“But how did you get that?” Simon asked.
“I have friends in low places,” Drew smiled. He tapped a few keys, searched for Preston LeCard, and the program said “NO RESULTS FOUND.”
“Well, merde,” Drew muttered.
“So… he doesn’t exist, or he wasn’t eighteen?” Joshua asked.
“Or… he only ever filed under a different name in the first place, and the studio just stuck with those records,” Drew said. “Hang on.”
He clicked around and tapped, went back to the original video, then dragged and dropped it into yet another program. This one was called VidViper, and it showed a simple dark green screen with a snake logo. Drew added the words “-Preston –LeCard” into the search field and clicked. A yellow progress bar slowly went from left to right.
“You know, we could really use you on our team,” Joshua said as Simon grabbed his ass and squeezed as if in warning. “What?” Joshua asked him.
“I believe the term is… um… ix-nay?”
“He’d understand that one,” Joshua whispered. “But the judges will accept ‘chill.’”
“Got it. Love you.”
“A-ha!” Drew announced as one result came up on the VidViper screen. “They doxed the kid on his audition film, which was the standard $250 jerk-off session. Since he only ever worked for the same studio, voilà, no need to update the records with his new name.”
“So what’s his name?” Simon asked.
“Patience,” Drew said. I still have to look up the jerk-off name against the official filing.”
“Jerk-off name?” Joshua asked.
“Danny,” Drew said. “Just Danny, but that’s pretty typical.” He went back to the 18 U.S.C. database program, entered the name Danny, the name of the studio, and the title of the video. It searched for a few seconds and then gave one result.
“Interesting,” Drew said. “The video was posted on August 30, 2015. Date of birth on the records, August 23, 1997. Kid couldn’t wait, I guess.”
“So who is he?” Joshua demanded.
“Well, the first name was accurate. Danny. Danny Augustus Winthorpe. Born in Pocatello, Idaho. Here…” Drew tapped a couple of keys, and the proof of age on file printed out in full color. It included a couple of forms and Danny/Preston’s ID, being his California Driver’s License, but under his birth name. Joshua and Simon both looked at it, then at each other.
“That’s him!” Simon announced.
“Definitely him,” Joshua agreed, “Oh, Drew, you big fucking beautiful detective genius!”
“You’re welcome,” Drew said. “Any time.”
“Now what?” Simon wondered.
“I guess we need to…” Simon shot him a warning glance. “You know.”
“Go talk to your little ghost friend?” Drew asked.
“Dude, what?” Simon exclaimed. “Did he tell — ”
Drew just laughed. “Boys, nobody told me shit. I’ve been on this planet damn near a century, I’ve been running all this Sherlock and Batman shit for… hell, I don’t know… I was probably your age when I started it. Only thing was I didn’t have all your cool steampunk drag and fancy field gadgets. I would love to help your team. Ooh… can I be Q? Or is it R now? So damn hard to keep up with which letter and which Bond.”
Joshua and Simon stared at each other for a long moment, then just smiled and laughed.
“Holy shit,” Joshua said. “And I think I speak for my future husband when I say that he says — ”
“Oh, fuck yes,” Simon chimed in.
“Future husband?” Drew perked up.
“Oh, yeah, right…” Joshua said.
“We hadn’t announced it officially yet, but — ”
“Brent!” Drew shouted about as loudly as he could. “Brent, get your happy ass upstairs!”
After a couple of moments, Brent came racing up the stairs looking like he was totally expecting to have to call an ambulance, and then looking totally relieved. “You rang?” he said sarcastically.
“Our boys are finally going to get married,” Drew said.
“Oh, clutch the pearls,” Brent replied. “Really? About goddamn time. And don’t you date object at all, but we are paying for the most fabulous, gayest goddamn wedding for you two ever, okay?”
Simon and Joshua just smiled at each other and agreed. That was another thing they had never revealed to their gay aunties — that they could have bought and sold them both fifteen ways from Friday.
Not that they ever would. Anyway, the information that Drew had provided them today would actually prove more valuable than all of the dollars and donuts in the world, at least as far as they were concerned.
Next up on their roster: the hunt for Danny Winthorpe, and his reunion with Preston LeCard.
Yeah, that was going to be interesting.
* * *