When Joshua and Simon saw the afternoon news about the famous Rêves showing up in Hollywood, they headed over as quickly as they could. Fortunately, the Metro was running again, although large sections of the platforms were still closed off for cleaning, and parts of the tunnel walls were still visibly muddy.
A lot of stores were still boarded up on the Boulevard, although many of them had “Come in we’re open” painted on the boards in neon colors.
It didn’t take them long after they’d come up onto the sidewalk to spot their first celebrity ghost. It was W.C. Fields, as he appeared in the film Poppy, with the long black frock coat over pinstriped trousers, and a tall, white top hat. He wore an ascot and carried a walking stick.
He probably kept showing up in this outfit because it was everyone’s most well-known image of him, and the one most frequently slapped up on murals around town. Like a lot of the older Rêves, his image was a ghostly grayscale, shadow of the black and white films he appeared in.
He noticed Joshua and Simon staring at him and wandered over, appearing to be completely drunk because that was his screen persona. (It was also his real-life persona, but that was a different story.)
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” he began in his familiar-side-mouthed banter. “I see that you clearly recognize me, and the memorialization of me with my aficionados via photography seems to be very popular nowadays. So, I will accommodate you and, for the mere price of the visage of Mercury, a mere bit of silver, one thin dime, I will pose for you both.”
They fished in their pockets, and Simon actually came up with a dime, handing it to W.C., who squinted at it askance. “Since when do they put a sitting president on money?”
“They did that right before you d — ” Joshua started to say, but Simon elbowed him, then the three of them moved together and Simon held up the “camera.”
“Oh,” he said. Forgot to take off the lens cap.” He removed the cover, and Fields whooshed into the trap, which Simon closed.
“What did you do that for?” Joshua demanded.
“I have my reasons,” Simon said. “Give our gay uncles a call, and ask Drew whether he knew W.C. Fields.”
“How would he possibly — ”
“He’s ancient,” Simon reminded him.
“Right,” Joshua said, dialing. After putting up with a bit of small-talk, he finally asked, “Look, did you actually know W.C. Fields?”
“Knew of him,” Drew replied. “Gigantic lush, so they said, but I never actually met him.”
“Oh,” Joshua replied, face falling. Simon gestured to him and took the phone.
“Drew, hi, it’s Simon! Yeah, fine, we’re doing great, wedding still on schedule… aw, thank you. Anyway, I don’t suppose you’ve seen the news about what’s… no, I guess there hasn’t been anything good on the news in over a decade now. But… let’s put it this way. Which famous Hollywood celebrities did you know pretty well and personally?”
“Well… Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty, Jack Nich — ”
“No, Uncle Drew… I mean dead ones?”
“Oh. God, I couldn’t possibly tell you all. Do you have any specific ones in mind?”
Simon looked around the crowd, seeing lots of Rêves, but not recognizing all of them, so he finally just turned on the camera and started transmitting live to Drew.
“Holler if you see one,” Simon said.
He scanned past a bunch of them with Drew offering his quiet “No’s,” until he finally said, “Wait, stop, go back.”
Simon panned the camera back to his left and stopped on Drew’s word on a rather striking-looking Hispanic man with a very intense gaze and a pencil moustache. Like Fields, he appeared as a grayscale phantasm.
“Him,” Drew said. “That one. I knew him rather well.”
“Who is he?” Simon asked.
“I knew him as Ramon Samaniego. The world knew him as the famous film star and Latin Lover slash Ladies’ Man Ramon Novarro. Gigantic fag who liked the younger boys, and that is how and why I knew him.”
“That well?” Joshua chimed in.
“You have no idea,” Drew laughed.
“Thanks!” Simon said, hanging up, gesturing to Joshua. “Photo time.”
“And then what?”
They headed over to Ramon, who didn’t seem to be getting much notice from the crowd, so Simon went into his best fanboy routine. “Oh my god,” he said. “Aren’t you Ramon Navarro?”
“Why, yes, I am, young man,” he replied in Hollywood’s version of the way an Hispanic person spoke circa the 1930s.
“Can we take a picture with you? Please?” Simon asked.
“Of course,” Ramon said, and they posed next to him. Simon popped up another trap, removed the “lens cap,” and captured Ramon, capping it and slipping it into his pocket.
“Now what?” Joshua asked.
“I’ll make the sacrifice and head up to visit Brent and Drew,” Simon said.
“You know you secretly love hanging out up there,” Joshua teased him.
“I know that I’d love Drew giving us a way to stop this war a lot more,” Simon replied.
“Oh. What about W.C. Lush?” Joshua reminded him.
“Right,” Simon said, taking out the first trap and removing the lid. Fields shot out, resolving from a puff of black smoke to wind up sitting on the street, looking very confused.
“Godfrey Daniels!” he called out to no one in particular. “Must have gotten hold of a bad batch of the old moonshine. I hereby reject the Demon Rum! Angel Whisky will have to suffice henceforth.”
Joshua and Simon took the Metro back home, then hopped into the Tesla and drove up to the top of the mountain to visit Brent and Drew. Drew had already laid out an enormous buffet lunch for them all — of course — and Drew was urging them to go swimming, but Joshua gestured to Simon.
“We have a present for you,” he explained and Simon took out the trap.
“Make-up?” Drew asked, confused.
“No. Old acquaintance. Maybe you can remind him about those days of yore.”
Simon opened the trap and Ramon appeared much the way W.C. Fields had — a wisp of black smoke that coalesced into human form leaving him standing on the poolside terrazzo, looking confused. He appeared to be in about his mid-30s, although Simon had read up on him on the drive over, and knew that he had died at 69 in 1968, murdered by a couple of hustler brothers who’d talked their way up to his Laurel Canyon home, promising sex but really hoping to steal the vast stash of cash they’d heard was hidden in the house.
Spoiler alert: There was no cash. Novarro’s career had slowed down considerably after he left MGM in 1935.
“Ramon…” Drew said quietly when he recognized the Rêve. At this moment, Ramon’s specter took on a pale wash of living color, but his appearance didn’t change as he turned to look at Drew.
“¿Nos conocimos, señor?” he asked. Noting Drew’s confused look, he continued, “Have we met?”
“Oh, you bet we have,” Drew replied. “You remember your house, on Laurel Canyon, about two miles up from Ventura?
Ramon shook his head blankly. “I don’t remember any such place,” he said.
“Where did you live?”
“I am Judah Ben-Hur,” he announced, suddenly appearing in the costume from that 1925 silent epic.
Joshua and Simon looked at each other, confused, but then realized that Brent had wandered outside, munching on a broccoli floret and staring.
“My god, is that — ”
“Sssh!” Joshua hissed at him, then whispered. “Yes, but stop thinking of him like that.”
“But — ”
“Drew knew him, and that’s what we’re counting on. Didn’t you know him?”
“Bitch, please. I was like… seven when he died? And I certainly didn’t learn about it until I read Hollywood Babylon.”
“This is a very delicate operation that could avert a war,” Simon explained calmly. “So… please?”
Brent rolled his eyes, but then retreated inside with a “whatever” shrug.
Meanwhile, Drew had approached Ramon. “That’s exactly what you said to me the first time we were alone together. Remember?”
“Who are you?” Ramon demanded.
“You said, ‘I am Judah Ben-Hur,’ and I said, ‘Who the hell is that?’ And the look on your face was so stunned that I just started laughing my ass off. And you smiled and said, ‘Well, at least you know that movie of mine.’ Of course, I didn’t.”
“So I’m not Judah Ben-Hur?”
“Well, yes and no. I mean, actors can be many different people.”
“I’m an actor?”
“Honey, what the hell did you think you were?” Drew laughed. “And, hate to tell you, but the way they’d put it on Wikipedia is ‘was an actor.’ Past tense.”
“So who are you?” Ramon practically spat the words at him.
“Oh… a little fling you had right after we met at your 42nd birthday party, which happened to be right after I turned fifteen, and we had our fun for a few months anyway. I probably never would have done it if I’d known you were famous. I mean, thrown myself at you like I did.”
Ramon just stared at Drew in silence.
“Do you remember what you called me?” he asked. Ramon said nothing. “That’s okay, it was a long time ago,” he continued. “After the first time, you called me ‘Little Dandy Andy.’ Ring any bells?”
The image of Ramon collapsed to the terrazzo in a tumble of black smoke. Drew tried to move toward it, but Joshua and Simon held him back.
“Trust us,” Joshua said. “I think you’re on the right track.”
After a moment, Ramon solidified out of the black smoke, lying on his side, facing away from Drew. At the same time, gray smoke drifted toward Drew and then coalesced into another manifestation of Ramon, this one a bit older, and not dressed in a fanciful costume.
Real Ramon materialized, staring at Drew. “Andy!” he finally said, rushing to embrace him. Famous Ramon stood and also stared, not sure what to think or do.
What none of them except Real Ramon knew was that he was seeing Drew has he’d been on that night in mid-winter of 1941, when they’d first met.
Simon looked about over the moon, smiling at Joshua, but Joshua didn’t seem so sure.
“What?” Joshua said when he noticed Simon staring at him.
“I think we’ve found the key to preventing the war!” he said.
“You really think so?” Joshua replied. Simon gave him a “duh” look, but then Joshua gestured back to the others. “Think again,” he sighed.
Simon looked. The two Ramons were facing off, insulting each other left and right in Spanish before starting to physically grapple, finally blasting off into the sky in two different directions.
Joshua gave Simon a smug look, to which Simon replied, “Hey, Danny and Preston did that, and they seem to get along now.”
“How the hell would you know that? We haven’t seen them since they flew off.”
“We haven’t…?” Simon searched his mind, and then realized that Joshua was right. And yet he had a vivid memory of Preston and Danny returning, both of them working together. This was followed by a weird moment of vertigo and he had to find a chair to sit on immediately.
“You okay?” Joshua asked as he hurried over.
“Yeah,” Simon answered. “Fine. Just a little head rush.”
“Hm. Lose one word from that sentence, and you may have found the cure.”
“Stahp!” Simon fake-demurred.
“Let’s get you home anyway,” Joshua said, helping Simon up, only to see Brent standing in the doorway.
“You all are taking some of this home,” he said.
“We really don’t — ” Simon started, but Joshua pinched him.
“Of course, Brent. Not too much, because we’ve got limited freezer space, but definitely the good stuff.”
Sure, it was a lie. They had enough freezer space to store ten dead elk. Not that either of them would condone killing elk, of course. They wound up leaving the place laden down with half a dozen grocery bags full of disposable plastic containers stuffed to the gills anyway.
Good thing that Teslas had trunk space front and back, since it didn’t have a traditional engine. They wound up stopping at the 170 and Tujunga underpass on the way home and dropping off most of the food for the homeless camp there.
Waste not, want not.
And, more importantly, how were they actually going to prevent this damn war?