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Authors: Jane Lotter

Tags: #Fiction, #Humorous, #Literary, #Contemporary Women

The Bette Davis Club (10 page)

BOOK: The Bette Davis Club
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“You didn’t get her full name?”

“No, I didn’t.” His face reddens. “I should have, but I admit to being dazzled by the couture. The young woman said her wedding was canceled, and I had no reason to doubt her. She was so obviously affluent, so obviously comfortable with large sums of money. Everything about her was so calculated. The Dolce & Gabbana jeans, the ankle tattoo, the designer jewelry, even the way she spoke. All of it was so extremely high—”

“Class?” says Tully.

“Hat.” Mommie Dearest’s hand flies to his mouth. “Oh! No offense. She was such a film family
, we get them all the time in here—daughter of, stepdaughter of, granddaughter of—that I wasn’t the least concerned the gown was stolen or anything.” His eyes skip anxiously from Tully to me. “It isn’t stolen, is it?”

“No,” I say. “It’s not.” Mommie Dearest’s shoulders drop with relief. “However, some other things have gone missing.”

“Oh,” he says. “I see.”

He stares at the electronic pen in my hand, my hand that’s frozen an inch above the credit-card terminal. I’m not budging. Together, we’re stuck in a little glacial moment of time. There must be more, I think, you must know more.

Mommie Dearest’s lower lip quivers, the ice melts, and I literally see a thought pop into his head. “Mercy!” he says. “I’ve just remembered! I do know what hotel she’s at.”

Tully’s head swivels in my direction. Our eyes meet.

“That is, I believe I do,” Mommie Dearest says. “We were waiting for my assistant to return from the bank, and just to make conversation I asked the young woman where she was staying. She didn’t precisely respond to the question, sort of skirted it. I didn’t think much about that. People like their privacy. But a moment later, her cell phone rang. When she opened her bag to search for the phone, she pulled out several items and laid them on the counter. One of the things she took out was a keycard. I saw the name of her hotel on the card.”

I lean down over the terminal as if to sign. “Which was?”

“La Vida Loca,” Mommie Dearest says.

I sign.

Tully grabs the box with the gown in it. The two of us bolt for the door.

“Good-bye,” I say, as we exit the shop. “Thank you!”

“Wait!” Mommie Dearest says. “Matching shoes!”

We’re big spenders, and he’s not about to let us go. He chases us outside. “For the gown!” he cries. “I have the matching shoes!”



alfway down the block, we can still hear Mommie Dearest calling. “There’s so much more! So many things! I have Marilyn Monroe’s panties! Did you know that? I’m the only man in town who can show you the undergarments of Miss Marilyn Monroe!”

Ignoring Mommie Dearest’s cries, we hurry back through the heat, headed for the hotel. Tully holds the garment box containing the dress out in front of him, as though it were a take-out pizza or a small coffin.

“You do realize Georgia now has currency,” I say. We’re moving fast, my words come out breathlessly. “It doesn’t matter if Charlotte cut off the credit cards. Georgia got thousands for that dress. She can go anywhere, do anything.”

“I know,” Tully says. “And that’s not counting what she got for the goddamned matching shoes.”

Tully’s tone takes me aback. It must hurt him to know how quickly Georgia sold her wedding dress. She didn’t exactly tuck it away in hopes of a second chance with him, did she? Not at all the way I imagine Tully folded up his own wedding clothes back in the men’s room of that rickety old gas station.

We’re practically running now, both of us sprinting to get back to the hotel. “Did Georgia have an engagement ring?” I say, puffing.

“Sure. A diamond, like she wanted. My stepfather—do you know my stepfather?”

“Malcolm Belvedere,” I say.

“Yeah,” Tully says. His face is flushed with exertion. “He’s really my ex-stepfather, but that doesn’t matter; he’s a good guy. He never got over my mom. Anyway, he knows a jeweler. Made sure I got a good deal.”

“If Georgia sold the dress
the ring,” I say, “by now she would have—”

“I know,” Tully says. He wipes his brow. “A wad of cash.”

We look at each other. We both know the horse is out of the barn and is galloping gaily down the road.

We reach the hotel. We stash the dress in my room. Tully tosses it onto the king-size bed, where it promptly tumbles out of its carry box and cascades over the bedspread. Seeing it there makes me feel odd, like remembering a close call, like finding a snakeskin after the snake has slithered away.

We go to the hotel lobby. We stand there, peering across the room at the efficient-looking female clerk working the reception desk.

“What do we say to her?” Tully asks in a half whisper. “We can’t go up and say, ‘Hi, we’re wondering if there’s a girl staying here named Jade, only Jade isn’t her real name, and besides she’s hiding from us, and we don’t really know what last name she’s using right now, plus she might be registered under some other name anyway. So you know, is she here?’” He holds up his hands. “We can’t say that, we’ll look like idiots.”

“We are idiots,” I say. “I should think that’s obvious. It’s a handicap, but we’ll just have to work with it.” With that, I turn and walk off in the direction of the bar.

Tully runs after me. “Hey!” he says.

I stop.

“It’s none of my business,” he says, looking vaguely embarrassed. “But you’re not going to get another drink, are you?”

As a matter of fact, that wasn’t my plan at all. But now that he mentions it, it sounds like a good idea. “Perhaps a wee one,” I say.

Tully and I enter the lounge. My new best friend, Ruby, is behind the bar. She grins and waves.

The leather creaks as Tully and I mount our saddles. I’m beginning to enjoy sitting on a saddle. It’s like riding a carousel. After enough gin, it may even go up and down.

“Howdy, again,” Ruby says to me. She’s not ignoring Tully; it’s more like she doesn’t see him, like he doesn’t exist. “Double martini?” she says.

I laugh. “A single, please.”

“On a health kick?” Tully says.

“Just pacing myself,” I say.

Ruby at last notices Tully. “Get you something, sir?” she says. He orders a ginger ale, and Ruby moves off to get our drinks.

I’m meditating on the good news—that we’re close to finding Georgia—when Tully reaches up and touches the back of my head. “You’ve got a cocklebur in your hair,” he says.

There’s a mirror behind the bar, and I watch Tully’s reflection as he pulls at the offending matter. “Got it,” he finally says. He flicks the bur away.

With his hand still on my head, Tully smooths my hair. His gaze meets mine in the mirror. For an instant, we stare at each other.

All right, yes, I admit it. Rumpled, distracted, arrogant Tully may be, but he’s also compellingly male. I’m conscious of the closeness of his body, the sweet muskiness of it.

I drop my gaze. I swallow. Tully removes his hand. “Well,” he says.

I scramble for something, anything, to talk about. I give voice to the first thing that pops into my mind. “Do you know,” I say, “I haven’t seen Georgia in years. I’m not sure I’ll recognize her. What’s her hair like these days? Short? Long?”

“Long,” he says.

“Still that incredible red?”


Ruby returns with our drinks and places them on a pair of cowboy coasters. Two athletic-looking women in white Bermudas and polo shirts come into the lounge. They mount up at the end of the bar. Ruby goes to wait on them.

“We know Georgia’s here,” Tully says, stating the obvious. “What I want to know is, what are your intentions?”

I smile.

“What?” he says.

“It’s the way you say ‘intentions.’ Like you’re worried someone will seduce you.” I don’t know why I said that. I wish I hadn’t.

Tully reddens.

I feel clumsy and self-conscious. Any moment, I expect I’ll simply slide off my saddle and roll around on the floor, speaking in tongues.

After a while, Ruby returns to our part of the bar and begins mopping the counter with a small towel. Contrary to what Tully believes, the reason I’ve come into the lounge is not to get a drink—not entirely, anyway—but to winkle information out of Ruby.

“Ruby,” I say, “could you tell me if you know a young woman, very pretty, with long red hair?” I bring a hand up even with my shoulder. “Her name is Georgia—or possibly Jade. Though by now it could be Topaz or Malachite. She’s staying at this hotel.”

Ruby stops mopping and looks thoughtful. “Sounds sorta like the gal who drank all those dreamy monkeys. She’s a redhead. Don’t know her name, but I told you about her, remember?”

“I remember. You said her friends carried her to her room. What room is that?”

“No idea. They paid cash, so there wasn’t a room tab. The two gals who were with her, though, they’re sitting over there.”

She points to the athletic-looking duo at the end of the bar who came in after we did. I stare at them. I study their buff physiques, close-cropped hair, and no-nonsense body language. It takes a moment, but for once in my life, the truth hits me like a freight train.

I get it. Oh God, I get it. I know why Georgia ran off, I know why she left Tully on their wedding day, and I know why she came to Palm Springs, land of the upscale alternative lifestyle. Ha! Mystery solved! It’s as clear as the gin in my glass.

Georgia is gay.

Well, I’ve just earned fifty thousand dollars. Now all I have to do is meet with Georgia, reassure her that everything will be okay, perhaps help her break the news to Tully. Then I report back to Charlotte and tell her mission accomplished—I found Georgia, and I’ll do my best to persuade her to return home. Oh, and I mustn’t forget to ask Georgia to return those mysterious items she took from Charlotte. Simple.

I turn back to Ruby. “Do you know those two?”

“Not personally. Course, I recognize them.” She looks at me as though I, too, should know who the women are. But I don’t. All I can think is they must be two exceptionally famous lesbians, the modern-day equivalent of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

“I’d love to take lessons from either one of them,” Ruby says.

Lessons? In what, precisely? What possible tricks could Ruby pick up from these two?

Tully perks up. “What kind of lessons?” he asks innocently.

Ruby laughs. “Golf lessons. That’s Billie Gordon and Nevada Pike, two of the highest-rated players on the women’s pro circuit. They’re here for the tournament.”

Golfers! Georgia’s drinking buddies—while somewhat butch in appearance—are not necessarily lesbians. They’re professional golfers. They might be gay, they might not. After all, singer and actress Dinah Shore, for whom this bloody tournament was first named, was an avid golfer. And wasn’t she heterosexual? She was! She had a longtime love affair with that actor Burt Reynolds. A young, virile Burt Reynolds, who, I might add, was twenty years younger than Dinah.

Oh, why, why, why, am I the world’s worst at figuring out people’s sexual orientation? Must my gaydar be forever on the fritz? Naturally, I believe people’s sex lives are their own business. Live and let live, I say. But in this case, Georgia’s sexual bent could have a huge impact—fifty thousand dollars’ worth—on helping or hindering my efforts in tracking her down. Still, I hesitate to ask Tully if he’s ever had an inkling Georgia might be gay. I take another tack, the same one Ruby used on me earlier in the day.

“Does Georgia golf?” I say.

“Yeah, she loves it. That and a few other vices.”

I didn’t know Georgia golfs, nor can I imagine what her other vices might be. I realize I know next to nothing about my niece. All day long I’ve been picturing the thirteen-year-old shy lass I saw in New York some years back, but the reality seems closer to a redheaded, vodka-swilling sex kitten, wielding a five iron.

The die is cast. I dismount my saddle.

Clutching his ginger ale to his chest, Tully looks down at me. “And you’re going to . . . ?”

“Get to the bottom of things,” I say. I wave a hand at the golf pros.

He glances in their direction. “Good luck with that,” he says.

The two women look like they’re about to leave. One of them throws money on the bar, and they drain the last of their drinks. I come up just as they dismount their saddles.

“Good afternoon,” I say. “Aren’t you Billie Gordon and Nevada Pike?” I have no idea which is which.

“Afternoon,” one of them says, looking round the room as though searching for my keeper. The other one says nothing.

“I adore golf,” I lie. “May I ask you a few questions?”

“Press conference tomorrow,” the One Who Speaks says. “Appreciate it if you’d wait till then.” They start to walk away.

BOOK: The Bette Davis Club
3.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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