Read The Bette Davis Club Online

Authors: Jane Lotter

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

The Bette Davis Club (9 page)

BOOK: The Bette Davis Club
3.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“We’re registered,” he says. “Your bags are in your room. Here’s your key.” He slides a keycard across to me. “The rooms are nice. I went to mine and unpacked, made a few calls.”

“Calls?” I say blandly. “There are people who speak to you?”

“Yeah, all right. I shouldn’t have said what I said about you being uptight. It was rude. I’m sorry, and I take it back. Okay?”

Tully eyes my martini, then orders a ginger ale from Ruby. If Ruby thinks it’s odd that a man is swimming among all these females, she doesn’t show it. Neither does anyone else in the room. The world’s largest lesbian party is a tolerant group.

“Now we’re here,” Tully says, “I want to find Georgia.”

I swirl liquid round in my glass. “Try looking on a map of the Southern states,” I say.

“Yeah, right. Listen, Charlotte thinks you should talk to her first—Georgia, I mean—and I agree.”

“Why?” I say. “Wouldn’t you rather patch things up on your own?” What I’m really thinking is, Why didn’t Tully come after Georgia by himself? It was one thing riding with him today in the car, but now that we’re in Palm Springs, I feel redundant. I’m Auntie Margo, for God’s sake, a complete third wheel.

“Georgia and I had a huge fight yesterday,” Tully says. “Major blowup. She threatened to leave me, and I guess she did. She’s mad at everybody right now. Me, her mom. No way she’ll see me. Charlotte thought if you came along, you could sort of run interference—talk to Georgia, get her calmed down. Then she might be willing to see me. Now we’re here, we’ll catch up with Georgia easy. She can’t have much money. Charlotte cut off her credit cards last week.”

“Before the wedding?” I say. “Why?”

Tully shifts in his saddle. “The two of them are nuts on the topic of money. There’s never enough, no matter how much they have. They bicker and argue over who spent what where. Then they make up and go shopping together on Rodeo Drive.”

The one word I hear in all this is “shopping.”

I remember shopping. It’s sort of fun, isn’t it? I haven’t gone shopping—real shopping, clothes shopping—in quite a while. Dottie would say it’s because I’m not taking care of myself; she’d say it’s because I’m depressed. But I’d say it’s because I haven’t any funds.

I picture Charlotte and Georgia popping in and out of the shops on Rodeo Drive. I imagine them buying perfume, jewelry, clothes. Then I imagine Georgia with no credit cards—cut off from her beloved Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Prada—and then I look down at the end of the bar and see Ruby talking to a customer. Ruby, who has taught me so much about Palm Springs. All at once I have a vision, a sort of lightbulb-going-on-over-my-head inspiration concerning Georgia. At that moment, half-bagged, sitting with a man I barely know in a busy lesbian bar in Palm Springs, the thought of going shopping appeals to me enormously. And for more than one reason.

Well, what’s stopping me? Haven’t I been sitting tall in the saddle buying drinks with Charlotte’s American Express Black Card? Doesn’t that card have absolutely no credit limit? Ha! I’m sitting on a shopping gold mine! I perk up, remembering the fifty thousand dollars I hope to earn. I push what’s left of my drink away.

I lift my hand to signal Ruby. “Another round?” she asks.

Delightful girl. “Thank you, no,” I say. “I’m leaving. But that shop you mentioned—”

“Mommie Dearest?”

“Yes. Where will I find it?”

She points. “Two blocks thataway, this side of the street. Can’t miss it. There’s a big sign”—she holds her arms wide—“shaped like that old-timey actress Joan Crawford.”

I dismount my saddle. Once I’m on my feet my cheeks flush, and I’m a bit wobbly. I stand there, gripping the edge of the bar. Tully watches me. “You okay?” he says.

“Just getting my sea legs,” I say. “We were a long time in the car today.”

“Maybe you should lie down,” Tully says with concern.

“No,” I say. “I’m on assignment. It’s imperative I go shopping.”



had hoped to go sleuthing on my own, but Tully insists on tagging along, and I’m too well-oiled to argue. When we step outside, the desert heat hits me hard. A lesser woman would wilt like a head of lettuce, but I soldier on.

We haven’t gone far when I get a shock. Glancing up, I see Charlotte’s giant, disembodied head floating above Tully and me. But when I blink and look again, I see it’s not Charlotte at all. It’s a shop sign. As Ruby the bartender described, it’s a silhouette in the shape of the head of bygone film star Joan Crawford. We have arrived at Mommie Dearest.

Tully holds the door for me and we enter. Like every retail establishment in Palm Springs, Mommie Dearest is air-conditioned. I begin to revive.

A fair-haired, well-groomed young man sits behind the counter, reading the latest issue of
. He looks up. “Good afternoon,” he says cheerfully. “Pursuing anything in particular?”

“Not really,” I lie. “Just browsing.”

“Browse away. Any questions, please ask.” He glances at my shoes. “Love the Ferragamos, by the way. If I may be so bold.”

“Thank you,” I say. I gaze down and admire Charlotte’s expensive shoes on my feet.

Ruby was right. The place is filled with fabulous used clothing and designer wear. There’s even a section of classic dresses and gowns once owned by movie stars: Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Rita Hayworth.

Although I’m here on a mission, I can’t help myself. My eye is distracted by a perfect pair of women’s shoes displayed on a small stand near the counter. They’re black satin with stiletto heels, ankle straps, and tiny rhinestones set into the heels. I walk over and take a closer look.

“Vivier?” I ask the young man.

“Goodness,” he says, “you know your footwear, don’t you? Very much Vivier, in the years he was designing for Dior.” Laying his magazine aside, the young man rises from his chair. “They belonged to Ginger Rogers in the 1950s. And I must tell you, I will cry salty tears the day we sell them.

“They’re lovely,” I say.

“They’re exquisite,” he corrects me. “And when you think they were on the feet of Miss Rogers, even if somewhat late in her career, well . . .” He releases a little sigh.

I nod, feeling a gin-fueled rush of affection for Ginger. “You know what they say,” I tell him. “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did—”

“Only backward and in high heels!” he finishes. We laugh. Tully looks at us as if we’re speaking Mandarin.

“Heavens!” the young man says, wiping his eyes. “I’m such a fan! Who isn’t?”

Who indeed. I love Ginger and Fred. Not to mention Cary, Kate, Bogie—all the movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age. I can’t help wondering who has their shoes.

The young man comes over to where Tully and I are standing. He picks up one of Ginger’s satin high heels. “One thing I’ve learned in this business,” he says, “is when people feel passion for an object, it’s often about something more than the object itself.”

He slides a well-manicured index finger along the curve of the sole. “This shoe, for example. It’s a work of art, naturally. Vivier was a genius. But what matters as much, if not more, is who wore it. I read somewhere that during World War II, Miss Rogers donated a pair of her dancing shoes to a fund-raising auction and they sold for fifty thousand dollars. Imagine! In those days, that was a fortune!”

It’s still a pretty impressive amount these days.

“The same holds true for anything worth collecting,” the young man says. “The late Michael Jackson paid over $1.5 million for David O. Selznick’s
Gone with the Wind
Best Picture award; it was worth that much to him.” He sniffs and straightens his shoulders. “Personally, I’d be over the moon if I could someday handle one of the four Oscars awarded to Miss Katharine Hepburn.”

“Handle . . . or fondle?” Tully says low in my ear.

The clerk doesn’t hear Tully. He continues on with his little philosophical discourse. “My sister and I are still fighting over our grandmother’s original red Fiesta Ware,” he says. “It’s chipped, cracked, quite possibly radioactive, yet we both want it. Why? It belonged to Gram. I suppose it’s all about trying to hold on to someone you loved, to that part of your life you shared with them. You know?”

He looks at me, and it’s like I’m gazing in a mirror. A fuzzy, distorted, fun-house mirror, but a mirror nonetheless, and I see my reflection. Because, oddly enough, I do know.

We have something in common, this young man and I, aside from our mutual regard for Ginger Rogers. I’m in the business of architectural salvage; he’s in the business of wardrobe salvage. What does Tully make of the used celebrity clothing business? I wonder. Is it even more ghoulish than what I do?

I wander round some more and spy a strapless, ivory-colored couture gown displayed on a headless mannequin. I stop and look.

The gown’s bodice is layered in crystal beads, the waist flows into a floor-length silk skirt, appliquéd in lace and gathered in the back. Though new, the dress has the delicate, sensual air of the early 1900s. It reminds me of a gorgeous Edwardian-era painting by John Singer Sargent.

The clerk glides over. “Isn’t it delicious?”

“Umm,” I say absentmindedly. I check the price tag: $25,000.

“Bit of a story there,” the clerk says. “Never worn, for one thing.”

“Do tell,” I say.

“Young lady brought it in early today. Wouldn’t take a check, insisted on cash. Very cloak-and-dagger.” The light of gossip glistens in the clerk’s eyes, and he lowers his voice a notch. “At the Paris showing, this little bonbon went for over forty thousand dollars. I was determined not to pass it up. Luckily, my assistant was here, and I had him
to the bank.”

Assistant, he has an assistant. Despite his youth, our young man is not a clerk. We’re dealing with Mommie Dearest himself.

Tully looks bored. He rolls his eyes at Mommie Dearest’s seemingly pointless story, then leans over a jewelry case and gazes at the baubles inside.

I linger with the dress, examining the lacework. “Did you see this?” I say to Tully.

Without looking up from the jewelry case, Tully asks, “Is it one of Katharine Hepburn’s statuettes?”

“No,” I say. “But it should probably win an award.”

Tully crosses to where I’m standing and gives the dress an indifferent glance. Another moment and he’d move off, but something—the beadwork?—catches his eye. He looks again. He touches the fabric.

“Jesus!” Tully says. He grips the gown. “This is Georgia’s. It’s her . . . her wedding dress. She hocked it!”

Mommie Dearest bristles. “I beg your pardon. This is not a pawnshop. I own the gown outright.”

Tully wheels on him. “Right. And with a few alterations it’ll fit you great.”

Tully’s anger is uncalled for, I think. It’s hardly Mommie Dearest’s fault that Georgia cashed in her bridal gown. I insert myself between the two men. “Well!” I say to Mommie Dearest, trying to smooth things over. “This is all so fascinating!”

He stares at me.

“I do have a question, though,” I say.

Mommie Dearest eyes Tully nervously. Then the merchant in him succumbs to even the chance of a sale. “Certainly,” he says to me. “What would you like to know?”

“Can you tell us where we might find the woman who sold you this dress?” I say.

“Hocked it,” Tully mutters.

Mommie Dearest isn’t sure what’s going on, but he knows something’s up. His glance flits first to Tully, then back to me. “I’m afraid that’s confidential,” he says. He backs away slightly. Tully glares at him.

“Yes, but there’s a problem,” I say. I rack my brain as to what that problem might be. It has to be something persuasive enough to convince Mommie Dearest to give me the information I need. “The woman who owned this dress is my niece,” I say, “and she’s . . .” What? What? What? “She’s pregnant!”

Tully gapes at me as though I’ve gone off the rails. Then he draws a deep breath, like someone about to dive into a swimming pool, and goes off with me. “Right,” he says, bobbing his head. “She’s going to have triplets! And if she doesn’t get her medication, she’ll . . . swell up! I mean, you know, more than usual.”

“Medication?” says Mommie Dearest.

“Prenatal vitamins!” I say. “Extra-strength!”

“What’s her name?” Mommie Dearest says.

“Her name?” I echo.

“If she’s your niece, you must know her name.”

“Georgia LaBelle Illworth,” Tully says.

Mommie Dearest snorts. “I’d remember a name like that,” he says. “That was not the name of the woman who brought in this gown.”

“She also suffers from sporadic schizophrenia,” I say. “Could be using any number of appellations!”

“And she wants to be a screenwriter,” Tully says. “Probably used her, you know—pen name!”

Mommie Dearest is back behind the counter. He stands there, like a soldier taking refuge behind a row of sandbags. He fixes his gaze on me. Gone is the honeyed manner with which he greeted us when we first came through the door. His voice is pure ice. “Madam, I think you had both better leave.”

Panic overtakes me; everything’s going wrong. I’m
close to finding Georgia, and I’m blowing it. I look at Tully. His face is a mixture of anger and shock, like someone who’s just crawled from a car wreck. With only moments to turn things around, I get the feeling it’s all up to me.

All I can think is I need to ease Mommie Dearest’s fears, calm him down. But what shall I do? The poor man is obviously frightened. His hands are out of sight behind the counter, probably fingering a can of pepper spray. I’ve got to make him see me as friend, not foe. I try a new tack.

“You know,” I say in a soothing tone, “I worry we somehow got on the wrong foot.” I lean on the counter and smile innocently, in the manner of Pollyanna or the Dalai Lama. Mommie Dearest flinches, but does not spray me with pepper. “We want to find the woman who sold you this gown because we’d like to buy it back for her.”

“Buy it back?” Mommie Dearest says. His voice is strained.

“Yes,” I say. “You see, my niece is engaged to this young man.”

Mommie Dearest looks confused. His eyes dart round the room, trying to spot the young man I referred to. Yes, well, perhaps I should have said my nineteen-year-old niece is engaged to this immature fortyish fellow.

Tully pipes up. “Georgia and I argued,” he says to Mommie Dearest. That part of Tully’s statement is true. But in another moment he reveals himself as having an unexpected knack for making it up as he goes along. “We fought about the dress. I didn’t like the color.”

“It’s ivory,” Mommie Dearest says. “It’s a bridal gown.”

“Yeah, but it reflected the light. Kinda hurt my eyes.” Tully flutters his fingers in front of his face. “Except I was a jerk, I see that now. I was wrong to want red.”

“No,” Mommie Dearest agrees. “Red will never do, not even in California.”

I clap my hands together. “See? Nothing but a lover’s quarrel. And now, if you’d be so kind, I’d like to buy the gown.”

Mommie Dearest looks at me in amazement. Like someone producing the high card in a game of poker, I take out the ace of spades—Charlotte’s American Express Black Card—and slap it on the counter.

The moment he beholds that mighty card, Mommie Dearest is revitalized. His spindly body is all arms and legs as he moves like a manic spider to the mannequin. He removes the gown, places it in a lidded white garment box, then turns back to close the sale.

He picks up Charlotte’s card. “You do realize the gown is twenty-five thousand dollars?”

“It’s a steal at that price,” I say.

He laughs, and we’re best friends again. I find with shopkeepers, estranged relatives, and public officials, sometimes all it takes is a large sum of money.

Mommie Dearest swipes the card through the terminal and then turns the screen toward me to sign. I pick up the electronic pen. I look at him. I wait.

“Oh,” he says. “Your niece.”

“Umm,” I say. “Her urgent need for vitamins.”

“Indeed.” He strokes the front of his neck. “As I say, I paid her cash. She did tell me her first name, which
said was Jade.”

BOOK: The Bette Davis Club
3.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Here Comes Trouble by Becky McGraw
One Night to Risk It All by Maisey Yates
Thrall (A Vampire Romance) by Abigail Graham
Running Scared by Gloria Skurzynski
All Piss and Wind by David Salter
Forest Spirit by David Laing
Oh Say Can You Fudge by Nancy Coco
Lord Of The Sea by Danelle Harmon