A dream not understood is like a letter not opened. Talmud
People that solely depend on the charity of others will always be poor.
“Verra la morte e avra I tuoi occhi. (Death will come & it will have your eyes.)” Cesare Pavese
Don’t give, as the wealthy often do, like a hen that lays her egg then cackles about it. H W Beecher
A bone given to a dog isn’t charity unless it’s a bone shared with a dog when you’re hungry. Jack London
Chaz Delacroix Journal entry: ‘There was no choice but to leave after the murder. I wasn’t as fearless as my friend. I knew the mad wizard brought death.
From Nora McGreer’s Baffling Bulb: I returned to work at the college under uneasy circumstances. Dmetri was in essence babysitting a weak, recovering York. He would have preferred acting as my temporary bodyguard, my visible shadow. I suppose I should be grateful to Sheriff Hayes, who didn’t arrest me, and the school’s dean, who didn’t fire me for recent absences.
It was determined the bottle of brandy had been laced with barbiturates. After Mrs. Roland reluctantly acknowledged she gifted me the bottle, Sheriff Hayes considered reopening Chaz’ case. He considered it, then said no—again. He concluded it was further proof this foreigner intended to off himself. The pharmacy on Truman Avenue confirmed they’d recently refilled a barbiturate sleeping aid prescription for a Mr. H. Delacroix. The doctor who wrote the prescription had offices in Miami. There were traces of Chloral Hydrate and Hydromorphone (Dilaudid) in the bottle (and in York’s stomach) as well.
Apologies, I’m getting ahead of the facts. You see, it took nearly a week before the tox results from the bottle were made known. Key West was in the middle of what some might say was a deluge of deaths. A tourist drowned off the Tortugas and a local man died while playing tennis—heart attack. There were two boating accidents near Summerland Key, one resulted in the death of an 18 year old teenager. And I had a looming deadline—part 1 of my 3 part special was due to Gregori in just a few days.
It still makes me shudder to think I’d offered Dmetri a drink from that very bottle of brandy. Nor did I have an explanation as to why York was in my bungalow or how he’d gotten in as I’d recently changed the locks, including the deadbolt. My house was nearly burglar and hurricane proof, made of a combination of concrete block and Dade County bug resistant pine, with mahogany paneling and beams. It was enlarged and partially rebuilt in the 1940s. My parents had insisted on installing high-impact glass and iron-strong filigree bars and shutters on most of the windows. The solid, hard wood door frame and door jamb was reinforced with steel, and though the kitchen door had a 10×10 inch window, it also had filigree bars, which allowed light to enter but not a thief.
Sheriff Hayes (minus Deputy Rob) questioned Dmetri and me at the hospital while a medical team pumped York’s stomach with some awful charcoal goo. The sheriff followed us back to my bungalow, collected the brandy bottle, and took pictures of the kitchen and bathroom, including my medicine cabinet. He gave us the obligatory ‘don’t leave town’ speech and told us to get some sleep. Chuckling, he advised us both to beware of strangers bearing gifts.
Dmetri lightened the mood when he asked ‘does he think I’m Greek?’ I was afraid he might think I’d spiked the bottle, especially since I’d insisted he have a drink. He reassured me with an Italian bear hug, which turned into something much more. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep on my lumpy couch that night. Instead of feeling contrite over an ex nearly dying in my kitchen, I got that Harlequin romance moment many women dream of, atop paisley flowered Laura Ashley sheets.
Neither of us was eager to get out of bed the next morning. Dmetri pulled several books off the nightstand and opened one of Chaz’ journals. It seemed an odd combo, Hemingway and H. P. Lovecraft, unless you knew both men were in the Keys in the 1930s. There was a running joke among local conches that the two men collaborated on a book, working title: The Terrible Old Man and the Sinister Sea.
“That’s a stellar combo you got there. Both men wrote about nightmares. Hemingway’s were real; Lovecraft’s were something else. At his best, he turned boneless octopuses that can space walk across the ocean floor into vile monsters from another dimension, calling them ‘great old ones.’ Both men wrote about what we most dread. Hemingway acknowledged fear’s subtleties, the reality of becoming nothing after our light is extinguished.”
“Think about it—Hemingway published The Sun Also Rises around 1926, about the running of the bulls in Pamplona. At nearly the same time, Lovecraft writes The Call of Cthulhu, a dark tale about a monster that’s a cross between an octopus and a water dragon, and a cult that worshiped it—that worshiped its evilness. Sounds kinda bullish. Lovecraft admired Hemingway’s terse prose, or so he said in a few letters to colleagues, though he had no desire to emulate his style. I hate to tell you, but your dad loved to read Lovecraft’s over the top scary tales.”
“Mai no, mia padre was fond of Hemingway, not this Lovecraft character. Did you know I am fond of strong coffee in the morning?”
“Wow, subtle hint. Seriously, your dad said Lovecraft wrote accurately about a few of the monsters he swore he saw in the India Ocean and churning waters around the tip of Africa.”
“And now you know why I don’t partake of the sea; he filled my head with tales of terrible, tentacled sea creatures. I was barely 11 when I concluded the gap between imagination and hallucination is miniscule. Even the Hemingway book you mentioned was disturbing. All that work and struggle for nothing. So this Lovecraft stayed in Key West? Where, I’ll be sure to avoid the building?”
“I doubt wherever he stayed is still standing. Lovecraft was only here for a few days; long enough to get a tan and learn that one of his most promising stories had been rejected. Had the story sold, it’s likely he would have visited Cuba, the place he really wanted to see. He was only able to visit Key West because he sold a story to Strange Tales or one of those other sci-fi/horror magazines. It’s doubtful the two men met. Ernest was flitting back and forth between here and Cuba. Still…”
In the kitchen, I brewed coffee and was steaming the milk when I heard a yelp from Dmetri. “I’m coming,” I shouted, slapping two mugs of coffee on a tray, along with a pitcher of steamed milk and a plate of biscotti.
Dmetri had abandoned the novels and was waving loose pages out of Chaz’ journal. “Ma bella, yesterday we were wondering what happened to Chaz from the late 1970’s to the mid 1980’s. These pages I find shoved in his journal of 1976, your bicentennial, no? They were torn from another book.
“Really? Careful, don’t spill the coffee.”
“He writes at the top of the page he has no choice but to leave the canyon after the murder. Below that is a faint date. I think it’s the end of July 1981, or it might be a four rather than a one. I can’t tell.”
I leaned over his shoulder. “The canyon…He must mean Laurel Canyon, it was a sort of mecca for recording artists in the 60’s and 70’s—Joni Mitchell; the Mamas & Papas; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young… Wait, I bet he’s referring to the Wonderland Murders. It was in the early 80’s; 4 or 5 people were killed; they were staying at some sort of party house. There were drugs involved and a robbery. They questioned and implicated a porn star, but in the end he wasn’t charged. In fact, I read he died earlier this year, from AIDS. Oh my, how could Chaz have been mixed up in anything so sordid?”
“Perhaps he will tell us. Drink your coffee; don’t spill it.” Dmetri smiled. “I’ll translate as best I can. Some words are faded, others crossed out: He doesn’t mention exactly where this is.”
‘In the spring, I rented a cabin in a secluded place; it still bore winter’s marks. This—the only thing I wanted, a season striped of artifice, a landscape laid bare. A woman came once a week to clean, restock shelves and the refrigerator, and replenish empty bottles on the sideboard. I saw her only a few times while I lived there, otherwise she and I were ghosts. She didn’t speak much English. I didn’t speak her language.’
‘Nearly every day I walked and wrote. Many of the pieces I burned in the fireplace rather than revising. What survived became the core of the book of poetry Hugo insisted on publishing, despite my protests. There was no piano at the cabin. I brought only a folk guitar and what people are calling a boom box. For new songs, I was forced to rely on my sorry excuse of a voice and imagine what instruments would accompany the lyrics. I recorded only the later versions of my efforts, using cassette tapes. That is how She Lied was created, on a cassette tape Hugo and the studio produced and translated into a hit.”
The next loose page was full of musical notations and a mock-up of the song:
Under that umbrella we lay, an illusion of safe. You kept scanning waves, the tide—not content to lie beside
While I slept, fevered, dreamt of suicide. Peace without pain, no ambition—no pondering
How it might turn out. When I awoke I asked: “For whom do you search?”
“For no one,” she lied… repeat refrain
In unison, Dmetri and I both blurted, “I know that song.”
“Odd, those words you just read rather sounds like something Hemingway might have written—simple direct prose. Chaz’ English had much improved compared to earlier journals. I found a copy of his book of poems. I have it here somewhere. Poor Chaz. His troubles with women was the world’s gain in terms of beautiful ballads and haunting melodies.”
Dmetri adroitly set his cup on the nightstand and pulled me onto the bed, showing, rather than telling me he had no such problems with women. “Now we know where he was and where he went for part of that time. But why? Who was murdered?”
*** ### *** ###
I might add we discovered how York had gotten into my almost impenetrable house. Though when he woke up from his drugged sleep, York claimed he had no memory of being in my house or why he was there. My neighbor filled in the blanks. Mr. Yumaki saw York carrying a ladder that normally laid alongside the shed he and I shared to store gardening supplies. He kept it covered with a tarp. Because Mr. Yumaki knew we were out, and York no longer lived here, he asked him what he was doing.
York apparently stammered that he promised me he’d repair a broken window before he and his band hit the road. The alleged broken window was on the opposite side of the bungalow. Mr. Yumaki went about his business, accepting York’s somewhat lame reason. In retrospect, he said he should have been suspicious. York had a screwdriver tucked into his belt but no replacement glass or caulking.
The bathroom window was one of the few without a filigree grill as it wasn’t easily accessible, unless you were 12 feet tall or had a ladder. York knew it wasn’t ever locked. He opened it and scooted through, leaving a foot print in the shower floor. In my bedroom, he rummaged through drawers, Dmetri’s still neatly packed luggage, and my closet. That’s where he found Chaz’ guitar and decided it would make a nice addition to his collection.
He borrowed a pillowcase off my bed and helped himself to other items he fancied: a teak statue of an African fertility god gifted me by a lovely man who played the bongos at the Junkanoo; a martini glass filled with cats eye marbles and bits of sea glass; several original pressings of Beatles/Apple label albums; and an unopened bottle of dark rum. I knew how his mind worked; these were his consolidation prizes. On his way out, through the kitchen door I presume, he must have spied the bottle of brandy.
Since not much had spilled, I’m guessing he took several long swallows from the bottle. He was likely reaching for a brandy snifter when he passed out, hitting his head on the edge of the table on his way down. After spending several days in the hospital, York was released but literally had nowhere to go. He really had planned to leave town with his band—and what he’d looted from the bungalow.
Against my better judgment and Dmetri’s colorful protests, I agreed to allow York to sleep on my lumpy couch for a few days until the next bus arrived in Key West headed for the West Coast. He’d join his band, who was already in LA. I also declined to press charges, for old times sake or perhaps because despite his breaking in, there was a chance he could sue me for pain and suffering.
Somehow I managed to finish Part 1 of the three part special on Chaz and turn it into Gregori on time. I also got a bit of a reprieve. His office called the same day I turned the piece in to let me know my story, with my byline, had been approved (after minor edits) and would run that weekend. However, because of other ongoing events, and to draw the interest of the curious, parts 2 and 3 wouldn’t run until next month. The editor rejected my working title: The Late, Great Lamented Life of a Songster in favor of something with a bit more pizazz: An Act of Ambition or a Predisposition—You Decide?
I stayed late after classes to research the 1981 Hollywood ‘four on the floor’ Wonderland Murders. I was surprised to discover California’s former Governor, Jerry Brown, once lived a few doors down from the murder house. I grappled with whether to include info on Chaz’ possible connection with drug peddlers and porn stars in Part 2. At the bungalow, Dmetri continued to read and translate Chaz’ journals, hoping to find what it might have been his father found that was so alarming. Then Dmetri discovered a few more loose sheets of paper written just after New Year’s 1984. I quickly realized what Chaz had written about leaving the canyon after the murder had nothing to do with Wonderland or 1981.
Chaz had known many of the artists that owned or rented homes in the shadow of the HOLLYWOOD sign. One of the nine people that funded a refurbishment effort in the late 1970s, Hugh Heffner, boasted ‘the sign was Hollywood’s Eiffel Tower.’ Way back in 1932, 24 year old actress Peg Entwistle climbed the ‘H’ and executed a swan dive sans water. Her body was discovered in what’s now Beechwood Canyon, directly below the sign. Joggers and tourists occasionally report the scent of Gardenias, Peg’s favorite perfume. Hers wasn’t the only death in ensuing years.
Hillsides near the sign are still dotted with mid-century and Spanish Mission style buildings. Latigo Canyon and its namesake road leads to wine country. Topanga Canyon connects to the Pacific Coastal Highway and Woodland Hills, where a nudist colony once flourished. Manson’s family left a victim or two in this canyon. One of the Beach Boys lived in Benedict Canyon, then moved to a hunting lodge once owned by Will Rogers. In the 1930s, Will owned a 186 acre ranch and a 30+ room ranch house. In 1944, his widow donated the property to California State Parks. In the summer of 1968, Charlie Manson and various members of his ‘family’ stalked and took advantage of the Beach Boy who called Will Roger’s former home his own, Dennis Wilson. Of course, the family preferred to use the term ‘befriended.’
News rags estimate that during their roughly six month encampment, they went through about $100,000 of Wilson’s money, as well as his booze, food, and cars. Wilson moved out of his home and into another house. There were stories about Manson recording a song; he alleged the Beach Boys stole and altered his original composition. Wilson’s friends became concerned about him—his drinking and drugging, his new associates, his attitude. Dennis told Rave Magazine ‘Fear is nothing but awareness,’ Many stopped visiting him while Charlie was there.
On this loose sheet, in small, hard to read script written on both sides, Dmetri discovered Chaz was seriously concerned about his drummer friend’s health, but no one would intervene. Oddly, Chaz never actually mentions Wilson’s name. He says ‘while waiting for the guests my friend was entertaining to leave, I’d wander northwards into the Santa Monica hills to Will Rogers State Park.’ He describes several songs he composed while sitting on steep, crumbling concrete stairs that led to the canyon floor. After experiencing multiple unpleasant encounters with various people who hung out in and around Rustic Canyon (that he doesn’t describe in further detail) Chaz says he stopped going there. He lost touch with his old friend until December of 1983. That was unfortunate because Dennis did move again in the late 60’s, to Pacific Palisades. Manson and his family were evicted and gravitated back to the Spahn and Barker Ranches. Charlie found Dennis’ new digs, but wasn’t granted an open invitation to linger.
Dmetri and I scanned through journals but found little personal details regarding what Chaz did in the late 60’s-early 70’s, or where he lived. He rented a home in Topanga Canyon for six months, and another in Laurel Canyon, but also lived in hotels after the Manson murders. He wrote about Pavese and made several trips to Europe. There were short, unhappy relationships with a few band groupies and one with a TV sitcom actress that ended when her show was cancelled. It’s possible he didn’t write much because he was drinking, partying, getting stoned.
In the most recent journal excerpts Dmetri found, which were clearly dated late 1983 and early 1984, Chaz wrote: “Hugo was appalled when he found me. The trash can was overflowing, ashtrays held stumps of butts, and the refrigerator was empty except for a jar of olives and various condiments. He said my shirt was soiled. He was probably right. It was the holidays and I wanted nothing to do with it, with music, with life. Out of his own pockets, Hugo paid and arranged to have me discretely admitted to St. John’s to dry out. I suppose I went along with it because I knew there would be nothing but sanitized, institutional walls and a view of the smoggy sky.”
“The weeks spent there had actually done some good. I was sober and the drugs were out of my system; first time in a long while. The food was awful but Hugo ensured favorite delicacies were delivered to my floor several times a week. He took care of the staff as well. As a result, they treated me better than most of the sorry sacks there. I’d actually gained a few pounds. But the music was gone, the words too—that is until I saw my old friend again. He was in worse shape than I was when I’d arrived.”
“But he recognized me immediately. Though he mumbled to the nurse doing his intake, the words he whispered in my ear were clear and as insistent as hard rain on a tin roof. I’ll never forget what he said. ‘I know why Charlie did it, and they know I know. He demanded more money after the murders. I refused. He said I’d pay one way or another.’ It must have been Christmas Eve because everyone was acting all merry and bright except for me and my old friend.”
“A doctor took him away and I never got to talk to my friend again. I waved to him from across the room the next morning. He was dressed in street clothes and talked to some people, heads bent over. The nurse told me they were his friends. And then he just left, without saying another word. Four days later, I checked myself out and went looking for him. I was optimistic I could convince him to return to the hospital. We could get him police protection. I was too late. He was dead. The papers said there’d been a boating accident and he drowned—they also hinted at suicide. I knew better. From inside prison, Charlie was still controlling strings of those not incarcerated. The family had somehow gotten to him.”
“It was time to leave LA. I had no ties, no current record contract, only Hugo pleading for enough songs to finish the album. They were pale versions of what I typically produced—of what I was capable of. Delacroix would have been disgusted with me. I gave Hugo two songs I’d written last year during a semi-lucid month when a lovely lady, a songwriter friend with a house in the canyon, convinced me to do a juice cleanse, with unlimited amounts of wine allowed, but nothing stronger. The third song was the darkest thing I ever wrote. Doesn’t it figure; it was a hit for an up and coming hard metal band in the UK.”
There were ugly blobs of ink on the bottom half of the page and a few words from the song that became known as Indigo Dark…‘inelegant as a deserted charnel plot, gravely floating every vicious wish, materializing legions of wretched witches…’
“After I gave Hugo songs that a few years ago I’d be ashamed to admit were my creations, I left California. He begged me to reconsider. I thanked him for getting me sober. The well is dry, I told him. We parted on good terms. Your temperament, your gift for writing hits will return, he assured me. Write a memoir, or a book of poems, words you already wrote not suited to a song? I promised Hugo I’d consider it and send him a forwarding address when I got to where I’d be living next. Mostly, I craved solitude, and he knew it.”
‘The next few years were quiet. Only my dreams were troubled by images of dead friends, mama, what I saw while climbing the hills in Will Roger’s Park, the twisted, abandoned cars, swastika’s spray painted on walls, the angry men with grey shirts and pistols, the pseudo hippies that sang of hate, not love. My life might have stayed quiet, except I could not let my friend’s death go unanswered, for le monde penser…to believe he’d killed himself. And after I met her, I knew no peace again.”
“This is amazing and confounding,” I shrilly announced to Dmetri. “I think the loose pages you found with the song lyrics for She Lied must have been written after his friend died, in 84, not 1981. Now we know so much more. Chaz had so many famous and tragic friends, though I never imagined a surf loving Beach Boy might be counted among them. He’s very discrete, seldom cites names. I wonder if the lady that talked him into a juice cleanse was Carol King? It’s more than enough new information to flesh out Part 2. Part 1 is running tomorrow. I have to buy extra copies. I wonder, was there another journal he wrote, something more memoir than diary, that these pages came from?”
“Slow down, enjoy the moment, breathe.” Dmetri placed his hand over mine. “Drink.”
“I will, I will, it’s just…do you think he meant Lydia when he said he knew no peace after he met her?” I blurted out half a dozen more questions. Seated at an outdoor table at the bottom of Duval Street on a warm, balmy evening, we waited for the famous Key West sunset to blaze purple, gold, and coral bands of light before dipping into the water. York had left that morning on a bus bound for LA. I was slugging down a Long Island Ice Tea. Dmetri was pensively nursing a draft beer. “Are you okay? Did I say something I shouldn’t have?”
“Mia bella, already you know me. So you must know I am obligated to return to London soon. Though some of my work can be done on the, how you say ‘fly,’ much of it can’t. I will return to help you solve these murders. In the meantime, we should hire a professional, no?”
With the sinking of the sun, something in my chest plunged into dark, murky waters as well. Of course he couldn’t stay here indefinitely. He’d need a visa, a green card. But Sheriff Hayes said neither of us should leave town. I couldn’t do this all on my own.
“The boat should be sold, unless it’s something you want Nora. Then please, it’s yours. I am not a fish out of water; I am too much a fan of terra firma. We’ll talk about it later. Let’s enjoy this sunset, and perhaps you can explain to me who this Beach Boy was?”
Next: Act 9: Acts of Submission and Subterfuge…
and the conclusion of Interpretation of Death’s Willy in the Wilderness
Takes me back to getting wheatgrass juice chasers at Ralphs! I’ll be back, but thanks as ever for posting such delicious prose!
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Glad you said chasers…was the real deal tequila or vodka to chase down the not so delicious wheatgrass? Chuckles and humble thanks!
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Your interweaving of themes remains top notch Jo. Dennis Wilson, my favourite (macho) Beach Boy, in there with HP Lovecraft, whom I’ve read so much about but never read. It’s so odd that I’m nonetheless very acquiantant with Cthulu – there is an HP Lovecraft compendium behind all the packed cases down in my Dad’s garage. Lurking, waiting, hidden.
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Uh oh to anything lurking in the basement! Embarrassed to say I read Lovecraft because others were doing it, not because I found him appealing, except for Necronomicon… I don’t consider him ‘modern horror’s guru,’ but rather a magnet for those that want to think the worst…of people, the world, the future and the past. I’m still savoring your words in Almost Gone. Can only imagine what it took, what it takes daily… to be in the moment. Fond regards, Jo
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Complaints department! I can’t leave comments on your November piece! I can’t argue the toss about whether Elizabeth II is the correct way to describe her; for we pesky Scots, it’s not! We’ll blow up or vandalise any post-boxes that have that stamp! I’ve still got some of your classic literature to read, so please fix up your landing strip (!?) so I can comment on everything from Harry Chapin to JFK! Just back from an encounter in the crypt of Slaims Castle, so have much to contribute…
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And as a PS, great to be transported to West Hollywood, where the ghosts are fresh and the bodies freshly buried. Topanga and Beechwood; names that transport me to living in Kings Road, Sherman Oaks, and of course the Bourgiose Pig. I’ll make a very rare correction for your errant apostrophe in Will Rogers in the para after the Hollywood sign, and give myself some homework; Lovecraft and Hemingway? Who would have thought it? I’ll do my research but The Yog-Soroth Also Rises is my working title…or A Farewell to A Thousand Eyes…
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Fixed and checked ‘comments’ block. Thanks! Will also fix grammar, however, deadline looms for Interpretation of Death final chapter +epilogue ‘these things don’t write themselves’ though don’t I wish… Yes, some speculate they met, may have passed by each other–the more lurid story is Lovecraft’s possible meeting with infamous character Carl von Tanzler & dead body he kept in house-& tried to revive… Apologies for earlier post RE Banshees-problem with London born director’s blk comedies (except for Bruges). His parents were Irish & I sense something wrong with his depictions… something wrong with royals as well IMO, oh dear. How do Scots describe her–besides my cousins in Glasgow? Landing strip ready to receive…ohhh Slains Castle, blusterly area. Don’t think it was Stoker’s inspirational castle. Is it true roof was removed from old castle to avoid taxes?