It was November, 1963, and the autumn sunshine had given way to a thin, unwarming light from the sky. The early mornings were foggy and chilling now, and the first rains of winter had begun.
Jill Castle still stopped in at Schwab's every morning, but it seemed to her that the conversations were always the same. The Survivors talked about who had lost a part and why. They gloated over each disastrous review that came out and deprecated the good ones. It was the threnody of losers, and Jill began to wonder if she were becoming like the rest of them. She was still sure that she was going to be Somebody, but as she looked around at the same familiar faces, she realized they all felt the same way about themselves. Was it possible they were all out of touch with reality, all of them gambling on a dream that was never going to happen? She could not bear the thought of it.
Jill had become the mother confessor to the group. They came to her with problems, and she listened and tried to help; with advice, a few dollars or a place to sleep for a week or two. She seldom dated because she was absorbed in her career and she had not met anyone who interested her.
Whenever Jill was able to put a little money aside, she sent it to her mother with long, glowing letters about how well she was doing. In the beginning, Jill's mother had written back urging Jill to repent and become a bride of God. But as Jill made occasional movies and sent more money home, her mother began to take a certain reluctant pride in her daughter's career. She was no longer against Jill's being an actress but she pressed Jill to get parts in religious pictures. "I'm sure Mr. DeMille would give you a role if you explained your religious background to him," she wrote.
Odessa was a small town. Jill's mother still worked for the Oil People, and she knew that her mother would talk about her, that sooner or later David Kenyon would hear of her success. And so, in her letters, Jill made up stories about all the stars she worked with, always careful to use their first names. She learned the bit players' trick of having the set photographer snap her picture as she stood next to the star. The photographer would give her two prints and Jill would mail one to her mother and keep the other. She made her letters sound as though she was just one step short of stardom.
It is the custom in Southern California, where it never snows, that three weeks before Christmas a Santa Claus Parade marches down Hollywood Boulevard and that each night after that until Christmas Eve a Santa Claus float makes the journey. The citizens of Hollywood are as conscientious about the celebration of the Christ child as are their neighbors in northern climes. They are not to be held responsible if "Glory Be to God on High" and "Silent Night" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" pour out of home and car radios in a community that is sweltering in a temperature of eighty-five or ninety degrees. They long for an old-fashioned white Christmas as ardently as other red-blooded patriotic Americans, but because they know that God is not going to supply it, they have learned to create their own. They festoon the streets with Christmas lights and plastic Christmas trees and papier-mache cutouts of Santa Claus and his sled and his reindeer. Stars and character actors vie for the privilege of riding in the Santa Claus Parade; not because they are concerned about bringing holiday cheer to the thousands of children and adults who line the path of the parade, but because the parade is televised and their faces will be seen coast to coast.
Jill Castle stood on a corner, alone, watching the long parade of floats go by, the stars on top waving to their loving fans below. The Grand Marshal of the parade this year was Toby Temple. The adoring crowds cheered wildly as his float passed by. Jill caught a quick glimpse of Toby's beaming, ingenuous face and then he was gone.
There was music from the Hollywood High School Band, followed by a Masonic Temple float, and a marine corps band. There were equestrians in cowboy outfits and a Salvation Army band, followed by Shriners. There were singing groups carrying flags and streamers, a Knott's Berry Farm float with animals and birds made of flowers; fire engines, clowns and jazz bands. It might not have been the spirit of Christmas, but it was pure Hollywood spectacle.
Jill had worked with some of the character actors on the floats. One of them waved to her and called down, "Hiya, Jill! How ya doin'?"
Several people in the crowd turned to look enviously at her, and it gave her a delightful feeling of self-importance that people knew she was in the Business. A deep, rich voice beside her said, "Excuse me - are you an actress?"
Jill turned. The speaker was a tall, blond, good-looking boy in his middle twenties. His face was tanned and his teeth were white and even. He wore a pair of old jeans and a blue tweed jacket with leather-patch elbows.
"Me, too. An actor, I mean." He grinned and added, "Struggling."
Jill pointed to herself and said, "Struggling."
He laughed. "Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"
His name was Alan Preston and he came from Salt Lake City where his father was an elder in the Mormon Church. "I grew up with too much religion and not enough fun," he confided to Jill.
It's almost prophetic, Jill thought. We have exactly the same kind of background.
"I'm a good actor," Alan said ruefully, "but this is sure a rough town. Back home, everybody wants to help you. Here, it seems like everybody's out to get you."
They talked until the coffee shop closed, and by that time they were old friends. When Alan asked, "Do you want to come back to my place?" Jill hesitated only a moment. "All right."
Alan Preston lived in a boardinghouse off Highland Avenue, two blocks from the Hollywood Bowl. He had a small room at the back of the house.
"They ought to call this place The Dregs," he told Jill. "You should see the weirdos who live here. They all think they're going to make it big in show business."
Like us, Jill thought.
The furniture in Alan's room consisted of a bed, a bureau, a chair and a small rickety table. "I'm just waiting until I move into my palace," Alan explained.
Jill laughed. "Same with me."
Alan started to take her in his arms, and she stiffened. "Please don't."
He looked at her a moment and said gently, "Okay," and Jill was suddenly embarrassed. What was she doing here in this man's room, anyway? She knew the answer to that. She was desperately lonely. She was hungry for someone to talk to, hungry for the feel of a man's arms around her, holding her and reassuring her and telling her that everything was going to be wonderful. It had been so long. She thought of David Kenyon, but that was another life, another world. She wanted him so much that it was an ache. A little later, when Alan Preston put his arms around Jill again, she closed her eyes and it became David kissing her and undressing her and making love to her.
Jill spent the night with Alan, and a few days later he moved into her small apartment.
Alan Preston was the most uncomplicated man Jill had ever met. He was easygoing and relaxed, taking each day as it came, totally unconcerned with tomorrow. When Jill would discuss his way of life with him, he would say, "Hey, remember Appointment in Samarra? If it's going to happen, it'll happen. Fate will find you. You don't have to go looking for it."
Alan would stay in bed long after Jill had gone out looking for work. When she returned home, she would find him in an easy chair, reading or drinking beer with his friends. He brought no money into the house.
"You're a dope," one of Jill's girlfriends told her. "He's using your bed, eating your food, drinking your liquor. Get rid of him."
But Jill didn't.
For the first time, Jill understood Harriet, understood all her friends who clung desperately to men they did not love, men they hated.
It was the fear of being alone.
Jill was out of a job. Christmas was only a few days away and she was down to her last few dollars, yet she had to send her mother a Christmas present. It was Alan who solved the problem. He had left early one morning without saying where he was going. When he returned, he said to Jill, "We've got a job."
"What kind of job?"
"Acting, of course. We're actors, aren't we?"
Jill looked at him, filled with sudden hope. "Are you serious?"
"Of course I am. I ran into a friend of mine who's a director. He's got a picture starting tomorrow. There's parts for both of us. A hundred bucks apiece, for one day's work."
"That's wonderful!" Jill exclaimed. "A hundred dollars!" With that she could buy her mother some lovely English wool for a winter coat and have enough left over to buy a good leather purse.
"It's just a little indie. They're shooting it in back of someone's garage."
Jill said, "What can we lose? It's a part."
The garage was on the south side of Los Angeles, in an area that in one generation had gone from exclusivity to middle-class gentility to seed.
They were greeted at the door by a short, swarthy man who took Alan's hand and said, "You made it, buddy. Great."
He turned to Jill and whistled appreciatively. "You told it like it is, pal. She's an eyeful."
Alan said, "Jill, this is Peter Terraglio. Jill Castle."
"How do you do!" Jill said.
"Pete's the director," Alan explained.
"Director, producer, chief bottle washer. I do a little of everything. Come on in." He led them through the empty garage into a passageway that had at one time been servants' quarters. There were two bedrooms off the corridor. The door to one was open. As they approached it, they could hear the sound of voices. Jill reached the doorway, looked inside and stopped in shocked disbelief. In the middle of the room four naked people were lying on a bed; a black man, a Mexican man, and two girls, one white and one black. A cameraman was lighting the set while one of the girls practiced fellatio on the Mexican. The girl paused for a moment, out of breath, and said, "Come on, you cock. Get hard."
Jill felt faint. She wheeled around in the doorway to start back down the passageway, and she felt her legs start to give way. Alan had his arm around her, supporting her.
"Are you all right?"
She could not answer him. Her head was suddenly splitting, and her stomach was filled with knives.
"Wait here," Alan ordered.
He was back in a minute with a bottle of red pills and a pint of vodka. He took out two of the pills and handed them to Jill. "These will make you feel better."
Jill put the pills in her mouth, her head pounding.
"Wash it down with this," Alan told her.
She did as he said.
"Here." Alan handed her another pill. She swallowed it with vodka. "You need to lie down a minute."
He led Jill into the empty bedroom, and she lay down on the bed, moving very slowly. The pills were beginning to work. She started to feel better. The bitter bile had stopped coming up into her mouth.
Fifteen minutes later, her headache was fading away. Alan handed her another pill. Without even thinking about it, Jill swallowed it. She took another drink of vodka. It was such a blessing to have the pain disappear. Alan was behaving peculiarly, moving all around the bed. "Sit still," she said.
"I am sitting still."
Jill thought that was funny and began to laugh. She laughed until the tears streamed down her face. "What - what were those pills?"
"For your headache, honey."
Terraglio peered into the room and said, "How we doin'? Everybody happy?"
"Every - everybody's happy," Jill mumbled.
Terraglio looked at Alan and nodded. "Five minutes," Terraglio said. He hurried off.
Alan was leaning over Jill, stroking her breast and her thighs, lifting her skirt and working his fingers between her legs. It felt marvelously exciting, and Jill suddenly wanted him inside her.
"Look, baby," Alan said, "I wouldn't ask you to do anything bad. You'd just make love to me. It's what we do anyway, only this time we get paid for it. Two hundred bucks. And it's all yours."
She shook her head, but it seemed to take forever to move it from side to side. "I couldn't do that," she said, fuzzily.
She had to concentrate to remember. "Because I'm - I'm gonna be a star. Can't do porno films."
"Would you like me to fuck you?"
"Oh, yes! I want you, David."
Alan started to say something, then grinned. "Sure, baby. I want you, too. Come on." He took Jill's hand and lifted her off the bed. Jill felt as though she were flying.
They were in the hallway, then moving into the other bedroom.
"Okay," Terraglio said as he saw them. "Keep the same setup. We've got some fresh blood coming in."
"Do you want me to change the sheets?" one of the crew asked.
"What the fuck do you think we are, MGM?"
Jill was clinging to Alan. "David, there are people here."
"They'll leave," Alan assured her. "Here." He took out another pill and gave it to Jill. He put the bottle of vodka to her lips, and she swallowed the pill. From that point on, everything happened in a haze. David was undressing her and saying comforting things. Then she was on the bed with him. He moved his naked body close to her. A bright light came on, blinding her.
"Put this in your mouth," he said, and it was David talking.
"Oh, yes." She stroked it lovingly and started to put it in her mouth and someone in the room said something that Jill could not hear, and David moved away so that Jill was forced to turn her face into the light and squint in the glare. She felt herself being pushed down on her back and then David was inside her making love to her, and at the same time she had his penis in her mouth. She loved him so much. The lights bothered her and the talking in the background. She wanted to tell David to stop them, but she was in an ecstasy of delirium, having orgasm after orgasm until she thought that her body would tear itself apart. David loved her, not Cissy, and he had come back to her and they were married. They were having such a wonderful honeymoon.
"David..." she said. She opened her eyes and the Mexican was on top of her, moving his tongue down her body. She tried to ask him where David was, but she could not get the words out. She closed her eyes while the man did delicious things to her body. When Jill opened her eyes again, the man had somehow turned into a girl with long red hair and large bosoms trailing across Jill's belly. Then the woman started doing something with her tongue and Jill closed her eyes and fell into unconsciousness.
The two men stood looking down at the figure on the bed.
"She gonna be all right?" Terraglio asked.
"Sure," Alan said.
"You really come up with 'em," Terraglio said admiringly. "She's terrific. Best looker yet."
"My pleasure." He held out his hand.
Terraglio pulled a thick wad of bills out of his pocket and peeled off two of them. "Here y'are. Wanna drop by for a little Christmas dinner? Stella'd love to see you."
"Can't," Alan said. "I'm spending Christmas with the wife and kids. I'm catching the next plane out to Florida."
"We're gonna have a hell of a picture here." Terraglio nodded toward the unconscious girl. "What kind of billing should we give her?"
Alan grinned. "Why don't you use her real name? It's Josephine Czinski. When the picture plays in Odessa, it'll give all her friends a real kick."