Hello and thanks for checking out my story! This is my first full length mystery novel, which is fully plotted, though still in the process of being written. Inspired by The Thin Man, Nancy Drew, and Miss Phryne Fisher (the clothes!). It takes place in Los Angeles 1934 and has murder, romance, mystery, and danger!
Check out my short story "The Belle from the Ebell" on Amazon, also a Beatrice Bellamy story and self published by me.
I was standing in Green Library, my kid gloves stained red from blood while a cute Brit was making eyes at me from across the stacks. Seeing the Red in the Green. That would be a good movie title. I should remember to suggest that to my uncle. Oh, my uncle. Little did I know that his challenge would lead me this close to the slammer and a real dead body, not a fake you see on the silver screen. The last time I had seen one of these stiffs I was attending my uncle's premiere at the Hollywood Egyptian Theater. But that dead body was covered in ketchup and not actual blood, and I was comfortably seated with a strong drink.
"Miss Bellamy! Over here!" The lights flashed in my eyes as I plastered a red and white smile on my face. My gold beaded dress sparkled between the hot flash of the bulbs and the void of the night as I walked down the red carpet on my father's arm. Mr. Lawrence Bellamy, or Laurie to his friends, was a script writer for Silverwyn Productions. Though he preferred accounting to writing, he couldn't turn down the offer from his half-brother, Mr. Bertie Silverwyn himself. That was how Hollywood worked, and we were here to reap the benefits.
And I, Beatrice Bellamy, was neither an actress nor a wife, but a young Hollywood debutante recently returned from Europe, enjoying having my picture taken outside of the theatre with Clark Gable standing only two feet away. I could faint! We were celebrating the movie "The Fat Man." It was about an overweight and out of work detective who drank all day until a case involving a murder so depraved shocked him into sobriety- though not for long.
Now that Prohibition was finally over, studios were scrambling to show characters drinking and having a good time. And that was exactly what we were doing. 1934 was turning out to be a boozy year. Once past the photographers, we found ourselves surrounded by glamorous people all sipping cocktails and dangling cigarettes while chatting about the latest gossip.
"Did you hear that Victoria has a bun in the oven and her part was given to Margaret instead?"
"Some people are saying it's not John's and his leaving her for . . ." At that moment a sparkling Victoria Ciel walked on the arm of John Haas and the clucking women went silent. Appearances were everything in Hollywood and, at that moment, my appearance had not been noticed, and I was grateful. I don't know if I was ready for the exposure. People might say that any gossip in Hollywood is good gossip, but after assisting the famous Sir McBride, I would have to disagree whole heartedly.
"Laurie!" You made it, old man," exclaimed Uncle Bertie as he walked over to us. I had been making nice with the plant while sipping my gaslight martini. That's what Alice, my best friend, called gin martinis. After drinking bathtub gin and the liquor Tony Cornero provided on his gambling ships, Alice's liquor of choice was heavily disguised in fruity deliciousness.
"Hello Bertie," my father responded. He was a quiet man who only turned out for these parties to support his brother. Though they did not share the same father, they were quite close, though not in age. Bertie's silver hair stood out against my father's dark auburn hair, solidifying his Silverwyn name.
"How's the wife?" Uncle Bertie asked. I quickly gulped down my martini as my dad's face turned white. My mother had been a bright young thing, a moth drawn to flame and she had never moved on from her flapper days. Though my parents still lived together, they had not really been together since I was ten. I don't know why they had stopped trying, but sometimes I wondered, as they would sit silently across from each other, why they hadn't just stopped this farce. My trip to Europe this past year was almost an apology from my mother, though she had put it a little differently.
"You don't want to be an American savage, do you dahling?" My mother always knew how to put things succinctly.
"She had another event," my father responded curtly.
"What a shame." At that moment a bell rang to announce the start of the movie. "We should have dinner tomorrow to discuss my new idea. You will like it." Bertie grinned before turning towards other silver-haired men in well tailored suits.
"I hope it's not another Fat Man," I muttered under my breath as I patted my Marcel waves, making sure not a hair was out of place. Even if my appearance was not important to others, it was important to me and I wanted to make my daddy proud.
The next day I awoke to my mother having hysterics over the short notice of the dinner party while the grandfather clock chimed 8 o' clock. If Hollywood was all about appearances, my mother was the Queen Bee. With her short platinum bob expertly waved and her red lips painted in a shape Mother Nature never intended she was perfectly preserved to appear 30. As if a taxidermist had performed his best work and learned the secret to eternal youth.
I skipped down the stairs in pajama pants, a blue silk robe fluttering behind me. My mother always tried to make me wear blue to compliment my blue grey eyes and red hair. Her people were Irish and I had inherited the red hair and stubbornness.
"Good morning mother, papa," I said as I glided into the breakfast room, a small room with large windows and a small round table covered in a white lace table cloth and a small vase of wild flowers in the center. A delicious spread was laid out on the table. Molly, our cook and housekeeper, knew our particular tastes well. My father had toast and jam and the Los Angeles Times. My mother had one hard-boiled egg – easiest on the stomach, and I ate oatmeal with fruit and honey drizzled on top.
"Morning Bea," replied my father, his eyes never leaving the newspaper. My mother disregarded my entrance as she glared at my father.
"I cannot believe you invited Bertie over without consulting me first!"
"Uncle Bertie invited himself over," I muttered under my breath as I plop in front of my morning delight.
"Darling, is this not a newspaper?" My father looked at my mother.
"Is it not morning?" he continued.
"I usually like to take this with peace and quiet in the morning." My father turned back to his newspaper and shook it out to make a point, while removing any creases. It seemed that neither parent could have a proper conversation with the other. They were always met with silent indignation or hysterics.
My mother knew she was defeated now and stomped off muttering about place settings and fowl. My father peeled a corner of his newspaper down and smiled at me. We both knew that the dinner would be flawless and my mother would have forgotten all about this morning since she would be the center of attention, the one thing my mother loved most.
Today was going to be a long day, but dinner with Uncle Bertie was always enjoyable.
Dinner was magnificent. My mother would keep a log of each menu so she would never have a repeat. She had really outdid herself this time for such a simple gathering. She had prepared grapefruit and avocado supreme, breast of campon with sautéed mushrooms, potatoes Parisienne, and julienned string beans. My mouth had been watering from the wafting smells coming from the kitchen as I had been getting ready.
We all sat down, my mother and Uncle Bertie at the ends of the table. Like the King of England, Uncle Bertie was royalty. Hollywood royalty. He ensured that his family members had film jobs, his children were extras in his films, and all his friends were in the biz. He was self-made royalty, and he knew how to play the part.
"Laurie, I have a proposition for you. I was having tea with mother, dear old thing, and in a moment of clarity, she told me about a book she had read." I looked up from my plate. Grandma Bellamy always read interesting books. Perhaps it had been an escape from her mundane married life. The Bellamy/Silverwyn family hadn't come from money.
"I believe it was called 'The Younger Sister.' Some Jane Austen gobbledy-gook. But the women do love it." Uncle Bertie's eyes fell on my mother.
"Really dahling. Not every woman is sentimental." Mother shook her glossy curls as her tinkling laugh filled the dining room. My mother should have been an actress.
"Not every woman is you." My mother's blue eyes sparkled as my dad gulped down his Champagne. Everyone knew that Uncle Bertie had introduced Laurie to Frances and that was all they knew.
"'The Younger Sister.' I haven't heard of that book, is it new?" I asked, quieting the loud silence.
"No, written in the 1800s, I believe. I can have the book sent over tomorrow, if you are interested in adapting it, Laurie."
"Why not," my father responded, looking tired as he sipped his drink.
"Oh, let me go fetch it, Uncle. I haven't seen Grandma Bellamy in ages!" I needed an excuse to get out of the house tomorrow, and I never seemed to lack for one. Excuses were plenty when there was a will.
"Why not, pumpkin. Just promise to be careful and not lose it." My uncle usually spoke to me as if I were still in a jumper and braids, though on occasion he would remember my age and treat me like a the lady I would hope to become.
After a family dinner like last night's, I tend to vacate the premises so I don't have to listen to my mother go over every painstaking detail of what went wrong and what we should do again. I sometimes wondered if my mother should have been a social secretary. God forbid she'd ever have to collect a paycheck from anyone other than her husband! And even then she would complain about her lack of financial freedom. Frances Combs did not come from money.
It was a warm spring day as I drove to my grandma's. My blue roadster sped down the flats of Beverly Hills as I headed towards Culver City. My grandmother lived at the Culver Hotel, a rather new hotel, at least to her, because she could remember the Titanic and the hotel was built a decade later.
That was the thing about age. The older a person got, the longer it took for things to age. Whereas for me, things were old the second after creation. I don't know why my grandmother lived in a hotel. Perhaps she was lonely, or perhaps she enjoyed the bustle and constant turnover of a hotel. I handed my keys to the valet in front and promptly made my way to the second floor. My grandmother was waiting for me with some hot tea and biscuits. I had telephoned before leaving home.
"Grandma! How are you?" I asked as I walked into the familiar suite. There was an exotic blending of the old and the new. The sleek lines of the room were mismatched with the ornate furniture of the late Edwardian era. The scrolls and gild and velvet were warm and inviting and it always smelled of sugared violets and lilac. She had been beautiful in her day. She had had long dark locks and blue eyes and had looked like one of Rosetti's women, or perhaps Lily Elsie. But now her hair was silver and her eyes had lost some of their luster. She still had soft and inviting features and looked like a woman who had seen love and happiness in her youth and had held on tight to the memory.
"Honey Bea, so good to come and see your old grandma. My, how you've grown, though you are not eating enough." She squeezed my arm, noting that there was not much meat around the bones.
"Come, sit down. I'll put the kettle on for tea." I followed her to the little sitting area. As I sat down, Grandma began to flutter around like a little sparrow. She was tiny and delicate, meticulous and precise.
Within a few minutes the tea set was laid out and the most delicious butter cookies were tempting me from the middle of the table.
"So my dear, why have you come?" My grandma knew that I rarely visited her for the sake of visiting. I was usually quite busy doing nothing. A lady of status had to be good at doing nothing and being part of the Silverwyn Hollywood royalty meant constant observation gossip columnists.
"I came about a book."
"A book?" My grandma had quite a lot of books. She was a voracious reader.
"Yes, The Younger Sister. Uncle Bertie said you had mentioned it to him and I was interested."
"Ah yes, I should have it here somewhere." My grandma stood up and began to twitter around her books. "Here it is," she said as she pulled out two leather bound volumes. She sat back down in her dark green velvet chair with gold ornate feet.
"Now, I only have two volumes. A young man came the other day asking about Volume III. These books were imported from England and he said it was difficult to find the third volume." Grandma Bellamy stroked the cover of the top volume as she spoke.
"Oh, and why did he need the volume?" I asked, perturbed that I could not find the complete set.
"He said he had started reading the book and had to know how it finished. He gave me an address for where he lives so that I would not consider my book stolen." My grandma was a little naive. She came from a simpler and safer time. "Let me find it."
My grandma started to fidget around her dark oak desk opening drawers and shifting through papers. My grandma rarely threw things away. As she looked around, I noticed a small silver glint by my feet. I bent down and surreptitiously removed it from the carpet. I quickly looked at the small object. It was a silver cufflink with a quill engraved on the head. I tucked it in my pocketbook before my grandmother would notice.
After a minute of looking around, she picked up her address book as if she knew it had been there all along. As she sat down she opened the little overstuffed light blue book and pulled out a thin piece of paper.
"Here it is," she said as she handed it to me, her hands shaking ever so slightly, but not enough for most people to notice. I took the paper and looked at the penciled address. Something looked off about it. It read 123 Beverlyn Drive, but there was no Beverlyn Drive that she knew about. It appeared that my grandmother had been gypped! But I knew my grandma would not understand, so I kept the address and tried to hide my suspicions.
"I will go ask this gentleman for the book. Or maybe I will be able to find the third volume at the local library. The Beverly Hills Library was growing quickly since it was relocated two years ago. I wasn't sure if the library would have a special book imported from England, but I knew someone who worked there in the North wing of City Hall who would have an idea of what I could do.
After finishing my tea and cookies I bid my grandma adieu. In my hands I carried a brown paper parcel containing the first two volumes of The Younger Sister by Catherine Hubback. Though I wasn't a voracious reader, I was excited to read this unknown book. I liked unknown and unique. But it was disturbing how this mysterious gentleman had come and taken the third volume. Why would he want it? Perhaps he really did just want to read the third volume, but then why would he leave a bogus address? Why would someone want to steal from a little old lady? And who's cufflink did I find? Neither my father nor Bertie wore cufflinks with quills engraved on them.
I was sure that the volume was lost to me, but I could always find another volume, right? How hard could it be? I would become Nancy Drew and do a little sleuthing. Perhaps I needed to stop at Bullocks to pick up a magnifying glass.
I hopped back into my car and drove back home, thoughts of what I should do circling in my head like little butterflies disturbed by the wind.