Elsie Sinclair: Last Living Dinner Party Guest
With a deeply saddened heart I must tell you that Elsie Sinclair passed away in her sleep. She is survived by no one as she lived her life for the film. Having never been given top billing, her work in front of and behind the camera will forever be remembered. Most notably she will be remembered as having spent time, that fateful day sixty years ago, at the Manor House. As the last known living guest of record she was sought after relentlessly for information. But what happened that night at Manor House has now died with her and the mystery will forever remain unsolved.
I slammed my fists down on the hardwood table, regretting my choice almost instantly. The Manor House had always been a story of legend. A night only a dozen got to experience and now, with Elsie dead, one that will never be shared. I had been following the lives of every single person who received an invitation to that house, everyone in the business of news and entertainment did. There was a time these few mediocre actors were the cream of the crop in Hollywood, just because they were invited to a party! And while everyone wanted to know about the party, I was after much more than that. The true story was about the man who owned the Manor House.
Simon Travers was not a college graduate. He had no wife or children to speak of and his parents were tragically killed in a plane crash when he was just a boy. These facts are all I have been able to find about Simon Travers. His birth certificate has eluded me still to this day, so I can't speak to his age. There is only one photograph of the man I found from a former family friend. Just a boy in the picture, he definitely looks like someone destined to be great. And great is an understatement to what Simon Travers became. Through family channels I've yet to unravel, Simon was taken into the confidence of many in Hollywood. For a time he was seen as some sort of good luck charm. Whatever he told them to do, they followed, and without question his suggestions became the stuff of Hollywood dreams. He is credited with single-handled lifted Hollywood to the fame it reaps today.
And when a man like Simon Travers sends you an invitation to attend a small dinner party in his home you don't question it. As far as anyone knew at the time, he had never had a dinner party at his home. He has been known to entertain the odd guest or two at his home, but for the most part, he conducted his meetings over the phone or through letters. When the invitations were first leaked all of Hollywood and the media were abuzz with questions: Whom did he invite?
And when we all slowly uncovered who were invited our next collective question was an obvious one: Why?
None of them were A-listers. Many argued they weren't even B-listers in the acting community. All eyes turned to these dozen who at first were revered for being recognized at all. But that notoriety quickly turned to hatred and jealousy. Not just by the media but by their friends, family and colleagues. I wasn't surprised when I continued to follow their lives and careers to discover many of them turned to alcohol, a few took their own lives, and then there was Elsie Sinclair.
She fully embodied just what a man like Simon Travers could do to help and hurt just about anyone. Elsie Sinclair tried her best to ignore the sneers and the constant questions thrown at her. She refused, for a time, to hide away like the others had. She was engaged to be married and was rumored to finally have a shot at a co-starring role in a movie that today is still the highest grossing. Instead, her fiance left her and the role was given to someone else. A woman, I'm not ashamed to say, was highly undeserving of the role. It was too much for anyone to endure and Elsie was no exception. But she was stronger than Simon Travers or anyone gave her credit for. She died of old age, as anyone should have the right to do. But I still have questions.
Why these people? Why did Simon Travers choose them? Did he know that in doing so it would ruin their lives? Is that why he was never seen again after the party. Perhaps the guilt was too much even for a great man such as himself.
I left the cursor blinking on this obituary I started writing about Elsie Sinclair and quickly deposited a cigarette to my lips. I could see the flame shake as my hand did but managed to sneak a drag before I was forced to extinguish the match with a half-hearted wave. I needed some air.
The window was already open, curtains hanging wistfully in the air. I needed more than air. I needed space to breath. Suddenly my studio apartment was feeling smaller than it already was. I grabbed my jacket and pulled open my front door. There it was. If not for my name written in gold on the envelope I probably wouldn't have noticed it. A crisp black envelope taped to my black apartment door is hardly noticeable but I knew what it was.
I blew a puff of smoke in its direction, then looked around the hallway as if expecting to still catch whoever delivered it. But surely they were long gone by now. I reached up for it but my hand lingered just inches away. I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket instead and carefully yanked the envelope from my front door, careful not to bend it as I carried it into my apartment and placed it on my coffee table. I must've sat there staring at the sealed envelope for a long time because eventually someone knocked on my apartment door which I had left wide open.
"Lou, are you in here?"
I can only imagine the fear that must've been in Sally's mind when she found my door wide open. Her voice, as it always had a habit of doing, brought me back from my trance but all I could manage was a smirk as I pointed down to the envelope on my coffee table.
Her facial expression read elation and dread that came in waves. She knew what it was, what it contained. I watched her as she carefully closed my front door and sat beside me. I waited for her to say something. Anything. Until she did we were both in a dream. It had to be. There was no other explanation and we both knew that.
"Have you opened it?" she finally said. I still couldn't find my voice as I shook my head. "Well," she continued, rubbing her palms up and down her legs trying to rid herself of the heebie-jeebies that we were both feeling. "Until you do we can't be sure it is what we think it is. I mean, it could be—"
"Yes?" I said, a hint of begging in my voice. Sally always presented me with common sense and reason when I needed it most. When it came to the Manor House, the Dinner Party and especially Simon Travers, I always needed reason. She looked at me. Expressionless but sad. "Yes?" I asked again.
"Open it, Lou." I shook my head at her again. Stood up and walked two steps into my tiny kitchen, hardly big enough to fit a man of my size. I opened my refrigerator and extracted a can of beer, holding another up to Sally who waved it away. "Don't you have something stronger and more fitting to the occasion?"
"That's just it. Is it an occasion? Or is it a hoax? We're both thinking it, aren't we?"
"You have to open it, Lou."
"You open it," I said quickly, wondering if I should've. I might never get an opportunity again to receive or open such an envelope. But my palms were much too sweaty and my hands still shaky.
She lifted it with her long, slender fingers and perfectly manicured nails. Short and clear polish as always. It was why I hired her when she came to me five years ago. I could never abide the stereotypical female assistants with their long blonde hair, short skirts, and hell-fire red fingernails sharp enough to slit a man's throat. Sally was perfect. Pretty, but not too pretty. And smart. Smarter than me at least. Plus, she shared a fascination for answers about Simon Travers that almost surpassed my own. We were made for each other.
She flipped the envelope over to reveal a small blue wax seal. I grabbed two lowball glasses and my half empty bottle of Johnnie Walker and returned to my seat beside her.
"Was there any mention of the envelopes being sealed this way?" I asked her, scanning my mind back to that time. I was a child at the time and it was my mother, her fascination with the stars, that made this story something we followed in all the papers. I credit her with my current newspaper man profession. If she were alive today she'd be just as surprised as I am now to find such an envelope in my possession. I could see her scrapbook across the room beside my laptop on the dining room table which doubled as my office desk but I didn't want to get up just then. She started that scrapbook, filling it with all the clippings she could get her hands on about Simon Travers and his grand Dinner Party. While she was obsessed, living in a dream world, my father walked out on us both. I took a job as an errand boy with the local newspaper and the rest is history.
"Not that I remember. Should I get The Book?" she asked me. The Book was what she called my mother's scrapbook. It served as our evidence log and what we referenced the most. While others claimed to be fanatics of the legend that is Simon Travers, they had to visit a library or search the internet for articles we possessed firsthand.
"Leave it for now. Open it," I ordered. Enough time had passed and taking a sip of Johnnie I was ready. The slow burn down my throat relaxed my shaking hand enough to take a drag from my cigarette I left burning in my ashtray.
Sally carefully raised the seal and it came free easily. She turned the envelope over again and slowly pulled the crisp white stock card from inside. We both recognized the familiar lettering and black foil on the corners. She pulled it free completely and held it up between us to inspect closer.
Shortly after the original Dinner Party, at a secret auction my mother found out about, it was rumored that an authentic invitation from the Dinner Party would be up for bidding. For my mother this was the opportunity of a lifetime and one she would not miss. When she came home giddy with excitement, the card encased in a frame, it was to an empty apartment. I was at school and my father, fed up with her obsession, knowing she was about to spend what little money they had on what he considered a useless piece of history, packed his things and left. She died penniless, but she left me her scrapbook and the framed invitation, prominently displayed on the one bookshelf I own. As this was in arms reach from where I sat, I reached over and grabbed it from the shelf, holding it up beside the invitation Sally still held up.
Our eyes passed back and forth between the two, checking everything from the size of each to the letters and finally the wording. The one I received differed slightly from the original in only one area. Instead of stating their required presence as the original had, the one taped to my door read:
DON'T COME AS YOU ARE
COME AS YOUR FAVORITE
"Clever," I said, setting down the framed invitation on the coffee table. "What do you make of it?" I asked Sally. Her opinion was about the only one that ever mattered to me. If she gave it any credibility then it would be worth exploring.
"What do I make of it? That's not the question I'd be wanting an answer for right now, Lou." I downed the last of my drink, snuffed out my cigarette and folded my arms, waiting for her to continue. "I should think it would be obvious by now."
"So, you think this is for real?"
"I think I much rather know who your favorite movie star is?" she asked, a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye.