by Lisa Lieberman
Hollywood, California, Summer 1941
I believe that the person you are when you're eight years old is the person you really are.
I was creeping up on Geoffrey as he sat meditating on the lawn—not that I could be invisible, my girl's body draped in my mother's mink coat—but Geoffrey was in one of his trances. I could have danced naked in front of him and he'd have continued to stare into the void.
Sometimes I did go naked; lots of people did at Walden Lodge in those days. My father was known as a bohemian and bathing suits were optional around the pool, although you had to dress for dinner in the lodge. Winters could be chilly even in Southern California, but there were always a few diehards who went skinny dipping regardless of the weather. Starlets who'd do anything to get a part in one of Father's pictures. Englishmen, like Geoffrey, who'd gone to boarding schools where they made you bathe in cold water, year-round. He got used to it, found it invigorating. “Manly,” as my brother Gray put it, the arch tone in his voice laced with affection.
“Gray, darling. How would you know?” said Vivien, my mother, in the same tone, minus the affection.
I paused to kick off Vivien's high heels, which kept sinking into the earth. Barefoot, I moved stealthily over the silky grass, stalking my prey. The air smelled of citrus, the overripe sweetness of oranges that had fallen on the ground and were beginning to rot in the sun. We picked as many as we could, but there were always fruits we couldn't reach.
Years later, when I was in Sicily filming a B-movie with Adrian, beautiful, wounding Adrian, we stayed in a pensione in Taormina. Three months with my love in Italia! The movie was forgettable but I finagled a print from the director, mostly because of my scenes with Adrian. The Italian actress they got to dub my dialogue had this wonderful, husky voice. It's a treat watching us in Italian, where you don't have to pretend to follow the plot.
The pensione had a swimming pool set in a terraced garden that reminded me of Father's, complete with lemon trees. For breakfast, they served us juice made from blood oranges. I couldn't get over the ruby red pulp. That was Sicily, always surprising you with its vibrancy. Of course, I was passionately in love at the time and everything seemed bright and intense—especially in contrast to England, where Gray and I had been living for several years by that time on account of the blacklist. I swear it had rained every single day we'd been in London. I'd grown accustomed to the dreariness, everything subdued, even the kitten I found near our flat in Soho, a pitiful blue Persian with copper eyes.
“Her name is Fog,” I informed my brother, “and we're keeping her.” Not that he would have denied me anything at that point in our bleak exile. I was seventeen when we arrived and had just given up my newborn son for adoption. I was desperate for something to love. As was he, poor Gray, although being seventeen, I thought only about my own sorrows.
Geoffrey was wearing a khaki jacket over baggy shorts, one of those belted safari outfits with multiple pockets. He looked like an insect, a grasshopper, maybe, his spindly legs folded awkwardly beneath him, Indian fashion. That's what they called it then, Indian fashion, and I imagined him as an American Indian, sitting cross-legged on the ground. But Geoffrey was being the other kind of Indian, the Hindu kind. Every morning he did an hour of yoga, followed by a dip in the pool, au naturel. He was before his time, a visionary. I'll give him that. Walden Lodge is now a fashionable spa where celebrities go to lose weight and detox. Clothing is optional, I've heard, and yoga is all the rage.
I drew the mink coat over my head like a hood and tied the sleeves around my neck, to free up my paws for pouncing. With a snarl, I launched myself at Geoffrey, catching him squarely in the middle of his chest and knocking him backward onto the ground.
“Ouf!” he gasped. “I've just been attacked by a . . . what kind of creature are you, Cara child?”
“I'm a cheetah. I'm extremely fast. You didn't have a chance,” I consoled him as I brushed him off and helped him resume his yogi pose.
“A cheetah?” He still sounded a bit winded. “Are cheetahs native to this region? If so, it's the first I've heard of it.” Geoffrey once told me that he'd been picked on at school for being a know-it-all.
“Very well. I'm a puma, then. I'm still pretty fast and I've been known to eat humans. In one sitting.”
He extracted his monogrammed cigarette case from a pocket. “Do you mind? I always smoke at times like this,” he said. “Calms the nerves.”
Strange, now that I think of it. Those were his exact words when I found him standing over Vivien's body.
* * * * *
Lisa Lieberman's debut historical noir has just been published in hardcover by Five Star. Fans of Lisa's film reviews will get a kick from All The Wrong Places, a mystery set in exotic European locales which pays tribute to the films of the forties and fifties, capped off with a thrilling finale straight out of Hitchcock. Order it from your favorite independent bookseller or buy it online from Amazon.