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Volume 5030

P. J. Monahan: Girl from Hollywood - FP same as DJAce edition: Boris Vallejo cover art: January 1976
 by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Part 10:
“Her mind is Tiffany twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.”
– The Eagles, “Hotel California”

The Girl from Hollywood doesn’t really want to return to Hollywood.  She’s developing, with the Colonel’s help, a new addiction for healthy living, which ERB saw as the solution to most human ills, even drug addiction.  She has gone from wanting to kill Wilson Crumb to hating the good people trying to help her, but that is only when she is Jonesing.  Yes, but she’s been cutting down on the drugs, actually experiencing a form of happiness she has not known since childhood.  Yet, she is still holding on to her virginity.

        It was four o’clock the following morning before she awoke.  The craving awoke with her.  It seized her mercilessly; yet even as she gave in to it, she had the satisfaction of knowing that she had gone without the little white powders longer this time than since she had first started to use them.  She took but a third of her normal dose.
I believe ERB began to realize the confusion of Shannon’s drug use: is it cocaine or is it morphine, or both?  He solves this dilemma by now describing her drug use as being with “the little white powders,” that is, plural, more than one.  She’s a John Belushi “speedballer,” making her use much more serious and deadly.  It’s just a matter of time before she overdoses like Marilyn Monroe, the most famous Girl from Hollywood.
        That day she went with Custer and Eva and Guy to the country club, returning only in time for a swim before dinner; and again she fought off the craving while she was dressing for dinner.  After dinner they danced, and once more she was so physically tired when she reached her rooms that she could think of nothing but sleep.  The day of golf had kept her fully occupied in the hot sun, and in such good company her mind had been pleasantly occupied, too, so that she had not been troubled by her old enemy.
        Again it was early morning before she was forced to fight the implacable foe.  She fought valiantly this time, but she lost.
This is what it means to have a monkey on your back.  In his later life, ERB struggled with alcohol, and during most of his life was a fairly heavy drinker.  He knew how hard it was to quit after a drug has got its hold over you.
And what about Crumb?  Surely Shannon has been away for way longer that just a week. Who is going to replace Gaza de Lure to help him peddle drugs?  And hasn’t he basically cut himself off from his supply by double-crossing Slick Allen?  We must be patient because ERB is about to introduce a new twist to his story.
        And so it went, day after day, as she dragged out her dwindling supply and prolonged the happy hours of her all too brief respite from the degradation of the life to which she knew she must soon return.  Each day it was harder to think of going back – of leaving these people, whom she had come to love as she loved their lives and surroundings, and taking her place again in the stifling and degraded atmosphere of the Vista del Paso bungalow.  They were good to her, and had so wholly taken her into their family life, that she felt as one of them.  They shared everything with her.  There was not a day that she did not ride with Custer out among the brown hills.  She knew that she was going to miss these rides – that she was going to miss the man, too.  He had treated her as a man would like other men to treat his sister, with a respect and deference that she had never met with in the City of Angels.
Let’s not forget that this process was likely made more inducive by the fact that Shannon is gorgeous, a Hollywood starlet, who has not been recognized as an actress by the Penningtons, even though she is able to put on a great act covering up her drug use.  ERB knew how to contrast inner turmoil with outer beauty.
        And now the time had come when she must definitely set a date for her departure.  She had determined to retain the orchard, not alone because she had seen that it would prove profitable, but because it would always constitute a link between her and the people whom she had come to love.  No matter what the future held, she could always feel that a part of her remained here, where she would that all of her might be; but she knew that she must go, and she determined to tell them on the following day that she would return to the city within the week.
        She passed that night without recourse to the white powders, for she must be frugal of them if they were to last through the week.  The next morning she rode with the Penningtons and the Evanses as usual.  She would tell them at breakfast.
        When she came to the table she found a pair of silver spurs beside her plate, and when she looked about in astonishment they were all smiling.
        “For me?” she cried.
        After that she simply couldn’t tell them then that she was going away.  She would wait until tomorrow; but she laid her plans without reference to the hand of fate.
        That afternoon, immediately after luncheon, they were all seated in the patio, lazily discussing the chief topic of thought – the heat.  It was one of those sultry days that are really unusual in southern California.  The heat was absolutely oppressive, and even beneath the canvas canopy that shaded the patio there was little relief.
I lived for two years in what I called East La Jolla, just north of San Diego, on Genesee Avenue, down the street from Scripps Hospital, and a little farther down the street from the University of California, in an area that eventually became called the Golden Triangle.  Hardly anyone had air conditioning in those days between 1978 and 1980, not even in their cars.  But in September and October a phenomenon known as the Santa Anna winds would kick in and everyone would swelter under the oppressive dry heat from the desert.

Nowadays, almost all cars come standard with air conditioning, but in 1921 air conditioning was still a pipe dream even to rich people like the Penningtons.  So, if you thought, why didn’t they just turn on the air conditioning, now you know.  They had to maintain their cool using traditional methods like shade.  Of course, the Santa Anna winds also cause another problem other than oppressive heat: wildfires.

        “I don’t know why we sit here,” said Custer.  “It’s cooler in the house.
        This is the hottest place on the ranch a day like this!”
        “Wouldn’t it be nice under one of those oaks up the canyon?” He looked at her and smiled.
        “Phew!  It’s too hot even to think of getting there.”
        “That from a Pennington!” she cried in mock astonishment and reproach.
        “Do you mean to say that you’d ride up there through this heat?” he demanded.
        “Of course I would.  I haven’t christened my new spurs yet.” “I’m game, then, if you are,” Custer announced.
        She jumped to her feet.
        It was very hot.  The dust rose from the shuffling feet of their horses. Even the Apache shuffled today.  His head was low, and he did not dance.  The dust settled on sweating neck and flank, and filled the eyes of the riders.
Some of the most miserable days that ERB spent as a young man was on horseback under the blazing Arizona sun when he rode with the 7th Cavalry, General Custer’s old unit.  This day after day monotony, chasing the elusive Apache Kid, proved to be too much for ERB, and he was eventually discharged with a heart murmur, mainly due to the influence of his father, the Old Major.  He was definitely writing what he knew.
And what is Shannon up to with Custer?  She must know that because of her looks all men are potential victims of her charm, so why is this country cowboy treating her as he would his sister, and not as a potential roll in the hay?  Or is it something even more serious?
        “Lovely day for a ride,” commented Custer.
        “But think how nice it will be under the oak,” she reminded him.
        “I’m trying to.”
        Suddenly he raised his head as his wandering eyes sighted a slender column of smoke rising from behind the ridge beyond Jackknife Canyon.  He reined in the Apache.
        “Fire!” he said to the girl.  “Wait here.  I’ll notify the boys, and then we’ll ride on ahead and have a look at it.  It may not amount to anything.
        Presently the “boys”  – a wagon full of them – came with four horses, two walking ploughs, shovels, a barrel of water, and burlap sacks.  They were of all ages, from eighteen to seventy.  Some of them had been twenty years on the ranch, and had fought many a fire.  They did not have to be told what to bring or what to do with what they brought.
        The wagon had to be left in Jackknife Canyon.  The horses dragged the ploughs to the ridge, and the men carried the shovels and wet burlaps and buckets of water from the barrel.  Custer dismounted and turned the Apache over to an old man to hold.
        “Plough down the east side of the ravine.  Try to get all the way around the south side of the fire and then back again,” he directed the two men with one of the teams.  “I’ll take the other, with Jake, and we’ll try to cut her off across the top here!”
        “You can’t do it, Cus,” said one of the older men.  ‘It’s too steep.”
        “We’ve got to try it,” said Pennington.  “Otherwise we’d have to go back so far that it would get away from us on the east side before we made the circle. Jake, you choke the plough handles – I’ll drive.”
        Jake was a short, stocky, red-headed boy of twenty, with shoulders like a bull.  He grinned good-naturedly.
        “I’ll choke the tar out of ‘em!” he said.
        “The rest of you shovel and beat like hell!” ordererd Custer.
        They were more than halfway back when it happened.  The off horse must have stepped upon a loose stone, so suddenly did he lurch to the left, striking the shoulder of his mate just as the latter had planted his left forefoot.  The ton of weight hurled against the shoulder of the near horse threw him downward against the furrow.  He tried to catch himself on his right foot, crossed his forelegs, stumbled over the ridge of newly turned earth, and rolled down the hill, dragging his mate and the plough after him toward the burning brush below.
        Jake at the plough handles and Custer on the lines tried to check the horses’ fall, but both were jerked from their hands, and the two Percherons rolled over and over and over into the burning brush.  A groan of dismay went up from the men.  It was with difficulty that Shannon stifled a scream; and then her heart stood still as she saw Custer Pennington leap deliberately down the hillside, drawing the long, heavy trail-cutting knife that he always wore on the belt with his gun.
        The horses were struggling and floundering to gain their feet.  One of them was screaming with pain.  The girl wanted to cover her eyes with her palms to shut out the heart-rending sight, but she could not take them off the figure of the man.
        As Shannon watched, a great light awoke within her, suddenly revealing the unsuspected existence of a wondrous thing that come into her life – a thing which a moment later dragged her from her saddle and sent her stumbling down the hill into the burning ravine, to the side of Custer Pennington.
        He had cut one horse free, seized its headstall, dragged it to its feet, and then started it scrambling up the hill.  As he was returning to the other, the animal struggled up, crazed with terror and pain, and bolted after its mate. Pennington was directly in its path on the steep hillside.  He tried to leap aside, but the horse struck him with its shoulder, hurling him to the ground, and before he could stop his fall he was at the edge of the burning brush, stunned and helpless.
        Every man of them who saw the accident leaped down the hillside to save him from the flames; but quick as they were, Shannon Burke was first to his side, vainly endeavoring to drag him to safety.  An instant later strong hands seized both Custer and Shannon and helped them up the steep acclivity, for Custer had already regained consciousness, and it was not necessary to carry him.
ERB was known foremost for his action scenes, and that one was full of danger, suspense, and heroism, everything a reader wants in fiction.  I wonder how many fires ERB had to fight on Rancho Tarzana?  Wildfires are a truly fearsome danger in Southern California.  I recall vividly the Witch Fire in Northern San Diego County in the fall of 2009.

My associate, Mario, another attorney from Fresno, and I had a case in Chula Vista, which is in Southern San Diego County.  We had taken the inland high desert route since I-5 through Orange County was usually so crowded that many times you found yourself stopping for minutes on minutes, wanting to know what was causing the jam, but never knowing, since it would suddenly disappear as quickly as it formed.  We had gone down late at night and had just passed Escondido when we started encountering a horde of fire trucks, which first aroused our suspicions.  I remember the trip was almost psychedelic, with huge burning embers flying across the windshield, giving us some kind of indication that the fire was near.

We stayed overnight in a noisy Ramada Inn – it was right next to the freeway – and when we woke up in the morning and hung out in the lobby for a free breakfast, the TV was on, set to CNN, and they were saying how great the fires were burning all over the place.  The Witch Fire was perhaps the most prominent, but the whole damn County was on fire.  We soon realized that it was burning out of control near my ex-wife’s hometown of Fallbrook, and the inland route was closed since the fires were burning on either side of it.

We got to the courthouse in Chula Vista on time, but it was closed, due to all the Sheriff’s deputies that had been called to fight the fires.  We felt a very strong survival instinct to get the hell out of there as soon as we could.  We were stuck with taking the I-5 route and everything was going just fine until we hit Del Mar, where we hit one of the most scary traffic jams I’d ever seen.

The whole time radio announcers were describing the fires, making it sound as if it were the end of the world.  Mass evacuations had caused the jam and we found ourselves stuck – moving inches every fifteen minutes – that it seemed as if it were the end for us, since it was easy to imagine the flames coming over the hills toward the ocean at any time, burning us alive in our cars.

It was so smoky you couldn’t see the Del Mar fairgrounds to our immediate left, and we realized that some of the radio bits were over an hour old, because they kept talking about all of the horses in the County being evacuated to the fairgrounds, which was fully observable from the freeway at the time the bits were recorded.  However, the air was so thick and dark from all of the smoke, now the fairgrounds were purely imaginary.

The smoke started coming in through the air conditioner vents and it was getting more difficult to breathe by the minute.  Finally we crept up the hill out of the valley and there was a very tall chain link fence to our left, dividing the north from the south traffic.  I remember asking Mario what he would do if the fire were to suddenly top the hills to our right: would he stay in the car or try to climb the chain link fence to get to the safety of the sea.  Mario said he’d climb the fence, for at least then he would have a chance, but thought again, when I said he could end up being like BBQ, grilled well done on the fence before he could get to the top.  He realized that there was no right thing to do under the situation.

Anyway, I can sure sympathize with anyone who has been through a mass evacuation, and they seem to be happening more often these days.  There were even more fires in L.A.
County, with a huge one near Malibu and one that was just starting as we approached Magic Mountain.  We could see the smoke burning out of control in the hills to our right and left and I urged Daniel, Mario’s assistant, to punch it until we were safe over the Grapevine.

We stopped for gas on the San Joaquin Valley side, and many fire trucks from as far away as Ben Loman in Santa Cruz County, and Mariposa, up in the Sierra Nevada, were gathered at the gas station before they proceeded to the Malibu fire.  Which reminds me, I always get a little miffed with news announcers and weather people when they say “the Sierra Nevada Mountains,” since that is ridiculously redundant.  Sierra means Mountains in Spanish.  Nevada means high place.  Oh well, at least I survived with a great story to tell.  Now, back to ERB’s great story.

        Custer was badly burned, but his first thought was for the girl, and his next when he found she was uninjured, for the horses.
Then he turned to Shannon.
        “Why did you go down into that?” he asked.  “You shouldn’t have done it – with all the men here.”
        “I couldn’t help it,” she said.  “I thought you were going to be killed.” Custer looked at her searchingly for a moment.
        “It was a very brave thing to do,” he said, “and a very foolish thing.  You might have been badly burned.”
        “Never mind that,” she said.  “You have been badly burned, and you must go to the house at once.  Do you think you can ride?”  He laughed.
        “I’m all right,” he said.  “I’ve got to stay here and fight this fire.”
    “You are not going to do anything of the kind.”  She turned and called to the man who held Pennington’s horse.  “Please bring the Apache over here,” she said.  “These men can fight the fire without you,” she told Custer.
        “You are going right back with me.  You’ve never seen any one badly burned, or you’d know how necessary it is to take care of burns at once.”
        He was not accustomed to being ordered about, and it amused him.  Grace would never have thought of questioning his judgment in this or any other matter; but this girl’s attitude implied that she considered his judgment faulty and his decisions of no consequence.  She evidently had the courage of her convictions, for she caught up her own horse and rode over to the men, who had resumed their work, to tell them that Custer was too badly burned to remain with them.
        “I told him that he must go back to the house and have his burns dressed; but he doesn’t want to.  Maybe he would pay more attention to you, if you told him.”
        “Sure, we’ll tell him,” cried one of them.  “Here comes Colonel Pennington now.  He’ll make him go, if it’s necessary.”
        Colonel Pennington reined in a dripping horse beside his son, and Shannon rode over to them.  Custer was telling him about the accident to the team.
        “Burned was he?” exclaimed the Colonel.  “Why damn it, man, you’re burned!”
        “It’s nothing,” replied the younger man.
        “It is something, Colonel,” cried Shannon.  “Please make him go back to the house.  He won’t pay any attention to me, and he ought to be cared for right away.  He should have a doctor just as quickly as we can get one.”
        “Can you ride?” snapped the Colonel at Custer.
        “Of course I can ride!”
        “Then get out of here and take care of yourself.  Will you go with him, Shannon?  Have them call Dr. Baldwin.”
        As the horses moved slowly along the dusty trail, Shannon, riding a pace behind the man, watched his profile for signs of pain, that she knew he must be suffering.  Once, when he winced, she almost gave a little cry, as if it had been she who was tortured.  They were riding very close, and she laid her hand gently upon his right arm, in sympathy.
Boy, I can tell you from personal experience how painful a second degree burn can be. After I had been accepted into law school in the summer of 1985, I encountered the bottled fury of my ex-wife, who was very jealous that I would be going to law school before her.  It was breakfast time: my wife was making hot oatmeal for Hannah and I was naked in the shower.  All of sudden I heard screaming, and stepping out of the shower, I saw my wife in the kitchen stirring the bowl of oatmeal that Hannah  – who was just turning three – had rejected.  She was screaming bloody murder at Hannah and I walked dripping behind her and put my hand on her shoulder to calm her when she suddenly flung the whole pot of burning hot oatmeal in my face. Fortunately I ducked in time, preventing myself from blindness, but my upper shoulder and back was covered with boiling hot oatmeal, which stuck to my skin.

I remember howling in pain as I ran to the shower to wash it off.  My wife refused to take me to the emergency room at the hospital, and I took both my daughters with me for their personal safety and drove myself, in excruciating pain, the whole way.  There was nothing more painful than that.  When I returned after being treated, my wife was steaming mad on top of the bed in our house across the street from Fresno High School.  As soon as I walked into our bedroom, she said, “I want a divorce!”

My twenty year high school reunion was that same night at the Fort Washington Country Club and I recall how painful it was when classmates would unattentionally slap me on my bandaged shoulder, wishing me well.  I remember confiding to one of my classmates, who asked me about my marriage, that I would be surprised if it lasted another two years.  I was wrong. When I finally divorced her four years later, she alleged that she threw the oatmeal in my face because I was strangling her, and did it in self defense.  Honestly.  That marriage did not end well, but we’re all still alive to this day.

        “I am so sorry!” she said. “I know it must pain you terribly.” He turned to her with a smile on his face, now white and drawn.
        “It does hurt a little now,” he said.
        By the time they reached the house she could see that the man was suffering excruciating pain.  The stableman had gone to help the fire fighters, as had every able-bodied man on the ranch, so that she had to help Custer from the Apache.  After tying the two horses at the stable, she put an arm about him and assisted him up the long flight of steps to the house.  There Mrs. Pennington and Hannah came at her call and took him to his room, while she ran to the office to telephone for the doctor.
        When she returned, they had Custer undressed and in bed, and were giving such first aid as they could.  She stood in the doorway for a moment, watching him, as he fought to hide the agony he was enduring.  He rolled his head slowly from side to side, as his mother and Hannah worked over him; but he stifled even a faint moan, though Shannon knew that his tortured body must be goading him to screams.  He opened his eyes and saw her, and tried to smile.
        Mrs. Pennington turned then and discovered her.
        “Please let me do something, Mrs. Pennington, if there is anything I can do.”
        “I guess we can’t do much until the doctor comes.  If we only had something to quiet the pain until then!”
        Ah, I bet you didn’t see that one coming.  ERB is about to have some real fun, and you can imagine how a Hollywood movie would have handled this episode.
        If they only had something to quiet the pain.  The horror of it!  She had something that would quiet the pain; but at what a frightful cost to herself must she divulge it!  They would know then, the sordid story of her vice. There could be no other explanation of her having such an outfit in her possession.  How they would loathe her!  To see disgust in the eyes of these friends, whose good opinion was her one cherished longing, seemed a punishment too great to bear.
        And then there was the realization of that new force that had entered her life with the knowledge that she loved Custer Pennington.  It was a hopeless love, she knew; but she might at least have had the happiness of knowing that he respected her.  Was she to be spared nothing?  Was her sin to deprive her of even the respect of the man she loved?
        She saw him lying there, and saw the muscles of his jaws tensing as he battled to conceal his pain; and then she turned and ran up the stairway to her rooms.  She did not hesitate again, but went directly to her bag, unlocked it, and took out the little black case.  Carefully she dissolved a little of the white powder a fraction of what she could have taken without danger of serious results, but enough to allay his suffering until the doctor came.  She knew that this was the end – that she might not remain under that roof another night.
        She drew the liquid through the needle into the glass barrel of the syringe, wrapped it in her handkerchief, and descended the stairs.  She felt as if she moved in a dream.  She felt that she was not Shannon Burke at all, but another whom Shannon Burke watched with pitying eyes; for it did not seem possible that she could enter that room and before his eyes and Mrs. Pennington’s and Hannah’s reveal the thing that she carried in her handkerchief.
Ah, the pity of it!  To realize her first love, and in the same hour to slay the respect of its object with her own hand!  Yet she entered the room with a brave step, fearlessly.  Had he not risked his life for the two dumb brutes he loved? Could she be less courageous?  Perhaps though, she was braver, for she was knowingly surrendering what was dearer to her than life.
        Mrs. Pennington turned toward her as she entered. “He has fainted,” she said.  “My poor boy!” Tears stood in his mother’s eyes.
        “He is not suffering, then?” asked Shannon, trembling.
        “Not now.  For his sake, I hope he won’t recover consciousness until after the doctor comes.”
        Shannon Burke staggered and would have fallen had she not grasped the frame of the door.
        It was not long before the doctor came, and then she went back up the stairs to her rooms, still trembling.  She took the filled hypodermic syringe from her handkerchief and looked at it.  Then she carried it into the bathroom.
        “You can never tempt me again,” she said aloud, as she emptied its contents into the lavatory.  “Oh, dear God, I love him!”
Don’t you just love true love?  A love stronger than coke, than morphine  – a love stronger than death?  Thus, we get past another one of ERB’s cliffhangers.  Shannon is saved by the bell, but has she just jumped from the frying pan into the fire?  We will see.

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Read The Girl From Hollywood Text in ERBzine
See the ERBzine Bibliography Entry


 by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Pt. I: Ch. 1 Pt. II: Ch. 2 Pt. III: Ch. 3/4 Pt. IV: Ch. 5 Pt. V: Ch. 6/7 Pt. VI: Ch. 8/9/10 Pt. VII: Ch. 11/12
Pt. VIII: Ch. 13/14 Pt. IX: Ch. 15 Pt. X: Ch. 16 Pt. XI: Ch. 17/18 Pt. XII: Ch. 19/20 Pt. XIII: Ch. 21 Pt. XIV: Ch. 22/23
Pt. XV: Ch. 24/25 Pt. XVI: Ch. 26/27/28 Pt. XVII: Ch. 29/30/31 Pt. XVIII: Ch. 32/33 Pt. XIX: Ch. 34 Pt. XX: Ch. 35 Pt. XXI: Ch. 36/37


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