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Volume 5033

P. J. Monahan: Girl from Hollywood - FP same as DJAce edition: Boris Vallejo cover art: January 1976
 by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Part 13: Chapters 21
“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"

Don’t you just feel joyful that Guy Evans, who has just sold a story, and Eva Pennington are going to be married?  One can only hope that their prospects are better than that of Custer Pennington and Grace Evans: engaged, yet he has to wait for her to make it or fail in Hollywood first.  I mean the last time we saw Grace she was testing in the nude with Wilson Crumb, heading down the same path as Shannon Burke.

One thing you may have realized before I did, is that there are no references to electrical appliances in the novel: no turning on or off lights or toast popping from a toaster or any other references that we would take as normal today.  I doubt if the country area of Ganado was electrified yet in 1921.  You may recall early in the novel Custer went up to his room and had to light a reading lamp before he could see well enough to read a book.  That tips me off that they had no electricity at the time.  Let’s hope they were fortunate enough to have flush toilets in the house, but we’ll never know since toilet references were forbidden under the censorship of the age.

Also, we must remember that telephones were not mobile at all during this period, consisting of big bulky pedestal types with speaking tubes and cradles for the separate hearing receiver.  They had to call “central” to get a line anywhere before they could make a call.  You would have thought that they would have had more privacy than we do today with the Federal Government –  to wit, the NSA – eavesdropping on every kind of electronic communication nowadays without a warrant.  They needed a warrant in 1921, but that didn’t stop the private gossip at “central” between the operators, private employees not controlled by the Bill of Rights, which only prevents the Federal Government from violating the rights of its citizens – and of the States under the Fourteenth Amendment.

You can bet on the fact that the Penningtons or anyone else using their phone, were heavily monitored as rich interesting people, country celebrities, in whose activities everyone wanted to know.  And, oh man, the ears at central are about to ge an earful.

        On the Following Monday a pock-marked Mexican appeared at the county jail in Los Angeles, during visitor’s hours, and asked to see Slick Allen.  The two stood in a corner and conversed in whispers.  Allen’s face wore an ugly scowl when his visitor told him of young Pennington’s interference with their plans.
I’m suddenly reminded of an incident where I had the alleged privilege of fist-bumping Suge Knight, the black media mogul, owner of Death Row Records, when he was being held in the infamous L.A. County Jail around 2003 or 2004.  He was behind a window at the time, so it was really just a gesture.  But it was thrilling to my daughter’s boyfriend.

I had gone down there with Mario, who was helping Suge wind down his bankrupt record company, hoping that Suge would not rip him off in the end.  I was relating this incident to my daughter’s boyfriend.  My oldest daughter, Evangeline, is a nurse in Portland, Oregon and was visiting Fresno.  Her boyfriend owns a Vegan restaurant in Portland.  (There’s a picture of me standing outside the theatre in downtown Portland where her class had its graduation ceremony in June 2010 that Bill Hillman has posted at

Anyway, I was telling him a story about a guy I used to know named Tony Cox, who had been married to Yoko Ono when she left him for John Lennon.  He had been in the same religious cult as my ex-wife, “The Walk” of John Robert Stevens.  He had joined this cult when he went underground with his and Yoko’s daughter, Kyoko, who was going by the name of Molly at the time, in order to escape prosecution by John and Yoko for taking off with Kyoko. This was a really great experience I had had with Tony as we worked together in the early months of 1980 on a documentary he was filming on the Walk.  We had first gone to Amsterdam, and the second day we were there Ronald Reagan was shot by a crazy kid trying to impress the movie star, Jodie Foster.  It was like JFK all over again, except Reagan didn’t die.

Anyway, while I was telling this story, we were interrupted by a young waiter at the Sequoia Brewing Company Restaurant in the Tower District, which my daughter wanted her boyfriend to visit while they were in Fresno.  Thank God they were not all that religious when it came to Veganism.  He and I both had a Porter while I was talking.  The waiter likely interrupted us because he probably thought that I was an old man boring the kids with a long-winded story they had likely heard over and over again – as old men are wont to do – and was thus saving my daughter and her boyfriend from utter boredom.  I gave the waiter a bad look, but didn’t say anything because I knew the boyfriend was interested in how the restaurant was run, since he ran one himself.  Before I got a chance to finish the story, Evangeline said, “Tell him about the time you fist-bumped Suge Knight in the L.A. County Jail!”

He could have cared less about my Tony Cox story, even though I was at the part where we had illegally parked at Trafalgar Square in London so that he could go inside this huge bank and recover some of the precious Sony video he had shot of John and Yoko in the early days of their marriage.  I sure hope that stuff gets eventually released, because of what I saw, it is just wonderful, and worth a fortune.

For example, I saw footage of John, Yoko, Kyoko, and Tony in Lennon’s old psychedelic Bentley, driving down some highway in London.  It was so smoggy outside it filmed as a dirty gray ominous overcast of gloom.  Kyoko remarks on this, asking John if he can ask the Queen to do something about it.  He says he will call her in the morning.

They all have shaved heads in the video, having just returned from Denmark where they had been hanging out with the comedian-activist Dick Gregory during his orange juice vigil. Now, get this, as if the radio was playing a soundtrack for a movie, the song on the radio while they are talking with shaved heads is the song, “Hair,” by the Cowsills.  Now that’s what you call a Zen moment.

Another precious scene I saw was Kyoko walking around in their apartment, passing by the bathroom where John Lennon is having his morning shave in front of the mirror.  He turns to her with a lathered face and jokes with her.  I can still recall those scenes vividly even though 34 years have passed.

However, the Suge Knight story won the day in the end.  I hadn’t even known who Suge Knight was at the time, only that he had been with a famous rapper in Las Vegas when the rapper was assassinated in a drive-by shooting.  Some kind of East versus West type of gangster feud, if I remember correctly.  You may take note that I didn’t really care for rap music at the time, since it seemed to be all about gang crime and cop killing.

By the way, while Molly and I waited for Tony inside this old dilapidated VW bus – with Lord Nelson peering down on us – a Meter Maid came by and demanded to know where the driver was.  I explained to her our situation, hoping the Beatles magic was still working – I thought of her as Lovely Rita Meter Maid – Tony sure knew how to work that angle.  I told her I would go across the street and get him, which I did.  He was downstairs in the vault, and man, that was the largest bank vault I’d ever seen!  It was like out of a James Bond movie, and over in a corner, in a small case, was one of the several video stashes that he had stored in various banks around the country.  Lovely Rita enjoyed the whole encounter, but in the end she gave Tony a ticket anyway, which he tore up after she left.  So much for the old Beatles magic.  Now, back to our story.

        “It’s getting too hot for us around there,” said Allen.  “We got to move. How much junk you got left?”
        “About sixty cases of booze.  We got rid of nearly three hundred cases on the east side, without sending ‘em through Evans.  There isn’t much of the other junk left – a couple of pounds altogether, at the outside.”
        “We got to lose the last of the booze,” said Allen; “but we’ll get our money’s worth out of it.  Now you listen, and listen carefully, Bartolo.”
        He proceeded very carefully and explicitly to explain the details of a plan which brought a grin of sinister amusement to the face of the Mexican.  It was not an entirely new plan, but rather an elaboration and improvement on one that Allen had conceived some time before in the event of a contingency similar to that which had now arisen.
        “And what about the girl?” asked Bartolo.  “She should pay well to keep the Penningtons from knowing.”
        “Leave her to me,” replied Allen.  “I shall not be in jail forever.”
        During the ensuing days of that late September week, when Shannon and Custer rode together, there was a certain constraint in their relations that was new and depressing.  The girl was apprehensive of the outcome of his adventure on the rapidly approaching Friday, while he could not rid himself of the haunting memory of her solitary and clandestine ride over the mysterious trail that led into the mountains.
        At last Friday came.  Neither had reverted, since the previous Saturday, to the subject that was uppermost in the minds of each; but now Shannon could not refrain from seeking once more to defer Custer from his project.  She had not been able to forget the sinister smile of the Mexican, or to rid her mind of an intuitive conviction that the man’s final statement had concealed a hidden threat.  They were parting at the fork of the road – she had hesitated until the last moment.
        “You still intend to try to catch those men tonight?” she asked.
        “Yes – why?”
        “I had hoped you would give it up.  I am afraid something may happen.  I – oh, please don’t go, Custer!”  She wished that she might add: “For my sake.”
        He laughed shortly.  “I guess there won’t be any trouble.  If there is, I can take care of it myself.”
        She saw that it was useless to insist further.
        “Let me know if everything is all right,” she asked.  “Light the light in the big cupola on the house when you get back – I can see it from my bedroom window – and then I shall know that nothing has happened.  I shall be watching for it.”
        “All right,” Custer promised, and they parted.
        When he reached the house, the ranch bookkeeper came to tell him that the Los Angeles operator had been trying to get him all afternoon.
        “Somebody in L.A. wants to talk to you on important business,” said the bookkeeper.  “You’re to call back the minute you get here.”  Five minutes later he
had his connection.  An unfamiliar voice asked if he were the younger Pennington.
        “I am,” he replied.
        “Some one cut your fence last Friday.  You like to know who he is?”
        “What about it?  Who are you?”
        “Never mind who I am .  I was with them.  They double-crossed me.  You want to catch ‘em?”
        “I want to know who they are, and why they cut my fence, and what the devil they’re up to to back there in the hills.”
        “You listen to me.  You sabe Jackknife Canyon?”
        “Tonight they bring down the load just before dark.  They do that every Friday, and hide the burros until very late.  Then they come down into the valley while every one is asleep.  Tonight they hide ‘em in Jackknife.  They tie ‘em there an’ go away.  About ten o’clock they come back.  You be there nine o’clock, and you catch ‘em when they come back.  Sabe?”
        Now I know for sure they didn’t have electricity.  Before electricity almost everyone went to bed at nine o’clock.  With electricity came the radio and television, and hardly anyone after that went to bed before the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was over.  Midnight became the new nine o’clock.
        “How many of ‘em are there?”
        “Only two.  You don’t have to be afraid – they don’t pack no guns.  You take gun an’ you catch ‘em all alone.”
        “But how do I know that you’re not stringing me?”
        “You listen.  They double-cross me.  I get even.  You no want to catch ‘em, I no care – that’s all.  Goodbye!”
        Custer turned away from the phone, running his fingers through his hair in a characteristic gesture signifying perplexity.  What should he do?  The message sounded rather fishy, he thought; but it would do no harm to have a look into Jackknife Canyon around nine o’clock.  If he was being tricked, the worst he could fear was that they had taken this method of luring him to Jackknife while they brought the loaded burros down from the hills by some other route.  If they had done that, it was very clever of them; but he would not be fooled a second time.”
        Custer Pennington didn’t care to be laughed at, and so, if he was going to be hoaxed that night, he had no intention of having a witness to his idiocy.  For that reason he did not take Jake with him, but rode alone up Sycamore when all the inmates of the castle on the hill thought him in bed and asleep.
        When he turned into Jackknife, he reined the Apache in and sat for a moment listening.  From farther up the canyon, out of sight, there came the shadow of a sound.  That would be the tethered burros, he thought, if the whole thing was not a trick; but he was certain that he heard the sound of something moving there.
        He rode on again, but he took the precaution of loosening his gun in its holster.  There was, of course, the bare possibility of a sinister motive behind the message he had received.  As he thought of it now, it occurred to him that his informant was perhaps a trifle too insistent in assuring him that it was safe to come up here alone.  Well, the man had put it over cleverly, if that had been his intent.
        Now Custer saw a dark mass beneath a sycamore.  He rode directly toward it, and in another moment he saw that it represented half a dozen laden burros tethered to the tree.  He moved the Apache close in to examine them.  There was no sign of men about.
        He examined the packs, leaning over and feeling one.  What they contained he could not guess; but it was not firewood.  They evidently consisted of six wooden boxes to each burro, three on a side.
He reined the Apache behind the burros in the darkness of the tree’s shade, and there he waited for the coming of the men.  He did not like the look of things at all.  What could those boxes contain?
        As he sat there waiting, he had ample time to think.  He speculated upon the identity and purpose of the mysterious informant who had called him up from Los Angeles.  He speculated again upon the contents of the packs.  He recalled the whisky that Guy had sold him from time to time, and wondered if the packs might not contain liquor.  He had gathered from Guy that his supply came from Los Angeles, and he had never given the matter a second thought; but now he recalled the fact, and concluded that if this was whisky, it was not from the same source as Guy’s.
        Then from the mouth of Jackknife he heard the sound of horses’ hoofs. The Apache pricked up his ears, and Custer leaned forward and laid a hand upon his nostrils.  “Quiet boy!” he admonished, in a low whisper.
The sounds approached slowly, halting occasionally.  Presently two horsemen rode directly past him on the far side of the canyon.  They rode at a brisk trot.  Apparently they did not see the pack train, or, if they saw it, they paid no attention to it.  They disappeared in the darkness, and the sounds of their horses’ hoofs ceased.  Pennington knew that they had halted.  Who could they be? Certainly not the drivers of the pack train, else they would have stopped with the burros.
        He listened intently.  Presently he heard horses walking slowly toward him from up the canyon.  The two who had passed were coming back – stealthily.
        “I have sure got myself in a pretty trap!” he soliloquized a moment later, when he heard the movement of mounted men in the canyon below him.  He drew his gun and sat waiting.  It was not long that he had to wait.  A voice coming from a short distance down the canyon addressed him.
        “Ride out into the open and hold up your hands!” it said.  “We got you surrounded and covered.  If you make a break, we’ll bore you.  Come on, now, step lively – and keep your hands up!”
        “It was the voice of an American.
        “Who in thunder are you?” demanded Pennington.
        “I am a United States marshal,” was the quick reply.

If you are intelligent, you don’t mess with the U.S. Marshals.  I worked with them when I clerked for a Federal Judge in the Eastern District of California, Fresno branch.  They are dedicated and ultra professional, with a very distinguished and glorious history, Tommy Lee Jones notwithstanding.  They also know how to have a good time.  I miss working with them, but, hey, I wanted to do trials and clerking all day behind a desk just wasn’t for me.

        Pennington laughed.  There was something convincing in the very tone of the man’s voice – possibly because Custer had been expecting to meet Mexicans. Here was a hoax indeed; but evidently as much on the newcomers as on himself. They had expected to find a lawbreaker.  They would doubtless be angry when they discovered that they had been duped.
Ah, the foolishness of the innocent!  They think that arresting officers will always understand their innocence, forgetting that most all criminals claim innocence after committing horrible crimes.  Believe it or not, I have had several innocent clients over the years.  Going to trial when you strongly believe in your client’s innocence makes a trial a very horrible experience, for if your client gets convicted, then not only has the system failed, but you in particular have failed.  Thank God the juries have always agreed with me when my client was innocent.  But sometimes innocent people are convicted, a lesson ERB wanted to share with his readers.
        Custer rode slowly out from beneath the tree.
        “Hold up your hands, Mr. Pennington!” snapped the marshal.
        Custer Pennington was nonplussed.  They knew who he was, yet they demanded that he should hold up his hands like a common criminal.
        “Hold on there!” he cried.  “What’s the joke?  If you know who I am, why do you want me to hold up my hands for?  How do I know you’re a marshal?”
        “You don’t know it; but I know that you’re armed, and that you’re in a mighty bad hole.  I don’t know what you might do, and I ain’t taking no chances. So stick ‘em up, and do it quick.  If anybody’s going to get bored around here it’ll be you, and none of my men.”
What a difference 93 years make.  Law enforcement officers were not as quick on the trigger back then as they are now.  If a person doesn’t drop a knife when they are ordered to nowadays, every cop present unloads their firearm on him.  If they see a shiny object in the suspects hands, they drill him full of lead just in case it’s a gun.  I recall in the late 1970's, when there was a lot of hullabaloo over TV violence, as in Starsky and Hutch, most of the officers interviewed for the segment stated proudly that they had never fired their weapons while on duty, even after thirty years on the force.  Now, the cop with the most notches on his gun gets the most respect.  Oh well, this is no country for old men.
        “You’re a damned fool!” said Pennington succinctly; but he held his hands before his shoulders, as he had been directed.  Five men rode from the shadows and surrounded him.  One of them dismounted and disarmed him.  He lowered his hands and looked about at them.
        “Would you mind,” he said, “showing me your authority for this, and telling me what in hell it’s all about?”
        One of the men threw back his coat, revealing a silver shield.  “That’s my authority,” he said; “that, and the goods we got on you.”
        “What goods?”
        “Well, we expect to get ‘em when we examine those packs.”
        "Look here!" said Custer.  “You’re all wrong.  I have nothing to do with that pack train or what it’s packing.  I came up here to catch the fellows who have been bringing it down through Ganado every Friday night, and who cut our fence last week.  I don’t know any more about what’s in those packs than you do – evidently not as much.”
        “That’s all right, Mr. Pennington.  You’ll probably get a chance to tell all that to a jury.  We been laying for you since last spring.  We didn’t know it was you until one of your gang squealed; but we knew that stuff was somewhere in the hills above L.A., and we aimed to get it and you sooner or later.”
        “Well, not you particularly, but whomever was bootlegging it.  To tell you the truth, I’m plumb surprised to find who it is.  I thought all along it was some gang of cheap greasers; but it don’t make no difference who it is to your Uncle Sam.”
        “You say some one told you it was I?” asked Custer.
        “Sure!  How else would we know it?  It don’t pay to double-cross your pals, Mr. Pennington.”
        “What are you going to do with me?” he asked.
        “We’re going to take you back to L.A. and get you held to the Federal grand jury.”
        “We’re going to take you back tonight.”
        “Can I stop at the house first?”
        “No.  We got a warrant to search the place, and we’re going to leave a couple of my men here to do it the first thing in the morning.  I got an idea you ain’t the only one around here that knows something about this business.”
That Slick Allen is one smooth schemer.  Look at the plan he hatched to get even with Custer, the fox-trottin’ dude who fired him.  Poor Custer: he was caught red-handed.  He should have taken Jake with him, regardless if whether Jake thought him an idiot.  Now he only has his word to save him.  Guess how often that works?  Almost never.

The American criminal justice system is reportedly the best in the world, but it often gets it wrong, especially when sophisticated criminals are acting behind the scenes, especially if they know the elements that make up a crime.  This is why if you are innocent you should keep your mouth shut until an attorney is by your side advising you as to what you should or should not say.

Look, a jury always knows that there must be some reason that you are facing charges, even after they’ve been admonished to hold you innocent until being proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  If all you have is your word as your evidence of innocence, that will almost never be enough.  Sure, there are exceptions, but never believe that you will be one.  Remember, Uncle Sam doesn’t give a damn if you are innocent or guilty when you are arrested.

Sorry for the lecture.  See you for the next installment.

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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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