Forced Perspectives – Snippet 41

Vickery looked up. “It seems to start in media res.”

“‘Perilous image’ is suggestive,” said Castine. “We’ll have to –” She stopped talking, for a woman had walked up to their booth and stopped. Vickery laid the printout pages on top of the coloring books.

The woman had short-cropped dark hair, and wore a white blouse untucked over faded blue jeans. It occurred to Vickery that she could very believably dress as a short, wiry cowgirl, too, if a movie character like that should become popular.

“Hi, Rachel,” he said. “In civvies today?”

“I’m not gonna sit,” she said. “I phoned around and got hold of a guy. He used to live up in Laurel Canyon — he stayed at Frank Zappa’s log cabin for a while, and Peter Tork’s house — and I met him and showed him your picture. It scared him.”

Rachel picked up Castine’s glass. “What’s this,” she said, “chocolate milk?”

“Kahlua and milk,” said Castine.

“Okay then.” Rachel tilted it up to her mouth and swallowed till it was empty.  “He said it looked like an old house that used to be down in Topanga Canyon,” she went on. “Somebody filmed an indie movie there in the ’60s, called What’s the Hex? And a lot of famous people used to go to parties there, but it was all witchcraft rituals and drugs. Charles Manson stayed there for a few weeks, but it freaked him out and he left. It got wrecked in a flood and torn down in ’69, but in ’68 there was some kind of bad night there, and several people got shot. An L.A. biker gang was involved, he thinks they were called the Gardena Legion, and it may have been them that started the trouble, like the Hell’s Angels did at Altamont.”

She clanked Castine’s emptied glass down on the table. The ice rattled.

“Are you sure you won’t have a — another drink, Rachel?” said Vickery. “That all seems very long ago. Before any of us were born.”

Rachel wiped her mouth on her sleeve. “Well, this old guy I talked to, he’s a groundskeeper now at — at a place in L.A., and back in January a couple of guys came to him and said to call a number if he heard about anybody showing an interest in that place, or what happened there on that bad night in ’68. The guys gave him a card and said he’d get big money if he should hear anything and tell them about it. After they left he just tore up the card, but he told me that there is a guy going around asking questions about it, an Egyptian, and he’s got a gun. He’s only maybe forty years old, but in ’68 there was another Egyptian involved, a guy they called Booty, and he had some connection with the Gardena Legion. And my…source says he heard from a pal of his from the bad old days, who said he got a visit from these two guys too, also around January. It looks like they were finding everybody from that scene who’s still alive, saying let us know if anybody’s asking about that night. Which you sort of are.”

Rachel picked up one of Vickery’s beers and drank most of it in four big swallows.

She put the glass down and exhaled. “That’s all I’ve got, and I’m not going to sell you out — I think it’d boomerang, for one thing. My source, who made me promise to forget his name, said I should forget about the house, too, and everything he told me. I only came here now because you paid me. That helps, because I’m going to stay off the boulevard for a while.” She gave Vickery a taut smile and said, “It’s been nice knowing you, on the whole.”

Then she turned away, and there was just her rapidly receding back as she strode down the length of the bar to the street door.

Castine slowly picked up her glass, looked at it, and put it down. “Booty,” she said.

“Omar Sharif’s predecessor,” said Vickery. “Also trying to retrieve — and destroy, I bet — that missing artifact.”

Castine lifted the printout pages and looked at the two coloring books. “A tall order, to confiscate and destroy every copy of these things.” She leaned back and sighed deeply. “What the heck?” When Vickery gave her a blank look, she added, “The title of the movie.”

“Oh. Hex. What’s the Hex? We should check it out. I wonder if it’s on YouTube.”

Castine shivered. “It would be…unsettling…to see that terrible old house in a video. Even though I’ve seen it in person, sort of, too many times.”

“I’m just glad to hear it was torn down in ’69. We’ve got to get to the library, look some things up.”

“Too bad we can’t just…stay off the boulevard for a while, like Supergirl.” She lifted her glass, then sighed and put it down again. “But you’re right,” she said, “We’ve got to chase this stuff more effectively than it chases us. So let’s read the rest of it. How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail!”

“Uh.” Vickery blinked at her. “What?”

She seemed disconcerted. “I –” She cleared her throat and hummed for a moment. “I don’t know why I said that. It’s from one of the Alice in Wonderland books. I’m tired, my mind’s wandering!” She shook her head and waved at the papers. “Well?”

“Okay,” said Vickery slowly. “It’s kind of long — maybe you ought to have something to eat? They’ve got pretty good nachos here, chicken wings –“

“If I wanted a snack,” said Castine impatiently,” I’d have had those French fries in your car. You said Philippe’s.”

“Right. Would you like a…whole drink, in the meantime? Or coffee?”

“I’m fine.” She got up and stepped around the table to slide into his side of the booth. “We can both read it.”

“Let me know if I read too fast for you.”

“As if.” She squinted down at the printout.

Vickery nodded, then after a moment he too began scanning the paper.

The account in the printout proved to be fragmentary. After the mention of Cecil B. DeMille burying the set of a movie — Castine was sure it must have been The Ten Commandments, which was made sometime before talking pictures — the narrative spoke of a “sigil” that had been buried in 1927 down in San Pedro by the Port of Los Angeles, specifically on a street called Paseo del Mar. Over the next two years, according to the printout, the buried sigil had “moved toward the sea,” and in 1929 it had pulled the whole clifftop neighborhood down to the sea with it, houses, streets, a hotel and all. The narrative jumped then to an account of an unnamed occult motorcycle gang in 1965 digging up the sigil from among those broken pavements and foundations on the San Pedro shore.

Castine tapped the page. “That’d be the — what did Supergirl say was the name of that biker club?”

“The Gardena Legion. Gardena’s down in the South Bay area. By San Pedro, in fact.”