I’ve Been To A Marvelous Party
Excerpted from The Laven­der Ledger (forth­com­ing).

The after­noon wore on and the party got big­ger and louder. Wait­ers appeared out of the aether to bring drinks and empty ash­trays. Plates of dev­iled eggs and but­tered radishes man­i­fested to get nib­bled at. For Don­nie, it all felt cheek­ily fun. Actively inter­lop­ing at one of the par­ties the gos­sip rags always called a “lav­ish soiree.” As soirees went, it was pretty good, if not lav­ish, even if he didn’t know too many peo­ple and he wasn’t nearly drunk enough to start intro­duc­ing him­self to peo­ple he only recog­nized from movie posters or from sneak­ing around lot offices with ter­ri­fied sec­re­taries in tow. At least it was free.

He kept his dis­tance from Rob Blunt, his replace­ment on The Gen­tle­men, who spouted Alliance drivel all night (“The pro­jec­tion­ists’ union, even if they are right, will end up bank­rupt­ing the coun­try with their demands!”) and bragged about get­ting a gun license to pro­tect him­self from vio­lent “agi­ta­tors.” He offered pri­vate shoot­ing demon­stra­tions to Nancy Edel­weiss, a new dancer-type star­let who repeated back his Alliance points with the skill of a woman who knows men don’t want a con­ver­sa­tion so much as an audi­ence.

Don­nie peeled off from the main ball­room group and found a smaller back­room of mostly men and some women chat­ting and lis­ten­ing to a phono­gram play­ing Paris 1945 with Django Rein­hardt, the one made with the “Jazz Club Mys­tery Hot Band.” The crowd here was decid­edly more laven­der: Set design­ers, assistants, accoun­tants, hair and makeup boys, the odd pro­ducer and Best Friend of one of the big faces in the other room. It felt a bit more cozy and genial than the pearls-and-lac­quer ball­room. Don­nie lin­gered in the door­way for a while, won­der­ing if he should make him­self more com­fort­able (or make a new friend) when one of the boys called out.

“Oh Roy! You have to put on that album you played for me, it’s a scream.”

“Alright, but we gotta keep it low, so hud­dle in girls,” said what was appar­ently Roy. Don­nie walked across the room and leaned in close.

An unla­beled record was put on the pho­to­graph. The nee­dle dropped.

“Oh DADDY oh yes....” The voice was deep, vel­vety, and instantly recog­niz­able.

Daddy yes. Pet me Daddy. I’m Daddy’s lit­tle puss-puss aren’t I? UGH puss-puss⁠—me-OW, me-OW-OW-OW. I’m the puss-puss and I’m going to scratch you! Muwah! Did I scratch you BAD Daddy? Oh! OOOH! You make me PURR Daddy!”

Don­nie, mouth wide open, asked first. “Is that Edgar All­sort?”

“I don’t know!” said Roy. He wore a nice sweater and wavy combed hair. “I got Edgar’s office mail on Thurs­day like I always do and this was just in it. No stamp, no mail­ing address. Just a note that more instruc­tions were to come.”

“What did Edgar say?”

“He lis­tened to it in his office, told me it was a bad imper­son­ator, and to destroy it imme­di­ately.”

Don­nie did an eye­brow at him.

“I did destroy it! But not before going down to the Music Build­ing to make a copy. For pri­vate use only, hon­est.”

Don­nie pat­ted him on the shoul­der as they lis­tened to the rest. There was much excite­ment about a ball of string and where it might end up. Don found Randy O’Reilly drink­ing with Vin­cent Vail in an empty cor­ner near a buf­fet bar.

“Randy, there’s some­thing in that room you owe it to your­self to lis­ten t⁠—”

Just then there was a fab­u­lous com­mo­tion. The doors swung open into the main room. A group of pho­tog­ra­phers’ flash­bulbs went off out­side, ren­der­ing the crowd flat as sil­hou­ettes. In walked the cast and direc­tor of The Cut Glass Bowl, still some­how ele­gant and cam­era-ready after a night of danc­ing and cock­tails at Ciro’s.

The sea of ball­room peo­ple parted for them as yet more wait­ers appeared to take their coats and furs. In addi­tion to the cast, most of the “Zuzis Cir­cle” was there⁠—peo­ple like Clay Bre­ton, Kat­rina Rox­worth and ever­green super­star Richard Nor­wood. Spruce Tay­lor was nowhere to be seen, and nei­ther was the movie’s actual lead­ing lady, Tessa du Maine.

“As I live and breathe, Dicky Nor­wood!” Randy gasped like he’d seen a ghost. “We were room­mates for ten years and I haven’t heard from him since, can you believe?”

“Good ol’ Dick Wood,” Vin­cent said.

“Excuse me, I’m going to go catch up.” Randy moved out toward the main room.

“I’m sur­prised he showed up at all. Always a home­body that one.” Vin­cent swirled his drink around his glass. “You never see him in the scene. I sup­pose he has to keep up appear­ances.”

Randy came back with a full-on storm­head. He poured him­self a dou­ble scotch, neat.

“What’s the mat­ter? He for­get your name?” Don­nie said with­out kind­ness, feel­ing his drinks.

“That would’ve been tol­er­a­ble,” Randy huffed. “The only youth I ever had I wasted on that man. We cooked together, sold ties together, even punched each other on the jaw from time to time⁠—and what does he do when he sees me, his fel­low trav­eller?” Randy knocked back the scotch.

” ‘Hello Ran­dolph. Nice to see you again.’ And then he walks away. Not even a hand­shake!”

He refilled his glass, glar­ing at Vail. “And as he says it, he does that smile thing, where he doesn’t quite look at you. And that accent. I didn’t know he took it out on the town. That’s your hand­i­work, Vin­cent. ‘Richard Nor­wood’ is a tes­ti­mony to your skill and artistry. A great whop­ping wowza.”

Vin­cent turned to Don­nie. “When Ricky first came to town he was a lovely boy. Hand­some, full of vim⁠—an acro­bat back in vaude­ville I believe⁠—but more of a Ros­alind than a Richard really. Accent like a Liv­er­pool fish­wife. Com­pletely lost on set, never knew where to put his hands. But he pho­tographed bril­liantly and looked smash­ing in a tux. So I coached him. And when coach­ing didn’t work I began telling him. And when telling didn’t work, I ordered him.”

“You hol­lowed him out and stuffed him full of your­self,” Randy said.

“Sev­eral times.” Vail smiled. “But it was a suc­cess. He became the per­fect, charm­ing lead­ing man. A gen­tle­man, on screen and off. I even let him bor­row my accent. Then he decided he was far too much a gen­tle­man for com­edy or light musi­cals any­more and dropped me like an unwanted child. He only does drama now, real drama, hang­ing with the Zuzis set behind those tall walls.”

And that’s why you’ve switched to drama and seri­ous pic­tures Don­nie thought, in a kinder way then he was used to.

Randy fin­ished his scotch. “Cas­tle Zuzis­tein. I bet they’re build­ing more mati­nee idols out of parts of dis­carded heart­throbs. I got half a mind to go over there and read him the riot act in fr⁠—”

Vail grabbed his shoul­der. “You’ve an entire mind to sit here and pre­serve the damned dig­nity of your coun­try­men and the Com­mon­wealth. If it helps I hear he’s dead broke.”

“Broke?” said Don­nie.

“Oh yes, some­thing about an illicit ship­ping deal gone wrong, ties to the Ger­man black mar­ket. That fiancée of his. All very seedy. My lit­tle bird in Fortress Zuzis told me he was drink­ing him­self blind over pay­ing hush money to keep it from the FBI just this Thurs­day.”

Don­nie did the math. It fit. The din­ner with Cecil. The same day the record­ing arrived.

There was a crash and scream from the other room. Vin­cent peeked his head ‘round.

“Oh it’s noth­ing, Lana Turner has col­lapsed.” He handed Don­nie a serv­ing tray. “Do get some cock­tails, Randy has com­man­deered the scotch for the Antipodes.”