Chapter 3 DiscoveryAs we drove the several hours to the border with Jacob at the wheel- my primary responsibility was to scan the roads ahead for potential roadblocks.Inevitably, my mind began to drift away from the task at hand and the memoriesbegan to intrude upon my task as sentinel. The day my husband Max died was just an ordinary vacation day in on our summer home. We enjoyed the Kingman nights cool and starry in the private place we had built for ourselves on Aqua Fleur Road which ran just a few miles off highway 95. heading North from the city to the dam and Las Vegas beyond. We loved the location because it was esquisitely placed between three cities- Kingman, Phoenix and Las Vegas- all within a day’s drive or just a short flight from Las Angeles by private plane. In fact, many part time residents did fly their tiny planes into the relatively obscure Kingman airport and then drive their pick up trucks to tourist destinations such as Laughlin(a tiny casino town which is famous for it’s intimate feel and the man made Lake Havasu river which had provided both electrical power and boating enjoyment for many years.) It afforded us a temporary reprieve from civilization with the comforts of material goods just 30 miles away. We felt protected there in a quiet lazy cocoon. Who would have suspected our haven was just a mirage of mirrors and smoke? We were kidding ourself. Max was a marked man and I had no idea he was in such deep trouble until the day he died. I had met Max at an office party where I was hired to make a brief appearance delivering a singing telegram. (Singing telegrams was an immensely lucrative side job in the 1990’s along with a dozen others- and a very profitable one at that.) I made $ 100.00 For less than an hour’s work. Show up- sing a few songs in costume, warm up the crowds with jokes- and then leave. If you booked 10 of these a month you paid your rent. So I had several agencies send me out to do retirement,birthday and anniversary gigs. Frankly, I really hated them, it reminded me of that famous moment in the movie ” Brazil” where you showed up to a quiet office and disrupted everyone’s vibe only to leave shortly afterward— and the office went back to work as if nothing insane had just happened. Telegrams gave me migraine headaches and I couldn’t wait to take off the costume and resume my day. But they paid the bills and allowed me time off to do other things so I continued to perform and welcomed the few parties which actually had begun to get rowdy before I arrived. Drunk patrons would laugh and line up for pictures with the pseudo-celebrity impersonator welcoming me like another party guest. That particular day I was assigned the role of ” Dolly Parton” which was one of the easiest to sing except it was truly hard to mimic Dolly’s quick wit. I had a few signature lines I had memorized such as ” I would study footage of Dolly appearances on the evening talk shows and play the VHS tapes on my recorder over and over recording her comments and studying her movements.— After all, I was a trained actress and I really attempted to take my jobs seriously. No matter how silly the opportunity I prided myself on authenticity. I wanted no complaints to the agency that I did not throw myself into the roles and show people a good time. One time I had to appear at the bedside of a dying 73 year old man in hospice, and it was really hard not to break down and cry at the sight of his family assembled in front of the bed. But this was his last wish to see Dolly in concert one last time so his family decided to create a make believe meeting with Dolly. The man rallied and even managed to sit up in bed as I sang him ” Happy Birthday” and ” Coat of Many Colors” as well as some Appalachian spirituals. His wife wrote me a ” Thank you” note later after he had passed and the agency framed it on their wall. I have a copy somewhere. It read and I quote from my webpage: …”It didn’t matter to him one lick whether she was real or a phony, as long as we enjoyed the experience together one last time. Thank Miss Eden Grey for giving my beloved Gerald a flicker of joy in his final days…” Oh yes, this gig led to many other patient send offs, including wakes and funerals, and I hated the agency and myself for exploiting a family’s grief. But not enough to stop doing it. However, I managed to rationalize it all in my mind…and so you see, Dear Abby I am making a difference, however wacky or sentimental the gigs might be. But in reality, I honestly hated taking the fee and sometimes did charity appearances to bandage my guilty conscience for taking money from the public when this was such a bizarre thing to do. Pretending to be someone else. How absurd. Especially if the recipient was too dead…drunk… or demented to know the difference between reality and illusion. It just felt deceitful somehow. But it was a training ground for who I am today. The mistress of phony personas fully equipped with wigs, latex make up and costumes. I can make anyone into someone else and train them to move through space in that person’s ego. Perhaps, I was born to this job and my wild past was just a training ground for something truly important. ” Huck,” I looked back at him. ” How you doing? Need a snack? There’s some food in the storage containers. And after you eat something, you had better lie down on the seat in case we pass some surveillance cameras on highway 40. ( It started in the 2000’s that cameras equipped to monitor speeding were also monitoring cars and license plates to entrap criminals. I knew those spots along the road so well that so I always took precautions miles from our destination in case speed traps were also taking photos to watch for suspicious activity.) As we passed one particular camera, I was tempted to smile and wave, but stopped myself. Sometimes, especially in the 2000’s when all this apparatus was being put into place, I began to wonder “Am I going crazy? Maybe this is all in my mind.” Well, maybe I am half crazy. But I can’t afford to second guess my instincts now. We must be vigilant and careful all the time– however crazy it might seem to the uninitiated, spies are everywhere capable of watching everything. April fool’s day– second only to Valentine’s Day as you can well imagine– was a really popular day for the singing telegram industry. All kind of jokes are played by office workers on each other… That day alone, I had five Chers, a Marilyn Monroe, one Barbie doll, and two Dolly telegrams to deliver. This was going to take the whole day. Office workers snickered around the water cooler all morning and afternoon waiting for me to break up their dull routine. At any moment I might storm into their office with my portable recorder and mike singing ” I Got You Babe” with a flick of long black hair surrounding the humiliated victim of their prank. It was the most fun to select a reserved and shy accountant as your prey. Sitting with his bald head down his chest, trying not to blush with a fake smile tacked on his lips, my first victim looked like he might have a heart attack at any moment as he silently cursed the jovial VP of Marketing who had ordered this massacre on office protocol and his dignity. ” I just hope that’s not a dude” I heard one office messenger whisper to the receptionist as I climbed up on his desk for an innocently seductive picture with poor Ronald Zuckerfield. ” We’re sending that home to your wife Jeff,” Mrs. Clarie Storie the President giggled as I took another photo with Mr. Jeffrey O’Brien, The VP of Marketing and chief orchestrator of this mad stunt. ” After a few more moments of hijjinks we all retreated to the break room where the more lighthearted male and female employees made requests and even participated in light karaoke as Sonny to my Cher– including fake 60’s wig and furry vest which brought howls of laughter when the portable tape recorder was set up, and after a slice of cake they retreated to the meeting room for an inspirational motivational meeting on the topic of How we are all team players. ” So after four more of these brilliantly inspired performances I was pretty tired and wondering why they had booked so many in one day. But the thought of making two or even three months’ rent keep me going thru the afternoon and fortunately the agency had kept them all relatively close and in the same costumes for Pasadena, Glendale, and the downtown area. Just a short hop into the car and I was on my way. Luckily, Max’s party was the only evening telegram so I retreated home up the 110 freeway to my little studio on Cordova Ave for some sleep and a shower before heading out again at 9 pm for this evening celebration. Friday evening telegrams were pretty popular but not usually at an office. Who has their office staff show up late downtown at night for a party? That seemed really odd to me as I applied my false eyelashes, blue eyeshadow and slipped into my short silver sequinned dress and high heeled clear platform shoes which doubled as both Barbie and Dolly. (In fact, the whole outfit could double with the addition and subtraction of wigs and fake cleavage. It was a real time saver on the singing telegram party route. Just zip into a rest room, switch the wigs from your handbag and you were good to go.) Needless to say, my hectic career and unorthodox schedule did not afford me a busy social life so I did not have to call a boyfriend or check in with anyone. And while this was nice, being free meant that no one was aware of my comings and goings. So I always left a note for a casual acquaintance Cheryl, a fellow actress/waitress/student at Pasadena City College who had a studio on the next floor. This was a wonderfully quaint building built in the fifties with open studio apartments that faced the garden. Once inside the locked gate, one could stroll up and peek through the front window which resembled the old set up of motels and try to get her attention if the light was on. Tonight, Cheryl ‘s light was out, which meant she was working or doing a scene at one of the many actor’s studio in downtown Hollywood so I just tacked up a note to the door that said, ” Cheryl, knock on my door Saturday morning around noon as I have an engagement this evening around 10 pm…Call the Hollywood Golden Talent agency if I don’t answer the door and haven’t slept in my bed—capice? Thanks Edie. This was the code of actresses before cell phones and the later fad of pagers. We simply left friends with information about our appointments, carried weapons of defense and hoped for the best. In addition, Cheryl and I had taken a self defense course together and we were very careful to only meet people in public places. Hence the singing telegrams. I only went to office building, public spaces and restaurants. No private concerts for me and the agency appreciated my professionalism. I was called upon to tutor other young women in the “do’s” and “don’t ‘s” of being a honest to God performer. My agents ran respectable operations or they were turned in personally– by me— to the talent union guild. I felt it was morally responsible for talent agents to act as den mothers to the incredibly naive women who arrived via LAX, Amtrack, Burbank Airport or by greyhound bus to Hollywood blvd. If they didn’t, I brought it to their attention. You could lose your license, or be sued. Most likely both results, plus the stigma of news print, if one of your girls is attacked, misinterpreted as a prostitute, or God forbid goes missing. And don’t think it doesn’t happen. I know of ten ” models” who went missing in the 90’s and were never found. Of course singers were not a big target as we have great lungs to scream as well as a reputation for being gutsy. Still you never know…so better be safe than sorry. I had a sixth sense for phony auditions and the like but I never let down my guard which has prepared me with a healthy dose of cynicism for public safety . So on that night, I alerted Cheryl, and checked my surroundings carefully both leaving and arriving at my destination. It was a public garage with mixed office use of stores, restaurants and offices. I felt better about that and carefully locked all four doors of my car before going upstairs to the elevator with my rollar suitcase filled with the props I needed. I decided to wait until I got to the top floor before putting on the wig and shoes.I had a long overcoat covering my dress. I wore a baseball hat over my face It was best to try and keep a low profile in these semi-deserted places. I checked the elevator carefully and kept the spray handy. This wasn’t ideal but it was OK. A wave of relief as I saw other normal partiers enter the elevator and after a quick stop to get into full costume at a lovely marble bathroom circa the 1930’s on the ground floor, I made my way up to my final destination past a uniformed guard. When the elevator opened, I saw a penthouse suite, with the most gorgeous panoramic view of the Los Angeles skyline. It was simply magnificent in scope and elegance, All wood and stainless steel, restful and chic at the same time. The conference room had a sliding door which when opened displayed sofas and overstuffed chairs as well as the conference table which was now lined with plates of food, fancy stuffed appetizers, and bottles of wine, whiskey, water, and sodas. The Party was in full swing and I imagine I was intended to be the final act before cabs were called or valets grabbed the cars and lined them up for the guests. Music was playing and the guests laughing. Gosh, I thought, they don’t really need me here. They look like they are plenty warm and I might interrupt the flow. But I kept my coat on and searched discreetly for my contact Marla Holland. As I began to tentatively roam, I saw a very elegant tall black woman approach me. Her skin was such a lovely and unlined shade of ebony, I could not even begin to tell how old she might be. She smiled with a beautifully set of pearly white teeth which matched her single strand necklace and earrings. She was wearing a bright red dress and black sling back heels. The lady was so tall she easily towered over me even with my sixth inch heels and I am of average height, 5’7. With one brisk move she pushed me into the small waiting area on the side. ” Oh, how fabulous that you made it on time! I am Marla-Marla Holland, the Office manager. This is going to be SOOO good. She laughed as if we were part of some big conspiracy. I stopped studying her and began to focus on the logistics. ” So I see you have a stereo system Marla. Could we possibly put my karaoke cassette tapes in there?” ” Why of course, my dear. Do you think I’d want you to have to waltz around with that handheld thing weighing down your arm? Here at Wood, Owens and Hardy we only have the best. I even have a mike I can set up if you need it.” ” Oh I doubt I ‘ll need it.” ” Well, we’ll put it up there anyway for effect and you can whisper into it from time to time.” Marla was obviously the queen of organization and as I observed her closely I wondered if maybe she wasn’t actually transgender or a cross dresser– but whatever she was Marla Holland was terrific, a real trooper. My eyes watched her with amusement as she set the scene orchestrating the whole performance with gusto with an accent that sounded like she was born in the Dominican Republic. ‘ You’re going to enter from the kitchen area there where we can a curtain and then I’ll dim the lights and follow you with a flashlight until you make it there. When you make it to the circle I am going to whirl Mr. Owens around in his chair and then you can sit beside him and open your song. Do you know that one ” Nine to Five”? ( I nodded) Yes, well it would be great if you could sing it up the aisle and then we’ll let you dance around and make some jokes while we dim the music. From there, we’ll have you sit on his chair edge and sing ” Jolene”. He loves Jolene. Followed by a rousing sing all of “Apple Jack”. And finish up with ” I will Always Love you”. And make sure he doesn’t get away from you—keep pulling him back. Then we’ll bring out the cake and sing ” Happy Birthday”. ” Well, you all sound like you have a mighty good time here What’s this you all start work at nine in the evening and work til five in the morning? That was my opening line as I pushed through the green velvet curtain and sang ” Nine to Five” ” Working nine to five, what a way to make a living, barely getting by, it’s all taking and no giving….” The crowd laughed and cheered as they saw my attire and this was surely the best audience I was ever going to have at Wood, Owens and Hardy, esquire. True to her word, Marla had forced Maxwell Owens into a sixty’s type swivel chair that was high enough for me to hang onto the edge without jumping or bending down. She had the camera going as she taped the whole thing and had directed a young woman in a discreet party dress at the tape deck who stood there frantically searching for my next song on the cassette. Finally, Marla handed the camera to a young male associate and Marla moved to put the next song on. ” Well, I just had to come on up here and interrupt my concert tour because I heard one of the secretaries here was moving in on my territory” I said in character as Dolly. The audience roared again in anticipation of the next song. I removed the mike and sang soulfully, “Jolene, Jolene,Please don’t take my man.. “and pushed the drunk law partner Hardy who was playfully hanging onto Max’s arm aside with a curly wig on his head and an apron on his waist. He refused to let go and the audience really roared. ” Looks like this is going to be a nasty divorce here kids, I hope you have the money to pay,” I said to claps and whistles. And then we settled down to a few sing alongs and jokes. I left Max in peace to sing a chorus of ” I will always love you” with the flashlight as a spotlight over my head And then I closed with ” I have only one thing to do to you Max” Marla cued the crowd to sing ” Happy Birthday” to you as the cake was brought out and we took move pictures. Marla said to me as I started gathering my things, ” Where are you going girl, you aren’t staying to party with us! Max really loves you and he’s dying from a deadly incurable disease ” Well if I stayed with every man who gave me that line I ‘d be a very rich woman” I bantered as Dolly. ” No really please stay if you can. Max is really enjoying the party and so are we. We’ll have one of our drivers take you home so you can have a drink or two,” this was Hardy the comic sidekick and partner who slipped up behind me. Suddenly,Max was at his side and he brushed the wig from my face. ” I have only one request tonight. I’d like to see your real hair ” ” Well, surprisingly, it doesn’t look too different than this hair” I said as I pulled off the wig and cap to reveal my own blonde mane as I try smoothing it down. ” Hope I didn’t disappoint you with this mess of a mop.” I dropped the Southern accent. Marla was at my side with a drink. ” Here have a apple martini. It’s Southern you know.” ” Oh thanks Marla.” I broke my own strict professional code that night and stayed at the party with the attorneys at law, Marla and Max’s friends. It was just too fun to leave. We chatted for a long while. ” The view is just amazing here ..” I say to Max around midnight. ” You should see it at five when the sun comes up.” He smiles. ” Oh I am sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I hope I don’t sound like a dirty old man. But if you want to see it as five you’re welcome anytime. Hardy jumps in, ” Yes, God Knows we’re usually here at 5AM. And at midnight. So there will be plenty of company” Marla comes along and drags Hardy away as if by design. ” Here, be a dear and go fill this ice bucket up.” ” Where am I going to get more ice at this hour Marla? Don’t the caterers usually go get it? I hear him retreat as he follows her down the hallway. Max says, ” If it doesn’t sound too forward, why don’t I drive you home so those 16 year old valet parkers don’t drop you off a cliff somewhere on the 110 freeway ? I am not sure I would not trust them to drive you home. You can let them drop your car off for you later.” I smile at the quaint way he talks, as if dropped here from another time and a 1930’s movie. I respond to him, ” Well, that’s a nice proposition, but you’ve had a very long day yourself and your time is much more valuable than mine. ” That’s why I want to drive you home Eden because my time is valuable and because I am used to very long days. I want to have my birthday end in the best way possible. ” ” Well, if you put it that way, how can I refuse Max? By the way, my friends and family call me Edie.” ” Shall we go Edie?” ” Yes, let’s. It is almost 2 AM as we wave adieu to Marla and Hardy and a few other hanger-ons as we left the party that night. ” This is such a wonderful car. Do you want to take a drive? He asked. Sure I say. We cruise the Hollywood Hills and watch the waves crash over the rocks in Santa Monica over coffee. A few hours later we were watching the sun rise at a small little breakfast place overlooking the hill. ” I feel a little embarrassed that I was only the entertainment and here we are still talking a few hours later. Tell me you’re not exhausted by now?” ” No, on the contrary, I am invigorated by fresh ideas.” He smiles. I respond to him in a shy way as I am barely 22 and he is 50. But I like his manners and his tall awkward appearance. He has a strange way of shuffling like a young adolescent boy which i find charming. I smile. ” Well, I should get back, we’re just an exit or two away and then you can speed back to the office or home..” ” Yes, well actually my two children should be getting up soon.” ” Your children?” I say a little more shocked than I mean to sound. ” Yes, I have a daughter 5 and a son aged 8. ” Divorced?” ” No, widowed. Shockingly enough their mother died in a solo automobile accident 3 years ago. She was driving on Angeles Crest highway and lost control in the dark. So I now am a little overprotective about cars and drivers you see.” ” Oh I am so sorry. I am really so sad for you., How terrible’ I am babbling. I am hoping he will cut me off. ” Thank you. Yes, it was terrible but the three of us have adjusted, and life goes on. ” Yes, it does, and I feel like such a foolish girl never asking you more about your life sooner. You have such a rich and complicated life I am sure. ” Well, perhaps, but that’s why I like you. I don’t like to volunteer too much too early as it doesn’t seem right. You are fresh and free of all life’s trauma. Let’s hope you can stay that way and I can start by getting you home so you catch some sleep as well. ” Well, I certainly enjoyed this gig.” I laugh at my own cleverness getting out of his car. ” Not as much as I did Miss Grey. Perhaps we can repeat if again soon, and the Dolly Parton costume is purely optional. For some reason, maybe the lack of sleep, that comment sent me into hysterics. He watched me laugh with a truly contented look on his face. I scribbled my number for him to call my land line. ” Well, I ‘ll try to think of something equally tasteful to wear on our next outing” I say on my exit blowing him a kiss. He laughs, a hearty authentic sound, and drives off in his sporty BMW. I am hoping Cheryl won’t see it so she will freak out at my recklessness returning home at 6 AM. She would never believe me if I tell her all we did was talk and talk and talk and listen to music as if we were in an MGM movie. If was only two days later that we met again for a real date this time, and after dinner at the Chart house in Malibu and walking on the rocks without shoes I felt that I was really honestly in love with this man. It was crazy I suppose, but we both knew it and despite the protestations of people who think that a young girl can’t make up her mind in a matter of days, I really felt connected and at home with him. We got married within weeks and that was the end of the studio apartment, the acting lessons, and the singing telegrams forever. Of course, I kept Cheryl who was my matron of honor in my life but I exiled everything else to the attic, including my aspirations to be anything but a good wife and step mother. I never ever regretted it because our 15 years together was so wonderful. And I was always there for Max, including the day he died when I cradled him in my arms as the life slipped away from the bullet of an assailant. I hear it in my mind now and I shake myself back into consciousness. I am forced out of my reverie by what appears to be a flat tire. Jacob, places an arm on mine protectively and says, ” It’s no problem, I’ll have the spare on in minutes. You can go back to sleep.” “Are you kidding?” I say to him. He knows that a flat tire can be an ambush. ” I am going to cover you.” I step out and stand by the driver’s side scanning the area for anything unusual. I have my arm under my sweatshirt with my hand securely on a revolver in case I have to draw it. My cap is just low enough on my eyes to see the land around me. I feel a car approach and I try to swallow the panic inside. I have never really shot a weapon at anything but a soda can. The car comes closer and I am wild with fear but trying to look casual on this quiet stretch of highway. I pretend to squat on the fender as I watch from the corner of my eye. Someone opens the window and I start to raise my weapon a little higher under my shirt. An arm extends out feeling the air and discards an orange peel. The window closes. I breathe a sigh of relief as the car continues on uneventfully. I take a deep breath and Jacob smiles at me as he works. ” Better watch that trigger finger he says, half serious, half kidding. ” Better I watch your back than ignore it” I say suggestively. I am watching him turn away from me as he changes the tire in one fluid sweep. He bends down with huge tire as if it is a feather, securing the bolts and then making a visual check that the tire is secure and the coast is clear. “I feel so lucky to have him”, I think to myself as I climb in the passenger side. ” Do you want me to drive” I ask him sincerely. ” No”, he says simply, a man of few words. I am worried how Jacob rarely sleeps and when he does it is a light vigilant slumber. How does he do it without losing his mind? I think. But Jacob operates on a higher level of consciousness. He seems to walk like a ghost upon the earth. Quiet and unobserved. With little need for human vices such as eating and sleeping or human emotions like jealousy or anger. I wondered what it was he really needed. His state of Zen was so complete and internalized. I check on Huck who is soundly asleep draped over the seat. He is 14 going on 15 but the size of a 12 year old. My heart almost breaks when I see the tiny figure and freckled face. How is it possible this boy is called upon to shoulder such an enormous task and what does he dream of when he sleeps? He seems so peaceful it is almost miraculous. How did I end up here on this journey between states with a stubborn brilliant boy and a silent stoic man. I shake my head and when I awake I am sometimes confused. What happened to my other family and my perfect life on the beach in Santa Monica. In between states of consciousness, I have to remind myself that old life is gone and this is my new reality. A state of constant fear and excitement where I am called upon to make difficult choices. I am glad that my stepchildren are safe somewhere half away across the world from me and Max lived a wonderful life until the moment it was cut short by that gun shot in the dark. At least they do not have to live this new reality of fear, hardship, and uncertainty. I am beginning to hate the dry arid desert we used to cherish.