At 1:45 p.m. Bruxton and Bonnie emerged from the Springs Hotel wearing clothes sent from the boutique shop; Bruxton in a Hawaiian shirt emblazoned with wild tropical flowers that hung over knee-length shorts of shocking pink. By contrast, Bonnie wore a flattering simple strapless black and white sun dress.
They stood in the porte-cochere next to two shopping bags of foul-smelling clothes.
Bruxton looked impatiently at his watch. “Dammit! Where the hell’s that chauffeur?”
Bonnie’s state of intoxication had improved, although she repeatedly opened her eyes wide and closed them tightly in an effort to focus better. She held Bruxton’s arm firmly trying to maintain her balance.
Jim approached hurriedly from the side and reached for the shopping bags.
“Where the hell ya been?” Bruxton asked.
“Sorry, I’d been watching the entrance, but I guess I didn’t recognize you two in different clothes.”
“Huh?” Bruxton looked at his clothes then at Bonnie’s. “Yeah, well, we had an accident—a waiter spilled soup or something on us. We needed a change.” He gave no further explanation and continued, “Put these bags in the trunk and run them over to the cleaners later. And for chrissakes, don’t mention any of this to Mrs. Bruxton. It’s none of her damn business.” The chauffeur glanced at Bonnie and gave her an abbreviated nod. She turned her head to avoid eye contact.
At the end of the filming day, Scooter, still in his cowboy costume, walked into Parma’s motel room. “Where ya goin’, Diego? Got a date with one of them local squaws or hot tamales?” He watched Parma using a straight razor on his lathered face. “Wanna be careful ya don’t become a daddy to a breed. If ya knock-up one of them ya better be prepared to marry her, or ya could find yourself with an arrow up yer ass and yer mis’rable carcass strung to a fence post. Folks ‘round here don’t take kindly to fly-by-night Johnnies who leave their daughters or sisters in a family way. No sir! That’s jes a little friendly advice from a guy who’s been ‘round the horn a few times.”
Parma feeling his smoothly shaven face and looking in the mirror said, “Scooter, you old shit-kicker, you might know a lot about trick horse-riding, stand-in pratfalls and taking phony bullets, but you don’t know squat about the folkways of these people. Your concept of western lifestyle is about a hundred years old, and furthermore, your hero, John Wayne, was probably no better informed.”
“Careful how ya use the Duke’s name. Him and me got along just fine.” Scooter, the oldest bewhiskered movie stunt man in the industry no longer performed dangerous tricks but appeared as the loveable but wretched cowhand, the foil to the handsome star. He smiled a toothless grin and did not argue. Just to hold conversation and get animated responses from the leading man, Frank Parma, pleased him.
In the dingy, low-ceiling room of the motel, Parma had packed a valise and was preparing to leave. “I’ve been invited to share the hospitality of a wealthy, wonderful and beautiful lady who lives forty minutes from here in a virtual palace. Yes, sir, tonight I get to sleep on a magnificent bed….”
“Alone?” Scooter scratched the back of his head and tilted his cowboy hat forward.
“She’s a married woman. I’ve met her only once, just briefly….”
“Knowing you, Frankie, I’d say you’ll be in her britches in no time. D’ya meet her ol’ man yet?”
“No, not yet….”
Scooter removed his soiled, greasy, misshapen cowboy hat and slapped it against his chaps. “Hot dog! I’d give the rest of ma teeth to be there when ya meet him. Maybe ‘bout the time you’re ready to slip the log into the furnace, the ol’ man’ll come in—heh, heh, heh.” Scooter shook his head and danced a little jig.
Parma picked up his overnight bag and headed toward the door. “Okay, that’s enough, you withered old cock. I’ll see you on the set at six tomorrow.”
At 6:15 p.m. the door chimes sounded and Mary Bruxton, in a shimmering burgundy cocktail dress, touched her hair gently, sucked in her abdomen and pulled at her dress before opening the door. “Welcome, Mr. Cowboy. My, you’re looking mighty fresh after a long day of prospecting. Find any treasures in those Yucca Valley sand dunes?”
Parma’s eyes explored his radiant hostess. “I believe there are more treasures here, and if you don’t mind my saying so, I think I’m looking at one. You, Madame, look absolutely stunning. I have a confession: I thought about you all day, causing me to muff some of my lines.”
Mary reached out to touch his arm and smiled. “How sweet of you to have told me.”
Wearing a dark blue silk shirt, white linen sport jacket and light blue slacks, Frank smiled as he handed Mary a wine bottle in a satin bag. “Thought we might enjoy this tonight.”
“My, my, aren’t we getting fancy. Should I be wary of Greeks bearing gifts?”
“In this case, it’s an Italian, and no, you have nothing to fear.”
“Nothing to fear? Well, I hope that doesn’t mean you’re flat-out passive.” She laughed.
He bent forward and sniffed. “Mm-mm, you smell wonderful.”
“Good, I’d hoped that French perfume had more drawing power than a sprinkle of talcum.” She took the bottle of wine out of the bag, looked at the label and said, “1958 Lafitte Rothschild Bordeaux. I like a man who has impeccable taste.”
“In wine and women.” He bowed, then leaned forward to kiss her lightly on the lips.
“Careful cowboy! You’re riding into Dodge at a mighty fast clip, and you don’t know what the territory’s like or if the pilgrims are even friendly.”
“I’m a pretty good judge of people, and I think this lady pilgrim is friendly, or I’d like to think so.” He looked deeply into Mary’s eyes and pulled her gently toward him. Right at that moment the Bruxton’s cook appeared “Pardon me, Mrs. Bruxton, should I set the soufflé in the oven now?”
Mary pulled away and looked at her watch. “No, wait another half hour; take this bottle of wine and decant it. Mr. Parma and I will have an aperitif in the great room before dinner.” She looked at Parma. “Would you like a little something now? A cocktail? Bourbon? Scotch?”
“Scotch on the rocks will be fine, thank you.”
“I have some twenty-five year old Ambassador. I think you’ll enjoy that.”
“I’d enjoy sharing anything with you.”
Mary looked over her shoulder coyly.
“Is Mr. Bruxton joining us?”
“No, he’s gone for the week, thank God, supervising his favorite project in Big Sky country.” Mary, with Frank behind her, walked into an adjoining room with a splendid, long, nineteenth century restored saloon bar in black polished walnut. A floor-to-ceiling mirror behind it and an enormous array of liquor bottles and crystal stemware glittered, jewel-like from overhead lights. “Please help yourself: there’s an ice bucket on the bar. I’ll make a gin and tonic for myself.”
“Let me make that for you,” he said. “I made a living doing that sort of thing. Tending bar was one of my many jobs along the way. Here. How is it?”
“Nice. My. You’re quite talented. What else have you done?” Before he responded, she said, “Oh, wait. Let’s bring our drinks into the great room and you can tell me all about yourself.” Mary led the way into another room, then sat down on a settee. She patted the cushion next to her for Frank.
Before sitting, he proposed a brief toast; one he had delivered many times. “To a new and exciting friendship—one that I hope to cherish for as long as I shall live.”
“I like that,” she said as their glasses clinked. “Now tell me all about yourself, and start from the beginning.”
He sat next to her and looked into his drink. “If you’re thinking I had an altogether wholesome life, you’ll be disappointed.”
“I can assure you that wholesome is not my pri-mary interest.”
Parma settled back into the settee. “I played football in a Catholic high school in Brooklyn where I was captain and quarterback. I took the team to an unbeaten season; that was in 1975. We were state champions. A scout from Notre Dame spotted me and apparently liked what he saw. They gave me an athletic scholarship, and I played on the varsity team in my sophomore year. That was quite an achievement. But I developed knee and ankle injuries, and that put the kibosh on my playing.” He hesitated. “Truth is, the injuries did hurt, but I also found girls, and they found me. Football and studies interfered with my social life. After I left the football team, I caroused and had a good time. My grades, of course, went south. Nothing helped. I dropped out before graduation.
“Following that, I went back to New York, got a job as a bouncer in a night club. There was some gambling and prostitution going on at the club. I roughed up a few guys and took a few punches myself, but that’s another story. Anyway, some guy at the nightclub saw me and told me my face was photogenic. He asked me if I could act, and I said ‘Sure.’ I’d never acted a day in my life, but I figures, ‘How hard could this be.’ Plus, I figured the guy was handing me a line. But sure enough, I got a call a week later to report to the Goodwin Theatre to read a part from an Arthur Miller play.
Mary’s eyes glistened with excitement as she listened. “And? What happened?”
“They threw me off the stage five minutes after I started reading. Boy, I really stank!” He swirled the ice cubes in his tumbler then took a long gulp. “After that, I saw an ad for male escorts—good pay and benefits, it said. I figured anything had to be better than working as a bouncer, and after all, there are worse things in life than providing pleasure to lovely ladies. So I checked it out.”
Mary moved closer, crossed her well-contoured legs as the slit in her dress opened to reveal more of her thigh. “Really?”
“Yep. And they put me to work, just like that.” He snapped his fingers. “I never knew there were so many rich and lonely women out there—married, divorced, single, young, old….”
“Did you make love to all of them?”
“If you mean: did I have sex with them?” He leaned back with his drink and smiled, hesitating to answer immediately. In drama classes he learned the value of an extended pause. “About half. Some just wanted company—a little dancing—a shared meal—conversation. Yeah, some were sexually starved and tore right into it—no inhibitions.”
“Sounds intriguing. What was the down side to all of that?”
“After awhile, it started to become depressing. I should have quit, but the money was good—damn good. And, of course, that was about the time I was introduced to some so-called mood-elevating drugs—marijuana, bennies, ’ludes. They made the intimacies more tolerable, but then I got into coke, and that led to shooting heavy stuff. I became terribly dependent. I hit the skids and sank as low as a vagrant. The cops picked me up, and I wound up in the loony bin at Bellevue for three months. One day after counseling, a light went on in my head, and I said ‘What in the hell am I doing with my life?’”
He took another sip of Scotch. “I really shouldn’t be giving you all these rotten details of my misspent youth, and I apologize if I’m boring you.”
“Oh, no, please don’t stop. I’m completely fascinated.”
“The rest of the story has to do with my salvation, but….”
The cook made a meek entrance into the great room. “Pardon me, Mrs. Bruxton, dinner is ready.”
“In a moment, Esmeralda.”
“No, really.” Frank interjected. “The timing’s perfect.”
Frank stood, then extended his hand to help Mary up. He placed the empty Scotch tumbler on the cocktail table and put his arm around her waist as he escorted her to the dining room. She looked up at him and whispered, “I feel so secure having you next to me.”
“That’s nice to know; maybe I can earn my keep.”
“I sure hope so.”
The entire second floor of the only office building in the heart of the exclusive El Paseo shopping district in Palm Desert was located one block West of Saks Fifth Avenue and was occupied solely by Peter Bruxton Enterprises of North America.
After a long and busy week in Montana, Bruxton had returned to the desert to find even more work waiting for him. He was impatiently going through contracts at his century old ornate mahogany desk, when his secretary’s voice came over the intercom. “Mr. Bruxton, there’s a Mr. John Smith here to see you.” In a muffled voice she added, “He seems awfully agitated.”
Bruxton looked at the intercom and said, “I don’t know who he is, and I don’t see his name on my appointment list.”
The door flew open. A hulking, bald, red-faced man stood ape-like; his mouth contorted, his fiery eyes glared at the bewildered Bruxton.
“Who—who the hell are you and what do you want?” Bruxton stood and backed slowly away from his desk.
In a voice like thunder, the stranger bellowed, “Listen, you illegitimate son of Lucifer. I hear you’re the one responsible for my daughter’s pregnancy, and I’m here to see that you repent and pay!” He whipped out a forty-four magnum from his jacket and held it with both hands. “Get on your knees sinner; pray to God Almighty to save your worthless carcass from eternal damnation!”
“Now just hold your horses, Mister. There’s no need to pull a gun.” Bruxton said as he lowered himself to his knees. “Who in the hell’s your daughter?”
“Missy Ellie Bissell. She was your secretary until two weeks ago. I’m her father, the Reverend Ezekiel Jacob Bissell. Figured you wouldn’t see me if you heard my real name. I’m a Southern Baptist minister. I had to leave my flock in Enid, Oklahoma just to come here. Now, let’s you and me talk about your repentance and salvation.”
“Mind if I get off my knees?”
“Not just yet, Brother. That position might be better for prayin’.”
Just then, the office door flew open, and three uniformed police rushed in with guns drawn and shouted at the overwhelmed minister, “Don’t move! Put that gun down! Now! Slowly! That’s right. Now walk backward towards us—slowly. Hands in the air!”
The Reverend Bissell complied, although he was clearly not pleased with the turn of events. One of the officers came up to him, turned him around, and said, “Hands behind your back.” He cuffed the man, while one of the other officers bent to get the gun.
“Sinner, you’ll pay, yes you will, by God Almighty.” The handcuffed minister said.
Bruxton got off his knees and crawled into his chair where he collapsed. “That crazy bastard was going to kill me—I swear it.” “You want me to come to the station to file a report?”
“Yes,” said one of the officers. “We can take your statement, but we’d prefer it if you could come on in with us to file the report.”
“Okay, just let me catch my breath.”. Bruxton’s pallor was slow to disappear, his thumping heart slowed, and a sensation of utter exhaustion followed a shivering cold sweat.
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