tagNovels and NovellasHarley's Diva Ch. 03

Harley's Diva Ch. 03

byilamont©

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Author's Note:

In the last chapter, Harley took Clarice to the tiny hospital in William's Lake, where she was whisked away, out of his sight. In the ensuing bedlam, he gave up and headed for home.

In this chapter, they get back together almost a month later. And then we bounce ahead five months, and meet an important new character—Kim Fleck, a gorgeous young actress who has just arrived in Hollywood. Too soon, she encounters the town's seamy 'casting couch' culture. We also meet our story's no-good bastard, Mel Lippman.

I hope you enjoy this latest installment. Thanks for following the adventures of Harley and Clarice.

IL


******************************************

December 28, 1963

10:30 AM


The past twenty-four hours had been highly unpleasant for Harley Jacob.

Arriving back home from the hospital, the cabin hadn't seemed as quiet and empty since Tess died. He'd moped around a while—done some chores. He'd picked up some groceries and supplies in William's Lake, and put them away in the cupboards. He spent a couple of hours tending to Billy who was obviously stiff and sore after his long walk yesterday, carrying two passengers instead of just one. He was limping a bit, favoring one shoulder. Harley was feeling a bit sore himself. Not getting any younger, he thought.

He gave Billy another rubdown and opened the barn door; the old horse could go outside for some exercise, or stay in the barn. Billy ignored the door, turning instead to the grain bucket hanging in a corner of his stall.

"Suit yourself, pal..." said Harley.

Walking back to the house, Harley became aware of a commotion down at the bottom of his driveway. A van had stopped; the occupants had opened the gate and were attempting to drive up to the cabin, but the van's rear tires were spinning in the snow. He walked down the drive and stopped at the driver's window. The driver rolled down his window and asked if he was Harley Jacob. Harley didn't like the look of him.

"Who's asking?"

"We're with CBC news out of Prince George and we'd like to do an interview," said the driver, assuming this would greatly impress anyone, upon whom the offer was bestowed. Harley wasn't having any of it.

"You goddamned horse's ass," he said. "You've left the gate open—there are horses and cattle around here that'll get out onto the goddamned road. Are you blind—didn't you see the sign? Get the hell out of here before I call the cops...!"

Harley had worked up a 'head of steam' and this van driver was getting the brunt of it. A minute later, the van was back out on the road, the gate once again closed.

Another beaten Dodge pickup truck appeared, heading towards town—it was Sam Carver, a rancher from a spread just up the road. The truck slowed and Sam hollered, "Everything okay, Harley?"

"Morning, Sam. I think I'm going to have problems with trespassers today—would you mind if I borrowed Freddy? Two or three days ought to do it."

If Sam was surprised at his neighbor's request to borrow his dog, he didn't show it. Freddy and Harley were old buddies. Harley came over in the early fall every year and borrowed him for a couple of days to hunt grouse. Whenever Sam and his wife had to go out of town, Freddy came and stayed with Harley.

"Sure, he's in the back." Sam climbed out and opened the door of a homemade wooden canopy covering the truck's box. An enormous black Labrador retriever leaped out, shook itself vigorously causing a mini-hurricane of shedded black hair, urinated copiously against the rear tire of Sam's truck, and ran over to Harley, his powerful tail wagging like a bull whip. Then Freddy noticed the occupants of the van parked a hundred feet away, getting out and manhandling a large TV camera. As all the hair along his spine immediately stood on end, as he launched an attack at the men; his deep booming barking could be heard a mile away. The television crew scrambled back into the van, pulling the doors closed behind them.

Fifteen minutes later, Harley nailed a half sheet of plywood to his wooden gate. Hand-painted on the front was a sign in bold red lettering:

EXTREME DANGER NO TRESPASSING VICIOUS GUARD DOG ON DUTY

If anyone thought this sign was an exaggeration, all they had to do was look up the drive to where a large black dog sat just below the cabin, glaring down at the gate.

All morning, Harley could see television vans slowly driving by. One even stopped, set up a camera, and filmed his entire ranch with a long distance lens. Just after lunch he heard a horn honking at the gate. Looking down the drive from the kitchen window, he saw a plain black car idling—then a little burst of siren and flashing red lights hidden in the grill-works. It was an unmarked police car. He walked down, let them in, and closed the gate behind them. He called off Freddy as two men climbed out of their car in the parking area in front of his house.

First was RCMP Staff Sergeant Jason Arthouse from the William's Lake detachment. Harley and Arthouse were pretty good friends. Harley actually got away with calling him 'Sergeant Outhouse' when it was just the two of them. The other man was a stranger, dressed in an expensive suit. Harley had been expecting something like this, and invited them in. The meeting lasted all afternoon.

The second man was a federal DOT air crash investigator, who wanted to learn everything that Harley knew about the incident, from beginning to end. He asked hundreds of questions and filled a hard-covered notebook with detailed summaries and sketches of Harley's observations and opinions. He had aeronautical flight maps of the area, which they unfolded on Harley's kitchen table. Harley suggested he had better maps and produced detailed forestry maps and Crown Range topographical maps, which showed the area in precise detail. Harley was able to point to the spot—to within fifty feet—where the Lear's fuselage lay on the upper alpine meadow. He guessed at where it had first made contact.

He showed them where his cabin was on the map, and described how the aircraft had sounded the night it flew over him in the dark. He reasoned that it must have been climbing; if it had been flying level or losing altitude, it would have hit the mountain a couple of hundred feet uphill from his cabin. Harley's theory would turn out to be eerily accurate.

As the light began to fail in the late afternoon, he invited them to stay for dinner. They agreed. Harley thawed and grilled thick fillet mignon steaks served with baked potatoes and an assortment of vegetables. Afterwards, Arthouse rolled up the sleeves of his RCMP uniform shirt and helped Harley do the dishes. A bottle of Laphroaig single malt Scotch whisky appeared—it was almost 11:00 PM before the men headed back to William's Lake.

As they were leaving, Arthouse said, "Harley, you'll never guess how we found out it was you that rescued her." Harley shook his head. "I was there while Doc Smith examined Miss Moreau—I was waiting to question her. The Doc had just inspected the bump on her head. While he was removing the cedar splint from her ankle, out of the blue, he said, 'Ma'am, say hello to Harley Jacob for me, next time you're talking to him'."

"Well, that shut us all up. The doc said he'd seen some terrible ranching injuries come in over the years—many that had been stitched in the field by Harley Jacob. He'd said he would recognize your needlework and knots anywhere. And he recognized your splint work—you apparently have a way of splitting thin strips of red cedar and wrapping them so the broken limb is both comfortable and well supported? Miss Moreau was grinning when she heard that."

Harley smiled at that, too.

"The other funny thing; all the ER folks wanted to give her a fancy adjustable aluminum crutch but she wouldn't take it; said she liked the one she had. It was made from a fork branch of a young aspen?"

"Cherry," said Harley.

*****

The next day the weather had improved and a Coast Guard helicopter with the DOT crash inspector on board, landed in Harley's field next to the barn. Over the next hour, it ferried Harley and a team of investigators from the William's Lake airport, up to the crash site. Harley had volunteered to show them precisely where he'd found things that night. Over the next two days, the team extracted the bodies of the pilots, flew them back to Vancouver for autopsy, and eventually back to their home towns for burial. They searched the wreckage as best they could, but most of it was now hidden under several feet of snow. They located the missing tail section a quarter mile from the fuselage and removed the flight data recorder, but left everything else there for cleanup in the spring. By the end of May, there would be no sign that this aircraft had ever been there, except for a few scrub trees plowed over, some metallic scars left on rocks and outcrops, and some scorched areas in the underbrush. A year later, even these signs would be gone.

A few months later, a news story would be released—the chief pilot had died of a heart attack during the flight, and the co-pilot had been drunk. His empty flask was found in his chart case. This would cause ripples throughout the aviation industry, leading to sweeping new regulations for pilots and other air crew throughout North America.

1964

January 15

10:30 AM


Harley's mind was on a number of different subjects.

He was taking a break after replacing the cornbinder's power take-off, and his hands were still greasy; even after using an industrial hand cleaner. He was going to take Freddy home today—he hadn't seen any television vans or reporters snooping around for a week. He was going to miss the dog—he'd been good company while he'd done his daily chores. Halfway down the drive, he wondered if he'd need a hammer to pry the trespassing sign off the gate, and nearly walked back up to the barn to fetch one. But he thought, To hell with it; if I can't rip it off with my bare hands, the bloody thing can stay there.

The flag was up on his battered old bee-hive mail box. That didn't surprise him—he received stacks of mail every day. There was a lot of work in that mail that often kept him up late, sitting at the enormous Douglas fir roll top desk that his grandfather had built with simple hand tools, some eighty years ago. Harley was a pretty good typist too, and a couple of times a week, left a stack of envelopes for pickup in the mailbox, all correctly weighed and stamped. The mailman often wondered why Harley got and sent so damn much mail. It was just one small, crumby little ranch.

There was the usual assortment of mail today—bills from a variety of companies, letters from banks, lawyers, accountants, and so forth. But one letter in the middle of the stack caused Harley's heart to race—he could suddenly feel a rhythmic thumping deep in his chest, and his breath came more quickly.

It was a thick letter in a standard four by ten inch envelope made from heavy cream colored paper; clearly an expensive, high quality stationary. The return address was from C. Moreau in Hollywood, California. To his great annoyance, Harley noticed that he'd caused a greasy smudge on one corner.

"Damn," he said out loud, and shuffled the letter between two bills as he headed at a trot for the cabin. He dumped all the mail on the kitchen table. At the sink, he soaped up and carefully removed all the remaining grease from his hands and nails using a small brush and an industrial cleaner. He put on a pot of coffee and finally sat at the kitchen table when it was ready. With his pocket knife, he slit the cream colored envelope and pulled out a heavy, multi-page letter, written in beautiful flowing handwriting that was as easy to read as print text. The ink was from a fountain pen, the letters and words evenly spaced, and the margins almost perfectly justified on both sides. Claire obviously took great pride in her handwriting. He started to read.

January 5, 1964

My Dearest Harley,

Happy New Year to you, my love!

It is terrible of me to say, but I hope you spent New Year's Eve alone, and not in the company of a bevy of beautiful women—any one of whom would be only too happy to snap you up and have her way with you.

Universal Studios had a little get together for about a hundred—just the upper brass and the top earning actors for the past year. Once you get high enough up the food chain here, you are automatically invited. People at the bottom will 'kill' for an invitation. When you've had a long career at this nonsense, and then not invited; well, you know your career is about over. So far; so good, for me. I stuck it out until about 11:00 PM; then begged off and headed home.

I so wish you had a telephone, Harley; you'd have received a long call from me that evening. It has taken over a week for the dust to settle, and I'm now more or less back to reality. But I'm missing you like you'll never know.

You'll probably not be surprised to learn that Universal wanted to 'cash in' on our story—they pitched a movie. They wanted me to play myself, and wondered who they should get to play the mysterious, rapidly-becoming-legendary, Harley Jacob. I told them I would not cooperate in any way and instructed my lawyers to block it by any means necessary. It would be an understatement to say it was a special time for you and I, and participating in any kind of money-making venture would cheapen it. I will not let it happen.

I was wondering this past week, how you've managed to deflect all the press from around the world who are keen to talk to you, and get your side of the story? Whatever it is you're doing—it's working! I did see one clip on the NBC evening news taken just down the road from the ranch house—you were leading Billy into the barn. Then you were outside, driving the cornbinder. I almost cried, I wanted to be there so badly.

Let me tell you everything that's happened to me since the hospital in William's Lake.

Wasn't that a debacle at the hospital reception? As they were wheeling me into the side room, I looked around but I couldn't see you—I suspect you were shoved out of the way in the riot. Welcome to my world—I've seen worse than that, you know... The studio actually hires big guys—dresses them in fancy suits—it's their job to safely get us through the mobs. Strange isn't it? People will do anything to become a big-shot in the movie business—then don't like it when they get there because they miss their privacy. I guess that includes me.

I was initially examined by a Dr Smith. He was delightful and knew from my stitches and splint, that you'd done them. He said you're the only guy in the area he'd trust to give him stitches, if he ever needed them. Please say hello to him for me, the next time you see him.

Speaking of my stitches, they'll be out in a week and my doctor also admired your handiwork. Even inside the hairline, there won't be a scar. I'm walking on my ankle now too—turns out it was not a clean break, but more a hairline fracture. By the time you get this, my bruising will nearly all be gone—you won't recognize me, without my black & blue complexion.

At the hospital, I kept asking for you but they said they didn't want anyone there who wasn't family or involved in my care. Then a couple of studio execs and an FBI agent showed up. There was some concern that I'd been kidnapped, if you can possibly believe that. A short while later, they took me by helicopter to Prince George where another Lear was waiting, and I was back in LA shortly after dinner. Then I spent a day in the hospital here, even though I was feeling perfectly fine.

What an eye-opener our time together was for me. For the first time in my adult life, I got a little taste of living in the real world without all the hype that I live with down here. And do you know what? I liked it—a lot! What I wouldn't give to sneak away from here and find my way back up to the Fletcher Valley under the cover of darkness, and hide away with you again.

I would too, damn it, but I'm hung up in a bit of a situation here. For several months before the accident, I was working on a problem with my own little company that I told you about; Magic Dream Studios. I had a guy running our day-to-day affairs—an ex-stuntman who'd failed as an actor, but is still pretty smart. He's a couple of years older than me; Mel Lippmann. I need to be up front, Harley; I'd been an item with this guy—in fact, at one point we were engaged. But I finally clued in that he's a disgusting perverted cheating weasel.

I dumped him two years ago, but he was doing a good job, so I kept him on as general manager of the studio. As soon as the son of a bitch heard the news that I was missing and presumed killed in a plane crash, he got on the phone, even though it was Christmas, and started a pretty good run at getting control of the company. Probably the best acting performance of his career was when I arrived back in my office alive and well, and saw him for the first time.

There are other problems here too. I have a lot of my own money in this thing, but something's happened and several of our projects are failing due to a lack of funding. A number of industry investors have turned cool, and others are not returning calls. I have an accountant I trust, and we're just starting to look at this thing under a microscope. It's going to be a few weeks before I start to get an idea of what's going on. It's not the end of the world if it all 'went south', but it'll hurt and I'll have to go back to work full time to make it up. The one nice thing about being in my position is that I can make a lot of money fairly quickly. On the other hand, that can change overnight too, in this business...

But Harley, I need to see you again, darling. As soon as I get things sorted out here, I'm coming back up. Our last few days together were surreal. I was injured, missing, and we both knew that a lot of people were worried about me. In spite of that, something very special happened. I need to spend some time with you, without any of those distractions. Just you and I, lover. I got a pretty good glimpse inside a critter call Harley Jacob, and I really liked what I saw. Call me selfish, but I want to see the rest.

What do you say darling, could you stand having me back up again for a few days?

All my love

C


Harley read the letter a second time; then a third. He refolded it and slipped it back inside the envelope. Then he took it back out and read it again. He suddenly felt even happier than that first morning in the cabin with Clarice. He found a pad of paper inside the old roll-top; it took him almost an hour to scratch out his reply.

He sealed and stamped the envelope. Fifteen minutes later, he pulled into the gas station at the junction of the gravel road heading to his ranch, and the highway into town. He popped the envelope into the bright red Canada Post mail box. Then he wandered over to the glass phone booth next to the small convenience store, and stepped in. Dialing from memory, he placed a collect call to a company in Vancouver—Anderson Discreet Investigations. After a minute, Stan Anderson came on the line.

"Harley, hey great to hear from you. How are you, man?"

"Hello Stan. I'm great—how about you? That boy of yours joined the firm yet?"

"Naw, he's still at UBC. I want him to get a real job but we'll see. Hey, what's up Harley—it must be serious if you need my services."

A few years ago, a mysterious foreign investor had tried to buy a number of Fletcher Valley ranches, including Harley's. He'd hired Stan to find out who it was. With the information that Stan gathered—it was Middle East oil money—Harley had been able to make some moves, preventing the sale of any of the ranches. He and Stan been good friends ever since.

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