Reel Life, Real Death Chapters 33 & 34

33

In a few seconds Maxwell got control of himself. I gave him the number at the phone booth and let him call me back. I could feel tension mixed with excitement in his voice.

“Are you sure?” He asked when I picked up the phone after the first ring.

“I’m sure,” I replied calmly. “I’ve seen her, Brix. Really, she looks just like you. There’s no doubt.”

I then quickly gave him the background on how Doris and I found her as well as what happened after we did. Maxwell hit me with every question he could think of about Sarah and Tenny and also Johnston. I told him as little as I could about who I thought was behind everything and what our plans were. He understood that there was no way I was going to let him know where we were or let him see the girl until I was sure it was safe.

After a few more assurances from me his reticence slipped away and it was his turn to tell me a story. Yes, they’d tried to make the movie and he and Gilmore did have a short affair. About a little over a month into the project she pulled out claiming family problems. Since very little money had been allocated both Berg and Weston decided that they could wait for her to return. They obviously didn’t expect her to be gone well into 1944. By the time she did return however, Maxwell wasn’t available any more and they just let it the opportunity go.

He didn’t think much more about it even though he felt that Weston had. It had obviously been a big risk lending out one of his prime properties and he must have felt short changed. But Maxwell simply went about the business of making big money with his kind of movies and no one ever mentioned it again.

Maxwell said that he and Gilmore were very quickly attracted to each other and it evolved rapidly into a physical relationship. Apparently the love scenes on the set, if the film had ever been made, would have looked very real. He felt hurt when she abruptly dropped out of the movie and broke up with him. Over the next few months he tried to contact Gilmore, but without success. Maxwell described her as “beautiful, sexy, mysterious, and intense.”

“Brix,” I carefully asked, “did you love her?”

“Oh, JP,” he paused and sighed. “I don’t know. I’ve been with a lot of women. It’s not bragging really, just a fact. And more often than not they initiate it.”

“Must be hell to be you,” I joked.

“Dirty job but someone’s got to do it,” Maxwell played along and then his tone changed. “Most of them didn’t mean anything beyond the next day. But… I don’t know. It would have been nice to find out.”

“OK, I just…”

“You have a family and kids, right?” He asked.

“I have Doris, but we’ve been married less than a year. No kids.”

Maxwell seemed surprised. Learning I was a 52 year old newlywed apparently threw him a curve. To fill in the blanks I quickly went through some of my history. When I finished he was silent for a little bit.

“We’re not so different you and I,” he said a little sadly. “I guess we both thought we’d have a family and kids by now, but neither of us got there.”

“I suppose.”

“Well,” the smile in his voice returned, “between the two of us we did. It’s just that you got the wife and, it seems, I got the kid. So, when can I see her?”

“Hold on a bit Brix,” I cautioned.

“Where are you? I can be there in just hours, I bet.” He was practically begging.

I explained that I was worried about his daughter’s safety and, even though I knew he wouldn’t hurt her, I couldn’t be sure about anyone else. I assured him that she was being taken to a secure location until we were able to prove a case against those responsible for Johnston’s attack and Standish’s murder.

Maxwell didn’t give up. He told me that he had a plane that he often chartered and as long as I was in North America he could get to me. Eventually after a long discussion I consented to tell him where we were, but only under the condition that I would decide whether to let him see the girl after he landed.

“OK, JP,” he grudgingly agreed obviously understanding why I was being so careful. “I’m going to call my guy and we’ll land at the Jackson airport. I owe you for even more now. The party, HUAC, saving my daughter’s life. I’m never going be able to pay you back.”

“I suppose not,” I joked and he laughed.

“OK,” Maxwell sounded calmer. “I’ll be at the airport by noon tomorrow.”

“Fine. I’ll meet you there, but it’ll just be me. One step at a time.”

“It’s funny,” he said in a wistful tone, “I’m going to call the studio and take the day off tomorrow so I can maybe see the daughter that I never knew I had. All this time Andrea never told anyone and, it seems, never had any contact with her. Her own flesh and blood, too. And I’m the one portrayed in the press as irresponsible. Funny. Thanks JP. See you tomorrow.”

After he hung up I tried to tell myself that I had done the right thing. After all, he was her dad and deserved to know about his only child. He certainly had the money to easily take care of Sarah and Tenny. And, I felt I could trust him to keep the secret.

Despite the logic of my arguments as I walked back to our hotel I was nagged by the fear that something was about to go horribly wrong because, among other things, Maxwell also had a very good motive for killing Standish.

 

34

I told Doris, Tenny, and Sarah to wait at the hotel while I went to the airport. We agreed that if they didn’t hear from me by 2:00 they were to get in the car and head to Michigan. There was plenty of protest about that especially from Sarah, but I tried my best to convince her that I would see her soon no matter what.

Then before I went out the door she ran over and threw her arms around my knees. Somewhere along the way she’d started to call me Mr. P and, enjoying every minute of it, I did nothing to discourage her. Poor kid. In just three days she was trying to get me to fill in for her eight years without a dad.

Doris said very little. She simply gritted her teeth and leaned her head on my shoulder. We’d had more than one or two serious arguments over the years, but she knew that this was one of those times to just let it go. As I went out the door she and Tenny waved as if they never expected to see me again. I decided that it had to be my imagination.

I arrived at the airport before 11:00 to make sure I didn’t miss the plane. I soon found Maxwell had kept his word. At a few minutes after 12:00 a moderately sized two engine Cessna appeared on the horizon silhouetted against a high blue sky. I watched the noonday sun glint off its silver wings as it approached the runway.

Less than 15 minutes later it was at the small Jackson airport terminal and I saw Maxwell sprinting toward the building across the tarmac. Probably because his face was so familiar he had a fedora pulled down over his eyes and his jacket collar pulled up. That plus his dark glasses probably called more attention rather than less. Of course, maybe that was the plan.

“Hey man,” he said bursting through the doors toward me. “Let’s go.” He quickly threw an arm around me and with a small suitcase in his other hand we hustled into the parking lot. We were on the road in less than 10 minutes.

“Very smooth,” I cracked after we turned onto the main road. “No recognition, no autographs, no photos. Not bad.”

“Yeah,” he smiled as we rode off into the mountains just south of Grand Teton Park. “You don’t want to let on where you are. Chaos.” Then with a wink he added, “I’m not always sure I like it that way.”

I hustled us onto a side road and followed it until the road circled back to the highway. We then ran north until we came to the park entrance where I turned around and retraced our route. Before returning to the main road I found a scenic overlook and parked. Maxwell had been very uncharacteristically quiet. That changed after I stopped the car.

“Now what?” He said with his left arm thrown over the back of the front seat. “Are you going to let me see my daughter? And what was all the racecar driving about? Is that how you usually drive?”

I took a deep breath and turned to him. “Listen Brix,” I explained, “I needed to make sure that no one was with you other than your pilot. I had to make sure we weren’t being followed.”

“Wait a minute,” he protested, “you think that I’d …”

“No, of course not,” I exaggerated slightly, “but someone wanted Sarah and her mother out of the way. There’s no way I’m going to take a chance and expose them to that kind of danger again.”

“But…”

“I’ve seen people die,” I tried to say without sounding like a melodramatic braggart, “and I’ve seen it up close, if you get my drift. I don’t want an eight-year-old girl on my conscience and in my nightmares as well. OK?”

Maxwell looked shaken as if I’d slapped him across the mouth. He leaned back and considered what I’d said. He wasn’t too hard to read. Here was a guy who’d managed to parlay his good looks and charm into millions without, except for Standish, having to deal much with reality. He was fine with a script in his hand, but, as I found out all that time ago at Mangiocotti’s party, Maxwell was no real tough guy.

“Here,” he said after a pause, “I brought this for the kid and her mother.” He reached into his suitcase and produced several packets of wrapped 20-dollar bills.

“Holy smoke,” my mouth dropped open.

“Look, JP. I trust you. If you don’t think it’s safe, then, well, I guess that’s good enough for me. But I know they’ve got to be, hell, you’ve all got to be strapped for cash. This ought to be enough to get you where you’re going. All right?”

“And?” I probed carefully expecting another shoe to drop.

“And nothing,” he said sadly. “I want her safe and well taken care of, that’s all.”

“Suppose I don’t let you see her.”

He took a deep breath and blew the air slowly out of his nose. I could see the wheels turning but there was no way, no matter what he said, that I was going to risk the little girl. Convince me Maxwell, I thought. Convince me that you have no agenda and that it will be safe to take you to them.

The money sat on the seat between us as he stared through the windshield. Not planning to say anything else I let the silence work on him. Finally he spoke to me in a thick voice that was only barely under control.

“JP,” he started without looking at me, “I’m 44 years old. I’ve got lots of money, lots of fame, and none of it is worth a damn. I’ve never done anything for anybody else. It’s just been me, me, me. That is, until your phone call slapped me around. Take the money. Tell Andrea’s sister that I’m sorry and that I won’t invade their privacy and that she’ll never have to worry about money again.”

“OK,” was all I managed as I watched his eyes fill up. He made no attempt to hide his feelings from me, which I took as a complement.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.

“All right Brix,” I smiled, “let’s go.”

“To see her?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “I believe you. You’re not that good an actor.”

“What?!” He protested half seriously and then laughed, “too bad I didn’t beat the hell out of you at Mangiocotti’s party.”

We pulled up at the motel. I left the money under the front seat to give to Tenny later. We got out of the car, walked to the door, and knocked. Doris answered. A huge smile and look of relief spread across her face as she wrapped her arms around me. She then nodded at Maxwell and led the two of us inside.

Tenny was sitting at the desk writing and weakly smiled at us. Sarah was playing with several dolls that she had set up against the pillows on one of the beds. She looked up, and as soon as she saw me, ran over and jumped into my arms. I turned her to face Maxwell. They exchanged awkward smiles.

“What’s your name?” She said to him.

“This is a friend of mine,” I said. “He wanted to meet you. Sarah, this is Mr. Maxwell.”

“Hello,” she said while keeping a tight grip on me.

“Uh, hello,” Maxwell stammered slightly. “You’re a very pretty little girl.” It was obvious he instantly saw their resemblance.

“I’m not little,” she protested. “Mr. P. says that I’m getting to be a big girl. I am eight, you know. I’m going to be in third grade this year.”

“Yes,” Maxwell smiled, “I see you are.”

Maxwell stared at her for a long time. Years of wasted time washed across his face. The aging playboy was in love for maybe the first time in his life.

As Sarah hung on my neck Tenny walked over and offered her hand to Maxwell. Doris joined my young friend and I allowing us to retreat to the far side of the room. As Sarah gathered her dolls to show to me Doris and I listened to their conversation.

“I didn’t know…” Maxwell began.

“Yes,” Tenny nodded, “Andrea didn’t want you to.”

“But…”

“What’s done is done. I’ve been dreading this day since she was born. For a long while we were able to limp along on our own, but then when the money ran out…”

“Jeez…”

“Well, that’s when Alexis came in. I’m guessing that JP told you the rest.”

“Money won’t be problem any more. I sort of need to make up for lost time.”

“Thank you,” she said softly. “I guess considering all that’s happened, I can call you Brix.” Tenny then turned to me. “Now what? How do we do this?”

I passed Sarah to Doris and stood up. “Here’s what I’ve been thinking. If the two of you are willing, Brix can pass the money to you through me. The less known about what is going on the better. At least one part of this insanity has been taken care of.”

They both agreed.

I turned to Maxwell and asked, “when do you have to get back?”

“By tonight,” he said. “We’re shooting tomorrow and I have lines to learn. But what happens to them? Where are they going?”

“Sorry Brix,” I said sternly, “that’s a secret for now. When all this is over then the rules will be different. But for now…”

We spent about an hour together in total. Sarah didn’t pay much attention to Maxwell, but he didn’t seem to mind. All he wanted to do was to hear about the eight years that he’d missed and watch his daughter play.

When the very short time together was over and Maxwell went out to the car to get the money I took the brief opening to talk with Doris and Tenny. I imagined that they knew what was coming and neither of them wanted to hear it.

“OK,” I started, “we have to move fast. I’m going back to LA with Brix. You three are going to Michigan. You’ve got plenty of money. Take your time. No one will know where you are so I can be sure that you’re safe. Doris and her uncle will handle it from there.”

“JP,” Doris complained, “what are you going to do? We can’t just let…”

“Look. This is the way it has to be. When it’s all over I’ll let you know and then we can try to figure out what normal is going to look like for Tenny and Sarah.”

“But,” Doris began just as Maxwell came back from the car with the money.

He hugged Tenny and Doris, but only managed to get Sarah to shake hands. Tenny hugged me and tearfully thanked both Doris and I. My redhead sadly leaned her head on my shoulder and rubbed my arm. Leaving was even more difficult than I’d expected.

We eventually ended the good byes and as Doris and I walked out with Maxwell he turned to me with a confused look on his face. I raised my eyebrows and shrugged.

“I’m going back with you,” I said flatly.

“You and Doris, you mean.”

“No,” Doris managed, “I’m staying here.”

“She’s not going with us?” Maxwell said to me with surprise in his voice.

“Just as far as the airport,” I explained.

“Then I’ll drive the car back and pick up Sarah and Tenny,” Doris finished.

“They need to be far away and safe and I need to get back to LA and put an end to this.” As I explained, Doris flinched.

“But how?” Maxwell’s eyes were wide in confusion.

“I’ve got a plan,” I said. “I’ll tell you about it on the plane.”

He nodded slowly as we climbed back into the car. We rode silently back to the airport lost in our thoughts. With the spectacular scenery a blur outside my speeding car I tried to imagine how much Maxwell’s life had changed in the last two days. In a perversely funny way I decided that at least now, since all this had to remain a secret, I’d be able to find out how good an actor he actually was.

Doris pulled the car to the far end of the parking lot. Painfully I had to once again say good-bye to my lanky redhead. Having to do it once was hard enough. Maxwell and I watched her drive away. While we headed for the terminal Maxwell again pulled up on his collar and down on the brim of his fedora.

We were traveling light. The only suitcase we had was mine. The other one that held the money had been left back at the motel with Tenny. As soon as Doris returned from the airport the three of them were going to head out. I told her to leave messages for me with Maxwell’s answering service and to only call from a pay phone that wasn’t near where they were staying.

Before we walked into the building a man jogged out to see us. He was a short middle-aged fellow with narrow features and thin shoulders. Wearing a cap with a turned up brim and baggy dungarees he looked like a grease monkey from a local gas station. Maxwell told me it was his pilot, Jed Fowler, which somehow made the attire more logical.

Jed greeted his boss who then introduced me. Jed briefly let a minimal smile of greeting wash across his face. Even though I’d never seen him before it was obvious something was bothering him.

“OK boss,” he said to Maxwell. “The plane is gassed up and checked out. We’re ready to go.”

“That’s fine,” Maxwell replied as he turned to walk inside. Jed put up his hand.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Another plane came in about an hour ago,” Jed explained. “This guy got off and began asking a lot of questions about our plane. He’s been spending his time between hanging around inside and walking out to where our Cessna is parked.”

“So?” Maxwell sounded impatient and uninterested.

“I don’t know,” Jed complained, “but something about him don’t sit right with me.” He then pointed out a square jawed guy in a leather jacket standing by an outside gate that led to the tarmac. “That’s him there,” he said.

“Oh damn,” was all I could think of to say.

“What?” Maxwell said in a higher voice than usual.

“Brix,” I clinched my teeth, “they know you’re here.”

“Who does? What are you talking about?”

They were both looking at me now with fear welling up in their eyes. Maybe I shouldn’t have allowed Maxwell to fly out. Maybe I should have realized that every plane had to post a flight plan and someone could have found out where Maxwell was going. While it was too late to do anything about it at least I knew why I’d been nagged by the fear that something was about to go horribly wrong.

Damn,” I repeated as I reached back to make sure my gun was still wedged into my belt at the small of my back. “The guy in the leather jacket is Samuel Judge.”

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