George R. R. Martin Presents Wild Cards: Pairing Up
Trudy of the Apes
by Kevin Andrew Murphy
The Garden of Allah was found, not in the Prophet’s Paradise, but in Hollywood, at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Havenhurst Drive. But instead of flying there on the back of the Buraq like Muhammad, Trudy Pirandello had taken Pan Am.
She checked her bags at the front desk, checked her makeup with her compact, and in the reflection, checked out the jewels and jewelry on display on the other guests—a nice watch here, a pretty ring there, but nothing that wouldn’t be missed and nothing worth risking, especially with her eyes on a greater prize. Trudy slipped her compact back in her handbag, slipped the bellman a generous but not lavish tip, and slipped off into the interior of the Garden of Allah.
She had expected paradise to look a bit more Arabian, with fanciful fountains and arabesques, not a couple dozen Spanish Mission–style bungalows, all terra-cotta tiles and stucco. At least the landscaping was pretty and tropical enough, with bougainvillea vines and night-blooming jasmine, the dark shiny leaves glittering in the sun. The houris were there, too, or at least starlets, many of them taking advantage of a swimming pool in the shape of the Black Sea, the legacy of Alla Nazimova, silent-screen Salomé turned hotelier.
Rumor also had it that Nazimova coined the term sewing circle
for ladies who liked ladies, though as Trudy understood, Alla liked everyone.
Her tradition had continued—the Garden of Allah, as the hotel had been renamed with an added h,
was the swinging place to go if you were a Hollywood creative. F. Scott Fitzgerald had stayed there, as had Errol Flynn. It-girl Clara Bow, Ernest Hemingway, Ginger Rogers, D. W. Griffith, Laurence Olivier, Frank Sinatra, and Dorothy Parker. Even Marlene Dietrich, who’d starred in the movie The Garden of Allah.
Of course, the hotel had seen better days. Alla Nazimova had died in ’44—two years before the wild card—and it was now 1957. Errol Flynn had swashbuckled away. Trudy thought she glimpsed the dark-haired head of Ronald Reagan in the pool, surrounded by a bevy of bathing beauties—a definite trade-up from Bonzo the chimp—but a B-movie star wasn’t what Trudy needed. What she needed was an ace: a blonde, to be specific.
She spied a very small one: A little blond girl, no more than six, sat poolside sipping a pink lemonade. She wore a white blouse, a black skirt with suspenders, matching white socks and black Mary Janes, with a shocking-pink bow in her hair, and a supercilious expression as she watched the adults.
“Hello, Eloise.” Trudy sat down next to her. “I was hoping to see Kay.”
“She’s taking a nap . . .” Eloise told her.
“I expected she might,” Trudy said, keeping the secret unspoken. Kay was taking a nap because Eloise was her alter ego. Kay was Kay Thompson, star of stage and screen—singer, dancer, multitalented everywoman—who three years ago had gone to New York for a singing gig and taken ill. There were rumors that it might have been the wild card, but Thompson brushed them off, saying it was nothing more remarkable than menopause, then went on with her show.
No one else had noticed a little girl from time to time slipping out of Thompson’s suite at the Plaza Hotel, going off to make mischief or spy on guests. No one else except Trudy.
Trudy was an ace herself, but she was also smart enough to keep her wild card up her sleeve . . . and not just because she was also a thief who specialized in teleporting small objects—particularly jewelry—into her hands. Aces who got caught ended up in government service, doing far more dangerous and less rewarding jobs than going to nightclubs and musical revues and, in the dimness, teleporting this diamond earring or that gold watch to the inside of an evening bag.
Hotel lobbies were also good places to spy valuable jewels, particularly hotels as swanky as the Plaza—although Trudy hadn’t expected that the sharp-eyed little girl would be the same person as the popular songstress whose shows Trudy had pick-teleported one too many times. But Eloise was a touch too fashion-conscious for the average little girl, sharing a few too many tastes in common with Kay Thompson, which Trudy had remarked upon. Soon an uneasy truce sparked an unlikely friendship.
The fact was, Trudy liked Kay, and Kay liked Trudy, and two lady aces up the sleeve could cover for each other better than either could alone. Plus, Kay owed Trudy. Kay’s ace wasn’t fully under her control, tied, Trudy suspected, to menopause and hot flashes, and last year there’d been an overly suspicious hotel detective at the Plaza, asking a few too many questions about Kay’s occasional young guest, Eloise. After Trudy had arranged for the police to find him with a stolen string of pearls in his pocket, he’d gone away, and Trudy had let his successor think that Eloise was her own daughter, going off and getting into mischief while Trudy visited with Kay.
“So, what brings you to Hollywood, Trudy?” Eloise glanced up over her lemonade, holding it the way an older sophisticated woman would handle a cocktail. “Something I could help with? Or do you need Kay?”
“Well,” Trudy admitted, “Kay mentioned in her last postcard that Jack Braun had a bungalow here. I was hoping for an introduction . . .”
“What sort of introduction?”
Trudy cocked her head, gazing at the pool with Ronnie and his bevy of beauties, then gave Eloise a sidelong glance. “Not the sort of introduction it would be proper for a little girl to give . . .”
“Wait here.” Eloise gave her a knowing look and a wink. “I’ll manage it.” With that she downed the last of her lemonade like a hard-drinking woman would a cocktail, then skipped off down the tiles beside the pool with all the skill of a dancer with forty-plus years of training.
Trudy was a bit bemused. The parties at the Garden of Allah were legendary; she’d planned to find her way to them at night, try to work her charms on Jack, and see where that led. Instead, she looked at the poolside menu and ordered a limeade and an avocado-and-bacon sandwich, feeling very Californian in her choice. She wondered how many stories about the Garden were true.
The best she’d heard was the one about the naked actress, her pet monkey, and the telegram boy, which sounded like a bawdy tale from The Arabian Nights
lightly retold for the Silent Era. But then Trudy heard the actual screeching of the remembered monkey, or at least a little girl screeching like a monkey: Eloise careening back into the pool area in her Mary Janes. Somewhere she’d acquired a fruit basket the size of one of Carmen Miranda’s headdresses. “Ook! Ook!” Eloise shrieked, hurling an orange with startling accuracy at a blond man chasing her. He was tall, handsome, and barefoot, wearing only shorts, and the orange hit him right in the middle of his broad bare chest. Or almost did, because there was a golden flash of light as it splatted on the air half an inch from his skin. “Eloise!” he roared.
“Ook!” cried Eloise. “You Tarzan, me monkey!” She danced around the pool to the amusement of minor stars and starlets, lobbing tangerines and apples at Jack Braun, Golden Boy of the Four Aces, the strongest man in the world . . . and also, incidentally, the actor playing Tarzan on television for NBC, coming off his first season in the role and almost ready to start his second. Eloise’s game would have been dangerous for anyone else to play, but the strongest man in the world didn’t mean the most agile, Jack Braun looked hung over, and Eloise had all the training of a dancer in her forties packed into the body of a six-year-old girl.
She also had a fruit basket with a bunch of bananas inserted randomly for color, so Trudy made a decision. One of the bananas disappeared from the basket and reappeared in Trudy’s hand underneath the napkin in her lap. Trudy produced the banana, as if she’d had it all along, and idly began to eat it as Eloise continued to pelt Golden Boy with fruit, dancing and laughing and crying, “Ook!” until she got him to chase her at just the right angle, headed straight toward Trudy.
The old slapstick trick had worked for Harold Lloyd in The Flirt,
but rather than toss her banana peel under Golden Boy’s foot, Trudy teleported it there, with the desired effect—he skidded out. Rather than run past her after Eloise, he slid straight into her, knocking her, her chair, and himself into the pool. Trudy yelped, feigning surprise as best she could, and then they were tumbling into the water with a flailing of arms and a flashing of golden light.